Postcard 45 from Robina: New Delhi, Tuesday, October 14, 2014

2014-10-14 11:00:00

Lama Zopa Rinpoche arrived in Australia the first week of September and went straight to Chenrezig Institute in Eudlo, Queensland, 100 km north of Brisbane.

Chenrezig Institute had 40th anniversary celebrations going on. Photo Ven. Roger Kunsang.

There were events attended by many hundreds throughout the day on Saturday the 6th. Photo Ven. Roger Kunsang.

I didn’t arrive until the Sunday.

Rinpoche gave a Thousand-armed Chenrezig initiation during the next couple of days. Photo Ven. Roger Kunsang.

I was happy to be there, for sure.

This is where I met the lamas, in June 1976, two years after the place started.

Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche with Yeshe Khadro (Marie Obst) as their attendant blessing the prayer flag pole at Chenrezig Institute in 1976. Photo Lama Yeshe Wisdom Archive.

I’d come out of many years of hardcore political activity, radical left followed by radical feminist, so I was in no mood for laid-back hippies, in particular hippies who called women ladies and who weren’t expected to lug the buckets of water up the hill for our showers because they were ladies. I was in uproar! But for the fact that it was evident that Tibetan Buddhism was for me, I would’ve left the place immediately!

But I stayed for two months. It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure. Everything I heard from the lamas, on the one hand, resonated so deeply with me that I couldn’t possibly avoid it. But on the other it all flew in the face of my strongly held conceptions about what was right and wrong, framed then, of course, in feminist terms. I raged against it!

But I heard loud and clear – and loved it – that Buddha demands that we don’t just take things at their face value, that we check up, that we think about what we hear, and that we decide – or not – to take them on board; that we’re the boss, not Buddha.

And, anyway, Lama Yeshe had grabbed me by the scruff of my neck. From the first moment I’d seen his name (I think I talked about this in my postcard 14 in 2011), he had me. That was a few months before I met Lama. I was at Shakahari, a restaurant in Carlton, in inner-city Melbourne, feeling very sorry for myself with my left foot in plaster after having had it run over by a fellow called Bill Bright while I was helping some women push their broken-down car at an intersection. I’ll never forget it! My foot cracked and I fell to the ground. “No!!” I thought. “I can’t do karate any more!” I was completely into training at the time, going five days a week to our dojo, convinced that I’d found my path. Since then I joke to myself that Lama somehow orchestrated the accident: I was going in the wrong direction and he had to stop me in my tracks! How grateful I am now to kind Bill Bright. But back then I sued the poor fellow, and the $4,000 I was awarded got me to Kopan a year later and enabled me to become a nun – seed money for my future!

Anyway, at Shakahari there was a poster advertising a retreat at Chenrezig Institute, and the name “Lama Yeshe” was what I saw. My first thought was, “Who is this person? Where have I heard about him before?” Of course, I hadn’t, but even now when I think about it I still feel that someone must have mentioned him to me: he felt intensely familiar. I had nothing else to do, so I went to Chenrezig.

The restaurant is still in Carlton, but it’s moved around the corner from Lygon Street. Some of my sisters had a meal with me there recently.

With my sisters Polly, Marie, Judy, and Julie at Shakahari.

I also visited Testing Grounds, Julie’s architect daughter Millie’s amazing project with her husband Joe: a little triangle of unused land just behind the Melbourne Arts Centre that they’ve turned up a place for meeting, drinking coffee, and spontaneous events.

Julie at Testing Grounds.

Back in Melbourne I met Rebecca Smith, the director of the Florida FPMT center, at Melbourne airport on September 10: she along with several hundred others were coming to Australia for the FPMT meetings at Atisha Center near Bendigo, two hours north of Melbourne.

Ven. Roger Kunsang and Ven. Holly Ansett give a presentation on day 4 of the FPMT meetings inside the Great Stupa of Universal Compassion at Atisha Center. Photo Laura Miller.

Here we are on day 7 reciting praises in a long life puja for Lama Zopa Rinpoche. Photo Laura Miller.

