28th Anniversary of the Enthronement of Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo


The lowing of the conch shell sounded from various points on the temple grounds like a soft foghorn. It overlaid the patter of hammers as stupa construction continued. Sometimes the sound wavered and spluttered out, and Jetsunma would laugh, lowering the conch. She was practicing for the enthronement ceremony the following day and had been told at the last minute that she would have to blow the conch. She never had before, at least not in this lifetime. She wiped her mouth and joked to her students, “I’m never going to get this down.”

She gamely tried again, continuing her gradual circumambulation of the temple. The sound came out clear and strong and hung in the air. After a moment of stillness, the students cheered.

On September 24, 1988, the temple filled with cameras and mics angled in every direction. Jetsunma sat quietly humble on the throne, and straightened the brocades draped over her shoulders, blinking at the lights. The temple had never been so brightly lit. To the blare of Tibetan horns and ringing bells, NBC filmed while His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, Throne Holder to the Palyul Lineage of the Nyingma School of Vajrayana Buddhism, formally enthroned Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo as a tulku, or reincarnate teacher.
According to tradition, ceremonial items were carried from H.H. Penor Rinpoche to Jetsunma, empowering her to teach and formally represent the Palyul Lineage. When the time came for her to blow the conch on camera, the sound came clear and then wavered. Not as good as the night before. She shared a wry smile with her students, tipping her head, Oh well. Then one of the monks had to blow the conch. His Holiness chuckled and Gyaltrul Rinpoche translated his comment, “They should have had Jetsunma do it.”

The news spread via Associated Press, and world newspapers printed photos of the spectacle of a western woman with long dark hair on a Tibetan throne. Her enthronement came at a time when Vajrayana Buddhism was relatively unknown in the US. The year before, an obscure Tibetan monk, H.H. the Dalai Lama, spoke at the National Cathedral to a scattered audience of about a hundred. At Buddhist temples in the late 1980s, teachers were universally Asian.

It was openly questioned whether westerners could accomplish this eastern religion.

H.H. Penor Rinpoche, who never shirked what was needed, answered with a resounding yes. As he enthroned her, he said, “People have asked me why there are no American tulkus. And people have asked me why there are no female Lamas. Now you have both. So you should be very happy.”

“This is for you,” Jetsunma said later to her students. “It’s for all of us really. This is your own enthronement, your own future accomplishment that you’re seeing.” She explained that the enthronement meant that not only can Dharma be accomplished, it can be accomplished by westerners, even in this day and age. “Yes, even you.” And she wrinkled her nose impishly at her students, and laughed.

Post written by Michelle Grissom

The Seven Branch Offering: Commentary by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

The Seven Branch Offering

The following commentary was extracted from a teaching given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche at Kunzang Palyul Choling in 2001 on the occasion of offering the Bodhisattva Vow. To see the verses of the ceremony for the Bodhisattva Vow to which His Holiness was referring you can click here.

From Words of My Perfect Teacher:

The Vajrayana path includes many methods and is without great hardships. It is intended for those with sharp faculties. If we constantly train ourselves to accumulate merit and wisdom with a strong mind, everything that would otherwise take a whole great kalpa to accumulate through the six paramitas can be accomplished in an instant, and liberation can be attained in a single lifetime.

There can be no doubt that the single most excellent, secret and insurpassable field of merit is the vajra master. This is why the practice of accumulating merit is combined with the Guru Yoga. The seven parts of the Offering of the Seven Branches include all the innumerable methods for accumulation of merit and wisdom.

 

Prostrations:

The branch of prostrations is a remedy for arrogance.  Sometimes we have arrogance; we feel we are more qualified then the masters and teachers.  So, this is a remedy to remove the arrogance.

Offering:

After the prostrations to the Buddhas, bodhisattvas and all disciples, you now have to make offerings to them..  Imagine all the things in the universe as an offering, which is a very good offering.  All the offerings will be the sacred flowers and the sacred garlands and musical instruments, perfumes, superior parasols, superior butter lamps, superior incense. All these things will be the offering.  Just imagine you are offering them. So, this is the offering.  This is the remedy for attachment to our belongings.

