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Buddhadharma : Summer 2005
summer 2005| 58 |buddhadharma Venerable Tenzin Palmo is best known as the British nun who meditated in a Himalayan cave for twelve years, as described in the popular book, Cave in the Snow, by Vicki MacKenzie. Though she left retreat in 1988, she still finds herself de- scribing that solitary life to others, and some- times defending it. Her one request in granting this interview was: “Please, let’s not talk about the cave.” Born in London, Tenzin Palmo was drawn to Buddhism from an early age, and in 1964, at age twenty, she sailed to India. There she met her guru, the eighth Khamtrül Rinpoche, and became one of the first Western women to be ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Before he passed away in 1980, Khamtrül Rinpoche asked Tenzin Palmo to start a nunnery, a request echoed more than a decade later by the lamas of his monastery in Tashi Jong in northern India. In 1993, Tenzin Palmo committed herself to the task of building a nunnery for women from Tibet and the Hima- layan border regions. She now lives most of the year in Tashi Jong, where she has set up tempo- rary quarters for the Dongyu Gatsal Ling nun- nery. There she trains and educates nuns who might not otherwise have the opportunity to de- vote their lives to the dharma. She is also com- mitted to reviving the tradition of female yogis, or togdenma, the training for which is “long, rig- orous, and austere.” Several months of the year, Tenzin Palmo travels to raise funds for the nun- nery, which is still under construction. One might imagine someone like Tenzin Palmo – s omeone who was drawn to such extreme solitary practice – as aloof or somehow disconnected. On the contrary, she is easy to talk to, funny, opinionated, and surprisingly worldly. While her wisdom illumi- nates difficult concepts like rebirth and merit, what is particularly refreshing is her passionate devotion to her bodhisattva vow – “to genuinely benefit other beings, endlessly, endlessly, endlessly.” As she makes very clear, “It’s not a quickie.” – Bethany Saltman Endless Lifetimes, Endless Benefit Bethany Saltman talks with Tenzin Palmo about rebirth, merit, and the bodhisattva vow. Bethany Saltman iS the former editor of mountain record: the Zen Practitioner’S Journal and iS a Student of John daido loori, roShi. She liveS in the catSkillS of uPState new york. PhoTo:ThayerCaSe