"If you take refuge deep from your heart, you will always have a shelter!
I am at the end of my life, I'm closer to death and also my birthday of next life!
I have been ordained for more than 40 years, there is a lot of life experiences in that, and I've been very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very, very lucky!”
With a spark of curiosity, Venerable Siliana began her Buddhist journey four decades ago. She is now one of the most senior Buddhist nuns in Italy.
On a fateful journey to visit her sister at Lama Tzong Khapa Institute in Tuscany, Ven. Siliana first experienced the Buddha's teachings. She remembers making the decision to attend the teaching during her visit, and the serenity she witnessed in her sibling was the inspiration to join.
"My sister is always very calm and relaxed... maybe there is something about these teachings, since I am here, I might as well check it out."
That very first teaching just blew her mind!
For years, Ven. Siliana had been searching for an answer to questions that swirled in her mind. She felt like the teachings were something she had been looking for without knowing, and she finally found someone who thought the same as she thought. That introduction gave voice to something she had felt for a long time but had never been able to express.
"You know, I didn't have any Buddhist background, but when I heard the teaching, especially when they were talking about cause and effect, wow, that makes so much sense. Not only that, at the end of the teaching, the lama said: 'You don’t have to believe the things that I said because I said it. You don’t have to believe it because Buddha said this, and you don’t have to believe it because it was written in the books. You can accept the teachings only when you verify them yourself, and they are actually effective and make sense to you.'
"I just felt an incredible and great freedom and uplift from the burdens of other religious traditions."
In truth, when she first went to Lama Tzong Khapa Institute, Ven. Siliana thought it was a place where people were being brainwashed! But the more she listened to the teaching, the more it made sense to her, and the more liberated her mind felt.
And because of this openness and freedom, the teachings became very effective for her. She stayed at the institute, studying and practicing Buddhism. One day, she saw a video from Lama Yeshe saying, "becoming ordained to be a monk or nun is to serve others."
"It just hit my heart, and I really wanted to do that! Somehow, it's like the karma suddenly ripened, and it was so clear and was the only thing I could do in my life! When I heard the teaching about emptiness and its ideas, I felt I was so thirsty for this the whole time, and suddenly I was drinking from a water source -- it was so nourishing!"
At just 23, Ven. Siliana had found her path - a path she continues to follow with enthusiasm, determination, and devotion to this day.
“I always thought, 'I will give up my robes as soon as I feel my ordination is like a prison and it makes me suffocate.' But I never had that feeling!
“The practice is to change your mind and use all the situations that you're facing in life in order to direct your mind in a kind of constructive direction and not let yourself get involved with the disturbing emotions. I always say to people, 'the ideal place for the practice doesn't exist, practice is where you are now in this moment.' Because tomorrow morning, we might not still be alive.”
Question: Do you find joy being a Buddhist nun for 40 years?
Ven. Siliana Bosa: Absolutely! I spent many years on planes and traveling.
I've lived in Nepal for six years in one center and teaching there. Then after that, I traveled for about seven years around the world, organizing exhibitions of Buddha’s Relic and of other great saints that was Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s collection. So I've been almost everywhere in the world and it has been an amazing experience.
Question: What is a good example of a Western Buddhist nun’s community?
Ven. Siliana Bosa: Sravasti Abbey is a wonderful example. Venerable Thubten Chodron is one of my first teachers, she gave me great inspiration. She is a really strong, powerful, and determined woman. She started small and it took a long time for her to build the monastery but now it is very successful and very very good! There are very few people able to do that.
Question: Do you think monasteries and communities are important for Western nuns?
Ven. Siliana Bosa: According to the intention of the Buddha, a monastery is the actual place where the Dharma can live and build its roots in a country.
When you become a monk or a nun, your main focus is to work within yourself and try to actually live the teachings of the Buddha. So if you are in a community with other nuns and monks that are all focused on the practice-- that direction is kind of more easy to preserve. So that said, for sure, having a monastery helps to keep morality pure and morality is the base to be able to develop concentration and wisdom, in this way compassion can also grow.
I believe that is why having a monastery is important. Living an ordinary life with one's children and having to go to work can keep one from having full concentration. Therefore, a place to reside is crucial, thus the monastery and the community are a must. It is not merely the walls, but it should comprise the monks, nuns and the sangha. Of course, you start with a few rooms and enough room for the number of ordained people.
Question: What do you think is the main struggle for Western nuns?
Ven. Siliana Bosa: There are few Buddhist nuns today. Some time ago nuns were taking ordination at a young age, but now more and more nuns are getting ordained after they had a family life with children and now they are retired from their work, so the community of the nuns is quite old like 60 or 70 years old.
There are not many young people taking ordination because we don’t have monasteries.
Question: In the 60s and 70s, many women like yourself went forth and became amazing nuns. But there were probably even fewer proper environments when you were young, so what is the main difference between then and now?
Ven. Siliana Bosa: I really don't know why. That was the end of the 70s and the beginning of the 80s. I think there was a kind of inner revolution, people were looking for something more spiritual from the material world. So many people went to India to find the guru, and there was this kind of wave of enthusiasm for entering into a spiritual path. So many different centers started in those years, not just for Buddhism but all different spiritual paths.
Question: I heard about the monastery project at Lama Tzong Khapa Institute, can you tell us a little more about it?
Ven. Siliana Bosa: We are trying to put together a monastery for both monks and nuns. It is in the same area but completely separate with different buildings.
We have been working on this for 18 years so far, we had to wait for all the permits and government procedures. It took us 18 years, and now we have all the legal permits. We can finally start to do some fundraising for the actual buildings. It will take a few more years to build. Maybe at that time, it can be an inspiration for younger people to go forth to choose monastic lifestyles.
Question: What is your advice for women who are thinking of becoming nuns?
Ven. Siliana Bosa: This is not for everybody. I never said to anybody that you should get ordained, and it's the best thing that you can do in your life. No way! For me, it was the best thing that I could do for my life but not necessarily for everyone else.
And if you do want to get ordained, you have to save enough money to be able to support yourself. For at least two or three years, you don't have to go to work in an ordinary way. You can focus on your practice, and you become strong, and then you will find a situation where you can stay within the Dharma, and then you find somebody who can help you.
If you are strongly determined, before becoming ordained, you put together some money in order to be able to support yourself for those years, then slowly, things will evolve.
Question: What is your daily life like as a nun?
Ven. Siliana Bosa: I wake up in the morning at about 5-6 o'clock, do my practice, and then around 9 o'clock, I start to go look after my mom (she is almost 90), or if I have some other jobs to do like translation for the institute. At night I do a little bit of practice again.
The main focus of my practices is really to watch the mind with anything, in any situation in daily life. To recognize when your mind is overwhelmed by destructive emotion and recognize it.
When I hear some kind of politician that is so stupid and think, "that poor guy!" We have to deal with this situation and use it for our practice.
Question: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Ven. Siliana Bosa: For the new nuns, I want to share with them:
If you feel there are a lot of difficulties, don't think that is because of the ordination, but it is the mind that is not yet settled. So the ordination is not what makes you so frustrated - but your mind. By giving up the ordination will not make you feel more happy, actually. They said if you take refuge in Buddha, Dharma and Shang from the depth of your heart, you will always have a shelter.
I think that is very true to me.