Each month a letter from the College Chair will be published here to regularly communicate their work to the Order and Movement, as well as a link to the latest College Newsletter and the blog page on The Buddhist Centre Online.
Ordinations within the Triratna Order take place throughout the year and world: the UK, Spain, India, Australia, New Zealand and the US, all have ordinations taking place regularly. This section also lists who’s been ordained recently, where they’ve been ordained, and what their new name means.
The College consists of 44 members, with retirements and new appointments on an annual basis. When a new member joins the College, we’ll introduce them here.
Lastly, there is a section for remembrance of College members who have passed away.
LETTERS FROM THE CHAIR – NOVEMBER 2021
These letters are published here each month, as well as on The Buddhist Centre Online, and in Shabda, the Order newsletter, as a means to communicate the ongoing work of the College Chair and updates on current discussions and decisions. Responses are welcomed. Click to follow the Preceptors’ College on The Buddhist Centre online and view November’s Features from the College.
Dear Order members and friends,
This month the annual international College meeting was a complex hybrid affair, taking place partly in person at Adhisthana, and partly online. Akasajoti came up with a schedule that not only took into account the different time zones, but also maximised crossover by shuffling us into different configurations; she even set up interactive zoom screen in the shrine room that meant we could all see and hear each other.
We began the meeting with three days of ‘business’ discussion, held entirely on zoom. My Chair’s report included some relevant statistics on ordinations and the Order generally. I also covered the various areas of responsibility of the College Chair: International Council, liaison with the European Chairs’ Assembly; Adhisthana; Presidents’ meeting; and the Ethics Kula (of which I am no longer a member). I drew people’s attention to the outcomes of a conflict resolution process, initiated by a group of Order members with concerns about the communication of a couple of Public Preceptors in relation to ex-Satyadhana and raising the possibility of this being a more systemic issue. I also mentioned that I had found the past two years challenging, and that continuing to do a little Dharma teaching had been a boon.
There was also a reporting back from the Indian Preceptors’ Kula, which is always much appreciated, and which this time included an account of the impressive work that has been done by our community in response to the suffering due to the Covid pandemic. We also heard about the impact of changing legislation in India (the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act) which has highlighted areas of unclarity and concern between some of our Trusts – and unfortunately given rise to some disharmony.
We experimented this time with combining discussion topics into four focus groups, each taking place twice to enable international participation. Each was led by two facilitators who prepared material in advance, and we invited people to follow their interests in choosing a group. We hoped this format would give enough time for depth of discussion and – where appropriate – come up with recommendations to put to the whole meeting, and from the plenary sessions this appears to have worked well. We will have more to communicate from these soon. There was also a Triratna Preceptors’ College Trust AGM, and a report back from the College Kula Reps (a group of representatives from the College kulas in each ‘Area’).
After a free day – which some people spent travelling – those of us in the UK (joined by Kulanandi, who is based in Berlin) met at Adhisthana, where our first opportunity for 18 months to meet ‘live’ was a joy. Others from Europe, India, Mexico, USA, Australia, and New Zealand, joined us on zoom.
We then moved into a period of retreat, interspersed with gatherings of individual Kulas. Our meeting has usually followed the format of: Kula time; retreat period; ‘business’ discussion, and my impression was that people enjoyed having the ‘business’ discussion first and then moving into a more retreat-like week that included time in our individual Kulas during the first few days.
During this phase of the meeting we welcomed six new Public Preceptors: Abhayadana, Abhayavati, Shubhajaya and Vijaya from India; Vajratara and Yashodeva from the UK (although Yashodeva will be especially supporting the Spanish-speaking ordination processes). We were treated to life stories from Abhayadana, Vijaya, Vajratara, Yashodeva, and Jnanavaca; and we rejoiced in the merits of Karunamaya and Padmasuri, as they both retire from the College.
The retreat itself was based around study led by Subhadramati drawing from a 1980 seminar on Chapter 13 of the Jewel Ornament of Liberation: ‘The Perfection of Ethics and Manners’, as well as extracts from ‘the Windhorse Trading seminar’ in 1993 where Bhante approaches the development of insight. We had small groups for discussion and confession, and also practised the Vajrasattva sadhana, led by Jnanavaca and Purna, and Vajrasattva and Sutra of Golden Light pujas, led by Punyamala and Padmasuri. It was magical to participate in a puja that was being led in the Adhisthana shrine room, but with readings and mantras coming ‘live’ from people in other countries.
