The Yogini Project Interview with Ani Choying Drolma, at Ani-la’s home in Boudhanath, Nepal, March 2012
Interview conducted by The Yogini Project founder Michael Ash
TYP: Where is the balance between doing and non-doing, between stepping forward to conduct a project, and stepping back so not to get in the way? How can one be active without becoming ‘too busy’?
Ani-la: Well, you know, sometimes people like to say “I’m very busy. I hardly have time.” But all the time is yours. It’s just that you make the choice how you want to spend that time. So all the time is yours. So how can you just complain about not having enough time. Because it’s yours, it’s in your hands, choice is there. I mean, for example, when you called me today, I could have just said “Let’s meet tomorrow.” I could have just lied down on the couch, and watch the tv program. But no, I want to meet you, I want to talk to you. What I want is just fulfilling my wish, so how can we just complain. No is forcing us to do anything. We are doing it out of our willpower, and pleasure. So many times I tell people, “I have all my time to do what I want to do.” So, if I say busy, maybe it is because I don’t want to see someone. Ok, maybe that’s one reason. Because I’ve given the time to others already, or.. I don’t want to meet. (Laughing).
TYP: I found many things you shared last time very helpful, because this aspiration goes beyond what I’ve done before (in regards to starting The Yogini Project). Stepping forward is very important. Clearly, through your aspirations to your teacher, you are benefiting many beings. How does one proceed?
Ani-la: Well, that’s my aspiration. Yes, I am sincere in what I wish to do, in what my aspirations are. I can’t just sit down and say “May every sentient being be liberated from suffering.” At least something… must be done. Just sitting and wishing for good… well, on a certain level it is good. But if I can do a little more effectively, a more solid of an effect, why not?
TYP: This is one reason I am here, and not in Kauai. I felt good there. But I wanted to do something. I felt I wanted to do something active, so I could show to my daughter that one can do the most one can imagine to do, to go for it. But it’s a balance.
Ani-la: And it’s about how you prioritize, the things in your life. And how you analyze what is the most important thing to be done. And how skillfully it can be done.
Well, the first auspicious energy is created by your motive, if the right aspiration is there.
TYP: There were some things the last time we met that were very inspirational, so first I would like to provide a little bit of your story. Could you share a little bit about your life, and coming to meet your teacher?
Ani-la: The simple thing is what we all wish: Desire to be happy in life, desire to be comfortable in life, desire to be loved by people. Desire not to be suffering. That was one of the main reasons that I became a nun. Because the life I was living, when I was a young girl, was a bit tough, emotionally as well as physically. Physically in the sense that my father used to beat me a lot. And then emotionally because I used to see him beating my mom too. Someone who I loved so much. And then the helplessness feeling I had to go through, when I saw my mother being beaten up, is the most difficult thing to bear. It’s so difficult.
So the outcome of that experience was that I felt very angry. It’s seem like a very natural reaction to any pain or difficulty that is given by others. That is how you react. So I was developing a lot of anger, as well as frustration. It was moving an image in my life as if men were the worst creature in the world, somehow. Just because of one man in my life. I started imagining, or believing, that all men were bad men, bad people. And so a lot of hatred, I mean, anger and a lot of aggression was being developed, and I wasn’t happy. A very aggressive kid. Somehow, somewhere, I wasn’t really looking forward to a life where I had to get married in the future, because the whole imagination of a woman getting married in life would mean that you are being dominated, discriminated. Totally hurt; emotionally and physically abused. Somehow that type of feeling was strongly taking place. But then one thing, as I said earlier, naturally what we want in life… we don’t want any of those things. We want to be loved. We want to be enjoying life.
So I was looking forward to a solution, or a way to escape that possibility in the future that I would have to go through. And with that wish, I somehow found that … “Ok, there’s one way.” The one way I could avoid is to become a nun. Which would mean I don’t need to get married in my life. And I chose to become a nun. My parents were very happy in that decision. I took refuge in Nagi Gompa. Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, one of the best teachers I could imagine in this world to exist. So I took refuge there. And, that was it.
And now, the best example of a man. Totally opposite character of a man that I had experienced in my life. Someone who is so kind, so caring, so generous. You know, so full of love. That environment healed me. Healed my anger, and helped me develop my understanding capacity, develop my intellectual capacity, as well as my spiritual capacity during the process of healing. My teacher did not take it as a session to clean or heal myself, but through daily activity, through daily way of communication, daily way of treating me, accepting me, chatting with me. You know, guiding me. Somehow every moment, every single moment, that I ever had a chance to be with him, has been a a process of… you know, real, it was a big serving going on…. like washing machine, all those things machinery things, they need servicing, So that was how it was. What was happening in my life.
