First Impressions: Joining the College
From the outside the College had seemed to me a somewhat nebulous body; distant, even bureaucratic, and concerned primarily with emitting enciclicals, written in committee, which seemed either to be apologies or defences. It was packed with elders who have been the Order’s leaders since the early days. So I expected to feel like an outsider, as is my general tendency, the stray dog that sneaked in via the backdoor; especially given my unlikely route into the College, which included a failed romantic adventure in Latin America. I was expecting condescension, complacent encouragement, and to hear all the reasons why none of my ideas were relevant or workable.
As I arrived at a rain-sodden Adhisthana, already regretting the journey from Cuernavaca (known as the city of eternal spring), what I found was a community of disciples faithfully committed to Urgyen Sangharakshita’s vision of the Dharma or, as Subhuti called it, a ‘vajra kula’; an ‘indisoluble linking that transcends this life’. And, according to him, one can never leave! This was my prevailing experience: that the College is a community, a field of kalyana mitrata. Far from finding its senior members superior and stand offish, I was uplifted by the level of friendliness and warmth shown to me.
Of course I already knew many members of the College, at least to some extent, but there were quite a few that I did not know; Padmasuri, for example, who I only knew via her wonderful account of her time in India, ‘But little Dust’. Sanghadevi, one of the ‘first five’. All were approachable, interested, warm, and open-minded. Having passed through considerable stormy seas in recent years, this warmth and openness on the part of College members took me a little by surprise. Nothing haughty, defensive, or closed-minded. Much of the time I felt that I was just taking darshan of many wonderful beings dedicated to the Dharma life and the Order’s particular embodiment of it.
What is the College and what is for? I am still not sure I can answer that question. Most obviously, it is responsible for ordinations and related matters but aside from that it would seem to be a field of communion in going for refuge, a field of care, of love for the Order, its members, and its spiritual principles. Dhammarati once said that the College is the guardian of Bhante’s vision. He later corrected himself by saying that all Order members guard this vision but that the College has a special responsibility to do so. This care and love for the spiritual vision that sustains the Order pervaded the College meeting. I felt it as a kind of blessing that will sustain me in what I do in the future.
The College, or the community of Public Preceptors, is clearly in a process of transition, perhaps most visibly as members of its first generation gradually withdraw from active participation and new members enter, as it adjusts to the implications of our teacher’s death, and as it seeks to revive inspiration following some uncertain times. There were several arrivals and partings in this meeting alone, notably a welcome for the first Mexican public preceptor, Virasiddhi. We also have a new Chair in Ratnadharini who will bring a fresh perspective to all the issues at play.
While it is a daunting prospect to pledge myself to uphold the Order’s vision of the Dharma, it also feels inspiring. I felt assured that the College will support me in that. Just by being with the members of the College I felt that, in a way that I cannot articulate in words, I was understanding something more deeply about what it means to go for refuge that was embodied in the individual members that I met.