Buddhist nun and activist Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo has been recognized among the BBC’s 100 inspiring and influential women for 2023. Palmo, who is 80 years old, retired in 2022 after nearly 25 years of international teaching and work on behalf of Buddhist nuns.*
The announcement was met with congratulations from her supporters from around the world.
The brief biography given by the BBC states:
Born in England in the 1940s, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo adopted Buddhism when she was a teenager.
At the age of 20 she travelled to India and became one 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 living in a remote cave in the Himalayas, three of those in strict meditation retreat. In 2008, she was conferred the rare title of Jetsunma, which means Venerable Master.(BBC)
Palmo was born Diane Perry in England in 1943. Her upbringing was influenced by her mother’s spiritualist practices, which drove her to pursue truth and spiritual meaning. At the age of 18, she discovered Buddhism in the work of John Walters’ The Mind Unshaken: A Modern Approach to Buddhism (Rider 1961). After this, she quit her job in London working as a librarian and traveled to India in 1964.
Once there, she immersed herself in a Tibetan community and began work with Freda Bedi at a school for young reincarnated lamas. It was during this period, on her 21st birthday, that she encountered 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, assuming the name Drubgyu Tenzin Palmo, meaning the “Glorious Lady who Upholds the Doctrine of the Practice Succession.” Her ordination was as a novice nun (Skt. sramaneri) as the fully ordained nun (Skt. bhikshuni) community had not yet been established in the Tibetan tradition.
Palmo is renowned for spending 12 years in a remote Himalayan cave, three of which were devoted to strict meditation retreat. Her dedication to the pursuit of enlightenment led her to endure extreme conditions and commit herself to profound 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 her efforts was the establishment of Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in Himachal Pradesh, India. The nunnery serves as a sanctuary for more than 120 nuns and offers education, spiritual training, and a supportive community.
Acknowledging her immense contributions to the spiritual landscape, Palmo was conferred the rare title of Jetsunma, meaning Venerable Master, in 2008 by His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa. She has continued to be active in a number of capacities over the years, including a period as the president of Sakyadhita International Association of Buddhist Women, founding director of the Alliance of Non Himalayan Nuns, honorary advisor to the International Network of Engaged Buddhists, and founding member of the Committee for Bhiksuni Ordination.
BBC 100 Women 2023: Who is on the list this year? (BBC)
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo (Facebook)
BBC 100 Women 2023: Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo’s spiritual odyssey from London to the Himalayas (CNBC TV18)
Three Indian women, including Dia Mirza and Harmanpreet Kaur, named in BBC’s 100 Women 2023 list (Indian Television)
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