Monday, January 10, 2011

On Retreat in Rural India - and back to the City

Here's a report from two intrepid women Dharma-farers in India. Shakyajata, the writer, will be familiar to readers of Triratna News from her work with students at Nagaloka and Aryaloka in Nagpur - not to mention Kerala, Bodh Gaya, and beyond! She says -

"Helen Sullivan and I (Shakyajata) have just returned to Nagpur, from one of the most beautiful places we have seen since arriving in India, 8 weeks ago. This is the Urgyen Sangharakshita Meditation Centre, in Warakwadi, near the large city of Nanded, in Maharashtra, central India.

"We were looked after by Chandrabodhi, one of the founder members of the Triratna Buddhist Order in India, who has worked for about 10 years to establish a simple but extensive retreat centre in a remote and quiet spot, a place of refuge from the din and chaos of Indian city life. Nanded itself has a very vibrant sangha, and a lot of money was raised by Chandrabodhi and others, to provide this facility for them and the whole Triratna Movement in India, especially for meditation.

"Helen recently became a Dhammamitra at Bodh Gaya (see last report), and she and I were both keen to spend some quiet time on retreat. Somehow this was converted (through the persuasive means at Chandrabodhi's disposal - they are irresistible!) into a weekend retreat for about 40 women from Nanded, plus a couple of days for just the two of us - it was wonderful.

"We travelled to Nanded by sleeper coach, as the only train from Nagpur is the kind of train where the driver stops and goes off for a sleep - it takes 24 hours. So we booked on to this big luxurious-looking vehicle, equipped with (slightly grubby) beds. The ride was far from smooth! Only a hovercraft could give a smooth ride on India's winding, potholed roads. We were also told firmly that there would be no toilet stop (on an 8-hour journey) which gave rise to just the kind of anxiety you don't need in such a situation. In fact there WAS a 'comfort stop' in the middle of nowhere, necessitating hiding behind a lorry. (On the return journey, the driver was moving off while Helen was still out of sight - useful Hindi word: RUKH! RUKH! Stop! Stop!)

"But as soon as we arrived, it was non-stop Nanded hospitality, surely the best in the world. People were so kind, nothing was too much trouble for them (provided that impromptu talks/pujas and hundreds of photos, were taken for granted). Not just lovely food and accommodation, but presents as well, quite overwhelming.

"The weekend for women went well, I think, they expressed very genuine-seeming satisfaction. Our youngest retreatant was Sujata, about 8 and wonderfully familiar with the 5 Precepts, and our oldest a redoubtable lady probably in her 80s, who was also a powerful singer. Between there were a number of young girls, good to see, who seemed to have been sent there by their families, but who really got into it and were inspired.

"Most impressive of all were a group of about 6 Dhammamitras, a feisty bunch of ladies with a formidable array of talents and energy. We had a cultural celebration at the end, and one of them did an amazing singing act where she acted the part of a beautiful young woman combing out her long hair, and looking for her lover....who turns out to be a louse!! Much beautiful singing and poetry, and talks - in fact after seeing them in action, I wished we had handed over a big chunk of the retreat to them.....will know better next time, because yes, we have made promises....Helen was very much appreciated, especially by the younger women who find us oldies a bit daunting. We had a fantastic translator, Maya, who had come hundreds of kilometres to make our retreat possible, she felt a great affinity with Helen too.

"Eventually, they all left, except Helen and I, and Chandrabodhi, and Chandrakant the caretaker (who has maintained the Centre virtually single-handed for 9 years). Peace and silence descended, with melodious birdcalls, shrilling cicadas, a sky full of stars and bright moonlight, warmth by day and coolness by night. We meditated and performed puja in the beautiful shrine hall, ate Chandrakant's lovely food, walked up the hill opposite the Centre to view the shaggy, verdant countryside all around, and absorbed many other delights. The natural beauty of the place, the ringing silence, the sweet air...hard to describe how lovely it is. We stayed in small, simple and beautiful rooms, with a peaceful monastic feel.

"This Centre is a fantastic resource, under-used because only half finished - the initial funding raised by Chandrabodhi has now run out. Initially it was for men only, but it’s now open to both men and women. We were very inspired to continue raising funds to finish the buildings, and to communicate to Western friends in search of solitary retreat places, or retreat venues, how little it will take to make this a thriving, well-equipped meditation centre. Do come, and see for yourself!

This can be organised through Chandrabodhi. The foundations of the buildings have been laid, and the Centre can be extended stage by stage; for example, it would take only about 3,000GBP to finish another toilet block, and en-suite solitary accommodation. Then more bedrooms, a dining hall, a kitchen.....if you would like to help, go to

"So now, we are back in noisy, dusty, vibrant Nagpur, working on the projects we have set up to give employment opportunities to young people from poor backgrounds; (see The Animation students are working hard at their drawing, getting over the hard slog and starting to enjoy this most essential skill. Three of last year's graduates are now in Delhi, either working or on the verge of employment; and one of this year's Hardware and Networking students has already had a good job offer. Tonight we shall all be celebrating the New Year together, up on the community rooftop, with much singing and dancing and general alcohol-free joy! A Happy New Year to you all".

Dhammacharini Shakyajata
Helen Sullivan

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