The Revolutionary Life of Freda Bedi: British Feminist, Indian Nationalist, Buddhist Nun

Vicki Mackenzie. Shambhala, $16.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-61180-425-6
British journalist Mackenzie (Cave in the Snow) crafts a concise, well-rounded portrait of Freda Bedi (1911–1977), the first Western woman to become a Tibetan Buddhist nun. Freda Houlston was drawn early in life to the lives of the saints and to Eastern thought. Her father’s death in the trenches of World War I was her first taste of universal suffering. At Oxford University she met her husband, Indian Sikh and fellow socialist Baba Phyare Lal Bedi, and wore Indian dress from their wedding onward. The couple settled in India, where Bedi taught English and campaigned for independence from British rule. She first encountered Buddhism on a Unesco mission to Burma and recognized it as her destiny. Taking a vow of chastity and abandoning her three children, she founded a democratic nunnery and school for Tibetan refugees and in 1966 was ordained Sister Palmo. “Is it possible for a woman to be Che Guevara, Mother Teresa, and a physical mother at the same time?” Mackenzie asks. Drawing on interviews with Bedi’s family and acquaintances, and passages from her letters and journals, the fascinating book sensitively explores her contradictory roles while celebrating her part in bringing Buddhism to the West and helping to spark its feminist revolution. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 02/13/2017
Release date: 03/28/2017
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