A Nun Can Change Your Life
How this Buddhist is bringing delight to the web in lockdown
‘Reality is always already the case.’ Adi Da Samraj
I don’t know much about nuns.
In my 58-year span, there’s only been two of any note. One was a confessor at the tail-end of a six-week stint in rehab where I had just turned 27.
The other appeared through the mists of lockdown on the web, less than a year ago, when I had decided to make the most of our shared inwardness by taking it seriously.
If ever there has been a time when the divine held up a neon placard to the world exhorting us to turn within it is now; the evidence of how tricky that is….well, it’s everywhere.
Despair, depression, suicide, violence is, I understand, meteoric. I am happy to declare, having always been a hermit, I have escaped scot free.
But back to those nuns. The first was diminutive, Irish and may, with hindsight, have just come from digging up wet turf to bury the bodies at the Convent of the Holy Killers back in the old country.
To say she was tough is understating it, and it wasn’t the things I thought it would be either. My rap sheet was relatively minor. I had written down all my sins and was reading them aloud. She didn’t say much, rarely interrupted.
But when I criticized my girlfriend’s father, she swooped on me like a hawk, grasped me in her talons, shook me until I dropped my arrogance and realized this quiet man was thoroughly decent and in no way merited my dismissal.
She was right and I allowed myself to feel ashamed. This was not neurotic but entirely legitimate and it righted something important. But at the time I just felt angry; she had piqued my pride and I didn’t like it.
I have had mixed feelings about nuns ever since, especially the flinty, bitter and murderous variety.
Happily, my recent experience has differed. Firstly, black has been replaced by a warming brown and, more importantly, a healthy eclecticism.
It would be fair to say that both women, in their own way, changed my life.
Samaneri Jayasara is a Buddhist living in a monastery in the bush about 100 miles from Sydney. I had entered her orbit not long after lockdown started by stumbling across her YouTube channel.
Although I have been a student of meditation for some years, my practise was deficient, irregular, even sporadic.
Today, it is committed, transformative with a real felt sense of the sort of shift that can only happen on the inner planes of consciousness.
That’s an experience you will never understand until you have it. As one of my great spiritual heroes tells us:
‘My silence sings; my emptiness is full. You cannot know my world until you are there.’ Nisargadatta
In short, I discovered silence — enough of it anyway to realize it is home. The good news is, you only have to do your bit until finally, you are taken into the Self as grace carries you to the end goal where you no longer exist.
At least not as the person you thought.
For years, I had been working with a mantra as an initiate on the path of light and sound, understanding the physical world is a realm of reflected light which enthralls all.
We are all, to lesser or greater degree, held within its spell, our attention naturally focused outwards.
Self-enquiry practice, which I committed to after discovering Jayasara’s channel and her quiet, well-paced readings, took this understanding a crucial step further.
The ‘I’ thought, which we take to be real, arises from the heart but it is really only a pale reflection in the mind of the true I.
By the same token this physical world also pales in significance when the real appears. Or appears to appear, for reality is here, we obscure it.
By following the teachings of Nisargadatta and his master Siddharameshwar, as well as India’s most beloved sage Ramana Maharshi, turning away from the world and facing within, this false ‘I’ can return to its seat in and as the heart.
Thus, the subject-object gap, or duality, is no more and we experience oneness and the reality that we are never separate yet imagine our self to be.
It is from that basic error that all other errors come; the first concept ‘I’ gives rise to all others, the mind dividing and sub-dividing again and again.
As Ramana Maharshi says, the term self-realization is another illusion but we need it to wean ourselves off this mistaken identity.
The biggest gift any of us can offer the world is this realization of our own light. As Christ put it, ‘you are the light of the world’. Yet we can never find that light by looking outside.
