Life in Red – the Long Journey to really being Daughters of the Buddha

I ordained as a nun in the Tibetan tradition with a heart filled with inspiration. I wanted to become a Buddha and benefit all beings. Tibetan monastics were the happiest people I had seen, or at least it looked that way to me when I traveled through the Himalayas aged 17. Liberating oneself from mental confusion, egotism, and negative emotions, and trying to be a clear mirror for other confused beings too, seemed the best use of my life.

I helped run a Dharma center in Australia for five years as a lay person and as a nun in the final year. My lama was a good monk, but he was afflicted with cultural conditioning. When I ordained at 23, I was entering a world that I knew nothing about—a world whose culture, gender stereotypes, history, and world view were totally opposite to my Western culture. Even on the very day I ordained, I had to take off my robes and go out to work. I knew the purpose of a monastic’s life was to devote oneself to the Dharma, but I went to work because everyone said that our center didn’t have enough money to support Australian monastics (although it has always supported Tibetan monks) and that Westerners didn’t know the traditional practice of supporting the monastic sangha. In 2,600 years of Buddhism, it has never been heard of for a center to charge a monastic rent and offer food to a monastic of one race and not another.

The monastic community was the first democracy in the world. If resources were given to the sangha, which was traditionally composed of both monks and nuns, they were supposed to be distributed equally. Monastics were seen as valuable because they studied the Dharma full time, memorized and practiced it in a way lay people did not have time for, and created a spiritual environment for the latter to take Refuge in and receive spiritual sustenance from. Monasteries were the epicenter of Buddhist learning—places where the Dharma was upheld. I did not know when I ordained that nowadays, nuns receive far fewer donations than monks, that they have to struggle just to get the same education as monks, and that in most traditions they cannot take full ordination. I did not know how rife my own tradition was, despite its many good points, with patriarchy and hierarchy. I never questioned why it was only men who sat on the throne or only Tibetans who were seen as “authentic” practitioners, or why our center raised money for Tibetan men in India and not for Australian monastics who were actually contributing their free labor to keep the center going.

These things only became clear to me when I hit the Buddhist glass ceiling. And that is just what it is—because you can’t see it. I felt somehow demeaned, depressed, trapped. I worked at a job and then came home and worked more for the center. My teacher had little time to offer monastic training to me or to the other Australian monk and nun at the center. I blamed myself for my feeling of heaviness. “I’m not trying hard enough,” I thought. We were frequently told that our suffering was the result of past negative karma and negative emotions. So whatever suffering came, I just accepted it as my own fault. I did not yet see that the idea of karma could be used to maintain an unequal and unhealthy status quo, which meant that those experiencing suffering would blame themselves and not the structural violence that kept them “in their place” and the privileged in power.

Apart from the double standard of supporting Tibetans and not non-Himalayans, I started to see the strong patriarchy of my tradition when a visiting lama told all the baby-boomer generation women in the room: “Female birth is inferior to male birth. You can’t become a Buddha as a woman. Pray to be reborn as a man.” None of the Western women in the room questioned this lama except me. I gave the examples of Jomo Menmo, Machig Labdrön, and the queen of Tibet, Yeshe Tsogyal, who, according to their biographies, had all become Buddhas. “Well, they must have become Buddhas as men and then been reborn as women to help women,” Rinpoche said. To me, this made absolutely no sense.

So, from that moment on, I started reading the original texts—the sutras, going back to the source of the Buddha and the Indian masters. I found texts that said it is the duty of an ordination master and the lay community to provide four requisites to the monastic community (at least those who keep their vows and sincerely practice): robes, food, shelter, and medicine. A master who does not provide these has failed in his sacred duty as abbot and spiritual guide (according to the Vinaya and the Sigalovada Sutta). I also found inspiring biographies of women who had succeeded in attaining enlightenment, despite being oppressed.

