Smiles all around: Pema Chödrön meets President Barack Obama

Pema Chodron and President Obama - Shambhala SunSpacePema Chödrön and President Obama.

On September 13th, Buddhist nun, teacher, and author Pema Chödrön had the opportunity to meet President Barack Obama. There were, as you can see, smiles all around. Below, Glenna Olmsted, Executive Assistant to Pema, tells us about the meeting and how it came to be.

It all seemed so surreal to get the call that Ani Pema might get an audience with Barack Obama. Our colleague Pamela Krasney had been trying to make it happen for months — Pema had told Pamela that she had wished for a while now to meet the president. So for the second time in recent weeks, we set it all up to get her to Denver, not knowing if it would really happen this time. But Pema was ready and willing no matter what.

On the morning of the meeting, we headed to Golden, Colorado, being guided by “the girl in the box” — as I like to call my GPS. She was relentless in getting us there, interrupting Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s teaching on the nature of mind (which came on from my playlist at random as we started our journey). Auspicious, and we got a great chuckle over it all to boot!

Finally we met up with our host, Bob Morehouse, at a nearby restaurant so that we could get a place to park, close enough to walk to Pema’s checkpoint. All went without a glitch as we checked her in and made our plans to meet up after the rally. We waited until they whisked her away to a security area where she would wait for the President with thirty other lucky folks.

The line to get in to the rally was about five blocks long. Unbeknownst to me, mine was a “VIP” ticket, so I was herded in through the maze and ended up right in front of the President’s podium. After his speech, I got to shake his hand! Wow!

Before he came out to speak, Ani Pema was anxiously awaiting his arrival. When he showed up, he was introduced to each person one by one. When it was Pema’s turn and she told him that she was a Buddhist nun, he asked her how long she had been a Buddhist. The thing that most impressed Pema was that he was so present with each person, genuinely asking and kindly listening, and playfully interacting with the children who were there.

Pema was so charmed with him that she couldn’t remember the rest of their conversation. He gave her a hug and they had their picture taken together. Then she and her newfound friends there were ushered to another VIP section to watch his speech.

Needless to say, it was something we will never forget!


  1. Kandy says

    President Obama and Pema Chodron are remarkable people and carry remarkable energy.
    I have lived through many Presidents, but he is the first I can truly call 'MyPresident' – and she is one of my most important teachers. i am grateful to them both.

  2. Matt says

    This is a photo of a fearless and profoundly inspirational spiritual leader standing arm in arm with a man who has been essentially singlehandedly responsible for delegating death to countless people around the world with terrifying, robotic war machines from the sky. How dangerous to forget this, as this photo so threatens to make us do.

    • T. Ruth Willout says

      And she's really holding on to him, too. I guess her insights about human beings is as skewed as yours … NOT

      • Matt says

        Apparently my take on this sure to be very, very popular image is distasteful to you – I don't mean any harm. I love Ani Pema and I respect her immensely. I simply remain profoundly troubled at how much cognitive dissonance there remains around the image of Barack Obama, peacemaker and sage leader, and the equally important and accurate image of Barack Obama, dangerous and militaristic hawk. Not surprisingly I am troubled by photographs that, as I see it, almost fully embody that erasure and that dissonance. I am saddened that my posting this comment in a way that attempted to berespectful to all seems to have provoked aggression. That was not my intent. May all beings enjoy happiness.

        • partytime excellent says

          I am saddened you are saddened

          Just kidding, I find your emotional back-pedalling to be a pathetic display of pandering with one hand and patronizing with the other

          talk about cognitive dissonance…

          • Matt says

            I posted something I thought was important be said. There was no pandering and I did not backpedal. I spoke up for something I thought was important be said. If you disagree, great – really. Other people enjoy this image – good, truly. I don't want to hog space so I will not say more. But my intentions were honest and honorable. This is a Buddhist publication. There is simply nothing to fight about here. Peace.