Another innovation was the ‘Open Evening with the College’, hosted by Maitreyabandhu and Vajrajyoti, and attended by around 700 Mitras and Order members from all over the world. Padmavajra, Vajratara, and Ratnavyuha gave short talks on the central Buddhist act of Going for Refuge, as well as the meaning and significance of our private and public ordination; mitras Cara, Nick, and Solvieg shared very moving personal accounts of why they have asked for ordination; and a panel responded to questions. Many thanks to the team doing an almost impossible task of simultaneous translation into German, French, and Spanish – we will keep trying to deepen our practice of international community and the inclusion of people whose first language is not English. The level of interest, significant content, and messages of appreciation, mean that this is something we would like to repeat.
Events coming from Adhisthana this Autumn have been marking the third anniversary of Bhante’s death. During the International Council weekend at the end of October, each day began with a ritual led by Aryajaya from Urgyen House. I was uplifted by a talk from Subhadramati exploring the theme of Commonality from the perspective of our Refuge Tree – in particular the version painted by Chintamani, in which Bhante is seen holding up a kesa in anticipation of the act of bestowing ordination.
Bhante’s presence was felt very strongly during the ritual handover of the responsibility of Chair of Adhisthana, from Saddhanandi to Khemabandhu. After many years as Taraloka Chair, Saddhanandi was asked to move to Adhisthana in 2014, and became Chair the following year. She has been formative in building the community and developed a close personal connection with Bhante, and during the ritual handover she generously passed to Khemabandhu the piece of greenstone Bhante had given to her. I’m glad to say Saddhanandi will be continuing at Adhisthana as part of the Dharma Team, which is the core of a wider Adhisthana Teaching Community that recently gathered at Adhisthana; some 20-30 experienced Dharma teachers (including some from other countries) who will be developing our teachings of Bhante’s particular presentation of the Dharma. As well as supporting this emerging project, our new Chair, Khemabandhu, is especially keen to create opportunities for more young people to benefit from being at Adhisthana, so I’m sure we will be hearing more about that.
The College is delighted to announce that the following ordinations have taken place:
We are delighted to announce that the ordinations of the following eleven women took place at Adhisthana on 29th September 2021.
Public Preceptor Santavajri:
Virginie Van Mol becomes Lokesvari (accent on the ’s’, long ‘i’) a Sanskrit name meaning Noble Queen of the World.
Registered spelling Lokeshvari. Private preceptor Akasasuri.
Kate Grant becomes Kavaradhi (long second ‘a’. long ‘i’), a Sanskrit name meaning She who has Lotus-like Wisdom.
Registered spelling Kavaradhi. Private preceptor Amritamati.
Steph Delaney becomes Kavyamani (long first ‘a’, dot under the ’n’, long ‘i’), a Sanskrit name meaning Jewel of Inspiration.
Registered spelling Kavyamani. Private preceptor Parami
Linda Diver becomes Tejodhi (long ‘i’), a Sanskrit name meaning She who has Energy and Wisdom.
Registered spelling Tejodhi. Private preceptor Sunetri.
Linda Oliver becomes Jayamoksini (dot under the ’s’, long ‘i’), a Sanskrit name meaning She who is liberated through Victory.
Registered spelling Jayamokshini. Private preceptor Sunetri.
Public Preceptor Parami
Sally Watson becomes Karunajaya (dot under the ’n’, long second and fourth ‘a’), a Sanskrit name meaning She whose Victory is through Compassion.
Registered spelling Karunajaya. Private preceptor Tarasiddhi
Kathy Jarvis becomes Akasadaya (long first, second and fifth ‘a’, accent on the ’s’), a Sanskrit name meaning She whose Kindness comes from the Quality of Space.
Registered spelling Akashadaya. Private preceptor Karunagita.
Anne Fairlie becomes Karunaradha (dot under the ’n’, long second, third and fourth ‘a’), a Sanskrit name meaning Servant of Compassion.