One of the keys is found in silence. It will also help you see clearly what is going on in our world:
‘A mind that has experienced the light of silence will not readily accept the conceptual dramas consisting of the trinities that appear in the other light……When the mind becomes still, the power of the Self will be experienced.’ Ramana Maharshi
What does he mean by the other light? He refers to the reflected light of the world, which we take to be real. The trinities, for instance of seer-seeing-seen and knower-knowing-known, are part of the body-mind-world paradigm and ultimately will go.
Rumi similarly talked of the journey from lover to beloved and then love itself, again closing the subject-object gap.
I first connected with the advaita teachers when I was moved to read Nisargadatta’s book I Am That, its famous yellow and black cover often leaping out from the shelves of Watkins in London during regular visits in the Noughties.
I didn’t buy it until many years later and found it fairly inscrutable until something started to click.
But what really eased my way was Jayasara’s channel where she has diligently recorded and skillfully presented the great masters from all, if not most, traditions.
When we spoke via Skype last week, she told me she had been surprised and delighted by the reactions of listeners and the incredible success of her work, which grew from a small idea, anticipating perhaps 50 subscribers.
Just a year from its clearly auspicious beginnings, there are some 31,000; and in an age when people seem to feel attacking anything online will somehow help them, there is almost universal gratitude.
In a world of bad news, her gift — and that’s exactly what it is — is a good news story.
Part of her success comes from the sheer range of recordings which include obscure texts, Taoism, Buddhism, Sufism, mystical Christianity etc. There are playlists for Krishnamurti, for instance, my favourites Nisargadatta and Ramana Maharshi, rinpoches and sutras you have never heard of.
The list goes on and on although the best thing you can do, of course is check it out yourself.
On the community page on the channel she explains its origins:
“These recordings of the enlightened Masters’ teachings began spontaneously. I wanted to be able to listen to Dhamma teachings rather than simply read them as, like a lot of people, I find the meaning and understanding goes deeper.
“Fifteen years ago, when I was living as a novice Buddhist nun in a monastery in the UK, I had written out a section from Padmasambhava’s teaching on ‘Self-Liberation through seeing with Naked Awareness’ in a journal. When I happened upon this again about one year ago, and my own hand writing was plain to see, I wondered how such a profound and amazing teaching hadn’t really impacted me as much as I felt it should have. Obviously, my understanding of the true Dhamma wasn’t as developed then, but I also felt that if I had had a way to ‘really’ absorb this teaching, it might have gone deeper then.
“That’s when I was moved to read and record the entire text of this incredible teaching by the great Master. I made a fairly amateur recording with a subpar microphone and perhaps too much “busy” music for the background, but it worked! The teaching and meaning hit home like never before and it went deeper and deeper into my heart. My mind and heart became still and my meditative stability grew stronger. The more I listened to it, the more nuances I understood and I was amazed that with each new listen I heard and understood something new each time. These were insights that went beyond mere intellectual understanding. I deliberately used music as a soundscape too, rather than voice alone, because as a former teacher, I know that music works on the right brain and words tend to impact the left brain or conceptual realm. The idea was to ensure a harmonious integration engaging both sides of the brain and to allow these masterful teachings to be immersed within both the heart and head.”
It’s a winning formula for any seeker. What helps is the varying lengths of recordings. This morning I started with one of 45 minutes, then listened to another of just over 30 minutes and finally another of just over 20.
The delight among listeners is palpable as evinced in the comments section:
‘This channel is an oasis of calm wisdom in the howling desert of the internet’ writes Humphrey.
‘For the very first time in my life, I was able to still my thoughts by focusing on the space btw the thoughts. Deep gratitude,” from OceanRain.
“Your voice quality is like magic,” writes another; on and on it goes as if a sudden movement has sprung from nowhere.
Jayasara herself has her feet on the ground and is clear the success of the channel is not about her — although without her of course it wouldn’t be.
Many have been tempted to put her on a pedestal, which she understands is inevitable, but insists, rightly, is not the point.
Principles must come before personalities if our world is to heal, but on balance I prefer this nun.
Copyright Simon Heathcote