New Milestone: Developing Mutual Respect Between Pali and Sanskrit Buddhist Traditions
Melbourne has just come out of its fourth lockdown and I continue to work remotely on Tara Lanka projects from Bendigo. I’m building important connections with local Sri Lankans living nearby.
The internet connects me with people back in Sri Lanka. Regular meetings with “my right-hand ma’am”, Tikiri, help me deal with day-to-day issues in a timely way, including supporting the girls in the shelter. Tara Lanka people continue group activities and prayers.
I hope you enjoy reading about our activities in this mid 2021 Report.
2021 New Year with the Bendigo Locals
As 2021 arrived, some local Sri Lankan families joined me to welcome in the New Year at my new temporary cabin-on-wheels at the foot of the Great Stupa in Bendigo.
We did prayers in Pali tradition and in Sanskrit (Tibetan) tradition. Our interactions have increased over the year with many hundreds of Sri Lankan visitors coming to the Stupa and offering dana to the resident monks and nuns. Venerable Gyatso very kindly gives them an introduction to Mahayana Buddhism, answering questions and dispelling myths.
Dana in the Sherab Ling monastery gompa
I am working very closely with Deeptha Wickramasingha, the secretary of Bodhi Dhamma Vihara Bendigo, a Sri Lankan association bringing the Sri Maha Bodhi branch to the Stupa. Deeptha is making new connections with Melbourne-based Sri Lankan communities. Tara Lanka facilitates communication and provides access to key resources. My Kandy landlady, Pushpa, ‘coincidentally’ lives in Melbourne and has become a key supporter of their Enlightenment Tree Project.
At the request of the Vihara community, Geshe Rabten, the resident Tibetan teacher at Atisha Centre, gave a video teaching on the Four Noble Truths. It was translated into Sinhalese and the subtitled video will be shared on the YouTube channel of Bodhi Dhamma Vihara and could reach as many as 2000 Sinhalese in Melbourne.
Traditions Working Together at The Great Stupa
Geshe Rabten (centre, with yellow vest) with the Maha Bodhi sapling in the foreground
Geshe Rabten also prayed to remove obstacles to the building of the vihara (artist view below). . A group met and recited the Golden Light Sutra in Sinhalese and English for the success of the project.
The Vihara structure, along with the Great Stupa, will join the Bodhgaya and Anuradhapura in being the three places in the world that have a documented Enlightenment Tree alongside a major stupa. Tara Lanka created a visual presentation for fundraising. Click this link to see the presentation.
We Completed Our Mantra Recitations Offering to Rinpoche on Saka Dawa
At the end of December 2020, a dedicated group of people in Sri Lanka and Australia pledged to recite 1,300,000 Vajra Guru mantras. This was in gratitude for Rinpoche’s ongoing guidance to Sri Lankan people who have connected with him through my time in the country. By early May 2021, well over this number were completed by Sugathadasa, Piyasiri, Kumari, Malintha, Dinusha and Christine.
Inspiringly, the Sugathadasa family has memorised the Heart Sutra.
Translator Found for His Holiness
Bikkshuni Thubten Chodron’s Book “One Teacher – Many traditions” by His Holiness The Dalai Lama has finally found a Sinhala translator. A Harvard PhD-holder, Bhante Kusala in the US, has begun to translate it. He has close ties with Wisdom publications and is one of the young Sri Lankan scholar monks of a new generation bringing fresh hope to reconcile the differences within traditions.
Continuing to Practice Generosity in Sri Lanka
At the start of the year a childhood friend, Deepthika, and her husband Rohana made a generous donation to help poor pregnant mothers in Sagama, a remote village in Kandy district. This was facilitated by Tikiri. The mothers received items needed for their new babies, dry rations and a nutritious food pack that they would otherwise not be able to buy.
Norton Bridge, a dear friend of Kumari, does great work with impoverished local plantation workers. With her help we donated towards a wood chipping machine for a father of two, who is paying off high interest debts that would have condemned him to life-long slavery.
We also built a house for a family in the same estate.
Here is the family in front of their new little house
A big win for sexually abused girls
Tara Lanka was able to bring the plight of sexual abuse victims to the attention of a high profile public servant in the justice system. As a result of this personal intervention, an island-wide high level investigation began and it has already resolved many cases. For large numbers of young girls, just ending their cases and stopping their pointless and retraumatising court appearances is a most significant outcome and a great relief. I am indebted to the public servant whose persistence is ending this cruel practice.
