Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, 78, has announced that she will no longer conduct in-person teachings and lectures. It will still offer a monthly Q&A for the public, which will be recorded and posted online. A separate announcement made it clear that Palmo is in good health and will continue his activities at Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, about 48 kilometers southeast of Dharamsala, India.
Both announcements were greeted with joy and gratitude by followers and other Buddhist practitioners around the world. Palmo represented the immense potential for people from all walks of life to meaningfully pursue spiritual life, especially women, who historically have encountered immense obstacles to religious life in Buddhism.
As noted in her spiritual biography, she once said, “I have vowed to attain enlightenment in female form, no matter how many lives it takes.” (5)
The famous spiritual teacher and activist on behalf of women in Tibetan Buddhism was born in England in 1943 as Diane Perry. Her mother was a spiritualist, which influenced her as a seeker of religious truth in her life. At 18, she reads the book The Unshakable Spirit: A Modern Approach to Buddhism (Rider 1961) by John Walters. She worked as a librarian after school, including a period at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in London. There she saved money for a trip to India in 1964. That year she met the Eighth Khamtrul Rinpoche, who would become her root lama.
In 1967, she received the sramanerika ordination at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim by His Holiness the 16th Karmapa. She was one of the first Westerners to be ordained in the Vajrayana tradition and only the second woman. Her full name is Drubgyu Tenzin Palmo, or “Glorious Lady who upholds the doctrine of succession of practice”.
As there was and still is no full ordination available for women in the Tibetan tradition, Palmo traveled to Hong Kong in 1973 to obtain bhikshuni ordination at the Miu Fat temple. She then returned to India where she eventually undertook a solitary practice in a cave for 12 years. In 1998, Vicki MacKenzie wrote the biography of Tenzin Palmo in cave in the snow (Bloomsbury), which propelled Palmo into the international spotlight. She was then able to start raising funds to create Dongyu Gatsal Ling, which translates to “Authentic Lineage Garden”.
In 2008, Palmo was awarded the title “Jetsunma”, which means venerable master, by His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa. In addition to her responsibilities at Dongyu Gatsal Ling and as a teacher, she is president of the International Association of Sakyadhita Buddhist Women, founding director of the Alliance of Non-Himalayan Nuns; Honorary Advisor of the International Network of Committed Buddhists and founding member of the Committee for Bhiksuni Ordination.
MacKenzie, Vicki. 1998. Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman’s Quest for Enlightenment. New York: Bloomsbury.
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo (Facebook)
Biography of Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo (Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery)
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