Meet Jesunma Tenzin Palmo: 12 Years in a Cave for a Lifetime Lived in Love

Meet Jesunma Tenzin Palmo: 12 Years in a Cave for a Lifetime Lived in Love

Tenzin Palmo started off as Diane Perry, the daughter of a fishmonger from London’s East End. In 1964, aged 20, she set off to India to pursue a spiritual path. There she became one of the first westerners to ordain as a Buddhist nun.

In 1976 she secluded herself in a remote cave, 13,200ft high up in the Himalayas, cut off from the world by mountains and snow. There she engaged in 12 years of intense Buddhist meditation. She faced cold, wild animals, near-starvation and avalanches; she grew her own food and slept in a traditional wooden meditation box, three feet square – she never lay down. Her goal was to attain enlightenment as a woman.

After she came out of retreat she set about building from scratch a nunnery, to provide equal opportunity for women to pursue their enlightenment. In 2001 the construction of Dongyu Gatsal Ling (DGL) Nunnery began and is now, with the ongoing construction of a traditional Buddhist Temple, nearing completion.

Tenzin Palmo spends most of the year at Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery living, working and teaching there and occasionally tours to give teachings and raise funds for the ongoing needs of the DGL nuns and Nunnery.

Here’s an extract from her book,

Practice the Good Heart

tenzin palmo buddhist nun

Whatever our external circumstances, in the end happiness or unhappiness depends on the mind. Consider that the one companion whom we stay with, continually, day and night, is our mind. Would you really want to travel with someone who endlessly complains and tells you how useless you are, how hopeless you are; someone who reminds you of all the awful things that you have done? And yet for many of us, this is how we live – with this difficult-to-please, always-pulling-us-around, tireless critic that is our mind. It entirely overlooks our good points, and is genuinely a very dreary companion.

The point is that when our mind is filled with generosity and thoughts of kindness, compassion, and contentment, the mind feels well. When our mind is full of anger, irritation, self-pity, greed, and grasping, the mind feels sick. And if we really inquire into the matter, we can see that we have the choice: we can decide to a large extent what sort of thoughts and feelings will occupy our mind. When negative thoughts come up, we can recognize them, accept them, and let them go. We can choose not to follow them, which would only add more fuel to the fire.

And when good thoughts come to mind – thoughts of kindness, caring, generosity and contentment, and a sense of not holding on so tightly to things any more, we can accept and encourage that, more and more. We can do this. We are the guardian of the precious treasure that is our own mind.

“The whole thing appeared very dream-like. It seemed almost impossible that I actually spent all that time in seclusion. It seemed more like three months. Of course, when one has been in solitude for such a long time, one’s mind becomes extremely clear. And that clarity reflects in the ability to be able to see the underlying confusion of the people around one. Then, of course, great compassion arises toward others as well as toward one’s own confusion.”

What Is a Good Heart?

tenzin palmo buddhist nun

A genuinely good heart is based on understanding the situation as it really is. It is not a matter of sentimentality. Nor is a good heart just a matter of going around in a kind of euphoria of fake love, denying suffering, and saying that all is bliss and joy. It is not like that. A genuinely good heart is a heart that is open and alight with understanding. It listens to the sorrows of the world. Our society is wrong to think that happiness depends on fulfilling one’s own wants and desires. That is why our society is so miserable. We are a society of individuals, all obsessed with trying to obtain our own happiness. We are cut off from our sense of interconnection with others; we are cut off from reality. Because in reality, we are all interconnected.

“It’s not enough just to sit on your cushion and think may all beings be well and happy and send them lovingkindness. This good feeling has to be taken into actual actions.” -Jesunma Tenzin Palmo

Jesunma Tenzin Palmo will be joining us as a guest presenter of our WISH Summit. Her profound wisdom, love for human kind and compassion for all beings will offer powerful and insightful gifts to all those who take the time to listen to her WISH Summit interview. You can sign up for WISH here. The calls start on International Women’s Day (March 8, 2012).


  1. says

    Hi Tera!

    Thank you so much for sharing this post. I have spent a lot of time studying the Buddhist religion and the art of meditation, and I think that it is so important to focus on daily. While most people integrate healthy eating and exercising into their everyday practice, there are not so many that focus on spiritual health. Without a healthy, grounded sense of self and your true spirit, the external practices will never lead you to where you want to be. True health is of the mind, body and soul- complete integration :)


    Reply by Tera on February 29th, 2012



  2. Alissa says

    I am so looking forward to the WISH summit!!It seems like there are a lot of great speakers lined up this year! (Every year you have great speakers though :) )


  3. Alejandra says

    This is heart warming! Thank you Tera and your team for bring up this WISHes to our lives :)

    A big hug full of love, light and clarity.


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