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
Religion Tibetan Buddhism
School Kagyu
Lineage Karma Kagyu
Education Parkfield Cedars School
St Hugh's College, Oxford
Other names Sister Palmo
Nationality British
Born (1911-02-05)5 February 1911
England, Derby
Died 26 March 1977(1977-03-26) (aged 66)
New Delhi, India
Spouse Baba Pyare Lal Bedi
Children Gulhima Bedi, Kabir Bedi, Ranga Bedi
Senior posting
Title Gelongma
Religious career
Teacher 16th 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 Freda Houlston, in Derby, England, 5 February 1911, and was the daughter of Francis Edwin Houlston and Nellie Diana Harrison.

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 Parkfield Cedars School. She also later studied a few years at the Sorbonne, Paris.[2]

Life at Oxford[edit]

Freda Bedi read 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 Register Office in 1933. Whilst at Oxford she became anti-imperialist and was a member of the communist October Club, the Labour Club and Majlis, a debating society to campaign for Indian independence. She became friends with Labour cabinet minister Barbara Castle whilst at Oxford and graduated with a third.[3]

Life in India[edit]

In the 1930s, she moved to India where she settled in 1934. She participated in the Indian national independence movement and was arrested and detained with her children[4] along with Mohandas K. Gandhi as a satyagrahi.[5] She has been professor of English at Srinagar in Kashmir, then editor of the magazine "Social Welfare" of the Ministry of Welfare; social worker of the United Nations Social Services Planning Commission to Burma; advisor on Tibetan Refugees to the Ministry of External Affairs. In 1952, she visited Rangoon where she learned vipassana from Mahasi Sayadaw, and Sayadaw U Titthila.[6][7]

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 she was in charge of the Social Welfare Board. She dedicated herself to social activity 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]

In 1959 Christopher Hills had lobbied Nehru to approve a government in exile for the Dalai Lama fleeing persecution in Tibet and to grant full refugee status to exiled Tibetans. He had become connected to the Tibetans through his study of Buddhism and in 1960 provided funding for Bedi to start the Young Lama's Home School[14] in Dalhousie, Himachal Pradesh. Later he contributed to Bedi's building of the Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling nunnery and helped organise her journey to the West with the 16th Gyalwa Karmapa, Rangjung Rigpe Dorje in 1974.

After the young tulkus' school stopped, Bedi went to 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 the first Western woman to take ordination in Tibetan Buddhism. In 1972, she took full bhikshuni ordination in Hong Kong. She accompanied the Karmapa on his first visit to the West in 1974. In 1971, a book she had written was published by Lama Anagarika Govinda's Arya Maitreya Mandala in Germany. She died in New Delhi on 26 March 1977.[15][16][17]

She is the mother of two sons, Ranga and Kabir Bedi, a Hollywood and Hindi film star, and a daughter, Gulhima.[18]

She was a Tibetan–English translator.[19]

Published works[edit]

  • Freda Marie Houlston Bedi, Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, India analysed, V. Gollancz, 1933
  • Freda Marie Houlston Bedi, Behind the mud walls, Unity Publishers, 1940
  • Freda Bedi, Bengal Lamenting, Lahore: Lion, 1944
  • Baba Pyare Lal Bedi, Freda Marie (Houlston) Bedi, Sheikh Abdullah: his life and ideals, 1949
  • 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, Rhymes for Ranga, Random House, India, 2010, ISBN 81-8400-036-7


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]


  1. ^ Chodron, Thubten. "About The Issue: The Present Status of the Bhiksuni Ordination". Committee for Bhiksuni Ordination. Retrieved 2018-06-04.
  2. ^ Hanna Havnevik, Tibetan Buddhist nuns: history, cultural norms, and social reality, 1989, p. 87
  3. ^ "From Oxford to Lahore — the anti-imperialist Briton who became a Tibetan Buddhist nun". Oxford Today. 31 May 2017.
  4. ^ Rick Fields, How the swans came to the lake: a narrative history of Buddhism in America, Shambhala, 1986, ISBN 0-87773-354-6, p. 278 : "Baba Bedi spent about fifteen years in prison. Freda herself was detained for a shorter time along with her children."
  5. ^ Andrew Rawlinson, The book of enlightened masters: western teachers in eastern traditions, Open Court, 1997, ISBN 0-8126-9310-8, p. 181 : "She took part in the national independence movement and spent a short time in detention with her children after being arrested along with Gandhi as a satyagrahi."
  6. ^ Gelongma Karma Khechog Palmo, Curriculum Vitae
  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. ^ Young Lamas Home School in Dalhousie
  12. ^ Tilokpur, Tibetan Nuns Project
  13. ^ Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling
  14. ^ Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman's Quest for Enlightenment, Vicki Mackenzie, 1999, ISBN 1-58234-045-5
  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
  19. ^ In Memory of The Venerable Gelongma Karma Kechog Palmo

External links[edit]