Padmaloka is centred around a country house built in the 17th Century and partially rebuilt in 1834. The name of the original building is Lesingham House, which harks back to the Lesingham family, who lived in Surlingham in the 16th Century.
Sangharakshita bought Lesingham House in 1976, along with one of his disciples, and it became the first retreat centre owned by the then FWBO.
The legend goes, that woodblock prints of Padmasambhava, the Lotus Born Guru, were found in the basement of Lesingham House. Sangharakshita hadn't brought them, nor had his disciples; he remarked that it was auspicious because he was thinking of naming the retreat centre 'Padmaloka', the name of one of Padmasambhava's Purelands - realms in which the conditions are entirely conducive to the practice of Buddhism, and where one can make rapid progress.
Sangharakshita lived at Padmaloka for several years where he hosted many seminars (such as the Ratnagunsamcayagatha Perfection of Wisdom, Mind on Buddhist Psychology – the basis for Know Your Mind) for men and women in the movement, he hosted retreats and lived alongside the residential community.
Many ordinations were conducted at Padmaloka, with people being were ordained by Sangharakshita personally, often within the context of a retreat or study seminar.
Sangharakshita also spent a great deal of time working on writing for the movement – including 'The Ten Pillars of Buddhism', 'Ambedkar and Buddhism' and more. It was a hugely creative time for him, and a very significant time for the movement as a whole.
It was also during this time that Men’s Events (What we now know of as Great Gatherings) began under Sangharakshita’s initiative, along with winter and summer retreats. These retreats gave a focus to the men’s wing of the movement, where men could gather in large numbers and practice together.
The Order Office was housed within Padmaloka for several years as well, keeping track of Order members'names, planning Order events and much more.
In the late 1980s Subhuti and Cittapala began a process of reforming the Men's Ordination process. In the following years several more order members joined him to form an effective team, including Aloka, Suvajra, Sona, Surata and several others.
By their efforts the Ordination process was established, with the classic retreats we know today: 'The Ten Pillars', 'Spiritual Friendship', 'The Transcendental Principle', 'The Mythic Context' and 'What is the Order?'.
Padmaloka is always changing, the community has gone through many different configurations, the facilities and buildings have improved, and the shrine room has developed significantly to become an important place of pilgrimage for many within the movement.
If you come to Padmaloka over a number of years you will begin to spot these changes as they happen.
Outside the Shrine room is a stupa containing the relics of Dhardo Rimpoche, one of Sangharakshita's Tibetan teachers. The relics where installed, and the stupa was consecrated, as part of a ritual conducted in 1994 - click here to see this on YouTube.
Every time you walk to the shrine room you pass the stupa - traditionally keeping it on your right side.
The shrine room is the heart of Padmaloka and is situated in a converted barn on one side of the property. Previously, it was in what we now use as the dining room, and before that, it was in the retreat lounge.
Since the late 2000's the shrine room has gradually filled with iconography - nearly entirely painted by Dharmachari Aloka - so that almost every space of the room has an image, each representing a quality of the Enlightened mind. It has the atmosphere built up from countless retreats hosted year after year, giving the room a feeling of vibrancy, aliveness and even something which cannot be put into words.