Giving up Sex, Drugs and Rock n roll

Afra walking down a unknown street in India. Shes looking over her right sholder and raising her hand over a unknow shrine. Shes wearing a vlack outdoor jacket with dark aquamarine backpack. The street is bright and sunny and the shrines golden engraved wall gives off deep contrast.

Afra – a young Dutch woman on a path of becoming a Buddhist nun

Before the lockdown in Italy I got to know Afra – a young Dutch woman on a path of becoming a Buddhist nun. One can feel the unbelievable selflessness and wisdom when conversing with her. In short, after receiving a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy and a master’s degree in Anthropology she decided to go to India and explore Buddhism. Now she is living and studying Buddhism in the Lama Tzong Khapa Institute [1] in Italy where various courses on Tibetan Buddhism are taught in English since 1977.
Afra with a Buddhist monk walking to a shire. In the background is a decorated golden shrine. The shrine is atleast 5 times bigger then Afra. Its made out tiny details and at its base sits a abundend amount if flower offerings in diffrent colors. The munk in dressed traditionally in draped, red clothing and with a smooth shaven head.

Arta: "I know you have studied philosophy before, thus you know a lot of different ways of thinking. Why did you choose specifically Buddhism?"

Afra: “When I studied philosophy in high school our main subject was Aristotle’s virtue ethics and to me the idea of being a good human being and developing to your full potential was appealing. Of course, Aristotle had some weird additional exceptions, for example, that it is only possible for men etc. But for me the idea of developing to your full potential was the most interesting point.

With philosophy – you study all these different perspectives, but you don’t really practice anything.

It is just sort of ‘out there’ and you can look at it from an intellectual perspective and compare the ideas. For me, Buddhism just made sense somehow. Buddhism you can practice and make it your whole life, which is amazing. Maybe I am a bit naïve in just jumping into it.”

Afra smiling for a picture on a sunny day. Shes wearing light clothing and sunglasses. Behind her in background a small garden before a hill with many stairways, all in white. And on the top of the hill a dark brown, mustard yellow colored building. The contrast of the buildings height and width dominates the picture.

Arta: "You also probably studied Stoicism and Christianity etc. You can also practice those, but why did you choose Buddhism specifically?"

Afra: “That’s true. I really don’t know. It just feels like home. It just makes the most sense for me.”

Arta: "How long have you’ve been practicing for?"

Afra: “Not that long. But practicing in the sense of working on your mind and delusions longer (as my teacher would say – that is what being a Buddhist actually means). I think I really made an effort to work on my mind while studying Aristotle; trying to be a virtuous, good person. 

I’ve always tried to be ‘the good girl’, but only recently I realized that it comes from my attachment[2] to being liked

– which is one of the delusions in Buddhism. So ‘just’ being a good person is not enough, there’s always more to work on.”

Arta: "How did you get to the point – leaving the job and going to India?"

Afra: “After studying philosophy,

I tried worldly life for some time

– had a job, had a few boyfriends… and then the relationships ended and I was unhappy at my job. That was when it hit me:

the happiness I was chasing in these things, will run out eventually.

I didn’t think that this is what life is all about. That was the last trigger to really study Buddhism.

After that I went to India, Dharmsala, as I knew that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was there. That was two years ago – I was 29 years old. The decision did not happen overnight, that took some time. I thought if it won’t work out, I can always come home.”

Arta: "I know that you have thoughts of becoming a Buddhist nun. Can you tell more about this?"

Afra: “When His Holiness came to the Netherlands in 2018, I went there with my parents and a friend. There were a lot of ordained people there. I remember I said to my friend:

Wow, do you see all those monks and nuns there? That’s the dream.”

She replied: “what do you mean? Yeah, for you maybe.” That was the first moment I realised that maybe that is actually the dream. I left the Netherlands few months later.”

In foreground Afra and a Buddhist nun while sitting on ground while posing happily for a photo. Afra is in western free flowing clothing, while the nun is in dark orange and red clothing. In the background a entrance decorated with bright contrasting orange tapestry with hand sewn decorative symbols.

Arta: "How did your family and friends react about your decision to go to India and explore Buddhism?"

Afra: “My family has always been very supportive and my friends as well. The person who had the most difficulties about this decision was me. Why would I want to go to India? From all of the places… (laughing)”

Arta: "It sounds a bit unusual – young woman from the Netherlands making that kind of decision."

Afra: “Yeah, but here at the institute, there are a lot of monks and nuns and it is quite normal to become one. It is all a matter of perspective.

Arta: "What did you have to say goodbye to when you decided to become a nun? What does it mean to become a nun?"

Afra: “My teacher would say:

Give up sex, drugs & rock n roll,[3]

if you really want to practice. Giving up having a partner, a house etc. Because that is a distraction for your practice.”

Close up of Afra while resting.

Arta: "Practicing what?"

Afra: “From practicing real dharma[4] and working on your mind and delusions. You have to let go of the objects of your attachment.

Arta: "Why would you want to give it all up?"

Afra: “I feel I can only practice it if I give it all up. I think it is not even possible for me to have a relationship without any attachment, so how can I practice?

Arta: "There is a stigma about Buddhism, that it is very egoistical, because you focus only on yourself. Can you share your thoughts about this?"

Afra: “Well, in the beginning yes, you are the main acquirer of the practice. That can sound egoistical. However, you have to work on yourself first and only then you can benefit others.

How can I be able to help others, if I am full of my own delusions and I cannot even see what the other person really needs?

My ability to help is limited for now.”

For now Afra is still living and studying at Lama Tzong Khapa Institute. After the studies in a few years she hopes to get ordained.
For anybody who wishes to find more information about Tibetan Buddhism, Afra suggests this video of her teacher Robina Courtin – https://youtu.be/cFMkVSpyVVI

.  .  .

[1] https://www.iltk.org/en/

[2] Attachment is necessarily I-based: dissatisfaction, neediness, expectation, manipulating others to get what I want https://www.thebuddhistsociety.org/page/love-or-attachment-by-robina-courtin

[3] https://www.robinacourtin.com/

[4] In Buddhism, dharma is the doctrine, the universal truth common to all individuals at all times, proclaimed by the Buddha https://www.britannica.com/topic/dharma-religious-concept

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