After I left the center, I allowed other thoughts that I had been suppressing as blasphemous to arise fully: Why are non-Himalayan monastics any less deserving of support? Why have we been trained to only support Tibetan lamas? I realized that it was not just my bad karma that was creating the situation of marginalization and lack of support I was experiencing. “Letting go” of an issue that eats away at you because you are being discriminated against is not always the most healthy thing for nuns; nor is it healthy for Buddhism. I think it’s time women started questioning why there is no equal representation, why women are treated as “second-class citizens,” and why we as sponsors only support Asian men to study and practice. That doesn’t mean not supporting men, it means supporting equality—Himalayan and non-Himalayan monastics, and women and men, equally. Women need autonomy, and our own places both in Asia and the West to practice and study in where we are not dominated by men or placed in inferior positions, and which are suited to our differing cultures.

Because there is so much emphasis on Guru devotion in Tibetan Buddhism, we sometimes feel afraid to question our teachers. People also misinterpret and confuse the ultimate and relative teachings. I sometimes find Buddhists using the Dharma as a reason why they don’t engage in the world to address situations of poverty, misery, and injustice. Sometimes they quote high-level teachings like Dzogchen or Mahamudra to justify their non-action, and talk about Buddha nature. They say that “everything is perfect and the people who are suffering are just purifying their karma.” One man said, on a post about an ex-“untouchable” family who had been burned alive in caste violence, that the suffering of the world was endless and that we should all just let go into Buddha nature. To me that seemed really insensitive and off the mark. But all the great practitioners I know who have a true understanding of the nature of the illusory appearance of things and interconnectedness rest in that ultimate state whilst actually doing something to help others, too.

In 2007, when I met some Indian Buddhists who had converted from Hinduism to Buddhism to escape the oppressive caste system, I was inspired to share some teachings with them. Very few Buddhists are helping this community or sharing the Dharma with them. They were Dalits, those formerly known as “untouchables,” a large number of whom had converted in 1956 under the leadership of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar. But I quickly found that it would be wrong to teach them about Buddhism when their stomachs were empty and their children dying from sickness. And so Bodhicitta Foundation NGO (India and developing countries) and Bodhicitta Socially Engaged Buddhist Community (India and Australia) were born. We now run a charity that has a girls’ home, a spiritual ashram, and a women’s job training center, and also sponsors children to attend school, changing the lives of some 2,000 people each year. We are also currently fundraising for a RIME center for non-Himalayan monastics in Australia, and have offered scholarships to non-Himalayan monastics in the past.

I was never allowed into Tibetan circles because of the priority Tibetans had placed on preserving their own culture and hierarchy, but the slum people embraced me. I followed the road less traveled. The nun’s life is still meaningful and profound, despite its many challenges, and each day I rise grateful to have committed myself to compassion and the Dharma, to being a daughter of the Buddha.

Watch a video about Ayya Yeshe Bodhicitta’s journey below:

You can help female practitioners by creating practice centers where non-Himalayan nuns can stay, supporting Buddhist education for women, sharing articles, inviting female teachers, creating scholarships, and opening a dialogue with lamas and centers that do not support non-Himalayan women and nuns.

For further information on the Bodhicitta Foundation and the Bodhicitta Socially Engaged Buddhist Community, see the Bodhicitta Foundation website , the YouTube video of our charity, and Bodhicitta Socially Engaged Buddhist Community Facebook page. For further resources to support Buddhist women, see SakyadhitaThosamling NunneryAlliance for Bhikkhunis, and Dhammadharini.


Facing the Wild Winds of Change – Buddhist Reflections on Letting Go

Letting go is a big theme in Buddhism. It has also been a big theme in my own life. Change and the need to let go are issues we don’t mind hearing about in the context of other people’s lives, but one we don’t really like taking place in our own. But the fact is, sooner or later we all have to accept change, whether we want it or not.

