Last Updated on July 13, 2020
Pema Chödrön is a beloved Buddhist nun and teacher whose influence is one of the most powerful in the world of spirituality. She has been devoting her life to exploring Buddhist beliefs and imparting wisdom on dealing with difficulty, suffering, and fear.
Through her books such as When Things Fall Apart (1996), The Places That Scare You (2001), and Living Beautifully: With Uncertainty and Change (2012), she has inspired and helped changed the lives of millions around the globe.
Very little is known about Pema Chödrön’s early years before she found Buddhism. She was named Deirdre Blomfield-Brown, born on July 14, 1936 in New York City. She was raised by her Catholic father on a farm in New Jersey together with two older siblings, where she said she had a quiet and peaceful childhood.
She went to the respectable Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut. In college, she attended Sarah Lawrence College in New York where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in English literature.
When she was only 21, she married a lawyer with whom she had a son and a daughter. The family then migrated to California. While taking care of her family, she pursued a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of California – Berkeley. Putting her education to good use, she worked as an elementary school teacher for years.
From then on, Chödrön’s life started to take a turn for the worse. Only a few years into their marriage, Chödrön and her husband legally separated. She eventually remarried, this time with a writer. The couple moved to New Mexico where she continued to work as a teacher while raising her children from her first marriage.
However, her second marriage also did not work out well. After eight years together, her new husband confessed to having an affair and expressed his desire to divorce her.
By the time she hit her mid-thirties, Chödrön has already had two failed marriages. She struggled to come to terms with the situation and she drastically spiraled down into depression.
Starting a New Life Through Buddhism
Chödrön tried a range of methods to cope with the failure of her relationships, but none seemed to work for her. That was when she stumbled upon an article by Tibetan Buddhist meditation master Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
In the magazine piece, the guru suggested that people should not get rid of their emotions and must work with them instead. He explained that the only way to be closer to the truth is to face the reality of pain and suffering. Although her knowledge on Buddhism at the time was next to nothing, Chödrön became highly interested in its teachings.
After a few months, she traveled to the French Alps where she met Tibetan Buddhist teacher Lama Chime Rinpoche. In 1972, she met Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, the author of the article that spurred the change in her life. The two developed a strong spiritual relationship and Trungpa Rinpoche became Chödrön’s root guru.
For the next few years, she traveled between the US and the UK so she could study with Chime Rinpoche in London and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche in San Franciso. She was given the Buddhist name Pema Chödrön, meaning “lotus torch of the dharma (life)”.
Chödrön decided not to remarry or get into another relationship. She vowed to devote her remaining years to helping others who also seek enlightenment and relief, the same way that her masters have helped her during her most trying times.
In 1974, she was ordained as an apprentice Buddhist nun under the 16th Gwalya Karmapa or head of the Karma Kagyu, a major school of Tibetan Buddism.
At the time, Tibetan Buddhist tradition only granted full ordination to men. However, in 1981, Chödrön became the first woman and first American to become a bhiksuni in history.
As part of her personal mission to spread the teachings of Buddhism, she helped Trungpa Ripoche establish the first ever Tibetan Buddhist monastery in North America for Buddhist monks, nuns, and followers in the West. In 3985, Gampo Abbey was completed in Nova Scotia, Canada and she became its first director.
In 1991, she published her first book entitled The Wisdom of No Escape. She went on to release more books and audio books on Tibetan Buddhism specifically catering to Western audiences.
Her uniquely charming and practical interpretation of Buddhism attracted a lot of attention. She became an in-demand speaker in seminars, conferences, and even media events.
Currently, Chödrön is a full-time acharya or senior teacher of Tibetan Buddhism in the United States and Canada. She remains as a highly-regarded figure in contemporary spirituality and continues to inspire through her lectures and talks. She also actively leads fund-raising projects for a number of good causes through the Pema Chödrön Foundation.
Here are 25 of the most touching and life-altering quotes from Pema Chödrön:
Pema Chödrön Quotes
“If we learn to open our hearts, anyone, including the people who drive us crazy, can be our teacher.” – Pema Chödrön
“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with.” – Pema Chödrön
“You are the sky. Everything else – it’s just the weather.” – Pema Chödrön
“Fear is a natural reaction to moving closer to the truth.” – Pema Chödrön
“Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?” – Pema Chödrön
“When things are shaky and nothing is working, we might realize that we are on the verge of something.” – Pema Chödrön
“Life is like that. We don’t know anything. We call something bad; we call it good. But really we just don’t know.” – Pema Chödrön
“Letting there be room for not knowing is the most important thing of all.” – Pema Chödrön
“When you open yourself to the continually changing, impermanent, dynamic nature of your own being and of reality, you increase your capacity to love and care about other people and your capacity to not be afraid.” – Pema Chödrön
“The most difficult times for many of us are the ones we give ourselves.” – Pema Chödrön
“Gloriousness and wretchedness need each other. One inspires us, the other softens us. They go together.” – Pema Chödrön
“To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest.” – Pema Chödrön
“Only to the extent that we expose ourselves over and over to annihilation can that which is indestructible in us be found.” – Pema Chödrön
“We deserve our birthright, which is the middle way, an open state of mind that can relax with paradox and ambiguity.” – Pema Chödrön
“Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.” – Pema Chödrön
“Trying to run away is never the answer to being fully human.” – Pema Chödrön
“We think that the point is to pass the test or to overcome the problem, but the truth is that things don’t really get solved. They come together and they fall apart.” – Pema Chödrön
“It’s a transformative experience to simply pause instead of immediately fill up the space. By waiting, we begin to connect with fundamental restlessness as well as fundamental spaciousness.” – Pema Chödrön
“Running away from the immediacy of our experience is like preferring death to life.” – Pema Chödrön
“The more we witness our emotional reactions and understand how they work, the easier it is to refrain.” – Pema Chödrön
“When we resist change, it’s called suffering.” – Pema Chödrön
“Things are as bad and as good as they seem. There’s no need to add anything extra.” – Pema Chödrön
“In Buddha‘s opinion, to train in staying open and curious – to train in dissolving our assumptions and beliefs – is the best use of our human lives.” – Pema Chödrön
“As long as our orientation is toward perfection or success, we will never learn about unconditional friendship with ourselves, nor will we find compassion.” – Pema Chödrön
“Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know.” – Pema Chödrön