How did a Malibu beach girl who then moved to Hawaii and surfed the waves in Honolulu become the Mother of the "Daughters of the Buddha" (Sakyadhita
)? Being teased as a teenager is rarely a trigger for life-changing serendipity, unless you're Karma Lekshe. Prior to ordaining as a Tibetan nun, her last name was "Zenn" and kids used to tease her -- "What are you, Zen Buddhist or something?" She didn't really understand the "insult", so she went to the library and checked out two books on it that would change her life. Little did those kids know that they were inadvertently sowing the seeds of a revolution in a 2500 year old religion -- Buddhism. Born in Delaware, raised in Hawaii by a "materialistic Dad" and a "Southern Baptist Mom", Karma Lekshe
found her connection to spirituality while surfing the waves in Honolulu.
In between a surfing competition in Japan, Karma Lekshe casually visited some local monasteries. While on a continuing trip to India, she heard the teachings of Dalai Lama. Compelled by the Tibetan culture and spirituality in Dharamsala, she stayed for a year. When money ran out, she sold her guitar back at home and stayed another year. By 1987, she was ready to start her first project, without any money, for eight nuns who had recently walked out of Tibet. Today, with 115 students and many innovative programs, the Jamyang Foundation
has revolutionized many cultural paradigms and is seen as a model for emerging initiatives.
Along the way, she was convinced that she wanted to become a nun, and dedicate her life to service. Except for one problem: no monastery would accept her, because she was a woman. So, Karma Lekshe started her own nunnery in the Himalayas and sure enough, became a Buddhist nun herself. Today, there are fifteen such nunneries across the remote regions of the Himalayas.
Through her well-researched academic work, Karma Lekshe also brings new insights to traditional interpretations of history. As a PhD in comparative philosophy, author of several books, founder of a Himalayan nonprofit, professor at University of San Diego, president of International Assocation of Buddhist Women
, Karma Lekshe is an exemplar for leading an integrated life. "Practice rests on 3 pillars. Each path is individual but for me, meditation informs scholarship, scholarship informs social action, social action informs contemplation," she notes.
In the late 80s, she was bit by a poisonous viper that could've ended her life. Her arm was paralyzed but she somehow survived. With an iron will and unwavering commitment, Karma Lekshe keeps on serving.
On March 21st, it is our privilege to host Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo as she shares stories of her incredible journey and the universal principles that continue to light her way. To join, simply RSVP above and you'll be emailed the details.
Five Questions with Karma Lekshe Tsomo
What Makes You Come Alive?
Well, to remember how fortunate I am to be alive! Just joking! The light in the eyes of another living being brings everything to life. Whether it's children, old folks, fury doggies, or any other living creature, that spark of life is really special. Teaching children is a very special joy.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
The compassion and wisdom of my teachers, especially spiritual masters such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, inspire me on the path. Meeting a person who's eradicated self-interest is an amazing experience. Joy, humility, and loving kindness seem to go hand in hand.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
Every day is full of amazing acts of kindness! One of the most unforgettable was when I got bitten by a viper and a friend saved my life. She could see that without immediate medical attention, I was not long for the world. So she and her husband dropped everything and drove me 500 km through blazing heat at the height of the Indian monsoon season, through the night and the traffic, to a hospital where I survived beyond all odds. I also fondly remember all those who have carried me over raging rivers in the Himalayas.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Gaining access to full ordination for women in all Buddhist traditions.
One-line Message for the World?
The most common cause of violence is fear and the best antidote to fear is loving kindness.