Registered spelling Karunaradha. Private preceptor Dassini.
Ellen Visser becomes Nirmanavati (long first ‘a’, dot under second ’n’, long second ‘i’), a Sanskrit name meaning One who is full of Transformation.
Registered spelling Nirmanavati. Private preceptor Gunabhadri.
Lisa Lens becomes Kusalajoti, a Pali name meaning She who is a Light of the Wholesome.
Registered spelling Kusalajoti. Private preceptor Dharmavasini.
Abi Luthmann becomes Subhanaya (accent on the ’s’, long final ‘a’), a Sanskrit name meaning She whose Leading is Beautiful.
Registered spelling Shubhanaya. Private preceptor Candrika.
We are delighted to announce that the public ordination of Mary Salome from San Francisco, CA took place at the San Francisco Buddhist Center on August 29, 2021.
Mary Salome becomes Rodashruti (the a, u and i are short, accent on the first and third syllable)
a Sanskrit name meaning “She who listens to the cries of the world.”
Private preceptor Vimalasara
Public preceptor Karunadevi
SADHU SADHU SADHU!
Three further ordinations took place at the London Buddhist Centre, UK, on 6th May 2021, of women from the UK. This was the second of three Public Ordinations from a single women’s ordination retreat held online, hosted from Taraloka Retreat Centre.
I’m delighted to let you know that three public ordinations took place at the LBC on 6th May. Following the ordinations at Adhisthana earlier this week, these are the second of three public ordination ceremonies for women on this one retreat.
Jenny Tarrant from Deal becomes Vidyanadi (a long first “a” and a long final “i”), a name meaning “She who is a river of wisdom.” Registered spelling: Vidyanadi. Private Preceptor: Dayapaksini.
Rowena Wingfield-Davies from Croydon becomes Simhasraddha (dot under the “m”, accent above the second “s” and a long final “a”), a name meaning “She who has lion-like faith.” Registered spelling: Singhashraddha. Private Preceptor: Dayapaksini.
Hannah Peaty from the LBC becomes Amalanandi (long final “i”), a name meaning “She whose joy is in purity.” Registered spelling: Amalanandi. Private Preceptor: Jyotismati.
Public preceptor for all: Subhadramati.
SADHU! SADHU! SADHU!
Yours in the Dharma,
We are delighted to announce that the public ordinations of the following women took place at Adhisthana on the 29th June 2021.
Public Preceptor Santavajri:
Leah Cooper becomes Kiranadhi, (dot under the ’n’ and long second ‘i’), a Sanskrit name meaning She whose Wisdom shines like a Moonbeam. Private preceptor Vajrasara
Registered spelling Kiranadhi
Jess Pailthorpe becomes Dayadarsini (long second ‘a’, accent on the ’s’ and long second ‘i’), a Sanskrit name meaning She who has Vision and Compassion.
Private preceptor Varasahaya.
Registered spelling Dayadarshini.
Debbie Jones becomes Taramaitri (long first and second ‘a’ and long second ‘i’) a Sanskrit name meaning She who has the Love of Tara.
Private preceptor Kalyacitta
Registered spelling Taramaitri.
Public Preceptor Parami:
Lesley Davison becomes Satyacitta (long third ‘a’), a Sanskrit name meaning She who places her Heart on the Truth.
Private preceptor Santavajri
Registered spelling Satyacitta
Maria Engström becomes Subhalocani (accent on the ’s’, long ‘i’) a Sanskrit name meaning She who sees what is Truly Beautiful.
Private preceptor Santavajri
Registered spelling Subhalocani
Mo Cullen becomes Muditasuri (long ‘a’. long second ‘u’ and long second ‘i’. Accent on the ’s’), a Sanskrit name meaning Heroine of Sympathetic Joy.
Private preceptor Gunasiddhi
Registered spelling Muditashuri
Paula Youell becomes Paranita (long first and last ‘a’, long ‘i’), a Sanskrit name meaning She who is Guided by the Further Shore.
Private preceptor Suryamati
Registered spelling Paranita
Lena Milosevic becomes Akasarani (long first, second and fourth ‘a’. accent over the ’s’, dot under the ’n’ and long ‘i’), a Sanskrit name meaning Queen of Space.
