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Turning Toward Pain

Pema Chödrön discusses her discovery of Buddhism and explains how pain can be a great spiritual teacher.

Continued from page 2

I didn't even know that Chögyam Trungpa was a Buddhist teacher, or that it was Buddhism I was reading about. Once I connected with it, though, I never looked back. I felt-and I still feel-as if I had connected with an unfinished story, or rediscovered a path that I'd lost long ago.



After I'd read that article, I moved up to the Lama Foundation in northern New Mexico for the summer. (My children were with their father.) I remember seeing Allen Ginsberg drive up in his Volkswagen bug with Tsultrim Allione, who was then a Tibetan nun. When she got out of the car, I was struck by her robes and everything about her. It was almost a physical shock. And I remember thinking to myself:

What is this?

I hardly remember Allen at all. I started talking with Tsultrim, and I must have mentioned the article, or maybe she mentioned that her teacher was Chögyam Trungpa. She said that if I wanted to meet him I could come with her up to Boulder, Colorado, where he taught.



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I would have done it, but a few days later an old boyfriend of mine arrived at the Lama Foundation and told me that he was on his way to a Sufi camp in the French Alps. Because I was still in enormous pain over my divorce, I wanted to go with him. I was jumping blind, looking for some sort of help. All my friends told me I was crazy just to go off like that. But it turned out I wasn't crazy.



A Tibetan Buddhist lama came to the camp. His name was Lama Chime. When I saw him, I had the same experience that I'd had with Tsultrim. His talk didn't make any sense to me, but the minute it was over I went up to him and asked, "Could I study with you?" He didn't have a center or anything like that, but he lived in London and said if I came there, he would give me some instruction. After I'd been with Lama Chime for two weeks, I took refuge, a vow through which one formally enters the Buddhist path. Then I took the bodhisattva vow, a personal vow to seek enlightenment and help others do the same. Two years later I was a nun. I thought I was so worldly-wise. I was only thirty-six years old.



Do you recall having any early spiritual or religious inclinations?

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I have no memories of any childhood spiritual aspirations, though I was raised Catholic. But some friends I grew up with say that they always thought of me as a spiritual person. For example, one woman I know from those days once said to me: "When my cousin died, you were the only one who really sat down with me and talked with me about the fact that my very close relative had drowned." We must have been fifteen years old at the time.



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Interview by James Kullander
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