There: Nun Junkie (a slice of life in India)
Viva Sarah Press
Her family, she says, is somewhat wary of her switch from party girl to
pink and blue striped knit purse is the only fashion item to hint
at Linas not so distant days as part of the party circuit.
Like many of her peers, the now 23-year-old Bogotan was once wholly
immersed in Colombias infamous drug culture. Shrooms, acid,
heroin, marijuana... you name it, Lina used it. But looking at her
today makes it difficult to place her in that scene - Lina is now
a Buddhist nun in India.
Instead of coloured hair and funky clothes, she sports a shaved
head and dresses in the required dull red robes. Gone also are her
piercings - she used to have rings in her tongue, eyebrow, nose
and ears - though the holes are left behind.
Her story is and isnt unique. Many Western monks and nuns come from
a hard-on-ones luck background and find refuge in the traditions
of the East.
In McLeod Ganj, home to the Tibetan government-in-exile, in northeastern
India, its quite common to find piercing scars on the faces and
tattoos on the biceps of Western monks (from their earlier days). What
is different about Lina is that she shares her story with whoever wants
to know it.
Her life as a lay person isnt something shes embarrassed to
After finishing high school in a well-to-do area in Bogota, she went on
to study for two semesters - first in industrial engineering, then in
philosophy and literature - at university. During this time, however,
her experimentation with drugs took a turn for the worse and soon she
"enrolled" full-time in the drug lifestyle she says is ruining
her country. She and her then-boyfriend travelled around Colombia and
the rest of South America for a year-and-a-half always looking
for the ultimate party. "I kept thinking the next party would be
it... would make me happy," she says. "But I was miserable."
She dabbled in Christianity for a while - her friend was "into the
Jesus thing" - but her faith in that religion didnt last. "Then
I found Dharma and Buddha."
That was two-and-a-half years ago. Like many former addicts, she admits
that she tends to take matters to the extreme. And so, four months ago
she shaved off her shoulder-length hair and adopted the vows of celibacy.
As a nun, she has also sworn off all intoxicants - drugs, alcohol and
Although being spiritually high as opposed to chemically high would seem
to be the better way of life, her family, she says, is somewhat wary of
her switch from party girl to plain jane. Moreover, she grew up in a Catholic
Her father, she says sympathetically, cannot accept her conversion. Her
mother and sister have taken her new path a bit better and have even started
reading up on Buddhism. Still, her mother has questioned her need to be
in India - where she has been on-and-off for the last year-and-a-half
as opposed to staying put in Bogota, at the Yamantaka Center for the Preservation
of the Mahayana Tradition where she first became initiated with Buddhism.
"My mother says Im running away," she says, her deep brown
eyes exuding compassion. "I do miss my family and I know I will go
back to Bogota one day soon and help my people, but for now I need to
be here to be able to concentrate and study my new way of life."
Here in India refers to the Tushita Tibetan Mahayana Meditation
Retreat Centre in the Himalayan foothills of McLeod Ganj. In addition
to furthering her studies, Lina also leads meditation sessions which are
part of the introductory Buddhist philosophy courses the centre runs for
Western travellers. She is one of two nuns on staff.
The course participants, she admits, often cause her to re-evaluate her
resolve to become a nun. So far she still believes she made the right
choice. And she hopes to prove that her decision is more than a bad habit.
As one of her teachers cautioned her when she first showed interest in
Buddhism, she says shes working on "not letting Buddhism become
my next joint."
© Viva Sarah Press
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