Diary of a Taraloka Volunteer

Camille is volunteering at Taraloka for six months, and she wrote a beautiful piece for her Sangha back home in France. You can read the original version here, or the English version below...

The week I arrived in March, it snowed. Six months as a volunteer at Taraloka, a lot of organising, a lot of saving, and a leap into the unknown, or almost (I'd only been here twice, more than ten years ago). The community that runs the retreat centre is currently made up of 10 women, including three Order Members. I'm the only one here for a limited time; all the others are here long term. Our rhythm of life is regulated by our practice together, our work, and by the succession of retreats, almost in continuity, with a big cleaning day on Fridays, when a retreat usually finishes at the end of the morning, and we welcome new retreatants from 4pm.

My work is quite varied, with a lot of cleaning, waste sorting and a bit of cooking for the retreat centre. I've also done some painting and sanding, and since the summer I've spent quite a bit of time on the lawnmower and with a rake in my hand. I have to say that the pace of life compared with my office job is radically different, and more physically demanding!

We meet every morning for meditation at 7am, and then the working day begins with check in at 9am in the living room. This is an intense moment of the day, when we all share our emotions, our sadnesses and our fears, and I've come to realise that this is the heart of the construction of our little sangha. Then the working day unfolds, with different tasks for each of us, quite often alone, as does lunch, which is taken at different times for each of us. On the other hand, we all get together for the evening meal, which is the second moment of sharing, this time more informal and joyful, of the day. The evenings are generally free, and most of the time everyone goes off on their own. We do, however, have a community evening on Wednesday evenings (the activities are varied, from a mantra chanting workshop, a puja, or a picnic at the lake, or a trip to the cinema or a birthday party...), a study evening on Thursday evenings and, for the mitras, GFR on Sunday evenings.

I have days off during the week and holidays. I'm going to do two one-week retreats (in Vajraloka, which I don't know, and one here, in Taraloka), but I've also decided to take advantage of my presence here to visit some Triratna Buddhist centres, as there are plenty here! The nearest one is in Shrewsbury, where I've been several times, for a mitra ceremony, an open morning of teaching or for Buddha Day, where the mitra study group had prepared a collective project: a participatory theatrical performance about Mara's attack at the time of Buddha's Enlightenment! We had a good laugh, I must say. I think this centre is about the size of the one in Paris. I've also visited the huge centre in Manchester (a three-storey building right in the centre of the city!) and I've planned to visit the one in Sheffield in June.

Each time, I ask to be accommodated in the women's residential communities which, if they have space, are delighted to welcome me. In this way, I get to see other communities in action, some of them less 'purist' than Taraloka (in one of them, I spent an evening watching the King's coronation on television!) I also went to Adhisthana, where you can stay as a guest (either by paying per night, or for free if you take part in the daily chores). This huge centre for study, retreat and now 'pilgrimage' (around Sangharakshita's flat and tomb) is a place where you meet lots of people from all over the world. It also functions as an 'urban' centre, with a sangha evening every Tuesday evening for people from the neighbouring villages, with meditation, a tea break and Dharma teaching, often by experienced members of the Order who live in Adhisthana or the surrounding villages.

So much for a little feedback and, I hope, to inspire you to try the adventure one day. Meeting the Triratna Movement, becoming aware of its scope, its history and its richness, will be an important moment in my commitment. Now spring is here, and our days are very busy. We're putting up a huge tent for the Great Gathering in the weeks to come, with lots of work and grass to mow... Back to work!