          • schwing! says

            this type of honesty is always very unpopular, and unwelcome

            and that is what belies the genuineness of your intent

            because if you really were honest in this way, you would have alot of experience by now, and you would expect such a negative reaction

            some people arent destined for the limelight of public affection and approval by the lowest common denominator.. but if it breaks your heart to hear that, you probably arent one of them

            so bring on the hate, the negative scores and all that.. because i consider such disapproval to be just as meaningless as the vapid obsession with fame and celebrity and image that has plagued humanity from the dawn of time

            if you want hallmark card truisms, go watch oprah or dr. phill

          • Mark says

            Matt brings up important information about the drons and the killing. We cannot turn our back on reality. We can still respect our president and be disappointed with war and not want to forget its realities.
            May we all accept things as they are
            May we be understood by the comings and goings of all events

          • Karen says

            Do not be put off by those who are angry with you for posting your honest feelings, because their egos are still very attached to their ideas about the purity of their Buddhism and they do not yet know how to speak skillfully. It is a photo that raises some important questions in the minds who are predisposed to do as the Buddha instructed; however, many people cannot or will not ask the difficult questions and resent those who threaten to knock them out of their comfort zone. Your comment was thoughtfully worded and you should not be dissuaded from speaking your truth, respectfully, by those who cannot abide looking in the mirror.

    • naturuallaw says

      Thank you Matt! I am so grateful to see some truthful words – veruy refreshing after all this drivelling and grovelling. I really am disgusted with it all. This Obama person is absolutely phony – all through phony! That is the end of Ani Pema for me!

    • Edgar says

      Quite presumptuous and terribly misguided to think that Ani Pema Chodron is unaware how much suffering we are ALL involved in, every day, especially considering you claim to know how fearless she is. I imagine that is the very reason she wanted to talk with him.

      This photo gives me hope, in fact, that basic goodness has the potential to dawn everywhere, and it reminds me of the importance of encouraging that to happen. Way to go Ani Pema!!!

  3. Rita says

    bad move -where would CTR be – where is the real politics happening in the US-surely not in O's realm -now increasingly more on the streets of America through general assemblies and the various movements that are errupting -why indeed is the US President not meeting with these people who are being harangued by the US police for expressing their protests in a civil manner on the streets… democracy in the US now.

  4. Richard Alexander says

    It is "inconceivable" to infer that President Obama is the puppet master behind the strings of WAR. There is so much more going on in this quagmire of times that we are in. The President during the Civil War was not well thought of during his term (and for the times the weapons were horrendous) but through the lens of history he was the right man at the time. So it is truly a blessing that Pema Chodron and Barack Obama have met and any insinuation that this is not the case is myopic!

  5. Kevin says

    I appreciate Matt and others pointing out the dissonace. I am sure Pema had her reasons that went beyond adulation for wanting to meet the president. Obama may be the first president to be Buddhist friendly ( rumor has it he had a Kata from the Dalai Lama in his pocket when he was sorn in ) but he is a modern intellectual and a traditional Christian in the way he approaches our national interests. His hands are no less bloody than any of our previous presidents.

  6. Mark says

    Obama had a lot of blood on his hands, and Pema embracing him could be seen as political influence on the Shambala community. On the other hand, with finger pointing and not appearing in the picture change seems to be even further. I would have wished that Pema would have asked him to stop killing people instead of telling him how lob she is a buddhist. She should have reminded him of the four noble truth and the noble eightfold path.

    • Lucy says

      How do we know what she asked him? We didn't get their full conversation! Anyway, she'll rub off on him. Her being Is the 4 noble truths.

    • naturuallaw says

      I am horrified! What on Earth did she want to meet this person for?

      But then, why did the HH the Dalai Lama accept the congressional of honor from George Bush while he was destroying Iraq?
      Buddhists can be just as hypocritcal as anyone else, of course – but I do not like it one little bit.
      I am ………….no words unless I be very rude indeed.

  7. Grace says

    I would trust Ani Pema's take on the importance of meeting the President and her
    delight in the actual experience over any one's pre-conceived notion of what is "right".

  8. Nancy says

    Um, sorry to butt in but the snarky tone from a woman named "Grace" putting the words "right" in quotes is an amazing dicotomy to me…yes, the disconnect to what we as a nation and a society allow in our name is profound and disturbing. And when people who supposedly practice in a way that spreads peace and wishes for well being start being this gnarly on a thread, it's like a perfect example of how we cannot see ourselves. Ironic.