Confession:

Now comes purification of negative actions.  We have to purify the negative actions by thinking negative actions are like poisons that are inside your stomach.  Also, you make a commitment that you will not do those mistakes or bad negative actions again.  Also, you think that in order to purify all the negative actions that are in this world that are done by other sentient beings, I am doing these purification prayers. This is the remedy for removing anger.

Rejoicing:

We have to rejoice in the accumulations of merits done by other beings. This is the antidote for jealousy.  Sometimes we feel jealous of other beings that practice.  In order to remove the jealousy, we have to rejoice in whatever practice they are doing.  This is the remedy for that action.

Requesting Enlightened Beings to Teach:

The next stanza is requesting the enlightened beings to teach.  We request them to teach because sometimes when they come here for the purpose of teachings, they feel kind of upset when they find the bad reactions of the people.  So they feel upset and don’t want to teach.  So we have to request them to teach.  That is how we are requesting it.

This is the remedy for ignorance, thinking the teaching is nothing, thinking the teaching will not have any result.  This chanting will remove the ignorance.

Enlightenment depends on the understanding of the teachings.  Without teachings, there is no way of getting enlightened.  But some people, those who don’t know, who aren’t in favor of the teachings, then they don’t really see the teaching as worthwhile.  They criticize the teachings and those who do the teaching.

Requesting Enlightened Beings to Remain:

The reason why enlightened beings pass away is that they want to show human beings that enlightened beings are very real and they don’t last long if we are not very careful.  So, we have to request them to remain as long as possible to turn the Wheel of the Dharma.  This is the request to remain with a long life.

This is the remedy of wrong view of Buddhas.  Some people think the Buddha is nothing, just a liar.  So, they have a lot of wrong views of Buddhas.  This way of chanting will remove the wrong view of Buddha.

Dedication:

The last one is a short form of all the seven branches of practice.  It’s an offering.  This is the dedication of the merit that you have accumulated.  You have to dedicate all the merit accumulated by other beings to other beings.  In order to get enlightened you have to dedicate the merit.

This is the remedy for doubt.  Sometimes we have doubt whether it is true or not.  This way of chanting will remove or clarify our doubt.

Understanding the Nightmare – by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche on “Meditation” reprinted with permission from Palyul Ling International:

And there are many, many beings that don’t know much about Buddha or Enlightenment or the Dharma teachings or liberation. They really don’t have any idea of such things. Even with all the explanations we could find in these Dharma teachings, and even though so many lamas and other qualified teachers give these teachings, still one might think that these teachings are just myths. And so you can’t truly accept them or believe in the absolute reality.

Everything is based on what is called the Law of Karma which is the actions that we do, the causes and conditions we create ourselves. Furthermore there is a Law of Karma which is known as the Collective Karma, the actions, causes and conditions we create together. There is no way we can change ourselves other than understanding Karma. Moreover, when one cannot understand all these deeper things, then one thinks that these things do not really exist.

When the lamas and the many other qualified teachers¹ teach on the sufferings of Samsara, of course it is not really nice to hear and then one feels like, “I don´t want to hear these kinds of teachings.” Certain people when lama gives these teachings on suffering even say, “I’m not interested to listen about the sufferings of Samsara. This lama doesn’t seem like he can give out good teachings!” These people prefer to just express their own ideas.

However, when taught by a qualified lama, it is indeed the Dharma, the truth. These teachings about the nature of Samsara and the reality of the faults of Samsara have been taught by all the Enlightened Beings such as Shakyamuni Buddha. The Enlightened Beings, the Buddhas, all gave these teachings because if we could just understand the nature of Samsara, we could then move on to the actual practices through which we could purify our obscurations. We could have the ultimate realization through which we achieve peace and happiness, and through that we could manifest ourselves to benefit all other sentient beings in Samsara. For that purpose Buddha gave all these teachings. It is not that Buddha wanted to be famous and so gave these teachings, nor was the Buddha showing off his skills in teaching, nor was he explaining things to us so that we would become frightened. These teachings are mainly about how all sentient beings can believe and act to attain complete Enlightenment, to liberate themselves from the sufferings of Samsara. So you see, Buddha gave these teachings with great compassion.

