In May 2013 we invited Bhikkhuni Ani Choying to stay with us, at the ever supportive Ariyasom Villa and Restaurant in Sukhumvit 1, Bangkok.
I had met her at Bodhi Hearts sanctuary in Penang where we were both holing up for a while as we planned out our next steps. For me it was getting a Thailand Visa, and for her it was the start of unknown destinations as she looks for a new place to live. She’s looking for a quiet mountain, somewhere warm. We in Thailand can provide the ‘warm’, but quiet is a real challenge.
Bhikkhuni Choying is not on the teaching circuit, as she has spent most of her 15 years in robes in long retreats, with little contact with the mainstream world. If you google her, you come across a different Ani Choying – also a Tibetan nun (I think) who is also a well known singer. Our Anila would not sing for us though.
Getting on the stage and speaking in public about practise and meditation is really quite difficult. Even for people who are experienced public speakers in other fields, after they are ordained they find it very difficult to give dhamma talks. Many, if not most, refuse to do it at all. How do you talk about years just watching the breath? How do you sell quiet in a world that can’t stop talking? And most difficult of all, how, after years of respecting someone sitting in your teacher’s chair, do you get up into that chair yourself? So we do appreciate this chance to share in these stories with her.
Talking with Anila I knew she had an interesting life. Much of it was spent working in various psychological departments, especially with emotionally disturbed children. She has written children’s books and lived as an artist too. She was married, and has one grown up daughter. In her mid 50’s, on a quest to meet the Dalai Lama as a birthday treat, she wound up in solitary retreat in a Tibetan Monastery on Holy Island, off Scotland.
She continued to take retreats, until finally leaving the home life and taking to the mountains full time as a Tibetan nun. From this time she has many stories, some of which she related to us in May. It is not always easy living as a monastic, especially in a foreign culture with its strange habits, climatic challenges and poor amenities. For instance, they had to sort out the mouse droppings from the rice before it was cooked. But for some people the renunciate life is a joy whatever the cost, and there are beautiful blessings to be found by the ardent seeker. Anila was asked “How awake do you feel now?” She answered “I feel so awake and happy. I have no regrets at all … none at all”