In 1993 I took a short sabbatical break from Taraloka Buddhist Retreat Centre for women, where I lived and worked as part of the team running the place. I had been ordained early in the previous year, and my focus for the retreats I led was very much on women who were new to Buddhism and meditation. Taraloka was already running weekend retreats for newcomers, and I had the idea of expanding these to a week-long retreat. It was a bit of a gamble, in that we had no idea whether women would be prepared to commit to a whole week. ‘New Directions’, as I called them, turned out to be successful.
During these retreats it became obvious that women had particular issues about the Buddhist path and being a woman. The same questions cropped up over and over: how do you make meditation part of your life? Can you combine motherhood and Buddhism? Isn’t Buddhism sexist and patriarchal? How can I carry on with my career whilst committing to Buddhism? What about Buddhism and feminism? What is the Buddhist view on abortion? If I commit myself to Buddhism will I have to give up sex?
So, while I was on my sabbatical, the idea for the book which became The Moon and Flowers sprang into my mind. A book could reach far more women than could ever attend retreats at Taraloka. What if I could persuade some women members of our Order, now the Triratna Buddhist Order, to write a chapter each about some of these questions, giving their own perspectives of their practice and tackling these issues? The book was also to include introductions to basic Buddhism in the form of the Threefold Path of Ethics, Meditation and Wisdom, since it was aimed at women completely new to Buddhism.
I embarked on an enthusiastic quest for authors, living and practising whole-heartedly in countries in many of the parts of the world where Triratna had established centres, sending them briefs of the kinds of issues they might wish to tackle. It soon became obvious to me that this was going to be a full-time project, and my job at Taraloka was also full-time, so I had to break the news to the team at Taraloka that I would be leaving in order to work on the book. After a year inducting my successor, I duly left and went to live in Glasgow. In order to do this I needed funds, so I fundraised amongst my women friends on the Buddhist path, who were extremely generous in setting up standing orders to support me while I worked on the book.
The next two years were ones of hard work and inspiration. There were also dark periods when things weren’t going well but I was always encouraged by the women friends who also believed in the book. Finally, we had a draft ready to send off to Windhorse, and to my great relief and joy they decided to publish it, and the book came out in 1997.
Since then, of course, much has changed within our Buddhist movement and in particular its ‘women’s wing’. We have developed more facilities for women who want to fully commit themselves to the Buddhist path within our Order in the modern world. Two more retreat centres have been established: Tiratanaloka in south Wales, which specialises in ordination training, and Akashavana, in the Catalonian mountains in Spain, a remote and rugged location which hosts our three-month long ordination retreats. Many more women have joined our Order as a result of these excellent initiatives. Many more women are fully committed to their Buddhist practice within our Order, which is neither monastic nor lay, in which they do not have to become nuns to be fully committed. We have developed a tradition of senior women within the Order becoming preceptors and ordaining other women, which is unusual within the Buddhist world and an exciting development in the history of Buddhism. Our ordination is exactly the same for men and women, and opportunities to teach and take responsibility are also open to both sexes.
I believe this new digital edition of the book is still relevant to today’s women seeking to live a fully committed Buddhist life in the modern world. The questions covered in the book are still of interest to them, and it is my hope that a new generation will take courage and inspiration from the writing and examples of the women within its pages.
Kalyanavaca, London, April 2015