Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo: What Is the Meaning of Life?

Excellence Reporter: Jetsunma, what is the meaning of life?

Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo: A friend told me yesterday that at the school where she used to teach in the UK, six students on the previous day had attempted suicide. In this modern world there is a pervasive sense of futility and lack of direction especially among the young.  Life—however privileged—appears to have no meaning.

But whether or not we find meaning depends largely on how we respond to the situations we encounter.  What do we regard as the meaning of life? If it is directed only towards our own well-being, to have a comfortable and easy existence or to aim for our financial or professional success, then that is where we will place our energies. If our ambitions seem thwarted or unattainable then we will succumb to despair. Life will seem meaningless.

Most living beings are motivated by the desire for happiness—we share this wish with animals—but our problem is that we do not understand where genuine happiness lies and we often mistake pleasure for happiness. So then we pursue pleasurable experiences whether sensual, artistic or intellectual in the vain hope that this will bring satisfaction and meaning into our lives. But this is like drinking salty water to quench our thirst. However much we attain there is always the need for more. So we act like rodents endlessly scrambling on the wheel. Meantime our lives become more frantic but less meaningful.

We do not understand that genuine happiness is an inner state of contentment and peace. Happiness depends on our mind. If our minds are out of control and stressed, how can we be at ease? This is why the ancient art of mindfulness has become so popular nowadays. People are learning how to come back to themselves with awareness and clarity in order to discover that the meaning and solution to life’s problems lies within us and not merely in the outer show.

Fortunately many find meaning in the wish to do something to help the planet and those beings that share it. So then our aspirations will be more towards altruistic service. How can I live to benefit others as well as myself? It has been said that “All the suffering there is in this world arises from wishing our self to be happy. All the happiness there is in this world arises from wishing others to be happy.”

The combination of mindful awareness with a loving heart fulfills our purpose as human beings and would give meaning to everything we do. If only we could cultivate a good heart towards all living beings, then our mother earth could give a deep sigh of relief and gratitude. 

The meaning of life is to realize our human potential of inner goodness and intelligence. 

So ultimately the meaning of our human existence is to wake up from the sleep of ignorance and realize our true nature which is primordial non-dual awareness, the consummation of wisdom and compassion. All genuine spiritual traditions aspire for this.


~Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo was raised in London. In 1964, aged 20, she traveled to India to pursue her spiritual path and met her guru, His Eminence the 8thKhamtrul Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist Lama. She became one of the first Westerners to ordain as a Tibetan Buddhist nun. The inspiring story of her life, including 12 years of secluded retreat in a Himalayan cave, is the subject of the biography, Cave in the Snow. Jetsunma’s Teachings are available in two books: Into the Heart of Life and Reflections on a Mountain Lake.

A popular Buddhist teacher, she presents the Dharma in an accessible manner to audiences across the world.

Jetsunma is Founder and Abbess of Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in H.P. where some 100 young women, from the Himalayan region receive monastic training. In addition, Jetsunma guides a group of dedicated nuns training in the yogic tradition of the Togdenma lineage.

In 2008 Tenzin Palmo was given the title of Jetsunma, which means Venerable Master, by His Holiness the Twelfth Gyalwang Drukpa, Head of her lineage. She is President of Sakyadhita International and a member of the Supreme Dhamma Council of the International Buddhist Confederation.

Copyright © 2016 Excellence Reporter
Photo: Olivier Adam

Categories: Buddhism

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