My Robina Story
I owe meeting Ven. Robina to dog bite! In my twenties I traveled around Asia exploring and developing my interest in Buddhism. I met teachers in Nepal, India, Thailand and Japan but found the language and difference in culture limited my ability to study Buddhism in depth.

While leading a trek, I went to see Trulshik Rinpoche at Thupten Chöling Monastery in the remote Solu Khumbu region of Nepal. I didn’t know until recently that he was one of Lama Zopa Rinpoche’s teachers. Anyway he was always very friendly to me and when I trekked in the area I’d always stop by to offer him a kata (traditional Tibetan offering scarf) and receive his blessing. (There is a documentary about Trukshik Rinpoche “Destroyer of Illusion” narrated by Richard Gere.) This time as I was leaving the monastery a small dog jumped up on me and bit my hand. Hard! It was a small wound but deep and since Nepal is known for rabies I cleaned it out really well before continuing on with the trek. What great fortune this turned out to be!

On my return to Kathmandu, a doctor told me it was important to get immunized for rabies as I could get sick even months after the initial bite. I decided to get the series of shots which meant I had to stay in Kathmandu and visit the clinic frequently.
I was looking for something to do with my free time and this is when I first met Ven. Robina. She was teaching at the small FPMT center which was at that time located close to the medical clinic in Kathmandu. Immediately on meeting her I felt that she was just the teacher I was looking for. She explained everything clearly, in an easy to understand way and I found her energy and conviction inspiring. She was very practical and down-to-earth as everyone who has ever attended teachings with her knows. She put me in charge of making chai tea for the group which made me happy as I felt useful. Usually I found it hard to sit still for teachings and concentrate for meditation but with Ven. Robina I loved it! She was patient with the questions we asked her, which is especially amazing when I consider that she is still patiently answering the SAME questions on karma and rebirth today from students new to Buddhism.
I kept in touch with Ven. Robina over the years, attending her teachings when I was in Kathmandu and visiting her at Kopan Monastery nearby. It was my hope for many years that she would come to the Bay Area. I thought she’d be the perfect person to bring Dharma to my friends in San Francisco. I was extremely happy when Tse Chen Ling acquired a storefront in the Glen Park neighborhood and Ven. Robina started coming regularly from Land of Medicine Buddha where she was working as the editor of Mandala Magazine. It was at Tse Chen Ling that I finally took refuge vows with her and she gave me my Dharma name, Thubten Dekyong. Thubten is the lineage name and comes from Ven. Robina’s teacher Lama Thubten Yeshi. Dekyong is the individual name she chose for me and means “can have bliss.”
Some time after that her nephew came from Australia to film a documentary about Ven. Robina’s life and her work in prisons called “Chasing Buddha.” I met him a few times and was around for some of the filming at Tse Chen Ling and at Vajrapani Institute in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
It was also during that time that I came to a crisis in my life. I was in my mid thirties with a partner who I loved but who didn’t want to have children. I really wanted to have children but felt that if I couldn’t do that then I’d want to become a nun. I went to a retreat Ven. Robina was leading and asked her for advice. I’ll never forget how kind she was to me. Very sympathetic and completely nonjudgmental, she didn’t tell me what to do, rather encouraging me to pray and decide for myself. I felt she was with me 100% whatever I decided. She tussled my hair, got me laughing and took me out to a cafe where she treated me to some coffee and chocolate cake! Other times when I have gone to her for advice her energy has always been exactly the same and if she gave a remedy it always worked (for example to have prayers done or to do a specific practice).
To make a long story short, I had my last week long retreat with Ven. Robina at beautiful Milarepa Center in Vermont when I was seven months pregnant. I took walks every day to care for my self and Ven. Robina encouraged me to sit in a chair and be comfortable when she noticed I was getting swelling in my feet and legs from sitting on the floor. When I had my daughter I took her as soon as I could to Ven. Robina to be blessed. Even now if I have a problem or question she is always there for me. This is true for hundreds of people. I can’t imagine how she finds the time and energy to respond to all of us and still keep up with her many projects.
In 2001 Ven. Robina asked me to organize a pilgrimage for her to India and Nepal as a fundraiser for the work she was doing providing support and teachings to people in prison. She knew I had a business taking people on Himalayan treks so it seemed a good fit. However, she made it abundantly clear that this would not be “some sort of hippy, trekking thing” and she would want her students to be comfortable, stay in good hotels and that transportation etc. should all be “pukka” (first class).
Organizing the pilgrimages has been an incredible experience as I have met so many amazing people. First there are the students, many of whom are completely transformed by their experience of going on pilgrimage with Ven. Robina. I have heard many amazing experiences over the years and have made some good friends. Many pilgrims have made major changes in their lives afterwards and have done things like start Dharma Centers, work for Liberation Prison Project and be ordained as monks and nuns. I’ve also had the opportunity to get to know the other amazing Buddhist practitioners that we have invited to lead pilgrimages.
Spending time with Ven. Robina is truly a gift. Ven. Robina is the smartest person I have ever known. I think she is probably literally a genius! In all the teachings I’ve attended over the years I’ve never known her to to make a mistake. It is obvious she is channeling Dharma from qualified sources (her teachers). Her teachings are completely authentic but she also adds something of herself so that it becomes easily accessible. For an example of her teaching I recommend reading the Editor’s Introduction to “ Becoming the Compassion Buddha” by Lama Yeshe. Ven. Robina presents a concise teaching on the entire Lam Rim (graduated instructions on the path to enlightenment) that is sublime.
I am inspired every day by all of her hard work and commitment in which she is a role model. However, no description of my relationship with Ven. Robina would be complete without talking about her generosity. Ven. Robina has brought me beautiful gifts from the pilgrimages including a crystal mala (Tibetan prayer beads) and statues. However, that is nothing compared to the effort she has made to keep me practicing the Dharma.
At this point in my life, I want very much to be worthy of the kindness and attention that Ven. Robina has so generously given me. I am currently studying the FPMT Basic Buddhist Studies Program, attending and volunteering at my local Dharma Center which is Tse Chen Ling in San Francisco and continuing to organize what are now called the Dharma Journeys Pilgrimages as a fundraiser for various organizations including Ven. Robina's Bodhichitta Trust. I am extremely fortunate to have such a good life with such great opportunities to study and practice the Dharma. I owe so much to Ven. Robina (and a little dog bite).
Ven. Robina Courtin
Pictures and
Comments from
previous pilgrims
These Dharma Journeys Pilgrimages
Liberation Prison Project