Private preceptor Samacitta
Registered spelling Akasarani
We are very happy to announce the public ordinations of the following 12 men at Vajrasana on Saturday 29th May 2021.
Public preceptor: Arthapriya
Peter Bennion becomes Mahaprasara (long second a), meaning “He who makes great progress”. Private preceptor: Jayagupta
Martin Payne becomes Akashasiddhi (long first and second a), meaning “One whose accomplishment is the unbounded nature of the awakened mind”. Private preceptor: Prasannavira
Pete Else becomes Kshantichara (long first and second a), meaning “He who practices patience”. Private preceptor: Jayagupta
Stephen Powell becomes Manjunara, meaning “Gentle, beautiful, charming man”. Private preceptor: Keturaja
Declan Brennan becomes Varabandhu, meaning “He who is an excellent friend”. Private preceptor: Paramabandhu
Ben Linsey-Bloom becomes Vilasamuni (long first a), meaning “The sage who shines forth”. Private preceptor: Bodhiketu
Public preceptor: Paramabandhu
Rich Gifford becomes Danaketu (long first a), meaning “He who is a beacon of generosity”. Private preceptor: Danapriya
Richard Dell becomes Prasiddhi, meaning “He who has great accomplishments”. Private preceptor: Amoghavamsa
Lawrence Xhamoni becomes Aryavasin (long first and third a). meaning “He who dwells with the noble ones”. Private preceptor: Maitreyabandhu
James Brodie becomes Khemabandhu, meaning “He who is a friend of the state of peace”. Private preceptor: Satyaraja
Kevin Mullaney becomes Prasannadeva, meaning “Divine being of clarity, purity and brightness”. Private preceptor: Yashodeva
Sanjay Poyzer becomes Suryanaga (long second a), meaning “Naga of the sun”. Private preceptor: Maitreyabandhu
Yours in the Dharma,
Arthapriya & Paramabandhu
The final two ordinations took place at Dhanakosa Retreat Centre, Scotland, on 7th May 2021, of women from the UK. This was the third of three Public Ordinations from a single women’s ordination retreat held online, hosted from Taraloka Retreat Centre.
I’m delighted to let you know that the following women from the Glasgow sangha were publicly ordained at Dhanakosa this afternoon:
Hilary Barclay becomes Vajracetana (long final ‘a’), A Sanskrit name meaning ‘She whose purpose is diamond like’.
Westernised (registered) spelling: Vajrachetana
Christine Cather becomes Suvarnasri (dot under the ’n’, accent over the ’s’ and long ‘i’). A Sanskrit name meaning ‘Golden Light’.
Dassini was the private preceptor for both and I was the public.
This is the third of the sequence of three public ordinations for this one retreat: five women having been ordained in Adhisthana on Tuesday and three at the London Buddhist Centre yesterday. It is delightful to have 10 new Dharmacharinis join the Order and I particularly rejoice in the positivity and creativity brought to the situation once it became clear that neither Akashavana nor Taraloka were able to host the retreat. Not only the team and preceptors rose to the occasion but so did the women being ordained.
Sadhu to all involved,
NEW COLLEGE MEMBERS
The College is delighted to announce that the following have recently become members of the College.
Back in 1981, I was 20 and became Yashodeva on the first 3-month Ordination retreat along with Saddhaloka. I was an art student and thought of the Buddhist life and an artistic life being one, and that that was what I was going to do. I have increasingly found that I have wanted to be involved in team-based projects. I was Chairman of the Brighton Buddhist Centre and then, whilst being an Anagarika, I was chair at Guhyaloka for 12 years, building, cooking, fire-break making, and supporting and leading Ordination Courses. In 1999, whilst at Guhyaloka, I became a Private Preceptor. I hit a mid-life crisis towards the end of this phase and decided I wanted to have a new perspective of myself. I got married and worked as a builder in Valencia, Spain. Then, when Adhisthana was being bought I came here. I wanted to be once again involved in a big team-based project. I will be splitting my time between my work here looking after the buildings and helping our sangha in Spain. And continuing to paint pictures.
