Pema Chödrön

Pema Chödrön Ane Pema Chodron was born Deirdre Blomfield-Brown in 1936, in New York City. She attended Miss Porter's School in Connecticut and graduated from the University of California at Berkeley (Go Bears!). She taught as an elementary school teacher for many years in both New Mexico and California. Pema has two children and three grandchildren.

While in her mid-thirties, Ane Pema traveled to the French Alps and encountered Lama Chime Rinpoche, with whom she studied for several years. She became a novice nun in 1974 while studying with Lama Chime in London. His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa came to England at that time, and Ane Pema received her ordination from him.

Pema first met her root guru, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, (the "Vidyadhara") in 1972. Lama Chime encouraged her to work with Rinpoche, and it was with him that she ultimately made her most profound connection, studying with him from 1974 until his death in 1987. At the request of the Karmapa, she received the full bikshuni ordination in the Chinese lineage of Buddhism in 1981 in Hong Kong. She first met Ayya Khema at the first Buddhist nuns conference in Bodhgaya India in 1987, and they were close friends from that time until her death.

Ane Pema served as the director of Karma Dzong in Boulder, Colorado until moving in 1984 to rural Cape Breton, Nova Scotia to be the director of Gampo Abbey. The Vidyadhara gave her explicit instructions on running Gampo Abbey. The success of her first two books, The Wisdom of No Escape and Start Where You Are, made her something of a celebrity as a woman Buddhist teacher and as a specialist in the mahayana lojong teachings. She and Judy Lief were instructed personally by the Vidyadhara on lojong, "which is why I took off with it," she explains.

Pema has struggled with health problems in the past five years but her condition has improved and she anticipates being well enough to continue teaching programs at Gampo Abbey and in California. She plans for a simplified travel schedule with a predictable itinerary, as well as the opportunity to spend an increased amount of time in solitary retreat under the guidance of Venerable Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche.

Pema is interested in helping establish Tibetan Buddhist monastacism in the West, as well in continuing her work with western Buddhists of all traditions, sharing ideas and teachings. She has written five books: The Wisdom of No Escape, Start Where You Are, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times and The Places That Scare Youand No Time to Lose are available from Shambhala Publications. She recently completed a new book called "Practicing Peace in Times of War" that will be published by Shambhala Publications later in 2006.

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Ball-breaker, or just a woman with a job?

Baroness Shriti Vadera (photo: Graeme Robertson)

Baroness Vadera makes an unwise comment - and suddenly she's 'Shrieky Shriti the ball-breaker'. And we all know why, says the Guardian's Zoe Williams

We don't know much about Baroness Vadera, who this week found herself lambasted by critics after daring to suggest there were "green shoots" appearing in the economy: but what we do know is this. She is single, 5ft 2in, a former investment banker and 45 years old. Mostly personal stuff - and do we think that is related to the fact that she's a woman and her critics are men? Well, yes we do: men, after all, do not usually knock women so small that you might kick them by accident when you get out of the bath.

The relatively obscure adviser to Gordon Brown- she does not like the limelight and bystanders have lost no time at all in pointing out how uncertain she is in it - has made a relatively mild, if ill-advised, remark. The Tories, finding it just controversial enough to launch one of their keening, "Oh the insensitivity! Oh my sore heart!" displays, have thrashed on about it. And the (male) journalists have all piled in on top.

Had she been a man, perhaps a precis of her career would have been given, but her disgrace would have been turned towards Brown. But she is not a man! So, problem number one. What is a woman doing in this job in the first place? Aha, well, she is not exactly a woman. According to some fella in the Spectator, she is an "assassin ... ass-kicker ... axe-wielder"; the Mail quotes anonymous colleagues, calling her "Shriti the Shriek"; Nick Robinson on the Today programme absolutely disgraces himself, here: "Civil servants call her Shreiky Shriti. Others choose to leave." I mean, seriously - can you imagine that ever being said about a man, that he was such a big meanie, he had such a shouty voice, that people under him had to leave their jobs?

It's piffle. You could find people in any institution, under any boss, who left because they weren't getting on, and in order for that to pass muster as a useful thing for a journalist to disseminate, it would have to be unusual and documented, a matter of public record. There would have to be complaints on a personnel file, people willing to put their names to it. To be said about a man, this would have to be news: with a woman, apparently, it's news enough that she has a job in the first place and doesn't act in what Robinson considers to be a very womanly fashion. If we can stick with Nick for a second, he also offers that Vadera is a "deal-maker and ball-breaker". Deal-maker often crops up in hatchet jobs against women - it's been used about Nicola Horlick and Marjorie Scardino (first female CEO of a FTSE 100 company); journalist Norman Lebrecht called Avril McCrory, former BBC head of music, the "mother of all deal-makers". It means "enters a negotiation with an aim, seeks execution of the same by means of discussion". You would never say it of a man; it would be taken as read that that's how he operated, since what else is he supposed to do, a jester dance? Arrive in rags with suppurating sores all over his face, begging for scraps? "Ball-breaker" technically means "gives people a hard time", but again, it is never used about a man - even a gay man. Imagine "Peter Mandelson, ball-breaker!", for example. It would be considered homophobic, or, at the least, disrespectful, about a gay man. No such compunction about a woman; if she doesn't like the sound of bollocks what, I ask you, is she doing in the locker room - sorry, workplace - in the first place?

The point is, as a curious public, we are always keen to know why people at the centre of things are hated. During the tortuous American primaries, commentators were always muttering about how people really viscerally despised Hillary Clinton. Excellent. Bring it on. I bet some of this is good stuff, ooh, I wonder if any of it ends in a dodgy stain. And when it comes out, what is it?

She's a "bitch"; she's "ambitious"; she has a "stubborn, grinding energy"; she couldn't show weakness, she was steely ... there was nothing there, in other words. There was just a person with a job.

Madonna? Person with a job, also on a diet. Nicola Horlick? Person with a job, also with some children. Cherie Blair? Person with a job, maybe somewhat grabby. You think of the women who are basically denatured by the commentary, who are made to sound extraordinary, defeminised to the point of being alien, ridiculed for their barking, their brashness, their lack of composure, derided for their bullying, despised for their ambition, and it's all a puff of smoke.

There's nothing behind it; just a woman, with a job. Test these statements against a man. It would not take long. Gordon Brown is ambitious. He is a deal-maker.

He breaks balls. He is a bitch (or, if you prefer, a bastard). He is five foot, ten and three quarter inches. They call him Shouty Gordo. It's pretty simple to root this stuff out, no? Simple, and nevertheless important.

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