I had decided to attend two weeks of a monthlong retreat with Rinpoche after the meetings, late September and early October.

Rebecca and I had decided to rent a campervan – a trailer – to stay in: she during the meetings and me during the retreat. The alternative was a tent. Our van was the Hilton in comparison!

We picked up our giant vehicle, and I drove it north to Atisha. But with talking and losing our way and not being familiar with this seeming-truck, it took us three hours.

We decided to play it safe and pay an extra 800 bucks for full insurance. Just as well: I bumped into the pump at the gas station just before returning it!

We had a full schedule, starting with prostrations and puja at 6am, with sessions throughout the day, including teachings from Rinpoche lined up for 4pm. But Rinpoche turned up at most events. Such intense teachings we received: rich and powerful.

On my last day I offered Rinpoche a copy of the manuscript of the book I’ve been working on for three years, How to Help Your Loved Ones Enjoy Death and Go Happily to Their Next Rebirth.

We printed it on gold paper, and kind Miffi from Brisbane, a real seamstress, sewed a gorgeous shiny gold cloth wrapped in blue ribbons and adorned with a pink lotus and nine surrounded flowers: us students, we decided, practicing the Nine Attitudes of Guru Devotion.

After the retreat I took Sarah Brooks from North Carolina, who worked with me for years at the prison project, sightseeing in Melbourne.

Sarah from NC and Millie at Testing Grounds.

Before the retreat, in Melbourne we had our annual teachings at the 16th Street Studio, an acting school run by Rinpoche’s student Kim Krejus: an evening with the actors and an all-day event with the Buddhists.

I love actors! They have this huge wish to penetrate the human mind, to truly understand what drives us. I was full of admiration for them.

That was followed by an all-day event in Milton, on the coast south of Sydney, a little Sakya center; an evening teaching at the Australian Shiatsu College; and another evening in Shepparton, an hour from Atisha Centre.

The Manjushri Buddhist Centre Milton. Photo MBC Milton.

At Mooroopna Community Hub in Shepparton. Photo Buddha Connection Shepparton, Shepparton Interfaith Network.

Just before I left Australia I spent a few more days with Yantra, finishing our recording of our prayer project. We hope to put out a CD in June next year, which will benefit my Bodhichitta Trust.

Yantra working out the notes for our prayers.

More Postcards

Postcard 78 from Robina, Cumbria, March 26, 2017

2017-03-26 11:00:00 It was straight to London from Riga, February 6, for two months in the UK. From Heathrow I took a train to London. As usual, instead of flying, my usual method of getting around the world, I got myself a senior’s train pass that allowed me to go...

Postcard 66 from Robina: Bogotá, January 25, 2016

2016-01-25 11:00:00 A pre-dawn drive with Violette and Francois from Marzens to Toulouse airport got me to my plane for London. I had a six-hour wait, which is not unusual. Because I have so many miles in my Qantas plan, I get to stay in the first class lounges at the...

Postcard 67 from Robina: San Juan, February 28, 2016

2016-02-28 11:00:00 Here I am in Puerto Rico again, at Yangsi Rinpoche’s center; my last visit was two years ago, also in March. The first bit of sun I’ve had for a while. It’s Spring here, and a lot warmer than up north. But before this, during the past month after...

Postcard 68 from Robina: Laguna Beach, March 28, 2016

2016-03-28 11:00:00 Thubten Kunga Center director Rebecca Smith met me in Miami on Monday February 29 and drove me the hour up the coast to Deerfield Beach. The center has been there for twenty-plus years, started by Jacie Keeley, one of Lama Yeshe’s former...

Postcard 69 from Robina: Brisbane, May 20, 2016

2016-05-20 11:00:00 It’s six weeks since I left Los Angeles, at 10:30pm Monday March 28, and landed in Sydney 15 hours later, at 6:30am Wednesday the 30th. It was Spring in California and Autumn in Sydney, but it felt pretty much the same, weather-wise. I went...

Share this article