Jetsunma Buddhist nun and activist Tenzin Palmo has been recognized as one of the BBC's 100 Inspirational and Influential Women for 2023. Palmo, aged 80, retired in 2022 after almost 25 years of international teaching and work at name of Buddhist nuns.*
The announcement was met with congratulations from his supporters around the world.
The brief biography given by the BBC states:
Born in England in the 40s, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo adopted Buddhism as a teenager.
At the age of 20, she traveled to India and became one of the first Westerners to be ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist monastic.
To promote the status of female practitioners, Tenzin Palmo founded the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in Himachal Pradesh, India, which is home to more than 120 nuns.
She is best known for spending 12 years in a remote Himalayan cave, three of which were on a strict meditation retreat. In 2008, she received the rare title of Jetsunma, which means Worshipful Master.
Palmo was born Diane Perry in England in 1943. Her upbringing was influenced by her mother's spiritualist practices, which pushed her to seek truth and spiritual meaning. At the age of 18, she discovered Buddhism in the work of John Walters. The Unwavering Mind: A Modern Approach to Buddhism (Rider 1961). After that, she left her job as a librarian in London and went to India in 1964.
Once there, she immersed herself in a Tibetan community and began working with Freda Bedi in a school for young reincarnated lamas. It was during this period, on her 21st birthday, that she met the eighth Khamtrul Rinpoche, recognizing him as her guru and expressing her aspiration to become a nun.
In 1964, Palmo became the second Western woman to be ordained in the Vajrayana tradition, taking the name Drubgyu Tenzin Palmo, which means the "Glorious Lady who upholds the doctrine of succession of practices." Her ordination was as a novice nun (Skt. sramaneri) as a fully ordained nun (Skt. bhikshuni) the community was not yet established in the Tibetan tradition.
Palmo is reputed to have spent 12 years in a remote Himalayan cave, three of which were spent in a strict meditation retreat. Her dedication to the pursuit of enlightenment led her to endure extreme conditions and engage in deep spiritual practice and inner transformation.
Her story inspired Vicki Mackenzie to write Cave in the Snow: A Western Woman's Quest for Enlightenment (Bloomsbury 1998).
Among her many accomplishments, Palmo is known for her efforts to promote gender equality within Tibetan Buddhism. One of his efforts was the establishment of the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Convent in Himachal Pradesh, India. The convent serves as a sanctuary for more than 120 nuns and provides education, spiritual formation and a supportive community.
Recognizing his immense contributions to the spiritual landscape, Palmo was conferred the rare title of Jetsunma, meaning Worshipful Master, in 2008 by His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa. She continued to be active in several capacities over the years, including as president of the International Sakyadhita Buddhist Women's Association, founding director of the Alliance of Non-Himalayan Nuns, honorary advisor to the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, and a member founder of the Committee for the Ordination of Bhiksuni.
* Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo announces retirement from in-person teaching (BDG)