Spanish Nun Dies Under Bodhi Tree

The following article is from the Spring, 1998 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

by Bhikshuni Jampa Chokyi

Among the western nuns who came to Bodh Gaya in February, 1998 for the full ordination ceremony organized by Fo Kwan Shan Chinese Monastery, there were eleven nuns from Samye Ling Buddhist Centre in Scotland, accompanied by their teacher Lama Yeshe Losal, who had been asked to participate in the ceremonies. One of them was a Spanish nun, Patricia Baeza or Karma Chophel Dronma. Patricia had met the Dharma in 1978 in Ibiza, in a meditation course with Lama Thubten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. She was married and aged 23 or 24 at the time. She was a very intelligent and kind person who since childhood had a heart problem. Patricia became involved in helping the Nagarjuna center in Spain, together with her husband Jose Juan. Sometime later, during a course led by the Kargyu lama Akong Rinpoche in Madrid, her heart stopped and she practically died. She was brought back to life somehow, and a pacemaker was inserted in her body. After that, Patricia gave up her comfortable life and her husband. She went to Akong Rinpoche's center in Scotland and started the preliminary practices needed for engaging in a traditional three-year retreat. The retreat became a four-year retreat, during which Patricia took novice vows and became Karma Chophel Dronma. Afterwards she did another three-year retreat, followed by a solitary retreat on Dorje Phagmo, during which she kept total silence.

Patricia and I corresponded sometimes. I am a good friend of her mother Mary, but hadn't met Chophel Dronma since 1987.1 always felt that she was a very special person, a good meditator with a great sense of renunciation and determination. I was very keen on meeting her at Bodh Gaya, but when I saw her, I had a strange feeling. She seemed very detached from everyone and everything. We met the day before the actual training started and took a walk to the village to make a phone call to her mother. When I asked her about her health she replied, The bigger problems are getting better with meditation, but the smaller ones are worse, and she complained about how painful her legs were from sitting in meditation for so many years. I asked whether she took a walk or did some exercise when in retreat, and she replied: When I'm in retreat, I never come out of my room. I try sometimes to do some yoga, but never keep it up. I don't like to waste time with meaningless things, I like to meditate.

Two days later I saw Patricia again. It was after lunch and she told me how tired she was from the strenuous schedule, beginning at 4:30 A.M. and finishing at 11:30 P.M. She had not told the organizers about her heart condition, but that evening she finally did.

The next morning, February 19th, the nuns were taken to the stupa to do some prayers. They started with Chinese prayers, followed by Pali verses and finally they began reciting the Twenty-One Praises to Tara, from the Tibetan tradition. The previous night Lama Yeshe had not slept well and unusually had decided to go to the stupa in the early morning. At 5:45, when the nuns were starting to walk around the stupa and the Bodhi Tree while reciting the Tara prayers, Chophel Dronma suddenly fell down and passed away. Lama Yeshe rushed to her and held her in his arms; there was no breath, no heart beating, no life. She died instantly, aged 44, right under the holy Bodhi Tree, without any suffering or pain. An Indian doctor was summoned but he could only certify her death.

Immediately, word spread around Bodh Gaya, and the bante (bhiksu) in charge of the Mahabodhi Temple kindly offered his assistance. Chophel Dronma's body was taken to the receiving room of his office, laid on a wooden plank and covered with her chogu', the yellow robe. In the afternoon, Lama Yeshe, his nuns and some other monks and nuns performed a brief C'henrezig puja in front of her body.

A coffin was then brought in and filled with blocks of ice, and Chophel Dronma's body was laid inside. Her face was uncovered for all to see: the peaceful, smiling face of a sixteen-year-old maiden.

The next day in the afternoon, Patricia's sister and her husband arrived in Bodh Gaya, and the funeral was arranged for the following afternoon. On 21st February, the 25th in the Tibetan calendar, at three P.M., the lamas, monks and nuns from all the monasteries in Bodh Gaya, as well as a large crowd of lay people, gathered around Chophel Dronma's body. The Chinese chanted Amitabha's name, the Theravada monks sang Pali verses and the Samye Ling nuns did Chenrezig prayers and mantra. Although she had died one day before the bhiksuni ordination ceremony, she was given posthumously the certificate of ordination, a copy of which was laid on her chest to be burned with her, in accordance with the Chinese tradition. The coffin was closed, covered with a yellow cloth and flowers and katas placed on it. A jeep carried it across the river Nairanjana to the cremation place. Her body was placed upon the pyre, covered with large logs, and ghee, incense, candles and katas were placed on it. Her sister lit the pyre and we all walked around it singing prayers and mantes.

The body burned with beautiful flames. The sun came out between the clouds, projecting a canopy of light rays over Bodh Gaya. Everyone was moved and amazed and commented that there are no records of anyone dying under the Bodhi Tree. There have been deaths at Bodh Gaya, but not right under the Tree. Many people come to that place wishing to end their life at such a blessed spot, but very few have their wish fulfilled. And now, a Spanish nun had made it. She must have a great amount of merit and bodhicitta, everyone commented. Her friends from Samye Ling kept full control over their emotions and gave a very good example to everyone. This was the best ordination that nuns could have wished for.

The fire burned all night and in the morning the ashes were divided. Some were taken by the Taiwanese nuns, others were to be distributed in the holy places in India, and the rest were taken back to Spain for her family.

Patricia-Chophel Dronma has been such an inspiration to others, by her death and during her life. She did very strong meditation practice and was able to achieve some realizations. Her sister said she had always been very hardheaded, always did what she wanted and insisted in doing long retreats in spite of her poor health. Once she stopped eating and said she did not need food. Her teachers were getting worried and contacted her family. Her mother wrote to her and said that unless she started to eat, the family would take her away to a hospital. Patricia got very upset and replied: You have no faith in me. She had given up attachment to this life and was living in a different world, a world that her family found difficult to understand. Before leaving for India, she had told a friend: I will not come back to Scotland. I am going to die in Bodh Gaya. Karma Chophel Dronma achieved something we all wish to accomplish: She was able to benefit others immensely with her life and with her death. ä_æ

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