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Out 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 plain jane

A pink and blue striped knit purse is the only fashion item to hint at Lina’s 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 Colombia’s 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 isn’t unique. Many Western monks and nuns come from a hard-on-one’s luck background and find refuge in the traditions of the East.
In McLeod Ganj, home to the Tibetan government-in-exile, in northeastern India, it’s 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 isn’t something she’s embarrassed to talk about.
Lina's Story
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 didn’t 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 cigarettes.

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 home.

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 I’m 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 she’s working on "not letting Buddhism become my next joint."

© Viva Sarah Press
17 months and counting...

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