In 1992 five women got together - Samata, Dhammadinna, Anjali, Anoma and Sanghadevi (pictured above) - and decided to create a retreat centre for women who had asked for ordination. At that time there were very few women in the Order – less than 100, and it was taking women a long time to become ready for ordination. These five made quite a commitment to the project – they agreed that they’d stay with it ‘for life’, and moved in together to a house near Taraloka, where they started the long haul of fundraising and looking for properties.
This took two years, while they were also running Going for Refuge retreats at Taraloka and Dhanakosa. Towards the end of 1994 they found Aberclydach House. It had been a conference centre and was in very good condition – they could run a retreat there very quickly after buying it.
From November 1994 the original team of five started running retreats and getting to know women from all round the world who have asked to join the Order. Sanghadevi was a Public Preceptor, so did not become part of the team running the retreats, as she was too busy, and she moved to Birmingham to be near part of the College of Public Preceptors. This left four of them running the increasingly popular retreats here, and they decided that they needed extra help, and as the pressure of women coming on retreat mounted they eventually formed a support team to look after all the work involved in the project, and to support the Ordination team, so they were free to run the retreats and build up connections with the women coming.
As more women were ordained here, that began to have a snowball effect on other women back in the centres, who were inspired to ask to join the Order when they saw it was possible, and the retreat team realised they needed to expand. The team here were the ‘ordination team’ for all women who asked (throughout the world, apart from India), which meant that they had to get to know each woman individually. This was a big task; the work load grew fast, and the first four members of the ordination team were joined by Ratnadharini, Maitreyi, and Kalyanasri.
When Dhammadinna was asked to be a Public Preceptor she said she would do it if she could stay at Tiratanaloka, rather than leave the team to move to Birmingham where the rest of the College of Public Preceptors were living. This meant that there was a Public Preceptor in the team here.
The project was doing well financially over these early years: more and more women were coming on the retreats, which were regularly booked up, and the team paid themselves just £25 a week. Many people who had given money to the project continued to do so by making covenants that brought in a small regular income, and ordination retreats were held here as well, which contributed up to a quarter of the total income. The team decided to buy a house for the support team in a nearby village called Pencelli. This enabled the two teams to have more separate lives, and meant the ordination team living in Tiratanaloka itself could grow.
In order to run all the retreats they needed to put on, the ordination team divided into two kulas (from 2000 to 2005). This meant that one half of the team could run a retreat while the other four women had time to catch up with all their letters and the background work of helping women prepare for ordination, visit centres in the UK and abroad, go on a solitary retreat each year and have some unstructured time. In this way retreats could be run more or less back to back during the busy times of year.
There had been a huge strain on the original four members of the team over the two years of buying the property and the first ten years of Tiratanaloka’s existence. Getting the project up and running had been difficult enough, but as it became more and more successful it got to a point where apart from running the retreats, they were working with 400 or so women, seeing each of those women through to ordination, and then keeping up the friendships with them in the Order. Between 2003 and 2005 the original four all left.
When the ordination process was ‘decentralised’ in 2003, it became clear that Tiratanaloka could no longer work in the way it had been. It was simply not possible for the ordination team to continue to get to know all the women who had asked for ordination, and it seemed clear that another approach was necessary.
The house in Pencelli was sold in 2004, and the support team came to live at Tiratanaloka. Its value had appreciated considerably and the profit made from the sale meant that all remaining loans and mortgages on the Aberclydach House could be paid off in full.
In 2006 it was decided to merge the two teams into one, and work together to run both the retreats and the practical aspects of the project. This is how the team is set up today, both running the retreats and taking care of all the work involved behind the scenes.
Nowadays all the team, apart from Maitreyi, are women who came on the retreats at Tiratanaloka as Mitras training for ordination. This feels like a significant marker point in the history of Tiratanaloka.