This is part 2 of Bill Moyers’ 55 minute interview with Pema Chodron, courtesy of PBS.
Pema Chödrön (born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown) is a notable American figure in Tibetan Buddhism. A disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, she is an ordained nun, author, and teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage which Trungpa founded.
A prolific author, she has conducted workshops, seminars, and meditation retreats in Europe, Australia, and throughout North America. She is resident and teacher of Gampo Abbey, a monastery in rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada
Pema Chödrön was born in 1936 in New York City. She attended Miss Porters School in Farmington, Connecticut and graduated from the University of California, Berkeley. She worked as an elementary school teacher in California and New Mexico before her conversion to Buddhism.
Following a second divorce, Chödrön began to study with Lama Chime Rinpoche in the French Alps. She became a Buddhist nun in 1974 while studying with him in London. She is a fully ordained bhikṣuṇī in a combination of the Mulasarvastivadin and Dharmaguptaka lineages of vinaya, having received full ordination in Hong Kong in 1981 at the behest of the sixteenth Karmapa. She has been instrumental in trying to reestablish full ordination for nuns in the Mulasarvastivadin order, to which all Tibetan Buddhist monastics have traditionally belonged; various conferences have been convened to study the matter.
Ani Pema first met Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1972, and at the urging of Chime Rinpoche, she took him as her root guru (“Ani” is a Tibetan honorific for a nun). She studied with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. Trungpa Rinpoche’s son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, appointed Chödrön an acharya (senior teacher) shortly after assuming leadership of his father’s Shambhala lineage in 1992.
Trungpa Rinpoche appointed Ani Pema director of the Boulder Shambhala Center (then Boulder Dharmadhatu) in Colorado in the early 1980s. It was during this period that she became ill with chronic fatigue syndrome. In 1984, Ani Pema moved to Gampo Abbey and became its director in 1986. There, she published her first two books. Her health gradually improved, she claims, with the help of a homeopath and careful attention to diet.
Pema Chödrön is a member of The Committee of Western Bhikshunis which was formed in 2005. She is currently studying with the Venerable Lama Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, and spends seven months of each year in solitary retreat under his direction in Crestone, Colorado.
Chödrön continues to teach the traditional Yarne (Tib. rainy season; Sanskrit: Vassāvāsa) retreat for monastics at Gampo Abbey each winter. In recent years, she has spent the summers teaching on the Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life in Berkeley. A central theme of her teachings is shenpa, the Tibetan word for “attachment”, which she interprets as anger, low self-esteem, or addiction in response to an insult by another person.
A central theme of Pema Chödrön’s teachings is the Tibetan word shenpa, or how we get hooked.
Somebody says a mean word to you and then something in you tightens — that’s the shenpa. Then it starts to spiral into low self-esteem, or blaming them, or anger at them, denigrating yourself. And maybe if you have strong addictions, you just go right for your addiction to cover over the bad feeling that arose when that person said that mean word to you. This is a mean word that gets you, hooks you. Another mean word may not affect you but we’re talking about where it touches that sore place — that’s a shenpa. Someone criticizes you — they criticize your work, they criticize your appearance, they criticize your child — and, shenpa: almost co-arising.