TYP: How old were you when you went there?
Ani-la: When I first joined Nagi Gompa, I was 13 years old. And for the first time in my life, I felt as if I was allowed to be a child. I was a child. And I was allowed to be naughty. I was allowed to play. I was allowed to jump around, sing around, dance around. And nobody beat me up. Nobody made me work hard. At home, I had to wake up early in the morning around 5. And then do all the cleaning, and cooking, and feeding. You know, a lot of these responsibilities, which never made me feel like I was just a little girl. So somehow, that refuge I took in Nagi Gompa, in Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, it started the whole renewing process of my life. The cleansing process. Healing process. And that was through Dharma. The whole environment was dharma, dharma practice. Every word that was spoke from my teacher’s speech, every look that he gave me, was full of compassion, full of love. Full of care.
I’m not sure if I could find the right word to do justice to his kindness towards me. Really. Of course it was not an overnight transformation. It took a lot of time. Ten, twelve years of time to totally… I wouldn’t say that I’m completely transformed, but much more of that aggression, the anger, the hatred, the frustration that was, you know, took place, had been implanted in me… it seems, to be being cleaned out. You know, from the bushes. Like when you have a garden, you wish to clean out all those unwanted plants. Those beautiful plants were being nourished a lot more. And those not needed small bushes, were being cleaned out. So that process took place.
And that’s why I always tell people, whatever good qualities nowadays people may see in me, and rejoice, that makes them happy… whether that is singing, or my way of speaking with them, or my way of looking at them, or my way of treating them… it’s all, and all, and all, all from his blessings, fhis guidance. The value he implanted in me. The understanding he helped me to polish. The most overall is more the perception that I could develop in myself, in everything that I deal with, or see with, or feel with, has been from his kindness. Compassion.
That’s the whole process in becoming who I am now. In a sense, a yogini is more about a person who has been able to broaden out their perspective. Perceptions. Broaden more in a sense of seeing the qualities, rather than the faults. Every circumstances are there. But then, as nowadays, as is a very popular saying, as the psychotherapists say, you look at a glass that is half full of water, or half empty… and that’s the question, same thing: how you develop your attitude or your perception. So I think dharma practice is more of that sort of effect that is supposed to take place in you. Not on that scale, on a larger scale, but without fabricating. Without making it up. It should be like the sky. Space.
So when you look up, only that is not sky, every space is sky. But then you’re not making it up, and talking about it, rather you are just in it. Why calculate, oh, this much of space, that much of sky. Oh, Nepali sky, or Tibet sky, or India sky. The sky is the sky, it’s over all. I’m still on the way (laughing)… I wouldn’t say I am complete. But I have understood the idea. (Snaps). The view. And I am in the process still of developing that within me, in myself more and more. I still get affected by certain circumstances. But, I mean, compared to others, much less. I am able to see those circumstances in a different perspective. If I look at this tree, and if I don’t like this view, I try to go from this angle, and try and see ‘ok.’ But still tree is here, this is what I have in front of me. But due to looking at it from a different angle, it comforts my feeling. At least, that is one of the solutions. But overall, the best is to understand the nature of this tree. To understand that no matter which angle I choose to look at it, and struggle and waste my time in analyzing how to perceive it, but just (snaps again) perceive the nature of it. Be in the nature.
Up to that level of technique and technical guidance and everything, the understanding that has been able to be developed in me has been very effectively beneficial in my life. And in every thing I have done. What I have done has been fairly unconventional, according to what people usually think a Buddhist nun supposed to do. Singing, coming into media, having a celebrity life. It’s not what people would usually imagine a Buddhist nun to be in. I am in it not because I wanted to be in it, but my whole motive – and more aspiration – was to be able to do something, if not completely eliminate people’s suffering, but at least try to reduce the amount of pain, or difficulties, suffering they are going through.
So that’s a little bit, a very small scale of what I’ve been trying to do. But on a deeper, inner level, the practice has been different, something else. More of a broadening, you know, of my… (Words fall away for a short time)….
Tulku Rinpoche used to always give the example of a mute person to have a taste of honey, and then have to explain the taste to others. The pleasure of that taste, in a word. So at times I do go through such difficulties of limitation in wording, or language. But anyway…
So… I am a modern yogini. (Laughing). In the modern perspective, I guess. Generally people hold on to the idea of a yogini as one who has dreadlocks, stinky body, who never takes showers. Wearing town clothes. I mean, come on. That’s not relevant anymore. In this time.
