This month marks a big change as Vajradevi comes to the end of her work for Akashavana, now that the building project is on the edge of completion. I want to celebrate her and all that she has achieved. I have worked closely with Vajradevi for more than two years, she has become a dear friend as well as an inspiration to me, an example of what can be achieved through vision, boldness and determination.
Vajradevi first caught the enthusiasm for this project from her preceptor Sanghadevi on her post ordination retreat. Sanghadevi spoke about a women’s retreat centre especially dedicated to ordination, somewhere that women can go to experience a real sense of Going Forth. Vajradevi had an immediate response – ‘I want to do that’, which came with a mental picture of herself driving a jeep up a rocky track. To her surprise, no-one else was queueing up to volunteer – she thought there would be other offers. She was very happy to be trusted with the freedom to go ahead with the project.
For the first two years after her ordination Vajradevi worked as secretary to Srimala and Sanghadevi, and prepared for the beginning of the first stage, fundraising. The fundraising campaign was launched in 2000 with its defining image of a forested island, seemingly floating in space. Vajradevi took advise from a skilled fundraiser, Samayasri, and their bold and creative approach proved highly successful, raising their target of around £600,000 in two years. She told me that when she approached one senior order member she asked for feedback about her fundraising style, he told her she needed to be ‘more cheeky’, advice which she definitely took on board.
So having banked a large sum of money, the next stage began with the property search. At this point Moksanandi became involved and she and Vajradevi would tour Spain, driving from estate agent to estate agent in hire cars, following up possible leads. Sometimes Vajradevi would go on property searches on her own, a daunting task. She described how often at the beginning of these trips she would feel intense fear as she got on the plane to go out. And during this time there were several occasions when hopes would be raised and dashed. I joined the property search towards the end and I can testify how very hard it is to keep an even mind in the midst of so many raised and lowered hopes.
What I especially admire in Vajradevi during this time is the degree to which she would not compromise the original vision. There were many properties that might have ‘done’, maybe not exactly what we wanted, perhaps a bit too close to a road, or not quite as much land as we would have liked, but Vajradevi decided against property after property, because it wasn’t quite good enough. After two years of this it was possible to wonder whether the right place would ever come along, but it did.
And so began the third stage, the building project, when Vajradevi and I worked closely together. She has tremendous energy and courage, always taking the next step forwards and never prevaricating, this is part of the reason that the project has kept moving forwards so quickly. Two things that I have especially appreciated about working with her – firstly that she knows how to balance hard work with a lot of fun, secondly that her commitment to her meditation practice is strong and unwavering. I think that both these qualities mean that she can bear responsibility lightly and not allow herself to be overwhelmed when things get difficult.
So, I will miss her on the project, it’s been fantastic to spend this time with her. She has given a tremendous gift to the order, and I want to say thank you, Vajradevi for this, for all the fun and friendship, and wish you well in all your next steps. I know that many others will say the same.