Diving for Pearls with Maggie Kay
Taking the Plunge
Should I or Shouldn’t I?
I lived and breathed Triratna Buddhism, but I always tried to keep an objective perspective. I was like a participant sociologist living in the rainforest studying an indigenous tribe; I did not want to disappear into collective customs, forgetting there was another whole world out there. What attracted me to the movement in the first place was that it was started by a groundbreaking maverick (as Sangharakshita was in his early days), and the ideas and understanding were so refreshingly free of outmoded old religious habits, customs and superstitions.
Even so, there were certain ideas promoted in the Triratna during my involvement that rankled. My main issue was with how sexual partnerships and family life seemed not to be considered ideal conditions for spiritual development. I was challenged by what appeared to be the prevalent view that succumbing to our ‘biological urges’ handicapped our progress. The movement was predominately male and I wondered if Sangharakshita really understood women. Worst of all, I got the impression that women were considered to be spiritually disadvantaged and more prone to ‘lower evolutionary’ instincts than men.
It was this apparent ‘reach for the heavens and leave the lowly world behind’ attitude that ultimately led me to depart Triratna. Towards the end of my years in London, I gave a controversial talk at our large open public class on the difference between the solar-masculine and the lunar-feminine approaches to spirituality. I didn’t directly challenge what I considered to be Sangharakshita’s solar-masculine approach, but even so, drawing attention to an alternative perspective sent shock waves around the room. (A handful of my audience, however, absolutely loved it!)
From what I have heard, Triratna has significantly changed in recent years. Certainly, lots more Order Members have paired up and are living with partners and/or are having families together. But back in my days of involvement, wariness of relationships and family life seemed prevalent. I was close to being ordained in 1991, still hugely fired up from my pilgrimage and empowerment with Dhardo Rimpoche a couple of years before. However, a talk on an ordination preparation retreat – hinting that we should undertake not to live with a sexual partner after we were ordained – slammed the breaks on. I just knew I could not promise any such thing. It took me a further two years to work that one out of my system and continue to ordination.
From when I was about 24, my maternal alarm clock started ringing intermittently, set off by the birth my nieces and nephew. Most of my female spiritual friends were not interested in having children, being quite content with Triratna’s seeming encouragement to stay single and avoid family life. But for me, my instinct to have a baby became an issue, especially as I had now requested ordination. It was also at cross-purposes with my boyfriend, Colin, who was ordained and did not have family life in his sights. I discussed my baby hankerings from time to time but, by and large, tried to put it on the back burner and get on with other things.
Eventually, I resolved my dilemma when my preceptor, Sanghadevi – who would be deciding on my readiness and ordaining me – made it clear that it was fine to have a baby and be ordained. I just needed to do some planning, like having a career break, and do one thing at a time. This was all I needed to hear to let go of my tension and inner conflict about it. I knew for sure that I wanted to be ordained, but not if I wanted to become a mother so it seemed best to just go with what I was sure of and get myself ordained.
To be at the London Buddhist Centre was an amazing way to spend my 20s and an experience I will always be grateful for. As well as daily meditation and living and working with fellow Buddhists, I attended evening and weekend classes, had the benefit of no-holds-barred spiritual friendship and mentoring, and spent about two months a year on intensive retreats in the country. During that decade, I was thoroughly spiritually slow cooked from the inside out.
In November 1993, at the beautiful Dhanakosa Retreat Centre on the banks of Loch Voil in the Scottish Highlands, I was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order and became Srimati.