Change, cycles of life and death, creation, expansion and decline are as natural as the seasons. Change can also be a liberating thing, and without it, life would be stale. Change is not always negative. It means we can grow and learn and expand. It means unpleasant situations can transform into more positive situations, but it can also mean we suffer. We can all appreciate the beauty and tempest of nature. We enjoy the blossoming flowers in spring and the new life that emerges from the earth, bringing renewal. We can also enjoy the graceful surrender of autumn as leaves fall and dark comes earlier. Life would be very dull if nothing ever changed. But being born, things must also die. Meeting, they must part and reaching their highest arch, they must also decline. This is a natural law. Somehow because we live separate from nature and mostly in our heads, we have lost sight of this natural law. We hide from old age, try to create permanent security and try to insulate ourselves from anything nasty that could disturb our comfort too much.

In some ways it’s understandable that we don’t wish to suffer unnecessarily, but in some ways we are just keeping some inevitable and important truths of life at bay. In cutting ourselves off from the unpredictability of life, we have also cut ourselves off from the vividness and mystery of what it means to be human. If we live in an artificial world in which we are socially isolated and only choose to allow in things we like, we are also living in a narrow way. If our comfort zone is never challenged, we are not seeing the greater picture of life. We become numb, apathetic and small hearted. It becomes easy to just pursue narcissistic entertainment, pleasure and distraction while corporations and millionaires take over the world, destroy the environment and make the poor poorer, all the while distracting with trivial entertainment and getting them to participate in a system of meaningless consumption that is unsustainable and in many ways unnecessary and toxic.

In truth, living in this way, we are more interested in playing on phones mined by children than we are in feeling that as the wealthiest nations in the world we have an individual and communal responsibility to help those children get an education. Do face book or online gaming/shopping/gossip magazines allow the overwhelming injustice of the world to touch us? Are we not just burying our head in the sand while the world is dying? Is it not the height of stupidity?!

Fortunately, life has a way of waking us up, even if we try to hide, life will challenge us, and shake us, and force us to open and be present to the rawness and aliveness and chaos of human existence. How do we practice when life is squeezing us? What do we do when all we love is torn away from us? How do we open to truly aliveness? There is what we usually do – hold on and obsess. This is so often a road we choose to go down – when a relationship has been ended by the other party and we are left with all the questions and pain and emotional baggage of “WHY?!” it can be very hard to let go. When one we love dies, or we lose a baby, or a job, or fail an exam or our parents’ divorce, it can make us feel we are adrift, alone or don’t even want to live anymore.

There is perhaps a path involving more wisdom; in times of great challenge, ask yourself. “What can I do to suffer less?” It is so tempting to jump into that ocean of pain, fear, regret, anger and self loathing. But does it help? Or does it just prevent the healing that needs to take place? In challenging times it’s good to try to be a bit sensible and restrained. I’m not talking about repressing feelings. So many things in life will get under our skin, grab hold of our heart and give it a great big yank… But what’s the best way of coping? Can we open up and learn from life, even when it is painful? Can we allow the genuine heart of tenderness to just be there, with all its vulnerability? Being calm and not escalating the emotions by creating a big obsessive storyline around the event might help. Story lines are the stories we repeat to ourselves that help us avoid the unbearable pain of actually just facing our broken heart. But story lines eventually become concrete. The stories and thoughts and opinions we hold onto can stop us from moving on and can make us bitter, paranoid and leave our painful issues unresolved. We may even start projecting our unresolved emotional issues onto new situations in our life and it can stop us from seeing new opportunities or really enjoying our lives and connecting with others.

Of course most Buddhist Teachers will tell you that letting go is a good thing and that Buddhists think attachment is not great. But how do most Buddhists with a 9-5 job really live? It’s not so easy to reconcile the teachings of a 2600 year old Sage who lived in a cave with the complexities of the modern world that requires us to pay mortgages, pay bills and negotiate a complicated technology-desire based society. And yet in some ways, society has not changed that much. People still felt jealous, depressed, and fell in love and fear 2600 years ago. Small countries invaded each other, leaders lusting after wealth and resources stole the wealth of other nations and thousands of young men still lost their lives to pay for the greed of these leaders.