TYP: One aspiration of The Yogini Project is to show not only who is estimated a realized Yogini, but… we are using yogini braodly in The Yogini Project as anyone who is aspiring to that state. In all the different forms that she takes as the context for yoginis changes and evolves… To show yoginis in modern contexts.
Ani-la: Yogini, I think, should be at a stage of development where the perception, or perceiving level, should be very developed. More of a free, of a free state of mind, you could say. That you are able to confront with every circumstance of life, in a comfortable way. You know, in a convenient way.
TYP: In that definition of Yogini, I aspire to that as well. (Male speaking).
Ani-la: Yes, yogi or yogini, that is how the ultimate goal should be. And, where I am also in the process of practicing into it. I mean, I don’t want to tell people that I am already a yogini. I’m aspiring to be a yogini. I am in the practice of trying to be yogini.
TYP: When you were in that process of going from a child with anger to meeting your teacher, when did you discover your magic wand?
(In a previous meeting with Ani-la, she had referred to her singing as her magic wand: her translation of ‘Norbu’ [Tibetan], usually referred to as ‘jewel.’)
Ani-la: Again it is my teacher who found that in me. Tulku Rinpoche, I mean… I used to love to run and sing and dance around a lot, jumping around. Singing, dancing, humming. In Nagi Gompa, we had a lot of ritual ceremonies. And the ritual ceremonies need to be performed in a very musical and melodious way. And since I really loved humming and singing, whatever melody I had to learn to perform those ceremonies, I learned them very well. And I think I performed them mostly very well. My teacher was always very, very impressed with that. The vocal quality, tone. And I learned (snaps again), very fast. And he’d get so excited, and impressed with me, in my learning ability. So, he’d teach me more and more and more, and when I learned them more and more, better and better, he’d always have me sing more. And he used to have a wonderful voice. He sang very well! Very, very well. Wonderful! And a lot of my style, I should say, I’m inspired by his style. I wouldn’t say I am at that level of quality, but I’m inspired by his style a lot.
He used to teach me everything. Whatever the traditional spiritual melodies I perform these days, I learned them all from him. Except the modern ones.
And his wife, Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s mother, she used to teach me a lot. She used to have a beautiful voice, but a different style. My teacher and her had a different style. Both of them were so kind. Kindly interested in teaching me, all of those melodies. I should say it is mostly from them.
But realizing it as a magic wand, not only to fulfill my wishes but others wishes, has been with the help of… (Ani Choying’s dog runs into glass door at full speed. Much laughter.) … has been with the help of a wonderful dharma friend from America. Steve Tibbetts. He’s a guitarist. He actually came up with the whole idea of making an album and going on concert tour. So he really is the person who has introduced me to the world as a singer. He showed me this path through which I can make money and do a lot of things in my life. So the credit should go to him, really. Yes, when I realized that I could make money and people are happy with it, I never stopped then.
TYP: The idea to form a nunnery, had that formed at that point? Or, as the singing opened up new possibilities, that aspiration came?
Ani-la: Somehow through my own experience since a young age, from those difficulties, difficult experiences, I always had this wish and desire, strong desire, that women should be also as capable as men. Women should also be given respect and opportunities as equally as men are given. And after that, when I was at Nagi Gompa, I was seeing many monks becoming Khenpos, they are very academically learned people, and they were able to help many people. It always impressed me so much. I really admired them a lot. But at the same time, the question always of course struck in my mind, “Why don’t we nuns have that potential?”
“Why don’t we see any nuns who are Khenpos, you know?” It would be so nice if we could become Khenpos like them. And also be able to help people. But then, when I started thinking about those situations, then one thing became clear: Nuns are not given that encouragement. Nuns are not able to get that type of platform, support. Or facility to be able to go for that type of academic knowledge. Somehow this very ignorant, cultural practice is there that women do not necessarily have to have good academic education. Even in monasteries. Somehow I saw that, and deep down in my heart, I always had this wish that someone would do something for us.
This is before I became the singing nun. But after I became the singing nun internationally, and I realize I could make more money, that gave me the courage, the confidence, the determination that I would do it. And I could do it. Now I have to do it. Because, you see, financial strength also gives that kind of courage. It materializes. It helps to materialize things.
And since then, I never looked back!
Ani Choying Drolma on using her magic wand (her gift of singing) to create benefit in the world.
Ani-la: Yes, then I started feeling my singing ability is my magic wand. It’s amazing, really.
