Venerable Elisabeth: a pioneer of Buddhism in France

- through Fabrice Groult

Published on

Meeting with the director of the Kalachakra center, disciple of Lama Thoubten Yeshé and French nun for more than thirty years, follower of a pragmatic and current approach to dharma.

How did you discover Buddhism?

It was in 1973, I was a student and I asked myself questions about the meaning of life without finding an answer. Until certain readings made me discover Buddhism. But at the time, there was not much in France. At the end of my studies, I therefore left for India with the wish to learn to meditate. Step by step, I arrived at the monastery of Kopan, in Nepal, and there, I had the impression of returning home. I stayed there for five years; I studied the Dharma there, met my masters and made long retreats.

What inspired you to become a nun and teach?

Becoming a nun is a calling. Family life was not for me, I felt like I was destined for something else. When I saw that women could take vows in Buddhism, I kept wanting to take this ordination. What I have done. Things then flowed naturally. In Nepal, we were an international community. Our masters began to be invited by returning students. Being the only Frenchwoman, they asked me to do the same thing and organize lessons around their visit. Then we started thinking about the possibility of creating centers open to all. By creating these structures in France, I wanted to be able to translate Buddhism for a local audience. It was close to my heart, but the weight of the responsibilities, in front of the masters, the lineage, sometimes weighed on me.

You created and are the manager of the Kalachakra center. Can you tell us more?

It is a center in the heart of the city, for city dwellers who have a family, a job, not much time, but who want to know the Dharma. We have study programs for beginners and more seasoned disciples. We also offer meditation sessions, with a secular vocabulary so that people are comfortable. We have also created a center for retreat outside Paris. Different meditation techniques are taught here.

Do you think that the fact that this center is run by a woman can encourage more women to visit it?

I cannot answer this question. When I go to other centers, I see the same number of women. In general, spirituality inspires women much more than men.

How can a person who is interested in Buddhism orient himself between the different traditions in France?

It's good to visit the different traditions and see how it feels. And go where you can grow on the path of the Buddha. Afterwards, it is good to stabilize in a style of studies. If we peck right and left, we are treading water. It is important to take the time at the start to choose well.

Apart from formal practice, how can we integrate meditation into our daily life?

The practice and study of meditation should be integrated into every moment of life. Meditation is first and foremost the study of how the mind works. This is the subject of the Buddha's teaching. It is therefore important to study the texts and to examine through one's own experience and meditation how this translates. Then to correct what is malfunctioning, what is causing suffering… Meditation is all that, not just sitting on the cushion and observing your breath.

Many people who have started practicing meditation find it difficult to stick with it. What advice could you give them?

Rigor and discipline are qualities that generally apply as soon as effort and regularity are required to achieve something. When you want to lose weight, you do exercises every day. Disciplining your mind comes from the same motivation: wanting improvement, being better, happier in your life. Thus, one can meditate in the morning, if only for ten or fifteen minutes. And also in the evening, after our day, to take stock of what happened, to see what our thoughts were, whether they were benevolent or negative, and how to apply the antidotes. These are two crucial moments of the day.

“Meditation is first and foremost the study of how the mind works. This is the subject of the Buddha's teaching. It is therefore important to study the texts and to examine through one's own experience and meditation how this translates. Meditation is all that, not just sitting on the cushion and watching your breath. »

What do you think of the current craze for meditation and its use in personal development?

You mean mindfulness, I imagine. I think it's something positive, I'm not anti-mindfulness at all. It comes from a Buddhist meditation technique and brings ease and serenity. We can thus see that suffering, like happiness, comes from within. It is a very Buddhist and beneficial message. It remains to be seen what we do with it, since it is a means and not an end. So in companies, if employees are trained in mindfulness to perform better, the motivation is not very positive. But if this method can reduce stress, it is positive.

Our hyperconnected societies promote mental dispersion. How can meditation help us?

Cultivating mindfulness enriches meditation, study, the spiritual process in general. But meditation is not only a practice of attention: it is getting to know yourself, knowing how your mind works and how to transform it. Mindfulness promotes the positive results of meditation, but it is not enough. What is important is to understand how and why emotions arise, how they make us suffer or bring us well-being.

Many of us find it difficult to love ourselves. How can Buddhism help us love ourselves better?

This is a typically Western problem. I met the Dharma with lamas who had not met many Westerners, they were very surprised by this. In Eastern culture, we do not encounter this problem. In the teachings it is stated that it is important to love yourself, otherwise it is impossible to love others. We can cultivate this attitude through different meditations and focus, for example, on the qualities that this existence offers us. We live in a country at peace, we benefit from material comfort, we have encountered the Dharma, we can study, practice, improve our qualities… And thanks to this, we can achieve Enlightenment.

photo of author

Fabrice Groult

Fabrice Groult is an adventurer, photographer and Buddhist who has traveled the world since a young age. After studying Buddhism in India, he embarked on an eighteen-month journey through Asia that took him to the Himalayas, where he discovered his passion for photography. Since then, he has traveled the world capturing images of Buddhist beauty and wisdom. He was a guide for ten years, and is now a journalist with Buddhist News.

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