Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Nun Without a Robe

Ms. Wasserman often sent as much as $4,000 a month, usually through money orders, to her relations on both coasts. She also routinely sent along boxes of used clothing that she had culled from places like the Catholic Worker’s Mary House, on East Third Street, where she was known as that rare visitor who searched for items that fit others, and who had a gift for using humor and kindness to deflate the tensions arising from hardship.
“She became like a grandmother to dozens of women on the street who had nobody,” said Felton Davis, a full-time Catholic Worker volunteer. Sensing the lack of esteem in a woman beside her, he said, “She would say: `I have just the shirt that you need. I’ll get it for you.’ ”
Meanwhile, up in New Hampshire, the clothes kept coming. “The boxes would be opened, and it would be like: `Who wants this T-shirt?’ ‘Who wants this sweatshirt?’ ” Ms. Grinols recalled. “So many people in this area got gifts from her."
. . . With the money she earned by working in all weather, in the hours when the rest of us slept, Annie bought Chelsea a used Toyota Tercel. She paid for Chelsea’s tuition at the University of New Hampshire, and provided financial support to a ballet school in Los Angeles. Whatever money she took in, she sent out, while owning little more than a bed and a radio.
And I couldn't help but compare with experience I just had a few days ago during the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education Conference with the Dalai Lama at Stanford University. What stayed with me from the conference was not the Dalai's gentle wisdom, nor the scientists' earnest efforts to research compassion, nor the overall sweet impression of a generally beautiful day. No, what shall remain, was the time spent at lunch sitting across from a Buddhist nun. A taint in the midst of so much shared goodwill. My friend and I had asked the nun simple questions about the monastic life, and about her teacher. The nun, obviously was not the least bit interested, and dismissed us with ice coldness, bordering on rudeness. Later, I saw the woman pushing her way through to get to the VIPs standing in the front of the big conference room. Smiling, signing her book, and bowing left and right . . . 

A robe does not a nun make, just like a monastery is not to be found outside, but inside us instead.  

Where is the nun, or the monk within you? How often do you let it guide your thoughts, and your speech, and your actions?

To Annie, the nun without a robe, I express my deepest gratitude for the gift of her inspiration.


  1. Travelling in the metro I saw a mother with a son and her daughter. The daughter had a baby in her arms and a young girl. So yeah, three generations. Everyone is well-dressed and trying to look beautiful.

    The grandmother is wearing uncomfortably high heels, and almost fell once, but kept standing trying to make space for her young kids and
    their children. She is not occupying the seats that are a bit removed from her kids. She is smiling all the time. She is strong, and her strength is hiding a lot of struggle underneath, she is as if resolved to go out of her way to be good. Her kids seem to take her goodness for granted! As if there is no morality, only favors she can extend to others, her kids. I call this blind-goodness, goodness that has no use. That encourages exploitation and insensitivity.

    Have you seen this kind of outbursts of goodness from some people? I could see she was energetic, but in the great misery that her excess smiles couldn't hide.

    I saw many many things in those moments I spent observing her. The one thing I will mention right now is: Before you go out to help others, see if you are not doing it to make up for lack of something in your life, there has to be a feeling of wholesomeness, not bitter sacrifice. Make your goodness wholesome to make it genuine. Your goodness would qualify as goodness if it is wholesome, if it comes from excess of love and not lack of it. It has to be a middle path and not run in extremes. Do not be violent on yourself in the name of goodness.

    If this looks too sharp, look at the quality of your experience at the moment of your interaction with others, or just try to remember how you felt. Did you feel at ease?
    Your act of goodness should have a quality of ease, patience with yourself, to make it wholesome. Acts of goodness should be such that inspire love, it should not make you a readymade pool for exploitation by people blind to goodness, defend yourself, be good to yourself First. It should come from within, not imposed, makes a huge difference-between genuine and fake. Goodness should make you better, not bitter!

    Lv for darlings:) ... my love for my sister is inspiring for me, it can supply me energy I never thought I was capable of, but its like a spark... you will discover goodness cant be for just one person , you have to be good overall to be really good. Its like cooking rice, you pick one grain to see if all is cooked.

  2. Yes, that's the thing, love well understood is a natural impulse from pure heart. Not its close cousins, love out of duty, love out of low self-esteem, . . . The first kind of love keeps on giving effortlessly. The other two drain one from already scarce inner resources. Of course, the question is how to purify the heart. And that is where mindfulness practice, right view, and intention come into play.

  3. oh oh oh


    and bow

    to you two

    (pooja & marguerite)

    and a smile


    but now
    comes to my mind

    because she is blind

    but but

    who knows?

    (what her other senses tell her ;-)

    with love,

    may we all practice well

  4. Thank you Doris for your all embracing heart.

  5. Wonderful mail from Albert, found in my inbox,

    Subject: About your Gloria piece

    Certainly you have heard or the Peace Pilgrim? Came to similar teachings as Buddha.

  6. Namaste and a bow, Doris :)

    Thanks for posting, Marguerite, ur posts and comments r valuable

    ... Lv

  7. Lovely article. It is always moving to hear of people who are truly generous of spirit.
    I'm sorry to hear about the Buddhist nun, though. Unfortunately this sort of thing happens far too often.