Buddhist Voices

50 Years, 50 Voices: Amitamati and Ratnadeva (Highlights)

On Wed, 29 August, 2018 - 16:21
Candradasa's picture

It’s like the laboratory of our minds.

It excites me too, the science… very strong links, science and Dharma.

NB. Amitamati has been in touch to say that in track 3 when she refers to having studied “Social Sciences” for 25 years she actually meant “Life Sciences”.

Amitamati’s Annals

In 1968: I wasn’t born! May be My consciousness was waiting for the right womb!

I was born in 1970 into a Buddhist family – my grandparents on both sides had converted with Dr Ambedkar in 1956. I was born with a big tumour on my face, a rare condition called haemolymphangioma. I had operations at 5 months old, but they could not remove all of tumour because it was embedded in my cranial cavities which has covered a large portion of right side of my skull now.

In 1978: I was 8 years old, in school, in fourth standard. Living with my big joint family that included grandparents, parents, two uncles, two aunts from paternal side, elder sister and two younger brothers in a small 180 sq ft room in a four storey building which were prisons once upon a time in British era in Central Mumbai. This place later became very vibrant and engaged with many socio-political movements led by Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar, labour movements especially textile mill workers led by leftist and many other socialists which caused strong impacts in my life.

Because of my illness, I spent almost my whole childhood in Wadia Hospital. I couldn’t attend much of school. Sometimes I had to directly go to exam hall for exams immediately after discharge because of my every month hospitalization. My ward was fixed, my bed was almost fixed – all the other patients in the ward were my friends including the doctors, nurses and other staff. Although my body was full of pain and illness I used to enjoy my stay there as this hospital was providing very delicious, healthy meals, sometimes on special occasion chocolates, cakes and pastries and lots of toys which was lacking at home due to poverty.

In 1988: I was 18 and was pursing my graduation at the Siddhartha College of Arts, Science and Commerce in Mumbai, established by Dr Ambedkar in 1946. It is located in South Bombay, very cosmopolitan demography.  I was studying science in the Buddha Bhavan building, neighboured by a very posh Cathedral school run by Cambridge University. Although only a single fencing wall was dividing our boundaries, but I could feel a huge socio-economic disparity between us. All those fair skinned, well uniformed children, of course, used to come in cars with their Indian maids carrying big baskets of their lunch boxes and foreign breed pets which we used to watch from our classroom windows with hungry stomach and salivary mouths many times. My mind developed an impression that time that only fair skinned people are supposed to be rich or vice versa.

I was living with my family and I had contacted the TBMSG (now Triratna) in 1987. My mind started thinking and reflecting more about Babasheb Ambedkar’s intention and vision behind starting this college very much there instead of at the outskirts of any city or in suburban Mumbai, or rural India which later became clear to me.

In 1998: I was 28 and had started working in a hospital where I begin to experience the hot flames of caste discrimination in different forms, challenging in some way my practice of Going for Refuge and loving kindness towards all. I was pursuing my doctorate doing research on fertility, the reproductive system, abortion, contraceptives etc and simultaneously working in the pathology laboratories as a livelihood for my family.

I’d become a Mitra in May 1993 at Buddha day on a retreat. I asked for ordination in 1998 or 1999 – before that I’d been focusing on my studies/work and wasn’t sure I could go on retreats and take on the responsibility of being ordained. But then I wanted to go on retreats for Mitras who’d asked for ordination and I realised I could be ordained and pursue my studies and work.

In 2008: I was 38 and had been ordained 3 years, having been ordained at Bhaja 2005 on an International Ordination Retreat. After I finished my PhD c2000 in 2004 I ranked first in the selection to be appointed as Senior Scientific Officer – in the same hospital where I work now. This is the Lokmanya Tilak Municipal General Hospital and Medical College run by Mumbai municipality for poor people. It’s a big hospital in Mumbai just beside Asia’s biggest slum known as Dharavi (as featured in the film, Dharavi, Slumdog Millionaire, and Kaala, a very recent one). My selection was challenged by a Brahmin colleague then and I was dragged to the different courts to prove my credentials /educational qualification which I won in 2015 but re-challenged by filling Writ against it and still going on which not only prohibited my further promotions but taking a big toll on my money pocket for law proceedings along with physical and mental harassment for last 14 years.

