Venerable Robina is a Buddhist nun like no other. She recalls her early life as ‘completely crazy, manic-depressive, fighting with people, relationship dramas, angry dramas – this is my memory of my life. So it just kept going until finally, by the time I stopped being a hippy and hating all the straight people; a communist and hating all the rich people; then into black politics and hating all the white people; then feminist and hating all the male people. I knew I couldn’t hate the entire human race. There was only me left. And then finally, 30 years ago now, I bumped into these Tibetan lamas who turned out to be the ones I would say now are my teachers: Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa.’
Ven. Robina was born in Melbourne, Australia and brought up as a Catholic. She studied classical singing until her early twenties, then went to London in 1967, where she lived for four years. She became actively involved in the radical left, working mainly with a London-based support group for black and Chicano prisoners. In the early ’70s she became a feminist and returned to Melbourne in 1972 to work with other radical feminists.
In her quest for a spiritual path, Robina began studying martial arts in 1974 and moved to New York, where she studied karate. She continued her studies in Melbourne until 1976, when she attended a Tibetan Buddhist course in Queensland given by Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche.
In November 1977 Robina went to Kopan Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal, where she was ordained. Since then, she has lived as a Buddhist nun in the Tibetan tradition, travelling, teaching and bringing the Dharma to people both in and out of prison. Ven. Robina was the editorial director of Wisdom Publications until 1987, before moving to the FPMT’s international journal Mandala as editor.
Ven Robina founded Liberation Prison Project in 1996. She served as executive director for 13 years. At the end of 2000 she resigned from Mandala to spend more time teaching at Buddhist centres around the world and to devote her time and energy to Liberation Prison Project. Ven. Robina regularly visits prisons in Australia and the United States, giving teachings to groups and meeting prisoners one-on-one. Many of these men are on death row or have life sentences. Most have been in gangs, both on the streets and in prison.
In 2001 Ven. Robina began leading Chasing Buddha Pilgrimages, organized by Effie Fletcher, to holy sites in India, Nepal and Tibet to raise money for the prison project. Ven. Robina led all of the pilgrimages for the first five years, using practices Rinpoche had given her. In 2006 she invited other nuns to join the team: Americans Ven. Nyinge and Ven. Amy Miller, and Tibetan Ven. Tsenla.
‘Venerable Robina’s teachings are unrelentingly challenging, hard-hitting, serious, funny, visceral, inspiring and empowering. She specialises in applying the wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism to contemporary city life, using examples from TV, magazines and film. She has taught meditation to prisoners all over the world, developing a particularly close connection with people with life sentences in the USA. She is founder and director of the Liberation Prison Project, and the subject of an award-winning Australian documentary called Chasing the Buddha.’