Take the example of a having a nightmare. Within such dreams, no matter what you do, you still cannot escape the scary feeling of a nightmare until you wake up. At the same moment, someone who is awake and watching beside the bed, can see that you are having a dream. We can understand something of the nature of Samsara from this dream example. While we are in Samsara experiencing all different kinds of sufferings, it is exactly like somebody who is having a nightmare.

Putting Out the Fire: Turning the Mind Towards Dharma by HH Penor Rinpoche

The following is an excerpt from a teaching given by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche at Kunzang Palyul Choling on Bodhicitta:

We start first with the special method that will turn one’s mind towards the Dharma.  In that method, we have to understand that wherever we are born in the world, in this universe, there will not be much happiness.  There is hot and cold suffering in the hell realms, and the hungry ghosts have the suffering of hunger and thirst.  The animals have the suffering of killing each other.  The human beings have a short lifespan, and within that short life, there is a lot of suffering.  Even those god beings in the god realms have a very good life there, but because of their carelessness, they are just spending and wasting their lives with happiness.  The sentient beings in this world have their own sufferings.  It is important, the Buddha said, for you to understand that wherever you are born, there is no happiness.  There is suffering.

When you understand that, then in order to remove the suffering, you need to have diligence to remove the suffering, like the diligence you do when your hair is burning, when your dress is burning.  During that time, you will put all your efforts toward removing the fire.  Similarly, once we have understood the suffering of samsara, of the world, then we have to really put some kind of diligence toward removing the suffering of samsara. Then if our hair is on fire and our dress is on fire, then we will not really remain peaceful.  We will definitely do something.  So, similarly, once we understand the suffering nature of samsara, we will not waste our time.

 

Ahkön Norbu Lhamo

The following is respectfully quoted from “Reborn in the West” by Vicki Mackenzie:

After Penor Rinpoche had left, the group dwelt on all that had happened and what he had said. Dutifully they began looking for a property, and sure enough, they found a beautiful place which would suit their purposes perfectly. It had white pillars all along the front. But the price was astronomical. Scraping together whatever money they could, and taking out a huge mortgage (which now necessitates many ingenious fund-raising schemes), they bought what is now KPC and established what over five years later has become the largest ordained Tibetan Buddhist community in the USA. Every Sunday over 120 people came here from the surrounding area to hear Jetsunma’s teachings.

At this stage Jetsunma still didn’t know precisely who she was. That was still to come.

A year after Penor Rinpoche’s visit Jetsunma felt the urge to see again the small, round man who had come into her life and touched her so deeply. She decided to go to India, to his monastery in Bylakuppe in Karnataka state. For the girl from Brooklyn who had never set foot outside the USA, landing in Bombay with its chaos, colour and poverty was merely a prelude for the greater revelation that was to follow.

Facing Penor Rinpoche on his own territory, she said she wanted to take the bodhisattva vows. This is the ceremony in which you formally promise to dedicate your life to the well-being of others. She asked if he would give her a spiritual name, as was the custom at such an occasion.

‘When the time is right,’ replied Penor Rinpoche.

‘When will the time be right?’ pushed Jetsunma, with typical Western impatience.

‘I’ll give it to you when the right day comes,’ continued Penor Rinpoche.

‘When is the right day going to come?’ persisted Jetsunma, not giving up.

‘When I say so,’ retorted Penor Rinpoche firmly.

Jetsunma gave up.

One day, when the moon was in a particular place in the heavens, Penor Rinpoche called her to him and announced: ‘Now I am ready to give you your name.’

