People call you the Rockstar nun, quite contrary to the usual serious image that a nun/monk has. How does that make you feel?
People have their own reasons for calling me different names, depending on their understanding, perceptions and capacity. The media also likes to find ways to make things appear attractive to their readers. But I am just who I am, so I just smile at it...
Why did you choose to become a nun?
I wanted to avoid getting married in my life. I did not see it as a very good example of a happy life. I observed that great sacrifices are demanded of women, and often at the cost of their own dreams and ambitions. She is expected to bear the burdens of the family without complaining about them; deep within she cries in silence. I feel a woman’s capacity is large... She is meant to influence and affect the whole community, and not just restrict her energies to a small family. I feel a woman should focus on just being a good woman...
I keep myself open and appreciate things as they come
As a musician and peace worker, you travel the world, meet some of the greatest people and are invited to some of the greatest events. As a nun, I presume, you must be spending a lot of time going inward, meditating and being with yourself. How do you prepare for your interaction with the world?
I am very open to it, and deeply appreciate it that people are happy to receive me, that there are people who think that I make them happy, and that they enjoy listening to my music. I am open to learning more things from different people, and exploring more things so that I can enhance my own understanding. I keep myself open and appreciate things as they come. And being a human being, I certainly enjoy the pampering and love that I receive from people.
What perception of the world do you hold currently based on your interactions and experiences?
I consider myself blessed to have always met wonderful, kind people, and people who have helped me learn more, and develop my perception, so that I could grow wiser. When we think and re-think about the bad things in the world, they always invoke a wrong energy in our hearts, while there are millions of good things happening in the world that are not being spoken about in the media or anywhere, and this means we consider the occurrence of good things normal. I feel most times that the focus is on the bad, and this requires some balancing. Otherwise, the world is a beautiful place to live in. We as human beings are capable of doing so much good, and making the world more beautiful to live in. I think music is a very significant way to make that happen. It is the best blessing that I can think of. At the end of the day, it speaks the language of the heart, and it is more powerful when it comes from the spiritual depth within each of us.
When did you realize that you could sing?
I did not formally learn music to become a musician. The music I learnt in the monastery was never for the purpose of entertaining or performing, but mainly for one’s own meditation practice for a deeper realization of oneself, and to really cultivate the spiritual capacity within ourselves. So I learnt music only as a nun in the monastery, but a musician from America, Steve Tibetts, heard my music and felt that it should be shared with the world. It was destined to happen. I have been rejoicing on the fact that my music is able to provide moments of calm to people, and even myself, actually.
So you believe in destiny...
Of course! Absolutely! These are Karmic consequences of the past, as well as the blessings of my teachers and my parents. They also wished for me to have a better and a more meaningful life. And this is the best way of living I can think of.
You often say that music and compassion are equally powerful. From your personal experience, can you share with us how they affect people?
Compassion is an inherent quality of human beings. In every activity - emotional, verbal, physical - whatever we do, if we do it based on a compassionate attitude that is the most productive, meaningful and sustainable way of living in the world, I feel. If you sow a seed of rice, you will only grow rice, you see. If in your attitude you carry the seed of care and compassion, you are going to bear the same fruit. And if that is the vibration you generate, then everyone and everything is going to feel it including plants and animals. The whole universe will enjoy that air of compassion. So whether you speak or sing with this energy of compassion, it will lead to what is the most popular jargon of today, sustainable development.
Music, on the other hand, is like a vehicle, and if it is driven with the fuel of compassion, it will reach the best destination. Even if it does not reach the best destination, it does not harm anybody, intentionally or unintentionally.
Whether you speak or sing with this energy of compassion, it will lead to what is the most popular jargon of today, sustainable development
What is the true meaning of compassion, from your point of view?
Understanding the truth of every sentient being as sharing the same desires as oneself, which is just to be happy and light. It does not mean having pity on someone. It is the realization of the truth that nobody wishes to suffer, everyone wishes to be loved, to be happy and cared for, and based on that understanding you do whatever you can do within your capacity for the well-being of yourself and others. That’s it! That is all it means.
You say that you chant mantras several times to bring your mind to the most natural human mind state. What does that state feel like?
Just think of pure water, but as it is subjected to different conditions, situations, places, seasons, it becomes diluted in different ways. Sometimes it is turned into alcohol, sometimes medicine. Pure water is something we cannot live without. When water comes back to its very natural state, it gives light to people. We can all find that pure place within ourselves. Living in a monastery is only an external support system that we seek in order to reach that state in a faster and clearer way. That is the only difference I see. Else, anyone can meditate, and go within and understand each and every emotion. For instance, if we understand anger and the consequences it brings to others, then we learn its character and we know how to deal with it in a more skilful manner. Being able to cultivate the spiritual depth in oneself is about learning one’s own nature. It is a Buddhist principle that we say, not only others, but including ourselves, and not only ourselves, but including others.
You have founded Arya Tara, a school for young nuns. What inspired the name?
In our belief, we have a female Buddha, mother Tara. We consider her the mother of all Buddhas. She had expressed the desire to be a female in every birth of hers, whereas all other enlightened beings wanted to be re-born as a man. She celebrates femininity and its potential to the fullest and I want everyone to be able to do that. Arya is a Sanskrit word that means glorious.
What inspired the idea of the school?
We live in a society that is very male-dominated. I have always been angry and upset at how the education of girls is overlooked. Even the monastic system is affected by this attitude. I feel that if men can do something, why cannot women do it? The school stems from my search for an answer and the faith that there is an answer. I want to support girls and help them grow to their fullest potential through academic education, along with spiritual education.
Do the students also study music?
Yes, some of the students who are interested study music, but music has really helped me build the resources to fulfill the need of these projects.
You recently won the Heart of Peace award. Many congratulations on that. What is your deepest vision for the world at this point?
In a very sentimental way, I would like women to be able to use their rights to the fullest. I wish that each human being’s full potential is acknowledged and honoured. That’s it! And as they say charity begins at home. Everything starts with oneself first. We will never be able to change or control others. If we change, we might be able to inspire others. Everything is always changing; this is the reality of life. But good changes and meaningful changes are what are most important. And there have been plenty of such examples in the world we live in. I, myself, am deeply inspired by Mother Teresa, the Buddha, my teachers, and many, many others. When we look at them we will be able to draw the strength and courage to carry ourselves forward and against the current. Finally, as a Buddhist, my ultimate goal is to achieve enlightenment. And I want to pave my path by fulfilling these purposes, and through music, of course.
What is the one song that comes to your mind as a musical depiction of the world?
There is this song, Phool Ko Ankha Ma, a song in Nepalese, that says, ‘In the eyes of a flower, the world appears as a flower. In the eyes of a thorn, the world appears as a thorn. The shadow is cast according to the object. Let my heart be pure, let my speech be like Buddha’s, let my feet kill not a single insect.’ ♪
Listen to 'Phool Ko Ankha Ma' by Ani Choying Drolma here
Interviewed by Payal H Chhabria
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