Freda Bedi

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Freda Bedi
Freda Bedi and Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, at Nishat Bagh, Srinagar, 1948.jpg
Freda Bedi and Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, at Nishat Bagh, Srinagar, 1948
TitleGelongma
Other namesSister Palmo
Personal
Born
Freda Houlston

(1911-02-05)5 February 1911
England, Derby
Died26 March 1977(1977-03-26) (aged 66)
New Delhi, India
ReligionTibetan Buddhism
NationalityBritish
SpouseBaba Pyare Lal Bedi
ChildrenGulhima Bedi, Kabir Bedi, Ranga Bedi
SchoolKagyu
LineageKarma Kagyu
EducationParkfield Cedars School
St Hugh's College, Oxford
Other namesSister Palmo
OccupationSocial worker, writer, translator
Senior posting
Teacher16th Karmapa

Freda Bedi (sometimes spelled Frida Bedi, also named Sister Palmo, or Gelongma Karma Kechog Palmo) (5 February 1911 – 26 March 1977) was a British woman who was the first Western woman to take ordination in Tibetan Buddhism, which occurred in 1972.[1] She was born in Derby, England.

Early life[edit]

Freda Bedi was born in a flat above her father's shop in Derby.[2]

The family appears in the 1911 Census when Freda was two months old. Her father was killed in the First World War, in 1918, and her mother remarried in 1920, to Frank Norman Swan. She studied at Hargrave House and then at Parkfields Cedars School, both in Derby. She also spent several months studying at a school in Rheims in northern France.[3]

Life at Oxford[edit]

Bedi studied for an MA in philosophy, politics and economics (PPE) at St Hugh's College, Oxford University. She met her husband Baba Pyare Lal "BPL" Bedi, an Indian from Lahore, on her PPE course. He was a Sikh from the Bedi family, linked to a Sikh clan tracing back to Guru Nanak Dev Ji. Romance blossomed and they married at Oxford Registry Office in June 1933, in spite of the reservations of her family and disciplinary action by her college. Whilst at Oxford she became an opponent of Empire and attended meetings of the Oxford Majlis, where nationalist-minded Indian students gathered, as well as of the communist October Club and the Labour Club. At St Hugh's her closest friends included Barbara Castle,[2] later a prominent Labour cabinet minister, and the broadcaster Olive Shapley. All three women graduated with a third-class degree; Freda's husband got a fourth-class degree.[4]

Life in India[edit]

After a year in Berlin where B.P.L. Bedi was studying - and where the first child was born - Freda, her husband and baby son sailed to India in 1934. She worked as a journalist and taught English at a women's college, and with her husband published a high quality quarterly review "Contemporary India". Both were leftists and campaigning nationalists active in India's independence movement. "Baba" Bedi spent about fifteen months in a prison camp in the early stages of World War Two. Freda herself was detained for a shorter time after deliberately defying the wartime regulations as part of a civil disobedience campaign spearheaded by Mohandas K. Gandhi as a satyagrahi.[5] In 1947, Bedi and her family moved to Kashmir,[2] where husband and wife were influential supporters of Sheikh Abdullah, the left-wing Kashmiri nationalist leader. She joined a women's militia for a while and taught English at a newly established women's college in Srinagar in Kashmir. Later in Delhi, she became editor of the magazine "Social Welfare" of the Ministry of Welfare. She briefly served as a member of the United Nations Social Services Planning Commission to Burma, during which she was first exposed to Buddhism, which quickly became the defining aspect of her life. In Rangoon she learned vipassana from Mahasi Sayadaw, and Sayadaw U Titthila.[6][7]

Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, 16th Karmapa with Pope Paul VI and Gelongma Karma Kechog Palmo (third from right of the Pope) at the Vatican on 17 January 1975

In 1959, when the 14th Dalai Lama arrived in India along with thousands of Tibetans, she was asked by Jawaharlal Nehru to help them and spent time improving facilities for refugees at camps in Assam and West Bengal. She became an observant Tibetan Buddhist and she followed the guidance of the 16th Karmapa of the Kagyu School. She worked with the Dalai Lama to establish the Young Lamas Home School.[8] Bedi set up the Young Lama's School in Dalhousie to train young Tibetan monks, a number of whom became well-known teachers, including Chogyam Trungpa,[9] Thubten Zopa Rinpoche,[10] Akong Rinpoche, Tulku Pema Tenzin, Gelek Rimpoche, Lama Yeshe Losal Rinpoche, and the sons of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, Chokyi Nyima and Chokling of Tsikey[11]). In 1963, with Lama Karma Thinley Rinpoche and under the guidance of the Karmapa, she founded the Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling nunnery for Tibetan women, now located in Tilokpur, Kangra Valley.[12][13]

Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa with Gelongma Karma Kechog Palmo (Freda Bedi) at Rumtek Monastery, Sikkim in 1971