The most recent experience is our kidney hospital project. The financial part is my responsibility. The other part, the technical part, is my doctor friend’s project. It’s his responsibility. Really, we ran out of cash. We still owed quite a bit of money to a company from where we bought the generator. But then, somehow, didn’t have enough cash, so it took a long time to pay them. So we received a warning, saying they would take legal action. I started panicking, ‘Oh my god, I need to get some money.’ Then somebody came up with the idea to organize this concert at the Patan Museum on the 6th of April. I immediately said “Yes, let’s do it.”
“I need some money to give away.”
And then somebody asked me to join their concert, in the UK, as a guest artist. I immediately agreed to it, but then I asked them to donate a certain amount of money to this hospital project. And this person did it. And then again, there was this guy from the company who sold us the generator, called me and said they were having some guest over to Nepal from India. They wanted to give them a good treat, and to do that, they could only think of my singing, because he seems to be my fan. But he didn’t know that I bought this generator from his company. Because I had sent one other organization member. So immediately I said yes to it, but generally I don’t sing for private parties. But here, I really said ‘Yes, I will do it.’ But please give me some time to pay off that money (for the kidney hospital generator), because we have difficulty. And he didn’t know and said, “Oh, I didn’t know,” I said ‘This is what had happened, and this is what it is.’ And he said, “Don’t worry, I’ll give you time and I’ll donate some more money.” So it was even better.
I said ‘Ok, I’ll come and sing for 25 minutes.’ That would be time for about 5 songs. I went there and sang. And the organizer introduced me as the wonderful singer of Nepal, who he likes so much. That she sings not for becoming a singer, to gain popularity, you know, to be a famous singer, but she sings for charity. So I sang. And afterwards, this one guy walked up to me and said, ‘Ani, I want to offer you 500,000 rupees. For your project.‘ I said ‘Wow, wonderful.’ And later I realize that 500,000 is not Nepali 500,000 but Indian 500,000, which is like 800,000 (Nepali rupees) here: $10,000 dollars.
So this magic wand works!
TYP: It seems like what I’m understanding, from what you shared… Is that you have a magic wand (your singing), but the actual magic in the wand is your motivation.
Magic wand is there, but if you don’t… shake that magic wand to fulfill somebody’s wish, then magic wand is also nothing. Right?
So, with my desire, or my will power, or my aspiration, or motivation, I use that magic wand. Magic wand itself is not the Dharma. It’s the motivation, it’s the aspiration that makes the magic wand do what it should do. And the outcome – benefit of the magic wand’s effect, with the power of your own aspiration – that brings the effect in the end, I think.
So, I made more money (laughing) then I needed actually. To pay off (the generator). So now we are very comfortable.
TYP: Can you explain a little bit how you went from forming the nunnery (her Arya Tara school) to forming the kidney hospital. The aspiration behind that. I am curious if it was a different process than forming the nunnery, if there were different obstacles…
Ani-la: Obstacles, hmm… Now that I look back, I’m not sure if I should call it an obstacle. Obstacles, a lot of the time, is myself. My way of perceiving things, at times. When I did certain things, this is obvious… that human ego is there. That because I am trying to do good, means people should rejoice. If they cannot support, they should not cause any (obstacles)… they should at least rejoice.
But in society, yes, people come, people are there with different perceptions. People are not necessarily seeing things the way that I always do. So now, I know, I can analyze it that way. And I’m peaceful. But at times, in previous times, the biggest obstacle was… when I started singing, I would hear some criticism, and judgements that were not so kind. Discouraged me. And I felt like, “Hmmm, shall I give up?” At times, that kind of thought rose, would arise in my mind.
Which obviously is really the biggest kind of obstacle. Otherwise, no one came in front of me, you know, beat me up. Or, take away my money. Or… None of those obstacles were there. Except the criticism in the society, how they perceived my activity. My way of doing things. As a Buddhist nun, they were a little bit of a difficult thing for them to judge, or perceive them in a nice way. That only was a tough thing to face at times, but not always.
TYP: This brings me two reflections. 1) As I step forward with The Yogini Project, one thing I’m having to look at is the Eight Worldly Concerns. I find that, at least on the surface, I become less concerned with these, the more motivated I become to do more. When it’s just about ‘me’, I can do nothing. I can go to the beach. But when there’s potential to benefit, a little bit it’s not about me, and so… it’s stepping beyond… beyond criticism.
TYP: What are your reflections on the Eight Worldly Concerns, and the path and practice, and how it relates to doing charity work or service?
Ani-la: Technically, a lot of the time we know how things are. But emotionally to deal with it, at moments (snaps!) you know, in a spontaneous way, it really seems to require a lot of practice. You know.
