The question I am asked most often is, “why a nun?” The simple answer is I was in pain.I had been in pain for a long time. My ordination was an amazing blessing; I truly believe it saved my life.
I served as a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition for 15 years. It was a radical choice for a woman in America to make. I shaved my head, said a tearful good bye to my closet full of clothes, solemnly took the first of three levels of vows and donned the simple burgundy robes of a renunciate.It was 1990.
Coming out of the 80’s. Prior to taking my vows, I had big hair and sculptured nails, I worked among the neon and chrome of a Bally’s health club in the wealthy community of Bethesda, MD.I drove a silver sports car with the vanity tag, 4evrfit. I marvel at the ignorance of my youth.I worked, partied and took luxury vacations.
Yet at 29, I had a big hole at the center of my being.Having tumbled through the first decades of my life from one obsession to another I had yet to find any depth of purpose or true passion in my life.Now I am by no means recommending that anyone who feels there is something missing in their lives should wear robes and be a Buddhist.There are many paths to take. This path was great for me but may not be for everyone.
I remember very clearly the moment I decided to become a nun. I had just had my 30th birthday.I had been studying at the temple less than a year.Had my hair and my nails and everybody there in a fitness program.
We were listening to a teaching by Yangthang Tulku, a well-respected Tibetan spiritual master.As I was listening I was rolling a large paper scroll that would be inserted in a prayer wheel we were assembling to be placed in the gardens at the temple. Actually there were 5 gardens with 3 prayers wheels each. As each paper sheet was added to the scroll, I would roll hard against it with my forearms, rolling it tighter and tighter in an effort to fit as many prayers as possible on each scroll.My forearms were bruised and tender.
I remember listening to this respected master talk over the course of days about the needs of countless beings, about hunger and poverty, sickness, the loss of our loved one’s but also of the suffering brought on by our hatred, our greed, our jealousy and pride.I could see those things in the world around me.I could see those things in myself. He spoke about the need for each of us to practice compassion, to pray, to love each other as our own brothers and sisters.That we could start today, right now; that each moment we could choose to plant the seeds of Love and what a powerful difference that would make.
I feel I should explain, this man who sat for days humbly teaching about loving all beings in each moment, no matter what, this man had been recently imprisoned by the Chinese and tortured for 27 years. After he was released, he traveled the world to teach about love and compassion.
Now if we get snubbed by someone or flipped off by another driver we are ready to cop a major attitude.If a neighbor acts in a way we are not comfortable with we may just write them off. If someone’s lifestyle isn’t what we would choose, we are judge and jury and telling anyone who will listen. For this man, there was no bitterness, no hatred.True to his understanding, true to his knowledge that the only choice that really matters is to love.
This blew me away. He opened my hard, little pea sized, self-absorbed heart so wide.I wanted what he had.No matter what happened around him, he remained calm, centered, loving and kind. I found myself wanting, in the face of any hardship, with understanding and with patience, to always be willing and able to choose Love.
We know what it feels like to come from a place of love. It feels good.Even though it’s not always easy. We know what it feels like to harbor hatred, anger and resentment. Not so good. Maybe feels kind of good in the moment when we feel all righteous and justified.We do love to be right. But ultimately we know what is real.
As I sat there listening, rolling prayers for peace and compassion around this scroll, feeling the tender bruises with each turn, I asked myself “how can I help bring more understanding and compassion into the world?” There has been enough suffering, what can I do? I knew I couldn’t work hard enough in the conventional ways.I couldn’t make enough money to take away the sufferings of the world.I decided in that moment, with someone before me who clearly knew how, that I would offer this life and every moment in it.I would offer this life and every future life to learn patience and understanding, to unravel the riddle of our suffering. I would to learn to choose Love in each moment. When I do something I am typically all in. So true to form I decided to focus my life and my study as a nun.One week later I was ordained and my whole world turned inside out.