I listened all day for the knock of the Stranger,
And I often looked out from the door.
The table was scrubbed, the brass shining,
And well swept the floor.
The shadows grew longer and longer,
In the grate the fire flickered and died.
`It's too late. He never will come now'
I said, and sighed.
I sat there musing and musing,
The spinning-wheel still at my side.
The moonlight came in through the window
White like a bride.
As the clock struck twelve I heard nothing
But felt He had come and stayed
Waiting outside. And I listened -
And I was afraid.
My ordination retreat took place within the context of a retreat concentrating on the mythic realm centring on the Refuge Tree – the visualisation meditation which builds up all aspects of Going For Refuge and which includes the Buddhas of past, present and future, the Boddhisattvas, the Arhants, Bhante’s (our teacher’s) teachers, the Dharma, the jinas (the five archetypal Buddhas) plus Vajrasattva, teachers of the past, the lotuses, the devas and the blue sky itself as well as oneself and all sentient beings, thus the whole cosmos across time. All this involves the encouragement and engagement of the imaginal. The imaginal, as the word implies, requires the imagination and is a completely different way of relating thought, emotion and intuition and melding them together. It is a spacious set of experiences where anything (and maybe everything!) can come up. And a fair amount did for me. I had a sense of presence for people not there or now dead. I felt like a huge space was opening up – well, it would have to be colossal in order to accommodate the Buddha! Furthermore, as I approached my private ordination and was doing the six element practice every day, there was definitely a sense of sloughing off an old (then current) version of ‘self’. This first week I spent going through a spectrum of emotions chiefly joy and fear, the fear as described in Bhante’s poem Advent.
My Private Ordination was magical. The private ordination is when you go alone to be ordained by one’s private preceptor, in my case, Vajragupta who gave the 10 precepts (instead of the 5 that are undertaken by a mitra), before whom I made 3 offerings of flower, candle and incense and where he witnessed me reciting the refuges and precepts. It is also the moment that I was given my new name along with the explanation of it. So I walked from the shrine room at Padmaloka along a candlelit walkway more like an airport runway to the kuta, the hut where I met with Vajragupta. At one point there is a choice of path. If I went to the right I could have pulled out and not gone with no hard feelings. But I stayed on course, one which I began nearly 6 years ago, but in many ways one I began 43 years ago. The symbolism and indeed reality of going it alone means that no one is forcing me, I am under no pressure and it is my choice. I go for ordination alone as I will die alone (thus linking with the 6 element practice). It also means that if no one else were to believe in the Buddha and Dharma I would go ahead and spread that word and set about building a sangha.
Inside the kuta, along with Vajragupta who was waiting for me were rupas of Buddhas and Boddhisattvas, and beautiful cloths and sparking gems as well as candles, flowers and incense. It was as if I had entered another world, and I had, one which had been partially created in the week prior in the prostration practice, 6 element practice and the pujas (ritual and devotion) which we had been doing. Thus it was in that place at that time at approximately 8.50 pm on Saturday 18 September Mahasiddhi was born.
My name means ‘Great Accomplishment or Success’. Vajragupta was much struck some years ago when on a day retreat on the worldly winds – pleasure – pain, loss – gain, fame – infamy, praise – blame, those kinds of oppositions which seem to determine our mood and sometimes a whole lot more besides – I said I was particularly buffeted about by the winds of Success and Failure. I have done a lot of things with my life. I guess we all have, but I have to admit that fear of failure and seeking success have been major drivers for me throughout my life. Briefly, having felt a failure at school, I started the world of work as a photographer when I was 15 before discovering the motivation to go grab some Promethean fire of education for myself, in part motivated by seeing the Sultanganj Buddha in Birmingham’s Museum and Art Gallery which in turn prompted me to read something on Buddhism. Then followed a long period of academic engagement before turning my attention to photography (originally as an academic interest) and spending over a decade as a sports photographer before drifting into other areas of photographic specialism. My new name has given me the opportunity to count my blessings and rejoice in them: my family and friendships chief among them.
But lest I should be tempted by the vanities (through the one half of praise and blame) to see myself in terms of great success, my name, most crucially for my practice, has a teaching or reminder in it, namely, to go beyond the samsaric world and seek the greater spiritual accomplishment of Equanimity way beyond the range of those worldly winds no matter how strong they blow and blast. I am beginning to see that my private Preceptor has given me a practice and a mandala that contains the whole of my life. Where I have been, who I have been and the potentiality of what or who I may become. It is also a very big coat that I love already enormously but it is way too big for me at the moment!
At the same time as being given my name, Vajragupta also gave me my sadhana practice: the Buddha – in my case – on whom I shall meditate for the rest of my life and seek to become. Yes it is a very big coat indeed. But I am so thrilled to be doing the Akshobhya practice, the practice of the blue Buddha to whom I have been drawn for so long already. So the period between ordinations was spent exploring these spaces even more: early days engaging with my sadhana, more 6 element practice and renunciation and shedding – or merely letting go.
The Public Ordination was a sheer delight. I was so much more nervous than I thought I’d be. Partly because with my family and friends (sangha and non-sangha) coming to witness my going for refuge and becoming part of the Triratna Buddhist Order and hearing my name for the time (because only Vajragupta and I knew it up till this point) I was concerned that all these parts of my life would come together. But I needn’t have worried. The whole retreat was about integration and this ceremonious celebration was the culmination. It was a sheer delight.