For instance, talking about death. We all know we all have to die. But a lot of the time, we are not able to accept easily. The death for one’s self. We’ll always do our best to stay alive, right?
So similarly, lots of these criticisms, in one way, it makes no sense. But it somehow in a very immediate effect of these criticisms does somehow hit you. But then, how long you maintain that pain, or the hit, in yourself, seems to be depending on your own way of perceiving things. You know, depending on your own way of analyzing things. Valuing those criticisms. So in that case, of course, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s teaching, the Buddhadharma itself, has been the most helpful thing in my life.
But as I said, sometime, technically we understand everything in a perfect way, but yet emotionally to deal, come to deal with it is a bit of a tough thing, sometimes suddenly. But then, the good thing of course is it depends on how frequently you are in the practice of understanding those things. Perceiving those things in a more comfortable level. And then, depending on your habit that you have built up in such way of thinking, way of perceiving things, it increases the comfort level within yourself.
That’s how I can see myself progressing. Within myself.
Criticism outside in the world is probably the same, because people, human society, mostly it is the same. So I can’t go out and change each and every individual. What I can change is within myself. How I am able to let these things affect me, or how much value I give to those criticisms. Yes, it comes; I analyze it; if I find anything good, I try and take it. If not… so what. (Both laughing).
I mean, I go to watch movies, and people are shocked to see me, coming as a nun to watch a movie. Just yesterday I went to a movie. I enjoy. I learn a lot, really. I really learn the nature of samsara. From a lot of movies. Great teachings are there.
I mean, I get a chance to live each and every character there.
TYP: That’s beautiful. I think there is some metaphor, deeper teachings there. I made films, my degree was filmmaking, in college. And it’s very interesting to sit at the back of a theater and watch people watch a movie you’ve made. Because you know it’s fragments. You know you cut together sound and pieces, but every one’s watching it like it’s a magic spell. It’s a really odd experience of reality. Where we are piecing together fragments, and it’s just a white screen.
TYP: We’re just projecting on a white screen, and as a samsaric metaphor, we are believing our film.
Ani-la: Exactly. But in that moment, you believe in it. It’s like a dream. You go through each and every experience of life. In that movie. Every character… I cry, I laugh, I get angry, I get irritated… everything. But once the movie is over (snaps), ahh….., “Ok, I’m done.” (Laughing). It’s like a… what do you call it… how to explain it…. it’s fun!
A lot of things I understand. Because I’m confronted in that moment. Some of them, they invoke some of my feelings. When there is a romantic scene… it invokes my romantic emotion, and enjoy. That is for awhile. I’m not getting attached to it. When the movie is over, they switch off the cinema projector and everything, and it’s ok. Now I’m coming back to the real world. None of those emotional effects are being carried with me. But, the knowledge has been widened. Now I can make different sense, out of different things.
But people come and criticize. ‘You are supposedly a Buddhist nun! Buddhist nuns are not allowed to watch movies.’ I say, ‘Who says that?’ I have eyes, I have my own mind. Who tells me…
‘Who told you nuns are not allowed to watch movies?’ I just say this, and I laugh. And I just go.
Things like that. I am more able to be able to deal with the different comments, or different feedbacks, from people’s way of perceiving things. It doesn’t really bring too much of an effect upon me. The effect is much lighter. It’s getting lighter, and I hope more and more it will be.
TYP: From the impression that I am receiving from you, there’s a lot of ways with your nunnery – from what I’ve heard from yourself and from what I’ve heard from others – it’s really breaking the mold. In terms of your singing and what that’s done. But it seems someone in a traditional context could see you as a rebel, almost.
TYP: But it seems you do not have this intent. You just have this intent to motivate, and it is unfolding in this way.
Ani-la: I’m not against anything, really.
TYP: It’s just appropriate to the moment.
Ani-la: I always tell people, ‘I’m not against anything.’ I’m simply trying to let some of my sisters understand that we have a lot of potential in us. And there’s a better way of looking at life. And living our life more meaningfully. And as we are all – as I believe, really – we are all blessed with a magic wand. Please realize: That we all have a magic wand. And think about using that not only to improve your own quality of life, but for others.
We really have the potential. So try to understand that. And then to help them to understand that, I try to do these different things. Like schools, hospital projects, different social projects I am engaged in. This is all to help, and encourage my sisters that we all have this potential. From a very worldly levle to very spiritual.
So… sometimes people say… ‘Everything is illusion, everything is empty.’
