Sangharakshita Diary

Due to illness, Bhante has found it necessary to cut back drastically on his involvement in meetings and correspondence. This has radically reduced the extent of his activities – and hence of this ‘Diary’. For the same reason, it has not been possible to prepare a first-person report of the kind inaugurated in the ‘Notebook’ published in Madhyamavani 7. However, there follows an outline of his activities in the period following that covered by the ‘Notebook’, i.e. May 2002 – February 2003.

The period since May 2002 divides into two parts. In the first, Bhante continued a relatively active programme of activities, including visits, editorial work and meetings. In the second part however, the onset of ill health has seriously curtailed his activities.

While he was able to do so, Bhante worked on material being edited into book form. This included two books for Windhorse Publications: Creative Symbols of Tantric Buddhism and a seminar on the Satipatthana Sutta. A third project was The Sangharakshita Reader, which is to be issued by Wisdom Publications.

Over the past months, Bhante’s ‘reading’ (more precisely, his listening to audio books) has included the first two volumes of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, as well as Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. He has also listened to various Shakespeare plays, together with poetry by Blake, Coleridge, Tennyson and others.

During 4 – 15 May, Bhante visited Krakow in Poland, in connection with the launch of a Polish translation of his Survey of Buddhism. A small group of Order members and Mitras (mostly of Polish birth or descent, but also including Moksajyoti of Clear Vision, who went to document the trip on video) accompanied him on the visit. While in Krakow, Bhante gave three public talks. Speaking at the Japanese Cultural Centre, he discussed the relation between Buddhism and the arts. The second talk, given at an art gallery, was partly autobiographical and partly an exposition of the six distinctive emphases of the FWBO. The venue for the third talk was the Religious Studies Department of the Jagiellonian University, where Bhante explored the relationship – sometimes one of conflict – between the practice of the Dharma and the academic study of Buddhism. The talks were translated into Polish by Michal Balik, a Mitra.

During the visit, two members of the group – Amarasiddhi and Michal – led two public meditation days at the house where they and Bhante were staying, a few miles outside Krakow. Immediately following the second talk, Moksajyoti showed a video of clips of various FWBO activities.

The next month, back in the UK, Bhante gave a further public talk (initially at the LBC, and subsequently also at the Manchester Centre), in which he explored the theme of creativity in relation to four areas or activities: the arts, meditation, friendship and institutions. A subsidiary theme was an analysis of the ‘anti-creative’ or destructive mind, for which he evoked Grendel – the devouring monster in the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf – as a fitting symbol.

Mid-July found Bhante at Guhyaloka on a two-week stay, accompanied by Cittapala. While there, he conducted an inauguration ceremony for the new stupa, which contains a portion of the relics of Dhardo Rinpoche. During this visit, Bhante also had the pleasure of meeting Vajrayogini, whom he had not seen for many years.

The first part of August was quite a busy time, with Bhante leading two seminars for men Order members – one studying his book Buddha Mind, and the other exploring a text called Eight Verses for Training the Mind by Sonam Rinchen. All those invited to participate in these events were aged less than thirty, Bhante’s aim being to transmit something of his personal influence to the youngest generation of the Order, and thereby extend that influence further into the future.

In mid-August, Bhante went to see Vidyadevi at her home in Herefordshire, where they discussed the Spoken Word Project. During the visit, Bhante also visited Ludlow Castle and Hereford Cathedral, where he saw a copy of the Magna Carta and the Chained Library. At the end of the month, he went to stay for a few days at Padmaloka. While there, he called in at the women’s National Order Weekend being held at Wymondham, where he met Chapter Convenors, attended Srimala’s talk, and himself gave an impromptu talk to the ninety or so Dharmacharinis present.

On 15 September, Bhante attended the opening of the new Sheffield Centre, where he was pleased to meet many Order members whom he had not seen for a long time. Later in September, he made a trip to Devonshire to visit the Buddhafield community. En route, he stopped at Glastonbury and – for the first time in twenty-five years – revisited the Tor, the inspiration of his poem On Glastonbury Tor, written after his very first visit in the nineteen-sixties. While a guest of the Buddhafield community, he saw the Prajnaparamita rupa made by Sagaravajra. He was also taken to see what he considered a very attractive plot of land, which the community has acquired, and on which they hope to develop future activities.

A further visit to Padmaloka took place at the end of October, during which Bhante led study for the support team on two chapters from Crossing the Stream – ‘The Good Friend’ and ‘Rights and Duties’. He was pleased to find that the material – written fifty years ago – remained relevant and useful.

By this time however, Bhante’s health had begun to deteriorate. High blood pressure and insomnia had begun to affect him at the beginning of October, and obliged him to cancel a seminar scheduled for the middle of the month. By November, the symptoms had worsened, with the appearance of heart palpitations. This necessitated his withdrawal from other seminars that had been arranged, including one planned for Dharmacharini Anagarikas.

Since that time, these health problems have continued. Bhante has been in regular contact with his GP and also with doctors within the Order. Various treatments have been tried, mostly with relatively little effect. Nevertheless, an acupuncture course that commenced in January does seem to be producing some beneficial results in terms of improving his sleep and reducing his exhaustion during the day.

In January, Michal Balik, the Mitra who was Bhante’s translator on the visit to Krakow, moved to Madhyamaloka to help look after him during his present illness.

With regard to other aspects of Bhante’s health, he has his eyesight checked regularly by his ophthalmic consultant, and he has finished the course of laser treatment, at least for the time being. An attack of fainting on 14 March led to subsequent hospital checks, but these discovered nothing untoward.

In view of his poor health, Bhante has felt able to do very little since October. He cannot receive visitors or reply to correspondence, but he wishes to make it clear that he does appreciate people writing to him, and is grateful for the many kind enquiries after his health.