I was born in Mombasa, Kenya in 1965 to Indian parents. I have no real memories of Africa as we moved to London when I was two. The sudden death of my father when I was eleven accelerated my questioning about the meaning of life, and in my early teens I decided I was a Buddhist. However I had almost no idea of what Buddhism was apart from what I had gleaned from a few popular books on Zen.
I studied physics at University – looking for answers to the big questions. I also tried to practise with a Zen group while I was a student – mostly trying to be mindful and have a routine in my life. I soon realised that physics wasn’t going to provide me with the answers I was looking for, and my attempts to practice Zen Buddhism left me disheartened and feeling that I lacked the determination and discipline that was needed. After graduating, I decided that my spiritual questioning was going nowhere and that I should get a ‘real’ job. So I ended up working for Marks and Spencer in their I.T. department. I can remember feeling lost and disillusioned and that I’d betrayed my ideals.
It wasn’t until 1994 when I was 28 that I came across the London Buddhist Centre and it was after my first retreat the Christmas of that year (led by Maitreyabandhu and Ratnadharini) that I realised that the Dharma was something I could really practise.
Soon after I moved into one of the LBC communities started by Maitreyabandhu and Paramabandhu (where I have lived ever since). I started working for the LBC in 1998 as a (not very good) fundraiser having finally found the courage to leave my job in the corporate world. I was ordained in 1999 by Subhuti at the Bordharan retreat centre near Nagpur, India. It felt completely right at a mythic level to be ordained in India and to have my public ordination fall on the anniversary of my father’s death twenty-two years previously.
Back at the LBC I took on being the Treasurer and a few years later, the men’s Mitra Convenor. For nine years from 2009 I was the Chair of the LBC which was both demanding and fulfilling – particularly the phase during the building of the new Vajrasana retreat centre. I handed on that role to Suryagupta in 2018 and shortly afterwards went on a 6 month solitary retreat – possibly the happiest period of my life. I am President of the Cambridge Centre and am currently co-writing a book with Maitreyabandhu on ‘Insight in our System of Practice’.
I first came across Triratna (then the FWBO) in Dublin, Ireland, in 1999, at the age of 22. After being convinced by a friend, I learned meditation from Ratnabandhu of the Dublin Meditation Centre and really enjoyed it. A little while later I realised I was a Buddhist, and that without some deeper meaning in my life I would continue to live existentially adrift and feel unfulfilled. I was particularly struck by the clarity of Bhante’s expression of the Dharma. I was finishing my studies in Theoretical Physics in Trinity College Dublin, but decided to leave my Ph.D. unfinished and look for something more meaningful.
In 2002, I had a very significant time participating in a Karuṇā door-knocking appeal in London, and once back in Dublin I became a Mitra and asked for ordination, started working for the Dublin Buddhist Centre as Centre Manager, and moved into a new men’s residential community.
I very much enjoyed the ordination process and was ordained in 2007 in Guhyaloka, my Private Preceptor being Kulananda and my Public Preceptor being Saddhaloka.
In 2009, I became the Men’s Mitra Convenor for Dublin, a role I have loved doing and still do to this day. It’s a very pure experience of being able to help people to connect with and grow in the Dharma, and the friendships that are formed are meaningful indeed. In 2018, I became a Private Preceptor, and I continue to work closely with the ordination team in Padmaloka to help men in Ireland prepare for ordination.
I recently started working for the Sikkha Project on a part-time basis. I still live in a men’s community and enjoy that very much. I am happy to be part of the College so that I can support the continued development and growth of the Triratna Sangha, particularly in Ireland.
I first met Triratna in Leeds, England in 1988. I was studying for a degree in philosophy and was, so it seems now, searching for the meaning of life. I quickly realized that I had found my spiritual home and, after moving to Manchester, I was ordained in 1992. I worked for some years at the Manchester Buddhist Centre and then at Dharmavastu Study Centre.
After a period of academic study and work, I moved to Mexico in 2013 and, somewhat inadvertently, co-founded Centro Budista de Cuernavaca of which I am current and founding Chair. I also ended up as the director of Editorial Dharmamegha, a project dedicated to publishing Sangharakshita´s and other Triratna works in Spanish. I got involved in the men´s ordination process in Latin America shortly after arriving in Mexico and form part of the ordination team.
