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M Real Lives: I was married six times.. now I'm a Buddhist nun; Ever got so sick of the dating game you've considered giving up on men completely? Join the club. But, unlike most of us, Helen was as good as her word. After six failed marriages she's taken a vow of celibacy and devoted her life to Buddhism.


Kelsang Yangdzom rises at 7am, dresses in her burgundy and saffron robes and looks at herself in the mirror. Sometimes she barely recognises the reflection.

Her golden locks are gone, replaced with the most simple of styles to maintain - a number-two crop.

She doesn't wear make-up and her expensive power suits have made way for robes, jeans and a sweatshirt.

She's been married six times but is now not allowed to have sex - it's against her religion. And instead of leading a full social life she's content to stay in the one room she calls home and study Buddhist teachings.

Yet Kelsang - or Helen du Rocher as she was formerly known - could not be happier. Despite an incredible cultural life change, she says she's finally found peace and enlightenment.

"I've led an amazing and eventful life which I don't regret, but I'm now more fulfilled and peaceful," she explains.

"I don't miss having a man in my life at all and I don't hanker for the good things in life."

Helen, 47, lives in a Buddhist centre in Brighton with around 30 other residents where she fills her time teaching philosophy and sewing robes for her fellow converts.

She lives in one room containing a desk, a sink, a bed, a wardrobe, a chest of drawers with a shrine on top, and a bookcase.

A few family photographs tucked away in the wardrobe are all that remain from her former life.

Helen isn't allowed to have sex with a man and she says being celibate is a life-long promise.

"I have to say that being celibate is very freeing," she says. "Now I can have a relationship with a man without worrying that there's something underlying going on.

"I think that in my life before I was always wondering if men had a hidden agenda. I couldn't be friends with a man without sex taking over.

"Now I can be absolutely open and I know that nothing I say can be taken in a sexual way because the men I mix with are Buddhists themselves. I don't miss sex. And looking back I realise it was more trouble than it was worth because more often than not it led me into another doomed relationship.

"It's not that I regret my marriages - each one taught me something new about myself and I'm grateful - but I wouldn't want to have another relationship. They're too complicated. My life now is clutter-free and that's the way I like it."

Helen met her first husband, Dave, an engineer, through mutual friends when she was 14. She was engaged by the time she was 16, married at 18 and divorced by 21.

"It was the early 70s and the thing to do was to marry and have children when you were young," recalls Helen.

"I was no different and I thought that I wanted to settle down.

"I successfully completed hairdressing school and I was happy in my work. The trouble was my marriage turned violent and I couldn't cope so we went our separate ways."

Helen met husband number two, also called Dave, who worked as a civil engineer, at a party just weeks after splitting with her first husband.

"I wasn't looking for someone else but I didn't want to be alone," says Helen. "Dave was in the right place at the right time and I did love him.

"But the marriage only lasted for three years because I met someone else.

"In 1975 I'd opened a hairdressing salon in Seaford, East Sussex, and I threw myself into my career.

"Maybe we didn't spend as much time together as we needed to but the relationship was soon on the rocks. I was very ambitious and worked long hours at the salon.

"It was very sad but I'd fallen in love with another man and there was no turning back."

In 1978 Helen married the man she'd fallen for, Adrian, a roof tiler. She'd met him on her hen night just before she married her first husband and he pleaded with her not to go through with the ceremony.

They met again when she was six months pregnant with her daughter Kim and married to husband number two. About three months after Kim was born the pair ran away and set up home. They were together for nine years.

"When we married, my career started to take off in a big way," says Helen. "I was working for Wella's sales department and was always on the road teaching people how to use products.

"I progressed quickly into senior management which meant I was away three nights a week while Adrian, who suffered with a back injury, looked after the children, Kim and my son Paul.

"It was a fantastic job. I travelled extensively and earned more than pounds 20,000 a year.

"But Adrian became jealous of me. He thought I was living the high life when in fact I was tumbling into my hotel bed exhausted every night.

"But we needed my money because we'd bought a lovely old five-bedroom house in Torquay. Adrian couldn't cope with me being the breadwinner and, even though we still loved each other, we decided to part.

"I took it badly - I was terrified of being unable to cope as a single parent - and I suffered a nervous breakdown."

When she had recovered, Helen gave up her job and changed career. She started to sell aromatherapy goods until a large company, Tisserand Aromatherapy, asked her to teach people how to use their products.

Her new job took her to the Far East and Middle East and she was allowed to work hours which suited her and the children. "I bought a little flat in Seaford and I felt as though my life was back on track," she recalls.

