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Lions Roar : November 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2012 62 It’s learning how to trust that you are enough. You don’t need to go into a patient’s room and perform tricks. You just need to show up with your whole body and mind.” O’Hara teaches that the very heart of Zen practice is becom- ing intimate with yourself. “Once you really know yourself,” she says, “then, automatically, you are available to serve the world.” In her early twenties, Lama Palden Drolma liked to go to a ramshackle garden in her Californian neighbor- hood. There, she’d stand facing a statue of the Virgin Mary and pray for help in finding her true teacher. As long as Drolma could remember, she’d been on a spiritual path. She says that even at age three she had powerful dreams of her past lives—dreams that reminded her of her purpose for this lifetime. Growing up, Drolma was uncomfortable in America. She lived with her family in an affluent neighborhood in the Bay Area, and on the surface the lifestyle was picture perfect, yet the beautiful houses and high- powered jobs didn’t create happiness. In her early teens, Drolma began to feel an intense spiritual longing. In high school, she studied comparative religion and in university she delved deeply into Zen, esoteric Christianity, and Sufism. Then, when Drolma was twenty-five, a Sufi friend took her to a talk by the Tibetan Buddhist master Kyabje Kalu Rinpoche, and Drolma immediately recognized him as her teacher. That night she took refuge with him and six months later she moved to his monastery in the Himalayas. Conditions there were rough. “If you washed your clothes—which you had to do in freezing cold water—and then you hung them up in your room, after ten days they would still not be dry,” she says. The fog was that thick. As for good food and hot baths, they were a bus-ride away in Darjeeling. Nonetheless, Drolma barely noticed the hardship. Being with her teacher made her feel completely at home. Kalu Rinpoche often spoke about how religions manifest in different ways, depending on the culture that gives birth to them, but all in their essence are reflec- tions of awakened mind. This teaching resonated with Drolma and she relates it to her belief in a universal awakened femi- nine. As she puts it, the Virgin Mary, Guan- yin, Buffalo Woman, and Tara are all dif- ferent faces of this same feminine energy. In 1982, Drolma began a three-year closed retreat under Kalu Rinpoche on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia. “It was the best, most useful thing I have ever done in my life,” she says. “It was also extremely challenging. I had to face the difficulty of my own mind, my own aspirations, my own negative habitual patterns. Then my younger brother died and it was excruciatingly hard not to be able to be there with my family. But the hardest thing about my three-year retreat was that my son was ten years old at the time. He stayed with my mother and it was difficult to be apart from him.” This sacrifice of not being with her child made Drolma feel like she had to make the most of her retreat and she practiced with vigor. As a result, a shift occurred in her; the spiritual longing she’d been feeling since her teens dissipated. “My heart reconnected with itself in the deepest way,” she explains. “There wasn’t anything to long for anymore. There was nothing separate from me spiritually.” A year after the completion of the retreat, Drolma was autho- rized as a lama, or teacher, making her one of the first Western PHOTOBYANDREAROTH Lama Palden Drolma feels the Virgin Mary, Guanyin, Buffalo Woman, and Tara are all faces of the same enlightened feminine energy.