At the Omega Institute, May 2007.
July 14, 1936
New York City, New York, United States
Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche
Pema Chödrön (born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown on July 14, 1936) is a notable American figure in Tibetan Buddhism. A disciple of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, she is an ordained nun, author, and acharya, senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist lineage Trungpa founded.
A prolific author, she has conducted workshops, seminars, and meditation retreats in Europe, Australia, and throughout North America. She is resident teacher and founding director of Gampo Abbey, a monastery on Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, Canada, established in 1984.
Pema Chödrön was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936 in New York City. She attended Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut and grew up on a farm in the countryside with an older brother and sister. She first married at age 21 and had two children. Subsequently, her family moved to California, where she graduated from the University of California, Berkeley with a bachelor’s degree in English literature, followed by a master’s in elementary education. 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 was ordained as a novice Buddhist nun in 1974, under the Sixteenth Gyalwa Karmapa, head of the Tibetan Karma Kagyu lineage, 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 was the first American woman to become fully ordained. 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.
Chödrön first met Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in 1972 and, at the urging of Chime Rinpoche, took him as her root guru. She studied with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. Trungpa's son, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, appointed Chödrön an acharya (senior teacher) shortly after assuming leadership of his father's Shambhala lineage in 1992.
Trungpa appointed Chödrön director of the Boulder Shambhala Center (then Boulder Dharmadhatu) in Colorado in the early 1980s. Chödrön moved to Gampo Abbey in 1984, the first Tibetan Buddhist monastery in North America for Western men and women, and became its director in 1986. There she published her first two books. In 1994, she became ill with chronic fatigue syndrome. Her health gradually improved, she claims, with the help of a homeopath and careful attention to diet. During this period, she met Venerable Lama Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche, a young Tibetan Buddhist teacher, who became her next teacher. For the next several years, she shifted focus to her personal practice and recovering her health. She now spends seven months of each year in solitary retreat under his direction in Crestone, Colorado.
Her first book, The Wisdom of No Escape, was published in 1991. This was followed by Start Where You Are in 1994 and When Things Fall Apart in 1997. These books brought her wide recognition and larger audiences to talks and retreats.  In late 2005, Chödrön published No Time to Lose, a commentary on Shantideva's Guide to the Bodhisattva's Way of Life. She published Practicing Peace in Times of War in 2006.
Pema Chödrön is a member of The Committee of Western Bhikshunis, which was formed in 2005. Chödrön continues to teach the traditional "Yarne" (Tib. rainy season; Pāli: "Vassāvāsa") retreat, a rain 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 the belief in "shenpa", the Tibetan word for "attachment", which she interprets as the moment one is hooked into a cycle of habitual negative or self-destructive actions and thought. Shenpa, or getting "hooked," according to Chödrön, occurs as a response to a comment, situation or other stimulus that is similar or related to past experiences. She asserts that often those experiences are negative, leading to a pattern of self-destructive thought and behaviors, such as excessive eating or drinking or angry outbursts:
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.
Chödrön has two children and three grandchildren all of whom live in the San Francisco Bay Area.
- "Ani Pema Chödrön". Gampo Abbey. Retrieved 2014-10-21.
- Andrea Miller (October 20, 2014). "Becoming Pema". Lion's Roar. Retrieved 2014-10-21.
- Susan Neunzig Cahill (1996). Wise Women: Over Two Thousand Years of Spiritual Writing by Women. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 377. ISBN 0-393-03946-3.
- Haas, Michaela (2013). "Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West". Snow Lion. ISBN 1559394072, p. 123.
- Fabrice Midal (2005). Recalling Chögyam Trungpa. Shambhala Publications. p. 476. ISBN 1-59030-207-9.
- Haas, Michaela (2013). "Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West". Snow Lion. ISBN 1559394072, p. 128
- Sandy Boucher (1993). Turning the Wheel: American Women Creating the New Buddhism. Beacon Press. pp. 93–97. ISBN 0-8070-7305-9.
- James William Coleman (2001). The New Buddhism: The Western Transformation of an Ancient Tradition. Oxford University Press. p. 150. ISBN 0-19-515241-7.
- Boucher (1993) pp. 96-97
- Website of Kongtrul Rinpoche
- "The Committee of Western Bhikshunis: Ven. Bhiksuni Pema Chodron". Sep 17, 2006. Retrieved 2014-10-21.
- Buddhist Monks and Monasteries of India: Their History and Contribution to Indian Culture. George Allen and Unwin Ltd, London 1962. pg 54
- Bill Moyers and Pema Chödrön . August 4, 2006
- Pema Chödrön (2006). "The Shenpa syndrome: Learning to stay". Shambala. Retrieved 2014-10-21.
- How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked
|By Pema Chödrön|
- Profile at the Pema Chödrön Foundation
- Video Interview with Pema Chödrön by Bill Moyers (2006) at PBS