Monday, May 03, 2010

Annual Kshitigarbha retreat draws 500 people in Central India

Saddharaja, an Order Member from Cambridge UK, writes with news of one of Triratna’s largest annual events - the Kshitigarbha retreat in Maharastra, central India. The Kshitigarbha project (named after a Bodhisattva of the same name) began as way of reaching some of the many thousand Buddhist agricultural workers in Maharashtra, central India - many of whom were very poor and unable to afford even the most basic retreat fee. Each year a small team from Cambridge UK, fundraise for the necessary money, then travel to India and conduct the retreat itself and a series of Dharma talks in outlying villages. Here’s what he says -

“Vipulakirti, Dharmasiddhi and I arrived at Nagaloka [Triratna’s training centre in Nagpur] on January 13th, and stayed a couple of days. We were joined by Adityabodhi, Shakyajata , Priyadaka and Sujiva - and all headed out to Wardha City by jeep on January 15th for the first day of the 2010 Kshitigarbha retreat. The previous night I’d given a talk at Mahendranagar TBMSG, a poor locality of Nagpur.

“The 5-day Kshitigarbha retreat was held in a large, rented marriage hall in the suburbs of Wardha. A team from TBMSG Wardha – led by Harshavir and Lokanath – found and prepared the venue. Karunashura was there to greet us. As the retreat organiser, he had done so much good work preparing the retreat.

“500+ people attended the 5 day retreat. Back home we’d successfully raised £3959.00 to cover this, plus the cost of a 6-day Dhamma activities tour of Wardha district. Almost all these retreatants would not have been able to afford to attend the 5-day retreat without this dana.

“We had intended that 900+ attend the retreat, and that number had booked. However, in the previous month, Wardha district (one of the hottest parts of India) had experienced almost unprecedented extreme cold weather. Many retreatants fell ill, and had to cancel. This was disappointing, but beyond our control. Thankfully the weather improved just before the retreat started.

“The theme of the retreat was ‘The Threefold Way’ (sila, samadhi, prajna). Vipulakirti, being a Buddhist choir master and mantra-tune composer, had composed a catchy Indian-style tune (‘ seeela, samaaadhi, prajnaaayayaaa……!’) which caught on very quickly and enthusiastically.

“Each day of the retreat, we meditated (having taught the practices to newcomers), listened to a full-length Dhamma talk from myself (excellently translated by the stalwart Adityabodhi), and discussed the talk theme in many groups, led by the various Order members. In the evenings, we had more Dhamma talks, and puja.

“As ever, this Kshitigarbha retreat was suffused with friendship and friendliness, with much chatting and socialising. The dormitories were enormous by Western standards, and the food excellent. We also had a competent mitra team who were essential to the smooth-running of the retreat.

“Towards the end of the retreat, we had a conversion ceremony for an 18-year old ex-Hindu girl. The conversion ceremony and the final puja of the retreat were very moving. On the last morning many men and women were in tears – sorry to leave. They had appreciated the retreat so much. For many, this was their first contact with Buddhism.

“After the retreat a group of us set out on 6 days touring to Buddhist villages and towns in the Wardha district. We travelled by jeep and motorbike, and covered so many places: Sarul, Dhammangoan, Pusad, Yaratmal, Pulgoan – to name a few. We saw so many beautiful villages and vihars, and most days, had a Day Retreat with many enthusiastic Dhamma practitioners. Day or evening programmes could vary in numbers from 100 to nearly 1000 people. Many tasty meals were eaten, many inspiring Dhamma talks given, and a deep spirit of Sangha pervaded these events, with the chief focuses of inspiration being: The Buddha, Dr Ambedkar and Bhante Sangharakshita.

“For the team, there was great value in this 6 day tour. We had originally planned it for 5 days, but in the end, 6 days was better. We were able to meet and reconnect with many men and women from previous Kshitigarbha retreats, and rejoice in the merits of their continuing Dhamma life, and the excellent follow-up work of local Order members in their locality – who see this work as under the heading of Kshitigarbha work.

“Our final Kshitigarbha event of this tour was in a slum area of Nagpur. We shared this event with a Theravadin Bhikkhu. This final day retreat ended with a jeep ride through the chaotic traffic of Nagpur to catch the Bodh Gaya express train - four of us were about to round off our 2010 Kshitigarbha Dhamma adventure with a week’s pilgrimage at Bodh Gaya, via Varanasi. Karunashura stayed on in India for a few more months – continuing on with more heroic Dhamma work.

“‘Kshitigarbha’ as a project name is evolving and developing in the Indian Sangha, and may become a group of Dhamma activities and even charities, of which, the Kshitigarbha dana retreats may just be one aspect.

“For next year, there is a tentative plan to have two Kshitigarbha retreats – one in Wardha again and also another a week later in Aurangabad.

“I’ll finish this report by thanking all our generous donors – wherever you are. Your dana makes a big difference. Our website is at if you'd like to contribute to our next one”.


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Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great work, heartening & inspiring to read. Vajracaksu (Turkey)


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