Karya grew up in a mid-sized city in the Andes mountains in Colombia. As a young girl, she expressed numerous aspirations for her future. The first she recollects was the earnest wish to be a professional basketball player, preferably in the WNBA. Later, she wanted to be an astrophysicist so that she could understand the cosmos. She recalls a third ambition which she actually did achieve, which was to be able to do something with her life that she would have been willing to do even if she was not paid – something she thought worth doing even if she only received room and board to do it. Karya’s family had a small farm outside of town where spent many childhood hours running chores for her father- when she wasn’t slipping off to kick a ball around or play with the animals. Among her fondest chores was to bring food to their cows and bathe them. Her parents liked to recount how they gifted her with her own small cowgirl hat and staff because she was so enamored of the hats and staffs she saw her parents use when on the farm. Her father tells her she was very clear at the time about her intention to have many cows when she was older.
When it came time to choose a career, Karya took the opportunity to pursue one of her dreams and enrolled in a physics program. After three years of hard-core STEM study, she ended up changing course and took a left turn into language study. In Colombia, this means starting undergraduate studies over again from the beginning, and so after another five years of study in Bogotá, she graduated with an undergraduate degree in modern languages, and full fluency in English and French, as well as Spanish. Her degree in hand, Karya opened her own language institute back in her provincial hometown of Duitama. For four years, she helped her fellow Duitamans gain confidence in speaking the English (and French) that would open doors for them. In 2015, she began graduate school in semiotics, and received her MA in 2018.
By that time, Karya had also discovered Buddhism, after her sister Yeny stumbled across a video with “some strange person with a shaved head” while scouring Youtube for something quite different. The two of them traveled to Mexico to attend a retreat with the Buddhist nuns they had seen on Youtube (faceBuda) and after returning to Colombia, they began the Community Dharmadatta’s seven-year study program. Several years later Karya traveled alone to Mexico to approach them again to express her aspiration to take monastic vows and join their community. After a lengthy evaluation process during which the nuns determined that Karya was considerably better suited to the monastic life than to the WNBA or NASA.
Karya was the first member of Dharmadatta Community to receive her ordination vows from a nun rather than a monk. In August 2021, the Venerable Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron together with other bhikhunis from Sravasti Abbey granted Karya her shramanerika vows. She has been living in rural Virginia as one of the Dharmadatta nuns since then.
As a Buddhist nun, her days are dedicated to study, contemplation and service and her life in community is essential to her spiritual practice. She has taken a particularly active role in the development of our environmental programs and is also enthusiastic about the study of sutras and our programs in Buddhist art. As she had dreamt her path in life is one chosen not her the material rewards but for meaning and purpose, and is sustained not by a salary but by others’ kindness and the deep satisfaction of having the opportunity to live as she does.
Back in Colombia, Karya’s sister Yeny teaches at a college in the city of Bucaramanga, and manages the Dharmadatta Community’s online meditation halls. Her other sister Lucero started her own fruit processing business and her brother Henry works in transportation, both in Duitama where her father lives as well. Karya lost her mother in 2010.
If in one sense, Karya has left her childhood home behind, in another she has brought much from home with her, and our community has been much enriched by that. Our neighbors here in Virginia have cows. Lots of cows. On our frequent walks in the area neighboring our home, Karya is the only one of us whom cows have actually been known to approach when she stops to talk to them. When joining Damcho and Lodro as they putter in the less-than-straight rows of their vegetable garden, Karya has been noted to shake her head and wonder aloud what her father would say if he could see them at work. There is refreshingly little light pollution where we live, and Karya keeps an eye on the calendar of meteors showers, and makes sure we haul some mats outside and lie looking up at the stars when the nighttime sky is hosting a show. The Community does not, however, have a basketball court.