Authorized as a lama in 1986 by her root teacher, Khabje Kalu Rinpoche, Lama Palden Drolma has been a student and practitioner of Buddhism for over 35 years, and of Comparative Mysticism for over 40 years. She is the founding teacher of Sukhasiddhi Foundation in Marin County, a Tibetan Buddhist center in the Shangpa Kagyu lineage.

As a fifteen year old, I was working with an anti-war group called Vietnam Summer. Walking out of the office one day I had a revelation that all wars are caused by human anger and aggression. I realized that this anger and aggression was in me too. I understood that I needed to resolve my own inner conflicts and aggression in order to be of more benefit to humanity. That day I resolved to work on this: on cultivating deep inner peace and liberating the anger and conflictual energy within myself.

Little did I know what a long journey this would be. At first the road was circuitous. My belief in the wholesomeness of the church had been broken apart two years earlier. I had been reading what I could find in sacred literature from a variety of traditions. I did some meditation, prayer and yoga. Eventually, in my mid-twenties, after practicing in Mystical Christianity, Zen, Sufism, and yoga I was quite desperate internally. I had had many mystical experiences, but I was acutely aware of my own shortcomings, imperfections and lack of inner peace. At this time I began to pray, actually to Mary, the Divine Mother, to bring me to my guru.

On a full moon evening in September of my twenty-fifth year, a bufi (Buddhist/Sufi) friend dragged me off to see an old Tibetan master. I say dragged, because I really didn’t feel like going, but he talked to me for two hours until I finally agreed. We went into San Francisco that night to see the Tibetan lama. As we walked into an old classroom in a public school, I saw people politely seated on rows of chairs. Rinpoche was on a small stage at the end of the room, a translator next to him. Within five minutes of sitting down and listening to this man, I knew he was my teacher. My actual teacher- the one I had been looking for. He offered to give us Buddhist refuge vows. I said to myself that I had no idea, really, what his religion was all about, but if it was good enough for him, it was good enough for me. Along with four other women I went up on the little stage and sat down cross-legged on the floor. We formally took refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha until full and complete enlightenment for the benefit of all beings. His name was Kalu Rinpoche. He told us that he was far too old to come all the way over here to give us teachings that weren’t true. It was obvious to me that he was an authentic spiritual master.

Thus began my journey of the last 33 years. I went to Kalu Rinpoche’s center in San Francisco where I was given certain meditation practices to do. Every day at home I did the practices. I had been doing daily practice for some years, but immediately after starting Vajrayana (Tibetan Buddhist) practice a huge shift occurred in my meditation. This happened through the “dedication of merit” that is always done in this tradition. This is when, at the end of a meditation session, one dedicates any benefit coming from the practice to the alleviation of suffering and full liberation for every single sentient being. Doing this suddenly empowered my practice. I felt more confident in my meditation and prayer.

Rinpoche invited us to come study with him in his monastery in Darjeeling, India. I soon made my way there. Through Rinpoche’s amazing kindness, love and laughter, he transmitted wisdom to us bedraggled hippies. He believed far more in us than we did in ourselves. A few years later I entered three year retreat, a traditional meditation training that was one of Kalu Rinpoche’s primary activities. The path of Vajrayana Buddhism has benefited me beyond any expectations. The kindness and realization of many lamas has held me lovingly in full support. Rinpoche trained and then empowered us to teach, to share. He told us that we would need to be the ones to figure out how to bring the Buddhadharma to the West, that this was not the domain of the old masters.

After all these years, I am still working on bringing complete inner peace to fruition. However, some experience of realization, compassion, and lack of separation from the entirety of what is, has opened up for me. We all suffer in this human life; dharma gives us the tools and understanding to turn that suffering into wisdom and compassion. I am forever grateful. The kind of activism I am involved with these days is mainly in helping people to awaken to the amazing reality of their true nature and to serve from the place of humility and love. Sharing the dharma with others is one of the greatest privileges and joys of my life.


  1. Thank you, Lama Palden, for sharing your path with us. We were contemplating the questions “where is a ‘me first’ attitude useful on the Buddhist path and why” in our Denver Rebel Buddha “book club” last evening. I was struck by your last paragraph in this regard. My personal experience, as well as my experience with my psychotherapy clients, has taught me that the more deeply we allow ourselves to experience our own suffering, the more it allows us to experience compassion for ourselves and for all sentient beings, which then leads to the wisdom of experiencing, in your words, the “lack of separation from the entirety of what is.” May all benefit.

  2. avatar Namkha says:

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing this straight talk from the heart. It is a great example and inspiration for us, women and men, on this path of exploration, offering and refining.

  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Rebel Buddha, Ceci Miller. Ceci Miller said: Beautiful story of discovering her teacher, Kalu Rinpoche by Lama Palden on @rebelbuddha http://bit.ly/hBxwau […]

  4. avatar Dan Maher says:

    Thanks for your story, my wife Pauli and I are just starting out on our journey to compassionate existance. We hope your practice finds its continuance..