From The Scotsman
Buddhist nun Ani Rinchen Khandro is having a bit of a wardrobe crisis. It’s not quite in the same league as back in the days when she modelled for a living in Swinging Sixties London, or even when she was faced with the dilemma of what to wear for her date with her soccer heartthrob boyfriend George Best.
Nor does it quite match the day she bumped into old friend, filmmaker Roman Polanski in Paris and he asked her to model some outfits so he could choose what to buy his actress wife Sharon Tate.
Instead she’s realised that the nice red sandals that match her cool summer version of her Buddhist nun’s robes – an ankle length, sleeveless swathe of burgundy cotton trimmed with yellow – are absolutely nowhere to be found.
“They’re the exact shade of red, they match perfectly,” she complains.
“You can’t have been a clothes designer and not think of these things a little.”
She breaks into a broad smile
and suddenly, in spite of the bald pate – her long blonde locks were chopped off 15 years ago when she vowed to leave behind a world of designer clothes, Hollywood stars and the excess of modern life – there’s a glimmer of the model she once was, the young woman who caught the eye of the country’s most eligible bachelor, collaborated on a Hollywood movie while still in her early 20s and became known for her striking similarity to Sixties “supermodel” Jean Shrimpton.
Today Rinchen, 54, is sitting in a New Town terrace, talking about how she has arrived in Edinburgh with plans to drive forward the city’s Buddhist movement from cramped “make do” premises to their very own temple.
In front of her is the shrine she has already carefully tended to, there is a heady and slightly overwhelming whiff of incense and Buddha statues gaze over rows of 12 cushions, laid out for the next meditation or prayer session.
“It’s far too small here,” she complains. “We need space for 50, sometimes 60 people. More are coming all the time, from all walks of life. This is the capital city branch but it’s never really totally flowed. Now I’m here to pull it together.”
And that means everything from finding suitable premises to raising at least £300,000.
She has come from Europe’s oldest Tibetan Buddhist Monastery, Kagyu Samye Ling, on the banks of the Esk, near Lockerbie, to help propel Edinburgh’s Buddhist movement – supporters include former Scottish Parliament speaker Sir David Steel – from its small-scale operation within the Theosophical Society premises in Great King Street to a thriving community with its own temple.
And if the robes and shaven head give the appearance of a gentle woman more likely to be found in deep meditation, they fail to tell the whole story of her journey from Sixties model and friend to the stars, to Buddhist nun…
Back then she was Jackie Glass, raised in Manchester by a father from a Russian Jewish family and an Irish Catholic mother. And her world revolved around glamorous photoshoots, her sports car, and mingling with some of the biggest celebrities of the day.
“People said I looked like Jean Shrimpton,” she laughs. “But I didn’t take modelling very seriously at all. I didn’t like being told what to do. I liked the nice clothes but my first love was writing.”
She was living in trendy Sixties London when she met French screen writer Gerard Brach, a friend of Polish film director Roman Polanski and who went on to write the screenplay for The Name of the Rose, Tess and Manon des Sources. Aged just 19, she went on to collaborate in a major movie, The White Ladder, starring Jacqueline Bissett.
But it was her friendship with Polanski and his tragic wife Sharon Tate – murdered by Charles Manson’s gang in a sickening Hollywood killing spree – that is most poignant.
“I bumped into Roman Polanski in Paris once,” she remembers. “He asked me to go shopping to buy something for his wife, Sharon Tate. We were the same size, so I tried the clothes on so he could see how they would look on her.
“A few weeks later I was in Spain when I heard what had happened. It was so shocking. To think that just weeks earlier I’d been trying on what would be her clothes.”
She was so immersed in the world of movies and film stars, that the dashing young Irish footballer she met around that time in a Manchester nightclub was hardly going to leave her starstruck.
“I didn’t really know how famous he was,” she laughs.
Yet the pair were soon deeply in love. Belfast playboy Best – British football’s first superstar – had just been named European Footballer of the Year and his every move was tracked by a legion of fans and photographers.
“He was just 22 and quite naive in a lot of ways,” she reflects. “Because I’d lived in London I thought I was very sophisticated, and I used to show him around. We were daft and young and in love.”
The relationship fizzled out – partly as Rinchen struggled with the spotlight Best’s fame placed on their romance and partly as she strove to satisfy her own ambitions. She moved into design, working in clothes and fabrics, and explored her musical talents, making a pop record which charted in Australia.
She was living in Bali when Buddhist writings first made an impact on her life. But it would not be until 1994, after she had heard the Dalai Lama speak at the Dumfriesshire monastery, that she realised her future lay as a Buddhist nun.
The glamorous trappings of her life had to go. Sex became a taboo, the clothes she once loved to show off were ditched and her long blonde hair was cut.
“There was a queue of people wanting to shave it off for me,” she recalls. “At first I was a bit concerned, but it was actually very liberating to have it cut off.
“Not having to worry about what clothes to wear every day is actually very freeing. I have time to do things that are more interesting.”
Now all that really matters is finding a location for Edinburgh’s new temple.
Already she’s spotted a property near the Gallery of Modern Art. If it falls through, there are at least two other sites with potential.
And while there’s roughly £130,000 raised already, she’d like at least £170,000 more to really get the facility off the ground.
Eventually the Edinburgh temple would offer followers of Tibetan Buddhism a place to pray and meditate, space for her to teach her Qigong and Tai Chi, and room for regular gatherings and talks.
Certainly there appears to be a growing demand for its services. “Life is very fast these days,” says Rinchen, “What is happening to the economy is a good time for people to re-evaluate their lives.
“My life has been simplified and if everyone did that to a certain degree then the whole world could be a better place.”
SHE may have left behind a world of Hollywood glamour and football stars, but Buddhist nun Ani Rinchen Khandro hasn’t quite escaped celebrities.
Singer Annie Lennox was so moved by an article Rinchen wrote about her faith, that she invited her to watch her perform at a charity concert alongside Smokey Robinson and Michael Jackson. Later the former Eurythemics singer gave her proceeds to the Scottish Buddhist monastery.
In 2006 she wrote to her supporting moves to convert a church in the Old Town into a Buddhist temple. The plans for Blackfriars Street United Presbyterian Church fell through.
In her letter, the pop star wrote: “A facility such as this in the capital city of Scotland would be so appropriate, bearing in mind that culturally Edinburgh is regarded as a groundbreaking, finger-on-the-pulse, kind of place.”
Billy Connolly is another friend who has supported her efforts to raise money for the Dumfriesshire monastery – he calls her “Baldie”.