GURU RATING: 3 / 5 (ADEQUATE)
Pema Chödrön is a Buddhist nun within the Tibetan contemplative tradition. She helps run and teaches at a monastery in Nova Scotia, Canada. It was the first of its kind in the Western world.
She makes no claims to spiritual enlightenment in contrast to other gurus reviewed here. In this regard she is a wise teacher of the dharma as opposed to one who has experienced her Buddha-Nature.
Pema has penned many popular books and is a strong supporter of the transformative powers of meditation.
Her guru, crazy wisdom, and honesty
Pema Chödrön’s spiritual guru was the very controversial Chögyam Trungpa, a Tibetan who popularized Tibetan Buddhism in the West. He founded the monastery where she currently works.
Chögyam would drink to excess, taking a large cup of gin as he awoke in the morning. He’d often have to be carried home by his students as he was left unable to walk.
His alcoholism got him into trouble when he drunkingly drove a car into a shop while living in Britain. The accident left him slightly paralyzed, though no one else was seriously injured.
Alcohol is part of the tantric tradition but this should never lead to alcoholism. One learns to maintain one’s consciousness while drinking. Trungpa was either very poor at tantra or, more than likely, was using it to excuse his actions.
There’s also at least one insider who lived with him that claims he frequently used cocaine. Further, he was known for having sex with a number of his disciples.
The bottom line
Her guru’s behaviour becomes relevant when one considers the topics of honesty and courage. In an interview, when asked directly about Chögyam’s aberrant behaviour, Pema stated:
As the years went on, I felt everything he did was to help others.
The alcohol, the cocaine, sleeping with disciples, crashing a car into a shop while driving drunk… all to help others?
One can learn from any situation–even the gravest mistakes. But an error is an error. The first step to learning from it is to acknowledge it for what it is.
Pema, in spite of all her wisdom and compassion, was unable to consider the possibility that her own guru was a flawed individual. Is this a lack of honesty? A lack of courage?
For this reason we can only give her an ADEQUATE rating, though we encourage all seekers to enjoy her published works, if not her example in this instance.
“Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away to become something better. It’s about befriending who we already are.” – Pema Chödrön