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Shambhala Sun | May 2014


Model Buddhist

For NAIMA MORA, being a fashion model goes beyond striking a pose. As she tells Andrea Miller, it’s about doing her part to make the world a better place.

There’s Buddhism with its iconic images of Shakyamuni in simple robes, and then there’s the fashion industry, with its legion of willowy, airbrushed models and its plethora of this season’s stuff. Are these two worlds at odds? Not at all, says Naima Mora, who has modeled for such big-name companies as CoverGirl and Elle magazine.

“Buddhism is about everyday life,” she explains. “The average person here and now—anyone—has the potential to attain enlightenment. I decided that I wanted to be a model. Then I had to decide what to do with that. I could be self-absorbed and not do anything besides book my work and live my own life, but I decided to take my successes and use them as a platform to encourage people. That can be said about any career or path. Whatever path we choose is always an opportunity to reveal our buddhanature.”

Mora got her start in modeling while working at a coffee shop. Some casting scouts came in and asked her if she wanted to audition for America’s Next Top Model. It wasn’t long before she had a place on the internationally syndicated show.

Halfway through filming, Mora and the other aspiring models were on location in Cape Town, South Africa, when they visited Robben Island. To Mora, the rows of cells seemed endless, but finally the group came to the single cramped cell that had held Nelson Mandela for eighteen years. The guide asked who would like to open the door, and everyone fell silent.

Knowing she’d never have this chance again, Mora took the master key to the prison in her hand and felt the cold, iron weight of it. Then, fingers trembling, she turned the key in the lock. The door swung open.

Growing up amid the violence and poverty of Detroit, Mora had struggled to believe that there was hope for a better future. At age fifteen, she was held up at gunpoint for the first time on her way home from school. Some of her closest friends were murdered; others were victims of statutory rape. Yet Mora also had positive role models, and this made all the difference.

Andrea Miller is deputy editor of the Shambhala Sun. Her new anthology is Buddha’s Daughters: Teachings from Women Who Are Shaping Buddhism in the West.

Photo by Nia Mora-Moynihan.

Excerpted from the May 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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