While running the Young Lamas Home School at Dalhousie in north India, Bedi also spent time at Rumtek in Sikkim, the seat of the Karmapa in exile. In 1966, she took sramaneri ordination by the Karmapa, and was given the name Gelongma Karma Kechog Palmo. She was one of the first Western women to take ordination in Tibetan Buddhism. In 1972, she took full bhikshuni ordination in Hong Kong - the first western woman to do so, and according to the scholar Hanna Havnevik possibly the first woman in the Tibetan tradition to receive this higher ordination. She accompanied the Karmapa on his first visit to the West in 1974, a five-month tour across North American and Europe. She was a Tibetan–English translator.[14]

Bedi died in New Delhi on 26 March 1977.[15][16][17] She was survived by two sons, Ranga Bedi, who was a tea planter, and Kabir Bedi, a Hollywood and Bollywood film and TV star; and a daughter, Gulhima, lives in the United States. A fourth child, Tilak, died in infancy.[18]

Published works[edit]

  • Freda Marie Houlston Bedi, Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, (editors) India analysed, three volumes published by Victor Gollancz, 1933-4
  • Freda Marie Houlston Bedi, Behind the Mud Walls, Lahore: Unity Publishers, 1943
  • Freda Bedi, Bengal Lamenting, Lahore: Lion, 1944
  • Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, Freda Marie (Houlston) Bedi, Sheikh Abdullah: his life and ideals, pamphlet, c1949
  • Ein Rosenkranz von Morgengebeten : nach der Tradition des Mahayana – Buddhismus / aus dem Tibetischen ins Englische übers. von Karma Khechog Palmo. Deutsche Wiedergabe von Advayavajra. – Almora, Indien : Kasar-Devi-Ashram-Publication, 1971. – VI, 49 S.
  • Freda Bedi, Anna Bhushan (illustrator), Rhymes for Ranga, Random House, India, 2010, ISBN 81-8400-036-7

Translations[edit]

From French[edit]

  • Voltaire, Fragments on India, Lion Press, 1937

From Tibetan[edit]

  • A Garland of morning prayers in the tradition of Mahayana Buddhism, Gelongma Karma Tsultim Khechog Palmo, Ed Palmo, 1976
  • Wangchuk Dorje (Karmapa IX), Zhar dMar dKon mChog Yan Lag, Mahamudra meditation or The Mahamudra, Gelongma Karma Tsultim Khechog Palmo, Ed. Karma Rigdol Publications, 1971

Further reading[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Chodron, Thubten. "About The Issue: The Present Status of the Bhiksuni Ordination". Committee for Bhiksuni Ordination. Retrieved 4 June 2018.
  2. ^ a b c "The British woman who fought for India's freedom". 7 March 2019 – via www.bbc.co.uk.
  3. ^ Hanna Havnevik, Tibetan Buddhist nuns: history, cultural norms, and social reality, 1989, p. 87
  4. ^ "From Oxford to Lahore — the anti-imperialist Briton who became a Tibetan Buddhist nun". Oxford Today. 31 May 2017.
  5. ^ Andrew Rawlinson, The book of enlightened masters: western teachers in eastern traditions, Open Court, 1997, ISBN 0-8126-9310-8, p. 181
  6. ^ "GELONGMA KARMA KHECHOG PALMO". www.luxlapis.co.za.
  7. ^ Andrew Rawlinson, op. cit. "In 1952 she went to Rangoon and practised vipassana with Mahasi Sayadaw (Friedman, 276), one of the first Westerners to do so. She also practised with Sayadaw U Titthila (Snelling, 321). "
  8. ^ Chögyam Trungpa, Sam Bercholz, Meditation in Action
  9. ^ Diana J. Mukpo, Carolyn Rose Gimian, Dragon Thunder: My Life with Chogyam Trungpa, p. 71
  10. ^ Jamyang Wangmo, The Lawudo Lama: stories of reincarnation from the Mount Everest region p. 191 : "The Young Lamas Home School started in Delhi in 1961 in the house of Frida Bedi, with Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Akong Rinpoche, Tulku Pema Tenzin Rinpoche, and Geleg Rinpoche as the first students. After a while, Mrs. Bedi rented a beautiful new house at L-7, Green Park, in the Hauz Khas area of New Delhi. When I joined the school in 1962 there were twelve tulkus attending."
  11. ^ Kunsang, Erik Pema (18 September 2005). "Blazing-Splendor: Young Lamas Home School in Dalhousie".
  12. ^ "Tilokpur".
  13. ^ "Free Ebooks PDF, ePub, Mobi Directory - www.tilokpur.org". www.tilokpur.org.
  14. ^ "tibet". www.luxlapis.co.za.
  15. ^ Bernard de Give, LES MONIALES TIBÉTAINES
  16. ^ Mick Brown, The Dance of 17 Lives: The Incredible True Story of Tibet's 17th Karmapa
  17. ^ Hanna Havnevik, Tibetan Buddhist nuns: history, cultural norms, and social reality, 1989, p. 88 "Freda Bedi died in New Delhi on the twenty-sixth of March 1977."
  18. ^ Fiona Fernandez, A Bedi good rhyme, MiD DAY, 15 August 2010

External links[edit]