Ya. But what? We have to eat. (Laughing.) Come on, be practical! We live in this world, samsara is suffering.
Renounce it. Be isolated from samsara. What? Living in a jungle would make you enlightened? No. If that’s the case, the tigers and, you know, the bears should already be enlightened.
Come on, the challenge and the beauty is in something like the lotus flower. Born in the mud. But yet not being obscurated by it.
Being able to take (real emphasis) that real challenge. Staying away from problem, of course, that’s ok.
TYP: I live in the islands. Weather is so nice, it’s all wonderful, but still…
Ani-la: Ya, but these are two… It’s a bit too easy things to say, to be very honest. you know. To actually to really do it is a very challenging thing. Obviously. It’s like in everything. It’s very easy for us to point at faults of others. The most difficult thing is pointing at your own faults, is the toughest thing.
We always want to believe that I am good. Ya.. ‘I have no faults.’ ‘Whatever I thing and whatever I do is good.’ Yes. That’s how we want to believe in ourselves. You know, like, fooling ourselves.
But, a lot of the time I do try my best to correct myself. My way of thinking, my way of doing things. Yes, I mean, do what I believe, and do. And then yet, I believe human beings are intelligent beings. It’s just a matter of time, people will understand it, appreciate it. And I have seen the effect, and the changes, the way in people’s minds, about how they perceive me. At times I meet people who used to criticize me so badly, and nowadays when they see me, they are very sweet. Which I did not demand it. Really. I did not do my things for that. I did what I wanted to do. But yet, when you are true and clear in yourself, I feel that eventually the right consequence, or right result, comes.
So, human beings are in a way very tough to deal with. Because of their different emotions, you know, expectations. But at times… you see the goodness of human being is that they always appreciate good things. At the beginning, something different is a bit difficult for them to accept it. Because they’ve been taught in a certain way that you are supposed to see things in a certain way.
Ani-la: I always tell people that ‘It seems like always carrying a frame.’ A photo frame. Some people have a big size frames, some people have very small size frames. Depending on the size of their heart. Or…
Every time you see somebody, they immediately bring their frame. And try to frame you. In their frame. They want to see you within their frame. To their size of frame. But of course, not everybody is to there size. Once you come out of this size of their frame, they are not comfortable. They immediately say, ‘Oh, there is something wrong with this person.‘ They don’t see the size of their frame, but that there is something wrong with you.
TYP: Because you are outside the frame.
Ani-la: You’re not fitting nicely and beautifully within the frame. Because when we have a frame we want it framed nicely, and centered, you know. So that, the problem is there. You’re uncomfortable. You reflect that discomfort in your face. And in your speech, in your expression, in your way of greeting the person. That immediately brings the effect upon this person (you are meeting, trying to frame)… because the other person will immediately feel that you are not comfortable with this person. Obviously the reaction comes in the same way.
So, I tell people, ‘It would be so nice if you all carry a mirror.’ I mean, hang a mirror on our self. So when I see you, I see your mirror.
And I see myself.
In the eyes of a flower…
TYP: I am really attempting to see people more clearly, to be able to see their motivation. But I find I am only able to see their motivation clearly, when I’ve actually cleaned the mirror of my motivation, to some degree.
Ani-la: This is exactly like a song I have sung in Nepal that has become the most popular song in Nepal.
“In the eyes of a flower,
The world appears as flower.
In the eyes of a form,
The world appears as form.
Reflection takes place according
To the shape of the object.”
What it is trying to say is how everything depends on how you learn to perceive things in your life.
Positive perception, positive effect. Negative perception, negative effect. And according to your understanding capacity, judgement takes place. That’s where we say, the “Reflection takes place according to the shape of the object.”
And then, it’s the most beautiful part of the song, says…
“May my heart always be pure.
May my words always be enlightened.
May the soles of my feet never kill an insect.
In beautiful eyes, the world
Always appears as beautiful.
May I see the brightness of the moon
In the darkness of night.
May I hear the music of life,
Even in the driest leaves.”
“In a pure heart, the world always appears as pure.”
That’s the song. And this song is enjoyed by most, youngest infant to oldest people, here in Nepal. And the conceptual resource is from Buddha’s teaching. From the Dhammapada.
So, this is how I’ve been trying to do things differently in my life.
TYP: Clearly, a song like this, like you say, influences young children, in a way that just simply being in a nunnery…
Here, I don’t scare anybody saying, ‘This is a Buddhist song.’ Or, this is a Hindu song. It’s just a song. Philosophy of life, you know. And everyone cannot say, ‘Oh, it’s not true.‘ Is it the right way to say… ‘Indisputable truth.’ Is that right?
