Scottsdale Buddhist preaches peace

By Erin Concors, East Valley Tribune, Dec 25, 2004

Phoenix, Arizona (USA) -- One of the lowest points of Ani Kalsang Tsomo?s life was the week she spent in a wooden boat drifting in the Pacific Ocean, one of 320 refugees fleeing the communist regime in Vietnam.

Tsomo was pregnant in the spring of 1979, escaping Communist Vietnam in a small wooden fishing boat, when the vessel was attacked by pirates and left drifting in the ocean.

"There was such desperation, such hopelessness," she said. "No food, no water. You couldn?t even scream (for help); no one would hear you."

The Scottsdale woman, an ordained Buddhist nun and a doctor trained in Chinese and Western medicine, eventually found inner peace through accepting her suffering, learning from it and moving beyond it. Tsomo shared her life story at the 2004 Women of Peace Conference earlier this month in Italy ? a conference whose main speakers included three survivors of this year?s Beslan, Russia, school hostage crisis.

"Suffering is basically the impetus for growth," Tsomo said. "We have to move beyond suffering in order to achieve supreme peace."

Tsomo?s modest Scottsdale home reflects the deep spirituality and healing arts she has practiced for more than 30 years. Buddha statues, photos of the Dalai Lama, a small temple, and books and rugs for meditation are placed around the serene living room. A silver sword with a mother-of-pearl handle hangs on Tsomo?s wall, which she uses in tai chi and chi quong exercises.

Tsomo ran a successful Chinese medical practice in Scottsdale from 1998 until March, when she closed it to travel to Darjeeling, India, to study the Tibetan language. While there, she met a freelance Italian filmmaker who invited her to speak at the Women of Peace conference.

Tsomo?s first speaking engagement at the conference followed tearful accounts of the Beslan terrorist incident from two survivors held hostage during the attack.

"I (also) shared my story (of fleeing Vietnam), but I said, ?We have to move beyond suffering,? " Tsomo said. "You have to find victory to overcome it."

Tsomo, 55, studied traditional Chinese medicine for 10 years, following in the footsteps of her grandfather and father ? traditional Chinese healers ? and her midwife mother.

Tsomo always dreamed of becoming a nun, and she did so in 1992, when she was ordained at the Tibetan Meditation Center in Frederick, Md. Her healing powers are centered in her deep Buddhist faith. To maintain health, a person must take care of his or her spiritual self, and physical maladies can result from ignoring spiritual needs, she said.

"If you focus on the physical healing, you?re missing the point," she said. "Sickness is sometimes a lightpost to mark a spiritual problem."

To aid her in healing and guiding others in spiritual life, Tsomo has had to confront the personal sorrow and pain she suffered during the Vietnam War and her escape to the United States.

Tsomo and her 9-year-old son, her sister, her brother-inlaw and their baby all made the journey, though only Tsomo and her son survived. The group was attacked twice by Thai pirates.

When Tsomo and 20 other survivors drifted near to Kuantan Island, a Malaysian military base, Tsomo swam to shore. She begged for the life of the group as she waded through bullets shot at her by a guard.

The International Red Cross made it possible for Tsomo and the group to be taken to a refugee camp.

Christine Hoffman of Scottsdale first met Tsomo 15 years ago in Pennsylvania, when Tsomo treated her for severe asthma and anxiety. Hoffman said her asthma was cured through learning spiritual disciplines.

"As I learned certain things about myself, then my body took care of it itself, once I found inner peace," said Hoffman, 49.