Monday, October 14, 2013

From Anti-religious to Buddhist Nun

by Lozang Khadro

When I was twenty-seven I ordained in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition. Being young and choosing to explicitly identify as a practitioner of faith is an interesting and worthwhile life journey. Despite my paternal family being Roman Catholic I didn’t subscribe to religion when I was growing up. In fact I was quite against religion and clung to a staunch aversion of Christianity, but that has now changed for the better.

The first time I walked into Chenrezig Institute I had a very strong sense of being in the right place, like I’d come home. It was as if everything in my life made complete sense, as if I had always been walking towards that exact moment. A month later I was writing a letter and asking for ordination. This was fast work in a Western Buddhist context. The ideal situation is to spend time studying before requesting ordination. You give yourself a more rounded understanding of what you’re stepping into.

Steps leading down to the cafe at Chenrezig Institute
Amidst it all I began to take on expectations of what it meant to be a “correct” nun. This is an important thing to be aware of because it can be challenging enough trying to disengage with external expectations. It also makes for a rich and rewarding practice since our Buddhist life is about working with what arises in our mind.

For myself and others there is a danger of seeing only the robes and not the human in them. You could apply this to many things. The interesting challenge is to find that balance between who you are as a person and what it is that you have chosen to be wholly involved in. This takes time and a lot of personal gentle patience.

People often ask “What do you do during the day?” My days are very full, more so now than they were before! I work at Chenrezig to support myself and contribute to a center which benefits hundreds of people. I lead meditations and take part in pujas, a special type of practice using drums, recitations, and offerings. I also study theology at university and volunteer at a multifaith center.

I think some people in my life thought I became a completely different person when I donned robes. There are parts of my personality that will never change but that is a good thing to acknowledge. Ordaining is not about becoming a “new person”; it’s about developing one’s altruistic potential.

Being in a church is a spiritual experience for me. Starbuck is still my favorite character of all time, and I’m not referring to coffee (BSG fans will understand that reference). My sense of humor has not changed. Perhaps that is not so good. More often than not the laughter I hear is my own and not anybody else’s!

Looking back, I can see where I have changed. I am not the quick-to-anger person I use to be. My behavior of body, speech, and mind has tempered. My familial relationships have improved because Buddhism gave me the tools to let go of issues I clung to, e.g. parental relations and so forth. One of the healthiest and most challenging things about Buddhism is that it teaches you to disengage from disturbing thoughts and to recognize how you create your own suffering. I feel it to be an empowering faith because of this.

Currently I am directing myself towards the interfaith genre, as well as devoting much time to providing service to Chenrezig. I thought if I was going to base my life on my faith then I needed to do so in an informed way. I am also a very practical person and believe in working in the community. The Dalai Lama once gave a speech on religious harmony. His Holiness said that it was essential to understand the difference between love of one’s faith and attachment for one’s faith. A biased mind was the cause for many problems.

I think interfaith action is a medium for us all to recognize such a difference. It gives us opportunities to relate to other faiths and see the similarities and differences, be it in practice or in theological assertion. I attended a public talk on Islamic issues several months ago which was run by Seekers Point. The last speaker, Imam Afroz Ali, spoke about their concept of self. He also spoke about using desire and attachment to overcome a grasping to the physical body. It was a very similar to many Buddhist teachings I had heard. I have since spoken with this Imam and I look forward to exploring the subject in more detail. This is where interfaith action can make a difference in society today and it’s what puts the fire in my belly, so to speak.

Lozang Khadro: Getsulma (Novice Monastic)

Lozang Khadro (née Frances Underwood) was ordained by Khen Rinpoche Geshe Tashi Tsering in 2011. She works at Chenrezig Institute at the Sunshine Coast and volunteers at Griffith University Multi-Faith Centre. Khadro is also studying theology through University of Newcastle. Prior to shaving her head Khadro worked in the nursery industry and studied human services at Griffith University. Born in 1983 in Ipswich, she is the youngest in a family that can be described as “multi-faith,” including a Muslim sibling and many Catholic family members. Khadro is also aunty to two incredible golden-haired kids!

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