Biography of Ani Zamba, Feb. 2015.
In 2014 I spent much of my time writing the biography of my close friend Ani Zamba, an English Buddhist nun who has had the most interesting, meaningful and amazing life of anyone I ever knew, and this holds true for anyone who ever met her. I'm still only around halfway through writing her biography, which has involved a lot of research into time and place, because without this background information her story is almost unbelievable.
Ani Zamba has been living and teaching in northern Brazil for the past twelve years, and may soon be establishing a new retreat centre to the north of San Paulo. We first met in India in 1974, just after she had finished her first long fifteen-month retreat in Dharamsala, where Geshe Rabten had previously ordained her in 1972. She spent nine years living in India and Nepal, during which time she took teachings from many of the great Gelugpa, Drukpa Kagyu and Nyingma lamas of that time, although her two main root lamas were Chagdud Rinpoche and Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, from whom she received many Dzogchen transmissions.
She received full bhikshunis ordination in Hong Kong in 1975, and again in Korea in 1983, then later again in Taiwan and mainland China. From 1978-82 she lived in Thailand, where she met many of the great Thai Forest Masters of that time, and was either practicing in solitary retreat or involved in social work. Her social work here included working with drug addicts in Thamkrabok Monastery, working in a Khmer Rouge refugee camp, and working with child prostitution. Before she became involved in Buddhism she had also spent a year working and living in Mother Teresa's 'Home for the Destitute and Dying' in Calcutta.
In late 1982 she moved to Songgwang-sa Monastery in Korea, where she trained in Korean Zen (Song) under the guidance of Kusan Sunim until his death a year or so later. For the next few years she lived in semi-retreat on the Korean island of Cheju-do, before moving on to Seoul where she worked for the British Council for several years. Then in 1989 she moved to the Philippine Islands, where she had her own outrigger built, took people scuba diving, and spent much of the next few years out at sea exploring little known routes between the islands.
From the Philippines she moved to Lamma Island in Hong Kong, where she mainly lived for the next decade, alternating between practicing in retreat and teaching her students. During this period she also travelled widely throughout Asia, then later to the USA where Chagdud Rinpoche and Thinley Norbu were then living. In 1999 Chagdud requested her to become his representative in northern Brazil, so she began teaching there until Chagdud's death in 2002, and since then she has remained as an independent teacher in northern Brazil with her own community of students.
However, this is only a timeline of her life, and it is what actually happens to her in all of these places that really is truly amazing. In her youth she was paralyzed for over a year, and has since spent about five years in hospital, where she has had to undergo extreme surgery to rebuild her spine on several different occasions. Coupled with this are all the tropical diseases she had to contend with, along with the fact that her reoccurring paralysis and other disabilities have left her wheelchair bound for much of her life.
Although Ani Zamba is little known in the West, she is a legend to all who knew her in the East, especially during that so-called 'first wave' of transmission that took place in India, Nepal and Thailand during the 1970's. The living example of her life story is incredibly inspiring, especially for female Buddhist practitioners in our time, and her spiritual friends like Ani Tenzin Palmo, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and others are keen to eventually see it in print.
So I am determined to try and finish Ani Zamba's biography this year, though I'm not sure as yet who will publish it. Meanwhile I am also trying to work on several other book projects at the present time, which I shall write about later. But for those who are interested there are now quite a few podcasts and youtube talks by Ani Zamba available now, which one can easily find by simply entering her name.
"Although hundreds of thousands of explanations are given,
There is only one thing to be understood.
Know the one thing that liberates everything,
Awareness itself, your true nature."
Robert Beer, St Valentine's Day, February 14th 2015.