Lama Shenpen Hookham
Lama Shenpen Hookham was born Susan Kathryn Rowan in Essex, England, in 1946. She first encountered Buddhism while studying Geography and Sociology at Reading University, where she became secretary of the University Buddhist Society and had early encounters with Sangharakshita and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, amongst others.
In the early 1970s, on the advice of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Lama Shenpen went to India where she lived as a nun for six years, ordained by the 16th Karmapa. There she studied and meditated in retreat under the guidance of Tibetan teachers such as Karma Thinley Rinpoche, Bokar Rinpoche and Kalu Rinpoche. Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, the 16th Karmapa and head of the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism, subsequently instructed her to return to the West to teach Mahamudra.
She met her main teacher, Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, in Europe, and he encouraged her to teach and transmit Mahamudra, the innermost teachings of the Kagyu tradition. On her later return to England, she met and married Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche (Michael Hookham), an early pupil of Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche and Dharma Director of the Longchen Foundation (formerly the Chöd Group) since its inception in 1975.
Lama Shenpen is fluent in Tibetan and has translated a number of Tibetan texts into English for her students. On Khenpo Rinpoche’s instructions she produced a seminal study of the profound Buddha Nature doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism, published as The Buddha Within, and gained a doctorate in this from Oxford University. She is also the author of ‘There’s More to Dying than Death’, and translated, edited and published Khenpo Rinpoche’s important teaching: ‘The Progressive Stages of Meditation on Emptiness.’
Lama Shenpen is now the Spiritual Director of the Awakened Heart Sangha, and spends most of her time in semi-retreat at the Hermitage of the Awakened Heart in North Wales, United Kingdom. Under Lama Shenpen’s guidance, in 2011 the Awakened Heart Sangha built an Enlightenment stupa at the Fortress of Enlightenment (Changchub Dzong), the Hermitage at Ynys Graianog, Criccieth, Gwynedd, in North Wales containing a small stupa consecrated by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche. Lama Phuntsok from Nepal directed the construction and came to consecrate it formally in October of that year.
Khenpo Rinpoche and Rigdzin Shikpo Rinpoche have subsequently encouraged Lama Shenpen to develop her teaching activity further, and she is the author and principal teacher of the distance learning programme Living the Awakened Heart Training, a comprehensive training in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight, bringing the most profound teachings of the Mahamudra and Dzogchen traditions to Western students in an accessible, experiential way.
“Maybe you are tired of feeling constantly driven, trapped, lost, unclear, confused, afraid, in pain? You might be tired of feeling helpless in the face of so much suffering of ourselves and others?
Meditation is about waking up out of all of that into the stark simplicity of your immediate experience, opening from the heart and being fully present… it’s what it means to come alive, to wake up to our full potential as a human being.
There is more to us and our experience that we realise, and meditation is the path to discovering that.”
~ Lama Shenpen Hookham