'Radically Working With Your Own Mind': Women's Wisdom by Ven. Robina Courtin

What I find most inspiring about accomplished Buddhist teachers is how they live Buddhist wisdom in everyday life, how they carry themselves not only on the teaching throne, but in personally challenging situations, how they deal with the messy stuff. What can we learn from them?

Ven. Robina Courtin, a dynamic and renowned Australian teacher, has had a particularly turbulent life. Growing up as a Catholic girl in a violent, even abusive family, in Australia, she trained as a classical singer before embarking on a journey searching for "truth, the big picture, a coherent worldview, and freedom." She joined black politics in London, became a radical lesbian separatist feminist, and an accomplished martial arts fighter, before she found her calling: In the late 1970s, at age 31, she ordained as a Buddhist nun.

Since then she has worked full time for the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Teachings (FPMT). She has served as editorial director of Wisdom Publications, editor of Mandala Magazine, and the executive director of the Liberation Prison Project. She does not really have a home, but travels tirelessly to teach around the world. "I'm just the same radical person," she said in our interview for Dakini Power when I asked about her radical political past. "I'm radically working on my own mind. Not believing in the way things appear to us: you can't get more radical than that. I want to uproot the causes of all suffering, which are mental. In that, I am more radical than ever."

Robina Courtin (right, with her sister Jan) transformed from being a radical hippie.... (Photo Copyright Courtin Family Collection)

To becoming a Buddhist nun in 1978 (Photo Copyright Courtin Family Collection).

Renowned Buddhist teacher Ven. Robina Courtin

She learned to face even violent encounters with clarity and fearlessness. "Learning to be fearless is what practice is all about, isn't it?" Quoting her teacher, Lama Zopa, she says, "When we've realized emptiness, there is no fear." Also, when we have developed genuine love and compassion we would be fearless. The logical consequence of practice is to go beyond fear. And what would this practice look like? Easy. If every day we happily welcome the things that make us angry, isn't this becoming fearless? If we forgive the person who harms us, isn't that becoming fearless? If we praise instead of criticize, isn't that becoming fearless? It's not complicated. It's just difficult, because we're addicted to giving in to ego, which is what perpetuates fear."

Her amazing life, and her work with prisoners have been featured in the documentary film Chasing Buddha by her nephew Amiel Courtin-Wilson, which has just been newly released on DVD.