Thursday, December 30, 2010

How to be a nun and a mum - Tsultrim Allione

This woman is serious heroine material. In fact, it is her book, ‘Women of Wisdom’ that impelled me to write this blog.

Tsultrim Allione was one of the first American women to become a Tibetan Buddhist nun. At the age of 25, when no-one in the West had even heard of Buddhism, she travelled alone to India. She shaved her head and took the maroon robes. After many years of strict practice and teachings from the head honchos of Tibetan Buddhism however, she decided to leave the order. She married, gave birth to four children in five years. She now divides her time between her retreat centre in the US and India. Visiting Tibetan lamas, with her children.

There is one story about her that has been written with a laser in my mind. 

During her time as a nun, Tsultrim developed a friendship with the Dalai Lama, and was recently invited by him to speak at a conference for Tibetan Buddhist leaders to discuss the role of women in modern Buddhism.

What she did at this conference both terrifies and inspires me. She sat, in front of the lamas and asked them to close their eyes and perform a visualisation. Wow, this woman had guts. She began to guide them…

Imagine you’re walking into a beautiful shrine room, you look around at the paintings on the walls - images of a captivating, young woman in mediation. She is surrounded by dancing female figures and women mediating…

At the front of the room, you see a huge, gold statue, the Buddha, a vision of wisdom, a perfectly attained woman…

In the middle of the room, facing you, is a Nun on a throne in full regalia, leading the ritual. To her left and right, nuns sit in robes chanting…

Then, something catches your eye, at the back you see a few rows of men, monks….

Ahh, you send them compassion. You pray that they practice well, that next lifetime they will earn the right to be reborn as women, so that they may too attain enlightenment…”

She paused for a while and finally, when she looked up, she saw that the Dalai Lama had begun to cry.

At around the same time, one of my friends came into my bedroom and looked at the space I was using as an altar. He said, ‘Soph, where are the women?’. I realized that I had filled my walls with images of my heroes. Gandhi, Yogananda, Milarepa, Jesus, the Buddha. But somewhere along the way, I had forgotten my heroines.

So I began to look for them, asking my friends, reading books, and I found so many heroic women that I want to shout them from the rooftops. Poetesses, saintesses, nuns, mothers. And now, thanks to Lama Tsultrim - nuns that have become mothers. 

So, I am finding my heroines. Hearing their stories inspires me. And they give depth to my own.