Venerable Robina Courtin
“Radically working with your own mind”
An Interview with Venerable Robina Courtin about her life and work by Michaela Haas
Venerable Robina Courtin is a dynamic and candid Dharma teacher. Ordained since the late 1970s, the former Australian singer has worked full time since then for Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s FPMT. She has served as editorial director of Wisdom Publications, editor of Mandala Magazine, and the executive director of Liberation Prison Project. She does not really have a home, but travels tirelessly to teach around the world. Her life and work with prisoners have been featured in the documentary films Chasing Buddha and Key to Freedom. In her book Why Buddhism? Vicki Mackenzie describes her as “funny, dynamic, affectionate, kind, outrageous, her speech frequently dotted with expletives. All this plus her ability to move across the ground at a million miles per minute proved conclusively that you do not necessarily have to be quiet, serene and passive to be Buddhist.”
In this interview with Dakini Power author Michaela Haas, Ven. Robina says: “I’m radically working on my own mind. Not believing in the way things appear to us: you can’t get more radical than that.“
Michaela Haas: How did you transition from being a Kung Fu fighter to a Buddhist nun?
Robina Courtin: Well, the longest distance was from Catholic to Buddhist nun. Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, I went to Church every day. I loved God. I thought a lot about the nature of God, the universe and what makes it tick. From the moment I first went to Mass I knew I wanted to be a priest. Everybody laughed at me and said I had to become a nun instead. I was so little I couldn’t understand the reason. When I was twelve, I begged my mother to let me be a nun like my hero St. Thérèseof Lisieux, who became a nun when she was 14. I obviously had a strong connection with the religious way of seeing things and, I suppose, with Tibetan Buddhism: I didn’t think of God as my creator, which is interesting. And at the convent I went to throughout all my school years, for our uniform we had a saffron yellow blouse and a maroon twinset. Very familiar!
MH: How did your parents react when you first wanted to be a Buddhist nun?
RC: My mother had to go through quite a bit before then. When I gave up God for boys, she cried. When I went to London in the late 60s and gave up my classical singing studies for involvement in the radical left, she cried. Then I got into black politics, and she cried. Then I became a radical lesbian separatist feminist, and she really, really cried. So by the time I told her I wanted to become a Buddhist nun when I was 31, she didn’t have any tears left. But she always came around: so kind.
MH: I am intrigued how you could go from being such a political and radical person to not being interested in these topics anymore at all.
RC: I’m just the same radical person. I’m radically working on my own mind. Not believing in the way things appear to us: you can’t get more radical than that. How women are treated in Buddhism, full ordination for nuns, whatever – all of these issues are important. But I want to look at the internal component, not the external. I want to uproot the causes of all suffering, which are mental. In that, I am more radical than ever.
Excerpt from interview with Robina Courtin. For full interview, see the Dakini Power website.
See the trailer for “Chasing Buddha” – A film on Venerable Robina Courtin here.