Becoming a Buddhist Nun, by Ani Rinchen

Ani Rinchen

“I can remember my father often telling the story of my conception and birth and, later on in life when I came across Tibetan Buddhism, I chuckled to myself and wondered if this was an the Aussie equivalent of an auspicious birth? He used to say I was conceived under a chestnut tree on the banks of the Mitchell River in Victoria and the day my mother went into labour he drove her to the hospital in his old Chev Ford and ran up the first three steps of the hospital, he was so nervous. He then departed and went to the races and won 50 pounds, which was a lot of money in those days. Upon arriving back at the hospital he was told of my arrival. He was so overjoyed he promptly set about baking a cake that he called a ‘banana upside down cake’ and took it to the nurses to thank them for delivering me safely. Apparently they didn’t believe that this was the first cake he had ever baked and without a recipe! It was delicious apparently!

He then insisted on calling me Marice, a name none in the family had ever heard of He said he’d read it in a book and that it was the female form of Maurice. Considering my brothers, who came along later, got names such as Robert, Gary and Andrew, it was quite unusual at the time.

My life has always had a spiritual twist to it ever since I can remember. My family was not religious at all and yet I was drawn to anything mystical. I had a definite conviction that fairies and angels were real having seen one when I was very small. She was pink and came to visit me to tell me not to be afraid. I guess the search started from then on to find answers to questions that my parents just couldn’t answer. I remember from around age eight, often waking up in the middle of the night wondering about life and the way that everything changes, nothing stays the same. That one day everyone including me would die, sometimes I would lie there thinking it was all just a dream anyway. Other times I wondered if I was the dreamer or the dream or in somebody else’s dream. I couldn’t really talk to my family about these
things as they already thought I was a bit weird. I just knew that life was more than we could see. It was at this age that I decided I wanted to be a missionary as I had this overwhelming urge to help people who were suffering. In my teens I explored conventional religion but decided it was too restrictive and didn’t answer my questions. I then went on to the Spiritualist Church and the Theosophical Society and found these much more open and receptive but still not quite ‘it’. In the meantime samsara beckoned with lots of karmic entanglements and desires and I was hurtled into marriage and motherhood. A failed marriage, lots of heartache, many adventures and a lot of suffering, finally led me to the Dharma. I was desperately seeking answers to questions such as, ‘why do we suffer and why are we here?’ By this time I had explored all the New Age stuff and found it riddled with guilt and way too much emphasis on the self. If your affirmations didn’t produce the desired results then, ‘you must have 

some hidden block in you, a secret saboteur!’ It only added to the already burdened self-loathing bag we carry around as westerners. I was fed up with the inner cry of, ‘what about me!’ In June I999, a chance comment made by a Dutch man I met changed my life forever. He said in passing that a Tibetan Lama was coming to Cairns to give teachings on compassion. This voice in my head just exploded and said “YOU HAVE TO GO” and I thought, well I’d better go then. I didn’t know the Lama’s name or anything about him. I found out who to contact and called a lady named Dammika at Bodhicitta Buddhist Centre in Redlynch and made a booking for something called White Tara.

Until then the only contact I had had with Buddhism was over seventeen years ago in I983 when my girlfriend and I and our five children, (her two girls and my two boys and a girl) were taken to Chenrezig m Nambour as refugees, literally. There had been a pretty awful incident with ex husbands, and we needed somewhere to stay for a while. We were taken there in the middle of the night by another Dutch man – must have some karmic connection with these guys. I remember being woken up by the gong the next morning an had an overwhelming urge to go follow the sound, but was too scared. The next morning I couldn’t help myself and found my way to the Gompa. During the prayers I looked up and for an instant the lush tropical surrounds were replaced with snow and mountains, I thought I was dreaming, it all felt so familiar and I wanted to cry. We stayed there for two months, and although I don’t remember a lot of details, it had a profound effect on me. I had many powerful dreams and experiences that later made sense but at the time were just a dream like blur. Alas, samsara beckoned strongly again and pulled me back into its desire ridden river of misery. A seed was planted, however, that ripened years later with a passing comment, ‘Oh did you know that a Tibetan Lama is coming to Cairns?’, and that was it.

