I gave up a life of riches with my millionaire love to live in a Buddhist hut; As her wealthy lover proposed, offering her a Venetian apartment as an engagement present, Scots teacher Gabrielle McGuire realised all she wanted was to become a Buddhist nun.
Samantha Booth, Daily Record, Scotland: As a Buddhist nun, Kelsang Machig leads a simple life. She shaves her hair, doesn’t wear any make-up and doesn’t have many material possessions.
She’s celibate, teetotal and loves to spend time on her own in empty huts meditating. A far cry from the life she could have had if she hadn’t chosen to become ordained.
If she had accepted the marriage proposal from her handsome, multi-millionaire boyfriend a few months before she decided to become a nun she could have spent the rest of her life jet setting while decked out in designer gear and dripping with diamonds.
But the mum-of-three from Glasgow chose the maroon and yellow nun’s robes instead.
The 53 year-old said: ‘There is a little story I tell which best illustrates why I made the choice I did.
‘I had spent a weekend on silent retreat in a hut with nothing in it except a sink and a bed. Weeks later my partner took me on holiday to the best hotel in Venice.
‘He proposed to me, offering a luxury Venetian apartment as a wedding present and wined and dined me in all the best restaurants, but, when I compared the two holidays, I made a realisation. ‘When I was on my own in the hut I was possibly the happiest I had ever been and that feeling came totally from within.
‘In Venice I was having a great time but my happiness was dependent on all the things we had – the plush hotel, the sumptuous dinners and the expensive champagne so I turned the lovely man down and became a nun.’
That was 18 months ago and Kelsang Machig was ordained last summer.
She is coy when asked about her former boyfriend and refuses to name him, or show us his picture, but she assures us that while he was a successful businessman he isn’t a well- known figure.
Back when they first met she had simply been Gabrielle McGuire, who worked as a remedial teacher in Glasgow Academy.
She admits she had always been looking for something else in her life.
An old hippy at heart and interested in alternative ways of living she had tried it all from crystal healing to Reiki, but it wasn’t until she was first introduced to Buddhism more than eight years ago that she began to have an inkling she had found what she was looking for.
She said: ‘I think it all started when I first took up karate 10 years ago. It is a martial art and the teachings, quite naturally, took me into Buddhism ‘Even then it wasn’t until I started classes by my current teacher, Kelsang Tarchin, four years ago that I really knew I had found how I wanted to lead my life.
‘He taught mehow to bring the teachings of Buddha into everyday life and once I started to try to do what he said I saw it worked. I was hooked and wanted to know more and more I became a devoted student.’
Machig had only been learning under Tarchin for a year when he asked her to pass on what she had learned to others by becoming a Buddhist teacher but the twinkly-eyed mum wasn’t sure she was ready.
Although she happily followed the ways of Buddha, instructing others meant taking vows, like giving up toxins, that she wasn’t sure she was prepared to take just yet.
But she also knew she wanted the chance to help people find the kind of life she had found.
She said: ‘I had learned how to deal with anger, how to banish guilt, how to watch for the moments in every situation which used to annoy or irritate me and how to stop feeling like that.
‘I knew the teachings could have the same affects on others who wanted to learn.’
Over the years Machig became more and more involved in her religion, passing a lot of her knowledge on to her three sons.
But it wasn’t until she and a friend meditated through the Bells at New Year in 2002 that she knew for sure she wanted to take it that one step further and become a nun.
She said: ‘I found such great peace in being a Buddhist I wanted to take it as far as I could.
‘The idea had been forming for a while but although it wasn’t a flash of lightning, meditating while everyone else was partying was a really poignant moment for me and helped me to make my decision.’
WITHIN 48 hours of asking for ordination Machig was told she could fulfil her dream. In June last year she shaved her waist length hair and put on her new set of robes for the first time and prepared to start her life as a nun.
She was no longer Gabrielle McGuire but Kelsang Machig and she admits she sometimes still forgets what she is and thinks: ‘My goodness, I am a nun.’
She said: ‘I am so happy now. It is something I love doing and I am glad I am taking it as far as I can.’
Her parents found her transformation hard to take but they soon saw how happy becoming a nun made their daughter. Her sons on the other hand took it all in their stride. The youngest, 17 year-old Tom thinks it’s cool to have a Buddhist nun as a mum, her middle son Peter, 23, doesn’t have a problem with it and her eldest son, 24 -year-old Robert, had a surprise in store for Machig. The musician had grown-up with his mum’s Buddhist beliefs and like his younger brother Peter took classes and went on retreat.
But once he had seen his mum ordained he decided he too wanted to swap his rock band for monk’s robes.
He was ordained a month after his mum and as an ordained nun herself Machig was in the unique position of being able to attend her own son’s vow taking and was with him as he took his new name, Oche.
She said: ‘It was an incredibly special moment for me and a very moving ceremony. I was really excited by it all.’
Machig was also certain about something else. She knew she wanted to keep teaching even after she was ordained but did wonder what the reaction of the school, the pupils and their parents might be.
She said: ‘I tried to prepare them all in advance and include everybody as much as I could.They were all fantastic about it but I still think it was a bit of a shock for everyone when I first turned up with my hair all shaved off in my robes.
‘Especially as they all knew how much I loved my clothes, make-up and jewellery.’
But the newly-ordained nun knew she wouldn’t miss any of her material possessions andhad already given most of them away.
And what impressed Machig more than anything was the ease with which her pupils accepted her.
She said: ‘They were full of questions about my hair and my robes, but they really did take it all in their stride.
‘I told them it was now my job to be happy and they ask me all the time if I am happy today.’
Machig believes it is good for the world to see her out and about in her robes.
She doesn’t believe in ramming her beliefs down anyone else’s throats but thinks it is good for people to become accustomed to the diversity she brings.
And she says since she has been out and about in Scotland wearing them she has never had a negative reaction.
She said: ‘People look and smile andsome even come up and ask mewhy I am wearing them, but that’s all good.’
She might have turned down untold material riches and luxuries to become a nun but Machig is adamant she is far richer as she is.[Original article no longer available]