Postcard 39 from Robina: Denver, Friday, April 4, 2014

Apr 4, 2014

I flew into Denver on April 4, my mother’s birthday. She was born in 1910 and died thirty-three years ago. But birthdays, being a big deal in our culture, stay in the mind. I remember the birthdays of all my siblings and my parents, but not, I must say, of my siblings’ children and grandchildren – I don’t even remember some of their names!

My mother Agnes Bliss in her room at her Melbourne University residence after graduating with honors in classical singing and piano, c.1935. Photo: Courtin Family Archive.

My mother died in 1981, in August. I was a nun by then and living at Manjushri Institute in the north of England, working for Wisdom Publications. I remember the phone call from my sister Jan, in Brisbane. It was mid-afternoon for me and late at night there. For whatever reason Jan decided to ring me first, not the rest of our family in Melbourne.

“Mum’s just died!” Jan shouted. She’s sitting here in the chair. What will I do?”

“Quick! Say om mani pedme hung in her ear!” I said with some urgency.

“Om what?” said Jan. Rather funny, in retrospect.

Anyway, she did indeed shout it into our mother’s ear. Jan had called the ambulance pretty much immediately, which is unfortunate according to the Tibetan Buddhist way of doing things. Best is to leave the body for as long as possible, undisturbed; three days is the ideal scenario. It seems that it can take that long for the mind to actually leave the body. Let’s hope that mantra did the trick and helped my mother’s consciousness move smoothly to another good rebirth.

I heard that Lama Yeshe had just arrived at Chenrezig Institute, 60 miles north of Brisbane. I rang Chenrezig a few hours later and asked Lama to pray for my mother. There was a puja and Lama, apparently, said something like “We will pray for my nun and her mother, who had a very strong connection.”

My mother had met Lama and Rinpoche in Melbourne, in 1979, the year after my ordination. I was traveling with the Lamas in Australia, raising

At Chenrezig Institute in 1979, the year I traveled with the lamas in Australia and during which my mother organized a fundraising dinner at her home for the Kopan monks. Here, Lama Zopa Rinopche is drawing the winning ticket in a raffle, also for Kopan. Photo: Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

money for Kopan Monastery, and my mother had offered to hold a fundraising party, charging her friends $100 a head. Lama said we should make mo-mos and told me to come to his house where Rinpoche would teach me. It was a disaster! I couldn’t manage the intricacy and precision that Rinpoche displayed.

Anyway, Lama made my mother nervous. Earlier, I’d organized a meeting for her with Lama and I think during it she opened her heart to Lama about her daughter (I wasn’t present). She would NEVER normally confide in anyone, but somehow she opened up to Lama. I think he made her feel quite vulnerable. I’m glad, actually: that means he hooked her, he made a karmic connection – she won’t forget him in a hurry! So, in whatever lifetime she’s ready he’ll lead her to enlightenment.


So, back to Denver. Lama Yeshe House has moved here from Boulder. John Needham runs it now, taking over from Jhana Cayton. We had a good weekend together. A small group, but moving along steadily, studying the Discovering Buddhism modules and inviting teachers every now and then.

A selfie of me and Lama Yeshe House director, John Needham and friends, Denver April 4–6.

The Denver skyline.

Then to New Mexico for two weeks. And this time we did a weekend retreat not only in Santa Fe but also for the Ksitigarbha Center in Taos.

I was based in Taos in 2000, when Rinpoche had moved the entire FPMT

The town square in Taos.

International Office, lock, stock, and barrel, from Soquel in California. It as a huge move. Massimo said that Rinpoche did observations for every single person who worked at the office – and at that time there were maybe no more than eight of us, three of us working for Mandala. Massimo said Rinpoche checked from every perspective – spiritual, worldly, health, etc. – to ensure that the move was beneficial.

Anyway, those days I was traveling six months of year, teaching at Rinpoche’s centers, and the three-hour drive up the mountain to Taos every couple of months, was not fun. Also, the prison project to beginning to grow and it seemed clear to me that it needed to be in a big city. I finished my job at Mandala and took on running the project, and we all moved to San Francisco and moved into Tse Chen Ling.

Ksitigarbha began back then, but I think none of the original group is involved now.

As usual, we had a residential retreat in Santa Fe at the Carmelite convent. The teachings go in much deeper, I think, in an intensive environment. I like it.

Drinking Turkish tea with Thubten Norbu Ling student Charmaine Hughes at The Rugman in Santa Fe, which is run by her husband Ercan Nalkiran, who’s Turkish and a devoted Muslim.

At Thubten Norbu Ling. Photo: Steve Stauss.

Saying goodbye to, from left, Ercan, Charmaine, resident teacher Gen Don Handrick and director Rowena Mayer.

Then to Texas. I rarely come to this state. My first time was for prisoners. One year I decided to visit several guys in various prisons, and when I arrived in Houston I realized I’d forgotten someone. He would have been sad to be missed out. I rang the chaplain, hoping he’d bypass the usual complicated bureaucracy. As soon as the words “Buddhist nun” came out of my mouth there was silence, then the clear words, “We don’t need people like you here.” That was that. It was probably in the late 1990s and I think Buddhism is more well known now. Let’s hope.

For two years now I’ve visited a little Gelugpa group, Lam-rim San Antonio, inspired by their lama Geshe Gelek Drakpa, who spends his time in retreat in Dharamsala. Covita and Christopher offer their home for the group.

At Lam-rim San Antonio. Photos: Covita Moroney.

And for the first time in years I went to Austin to the FPMT group there. Happy to meet them again!

With students of Land of Compassion and Wisdom in Austin, TX.

Then to Los Angeles, one of my favorite towns.

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