Interview with a Bhikkhuni

Bhikkhuni Vimala

A bhikkhuni (Pāli) or bhikṣuṇī (Sanskrit) is a fully ordained female Buddhist monastic.

I was recently granted the privilege of some time with dear Bhikkhuni Vimala, of the Blue Lotus Temple, for a brief but insightful interview.
As always, her grace, warmth, candor and transparency were fully present as I asked numerous questions that I thought may be of interest and benefit to many of us.

Q. What made you choose the monastic life, rather than just remaining a dedicated practitioner?
A. Well, I knew the tendency of my monkey-mind was to easily get diverted off of my path. But I know that with the shaved head and the robes, I could not forget my path. And I knew that I had to do something to make it really solid and concrete in my life. That’s one of the reasons, and at the time, I did not see any better way to accomplish that. It was the beginning of a new adventure.

Q. How do you view the differences in roles between a monk and a nun?
A. The way I view it, there really are no differences. And while traditionally and culturally, the nuns role is below that of the monk, I see the best chance of these being seen equally is here in this country.
In other countries there is much less support financially for the Bhikkhunis, like monasteries, scholarships etc. Making it much harder for women to take on the monastic life.

Q. What unique value is offered by you being an American Buddhist Nun, and one who has been married and has children?
A. One is the language I think, being American born and having a better command of the english language is very beneficial to others. And having all of the householder experiences, having “been there-done that, I can relate to people and they to me. I have a cultural background, so I can understand the religious and socio-economic background that they have come from.
And I think being a Mother is really important. Even in loving-kindness, to understand what it is to unconditionally love someone.
And the disadvantages are that I was not trained as a monastic from the time I was little, as most monks have been. And I have to make up for that with the experience that I can share having been a mother and householder.

Q. How do you deal with attachments now, as compared to how you did in your previous lay life?
A. Well, the easy ones to talk about are the ones like drinking, smoking, partying. People will naturally drop away as you stop participating in those types of unwholesome activities. But attachments to people I still have.
With my children, I give them much more freedom and acceptance in letting their lives take them wherever it may. From my children’s point of view, they are more comfortable and free because they know I have a monastic life. I can worry about my kids as much as anyone else, but then I can also breathe and allow the space for whatever is going on with them And eventually back out of that. And its always in my thoughts to back-off, while still being totally loving. Just loving them without expectations, and allowing a lot of space for them to be who they are. I always understand that their path is not my path. Each of them have their own path to follow, and there’s no way any of us will be on the same path.

Q. What do you see as the greatest benefit of living the monastic life?
A. Financially, there is absolutely no value in the monastic life. Yet the pure generosity of other people can be overwhelming. But being available to others, if I’m doing it right, I can be someone to talk to and I will take the time to listen to them.

Q. What advice would you offer to another woman who is considering the monastic life?
A. If she asked my advice, I would advise her to be very clear about her teacher. And be willing to stay with that teacher the way the Buddha taught, for at least 5 years after your ordained. And learn as much as you can. Then I would ask her to really think about how she will support herself. Because in this country, there is no financial support. As monastics, we are homeless, so how comfortable will she be being truly homeless. I think her teacher is critically important.

Q. Do you see the role of Bhikkhuni’s growing in the United States, and in what ways?
A. I think the number of Bhikkhuni’s is growing, but its growing from like 5 to 25. There are more being ordained on the West Coast, but I don’t see them coming to the Midwest, as there is no place for them to live right now.

Q. Is there a main goal to your practice?
A. No, I don’t have a goal for my practice. I would just more and more like to live my path and see where that takes me. I don’t have a goal, and I don’t know what that would look like when I get there.

Q. How important is enlightenment to you?
A. It really has no importance because I don’t know what that would be. Ultimately that’s supposed to be the goal, but I can’t really say it’s a goal because I don’t know what that looks like.

Q. What is your favorite sutta, and why?
A. I would have to say right now its the Metta Sutta. I love the story, and I love that there’s no supernatural thing in terms of what we’re doing, just basically our loving-kindness is enough to subdue or fears and subdue our superstitions. There is no magic thing that takes care for our fears, it’s just our own sending of loving-kindness to ourselves and then extending it out to the World. And that’s the practice that can ground us and keep us from being fearful.
Subduing these is the process we go through to finally extinguish them.

Q. If one was to reach enlightenment, what is the upside to having no more births when having a life seems pretty nice?
A. I would have thought that years ago, that yes I want to do this again. But as I get older, I see that I don’t want to do this again. And there are so many possibilities of how we could be reborn into this life. And right now, regardless of the economy, we have such a good life. We have food, shelter, and are not living in some war-torn area. But we have no way to know what our rebirth would look like. The chances of a human rebirth are extremely slim. And I was raised with the idea of heaven and hell, but speculating about that holds no interest for me anymore. The idea of just being extinguished sounds wonderful.
With the physical body, the worms will crawl in and the worms will crawl out. But that consciousness, if it exists, will go on. And that will not be “me” in any case, so there’s really no reason to try to attach to that.

I wish to deeply thank Bhikkhuni for sharing her time and thoughts with me on so many topics.
Her genuine nature of loving-friendliness, sincerity and warmth are always a blessing to behold.

May you each be well, happy and peaceful.