Venerable Robina Courtin, a Buddhist nun for 23 years, was until recently editor, motivator, manager and mother of MANDALA. She is just one of around 220 Western monks and nuns in the Mahayana tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, many of them working in the so-called ‘real world’ where the sight of the robes and the shaved head turns heads and draws people near.
The chances of the unstoppable Ven. Robina Courtin slowing down, now that she has handed MANDALA over to others, are remote. The world-wide teaching engagements, the increasing numbers of prisoners to visit and write to, the major editing projects that no longer need to be put off — all these and more will engage her superhuman energy.
Ven. Robina features in this issue of MANDALA, not only as a powerful example of Western sangha and an acknowledgement of her unerring instinct in producing MANDALA for six years, but also because she recently completed a punishing (to others) and highly successful teaching tour of Australia and North America. She addressed big and small crowds, fielded the media, went one-to-one with any Dharma student who needed her, and raised awareness and funds for the Liberation Prison Project.
Her Australian tour organizer, Pearly Black, reports that “people just poured into the meeting halls wherever she went, even though it was hot, very close to Christmas and the lead time to promote the tour was short. It was a tight schedule and Ven. Robina didn’t draw breath — but then, she never does. She was brought to one live TV interview half-an-hour too early and when someone suggested she use the time for a rest she said, ‘I don’t have rests, dear.’ Anyone on the ground helping to organize her tour learned how much time we can waste. She showed us just how much you can achieve in even half an hour.”
Hundreds gathered in the main cities and Ven. Robina also visited several prisons. At Yatala in Adelaide she not only spent valuable time with a man who has been practising Buddhism for three years and was about to be released, she also addressed the trainee prison officers. The question and answer session introduced basic Buddhist philosophy in a practical way.
“At Buddha House she met with two ex-prisoners who had connected with her through tapes of her teachings while they were in gaol. This was very meaningful for them,” said Jennie Opie, prison Buddhist pastoral officer in South Australia. “She fills every minute of her time giving selflessly to others. While she was eating breakfast, she wrote to eight prisoners in America.”
Ven. Robina left Australia on Christmas Day to teach in the Eastern States of America.
. and the movie
Ven. Robina’s visit to Australia coincided with the announcement of the Australian Film Institute Awards in November 2000. A movie about her extraordinary life, Chasing Buddha, was nominated in the category Best Direction in a Documentary with her nephew Amiel Courtin-Wilson as director. The film has been shown in theatres in Melbourne and Sydney to full houses, and was on nationwide television in Australia in November.
In a packed 52 minutes, the extraordinary life of this irrepressible dynamo unfolds, racing through the turbulent early years into a kind of Buddhist calm that is glimpsed only when she is quietly telling her mala beads in a railway waiting room or a plane. The rest of the time the focus, the commitment and the fanatical energy remain although she is in her mid-fifties. She still bumps headlong into her own anger and impatience; she is still intolerant of phoniness; and she can still cry over the unhappy, lonely death of her father.
In a final scene, Ven. Robina says, “I spent my life trying to get what I wanted and nothing stopped me from pushing obstacles out of the way . I was trying to change whole worlds . (to) give up attachment, give up jealousy, give up anger, for me the most sensible thing is to be a nun and after 20 years it is absolutely what I wanted.”
* Sales of the video, Chasing Buddha, (US$22/A$27) are helping to support the Liberation Prison Project, which is currently sending teachings, books, tapes and letters to over 400 prisoners in the USA and other countries. The project is now expanding to Australia where other monks and nuns will visit prisons just as Ven. Robina Courtin is doing.
Liberation Prison Project
PO Box 33
Taos, NM 87571
(1) (505) 758 7894
5A Harper Street
Northcote, Victoria 3070, Australia
(61) (3) 9481 8028
The Australian teachings are available for sale on audio- and video-tape. Contact Teng Eu at email@example.com