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This Is How I Saved Myself

Tina Turner shares her spiritual practice of 50 years

In Tina Turner’s new book, Happiness Becomes You, she advises readers to ask themselves a simple question: “Will I take a step forward, or will I stay where I am now? Your answer to that question,” she insists, “moment by moment, determines your life path.”

Photo: Vera Tammen

The 81-year-old Turner, an American entertainment icon whose influence extends across generations, now adds life coach to her list of accomplishments. Having already written two autobiographies, here she turns the spotlight on her spiritual life — specifically her 50 years as a practicing Buddhist — which she credits for much of her success: “This is how I saved myself,” she declares. “This is how I made my wildest dreams come true.”

It’s commonly known that Turner overcame great adversity on her way to stardom, and she briefly describes her impoverished childhood in Nutbush, Tennessee, where she was abandoned by both parents. Next came years of abuse at the hands of her first husband, Ike Turner, with whom she also found great commercial success in the music business. Her early struggles culminated in a suicide attempt in 1968 and a difficult divorce from Ike 10 years later.

In the early 1970s, friends introduced her to the spiritual practice of chanting, and she found great solace and strength there. The inspiring traditions of Buddhism and the hours she spent chanting empowered Turner to believe that she could improve her life condition by “changing poison into medicine — transforming destructive negativity into creative positivity.” 

Turner embraces a tradition of Japanese Buddhism called Soka Gakkai, based on the teachings of a 13th-century priest named Nichiren, in which the chanting of “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” is a central devotional practice. Nichiren taught that the act of chanting could “open the door to enlightenment” by accessing the power of the Lotus Sutra, a collection of ancient wisdom first introduced to Western readers by Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson.

The more Turner began to chant, she explains, the more self-aware she became: “I was able to see the tendencies that were holding me back and bringing me down, including low self-esteem, codependence, denying my worth, and deferring decisions about my life to others.” (Not surprisingly, Ike tried to discourage her chanting during their marriage, Turner says, for fear that she might put a “curse” on him.)

What readers may not know is that Turner’s later years, despite financial and creative success, have not been free of suffering and heartache. Although her second marriage, to German music executive Erwin Bach, is a happy one, Turner has faced multiple health crises, including a stroke, intestinal cancer, and kidney failure, the latter prompting her husband to donate one of his kidneys to her. Most heartbreaking was the death by suicide of her oldest son, Craig, in 2018. But through it all, Turner’s faith has sustained her and even enabled her to forgive her ex-husband. “Eventually,” she writes, “I came to terms with the fact that Ike must have been suffering a living hell within himself to treat me and our children the way he did.”

Turner distills her life philosophy into eight easy-to-read chapters and includes a helpful glossary of Buddhist terms, as well as inspiring quotes from a broad spectrum of artists, philosophers, and change-makers: from Gandhi to Marvin Gaye, Aristotle to Alice Walker, Martin Luther King Jr. to Dolly Parton. Turner’s earnest and open-hearted sharing of the spiritual life that has brought her so much joy should prove an accessible entry point for those with little knowledge of Buddhism, as well as a source of inspiration and encouragement for those who already practice.

“Rising from the ashes of my earlier life,” Turner says, “I learned that our thoughts, words, and deeds are unified through spiritual practice. … And when our thoughts, words, and deeds are aligned with our most positive intentions, magic happens.”

This Is How I Saved Myself

Tina Chambers has worked as a technical editor at an engineering firm and as an editorial assistant at Peachtree Publishers, where she worked on books by Erskine Caldwell, Will Campbell, and Ferrol Sams, to name a few. She lives in Chattanooga.