Interview, Part I

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.

Ani-la: Exactly!!

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.

Ani-la: Yes.

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.

Ani-la: Exactly!

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.

Ani-la: Exactly.

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 level 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 think 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.

TYP: Conditioned.

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 their 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.

 Interview, Part III

Photo: Ralf Braum.