Ven. Robina Courtin, Australian-born Buddhist nun with a powerhouse personality, says it took her years to walk the talk of Buddhism. Shepparton Interfaith Network is currently engaged in collaboration to bring Ven. Robina Courtin to the Goulburn Valley to share about compassion. Ven. Robina's previous visit to the Goulburn Valley was in 2003.
Ven. Robina Courtin, Australian-born Buddhist nun with a powerhouse personality, says it took her years to walk the talk of Buddhism. Her history has been one of extremes - from life as a hippie to self-declared communist to feminist before she was drawn to Buddhism, which she says gave her a world view and liberation. E
"And that's what I wanted - a view of describing the universe mentally and physically and how it ticks, and at the same time, one that I could put into practice experientially to help me change myself."
Born in Melbourne, Robina was brought up as a Catholic and for a time was interested in becoming a Carmelite nun.
Having initially trained as a classical singer she moved to London in 1967, where she lived for four years and became actively involved in the radical left, working mainly with a London-based support group for black and Chicano prisoners. In the early '70s she became involved in feminist activism and returned to Melbourne in 1972 to work with other radical feminists. In her quest for a spiritual path, Robina also began studying martial arts, first in New York in 1974 and then back in Melbourne in 1976.
Later in 1976 Robina attended a Tibetan Buddhist course in Queensland and in November 1977 she travelled to Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal for further studies. In 1978 she was ordained as a Buddhist nun in Dharamsala, India.
"When I met Buddhism I felt like I had found something I had lost, because, from a karmic point of view, it was something I'd had before, in previous lives. When I heard it again, it was like coming home."
For the past 36 years Ven. Robina has lived and worked as a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition. As well as travelling, teaching and bringing the Dharma to people from all backgrounds she has held senior editing positions with Wisdom Publications and Mandala magazine.
In 2000 she founded the Liberation Prison Project to help transform prisoners' lives so they may cope with incarceration and deal with the fundamental reasons they turned to crime. Ven. Robina believes she has the key to freedom for some of the toughest criminals in the land. But no bars are worse than the prison of one's own mind, she argues.
Ven. Robina regularly visits some of the roughest and bleakest quarters of prisons in Australia and the United States, speaking to groups and meeting prisoners one-on-one. Many of these men are on death row or have life sentences. Most have been in gangs, both on the streets and in prison.
The connection between Ven. Robina and these men is palpable. Their past violence, their crimes - none of this fazes her. "I have such admiration for people who struggle to deal with the difficulties of life," she says. Their efforts to understand their own minds and come to terms with life in prison, touches her heart and inspires her own practice and her determination to help others.
The award winning film, Chasing Buddha, documents Ven. Robina's life and work with death row inmates in the Kentucky State Penitentiary.
"If you think of Buddhist nuns (and monks) as meek and mild souls, lacking in personality, Chasing Buddha should put that notion to rest once and for all." - Stephen Groenewegen, eFilmCritic.com
In truth, Ven Robina maintains a deep respect for the holy, an attraction held long before she was ordained. But it is her no-nonsense, at times confronting, translation of Buddhist psychology that has created a world-wide following as she blasts apart all the usual stereotypes pervading religion and the "spiritual".
"Being a Buddhist is being your own psychologist, being your own therapist. What that means is really learning to listen to what the hell is going on inside," Robina says. "The main cause of the misery and the neuroses and the unhappiness in our life is not the outside, but it's the inside."
With a turbo-charged energy that defies her 69 years, Ven. Robina's teaching schedule has her on a permanent global road trip that now sees her back in Australia.
She cuts through the clichés of religion at lightning speed and tells it like it is when giving instruction on the mind, meditation or just about anything else. Public talks are fast, furious and rarely leave the audience guessing.
Key to Freedom - ABC Compass: Transcript September 9th 2007 http://www.abc.net.au/compass/s2039488.htm
Meditation is not Mystical - The Australian: April 19th 2014
Ven. Robina Courtin