  9. Yonten says

    Buddhist nun meets POTUS — it's a good thing folks – hooray for Pema.

    Just a thought — some of us might need to take a seat and just breathe for awhile….

    • equanimity says

      Just a thought – everybody has their own opinion, and yours is no more valid than anyone elses

      breathe through that

  10. Jeff says

    I wish that it was more than a meet & greet and an actual conversation between the two. None the less a great moment.

    • naturuallaw says

      This Obama person has absolutely no interest in Buddhism! Please stop being so sentimental, all of you.
      And how can you think there is any honor in meeting such a person? How many children has he had murdered in Afghanistn??? Have you any idea what he is responsible for in Afgjanistan and Pakistan – and elsewhere?
      Do you not know that he is just a poor pathetic puppet?

  11. Firefly says

    I would take it as a picture of two beings with great power. I hope it inspires all of us to reach out and share our common connection for the betterment of all beings.

  12. magintob says

    HH the Dalai Lama met GW Bush and said he liked him, he was a nice fellow. So Why shouldn't Ani Pema meet Barack Obama and be similarly pleased to do so? She is meeting him as a warm and friendly human being and he is meeting her as a fine Buddhist teacher. The President also met Aung San Suu Kyi. What's the problem? Have people truly been listening to Ani Pema's teachings?

    • naturuallaw says

      Aung San S Khi was supported – or rather set up – by the worst of the worst people on Earth – such as George Soros! Her husband was British MI6 for heaven's sake. She betrayed her country and she is as hard as nails.

      I am shocked at the ignorance of the Buddhists here – so ignorant!

    • naturuallaw says

      Yes! Oprah whould have been there – it is just the right setting for such as Oprah Winfrey!

  13. Patricia says

    Try to remember that your thoughts are energy and that energy is put out there for all of us. Please help us find Peace by "Being" the Peace we all desire. Throwing positive thoughts out there is a way to help.

  14. says

    A wonderful image in time. Every such meeting is a step of progress toward a world of love and joy, with hatred, greed, and war just a memory of the past. These are the important values, and they are accessible in all places and all times.

  15. buddhadharmaobfinternational says

    What a great meeting. Health and Long life for Ani Pema and Barack Obama.
    ๑۩۞۩๑ ཨོཾ་མ་ཎི་པ་དྨེ་ཧཱུྃ་ ๑۩۞۩

  16. Emily Searles says

    I'm so frustrated with liberals saying he's not liberal enough or hasn't done what he said he would. Love you President Obama and Pema. Thank you for your efforts!

  17. naturuallaw says

    I might as well also mention that t is the horrible David Rockerfeller and teh equally horrible and devious Maurice Strong and his sister Hanna who for some reason have been giving land around Crestone to other Buddhists and dissident Catholic nuns and New Agers and such like. WHY???
    (Apart from the fact that that land belongs to American Indians and those people have no right to give it to anyone because it does not belong to them and never will.)

  18. naturuallaw says

    All my comments seem to have been removed.
    I thought Pema was in retreat?!? Did she not announce that she would be in retreat for this whole year? And she came out – for what?

  19. Bronson says

    Peace loving hippy meets war criminal responsible for countless civilian deaths. Some how his record for murder never comes up. Buddhist nuns, working to make no impact on US imperialism.

  20. Karen says

    This photo raises some difficult questions for me about the extent to which a practicing Buddhist should, by his or her actions, choose to associate him/herself with those that are practicing evil.
    "Associate not with evil friends,
    associate not with mean men.
    Associate with good friends,
    associate with those who are noble." – Dhammapada, Verse 78
    On the other hand, since Obama is making his karma through the killing of innocent civilians and other acts, I can see where one would have compassion for him, being ignorant of the consequences of the causes and conditions he is creating.
    As one who is attempting to follow the path, I find these questions worth pondering and discussing, and I don't see – as some others here seem to – any easy answers.

  21. Truth says

    As Kasan waited for the governor, he noticed he had sweaty palms. The next day he confessed to his disciples that he was not ready to be a true teacher; he lacked the sameness of bearing before all, whether beggar or king.

  22. Martha Black says

    This post put a big smile in my face today.. love Pema and one of my mot favorite Presidents Obama what an amazing reunion can only image the energy at that place that day : )