For the first time, Lama Christie McNally has agreed to answer a few questions regarding her extraordinary life and her new book The Tibetan Book of Meditation. Each week we will be sharing her answers to some direct questions.
1) Buddhism (like every other religious or political institution) has been dominated by men. As a woman teaching, do you feel you are changing the face of Buddhism?
I have definitely changed things, although I really can’t take any credit for it. It was my Lama, Geshe Michael Roach, who had this vision, and he was expanding on the vision of his own root Lama, Khen Rinpoche Geshe Lobsang Tharchin.
Khen Rinpoche was the first Tibetan Lama ever who taught the monastic course to women. He was an extremely high Lama in Tibet, having been granted the very highest doctorate title of Hlarumpa Geshe. Shortly after receiving that great honor, Tibet was invaded, and he fled to India along with 100,000 other Tibetans. And just after he got there, the Dalai Lama sent him to America, to teach us crazy westerners. For someone who had come from an exclusively monastic culture, what he did next was truly revolutionary. Rinpoche had the foresight to realize that, if the teachings were to succeed in this country, they would have to be offered to men and women equally.
Geshe Michael, my own root Lama, was his closest student, so how surprising is it that he took this revolutionary idea and ran with it? After we completed the three-year retreat, he literally dragged me up on stages with him to teach. I was very hesitant at first, not fully understanding the importance of what he was trying to do. But strange things started to happen—women who didn’t feel comfortable talking to a man started coming up to me to ask for spiritual advice, and I realized I was serving people by being up there. And then, I started to notice the faces of all the people in the audience, especially the younger women, looking at me and thinking, “I could do that.” Just by being up there, I was empowering them, giving them a dream.
I do not wear red robes, and I am an ordinary-looking young woman from California, and yet I too have learned these things, and learned how to pass them on to others, in perfect keeping with the ancient lineage from Tibet. So yes, I have changed things, and am changing them, mainly by virtue of just trusting my Teacher’s vision of who I could be.
It is a beautiful thing to be able to help people in this way, in an ultimate way. I am so lucky. And I am so very happy that I am part of the process of bringing these holy teachings, these precious instructions for transforming people’s lives, into the west.
2) What can you tell us about your extensive training?
Hmmm…to answer your question briefly, I have been trained extensively in all the texts that the monks in the Tibetan monasteries spend twenty years mastering, in order to earn their much sought after Geshe degree; and I have gone on from there to immerse myself in the higher teachings of Tibetan Buddhism, what they call the secret teachings. All of this I have learned from sitting at the feet of my root Lama, day after day, absorbing the lineage, just as he once sat at the feet of his own root Lama.
I could tell you in detail about all the amazing and difficult texts on philosophy that I have studied, and it would impress some people. I could talk about how I learned the Tibetan language, and all the incredible texts I have translated, and that might impress them even more. But honestly, that was the easy part.
The hard part of the training is trying to embody the teachings in your own life, in your own mind. The hard part is the day after day struggle to perfect yourself, under the eagle eyes of your mind-reading Lama. I have sat for twelve years at the feet of my Lama, and struggled, and that is the extensive training I am most proud of.