Updated: Oct 28, 2022
"Actually I don't care about myself being a woman or not, I just try my best in daily life,
but I notice that when women are empowered, they can make people who feel incapable find hope in their own potential, and I think that is the essence of Buddha's activities, to awaken the potential in others!”
Ani Lobsang Kunsang was born in La Spezia, Italy. Her mother was from Sicily, and her father was from Toscana. Despite growing up in a family with conflicts and constant fights between parents, she and her two younger sisters had a happy childhood. Ani’s sisters are three and ten years younger than her. One sister is a bodybuilder, and the other owns a Japanese manga shop.
“My mother was from a traditional Sicilian family; women were not encouraged to be independent, so even though she was struggling with an unhappy marriage, she chose to stay because of us,” Ani said.
With both parents trying to make ends meet, the girls did not have enough financial support to pursue education. After two years at secondary school, Ani became an anti-political punk, and she grew a great interest in animal rights and environmental protection. She became a vegan and joined an anti-political community.
With her enthusiasm and passion for a better world, Ani Lobsang started to notice that most people in her community simply talked but never took action. As a result, she slowly lost patience and became very disappointed with her anti-political community.
One day while in the kitchen after a community meeting, a man came in. Little did she know that this encounter would be an extraordinary moment in her life. The man was a beggar from a wealthy German family. He had left behind all of his possessions and traveled through different countries begging for food and promoting earth protection projects. He also lived in Africa for 18 years to avoid joining the army.
The man never publicly claimed himself as a Buddhist, but was a Dharma practitioner. However, he said to Ani Lobsang, “Observe well, as much people talk, they are not what they say they are.’” At the time, the young Ani was too upset to listen to this strange man’s words, but nonetheless, the Dharma seed was planted within her.
Another time, the beggar told Ani “You are not what you think. You are just one person in comparison to all people in the world. How can a single person change the world? But, try to change yourself and maybe something will happen.” These words made her curious, and she started to think about everything the man told her.
The man told her his story. When he was young, he was repairing a car and severely broke his hand. He was taken to the hospital where he was told his hand needed to be removed. He was so scared that he ran away from the hospital. While he was running, on the street, he bumped into a Chinese man. The Chinese man turned out to be a doctor. The Chinese doctor checked the little boy’s hand and told him, “ good news, I can treat you without removing your hand!” Over time, the Chinese doctor not only healed the little boy’s hand, he also taught him some Chinese Buddhist philosophy. From that moment he carried the Dharma seeds from Germany to Italy. The boy, now a grown wise man, told young Ani Lobsang “I opened the Dharma door for you, but now you need to find your own path.”
Q: When did you first encounter Dharma or Buddhism? And how
long after or what was that moment that made you decide to become a Buddhist nun?
“In my mother’s culture, there are strong beliefs in reincarnation,” Ani said. “My mother was actually the first person who brought me Buddhist influence. She always thought her previous life was as a Tibetan Buddhist woman wishing to become a nun.”
These early childhood imprints made Ani strongly believe in past and future lives. After several incidents, young Ani decided to travel across Italy without possessions, and found herself in the position of begging for food to survive. She eventually crossed the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute, and she felt becoming a nun was what she wanted to do.
Lama Geshe Jampa Gyatso ordained Ani Lobsang. “My lama made me promise to study hard if I wanted to become a nun,” Ani smiled as she fondly remembered her kind lama. “I always had a curious mind. I like all kinds of subjects, especially animals.” Ani also had a very creative mind. She loved art and believed herself to be artistic. Because her early life lacked the opportunity for education, Ani was excited by the opportunity to pursue an education in Dharma. Ani Kunsang eventually completed two and a half years of the Basic Study Program while her Lama was alive.
Shortly after, Lama Geshe Jampa Gyatso passed away. It was quite a shock for her.
