Tenzin Palmo to share her views at Florida Atlantic University

by Marci Shatzman, The Sun Sentinel, December 28, 2011

Florida, USA -- When Buddhist nun Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo speaks about her new book, "Into the Heart of Life," at Florida Atlantic University's Peaceful Mind/Peaceful World outreach series on Jan. 7, it will be her first visit to Florida.

"I was in the U.S. last June, and I'm there every one or two years," Palmo said in a phone interview.

That rare visit to the United States is why Boca Raton philanthropist Barbara Schmidt wanted to bring Palmo here to share her world view with the public.

"I had been reading her for years; she's an amazing human being and I love the way the writes," said Schmidt, whose Schmidt Family Foundation partners with FAU for the peace program. She will introduce Palmo.

When she learned Palmo would be speaking at a retreat at the well-known Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in the Hudson Valley, N.Y., Schmidt went there to hear her. "She spoke to me; she's very humorous and light hearted," Schmidt said by phone. "Leading a life of purpose is not meant to be hard. It's glorious and light. This is a beautiful way to live and I don't have to live in a cave for 12 years."

Palmo is actually famous for that. Raised in London, she became a Buddhist at age 20. In India she met her guru and became one of the first Westerners to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun. When she went to the Himalayas to study, she ultimately lived in a cave for 12 years. "Cave in the Snow" was written about that experience, but it's a reference she would like to move beyond. "Most people are most curious about my time in the cave but that ended in 1988," she said. "Now my concern is running a nunnery."

Palmo, whose title Jetsunma means venerable master, started the Dungyo Gatsal Ling Nunnery in 2000, which now houses 73 nuns, she said.

Educating Buddhist nuns all over the world has become her main cause. "We want to equalize the gender imbalance in Buddhism and all the world religions by logic and reasoning," she said. "We want to educate the nuns and give them the practical experience so they can assume leadership.''

There's no shortage of women who want to become Buddhist nuns; they have no viable economic alternatives. "In their part of Asia, their only opportunity is to get married and have endless children and do farm work," she said.

But their status and educational opportunities vary widely. "Nuns have a full ordination in China, and in Tibet they have novice ordination and that's what we're working for now, the full ordination for nuns in Buddhist countries," which the Buddha gave them, she said. "As with Catholic nuns, there's a lot of male opposition. Slowly, slowly, it takes time to rethink their attitude."

Palmo will be in Boca Raton after she attends an interfaith gathering in the Bahamas that was started by a Hindu group, she said. Tickets for her talk are $15 and students are admitted free. Tickets can be purchased at fauevents.com or by calling             800-564-9539      .

The Peaceful Mind/Peaceful World Series is presented by FAU's Peace Studies Program in the Dorothy F. Schmidt College of Arts and Letters.