We hear our meditation Teacher say ‘let go’, or ‘live in the now’ and maybe we agree. But how do we actually do it? When something painful rips our life apart, how do we pick up the pieces and find peace and clarity? There inevitably has to be a period of mourning and a bit of pain, that is part of the healing process. I have had a very tumultuous life. Sometimes when bad or unjust things happened to me, I felt angry. I also knew that it was not good to have anger, but I have come to take a much less black and white line on life. I have come to see that time has its own way of healing things and that sometimes the best thing we can do is just be present to the pain without obsessing too much, while knowing at the same time that things will not always be this way, that we will heal and feel better, that nothing lasts. Being compassionately present to yourself and the world can be very healing. We don’t run away, but we don’t obsess. We take refuge in the timeless element of peace that heals all, puts all things in perspective, but at the same time we don’t close our eyes to injustice. In that way, the knowledge of impermanence can heal us, but the acceptance of our imperfections and the inevitable sufferings of life can give us a deep compassion for and understanding of others.

Breath meditation is a great way to become aware of yourself. When you have self awareness, you naturally start to see some of the thought processes and emotions that are unskillful. With the peace that accompanies meditation, you also become aware that your mind is a lot bigger than you thought, that you are more than just your thoughts and you have a basic wholeness and purity that is bigger than time and space and the small ups and downs of life. That basic goodness is Buddha nature. Uncovering that original purity in yourself and others is the purpose of life. But that state is not permanent or separate like a ‘soul’ or ‘heaven’, it is just the thread understanding it is part of the greater weaving, the emptiness in the fullness, or the peace that is there when the small conceptual mind shuts up for a while.

It’s not that this deeper understanding of interconnectedness and letting go of self grasping makes us some kind of ineffective, self absorbed blob…. This understanding should free us from narcissism and negative emotions and make us wiser. We  become more compassionate, happy and effective in helping ourselves and the world, because we are skillful in following mind states and actions that lead to wholesome states and we let go of thoughts/emotions and actions that lead to confusion, un-awareness, harm or suffering. That self awareness, or mindfulness, when combined with altruism and compassion is a powerful way to overcome suffering and open up to a greater, more infinite and profound way of living. We start to see that what we do to others, we do to ourselves. From this more concern and practical actions to benefit others naturally arise.

I think love and relationships are the other great obsession or drug of our time. I certainly notice the absence of many Dharma practitioners from the Centre when they fall in love! I call it the 30s vortex. People enter it, get married, and usually don’t show up at the centre again until they are 50 or divorced! People are always asking advice from me about relationships and love, which is pretty ironic, considering I’m a celibate Buddhist nun.. But I think living in monastic communities and dealing with students is not that different to dealing with the ups and downs of any other kind of relationship.

How do we know when we need to let go, and if we need to hold on? First we need to ask ourselves what we are holding onto and if it will bring us long term happiness or not. We can hold onto ideas, opinions, dreams and people. Some of us hold onto ideas about what a good life is or what we need. I see people working themselves sick 50 hours a week to pay for a huge home in the suburbs, because that’s what they think they need to be happy. Many of those people hate their jobs and would rather spend more time practicing or being with their family. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves, how much do we really need to be happy? What is real happiness? And what is the difference between want and need? I live near an Indian slum, and I know that people can actually survive on very little. Half the world lives on $1.25 a day. Just because we have more money, does not mean we are more fulfilled. Sometimes less is more, sometimes if you reduce your needs, live in a smaller house, find more inner clarity and fulfillment, you actually find you need a whole lot less than you thought you did and you start to value people and community more than things and distractions. That has certainly been the case with me. It is mostly because our lives are toxic that we need distractions to be absent from them. When I had a job at a big insurance company I made 3 times as much money as I do now, but I felt what I was doing was meaningless. This is not to say that everyone should quit their jobs and move to a slum… but it is possible to simplify life, this is a natural process that comes about through building up inner clarity. You find you have more time to give others and become less interested in self obsessing or doing unwholesome things.

