I love this book. In reading it, I am accompanying Martine Batchelor on a great adventure of spirit, making new friends while learning new dharma. Eighteen women practitioners—nuns and lay people, from varied countries and different traditions and lineages—tell their stories. These women convey the fullness of spiritual life—joyful ardency, great doubt, manifold blessings and some poignant regrets. Their stories are, of course, our stories, whether we are women or men, Theravadins, Zen practitioners, Vajrayanists or simply people attuned to discovery. We read about family life, renunciation, fears, closed doors and love.
As the women describe their meditation practice and understanding, barriers of culture and tradition seem to fall away. The teachings which have transformed them are not dry or abstract but are lived very personally, and there are some surprises. Maechee Pathomwan, who has been a nun for thirty-eight years in Thailand, says, “Your defilements do not have to be completely burned out before you can see . . . no-self, because we need to use our defilements to transcend them. We need to know desire, to inhabit desire in order to transcend desire.”
Each of these women, in her own way, dramatizes her quest for the single most important element in her life: the truth. Yahne Le Tourmelin, a French surrealistic painter and Tibetan Buddhist nun since 1968, says, “Before I became a nun I always secretly hoped I would fall in love, but I found my amorous life extremely unsatisfactory because my main love was the search for truth, the true meaning of life. As soon as I abandoned seduction and became a nun my life became more effective, thus letting go has borne fruits.”
These women opened their hearts to Martine Batchelor; they open them to us. Some of the women I know, some I had heard of but never met, some I had never heard of and am very unlikely to meet in person. I am grateful to learn about their practice experiences. An important part of our heritage has been given voice and brought to life.