You were a fashion model earlier in life. How did you turn from that career to Buddhism? My father was a very spiritual person, and the seed of devotion was planted in me as a young girl. I felt a deep sense of devotion to God and was an avid reader of Swami Vivekananda’s books. I also enjoyed visiting temples and chanting devotional songs (bhajans). I went to a Catholic boarding school and was greatly influenced by Bible studies and enjoyed going to Mass and reciting the novena.

However, when I was a teenager, I won an intercollegiate beauty pageant, and my whole world changed. I was offered modeling roles in commercials and runway shows in Mumbai, and I continued my modeling career in New York. At first, it was glamorous, exciting, and fun. But after living in this world for a few years, I felt increasingly disenchanted by the superficiality of it. I was seeking something more meaningful to ground me, which led me to the meditation center where I met my first teacher, who was from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. I started attending and learning Buddhist teachings. I felt very connected to the teachings and regularly visited the monastery, where I graduated from the cloistered traditional three-year retreat program and became an ordained nun.

What did your life before monasticism teach you about attachment? Before I became a monastic, I lived in New York City, and I was very much “in the world.” I loved all things beautiful, so I had a large collection of jewelry, designer clothes, bags, shoes, makeup, and so on. I believed it gave me value and was very attached to my possessions. When I went into the three-year cloistered retreat, I gave up all my possessions, and it was very freeing. The less attachment I had, the more profound the freedom I felt. The teachings on how our attachments cause us suffering then made perfect sense.

What is your favorite non-Buddhist book? The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. The main character travels the world in search of treasures. It relates to my own life, since metaphorically I went searching for gold all over the world and then found that it was always within me.

Do you recall when you first learned about death and how it affected you? One of the most poignant moments in my life was the unexpected death of my mother. This was a huge turning point for me, as I learned the truth of impermanence, that nothing stays forever, and the only permanent thing is change.

What is the most challenging thing about being a monastic? Not having adequate financial resources. For example, one needs certain essentials like a car, gas, insurance, and a phone, and it is challenging to pay the bills, or not having the funds to travel to teach. And if you opt to work to pay the bills, it can be very difficult to live in both worlds.

Can you describe a feeling of doubt or uncertainty you had in your practice and how you dealt with it? When my teacher passed away, I had major doubts about whether I would continue on the path. While my teacher was alive, living among the sangha was very harmonious. However, after his passing, there was a lot of uncertainty. But I remembered what he said: “I have taught you everything, now you must practice,” so I continued on the path. The teacher is very important in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, because he is the one who gives you the pointing out instruction to the nature of your mind. With a skilled and realized teacher, that insight you experience is something invaluable. That is when the student’s practice really begins, when you have had the direct experience of glimpsing into the nature of your mind, the luminous consciousness. It is very esoteric and cannot be explained in words.

What part of the teachings do your students struggle with the most? Most often students struggle with mindfulness meditation. Although it’s a very simple practice, it’s quite profound. New students find it difficult to sit and be silent and look within. Mindfulness meditation should be compulsory in schools, since it gives us the tools and techniques to transform our outlooks to be more optimistic and positive. Teaching everyone this would greatly benefit mental health and well-being.

In June, watch Lama Aria Drolma’s Dharma Talk at tricycle.org/dharmatalks.

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