Awakin Calls » Lama Tsomo

Lama Tsomo: Tibetan Buddhist teacher, philanthropist, and author
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Jan 4, 2020: Sustaining Our Spiritual Practices in the Face of Frustration and Discouragement


Read: Call Transcript (Also: Nuggets From Lama Tsomo's Call)


Lama Tsomo, born Linda Pritzker, is an American teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, an author, and a philanthropist living in western Montana. Her path of spiritual inquiry and study led to her ordination as one of the few female American lamas in Tibetan Buddhism. Lama Tsomo is known for her warm, candid and humorous teaching style. Fascinated by science from an early age, she often weaves research findings into her teachings. Her studies and teaching over the years have focused on these two questions: How can a spiritual awakening improve the chances that our world will be healed? And where can we find the insights and capacities to help each of us navigate life and be authentically happy? She is particularly passionate about reaching young people and supporting those working See full.

Lama Tsomo, born Linda Pritzker, is an American teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, an author, and a philanthropist living in western Montana. Her path of spiritual inquiry and study led to her ordination as one of the few female American lamas in Tibetan Buddhism.

Lama Tsomo is known for her warm, candid and humorous teaching style. Fascinated by science from an early age, she often weaves research findings into her teachings. Her studies and teaching over the years have focused on these two questions: How can a spiritual awakening improve the chances that our world will be healed? And where can we find the insights and capacities to help each of us navigate life and be authentically happy? She is particularly passionate about reaching young people and supporting those working for positive social change.

Born into a Midwestern Jewish household, Lama Tsomo is an heiress to the Pritzker family fortune via Hyatt Hotels and other enterprises. She had no interest in joining any of the family businesses. As a teenager, she discovered a passion for saving the environment after a summer of exploring the wilderness areas of Glacier National Park and other regions of the American west. She came to believe that a civilization built on an ever-growing demand for material things (and the natural resources required to produce them) does not result in happiness and well-being, and is not sustainable. 

She studied at Antioch University and earned a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology with a focus on Jungian analysis.  As a young woman, she left Chicago and began a life as a homesteader in Wisconsin, where she raised goats, grew the family's vegetables, and brought up three children. She practiced as a Jungian therapist, and wrote a book about the place of women and girls in western mythology. She later moved to a rural community in the mountains of western Montana.

Tsomo meditated for a number of years without any particular instruction or guidance. After a period of five years where she gave up meditating, she felt a desire to return to the practice but this time with instruction and guidance. She met Gochen Tulku Sangak Rinpoche, who carries the teaching of the Nyingma path of Tibetan Buddhism, at a 10-day retreat in Santa Fe. After hearing him teach she knew she had found the teacher she was seeking.

Under Rinpoche’s guidance, Tsomo completed more than three years of solitary retreats. She also learned the Tibetan language, allowing her to converse directly with her teacher, using concepts not readily expressed in English. Rinpoche spent countless hours painstakingly teaching Tsomo the methods of Tibetan Buddhism that give her experience of this life deeper meaning and joy. After she achieved proficiency in all the levels of the Nyingma path, Rinpoche ordained her a lama in his monastery in Nepal in February of 2005 and again in a ceremony in his temple in Montana the following summer. Just after he ordained her, he spoke of her responsibility to pass these teachings along.

Lama Tsomo is bringing the Nyingma form of Tibetan Buddhism to interested westerners by dedicating herself to teaching. With oversight provided by Rinpoche, she is building a Buddhist retreat center in Montana called the Namchak Retreat Ranch, where people can practice in total immersion in a beautiful natural environment. She also teaches Tibetan Buddhist practice to students at beginning and intermediate levels via free e-courses and in-person retreats in California and New York. She is passionate about helping students form community around meditation in small learning and practice circles found in the U.S. and abroad. 

Lama Tsomo often refers to having two inheritances. The first, her financial inheritance, she was given by her father. The second, her spiritual inheritance, she earned after years of study and retreats with Tulku Sangak Rinpoche. The two inheritances converge in the Namchak Retreat Ranch, which Rinpoche tasked her with creating.

Tsomo was also a founding board member of the Ewam, a Tibetan Buddhist center located in Arlee, Montana. She is the author of the book Why Is the Dalai Lama Always Smiling?: A Westerner’s Introduction and Guide to Tibetan Buddhist Practice, which was a 2016 silver medal winner in the Independent Publishers’ Book Awards. In his foreword to the book, the Dalai Lama wrote that while Lama Tsomo outlines her personal journey into Buddhism, she continues to honor her traditional Jewish heritage.  She is co-author of The Lotus and The Rose: A Conversation Between Tibetan Buddhism and Mystical Christianity (2018) with Reverend Matthew Fox, which consists of the co-authors’ conversations exploring the essentials principles shared by their traditions and the differences that distinguish them. Lama Tsomo was also a contributor to The Dharma of Dogs: Our Best Friends as Spiritual Teachers (2017), edited by Tami Simon.

Join us in conversation with this wise and generous teacher!


Five Questions for Lama
What Makes You Come Alive?

Well, several things. One is just being outside with my dogs in the mountains because I get the closeness and warmth of being with the dogs, with the vastness and beauty of the mountains. It all makes it easier for me to drop my usual distractionswhich don't make me nearly as happy anyway and it just lightens and warms my heart. The natural world is so big and so harmonious that I easily fall into entrainment with it. What also makes me come alive is talking with one other person, sharing deeply what we're most passionate about. It might be what one of us is chewing on in life or in our meditations, or the relationship between the two. Mostly, I love seeing if I can find a way to be with them that somehow helps, encourages, inspires and informs them.

Pivotal turning point in your life?

Chronologically, I would start with a two-month camping trip in many of our national parks when I was 15. It was then, living outside, sleeping on the ground, climbing mountains, and kayaking down rivers, I realized the vast power and exquisite beauty and perfection of the natural world. I came back to the city and realized that civilization wasn't all it was cracked up to be. The city looked to me like a house of cards, built on a false foundation on top of which we were continuing to pile cards. In response, I decided that first, I needed to go to the country and live directly from the land. I did that for many years, and still live in the country. The next turning point was having children. Of course, that forever changed me into a mother. Our orientation in life completely changes when we have kids. The next was meeting my teacher, Tulku Sangak Rinpoche. It transformed my life and gave it a huge amount of meaning beyond what it was before.

An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?

This isn't one act of kindness. It was ongoing. There was a woman who worked for our family who actually was very much a part of bringing me up, even though that wasn't her official job. She worked in our home and we were very simpatico. She was very religious in a completely heartfelt, true way, and she had a spiritual orientation to life. She was Christian, which obviously was not a route I chose, but the essence of her genuine spirituality, loving kindness, and compassion I think still seeped into me. Also her warmth. She grew up on a homestead and then I grew up and homesteaded. Even as a kid I always loved the natural world so I was inspired by her stories.

One Thing On Your Bucket List?

I kind of did my bucket list a while ago and then life just offered up better and better buckets that I hadn't even thought of! So I'm not sure there are any more new buckets. I'm happy to enjoy continuing with the buckets I've got. Okay, well, there is one big bucket left: Complete enlightenment. Here's a minor bucket: taking a vacation and doing absolutely nothing productive! I'd be happy just to be at home—then it's really doing nothing and I love where I live.

One-line Message for the World?

Think of all and everyone, even non-human creatures, as your friends and relatives. If we did that, we would turn around this whole mess that we're in and experience heaven on earth.

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