Just because you let go of holding onto things (because you know everything is impermanent and conditioned) doesn’t mean that you don’t love or you can’t have meaningful relationships. In fact, if we recollect impermanence we don’t sweat the little things and we don’t take our relationships for granted. We know each day is precious and we don’t hold a grudge. We want to give the best of ourselves to the ones we love, and we cherish them more, as we know they are not ours forever. To live with the knowledge of impermanence and letting go can set us free and bring make us feel truly and joyfully alive. I have some friends who say they didn’t start truly living until they were diagnosed with some life threatening disease. It would be sad if this had to happen to us before we put down our mobile phones and started to actually live life fully, have real quality time with people and turn within.

Like everyone, I bear the scars of the wounds life has inflicted on me. I lost my father to cancer at 14, which woke me up and made me want to live fully whatever short time I have in this world, and also set me on the spiritual path. I lost partners I loved, my foster daughter died, jobs, communities and situations fell apart. 14 years ago I ordained and hoped I would found a community for nuns of my tradition; I hoped that Buddhists would support Australian Monastics to study and practice, but pretty much everyone I ordained with has disrobed due to lack of support. I am still homeless. Perhaps life does not always give us what we think we want. But sometimes, we may find we have learnt a great deal along the way. Letting go is not a cold detachment to life, it simply means we choose to live in the now, to bravely move forward and learn from our disappointments and losses. Rather than become bitter victims, our wounds are our teachers, our imperfections are the compost from which the wondrous flowers of insight spring. The poison, if taken skillfully, can become the medicine.

Buddhist Economics for a Better World


If the Buddha was an enlightened financial advisor, how would he recommend we make money and make the world a better place at the same time?! Money and true spirituality are often thought to exist in two completely different spheres. But if we are to be socially engaged Buddhists who have high ideals, pursue awakening, but also make a living in the world and try to benefit it, some enlightened though is needed in the area of spiritual economics. The Buddha did give some advice on how to deal ethically with money in the sutras – he said keep some of your money to re-invest in your business, support your parents/family/ relatives and the needy. Give some to holy persons who are practicing the spiritual path and save the rest.

Of course he also said a life of simplicity, contentment and no harm was best. In view of these principles perhaps it’s unethical for Buddhists to accumulate vast sums of wealth whilst 30,000 children die each day. The Buddha also recommended we pay our employees fairly and produce a quality product and deal honorably with our clients. There are 5 trades prohibited to Buddhists – trading drugs/poison/weapons/slaves/prostitution. In Buddhism the concept of ahimsa or ‘no harm/violence’ and metta or wishing all beings well would mean that economic policies that deprive other humans of their basic rights such as healthcare, affordable education, affordable accomodation, food and childcare would be contrary to ahimsa. This is because it makes people suffer, creates desperation, crime, drug use, hopelessness, resentment and eventually revolution and violence by the oppressed underclass.

Having worked with the poorest of the poor in the slums of India and been a street kid in Australia, I have clearly seen the terrible suffering that results when some people have too much and others not enough. Looking at countries with a good standard of living vs. countries with extremes of poverty it’s clear that things like uncorrupt police and justice systems that are effective and keep law and order whilst respecting human rights, unions, the welfare state and so forth are necessities that make for quality of life. On the other hand, being successful in your job and making money is not necessarily an evil thing if you are generous and create jobs for others whom you treat fairly. Generosity is implicit in Buddhist culture, as exemplified by Buddha’s greatest lay supporter, Anathapindika or ‘Helper of the poor’ as he was also known.