There is huge potential for Triratna in Latin America and I feel privileged to be able to contribute to this process in some small way. Mexico particularly seems a receptive field for the Dharma and our sangha here is growing rapidly.
My published works include: Exploring Karma and Rebirth (Windhorse, 2003), Visions of Mahayana Buddhism (Windhorse, 2009), and The Buddhist Way (New Holland, 2018).
Remembering former College Members who have died in recent years.
Dharmacharini Anagarika Ratnasuri
1 April 1923 – 13 September 2019
Ratnasuri was born on 1 April 1923, in Norwich, one of triplets. She and one sister survived – after a difficult start; they were so small they had to be fed by their parents with a dropper from a fountain pen. They joined a family that included a brother and another sister. Their father was a tailor. He made the family’s clothes and they were always smartly dressed. Having such a talented father is perhaps where Ratnasuri’s love of art and design started. At thirteen, she went to junior art school and enjoyed drawing, painting, dress design and poster design. At sixteen, she did an apprenticeship as a window dresser in a very smart Norwich department store, but any dreams of progression were abruptly halted by the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939. In 1942, at nineteen, she decided to join the war effort. She said later, “I really wanted to defeat Hitler!” Her boss at the department store was furious, but Ratnasuri had bigger concerns.
All who experienced the war witnessed the fragility of life, but perhaps especially those who saw conflict directly. Ratnasuri worked in the anti-aircraft battery guiding the guns and the men firing them. One night in Antwerp, after a frightening overhead air-raid, she set off to meet a boyfriend and found out he had been killed in a direct hit.
Ratnasuri was already looking for some deeper meaning to her life, but like many women she ended up getting married and settling down. Her marriage wasn’t a happy one, but she did have two sons, Kevin and Peter, who she loved and cherished. She found employment doing quality control in a chocolate factory and as a lab technician for the Milk Marketing Board. The years passed and the children grew up.
In her mid-fifties, having left home, Ratnasuri took up yoga with Sona. Through him she started to read books about Buddhism. She also came across the magazine Mitrata, which was produced in Norwich by Srimala. Ratnasuri started attending classes at the Norwich Buddhist Centre. Typically, she threw herself into the sangha with youthful verve, even though, being in her fifties, she was regarded as ‘old’ by younger members. Eventually she was going to every class the centre offered! She worked with Aloka and other Order Members in the wholefood café, Rainbow, latterly Oranges. She had been involved for two years when she became a mitra. It was five years after first coming along to the Norwich Centre when, in 1983, she was ordained, alongside Ratnavandana and Ratnadakini. She was given the name Ratnasuri, which means ‘Heroine of the Three Jewels’. At sixty, most people are thinking about retirement. Ratnasuri was just getting started!
After ordination, she lived and worked around the Croydon Buddhist Centre for a year. Then, in 1983, the women members of the Western Buddhist Order decided to hold a month-long intensive retreat on the Isle of Muck. There were just twenty women Order members at the time and they joked on the journey that if the ferry went down on the way to Muck, that would be it for the women’s wing of the Order! Fortunately, it didn’t. On the retreat Sanghadevi announced that she wanted to set up the FWBO’s first women’s retreat centre and wanted someone to go with her. Guess who put up their hand and volunteered?
So at sixty-two years old, Ratnasuri found herself going down the long, bumpy track to Cornhill Farm, Shropshire, now known as Taraloka. There were four women who were the founder members of the Taraloka community: Sanghadevi and Ratnasuri and the mitras who would become Karunasri and Kulanandi. The fifth member was Ratnasuri’s cat, Tansy. It wasn’t easy; they were pioneers, and pioneers in boiler suits and hard hats as well, having to undertake much of the restoration work on the old farm themselves. Ratnasuri cooked valiantly for everyone on a camping gas stove, frequently with bits of ceiling falling in the food! She also co-led many of the meditation retreats with Sanghadevi.
Not long after moving to Taraloka, Ratnasuri became an ‘anagarika’. This meant following the example of the Buddha by committing oneself to a simple life where one does not pick and choose; and also taking vows of celibacy. At her ceremony she wore the orange robes that symbolically connect with the Buddha and his early followers, a tradition stretching back over 2,500 years.
