On the 27th December 2015 four men from Sydney (Brocky, Eric, Julian and Stephen) and one from Auckland accompanied by their private preceptors (Viraja, Khemadhamma and Dharmananda) travelled to Bhaja in India to attend a four week ordination course. Initially joined by Sona from the UK who be the course leader and our public preceptor. We had a week together on our own (apart from the excellent retreat center team) before our Indian brothers joined us.
Bhaja is a couple of hours drive east of Mumbai, and a quiet agricultural area. The retreat center is over looked by the Bhaja caves where a shrine room and stupa were cut out of the solid rock some 2,200 years ago. It felt a great honour to be practicing in the shadow of our forebears. For someone who has never really got the ‘mythic context’ I have to say that the whole retreat took place for me in a mythic realm. I found myself thinking very little but experiencing, intuiting and receiving a great deal. There was also a definite sense of spiritual death and spiritual rebirth.
Our days would start with a session of Qi Gong and then a meditation. Then there was breakfast for which our hosts laid on cornflakes and toast for the westerners with the option of a more local spicy dish. After breakfast there was a work period. Mid morning we had a discussion get together. Lunch was the main meal of the day, rice with varied curries and breads washed down with strong chai. Bliss! There was further meditation in the afternoon followed by a smaller curry for dinner. The day concluded with a Puja performed in a mixture of Marathi (which always sounded beautiful and melodic) and English (very plain!) . The pujas wer both very moving and very enjoyable.
Spending time with the members of the Indian Sangha was a huge and delightful privilege. They taught me the meaning of the word ‘ hospitality’. We held regular Q&A sessions with each other in which we learnt about our different backgrounds, cultures and lifestyles. Although we came from such diverse backgrounds and practiced in different environments it was clear that we shared a common desire to take refuge in the 3 Jewels. I was also very impressed by the Indian Sangha’s deep reverence for Doctor Ambedkhar and Bhante Sangharakshita. Jai Bhim!
Our private ordinations took place during the last week of the retreat. Then on the final day we had our public ordinations when our new names were announced. It is estimated that up to two thousand people attended this ceremony. The shrine room was packed and additional seating was laid on outside. Colourful flags and canopies were erected. The atmosphere was loud, lively and very happy. Much celebrating and eating took place after the ceremony and we were asked to be included in numerous photographs.
Being on retreat in the land of the Buddha and experiencing such a different culture made this one of the happiest times of my life.