It’s hard to sustain an interview with Kenden Bhutia, founder of Norbuling, a ‘mind-training institute’ in Sweden; she keeps veering off the factual answers to your questions, and takes you on a philosophical journey into the way the mind works, transforming your consciousness and overcoming your negative tendencies, with large doses of personal counselling thrown in. Dressed not in a white robe but in a Puma jacket and jeans, she blends into the crowd at Costa Coffee in Basant Lok, Delhi; her twinkling, wise eyes the only giveaway that she’s gone through years of religious training as the only female Buddhist Lama in the world from the Nymigpa lineage in Tibet.
Kenden was six years old, the daughter of refugee Tibetans in Delhi, when she came across a man by the side of the road roasting corncobs. She sat beside him and asked how he fed himself and his family solely through this business. “I am living my karma,” he replied, an answer that triggered off a drive towards ‘mindfulness’ in the young child. A few years later, she saw a sweeper and his wife share a piece of roti with sliced onions on the street outside her home. “How come we have so much to eat and they don’t?” she asked her parents indignantly. “Is that karma?” When her father sighed, yes, she said, sullenly, “I don’t like this karma. I don’t like it at all.”
After years of studying Buddhist tenets under teachers of different Tibetan lineages in Dharamshala and elsewhere, Kenden believes Buddhism is not a religion, but a way of life. “My teachers wanted me to understand the Dharma thoroughly so that I would be able to teach others,” she shares over a cappuccino. Her journey has taken her from Tibet, where she was born, to India, where she did her graduation in Sociology and worked as an air-hostess, to Sweden, where she now lives with her husband and works as a corporate trainer.
Each land has taught her something precious: “India taught me that one can smile even when you do not own much. Tibet taught me to be responsible for my own actions and to be aware of my own shortcomings. Sweden taught me how technology can make your life easy, but at a cost.”
Kenden is an unlikely nun: she is modern and hip and speaks the contemporary urban lingo. “Yes, I am unlike a Buddhist nun but I am very much a yogini,” she laughs. “I have attended school and university like any other girl, married and have a son like any other woman. In addition, I have also studied many Buddhist tenets in depth. In the end, my actions and intentions are more important to me than what I wear.”
Not sure of what year she was born, or what order she falls amongst her five siblings, Kenden (who guesses that she’s in her mid-40s) believes “religion is dead” and humans need a “new way of thinking. Individuality is the new keyword, and spirituality has to be adapted to each person.” Hence she has developed Mind Training and the Mind Open programmes for adults and children, respectively, to teach the secular values of compassion and empathy, using scientific evidence to show how the mind and body are inter-linked. Her organization Norbuling also teaches meditation, Tibetan yoga and Kum Nye healing massages, all backed up with research. “You can’t enforce spirituality in the Western world; you have to use their language,” she explains, adding that she chose to bring up her 14-year-old in the “spiritually rich environs of India,” where he lives with her parents and siblings, learning “all aspects of life, rich and poor, materialistic and religious.”
Kenden doesn’t believe in planning out everything in life. “Be flexible about change, because things are going to change,” she advises. The topic veers to ‘destiny’; aren’t we supposed to accept our karma? With a slow, deliberate nod and a knowing look in her eyes, Kenden replies, “I don’t like this karma. I don’t like it at all.”
First published in Atelier magazine