But Ratnasuri’s heroism didn’t stop there. In 1987, while on retreat at Taraloka, Ratnasuri received a phone call from Srimala. She told her that Sangharakshita’s mother was ill so he couldn’t go to India to conduct ordinations as planned. Now he wanted to ask if Ratnasuri would go with her, Srimala, to India to conduct the first ordinations of Indian women along with Padmasuri, who was living there. Ratnasuri was startled, but she couldn’t mention it to anyone. A retreatant commented to her, “Something happened to you on that retreat!” and she thought, “If only you knew!” Having never been to India before she was scared by the prospect and wondered how she would cope with speaking in front of so many people. But she told herself, “I get nervous speaking in front of five people, what difference does it make if there’s five hundred?” So, aged sixty-four, she went to India to conduct the public ordinations of Jnanasuri and Vimalasuri. As an anagarika, she wore her orange robes for the ceremony, which would have been a powerful visual symbol about women’s spiritual potential for the Indian community.
The ordinations of the women in India were conducted ‘on behalf of’ Sangharakshita. Two years later he asked three senior women Order members to perform ordinations acting now ‘on their own responsibility’ – a very significant development for the Order. Srimala, Sanghadevi and Ratnasuri were the first women private preceptors acting in this way. But it was Ratnasuri who was asked to perform the public ordinations. In summer 1989, on a retreat at Taraloka, she received into the Order Cittaprabha from Sydney. A few weeks later, on 11 September, another six women received their ordinations. These were historic events, not only for the Western Buddhist Order, but for the whole Buddhist world where full ordination of women – a lineage started by the Buddha himself – had long since largely died out. Because Sangharakshita was able to entrust her with this responsibility, and she was willing to take it on, Ratnasuri opened the door for a new ordination lineage of women ordaining women to come into being. She went on to ordain many more women into the Triratna Buddhist Order. As a preceptor she privately and publicly ordained 45 women in total, as well as being a kalyana mitra or friend to countless others.
Ratnasuri was a lover of meditation and as well as living in the community at Taraloka, she took part in many retreats held there. She was frequently the oldest in community situations, but her joie-de-vivre and youthful spirits belied that. During all this time, she maintained her love and inspiration for the arts. She was a poet and a photographer. She loved relaxing to classical music in her reclining chair. And she was a print-maker, making prints from her own woodcuts.As well as her passion for creativity, meditation and friendship, she was a lover of technology and could be seen at the Genius Bar of an Apple Store whenever she got a chance!
At the end of 2005, Ratnasuri had a huge shock. She was celebrating a birthday in the Taraloka community when she had a phone call to say that her son, Peter, had died. His death was a great loss to Ratnasuri. Previously, she had been suffering with anaemia and later confided that had she still been anaemic, the shock might have killed her. Characteristically she responded to old age and anaemia by taking up the Vajrayogini meditation practice because “I needed more blood” and to “let go more”. She could be seen frequently at Order events manifesting the dakini energy on her pedal scooter!
In 2014, she made the decision to leave Taraloka, her home of nearly thirty years, and move into sheltered accommodation in nearby Wrexham. A retreat centre is a busy place to live and, aged ninety-one, she was ready for a quieter, more reflective life. She also relished the idea of shopping and cooking for herself, going about town, having adventures. Unfortunately, her eyesight was deteriorating quite rapidly due to macular degeneration, so she couldn’t be as independent as she would have liked. One of the hardest things about sight loss, she said, was not being able to see the faces of her friends.
In 2019, it became clear that independent living was no longer viable for Ratnasuri, even though her friends, carers and the Taraloka community had helped considerably. With their help, she moved into a residential home in Wrexham with her beloved budgies, who gave her so much joy.
‘Ratna’ means jewel and Ratnasuri was a kind, generous, creative and multi-faceted person. ‘Suri,’ means heroine: she broke down barriers of what it means to be a woman Buddhist in the west and what it means to practise the Dharma in mid to old age.
She leaves behind an Order with a flourishing women’s wing, and a lineage of women’s ordinations that she helped inaugurate. She leaves behind many devoted friends and admirers, and her son Kevin. She will be sadly missed.
Dharmacharini Kamalagita, 17/09/19