Robina Courtin – The Kickass Buddhist NunRobina Courtin talks about attachment, love, happiness and pleasure.

When you think “nun,” chances are you are more imagining Maria von Trapp than radical Buddhist feminist or prisoners’ rights activist.

But defying conventional expectations has always been a forte of Australian woman, Robina Courtin. Robina is a Buddhist nun and social activist who has spoken to international audiences during the last 30 years on women’s rights, social activism and the search for deeper meaning in life. Climb every mountain, indeed!

Robina will soon be coming to Australia for a speaking tour to talk to audiences about: how to harness the craziness in their lives; how to place themselves within the universe; and how self-care enables us to do more good in the world.

Perhaps the hardest tenet for non-Buddhists to understand is that desire and attachment are the causes of suffering. For women who ardently desire other women as we do here at LOTL, this is something that is hard to come to terms with. Can you be a Buddhist and a lesbian?

Can you have a lover and not be attached?

Robina approaches this question from its root, and explains, “You could say that Buddha’s expertise is the mind. All our thoughts and feelings and emotions are divided into three categories: those that are ego-based, neurotic, deluded, disturbing; those that are altruistic, appropriate, useful, beneficial; and those that I like to call the mechanics of our mind such as concentration, good memory, etc.”

“According to this view, the neurotic ones are not at the core of our being and thus can be removed, utterly. This is essentially what’s implied by ‘nirvana’.”

“It’s crucial, then, to distinguish between the neuroses and the positive states, and it’s done internally: we need to learn to be our own therapists, as one teacher puts it. The cause of our suffering in day-to-day life is called attachment—such a cute word. But it’s primordial. It’s a deep and constant emotional hunger.”

“At the same time, we also have plenty of the positive states of mind, such as love—the delight in someone else’s happiness—as well as empathy, generosity, intelligence, patience, and so on. The trouble is they’re mixed together in a big soup of emotion, and unless we do the hard work, we can’t tell one from another.”

“When attachment is mixed with love, it’s hard to tell the difference, and that’s what causes the problems in relationships. I want you to be happy, for sure, but as long as you don’t fulfil my attachment’s needs, then there’s trouble.”

“When pleasure is motivated by attachment—the frantic need to get what I want—things become fraught. The pleasure isn’t the problem, the attachment is.”

So here we get to sexual desire, heterosexual and homosexual alike.

“There’s lots of energy around ‘sexual’ attachment and about whom we have that attachment for—but it’s just another version of attachment. The Buddhist teachings of two-and–a-half thousand years ago were talking to heterosexual couples, and given that the main point of the teachings is to help lessen neurotic attachment, there can be found in the literature guidelines for curbing behaviour, such as to not rape, not cheat on one’s partner. But there’s nothing explicit about homosexuality. Attachment is the problem for everyone!” exclaims Robina.

You know what? That makes a fair bit of sense.