All of her pains came back, she even had panic attacks. She didn’t have the emotional support she needed, as the older nuns in the sangha were burdened with their own sorrow. “I felt completely abandoned in the darkness, but then I learned to observe my fears so that slowly I became less afraid and more confident.” Over time, Ani restored herself through study and practice. “Today, I truly feel that my lama never left. He lives inside of me.”
About a year later, she met Kyabje Dagri Rinpoche in Italy, who became her root Lama. Rinpoche encouraged her to learn Tibetan in India, and so she did. She studied for eight years in Italy, but still felt something was missing. She decided to go to India to study debate with the Tibetan nuns. In India she studied at Drolmaling, a non sectarian Tibetan monastic Dialectic School for Himalayan nuns under the Tibetan Nun Project. She began to study Buddhist Philosophy with the Tibetan nuns and learned the Tibetan Language. Four years later, she went to study in Nepal at Kopan Nunnery. There she made good friends with Theravada monks and Chinese monks. Through their connection, she was able to travel to different holy places; South India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, as well as ShaoLin temple and Wu Tai San in China. In the ShaoLin temple, ShaoLin monks even healed her illness with the practice of Chinese medicine.
“It was great timing that Lama Tzong Khapa Institute offered me a job helping to develop a debate program. I always had a very analytical mind, so I thought this project was just perfect for me,” Ani laughed.
Q: Can you tell us about your daily routine as a Buddhist nun?
“In the nunnery, there is a set schedule, so nuns must follow the program.
Lama Tzong Khapa Institute is not a monastery; it has both monastic and lay Sangha, so the daily routine is different for each individual. In the morning, I do my prayers, make my breakfast, and prepare for classes. I like to take my time but not rush myself. I work and teach mainly in the afternoon, and weekends are off. Sometimes, I will go out with other nuns or watch movies. I learned that Tibetan nuns are more relaxed, while westerners are sometimes too tight! However, we are still in the human body and must also take care of it.
Q: What are the struggles you find in being a Buddhist nun in the west?
“There are not enough nunneries for younger nuns in the west. They don’t have a place to stay and learn. The older nuns don’t want community life. They want to be more individual. So it is very challenging for young nuns. Many of them have been so discouraged and even disrobed, which is very sad.”
Q: What do you like to do while you are not doing the practices or dealing with monastic activities?
“I like to watch movies, and create ideas for my debate projects.”
Q: Which Buddhist teacher ( or non-Buddhist teacher) inspires you the most?
"I would say Dali Lama and LamaTzong Khapa. Actually they are the same person for me!"
Q: Can you share with us your favorite Buddhist quote?
“I like Santideva’s quote: If the problem can be solved, why worry? If the problem can not be solved, worrying will do you no good. Actually, the ancient Greeks also quoted something similar: ‘Don't stress over what you can't control.’ I think wise people think the same! I also really like Nikola Tesla. For me, he is like a Milarepa of mathematicians.
After reflecting on the future uses of wireless technology and practically predicting the iPhone, Tesla points to the empowerment of women as one of the most significant effects of technology on the world of tomorrow.” See full article here: https://www.themarginalian.org/2015/07/10/nikola-tesla-when-woman-is-boss/
Q: If there is one thing, what would you think can benefit today’s western Buddhist nuns the most?
“I think younger generations in the west have a more critical mindset, they are open to so much information, and have a lot of intellectual knowledge. Tibetan Buddhism is a very powerful tool to cut through all matters and subjects utilizing its unique analytical methods. And quite the opposite of blind faith or superstition. If we can present to them this ancient wisdom that is actually very scientific, If we can show them how this knowledge can be tested through debates and other tools, it can attract more young people’s interest. If there are more people who grow interested in this, there will be more people who choose to take the monastic path at a younger age and support can be built around it. A younger Monastic has more a flexible mind and it is easier to bestow him or her a proper monastic education, with the right methods and tradition. "
Ani Lobsang Kunsang is currently the program developer of “The logic and debate.” She teaches the online debate course with Atisha Mathur.
She is also the coordinator of the nuns in Shenphen Samtenlin under Sangha Onlus. https://monasterobuddhista.it/en/