Seventeen years later I am on my way to a public talk by a Tibetan Lama and I don’t even know his name. I can remember looking at him and thinking what a beautiful face, so calm and serene. His name was Lama Choedak and I listened very arrogantly and critically, as westerners often do, to everything he said. I wanted to know if he had any answers. I went up afterwards and asked him very arrogantly, ‘Lama don’t all roads lead home?’ He looked up at me and smiled and said, ‘Oh yes, yes, but some faster than others’, which really sat me on my bum.

I went to the retreat the next morning not knowing what to expect but by the end of the weekend I knew the search was over, I had come home at last. We were required to take refuge before the empowerment and I didn’t realise what this meant but knew that I had to do it. At the end of the weekend I thought, ‘Oh I think this means I’m a Buddhist!’ It was the most profound weekend of my life and I went home with a head that felt like clear crystal. I bought a traditional version of the White Tara Practice and asked Lama if he would bless the book to help give me the discipline to practice as I wasn’t very disciplined. He smiled that beautiful smile and blessed the book and handed it back to me. Without fail every morning until the practice had established itself, I would be woken up by this internal tapping on my shoulder and voice telling me to get up now, it was time to do White Tara. The teaching that Rinpoche gave on selflessness rather than self cherishing was the missing piece to a puzzle. In a few succinct sentences he answered the question on why we suffer and it came down to self I cherishing. I thought, if I can’t go home and work I from that perspective, from an altruistic motivation, then I quit. I finally told that whingeing voice in my head that was always screaming, ‘What about me’ to shut up. My life did a I80 degree turn. From then on Tara in the guise of all the Loving Gurus, especially Rinpoche and His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpoche, have guided my life. My heart overflows with gratitude for the blessings I have received and I only hope in some way I can repay their kindness.

It was Tara’s hand that sent me an airfare to attend the White Tara Retreat in Canberra the following January and inspired me to go to The Calm Abiding Retreat later that year. It was during the second retreat that I life once again took a different direction. I got really sick it turned out to be pneumonia although didn’t know I had it till I got home. I was sharing a room with what I thought was a fairly fanatic practitioner at the time, up at 3.30am, to do practice, always prostrating, I thought she was either a bit excessive or mad or both.

Her name was Claire and she asked me on the last day had I ever thought about becoming a nun and I said no. She said she was off to Nepal as soon as possible to be ordained by His Eminence Chogye Trichen Rinpcohe, I must have looked at her like she had two heads but I was delirious with fever at the time! I told her I was also going to Nepal the following February with Rinpoche to meet His Eminence and she said, ‘Oh well you could become a nun then’. I don’t remember exactly what I said to her but it planted a seed that ripened fairly quickly. After I got home and the fever lifted this ‘nun thing’ wouldn’t go away. Rinpoche was coming to give teachings in Cairns the following week and I asked him about it. He said that normally he tells people to think about it for awhile, maybe a couple of years but in my case, my family was grown, I had was on my own and that for me maybe it would be a good thing. Inwardly I said ‘bugger’. But I knew in my heart that he knew me and that he was serious, I think I mumbled something about saying prayers to Tara.

That was November 2000 and on March 3, 200I in His Eminence’s room looking out over the Stupa at Boudanath I was ordained as a novice nun with the new name of Rinchen Jigme Wangmo. The next day I was on a plane back to Australia wondering what do I do now? Sink or swim and although it has been incredibly challenging since then, I have had no regrets. I know very little about the Dharma being so new to it, but in my heart I know it is the only medicine to cure all ills. After exhausting all avenues of samsara to try and find happiness and coming up empty handed, I have found real happiness in the Dharma.

I had a dream quite a few years ago that I told a friend of mine about. In the dream I was a bird flying around looking for my flock and I couldn’t find them. I felt lost and alone as I didn’t look like the other birds, I was bigger and a different colour and they didn’t understand my call. I knew I had to keep searching but I didn’t know where to look next, suddenly these birds circled above me and I realised they were the same as me. They made a V formation and I flew up to join them, I had found my flock. I woke from the dream feeling inspired also to keep searching. After I was ordained my friend reminded me of that dream and that’s exactly how I feel, like I’ve come home to my real family.

I dedicate any merit for the benefit of all sentient beings, may they find (their way to the Dharma and finally attain liberation from the cyclic existence of samsara. May the Dharma flourish in everyone’s heart.

Thank you Rinpoche, please live long to teach the Dharma.

Best regards” Ani Rinchen