Most of our Bali pilgrims opted to join us at the 14th Sakyadhita International Conference in a lush resort outside of Yogyakarta.
It was a short hop from Bali to Java. Our small plane was filled with tribal elders from some of the remote island tribes enroute to meet with the government of the country to discuss issues. The sounds and smells were quite exotic!! As we flew through the clouds we could see the peaks of several volcanos venting. We were riding on the mythical Garuda into a new world.
We arrived and were treated with loving attention, whisked into a huge bus and ferried to the Sambi Resort. Our rooms were lovely. The grounds were exquisite with a little river running through the center and sculpted gardens and walkways. They were pulsing with one thousand mostly women, many of them nuns, from all over the world, greeting each other with glee.
The focus of the conference was to discuss creating better connections between Dharma and the social and political dimensions of women’s experience. For one week we explored through meditation, educational presentations, workshops, interactive discussions, cultural exchanges and spontaneous conversations how compassion and spiritual development can help shape a more just and peaceful world.
Over many centuries, Buddhist women have made significant contributions to the spiritual and social well-being of their communities. Nevertheless, Buddhist women are frequently excluded from the processes that shape their communities, such as negotiations among religious, governmental, and social leaders. Since 1987 Sakyadhita has been addressing these concerns methodically and it is very moving to see the women share their strategies with each other.
The first order of business was a magnificent feat of organization….the entire 1000 members of the conference were transported to the royal palace to meet the Sultan/Governor of the area. We were seated in a lovely pavilion and treated to welcome talks, food and drink, and then a tour of the royal palace. It was a very powerful way to start the conference.
The days were organized with panels in the morning and early afternoon presenting papers and discussing topics. Mid afternoon were a wide range of workshops from learning the art of batik, to learning the art of meditation. We were part of the workshop offerings. There were many wonderful things being offered and it was difficult for people to choose but despite the competition, our workshops were filled to overflowing.
We led one group in dancing the Qualities of Green Tara. Another afternoon we concentrated on White Tara. But I think the most popular and amusing event of all was teaching Tara Tames the Eight Fears, a dance drama that I wrote for children. Attendees to the conference were from 40 different countries and I knew that we were going to bog down in translation. So I simply started dancing and singing with the music acting out all the parts. We were given a charming little spot next to the river. I wasn’t anticipating a big crowd but I was so wrong.
The small space quickly filled up with laughing dancing friends. People continued to gather and dance with us on walkways, hills and gardens surrounding us. By the time we got to dancing the “Demon of Doubt” there were almost a hundred people surrounding us chanting with glee, “Namoh Arya Tara”!!!
According to the schedule we were to offer the Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara at one of the sacred temples in the area. We invited anyone who was willing to practice with us every morning for an hour to join the mandala. We were given an open air pavilion, on the highest level of the resort.
We looked right out onto the smoking volcano, Mount Merapi. the most active volcano in Indonesia.
After practicing the praises Myri and I taught the group our new “Dancing Tara From The Heart”, inspired by a Dzogchen Sadhana of Dudjom Lingpa. By the end of practice we were all in an altered state.
At the end of the conference we went with about half of the attendees on pilgrimage to some of the ancient Buddhist sites of the area. Java was a famous seat of Buddhist practice and learning from the second century until the 14th century. It was breathtaking to wander these ancient monuments.
Our first stop was a sunrise meditation at Borobodur. the largest Buddhist temple in the world. We spent all morning meditating and walking contemplatively around the massive structure, enjoying the exquisite reliefs, endless depictions of the Buddhist Way.
After a lavish meal the buses bounced us through the countryside to one treat after another. One of the temples we explored was devoted to White Tara, a practice brought to the area by Atisha, famous for bringing Vajrayana Buddhism to Tibet. We danced Tara on the grounds, a joyous, uplifting experience.
The pilgrimage climaxed with an offering of the Mandala Dance of the 21 Praises of Tara in front of the Manjushri Temple complex. All the arrangements that we had been promised, a stage, etc were not in evidence…..we were pointed to a grassy area where there were a few chairs stacked, a few rolls of mats and a few trees to escape the sun.
The dancers didn’t miss a beat. We had brought some sheets “just in case” and created a dressing room held up by dancers and supporters. Once we decided on the direction, facing the audience, the temple behind us, we rolled out the mats for our audience, organized some chairs and walked through the mandala to center ourselves.
We managed the sound through my little blue tooth speaker and one of the conference attendees amplified it through a speaker she happened to have with her. Letting go of all preconceived ideas of the way it was supposed to be we all entered a state of profound bliss, dancing and singing Tara’s Praises. Audience and dancers, all were transported.
We have an invitation to bring our precious dharma dances to the next Sakyadhita Conference to be held in Hong Kong. Let me know if you want to join us. I am also seeking sponsorship for two of our senior teachers to attend. Let me know if you would like to make a donation to help me realize this .
We join hearts with this precious gathering of dynamic women and cheer them on in their endeavors of providing equal opportunity in the dharma for all.
If you want to enjoy more images of the Conference here are a couple of links……
… a short video by Ari Amphel about the 14th Sakyadhita Conference
…a link to Olivier Adam’s professional photos