He then wrote out her spiritual name on a piece of paper, rolled it up into a scroll, put his personal seal on it, then handed it to her with the white katag (scarf) of respect wrapped around it. ‘That’s your name–Ahkön Norbu Lhamo,’ he said.

There was no apocalyptic vision, not instant flashback to another time, another place, another body. There wasn’t even shock or surprise. Just a sense of intense familiarity.

‘I experienced serious dejà vu,’ was how Jetsunma recalls the occasion. ‘I felt a strong connection to that name. I asked him to say it again. It was like milk to my ears.’

Through his translator he then uttered the monumental words: ‘I now recognize you as the sister of Kunzang Sherab. Her name was Ahkön Lhamo. In that life she and Kunzang Sherab co-founded the Palyul tradition. I recognize you as her incarnation.’

And in those few simple sentences Penor Rinpoche made sense of the extraordinary life that Jetsunma had teched out for herself and the otherwise inexplicable abilities she possessed. This, at last, was the official explanation of how a woman with no Buddhist training whatsoever, no books on Tibetan Buddhism, no teacher, no outward example to follow, had been driven to enter years of strict meditation by herself and to emerge with not only profound wisdom but also the wish and the ability to help others fulfill their spiritual potential.

Confession: His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

renor_rinpoche

The following is adapted from an oral commentary given by His Holiness in conjunction with a ceremony wherein he bestowed the bodhisattva vow upon a gathering of disciples at Namdroling in Bozeman, Montana, November 1999:

The next branch involves [making] confession. From beginningless time, throughout countless life-times, we amassed negative karma and non virtue before we encountered the dharma. As followers of the teachings in this lifetime, we still engage in non-virtue and accumulate negativity. Consider all that negativity to be like [the result of] having ingested poison. Knowing that as poison that will certainly end your life unless you apply an antidote to neutralize it, you immediately apply the antidote. That is exactly how you should feel about the nonvirtue accumulated in the past and present.

With tremendous remorse, confess your accumulation of non virtue and vow that from this time onward, even at the cost of your life, you will no longer repeat the same pattern of negativity. Then focus on the objects of refuge in the space in the front, the buddhas and bodhisattvas of the ten directions. Supplicate, knowing that in your omniscience they will always look upon you and bless and purify you. Pray to them with heartfelt faith and devotion, and with genuine remorse for your accumulation of negativity, feel confident that all negativity is completely purified. Confession is the antidote for anger. In anger, people commit many grave errors, such as even the taking of others’ lives.

 

Essence of Buddhism: by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

The following is a teaching by His Holiness Penor Rinpoche

We are born in this Zambu-dweep world and have acquired the precious human rebirth due to the gathering of the compositional factors of the eight leisures and ten blessings. This is a most perfect and auspicious opportunity. That we are fortunate enough to receive the teaching of perfect Buddha dharma and also be able to meet so many qualified teachers is the result of the ripening of our positive merits from countless past lives.
But due to our attachment from time beginningless towards the repeated pattern of samsara, we have developed strong emotions towards this samsara. Therefore, it is common for sentient beings to find themselves emotionally drawn towards the attainment of worldly concern regardless of difficulty and hardships, which in turn generates all types of karmas in the process.
If we truly want to learn the teaching of Dharma, we must first find a qualified teacher. Buddhism has Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions, of which Vajrayana and especially the Great Perfection (Dzogpachenpo) is especially beneficent for the degenerated times like now. The actual practice to Dzogchen consists of preliminary and the main practices, that has visualizations, recital of mantras and the sadhanas.
In fact, we might all think we know about Dharma and might even want to practice these teachings, but because of our attachment to worldly distractions, we are not able to practice accordingly as instructed, as if we show no concern for the effect of karma, as though karma is not real and does not really exist, and thus as a result, succeed in continually creating more negative karma. Only at the end of our lives, when we come face to face with the imminent sufferings of death, do we start thinking that we should do something about it! But by that time, even if we come to realize that we have not studied the Dharma and neither have we applied ourselves properly according to the pith instructions of the teacher and hence the prospect of falling into the three lower realms is imminent; the time of seeking the Dharma and practicing has already passed, so now what do we do?

