Over the years Tara Dhatu has arranged for sponsorships for a number of Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Jackie Johnson has adopted several women, sending them steady support to allow them to continue their education and their commitment to the dharma. One of her precious nuns, Ani Sampten passed away just a few days ago.
Here is Jackie’s story…..
In 1990, at a talk in Seattle, Lama Wangdor asked for sponsors for independent Yogis meditating in the caves above his monastery in Tso Pema, India. I told him I was willing, but only for a woman. He smiled broadly and said he had just the one! … a wonderful Yogini, about 50 years old and a very good practitioner, living and meditating with very scarce resources in one of Padmasambhava’s caves.
Thus began a twenty-three year, long distance relationship, of mutual support and commitment with Ani Samten Dolma. I sent her financial support and benefited greatly from the many prayers she said for me.
Ani Samten spoke no English. She shared information with me in letters written by a translator. Born into a nomad family in Tibet, she spent many happy hours with the family goats and yaks. Shortly after she became a nun she lost her family to the Chinese invasion. She escaped the Chinese by walking over the Himalayas. She entered India as a refugee and was placed on a road repair gang as were many Tibetans. The hot climate and working conditions were terrible and Ani Samten contracted TB.
One day a representative from H.H. the Dalai Lama came to inspect the camp. He saw how sick Ani Samten was and arranged for her transfer to Dharmasala. From there she went to Tso Pema, the Lotus Lake of Padmasambhava, to be a solitary Yogini doing Tara practice in one of the caves.
I never imagined I would meet her face to face in this lifetime. But then came our Tara Dhatu Peace Pilgrimage to India in 2001. How can I explain how wonderful it felt to actually meet Ani Samten? She made the arduous bus journey from Tso Pema to Dharamsala just to meet me. I was astonished and thrilled! She brought a young woman attendant with her, Karma Choying Dolma (age 16). Nancy Lilliha Herington became Karma’s sponsor! They stayed in Dharmasala for five days. They met Tara dancers from around the world, observed our practices, attended dance events, shared meals, and went with us to the dance presentations and teachings of the H.H. the17th Karmapa and of H.E.Tai Situ Rinpoche. We talked via translators, exchanged many gifts and hugs, and shared heartfelt wishes to meet again in the future.
I always hoped that I would someday visit Tso Pema to once more embrace my dear friend. But duties to my mother have prevented my traveling and so I could only send money and letters. Over the years, Ani Samten suffered increasingly serious health problems including arthritis, lung/breathing difficulties, and heart disease. In 2012, she had a severe health emergency requiring hospitalization. I knew she was very ill.
February 7th I received an email from Prema. She was in Tso Pema and had been looking for Ani Sampten. The weather had been brutal, big rain storms with lightening and thunder. She had managed to make contact with Karma and was to visit Ani Sampten when word came that Ani-la had passed away.
Prema was able to help with the death ceremony offerings and could give Ani Samten’s friends my sincerest feelings of sympathy. It was a brilliant, blue sky day, as if the elements were celebrating that great yogini’s dharmic achievements.
I know our heart connection will continue forever.
I will never forget Ani Samten’s beautiful smile!