We need a healthy economy for quality of life and job generation. But a healthy economy does not have to be based on greed and selfishness or the exploitation of poor and uneducated workers in developing countries using dirty technology with spiritually bankrupt materialistic values. There is so much fear and hype in the media about money and security. We have forgotten that we are connected to each other, and that people are and the planet are more important than ‘things’. Perhaps an economy based on humanities real needs, like clean water, education, health care, organic produce, shelter, education, gender equality and so forth could look very different from our current one based on unsustainable consumption whereby we spend more money on ice cream than on aid.

Buddhist monks had one of the first democracies in the world. For Buddhists, it’s always the middle path between extremes. If you live in extreme poverty and do not have your basic needs met, it’s hard to be altruistic and think of higher things like saving the world or becoming enlightened. But if you buy your dog a diamond collar while thousands of children starve, something terrible has happened to your humanity.

Buddhists believe in the concept of interdependent origination, that all things arise from an infinite web of cause and effect, which basically means we are all interconnected. So if we want to be happy, it’s not just a personal matter. It’s also a matter of benefitting others and making a more kind, sane and healthy world, which in turn benefits us. 80 people in the world have the combined wealth of half the world’s population. Elsewhere corrupt governments backed by powerful countries/corporations (who give millions for access to cheap resources) slaughter and exploit their own people. These extremes show where greed leads. We all want a good life with comfort, but if we mindlessly consume without thinking about where the cheap product we bought comes from and the suffering it creates, we are willfully ignorant. Is a $20 bargain worth the person who made it being enslaved? Do you really want to look good in something made by a 12 year old and works 14 hours a day in an oven- like Bangladeshi factory?

There is a great need for ethics and compassion and economics. I hope it will happen in my lifetime. In the mean time, I can do my best in my little corner of the world.


The Art of Big Hearted Living


I never grew up thinking that I would one day run a temple in the slums of Central India, or a charity for that matter. But I suppose I should have known better when my favorite movie was ‘The Sound of Music’ and my vision was of being a nun was running over hills, climbing trees, and occasionally helping people!

What first drew me to spiritual practice was the death of my father, when I was 14. That sent me into a suicidal depression and existential crisis. If life was finite (which no one around me seemed to live with the comprehension of, with their 30 year mortgages and reinsured and reimbursable spider webs of administration) what was the most important thing to do? Who are we, why are we here and where will we go? I could no longer accept mundanity, the pressing urgency of finding a way out of suffering pushed me to leave my Catholic girls school and to embark on life on the road.

After a few years as a hippie, having tried drugs, sex, relationships, mindful communities and so on, and having found nothing lasting, I headed to India where all my hippie friends said ‘You’ll really find the meaning of life there’. What I did find was life- in your face, maximum volume life in its beauty and misery. Anyone who has seen the amazing crowds, splendor and poverty of India will understand why ancient Sages went to the forest to seek inner clarity. It is too overwhelming to comprehend. I saw a book in a shop window and was immediately drawn. It was called ‘re-born in the west’ and it used a quote ‘When iron birds fly in the sky, and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered like ants and the Dharma will go to the land of the pink faced savages (Westerners).’ For me this was very poignant. In the back of the book was the address of a monastery that taught Buddhism to Foreigners. I went there, and never looked back. It was like coming home.

Trekking through the Himalayas, I saw people who had nothing, whose houses were regularly washed away by mudslides and who lived on potatoes and rice every day endlessly, and yet I encountered more smiles and resilience there than on the streets of an Australian city. What is it these Himalayan people, these Tibetans who have lost their country have, that we, Westerners who can fly to the moon but do not have a way to find peace, lack? I realized they had profound inner methods of transforming suffering, developing spiritual resilience and compassion. I wanted that. I wanted an end to my uncontrolled, confused and unskillful way of being. Once I got beyond all the symbolism of Tibetan Buddhism and the rituals, which I found very appealing, I saw that compassion and the exposure of the delusion of self-clinging are at the root of it all. When you just see your own delusion and pain and then let go and get a little taste of peace, you can become a little dismissive of daily life and perhaps (not always) become very inward looking. This is not a bad thing in itself, but I don’t think it was the final state the Buddha intended. It’s the beginning of spiritual practice.