The night was electric, charged with magic. Down by the loch, the moon lit the inky water and the awesome presence of the loch-side mountain wrapped its arms around us. We were dancing, jubilant, tracing our names in the air with sparklers. They were OUR names, new names symbolizing spiritual rebirth, just announced during our public ordination ceremony. My name looked magnificent, a laser signature in the dark, starry sky:
S r i m a t i S r i m a t i S r i m a t i
Twelve of us were ordained that year. I had been through the ordination process with many of them for years, living and working with some, on retreats and in study groups with others, and was thrilled to be sharing this retreat with two of my closest friends, Srisambhava and Dhammadassin. I was also thrilled that the ordination retreat that year happened to be in Scotland. It was a bit of a fluke as the ordination process was in transition between two retreat centers and used Dhanakosa as a one-off. How wonderful to be ordained in my native land!
During the previous week of silent retreat, individual private ordinations had taken place with our preceptors while everyone else continued meditating in the main shrine room. I was the first. I quietly rose from my place near the back of the shrine room and crept out of the barn building into the dark. My way was lit by candles on the ground along a short path to a wooden cabin, perched on the edge of the gushing mountain-river. The air was cold and crisp. I could feel every step I made, hear every breath I took.
My preceptor, Sanghadevi, was waiting inside the cabin. The shrine was dressed in silky white cloths, flowers and candles, and was aglow with sacred light. Underneath the central Buddha statue, a picture of Sangharakshita seemed like it actually contained him, as though he was there inside the frame, watching and blessing me. I took my seat on some cushions made ready alongside my preceptor and we began the ceremony.
Guided by Sanghadevi, I made my formal request for ordination and took my vows. Familiar with chanting the ‘refuges and precepts’ in call and response after nearly 10 years of practice, I was now about to finally become a member of the Order. And so, I promised to commit to, or ‘take refuge’ in, the Buddha – the ideal of enlightenment, the Dharma – the path of the Buddha’s teaching and the Sangha – the spiritual community. We then chanted the 10 ethical precepts in Sanskrit, traditionally translated as:
I undertake to abstain from taking life
I undertake to abstain from taking the not-given
I undertake to abstain from sexual misconduct
I undertake to abstain from false speech
I undertake to abstain from harsh speech
I undertake to abstain from useless speech
I undertake to abstain from slanderous speech
I undertake to abstain from covetousness
I undertake to abstain from animosity
I undertake to abstain from false views
Thanks to Sangharakshita’s poetic, modern, positive touch, we also recited the precepts in English as:
With deeds of loving kindness, I purify my body
With open-hearted generosity, I purify my body
With stillness, simplicity and contentment, I purify my body
With truthful communication, I purify my speech
With words kindly and gracious, I purify my speech
With utterance helpful and harmonious, I purify my speech
Abandoning covetousness for tranquility, I purify my mind
Changing hatred into compassion, I purify my mind
Transforming ignorance into wisdom, I purify my mind
Sanghadevi then initiated me into my chosen sadhana or primary meditation practice. I had chosen Green Tara, a female Buddha figure symbolizing compassion in action. Green Tara has been a constant inspiration for me ever since I first picked up a postcard depicting her in a bookshop in Scotland’s capital city of Edinburgh many years before. Her image shot an untranslatable message of connection and meaning into my heart, love at first sight. I felt like I knew her, soul-to-soul, that I was her and she was me. I repeated Tara’s mantra after Sanghadevi, “Om tare tutare ture svaha,” and felt new power course through me in a direct line from Tara herself.
Finally, my new name was revealed. Personally chosen by your preceptor, your ordained name is meant to reflect spiritual qualities that you already have or are aspiring to. I knew Srimati right immediately. It was as though Sanghadevi had dug deep into core of the earth and found the esoteric name that has always been buried there for me. I later discovered that Sanghadevi had been keeping my name secret for over two years from when it looked like I was nearly ready for ordination but then veered off course.
The meaning of Srimati drawn out for me by Sanghadevi is ‘radiant mind’ or ‘auspicious intelligence’. Sri means radiant, glorious, shining, and auspicious. Mati means mind or intelligence, but it also means determination or devotion, so I’ve come to think of Mati as ‘strong minded’. As my dear mum will tell you, “Oh, she is very determined alright!” My lighthearted, colloquial version of Srimati is ‘Bright Spark’.
