Passing away of Gelongma Migme Chödrön, October 11, 2016
Monastic celebration at Gampo Abbey – Ani Migme enjoying her ice cream
On October 11, 2016 Gelongma Migme Chödrön passed away at Karma Changchub Ling Meditation center in Fall River Nova Scotia. Ani Migme as she was known to anyone who met her during her long tenure at Gampo Abbey for many she embodied what it was to be a western Buddhist monastic. Her commitment to monasticism was unwavering and her influence on life at Gampo Abbey was all pervasive. In 2008 a short biography and interview with Ani Migme The Fortunate Life of Ani Migme was included in the Abbey’s newsletter The Lionsroar. Click here to read the full article in PDF form.
In addition to her unwavering commitment to the monastic tradition Migme Chödrön worked tirelessly to make the dharma available to others through her work as a transcriber, editor and translator of Buddhist teachings. Gampo Abbey has had the privilege to host many prominent Buddhist teachers over the years most of whom would give teachings to the community. Ani Migme transcribed and edited all of these teachings which amounted to dozens of talks, most in the early years were done with a manual typewriter. Many of these talks became the basis for some of the earliest published teachings of their kind available to western students including Acharya Pema Chödrön’s first book. In later years working in conjunction with Lodro Sangpo under the mandate of the Chökyi Gyatso Translation Committee, Ani Migme translated many scholarly Buddhist texts from French into English. For more details on her translation work visit the Karma Changchub Ling website.
We will post tributes here on the life of Gelongma Migme Chödrön.
TRIBUTE BY ACHARYA PEMA CHODRON TO MIGME CHODRON
Venerable Migme Chödrön
June 15 1924 – October 11 2016
My beloved friend Bhikshuni Migme Chödrön, with whom I have shard so much, has passed away at the venerable age of 92. I will miss her greatly. Ani Migme and I met at the 1978 Vajradhatu Seminary, led by our teacher the Vidyadhara Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche. I was her meditation instructor and there we began our great adventure together, not giving up on each other through many years of high and low, sweet and sour, rough and smooth.
In those early days of our relationship, her name was Thelma Habgood and she and her husband Harry lived in Edmonton where they founded and oversaw the Edmonton Dharmadhatu. In 1984 they moved to Halifax where they supported Gampo Abbey by hosting monastics and laypeople on the way to and from the Abbey. During this period Thelma frequently came to the Abbey and our relationship became simultaneously more open hearted and more prickly. In 1988 she and Harry moved to the Abbey permanently and gradually it became clear to Thelma that she wanted to become a nun. In 1989 she received novice vows from Venerable Thrangu Rinpoche and Harry built a separate residence on Abbey property, where he lived until his death.
Karme Migme Chödrön, as she was named by Thrangu Rinpoche, was now my Chödrön sister and we were to live together at the Abbey for the next 20 plus years. Later in 1994 Ani Migme went on to take full Bhikshuni vows and she and I became 2 of the 4 elders at the Abbey.
Then in the 1990’s we were among the first group of students to do the three year retreat at Sopa Choling (our retreat center). There we lived in even closer quarters and again rubbed up against each other repeatedly. It was becoming clear to both of us that we had a very old Karmic relationship with lots of kinks to be worked out. Our journey was so intimately interwoven that we knew we had to learn from this how to care for each other and still remain honest and straight forward in our relationship.
Thus our great adventure continued year after year and overtime we both began to gain some real respect for each other. I began to admire Ani Migme’s steadiness and discipline. Of all of us, she was the one who kept the Abbey schedule faithfully and was always there for chants, meditation sessions, oriyoki meals, the whole shebang. She told me once, “I’ll die in the harness.” and in fact, she almost did just that, keeping the discipline and practice right up to the very end of her life. Even when she could no longer get to the shrine room she took great pleasure in having the bimonthly Sojong Ceremony done in her room and in having the Choppon bring her the Abhisheka implements during feasts.
In the fall of 2015, Ani Migme along with 3 other monastics moved to Halifax and started Karme Changchup Choling. A few years before that something profoundly shifted and softened in our friendship and we became more bonded as the Chödrön sisters. We would sit and discuss our practice and our experiences and we would read and discuss Longchenpa together. With this, something clicked in at a deeper level between us. All those years of studying and practicing and trying to run the Abbey together began to pay off and we began to care for one another.
Finally it happened that all our negative stereotypes of each other simply fell apart. Ani Migme was a pretty no-nonsense, unsentimental person and not prone to flowing language or conventional etiquettes. For instance if you gave her a gift she couldn’t really use, she very kindly just gave it right back. Therefore, it stopped me in my tracks and caused me to choke up when one day I was leaving her room and she said “I love you Ani Pema” and I was able to say without doubt “I love you too, Ani Migme”. After she moved to Halifax I talked to her weekly on the phone and was able to visit her for a number of long heartfelt conversations. Her health had been slowly deteriorating although she survived one or two(Les can check) operations with amazing stamina for a woman in her 90’s. In July she indicated that perhaps we should say our final goodbyes. Which we did tearfully and it drained her emotionally.
After that I didn’t call her anymore but checked in with Sangpo and the nuns of KCCL. She continued to live over 2 more months despite the fact she had stopped eating (except occasionally she would ask for vanilla ice cream, “Lots and lots of vanilla ice cream”).
When I’d call, I’d refer to her as “The Miracle Nun” and the updates were always that, when she was awake she was lucid and uplifted. One man reported to me that she was “luminous” and the advice she gave all visitors was “practice, practice, practice.”
The whole time I knew her, Ani Migme was always saying she was near death (for instance in our 3 years retreat, she’d always say as we began a new segment, “I only hope that I don’t die before I finish this practice!!”). After a while that became a joke between us, me asking her when was she planning to die and her saying “probably anytime now.” It was only after a few years of this bantering that she told me that most people in her family lived to be over 100!
So my dear friend has departed, and I have regular short conversations with her and still read Longchenpa out loud for her benefit. If she’s not in a pure land, I’d be very surprised, but wherever she is I send her all my love and strong aspirations for her continual happiness and well being and for her to be able to keep helping sentient beings as she had been doing as Ani Migme Chödrön Venerable Bhikshuni.
From Tyler Dewar, Dean Nalandabodhi community
On behalf of Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche and all the teachers and leadership of Nalandabodhi, I would like to extend condolences and heartfelt prayers in order to join with those who are practicing for, mourning the passing, and appreciating the inspiration of the Venerable Bhikṣuṇī Ani Migme Chödrön.
For decades at Gampo Abbey, Ani Migme held what perhaps could be considered the most central and authoritative seat of leadership of the community. Ani Migme taught and led by example, constantly and consistently. Whether through her expertise in scriptural dharma and ritual practices or through her always-available personal guidance, she displayed what it means to be a thoroughly dharmic person, and what a genuinely monastic Western lifestyle, free of pretense and contrivance, looks like.
One would be utterly confounded by an effort to identify a person more steeped in the dharma, and more inseparable from the dharma in their way of life, than Ani Migme Chödrön.
Letter from David Brown, Executive Secretary to Kongma Sakyong in honour of Ani Migme’s 90th birthday and 20th anniversary of her ordination as a bhikshuni. Read the letter.
We have collected a small selection of the 100s of photos taken during Ani Migme’s life at Gampo Abbey. If you have any photos are stories that you would like to share of your time with Ani Migme, please post them on the Abbey’s Blog.