So I’ve been trying to do things that way.
But of course the inner, essential aspiration is absolutely to have Dharma flourish more and more. And so, more or less… I think it’s working. (Laughing).
TYP: I’d like to touch in a little, as you shared, quite spontaneously you went out of the mold. And, a little bit reflecting on how… in this age, in this time, in the east and west… the way the feminine is manifesting in practice. How the Yogini is taking on different forms.
We shared this before, that some westerners have images of how women should be held (in view); the easterners have some image. And yes, while there are many new female teachers, but also the feminine does not always necessarily take that form. Can we reflect a little on the ways in which women, in which Yogini occurs, in her own form, in her own way, that is not necessarily trying to match a social role.
Ani-la: Well, at some level, of course, you have to try not to … contradict completely. That would be a bit too harsh. On people. You do something differently, but yet it’s… still you are within the frameline of the social norms. So then slowly, inspire them out, in different ways. I mean, even though I did something different, but still it was not completely, completely shocking things. It was ok. Some people were like, “It’s ok, but…” And still others said, “No. It’s not ok.”
“She’s not supposed to do this.”
But it’s still… (within range.) I mean, it’s trying to be skillful. It’s like feeding a medicine to a kid. Sometime you have to be strict. Sometime… ‘Come on, you are the best child ever. You’re really a good boy. You’re the smartest. You’re the most intelligent.’ You know, if he does that (take the medicine), like I think he’s going to be the greatest thing. We try to find our ways to get into their heart. In order to feed something that is good for them.
TYP: For the sake of benefit, listening to the situation.
TYP: Do you feel there are… if we touch in on this, between the east and the west, is there anything you would like to share that you find very positive of what you have seen of the eastern and western view of the feminine in practice? How they could inform each other? For the western to hear what is occurring in the eastern, and vice versa. We want to open up dialogue about the Yogini, so every cultural side is heard, and open.
Ani-la: Well, you see, I don’t think I am totally the right person, or the perfect person, to explain anything, or differences in those things, or judging anybody in such a way. But yet, yes, every individual has their own way of thinking, and their own way of analyzing things. Which is not necessarily the real truth, you know.
So from that perspective, I feel sometimes, what I really admire in the western women, in the women practitioners, western way of engaging or going into practice, is that they really like to learn things technically. You know, technical details. Understanding meaning. Ok, ‘Om mani padme hung,’ the mantra. What is it? How does it work?
But then, the sense of wrong, or minus thing, or such, with such a way, is sometime, someway they look for immediate result. Ok, if I do 3 months retreat, means complete transformation of certain things in myself. Or, certain real realization, or certain accomplishment, should be there. Like we go to an university for certain degrees. And that degree is a certificate degree. Degree certificate is what you look for. And that expectation, in that way, might not work. In that kind of context, of practice.
But in our way (eastern), maybe our problem is we are too blind faith. If it’s complete blind faith, that is the best way, the most powerful. But somehow, we are in between a little bit, you know. So we don’t ask too much questions. That is our problem.
TYP: So, there is a balance between analyzing and faith?
Ani-la: That’s where, I think, we need to develop… the technical way of approaching things, together with our own way of developing the inner, the faith of devotion.
So, I think, both ways there is a bit of a thing. But, I wouldn’t say this is too much that, this is wrong, this is right. Every one has their own way of… their own potential of understanding, their own understanding capacity. Is that right words? So, it’s a bit difficult to completely judge things, in such ways.
That’s how I see it.
TYP: Is there anywhere to highlight where listening could occur, you know? It appears to be… well, one aspiration about The Yogini Project is – certainly not from a feminist perspective; we definitely want to highlight where the feminine needs to be supported – but at the same time, truly there are amazing women, and just simple, women with good motivation, strong dharma practice the world over. Feels like there is real benefit in sharing.
TYP: Yes, sharing and showing this, having an exchange of ‘her’ stories. And so, beings can see their reflection. Someone who has a similar motivation, can overcome an obstacle. Or, in some of the stories you shared here, many of us, when we were children, we had anger. And in the image of that (being overcome)… So, touching in on the value of sharing stories:
If you would encourage… how would you encourage others to share their stories so that they are reflecting the feminine in practice, without highlighting ‘their’ story? (Not) just having it be ego amplification, in a sense.