For the six days before it was announced at the public ordination, I cherished my new name privately. “Srimati, Srimati, Srimati,” reverberated constantly throughout my mind and heart like a mantra. I meditated on it, wrote about it in my journal, walked along the loch-side paths with it and absorbed it into my being. This was me now! I was Srimati, ‘radiant mind’, a member of Triratna Buddhist Order.
At the public ordinations, I discovered that Sanghadevi had given me four ‘Sri-sisters’: Srisambhava, Srivati, Sripada and Srivandana. As she announced our names, Sanghadevi said a little more about why she had chosen those names for us. Srimati, she explained, had seemed an even more appropriate name for me two years after she first thought of it as I had shown such determination to continue on with the ordination process after my “wobble with the single-sex-principle,” as she called it.
Sanghadevi also gave me a special link with my dear friend, naming us after two spiritual companions, Srimati and Srisambhava, from a Buddhist text on spiritual friendship called the Gandavyuha Sutra. In the sutra, Srimati and Srisambhava are two enlightened spiritual companions, a girl and a boy. Sanghadevi made the joke that it is possible to be spiritual friends with the opposite sex, it just has to be kept on a high level.
In retrospect, this whole ‘living with an opposite sex partner’ question has been an important and recurring motif for me throughout my life. Deep down, I have always known that I was destined to find and marry my twin soul, and that far from being a spiritual disadvantage, it would be the most spiritually potent and transformative experiences I would ever have. Back in those days, the only hint I had was my passion for a book by Stephen and Ondrea Levine called Embracing the Beloved: Relationship as a Path of Awakening. In naming me after a spiritual couple, Sanghadevi had inadvertently put her finger right on my destiny.
We had the public ordination ceremony on the afternoon of 25th November 1993. It was a beautiful day. Thick fluffy snowflakes fell, covering the ground in magical icing. We all dressed for the occasion, some ‘up’ (colorful dress and jewelry) and some ‘down’ (shaven head and robe) depending on the way we wanted to express our ordination. My choice was a long, straight, burgundy velvet skirt and matching cropped jacket with a mustard scarf. I later wondered if I had chosen those colors in unconscious affinity with the Tibetan monk’s robes worn by Dhardo Rimpoche. My mum had excitedly helped me choose my outfit during a few days with her before she drove me to the retreat center, wonderfully supportive as always.
After the ceremony, we returned to the dining room in our finery for a lovely dinner and to open the copious amounts of little gifts we’d all given one another. Able to chat now, for the first time after days of silence, the atmosphere was sacred, joyful and delighted, and it was wonderful to call each other by our new names. With the snow continuing to fall all around us in that stunning highland location, it was like the most beautiful, fairytale Christmas day.
Known as the Inner Wisdom Coach and formerly an ordained Buddhist, Maggie specialises in meditation, mindfulness, law of attraction, metaphysics and spiritual intelligence for life, love and business.
As well as coaching one-to-one, she trains accredited Thrivecraft life coaches and meditation teachers and runs retreats and workshops for soulful entrepreneurs, coaches and well being professionals.
In 2016, with her son Jamie grown up, Maggie established Thrivecraft Home Hub, a riverside country retreat in Cornwall, UK, where she lives with her soul mate husband, Patrick.
Her new book – Diving for Pearls: A Wise Woman's Guide to Finding Love (O Books) – is a highly readable true love and spiritual adventure story laced with tips and teachings on meditation, Buddhism, inner wisdom and relationships relevant to all.
Maggie's vision for the future includes taking Thrivecraft worldwide via a new online academy; continuing to mentor coaches, well-being professionals and meditation teachers to grow and prosper their businesses; producing audios of her full range of guided meditations; and writing further books to inspire and support everyone to create rich, happy and fulfilling lives.
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Thrivecraft with Maggie Kay
Wisdom. Inspiration. Self-belief.