In the end, our practice of exposing the rawest parts of our delusion and suffering and transforming it, should lead to a profound understanding of inter-connectedness and empathy for others. Beings who are mothers from our past life, who are so many more than us, who seek happiness, but so seldom find it, floundering in the waves of birth, sickness, old age and death, tying the noose of karma tighter and tighter around their necks. Once you see interdependence and understand that your very existence is intimately tied to others – that your food and clothes and the fact you have eyes to see a sunset or a body to embrace your loved one, or can even sign your own name and use language, is all due to the kindness of others. When you understand this, bodhicitta – the mind of transcendent compassion, wishing to become a Buddha to free all beings from saṁsāra – is born.

When bodhicitta is born, we have to do something with it. A bodhisattva is a person who has bodhicitta and is endowed with compassion. Bodhi means endowed with all good qualities, devoid of defects, and Sattva is someone with the courage to strive for the liberation of others.

“As long as space remains, as long as there are beings who suffer, May I too remain, to remove the darkness of the world.” Shantideva

The six perfections (or 10 pāramis in Theravada) become our vehicle for untying the knots of delusion that keep us so firmly tied to the wheel of existence.

Transcendent Generosity

There are three kinds of generosity:

  • Giving material things (i.e. offering food to the poor)
  • Giving fearlessness (i.e. providing protection to people fleeing war, human rights abuses, etc.)
  • Giving Dharma: giving Dharma is said to be the supreme gift because Dharma is the path that allows one to become free from suffering once and for all, but should only be given to those who express interest

Generosity should also be undertaken by implementing the other six perfections; for example, being ethical so that no one is harmed by you, practicing generosity, having patience and not expecting too much in return, making an effort to benefit others in a way that suits their needs, and finally applying the seal of emptiness (seeing deeply into interconnectedness) when you give so that there is no giver, no object given, and no receiver. By seeing that everything is interconnected and that you are just a condition in compassionate cause and effect, that there is no permanent you – only a body mind in continuum, arising, abiding, and ceasing in the luminous present – that way your giving has skill, is of benefit, and is not caused by egotism or expectation.


Ethics mean to control one’s body, speech, and mind in such a way that no harm is done.

  • Restraining from negativities: If you are trying to liberate all beings, obviously you can’t harm them or yourself
  • Gathering virtue: Merit is like the petrol of the spiritual life, and to gain realization, virtue and good karma are necessary. Virtue here does not just mean good actions, but also developing the mind through study, reflection, meditation, and keeping precepts. This is also gaining the necessary realization to really be of benefit to others.
  • The work of benefiting and working for the liberation of all beings: This is the work of lifetimes. Whether it’s practice, service, or study, the most important thing is to have a bodhicitta motivation and do what is most beneficial.


It can be very hard to have patience when you are slandered, betrayed and hurt. But anger destroys all good karma, so patience is the guardian of merit and bodhicitta. One should develop three types of patience:

  • Patience when wronged
  • Patience to bear hardships for the Dharma: Tibetans walked across snow and ice, sometimes losing their lives to carry the Dharma, but often we won’t drive across town!
  • Patience to face the profound truth of emptiness without fear: The belief that things are truly existent is very strong and creates a separate self-identity, clinging to self, and aversion to others; but the nature of mind is pure – obscurations are adventitious.


Diligence and exerting power and effort are essential to progress on the spiritual path. It takes courage and fortitude to face delusion and unravel it. But in the end, with wisdom, the unraveling becomes more effortless. The beginning of practice is more like pushing a big rock up hill, but in the end it goes down hill on its own.

