Encounter with a Buddhist Bhikkhuni

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I had the most extraordinary conversation in a rickety white van on the way to Olbodwa to accompany my mother to a Vipassana Meditation Center where she was choosing to spend a few days. Mom was in the front with the driver and we picked up Venerable Bhikkuni K… in her monastery for the drive to her Mandir (Centre) in a small village. First she makes us wait while she finishes her long telephone conversation. I am growing impatient. When she emerges with her shorn head and orange wrap, she barks: Who are you? I introduce myself and my mother, the same people who spoke to her on the phone. ‘Your are not a man’ she says. Well, duhhh. My annoyance is growing. Whe we get to the rented van, I help her climb in the back. She doesn’t need my help.I wasn’t expecting such vivacity from an octagenarian.

We begin an hour long conversation. She pokes at me and I poke back. She gets animated, takes my hand. I don’t even feel the bumps in the road despite the total absence of shock absorbers. ‘There are no intermediaries between us and our god’ she says. ‘Our present actions are not the results from the past. Every time we think we create a new thought. Every time we speak, we create a new word that was not there before. Every time we do some work we create an action that was not there before.’ ‘ Meditation helps one to change thought patterns, because there is good thinking and bad thinking.’

The Honorable Bikkhuni also holds a Masters in Molecular Biology from the USA. We speak of quantum physics, of thoughts occuring at the speed of light. She speaks of the way thoughts create the body and the body creates thoughts. We move on to politics. She speaks of how the country has lost its way and is concerned with the external trappings of buddhism, more than with the essence of the teachings. She can read Pali and often quotes from Buddha’s words to the people. She is one of the Religious Leaders of the World (along with the Dalai Lama), and explains how they are trying to make a difference. She advocates the ability to welcome many faiths. What about the role of women? I ask. ‘Women must play a leadership role as men have lost their way’, she says. The men in the village have all lost a son to the war. They drink to forget and the women carry the burden. ‘Women are more resilient’. She smiles, looking down at her small wrinkled feet.