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche Heart Teaching from Palyul Ling

HH Penor Rinpoche Bumpa

His Holiness Penor Rinpoche offered this teaching prior to doing a Ganachakra Puja for Jetsunma’s long life at New York Palyul Retreat Center in 2005.

Today is the 15th day of the sixth month of the lunar calendar.  Jetsunma has some sickness or obstacle, so we are doing this Rigdzin Dupa Ganachakra Puja for her.  Some of Jetsunma’s students here requested this puja.

I met Jetsunma a long time ago.  I examined her for a while, and then recognized her as the incarnation of Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab’s sister known as Ahkön Lhamo.  Ahkön Lhamo, the sister of Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab lived near the Palyul monastery in a nunnery, which is in front of the monastery, and then in a place called Trong Mar, which means Red Valley.  It is called Red Valley because there were lots of nuns.  Ahkön Lhamo used to give teachings there to the nuns who wore red robes, filling the small valley, so that is why the place is called Trong Mar, the Red Valley.  Since then there has always been a nunnery there.  Even these days there are still about 200 nuns there.

I recognized her and then at KPC a long time back we did an enthronement ceremony.  Before I met her, she was giving the teaching on generating bodhicitta. Just among her disciples, there are 2-3 at all hours of the day and night trying to meditate on bodhicitta.  And she carries on Dharma activity in accordance with the other activities.

Since I named her in that way, there are lots of people in America who are jealous and have all sorts of problems with it.  That kind of jealousy doesn’t harm her; it harms the person who is jealous.  Many people also try to complain and say things to me.  Although people ask me many questions about that, I don’t have to humiliate myself, because I am a Palyul Throneholder, and I have my own rights regarding what I need to recognize.  Of course I cannot tell lies, but what I need to do, I’ll do.

Most of the other Nyingma schools just believe whatever I say, and especially all the Palyul traditions or Palyul monasteries.   Of course they believe me 100%.  There isn’t just one Palyul Monastery.  There are hundreds and thousands, and in all those monasteries there are a hundred monks or a thousand monks, and all of them respect whatever I command.  There is nobody who says, “This is right or this is not.”  But in America because of jealousy, some people say certain things, but there is no meaning.  In general America is a strange country.  Sometimes it is said that, “In your tradition there are mostly male teachers, and there aren’t any female teachers.”  And then Jetsunma is appointed and then again they are jealous and say something else.

Since we are human beings of course it is possible to make mistakes.  There is no one who just sits there like an enlightened Buddha.  Just because one doesn’t understand or makes a little mistake or does something, then you start complaining.

Jetsunma is a good and perfect teacher.  I don’t think she is deceiving anybody.  And among Jetsunma’s students, there are a whole bunch of monks and nuns, and she disciplines them all.  There is nobody else among women in America who could do that.  She is good and special. It is good for everybody to know that she is also one of the Palyul tulkus.  These days she is getting older and she has all sorts of sickness.  So for her longevity of life, we are doing this Ganachakra Puja.

It’s not just Jetsunma.  In America there are many other females and males who are incarnated ones.  But the problem is that the nature of Americans is to have so much pride.  With the recognition, the pride and ego develop so much that in the end it is difficult to benefit. As a practitioner and as a bodhisattva family, then naturally one should be humble and peaceful and loyal to the practice.  Developing pride doesn’t really help anybody.  When it is said that you are good or something special, then their pride or ego develops.  If that happens, then it is more harmful than beneficial.  For those who are noble beings, receiving all these teachings and doing the Dharma practice can benefit other beings.  Otherwise thinking that, “Oh, I’m something very special,” is like having a horn on your head and walking around.  It doesn’t help anything.

Anyhow, today we are doing this Ganachakra Puja for the longevity of her life.  Thank you.

