Our Initial TYP Interview with Ani Choying Drolma, at Ani-la’s home in Boudhanath, Nepal, March 2012
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!