"I wasn't looking for another man but I was lonely. A girl in the upstairs flat ran a dating agency and she persuaded me to attend a Valentine's party.

"I met a car salesman called Brian from Folkestone and fell for him. We married in 1993 but too soon I realised we were like chalk and cheese.

"We broke up and he kept the house because it was me who walked out. We'd taken out a bank loan secured on my aromatherapy business to help him set himself up as an engineer.

"He refused to come up with the repayments and I was forced to declare myself bankrupt. I lost everything but somehow I managed to pick myself up."

When Helen was 41, she met husband number five, a mechanic named John. They were married for just 18 months.

"It was a mistake and although I thought I loved him, I wonder if I was in love with being in love and not with the person," she says.

"He was a nice chap but we drifted apart. After that, I vowed never to date another man."

But in May 1999, Helen bumped into an old friend, Len, in Sainsbury's car park. They married later that year.

"We married because we didn't want to be lonely but we had different outlooks on life," says Helen.

"I became increasingly unhappy and started to look for other things to interest me. I wasn't looking for another man - I'd had enough - I just wanted something to make me happy with no emotional strings attached."

In February 2000, even though she was still living with Len, Helen decided she wanted no more failed relationships in her life. She wanted to find peace and settle down to a quieter life.

"I'd been given a leaflet on Buddhism and I kept it for 18 months before I did anything about it," says Helen, who used to be a Roman Catholic.

"I went to Brighton Buddhist Centre and started taking meditation classes, which I loved. I felt as though I had come home in a spiritual sense.

"I knew early on that I wanted to be ordained as a Buddhist nun but my teacher at the centre advised me to wait for a little while - I agreed, although it just felt right to me.

"I ended my relationship with Len in July 2000 and moved to the Tara Centre in Derbyshire the following September where I made a fresh start.

"I left all my material possessions behind and lived with the Buddhist nuns. I loved their simple way of life. There was no clutter, lots of space and, most importantly of all, no men."

In June 2001, Helen was ordained a nun in a ceremony at a monastery in Cumbria. "It was one of the best days of my life," she says. "The only thing that was difficult was the fact that I had to have all my hair cut off for symbolic reasons.

"I was given my robes to wear and I was given a new name, Kelsang Yangdzom, which means Fortunate One And Gatherer Of Virtue.

"It took me a while to get used to my new appearance. I felt as though I was in fancy dress."

A typical day for Helen starts at 7am when she starts an hour of prayers and meditation before breakfast. She spends most mornings studying Buddhist philosophy before a communal vegetarian lunch.

In the afternoon she works on the robes she's sewing for the other Buddhists and at around 4pm she prepares for her teaching classes. Then it's prayers before teaching.

After two hours of lessons, Helen chats to her students. On the evenings she doesn't teach, she spends her time reading in her room. There's no TV, no creature comforts and no social life.

"I don't go to parties or pubs any more," says Helen. "Occasionally I might go to a friend's house for a cup of coffee but it's rare.

"Whereas once I loved going out socialising with friends, now I prefer my own company. Sometimes I'd love to go out for a nice meal but that's about as social as I feel.

"I've grown to love my own company and I definitely don't miss the TV or music because I like peace and quiet.

"If I go out to meet friends or my children I wear my jeans. But I much prefer living in my robes because they're so comfortable.

"It's great getting up in the morning. I don't have to think about what I'm going to wear, I don't have to bother about blowdrying my hair and I don't have to set aside time to plaster my face with make-up.

"It's very liberating reducing the clutter in your life. I don't miss anything about my old life except maybe my dog.

"I feel that before I became a Buddhist nun I lived a very full life, I travelled and I experienced a lot. But now I've come to a time in my life when I feel comfortable with myself."

Helen's family have always supported her and she still sees her children Paul, 24, and Kim, 23.

"When I told my children that I was turning to Buddhism, my daughter initially thought it was a whim," says Helen. "But when I moved to the Tara Centre, she came to stay for a week. It helped her to understand why I feel so at home as a Buddhist.

"She went home with some books and a statue and she now has a picture of Buddha on her mantelpiece.

"I don't miss my old life at all. Sometimes I think about how I used to be and it's nice to have memories. But I've found a spiritual awareness I could only have dreamed about before."


Helen's new identity, Kelsang Yangdzom; Pictures: MIKE MOORE; With her father at her first wedding; With husband number three, Adrian; At 40, Helen had a very glamorous image; Helen and her fifth husband, John; She's still close to her kids and step- children
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:M on Tuesday
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Jan 7, 2003
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