In 2018: I’m 48 and my life is full of many things. I live in a Mumbai suburb with my husband. My mum, my brother, his wife and his son live nearby. Work is very difficult and painful. Hospital administration since 2014 deliberately posted me in an urban health centre located in the interiors of Dharavi slum with more difficult working and commuting conditions. Working in a government hospital or institutes is not that easy because of the social conditioning of India, caste conditioning. There is strong discrimination every day – it’s very subtle, hidden, but sometimes very prominent. This happens especially when you are an ex-untouchable converted Ambedkarite Buddhist and you acquire a certain high position on your own merits. It’s more difficult, more challenging as you assert and claim your space. Indian social structure is very complex thing, based on caste prejudices. So, I am experiencing different forms of torture and harassment in day to day working.

My health is not good.  I get more swellings on my face from the haemolymphangioma, and experience facial palsy or locked jaw.  I work very full time and have family responsibilities.  My working and research areas are different.  I do more pathological work, with patients, in a number of different projects – a malarial project, an HIV patient project, a project for patients with tuberculosis as well as a pregnancy project and one for general medicine patients.

I travel 45 minutes to chapter every week and I am conducting Mitra classes in two centres in Mumbai for about 15 years, seven are ordained so far and I am KM for five of them. I go on retreat, but for more than a year I’ve not been able to go on long retreats because I needed to take study leave for the lectures, assignments and thesis writing for my 3rd post graduate degree in Globalisation and Labour Studies, programmed and supported by ILO, Geneva. (I’m also a union representative in the hospital.)

In the year 2017 I found out at Vaisak, Buddha Purnima, that I’d been awarded the master’s degree in Globalisation and Labour Studies and that I had won the award of the best student for the course of that academic year! My research for this was done on socio-economic conditions of sewage workers and implication of work on their health. I just manage it – it’s the inspiration and my Going for Refuge is my inner strength – and most of all my ideal is Dr Ambedkar.


Ratnadeva’s Annals

1968 - I was four years old, not yet at primary school. I have some vague memories of this time e.g. my mother pushing me in a pushchair on a procession through the our village on the outskirts of Dublin, probably on the Catholic feastday of Corpus Christi. My parents were devout Catholics, actively involved in the local parish.

1978 - I was nearing the end of secondary school, was studious, so I enjoyed my time at St. Benildus College. An obsession with chess bore fruit this year when I won the Leinster Senior Schoolboys Championship. I fatefully encountered and was enthralled by Opus Dei, a conservative Catholic lay movement. It was downhill for my chess career from then on, but the spiritual and community threads of my life were given wings. This led to an intense and idealistic seven years of engagement, training and living in community with other celibates.

1988 - I was working as a production manager for a small paint manufacturing company outside Dublin. The parent company closed us down and subsequently invited me to take up a job at their development laboratories at headquarters in Batley, West Yorkshire. So this was the year I emigrated to the UK, like many an Irishman before me.

1998 - I graduated from Bradford University in Environmental Management and Technology. This led to a job at Sheffield University as a Research Assistant and part-time MPhil student in the field of contaminant hydrogeology. I loved it. The move to Sheffield was fateful in that it was here that I attended a Buddhism Introductory Class at the old Sheffield Buddhist Centre in Broomhill. 

2008 - On this my fifth year of exploring the pagan pathway of Druidry in parallel with the Dharma, I was chosen as May King at OBOD Beltaine Druid Camp. This had a deep effect on me through the following year, intensifying my engagement with nature and the passage of the seasons, ritually, mythically and emotionally. This was the year I decided to take up an opportunity to join Buddhafield as a full-time member of the Retreats Team. After five and a half formative years of living in the Men’s Community above the Notthingham Buddhist Centre, at the concrete heart of Nottingham City Centre, I moved to the lush countryside of Devon.

2018 - I’m writing this at Adhisthana on a sabbatical from Buddhafield, after nine extraordinarily rich and happy years in Devon. I feel blessed to be able to take time out and do some of the things that the busyness of the BF season doesn’t allow. So far I’ve travelled to India for the Order Retreat and Convention at Bodhgaya, followed by a pilgrimage around the sites associated with the Buddha. Then I joined up with fellow Buddhafielders in Nepal for some weeks of unstructured time - a big contrast to our highly programmed time in India. The icing on the cake was a trek to Annapurna Sanctuary, a the heart of the Himalya. Now, back in a very green Herefordshire, I’m thoroughly enjoying knuckling down to study of Pali and Bhante’s Pali Canon Seminars. What a treat!

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