 

Meeting Her Teacher

The following is respectfully quoted from “Reborn in the West” by Vicki Mackenzie:

I spent a couple of days at KPC admiring the grounds and meeting some of Jetsunma’s followers. One of them was Wib Middleton, a friendly, open man who was one of Jetsunma’s earliest students and is now the chief administrator. I asked him for his impressions of this first female Western tulku as she ventured out on her mission.

‘When we met her it was 1981 and she and her family had moved to Washington. We were really drawn to her. We were a group of seekers, about ten of us, New Age-type people who felt there was a lot more to life and who had an innate sense of wanting to contribute to society. But we didn’t have a vehicle for that. We looked around, but a lot of the New Age stuff seemed to be so self-focused and self-centered. When we met her she had a very expanded way of talking about things. She talked about “planetary consciousness and planetary quickness” and the “vibrational zero” which was her word for emptiness. It was really amazing stuff,’ he said.

‘We went and asked her to teach us, and said said “Sure.” So we began meeting in living rooms about once a week. She started teaching us meditational practices and we’d have discussions which she would lead. Looking back, I can see that she was addressing the specific needs of people around her,’ he said.

‘Although she taught confidently, as though from an inner authority, she never made claims for herself in terms of what her abilities were,’ he continued. ‘She has never done that. In fact, she has always publicly refuted the idea that she has any special qualities at all. She was always very humble. She says things like she is not a very good teacher, that she has no particular abilities. Still, we could see that she had developed certain inner qualities and crossed certain lines of consciousness,” Wib said.

If Jetsunma’s spiritual life was accelerating, her material life was deteriorating quickly. Money and physical comfort were in extremely short supply. She and her family were living in a one-roomed place with crates for furniture. She had steadfastly refused all payment for her meditation classes and was working in the clothing department of a big store while her husband was trying to find a teaching job. When things got really right, Jetsunma announced that she was thinking of returning to North Carolina where her husband had the chance of a teaching position.

‘When we heard that, we went crazy,’ said Wib. ‘We thought, “This is our teacher, we need to keep her around.” The group had grown to about a dozen or more. Late one night we dashed over to her place, knocked on the door and said, “Look, here’s the deal. We’d like to start formal classes. We’ll pay. We’ll start an organization, and the organization pays you.” She replied, emphatically, that she didn’t want to be paid to teach. We said we’d worked it out so that it wasn’t like that. We’d have an organization with a board of directors and we’d take care of it. And that’s what we did. We started formal classes and an organization called the Centre for Discovery and New Life. We had a little logo and a board of directors,’ he recalled.

After that the organization grew organically. Soon there were two classes a week, then three. And all the time the teachings that Jetsunma was giving were becoming deeper and deeper.

‘Every week it would be more mind-stretching, more amazing than the week before. We would walk in and think, “There is no possible way that the information she is going to give us could get more profound”, but it was. She was teaching about the nature of mind, the void, different subtle bodies. At that stage we were between Western metaphysical language and Eastern concepts. We certainly weren’t calling ourselves Buddhists.’

The teachings continued pouring forth out of Jetsunma–week after week. Little did the group know it then, but they were all being prepared for what was to follow. “When it happened, they didn’t notice it at all.”

‘One of our friends introduced us to a Tibetan called Kunzang Lama from a monastery in south India,’ continued Wib. ‘He came to our centre on a rainy night with a lot of carpets he was trying to sell to raise money for the monastery. He also had a book of pictures of small Tibetan kids–mostly young monks who needed clothing, books and food. At the meeting we decided to take them on as a project. None of us knew anything about Tibet and we knew very little about Buddhism. Our knowledge was restricted to Vietnamese monks burning themselves–and there was some confusion with the Hare Krishna movement! It was the typical American response to somebody else’s culture and religion,’ he said, laughing.

Entranced by the pictures of the little monks, they realized there was an excellent opportunity to put Jetsunma’s teachings into practice. ‘Right from the beginning she had emphasized compassion, seeing suffering and doing something about it. She said that suffering came about because thought of ourselves as “separate”. She talked about “union consciousness”–recognizing that there’s one operating principle–and that the one way to understand our own and everybody else’s nature was through love and kindness. She talked a lot about “stewardship” and “caretakership” of the earth and all the creatures on it.’