Ani-la: Yes. In my case, I am very fortunate, and blessed, to be able to have had someone heal me in such a way (referring to her heart teacher, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche), that whatever development that took place within me, or whatever wrong or bad incident took place in me, never has it become something too much like a hunger for sympathy. If that would have taken place, then it probably would have been wrong. The wrong guidance would have taken place.
But, when I look back at the life I went through, no regrets. In fact, I rejoice in it. Because those experiences has helped me decide to become a nun. Because of my father. And then, now I tell people, ‘Two men changed my life. And both of them, I am equally grateful towards.’
If my father’s brutality, or the aggression, or the difficulties, if I hadn’t had to face it, I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to become a nun. If I hadn’t become a nun, I’m not sure I would have had the chance to meet my teacher. And if I had not had the chance to meet my great teacher, I don’t know what kind of transformation would have taken place within me. What kind of person I have been able to develop into, in myself. You know?
I’m not sure I would have been able to think about an aspiration to do things that are for the benefit of all beings.
Maybe I would be limiting myself within my self, saying ‘my’ life, ‘my’ husband, ‘my’ children. That’s it. That probably would have been my world.
But now I always enjoy the confidence, and the belief, the faith in myself, about being able… having the strength to take care of others. Yes, I can take care of others. That’s the belief I have. And it really makes me feel good!
Comfortable, you know. Relaxed. I’m not panicking. I’m not nervous. I’m not constantly thinking too much. I am able to just sit, smile. And do things I have to do. If this comes up, you know… [fine].
No regrets. Really.
Yes, I feel blessed. Just yesterday I was talking to my nun friends (at Nagi Gompa), “We have so many things to be happy in life.” Every moment to moment, just simple things. Think about samadhi, and think about Nepal. That itself is such a big reason to be happy, and rejoice. To be grateful for everything.
So many reasons to feel we are so blessed.
We are so blessed. There’s no reason for us to find anything about which to complain, about anything.
No? So I said to my friend, ‘Let’s have fun. Let’s go watch a movie.‘ You know…
TYP: There’s this open space… what I hear from you… is there is this open space that is the attitude, coming into gratitude, which opens into joy.
What I hear is that the source of the good qualities that have opened into what has been achieved in your life, really comes from your teacher in the form of blessings. There’s certain qualities that I hear, specifically humility, in that you were able to deal with what came up, what once was trauma or anger. And at the same time, humility, I feel what you are highlighting a lot, compliments.
Ani-la: Yes. Humility should not be something that you feel, ‘Oh, I’m nothing. I can’t do good.’ No. Humility with the confidence, and the faith in one’s self, that… I can do a lot. But that should not develop into arrogance. You know? Pride. Pride, in a positive way may be ok, but not arrogance. Once that takes place, then it’s already the sign that I am going down, down, down.
So as long as, every time I experience something good… I think of my teacher.
And yesterday, last night, me and my nun friend, we stayed up til half past three! And all we were talking about was… Yes, I was talking about my teacher. I said, ‘Yes look, essentially, our teachers are the emanation of all the Buddhas.’ The sense of all the Buddhas is represented by the physical form of our guru, but they never die. But somehow human nature is such that we want to hold on to something physical. With that habitual tendency, I said, ‘I still very strongly miss my teacher.’
And I can very freshly cry, from the pain of him physically, you know, departing.
But every time I have something good happening to me, something good in that I have been able to do something for others, or someone has expressed their gratitude or joy, I immediately thank my teacher. And when I thank him, when I think of him, when I miss him, I cry. The tears come down.
So.. I tell people, ‘As long as I never forget my teacher, I probably will never be out of track.’
Maybe I will get distracted for awhile, but once I (snaps) remember my teacher, and ‘Oh, I’m here. Yes.’
That’s how it helps. Is helping me a lot. That’s how a real guru works in your life.
TYP: Are there any other qualities you would highlight besides, of what your guru shared with you beyond humility and confidence? Are there any other essential qualities you would share with other aspiring Yoginis?
Ani-la: I mean, being clear about your motive! (Very emphatically). I think your attitude.
Being clear about what you are saying, about what you are thinking. About what you are doing.
Once you are clear about that, then we have the analytical ability to judge, within one’s self, whether what we are doing is right or wrong.
As long as things that you do are clear, clearly you feel right. And that it is for the benefit, not only of one’s self, but for all beings. This gives you a certain level of satisfaction, within yourself.
And with satisfaction comes a certain relaxation. You know, joy. That joy. And at the same time, gratitude. Gratitude towards someone who has done so much for you.
TYP: Thank you so much, Ani-la, for your kindness and time.
Ani-la: Thank you. It’s my joy. I wish The Yogini Project all the success.