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A Brief Biography of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo
Jetsunma Akhon Norbu Lhamo was born in Brooklyn, New York, in 1949. Born Alyce L. Zeoli, she had neither grown up in a Buddhist culture nor received a classic Buddhist education. Yet she recalls a spiritual yearning for as long as she can remember. She prayed often for a way to fulfill the spiritual potential she felt. When she was 19, she had a series of dreams that offered her very precise instructions on how to meditate. She followed these methods that arose in her mind, and practiced for the next 12 years.
Jetsunma met His Holiness Penor Rinpoche for the first time in 1985 during his visit to the United States. Penor Rinpoche, His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche, and Dzongnang Rinpoche agreed that Alyce Zeoli was indeed the reincarnation of Genyenma Akhon Lhamo, the sister of Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab, the First Throneholder of the Palyul lineage.
In 1988, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche traveled to Jetsunma’s center in Poolesville, MD, which he named Kunzang Palyul Odsal Changchub Choling (KPC) and enthroned her as Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo. Her recognition and enthronement marked the first time ever that a Western woman had been so recognized.
In 1994, His Holiness Kusum Lingpa, a Nyingma master and terton, further recognized Jetsunma as Lhacham Mandarava, the Indian consort of Padmasambhava. In 2004, His Holiness Ngawang Tenzin, at the time the Dorje Lopon, or chief religious official, of Bhutan, reiterated this identification with Mandarava.
Jetsunma Akhon Lhamo has received empowerments, oral transmissions, and pith instructions including the entire cycle of the Rinchen Terzod, Nyingma Kama, and Namcho. Jetsunma received the Kalachakra from His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche at Bylakuppe, the Dudjom Tersar from Ven. Gyaltrul Rinpoche; and the Ratna Lingpa and Nying Thik Yabshi from Yangthang Tulku.
The organization that Jetsunma founded as the World Prayer Center in 1985 has been known since 1988 by the name that Penor Rinpoche conferred, Kunzang Odsal Palyul Changchub Choling (KPC), with Jetsunma as the Spiritual Director. Since her recognition and enthronement, Jetsunma has guided the center’s transition to a more conventional Vajrayana Buddhist path following the Palyul monastic tradition. Toward that end, she has hosted all of the major lamas from Palyul Monastery, as well as many others from the Nyingma and Kagyu schools, to give the traditional transmissions and commentaries. In April 1985, Jetsunma and her students began the 24 Hour Prayer Vigil at KPC, dedicated to the end of suffering for all sentient beings. The Prayer Vigil continues unbroken to the present day.
In addition to teaching the Dharma, building stupas in Maryland and Arizona, and guiding meditation retreats, Jetsunma has long championed animal rescue. She founded Tara’s Babies Animal Welfare for dogs, and the Garuda Aviary for abused and abandoned parrots. Jetsunma directs an outreach program for Buddhist Study groups in the Maryland State Prison system. Jetsunma also uses musicto propagate the Dharma. In April 1985, Jetsunma and her students began the 24 Hour Prayer Vigilat KPC, dedicated to the end of suffering for all sentient beings. The Prayer Vigil continues unbroken to the present day.