Providing good education for
a lucky few girls at the shelter
Covid-19 travel restrictions and school closures created challenges that impacted our work. Three years ago, we successfully enrolled three girls into Mowbray College, a private school in Kandy. We had earlier convinced the College to let them skip a grade so they would finish their O Level certificate exam at the end of this 2021 year.
However, with the Covid lockdown, they had not been able to attend school for over a year and the shelter had no online learning facilities. By funding Tikiri and Chathurika, Tara Lanka provided three of the girls with private tuition. We had to work hard to bring them up to speed and, thanks to Tikiri’s constant support, they are keeping up very well.
Tutoring in literacy skills for girls who missed out on schooling
One of our original Mowbray College girls, Sakuni, was moved to the prestigious Kandy Convent early in 2021. There she has made several friends and has fitted in socially and has easily adapted to being in a much larger school.
All these girls are showing remarkable improvement in overall confidence and behaviour.
Maree Fowler (left), a long term sponsor of Tara Lanka projects, recently completed her Teaching English as a Second Language course. She finally managed to connect via Zoom and provide online learning. Girls are thrilled to have her support.
Monthly Birthday Celebrations Continue We celebrated Maree’s birthday and other birthdays at the shelter via WhatsApp.
Five years ago Maree Fowler visited Sri Lanka and taught cake making skills with the view to starting a cake making business and now Maree’s dream has become a business for the shelter and has provided commercial skills for girls
Another Melbourne connection means hand embroidered handkerchiefs made at the shelter are now enjoying repeat orders from Australia
Tara Lanka is currently supporting two other girls helping them find a safe path in life after leaving the shelter. Trauma is the root of problems not only at the shelter so I decided to look into it more closely.
Developing Trauma Awareness with
Prof Anita Milicevic
I joined “The Journey From Trauma to Flourishing” a Trauma recovery workshop with Dr Milicevic. Anita is a Dharma practitioner and an expert therapist on Trauma. I found the experience to be wonderful and eye-opening. She also allowed me to invite some Sri Lankan mental health professionals who joined in.
Here is what a couple of them wrote:
“I attended Anita Milicevic’s workshop expecting to learn about other people’s trauma. I left the workshop on the first day with a deeper understanding of the experiences in my own life and how I have slowly being conditioned to a particular way of reacting and left the workshop on the second day with the hope that it was possible for me to break this cycle of behaviours and expectations through which I had lived my life.” Dinusha W
“I am so moved by Anita’s humility although a highly qualified Professional, her kindness is obvious. This workshop has made me want to meditate and develop mindfulness”. Aardly M
There are ongoing offerings from the providers of this course, Contemplative Conscious Network, to support those who have done the initial workshop.
Online activities in the wider community: building bridges across race and religion.
In the dark of night, while everyone else is sleeping around here, I have been giving some presentations online. The Wisdom Women Wednesday programme continues to bring fresh information and a safe space for important discussions during the pandemic.
“Teachers in the Present Moment with Kindness, Empathy, Values and Compassion” was organized by Mindful Educators in Sri Lanka and my presentation is now on their website as it encapsulated the essence of their work. The group seeks ongoing advice and participation.
They’ve put the video up on YouTube, below
Rinpoche sees a giant Medicine Buddha statue
project for me in Sri Lanka
“Dream Big” — a typical response from Rinpoche and delivered again when one student in Sri Lanka sought his advice. She expressed her wish to build a Medicine Buddha statue on her property in the sacred city of Anuradhapura.
Rinpoche came back “It comes out [in the mo] very good to build a five storeys high Medicine Buddha statue in Sri Lanka. You might need help.” My first reaction was disbelief. With Rinpoche’s guidance, I have seen impossible things become possible.
People from within Sri Lanka along with the experienced team at the Great Stupa are very supportive and encouraging. Following Rinpoche’s advice, more Medicine Buddha pujas will commence in Sri Lanka once curfew eases and additional texts of Sinhala translation and mantra cards will be printed immediately. The small but enthusiastic group are re-energised and have already begun the preliminary practices for the success of this adventurous project. Building such a huge statue looks as if Rinpoche has a few decades of work for me to do in Sri Lanka.
Halfway though 2021— Big Thanks from my heart
A heartfelt thanks to Dr Anita Millicevic and Contemplative Conscious Group for the care and support provided to me this year. And my deepest thanks and appreciation to all my regular supporters, including Maree, Doc, Oi Loon, Peter, Rosalee, Pushpa, Christine, Owen, Sally, Stephanie, Annie, Ingrid, Lynette, Sarah, Jaala and my sangha family at Atisha. I hope you are rejoicing with me in the results we have achieved. I pray you will continue to support Tara Lanka along with all the wonderful people who make things happen on the ground in Sri Lanka.