  • Armor like diligence enables us to take on heavy burdens to benefit others
  • Diligence in action allows us to gather virtue
  • Insatiable Diligence means we can benefit beings without becoming disheartened.

Patrul Rinpoche encouraged his student to make greater effort each day, taking delight in objects of virtue. It is said that a precious human rebirth without effort is like a boat without oars – we will never reach the shore of Nirvana. There is no time to lose to practice.


Focus is the fifth perfection to be developed.

  • Giving up distraction means renouncing excitement and distracting preoccupations (or at least simplifying your life)
  • Actual concentration means going through the stages of concentration and developing unbroken Samādhi. In this deep concentration one can stay in meditation for a day or more and the mind is one-pointed, light, malleable and blissful.


Wisdom refers to the final understanding of interdependence, interconnectedness, and emptiness and is gained from:

  • Hearing (the teachings)
  • Reflecting (analytical meditation)
  • Insight (a deep non conceptual realization of things as they really are, facilitated by ethics, generosity, all the perfections, reflection, and listening you have done).

Wisdom is when the cocoon of selfhood falls away and we see the cause and effect relationship we have with all existence – that we are not one with, but also not separate from, all things. Many conditions bring about the existence of our mind body continuum, and mind, like a river, cannot be said to be the same any moment, as the moment has already flowed on in time. Thus in Buddhism we do not use the term ‘soul’ or self which implies something truly existent, but we use the word mindstream, which more accurately and lightly describes the subtle and conditional existence we have (or at least appear to have!). To understand selflessness and interconnectedness is not to find oneself in a void, but rather to see that all of heaven are contained in each other – that emptiness is fullness and fullness is emptiness. To see emptiness is to become free, but also profoundly compassionate, because one sees that what we do effects others, and that they are connected to us – we inter-are. From this understanding, compassion and skillful action are born.


“It is clearly impossible to cover the whole surface of the earth in leather to avoid stepping on thorns, but if you cover your own feet in leather (transform your own mind), the whole world is thorn free.”Shantideva

It is said that because of their great compassion, nirvana will not hold Bodhisattvas, and because of their realization, they are not imprisoned in saṁsāra. Bodhicitta is to feel real love for all beings and be touched by their misery, but also have the panoramic skillful means and view to transform it. It is not the limited love that is attached to one particular person and so often leads to attachment, co-dependence, or disappointment. Since finding bodhicitta and becoming a nun I feel I have had more love and satisfaction in my life than I ever did from the conditional love of relationships. I think we all need to try to cultivate this transcendent love, no matter whether we are alone, together, married, single, monastic, or householder; we will burn with the fire of great-heartedness, and every action will bring peace, joy, and meaning to ourselves and others. When I was in Catholic school, I saw the sacred heart of Jesus with a thorn crown around it. I think it’s a pretty profound symbol for compassion. The thorns are the sharpness and wisdom that insight brings when our suffering has shown us the truth of interconnectedness, impermanence, and non-self. But these things are not dry or without love, they reveal a luminous spaciousness and richness – the burning heart of bodhicitta.

Bodhicitta is to feel real love for all beings and be touched by their misery, but also have the panoramic skillful means to transform it.

Sometimes we have romantic ideas about Dharma, that it will allow us to ‘have it all’, that we can practice without sacrifice. I know people who question whether monastics are still relevant. Why can’t we just meditate half an hour a day and work 40-50 hours a week, marry the perfect partner and build our dream home? We can, but Dharma takes time, it is about stripping away, not adding more. Sooner or later all our falsehoods and self delusions will be stripped away. Whether we are a householder or monastic, the Dharma is the stripping-paint of truth, to remove all that is not gold. For me, that means stripping life to its essential elements, living with awareness, simplicity, compassion, generosity and sustainability. The Buddha set up the four-fold sangha, and we are all in this together. To throw away one will damage the whole sangha body. We are not a threat to each other, we complete each other.