Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo

Adapted from "Grandmothers Council the World" by Carol Schaefer
Trumpter Books, 2006

Tenzin Palmo was born in London, England. Her birth name was Diane Perry. She grew up as an ordinary teenager with a boyfriend, job, and a big crush on Elvis Presley.

At 18, Tenzin read a book about Tibetan Buddhism and strongly identified with the teachings. At age 20, she bought a one-way ticket to India where she joined a Buddhist monastery to become a nun in the Drukpa Kagyo line.

Finding herself the only woman among hundreds of men, Tenzin soon realized that males dominated Tibet's spiritual traditions. Women were considered unclean because they menstruated and were banned from many rituals, ceremonies, traditions and certain holy places.

Tenzin knew these restrictions were contrary to Buddha's true teachings about women's importance in society, their equal rights and spiritual liberation. So she took it upon herself to break down these restrictions. In 1976, Tenzin left the monastery upon her teacher's suggestion and entered a small, isolated Himalayan cave for uninterrupted spiritual practice.

By herself Tenzin faced wild animals, survived avalanches and temperatures of - 30 degrees for six months of the year. She grew her own food, but nearly died of starvation. Never once did she lie down. Instead, Tenzin slept upright in a a traditional three-foot-square meditation box. After 12 years of living completely alone, Tenzin left her cave.

"I had planned to live in my cave forever," Tenzin said. "But life has a way of serving you up with what you need, rather than what you want."

Tenzin returned to Tashi Jong's Khampagar Monastery. Before she had entered her cave, her guru, His Eminence the Eight Khamtrul Rinpoche, had requested that Tenzin start a nunnery. Now the Monastery's lamas again made this request. Finally, Tenzin felt ready to take on the challenge.

Tenzin began raising funds and soon established Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in northern India.  One of Dongyu Gatsal's aims is to revive the tradition of female yogis called "togdenma" which means "realized one." Their training is similar to the long rigorous process that Tenzin followed.

Not one togdenma is known to have survived the Chinese takeover of Tibet.

In 2008 Tenzin Palmo was given the rare title of Jetsunma, which means Venerable Master, by His Holiness the 12th Gualwang Drukpa. The title was given in recognition of her spiritual achievements and her efforts to promote the status of female practitioners in Tibetan Buddhism.

Tenzin's life is now wholly dedicated to guidance and promoting women's self-discovery, self-appraisal, and spiritual enlightenment. Her acclaimed book, Reflections on a Mountain Lake, is a great resource for understanding and applying Buddhist teachings.

Tenzin is also planning an international retreat center for Buddhist women and nuns. The retreat will enable them to pursue their spiritual connections in a safe environment.

As reluctant as she is to be part of the world again, Tenzin now realizes being involved in society develops the higher qualities of being human such as compassion, generosity, and patience.

"It is our true nature that we are trying to realize," Tenzin believes.

Additional Sources:

Other Women Elders Native Village Home Page

Background: Robert Kaufman Fabrics:

Click on pictures for source.