Pema Chödrön


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 Trungpa often drank to excess

Chögyam Trungpa often drank to excess

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



  1. I really like her quiet presence. Is it really so important what she thinks about her own guru? Maybe it’s just respect. Maybe it would seem to be a distraction to talk about it. I do agree she lacks honesty here, but no one is perfect. Her retreats look cool.

  2. I have read every word she has written. It is quite extraordinary and quietly extraordinary.And there is nothing in her life Other than quiet discipline and no big claims. As to her devotion to her teacher surely it is not something to hold against her? – Please note I am not connected with her! But seeing you give her such a low mark makes me doubt the voracity of your marking

  3. I find Pema herself to be a great teacher, going only by her CD’s and YouTube videos. I have never met her, but find her words so down-to-earth and encouraging. She has helped me a great deal at difficult times in my life. I also, however, have very grave doubts about her devotion and lack of clear seeing when it comes to her guru, who I believe was a dangerous man, mentally ill, manipulative, unkind, unenlightened and power-hungry. I would respect Pema a lot more if she applied her generally clear thinking to this man, who, in my opinion, hid behind the notion of ‘crazy wisdom’. He also had some great things to say (I’m thinking particularly of his book, Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism). I guess the sad truth is that people in general are very, very flawed, and though they can often teach, they cannot ‘do’. This applies to his many (in my opinion, sadly deluded and brainwashed) followers. Many people it seems, crave a leader and will accept someone charismatic and full of self-confidence rather than choose someone less ‘showy’ and more genuine. People are easily fooled and deluded. It’s sad. But Pema somehow, as a teacher, rises above this and reaches so many and in such a wholesome way. I do not think she has ever shown signs of loving or misusing power, or in any way exploiting those who admire her.

  4. I find it a bit dishonest that you only included the first sentence of Pema’s reply about Chögyam’s aberrant behavior, when actually she expounded on that.
    Here is her full answer to that specific question:

    “As the years went on, I felt everything he did was to help others. But I would also say now that maybe my understanding has gone even deeper, and it feels more to the point to say I don’t know. I don’t know what he was doing. I know he changed my life. I know I love him. But I don’t know who he was. And maybe he wasn’t doing things to help everyone, but he sure helped me. I learned something from him. But who was that masked man?”

    • Wow. Thanks for sharing the rest of her reply.

      Hard to trust anything written on this website after that revelation.

    • Thank you for sharing the full quote. Perhaps this website needs a truth rating itself! After seeing this I’m going to take the other information here with little regard.

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