Within two or three weeks of the carpet-seller’s visit they had managed to sponsor seventy-five children back in south India, and a rewarding correspondence followed. They learned what the little monks were doing and discovered it wasn’t so different from what they were doing in Washington. They also learned that the abbot of the monastery was called His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, who was the head and 11th throneholder of the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism.”

The tale fast-forwards a year to when the group received a letter from the carpet-seller saying that Penor Rinpoche was making his first-ever teaching tour of the United States. He wanted to visit Washington to meet and thank the people who had generously sponsored so many of his young monks.

The group was delighted, but had no notion of who or what Penor Rinpoche was nor how to treat him. By this time Jetsunma had moved to a bigger house because they could no longer fit into her living room, but she was still doing everything herself, including all the cleaning, setting out chairs, organizing the coffee and snacks, and of course looking after her family.

Penor Rinpoche arrived in spring 1985. When the group went to Washington Airport to meet him they found a large crowd of Chinese students already waiting to greet their guru. Unknown to the members of the Centre for Discovery and New Life, Penor Rinpoche was an extremely eminent lama with several established centres in Asia. Later they learned that back in Tibet he had been responsible for a hundred thousand monks and nuns situated in over a thousand monasteries. Like most of the great Tibetan lamas he had left his homeland in 1959 after the Chinese invasion. Starting with three hundred followers, he arrived in southern India fourteen months later with only 26: the rest had died on the perilous journey. Undeterred, he took the five acres of land and the elephant that the Indian government offered and, against what seemed insurmountable odds, proceeded to build a monastery that could hold five hundred. When Jetsunma and Wib met him his monastery was crammed to overflowing with 650 monks, many of whom had fled from the continuing persecution in Tibetn.

“Penor Rinpoche had a burning life.” Since he was young he had prayed to meet, in this lifetime, the reincarnation of Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo, the female Tibetan yogini who with her brother had founded his lineage, the Palyul sect, back in 1665. Penor Rinpoche was sure she was living on this earth somewhere. He had already met Ahkön Lhamo’s brother, a Tibetan who was also teaching in America in Ashland, Oregon. But he knew female reincarnates were immeasurably harder to track down. Tibetan yoginis, although reaching the same exalted peaks of consciousness as their male counterparts, were generally free spirits who did their meditations alone in caves. There was no system set up for finding them.

None of this was known to the small group of Americans who turned out to meet Penor Rinpoche’s plane on that spring day in 1985. What followed next was a scene befitting a Hollywood movie. Jetsunma described it to me in detail.

‘We arrived at the airport and there was this huge group of Chinese people who had got wind that he was coming and had arrived with a limousine. They knew who he was. We didn’t have a clue. They were all grouped around something or someone I couldn’t see, clicking their cameras and carrying on. Now Penor Rinpoche is short, about five foot three inches, and fat. I tower over him. I thought, “Well, I guess he’s in there somewhere, but what’s happening?” Somehow the sea of Chinese people parted, I saw him, and burst into tears!

‘Now I’m not the sort of person who usually does this kind of thing, you understand. I’m a hard-headed lady. I’m from Brooklyn, for heaven’s sake!’ she joked. ‘But I just could not pull myself together. I felt like such a ninny. I cried and cried, I just looked at him and thought, “That’s my heart…That’s my mind…That’s everything.” ‘ Her voice was soft. “How do you feel when you have just seen everything? I just knew that was it. That was what I’d been looking for my whole life. And the tears poured down my face.’

I asked her precisely what that meant.

‘Padmasambhava, the founder of Buddhism in Tibet, actually said, and I’ll paraphrase “I will reappear as your root teacher, the one with whom you have such a relationship that you understand the nature of your own mind. When you meet your teacher you will in some way see your own face, and it will be the face that turns around and moves you. It is the beginning of your awakening.” ‘

 

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