Diving for Pearls with Maggie Kay
The London Buddhist Centre, or the LBC as we called it, was Triratna’s leading edge center in the world at the time. I had never remotely considered moving to ‘the big smoke’ of London before, but I wanted to be where the biggest and best facilities were, wherever that was. My youthful enthusiasm was rewarded by the offer of a room in Samayatara, the newly created ‘ordination hothouse’ women’s community and a job in one of the right-livelihood businesses, Windhorse Typesetters. I was thrilled beyond imaginings to become part of such a fascinating spiritual, economic and social adventure.
Following the vision of Triratna’s founder, Sangharakshita, my fellow spiritual friends and I practiced a radical, semi-monastic, total lifestyle, creating the ‘new society’ – a world within a world.
One of the main features of this lifestyle was ‘the single-sex principle’.
The idea behind this is that it is more spiritually advantageous for us to live, work, study and practice with members of our own sex. It was purported to be less sexually distracting and to remove conditioned ways of relating to the opposite sex. We could still have opposite-sex sexual relationships if we wanted, or same-sex sexual relationships for that matter (the Order was semi-monastic rather than monastic, after all), but the emphasis was on deepening spiritual friendship with our own gender.
Although I found this very strange at first – having always been a tomboy, enjoyed more typically masculine activities and been closer to male friends until then – I could see the point and was willing to give it a go. In fact, it was very liberating and honest. In the process I made very close women friends, gaining a much deeper respect and understanding of my own sex, and therefore, of myself. Peculiar though it may have been for twentieth century Britain, I am very grateful for having experienced this social-spiritual living experiment.
A Londoner by birth, Sangharakshita had spent 20 years in India where he studied and practiced Buddhism from teachers of all Buddhist traditions, becoming a monk and a wandering holy man in the process. An amazing scholar and author, and now a gifted teacher himself, he returned to the UK in the 1960s and set up the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order (FWBO) – an exciting, modern and relevant application of the core principles of Buddhism. In recent years, the FWBO has been renamed Triratna.
Here at the LBC in the 1980s and 1990s, a couple hundred of us lived in a dozen or so big shared Victorian houses scattered around Victoria Park in east London and/or worked in what we called ‘right-livelihood’ businesses. These were ethical, cooperative businesses run using Buddhist principles, including a vegetarian café, a bookshop, a typesetting business, a whole food shop, a secondhand/recycling shop, an ethical gift shop, a complementary health center, an arts center and a housing co-op.
The Buddhist Centre itself was a renovated Victorian fire station, reclaimed from squalor in the 1970s by the first generation Triratna disciples. It was an urban village spiritual utopia that I rarely stepped out of.
I absolutely loved it. I felt happy and fulfilled, inspired by the teachings, lifestyle and friendships I was experiencing, and expanded by the constant insights and personal development that resulted. Every moment of the day was meaningful and enjoyable – our collective morning meditations, companionable work, intense lunchtime ‘tête-à-têtes’, fascinating evening classes and friendly bedtime chats back home.
One thing Triratna really gets right is its emphasis and practice of spiritual friendship and skillful communication. We were living, working and meditating together, peeling off layers of superficial persona, revealing our true, authentic selves. There was nowhere to hide, and we got to know ourselves and each other deeply and intimately. That, in itself, was massively satisfying and transformative.
A Trip to the Himalayas
After a three-year stint working at Windhorse Typesetters, I became restless and decided I needed to explore the world a bit more. And so, I got temp jobs working for the big banks in London’s financial sector a short cycle away and saved up for a 10-week trip to the Himalayas. In February 1989, age 25, I was on a plane bound to Kathmandu in Nepal.
Following my first few days at the Triratna Kathmandu teaching outpost, I set off trekking with a good friend who was passing through on her world travels. We had an amazing time and all too soon I was saying goodbye to her. I was on my own now. I spent a few days relaxing at a lakeside guesthouse before heading back to Kathmandu for a couple of weeks’ retreat in a Tibetan Buddhist community. I was preparing myself for what was yet to come – a pilgrimage to Kalimpong in Sikkhim to visit Dhardo Rimpoche, one of Sangharakshita’s most venerated Tibetan lama teachers.
My legs were aching trying to hold the semi-crouched position Rimpoche had asked me to adopt for the empowerment ceremony. As he was speaking in Tibetan, my instructions came in broken English from my kind and friendly host, Jampal, acting as interpreter. Regardless, my concentration was intense and the atmosphere in the room charged like the dense moment before a lightning strike. Something incredible was happening.
I guessed it did not matter too much if this clumsy big Western woman wriggled and wobbled while we recited and chanted. But that was barely my concern right now. I was finally here, in the presence of the greatest living spiritual being in the world, as far as I knew at the time. It had taken me nine months of mindless work in glamorous City of London financial HQs to save enough money for the trip, not to mention the arduous and eventful journey from London (via Bangladesh, Nepal and India) to reach this remote hermitage in the Himalayan mountains of Kalimpong.
The colorful, cluttered little room was pungent with sweet Tibetan incense. Wisps of it were visible, floating in the bright morning sunshine coming in through the windows. A tiny half- Chinese half-Tibetan elderly man, Dhardo Rimpoche, sat cross-legged on his platform seat wrapped in red and gold Tibetan monk’s robes. So sweet, humble and childlike the day before when we first met, he was now alight with crackling, formidable power and authority. It was as though someone had plugged a floppy, smiley ragdoll into mains electricity, transforming the doll into a real, live superhero intent on a mission.
Dhardo Rimpoche is one of Sangharakshita’s closest and most celebrated teachers. They met when Sangharakshita was living in Kalimpong in the 1950s. A reincarnate Tibetan lama, Rimpoche is revered as a ‘living Bodhisattva’ (or awakened being dedicated to the happiness of all beings) having been named as such by Sangharakshita. While we had Sangharakshita on a pedestal, the awe we felt for Dhardo Rimpoche was off the scale. It certainly was for me.
Although I regarded Sangharakshita with enormous gratitude and respect – and still do – I had little contact with him and never actually felt a deep personal connection. His books and teachings rocked my world and I was devoted to his interpretation of the Buddhist teachings and embodying them in my life within Triratna. But I found Sangharakshita distant, maybe because I felt the single-sex principle kept him somewhat disconnected from the women’s wing of the movement.
By contrast, the personal connection I felt with this old Chino- Tibetan man – someone I could hardly speak to and had only spent a few hours with – was scintillating. It was warm. It was tender. And it was powerful. Being with Rimpoche was like being with Yoda from Star Wars. I realized, in those moments of the empowerment ceremony, that this was why I had come to Asia. I had come on a pilgrimage to sit at the feet of Dhardo Rimpoche.
The first time Jampal brought me before Rimpoche, I burst into foolish, star struck tears. But the venerable one put me at ease. Soon I was giving him the presents I had with me, including some gifts from Sangharakshita that I had been asked to pass on.
I made arrangements to come back the next day. As I was not yet ordained, I was not able to ask for an initiation into my sadhana (a special meditation practice given at ordination), but I requested to participate in some kind of ceremony with Rimpoche.
I did not know what to expect when I returned the next day, but Rimpoche obviously knew exactly what he was doing. Despite my leg cramps and ungainly recitations, that empowerment ceremony touched something deep within me and I have never been the same since. I returned to the UK, on fire with the teachings of enlightenment, determined to turn the wheel of the Dharma (Truth teachings) for the rest of my life.
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.