A Life Less Ordinary

We tend to think of community as something outside of ourselves, but according to Buddhist nun Robina Courtin we need to look within if we want to improve our relationships, our society and the world at large.



It might sound like a paradox, but Robina Courtin says the best way to change the outside world is to look within and work on ourselves first. That is the only way to break the cycle of dissatisfaction and desire that drives our increasingly materialistic society.


“The more you get, the more you want; it’s a self-fulfilling kind of energy. But if you learn to focus the mind, get clear on what attachment is and why you get sucked into buying all this stuff, you realise you can live in this world surrounded by all these million-dollar gorgeous things and not be affected by them. You can let them pass like a dream and enjoy listening, looking, tasting and smelling, but not have to hold on to everything.”


According to Robina, even relationships should be free from the burden of thanks and blame. “We create the suffering. We don’t think we do, we think that everyone else creates the suffering. We think Kate makes us happy, then we blame Fred for making us unhappy, but these ideas are based on looking out there. We never look inside ourselves, which is the only way to see your life clearly.”


Not that Robina has always seen her life as clearly as she does now. Born in Melbourne in December 1944, she thought of becoming a Catholic nun, was a feminist activist and even trained as a classical singer before she discovered Buddhism in the mid-seventies and was ordained at the Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala in 1978.


“Ever since I was a little girl, I was driven by the wish to make the world a better place. It was a very noble, altruistic wish, but when I was a Catholic the whole world was divided into Catholics and non-Catholics and the non-Catholics were the problem. Then I became a hippy and all the straight people were the problem. Then I was a radical lefty and all the rich people were the problem. Then I was a feminist and men were the problem. I was exhausted; I had nowhere left to look. Then these Buddhists suggested that I should take a look at myself. It was a brand new idea for me; I had never thought of it before.”


Looking inward and gaining wisdom is, Robina believes, the only way she can become qualified to truly make a difference to the outside world and start the process of healing between individuals, families, societies and even between nations.


“If each individual is looking into their own mind and being responsible for their own attachments, their own jealousy, their own fears, their own love and compassion, then naturally they will become better people and connect more with others. These neuroses are what separate me from others, what make us fight or create drama, because everything is being filtered through an unhappy state of mind.”


Interview and photos by Cynthia Sciberras - Excerpt from Issue 3 themed Gather