Sangharakshita Diary

June to December 2000

At the beginning of June, Paramartha and his mother visited Bhante, followed by Prasannasiddhi and his son Ziya, who stayed a few days, during which time they made an excursion to the West Midlands Safari Park. In the middle of the month, Bhante participated with Subhuti and the Vajraloka team in a series of meetings dealing with the teaching of meditation in the Movement. Following this, Shantigarbha interviewed Bhante about topics including his views of the arts in the 20th century, which subsequently appeared as an article in Urthona issue 14. Then, at the end of the month, stopping on the way at Llangollen, Bhante paid a two-day visit to the Vajrakuta Study Centre in North Wales, where he spent time talking with community members. He also made a trip that included a stop at the cathedral at St. Asaph, the North Wales coast at Colwyn Bay (taking in two bookshops), and a return through the Vale of Conwy.

Early in July, Bhante set off for the LBC, prior to flying out to Guhyaloka. En route, he stopped off to see Paramartha and Jay, taking the opportunity to visit Milton’s cottage in nearby Chalfont St. Giles with Paramartha. During his brief stay at the LBC, Bhante visited Tate Modern with Prasannasiddhi, and saw the Art Nouveau exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum, going on this occasion with Alison Harper-Wamae. Navasamaya community entertained Bhante to supper, and in addition he met up with a few people individually, before departing to Gatwick for his flight to Spain.

In all, Bhante spent five weeks at Guhyaloka, living in his bungalow, with Ratnaketu cooking and providing support. For the first four weeks, Bhante was on his own, Prasannasiddhi joining him for the last week, during which time they were joined by Dharmadhara and Gunapala on a day trip to Altea. Whilst at Guhyaloka, Bhante gave the final revision to his translation of the Dhammapada, also writing the preface and notes. Books read by Bhante included, among others:

Dreams of Power: Tibetan Buddhism and the Western Imagination by Peter Bishop; A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens; Emma by Jane Austen; The Brook Kerith by George Moore and The Fifth Queen by Ford Madox Ford.

Bhante returned to Madhyamaloka in the middle of August, shortly before the day-long event held at Birmingham’s Aston University to celebrate his 75th birthday, and to mark the handing on of the Headship of the Western Buddhist Order to the College of Public Preceptors. The event was recorded on video by Clear Vision, and the text of Bhante’s talk was circulated shortly after. (See coverage elsewhere in this issue.) Prasannasiddhi, his partner Anna and his son Ziya, Paramartha, his partner Jay and her daughter Kristina, Devamitra, Kovida, Kulananda and Suvajra all joined Bhante for a celebratory meal in the evening. The subsequent day was taken up with opening and sorting the many presents, cards, greetings and flowers sent by well-wishers.

During the rest of the year Bhante remained at Madhyamaloka.

Interfaith Meetings

During the autumn, Bhante continued his involvement with the Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, conducted under the auspices of the Diocese of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham. Earlier in the year, Bhante had received representatives of the Commission at Madhyamaloka and visited Cardinal Newman’s rooms at the Birmingham Oratory. At the end of September, following up the earlier contacts, Bhante visited, in company with Vishvapani, the Roman Catholic seminary at Oscott, where he gave a presentation on the Buddhist scriptures and took part in discussions after a meal. In November, Bhante attended an evening reception held at the Archbishop’s House at St. Chad’s Cathedral in Birmingham, where he met leaders from various local religious communities. Later in the month, Bhante was visited by the interfaith representative of the local Anglican Bishop.

Cultural Events

At Stratford over this period, the Royal Shakespeare Company has been staging productions of Shakespeare’s History Plays, three of which Bhante has seen: Henry V, and Henry Vl parts 2 and 3. Bhante twice visited the exhibition The Blue Bower: Rossetti in the 1860s, featuring works by Dante Gabriel Rossetti and other nineteenth century artists, at the Barber Institute of Fine Arts. In addition he saw Human and Divine: 2000 years of Indian Sculpture, an exhibition of predominantly Hindu pieces at the new Walsall Art Gallery, and an exhibition of the work of the German Symbolists at Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. The Adrian Boult Hall in Birmingham was the venue for a performance of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas and Handel’s Dixit Dominus by the Ex Cathedra Choir and Baroque Orchestra. At Birmingham Symphony Hall, Bhante attended a recital by the pianist Alfred Brendel of works by Haydn, Mozart and Schubert and a performance by the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra that included Tchaikovsky’s Symphony no. 4 and Mozart’s Piano Concerto no. 21 in C. At Madhyamaloka, Bhante saw on video the documentary Spirit of Tibet: The Life and World of Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and three films: Simon of the Desert by Buñuel, the Japanese Ugetsu Monogatari and — in a different vein — Chicken Run.

Meetings and Interviews

Joanna Hughes interviewed Bhante for a videotape production about women in the Movement, and later Nagabodhi videoed Bhante in conversation with Vidyadevi on the topics ‘Reading’ and ‘Writing’, the first of these being shown in edited form to Bhante shortly before Christmas. Apart from seeing various individuals, Bhante also met some small groups, usually over afternoon tea. These occasions included meetings with Mitras from Spain, Mexico and Finland, the Spoken Word team, Vijayanandi and Vidyadevi, as well as the hosting of the annual tea party for the team at Windhorse Publications. The new nearby men’s community invited Bhante to an evening meal. Abhaya visited Bhante for a few days, and there were further visits from both Paramartha and Prasannasiddhi.


Bhante’s reading included, among other books, Contemporary Buddhist Ethics edited by Damien Keown, Transforming the Mind by the Dalai Lama (see below), Bhikkhu Bodhi’s The Connected Discourses of the Buddha (a new translation of the Samyutta Nikaya), Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables, Voltaire’s Candide, Flaubert’s Salammbô, Flaubert–Sand: The Correspondence, a biography of Victor Hugo by Graham Robb, Celine’s Journey to the End of the Night, Barbara Tuchman’s The Proud Tower, and Alexandra Richie’s Faust’s Metropolis: A History of Berlin.

Literary Work

Continuing work on his memoirs covering the period 1964–1967 has been Bhante’s main literary project, but in addition he has written reviews of Contemporary Buddhist Ethics and Transforming the Mind (see above) for The Times Higher Education Supplement — the reviews being published in the issue of 8 December 2000 — read the page proofs of the Spoken Word Project’s What is the Sangha?, and continued preparing his translation of The Dhammapada for publication.

Bhante continues to try to keep abreast of developments within the Movement, the Buddhist world, and the world in general through meetings and discussions with College Council members, through reading Buddhist magazines, through newspapers and radio, and through voluminous correspondence. Khemavira continues to provide secretarial assistance. Although the events taking place on his birthday in August marked his official ‘retirement’, Bhante can hardly be said to have retired in any conventional sense, being in some ways busier now than ever.

See more articles by Sangharakshita on the FWBO website. Visit Sangharakshita’s personal website and see his essays on Nietzsche and Buddhism and Art and the Spritual Life. Sangharakshita’s translation of The Dhammapada is available from Windhorse Publications.

Originally published in Madhyamavani: Issue 4 Spring 2001 (Birmingham: Madhyamaloka, 2001).