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Buddhist transformation

January 24, 2010

Lhundub Tendron, center, is the spiritual program
director at the Kadampa Center, where she teaches
classes, answers questions and helps run operations.
BY YONAT SHIMRON - Staff Writer
News Observer
January 21, 2010

RALEIGH -- The Venerable Lhundub Tendron wasn't
always a Buddhist nun. For most of her life, she wasn't even a Buddhist.

She was Leslie Inman, a New Orleans native living
in Charlotte who was separated from her husband
and searching, not very consciously, for inner peace.

She found it in a meditation group that taught
her the fundamentals of mindfulness according to
the technique developed by the famous Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh.

But there was no conversion moment. She wasn't
struck by lightning. Nor did she knowingly reject
a previous religious path. She just started noticing things.

One day on her daily walk, she noticed a
beautiful sunset and realized she probably would
have missed it in years past. In the next days,
she noticed a new flower, a person's smiling face.

Eventually, she said, "not a day went by when I didn't notice something."

Before she knew it, she was becoming a Buddhist -
considered by followers to be a person who is awake.

This month, Buddhists were disparaged by Fox News
commentator Brit Hume when he suggested that
golfer Tiger Woods reject the Buddhism of his
mother and turn to Christianity if he wanted to
find forgiveness and redemption.

But many former Christians, including Tendron,
are finding that forgiveness and redemption in
Buddhism rather than in Christianity.

More than 1,200 people - most of them U.S. born -
are on the mailing list of Raleigh's Kadampa
Center for the Practice of Tibetan Buddhism, one
of a dozen local Buddhist centers. The Kadampa
Center has about 350 active members. Sunday
mornings, at least 40 children work on crafts or
talk about values while their parents meditate or
listen to a teaching by a Tibetan refugee monk, Geshe Gelek Chodha.

If there's one indicator of the seriousness of
these members' undertakings, it is this: Since
the center's founding in 1992, three Western
women who attended the center have taken vows as Buddhist nuns.

In the Buddhist tradition, taking vows means
giving up the lives they once had and devoting
themselves to studying dharma, or the faith's
teachings. While laypeople take vows promising to
refrain from killing, stealing and lying, monks
and nuns take additional vows to refrain from sex, too.

As a sign of their commitment, monks and nuns
shave their heads and, in the Tibetan tradition,
wear crimson robes. They are also bestowed a new
name to reflect their new identities. Lhundub
means "effortless." Tendron means "teaching lamp."

Tendron, 54, likes to think of her name as an
aspirational prayer: May I shine a light on the teachings without effort.

As the spiritual program director, Tendron
teaches classes, answers questions and helps coordinate spiritual programs.

"Because so many religious traditions close women
out, I appreciate having a strong, very dedicated
spiritual woman here," said Donna Seese, the center's office manager.

Tendron wasn't always spiritual. When she moved
to Raleigh at age 24, religion simply wasn't a
part of her life. She completed her bachelor's
degree in English at N.C. State University,
married, moved to Charlotte and got a master's degree in health education.

But when her marriage broke up, she became
acutely aware that she didn't like who she had become.

"I was very self-centered," Tendron said. "I was
sarcastic, argumentative, angry. I wanted to change that."

After returning to Raleigh in the early 1990s,
she went on a four-day retreat on the subject of
compassion and felt for the first time that Buddhism made perfect sense.

The endless chatter going on in her head, in
which she kept rehashing things that made her
angry, became more noticeable, and for the first
time, she set her mind to replacing those
thoughts. Suddenly, she felt so much more peaceful.

During the day she worked at the National AIDS
hotline. Evenings and weekends, she meditated and studied dharma.

By 1998, the idea of becoming a nun was something
she seriously pondered. She flew to France and
spent six months at Plum Village, a meditation
practice center founded by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

But she missed her father and siblings and felt
she wasn't ready to move abroad permanently.

She returned to Raleigh and to the Kadampa Center
and took a day job as editor for a national
antiracism Web site. But the idea of devoting her
life exclusively to Buddhism never died.
Eventually her family became comfortable with the idea.

In 2002, she was ordained in Madison, Wis., by a
monk in the Tibetan lineage, Geshe Sopa Rinpoche.

The following year, she entered the Chenrezig
Nun's Community in Queensland, Australia, a
residential center where Tibetan Buddhist nuns
live, work and study. After completing a
five-year program, she was asked to return to the
Kadampa Center in 2008 to work alongside its monk, Geshe Gelek.

Members of the Kadampa Center, most of whom are
American-born, say there's an advantage to having
a Westerner on board who understands their
cultural traditions. Before Christmas, for
example, Tendron helped members prepare for
gatherings with family members who adhere to Christian or Jewish traditions.

Among Tendron's cautionary words: Check in with
your body for signs of tension. Pause. Pay
attention. Take a deep breath. When necessary, shut up.

"I thought it was incredibly kind of her to meet
us where we were," said Karen Edwards of
Carrboro, a member. "She's an incredible role model of transformation."

yonat.shimron@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4891
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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