Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo
American lama
Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo
Jetsunma Ahkon Lhamo is an enthroned tulku within the Palyul lineage of the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. In the late 1980s, she gained international attention as the first Western woman to be named a reincarnate lama. She continues to serve as Spiritual Director for Kunzang Odsal Palyul Changchub Choling, a Buddhist center in Poolesville, Maryland, which includes one of the largest communities of Western monks and nuns in North America.
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  • 2004
    Age 54
    Growing out of a friendship with then Mongolian Ambassador Choinkhor and his wife Maijargal (Mongolians often use just one name), Jetsunma asked her students in 2004 to create the (MBRP) to help with Mongolia’s post-Communist revival of its Buddhist culture, especially the Nyingma lineage.
    More Details Hide Details Permanent staff was sent to Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar, in early 2005. Since that time, the MBRP has raised the funds to send many young Mongolians (men and women) to study at Penor Rinpoche’s Namdroling Monastery in India; reprinted all the fundamental collections of Nyingma scriptures that were completely missing in Mongolia and offered them to the country’s main Nyingma monastery, Khamariin Khiid; sponsored translations into modern Mongolian of philosophical texts and practice liturgies; and started a practice and study group in the capital. In June, 2009, at Jetsunma's direction, staff was removed from Mongolia. Since 1990, KPC volunteers have been guiding inmate Buddhist groups within the Maryland State Correctional Facility system. The project began in 1990 with visits to one inmate, and grew to a formal study program in 1998. As of 2008, there were active groups in three institutions.
    Jetsunma’s connection with Mandarava was further reinforced in a long life prayer composed for her in 2004 by Dorje Lopen Ngawang Tenzin Rinpoche, one of the most highly respected lamas in Bhutan.
    More Details Hide Details Jetsunma believes strongly in the transformative power of prayer. She initiated a 24-hour Prayer Vigil for World Peace in her Kensington, Maryland shrine room on April 18, 1985. It relocated later that year to the newly purchased World Prayer Center (now Kunzang Palyul Choling). Students engage in traditional Buddhist practices in the Nyingma tradition. In addition for the ongoing prayers for peace, members and individuals not associated with KPC request prayers be dedicated to loved ones, pets, the recently deceased, or those hit by natural disasters. Occasionally Jetsunma asks that the vigil be dedicated to specific situations. For example, the members dedicated eight months of prayer for Asia Claus, a three-year-old daughter of temple members who was suffering from her second bout of cancer. The effort concluded when doctors could find no trace of the cancer, sparking renewed media attention.
  • 1988
    Age 38
    In September, 1988, toward the end of Penor Rinpoche’s conferral of the Rinchen Terdzod, 25 of Jetsunma’s students underwent the traditional ordination ceremony to become monks and nuns, instantly creating one of the largest communities of ordained Westerners in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in North America.
    More Details Hide Details Though some have since left their ordination or died, others have joined, and as of 2008 KPC’s ordained numbered 40.
    Like many Buddhist Lamas, Jetsunma has long extolled the benefits of building stupas, Buddhist reliquaries said to represent the mind of enlightenment in architectural form. Her students built one of the first large stupas in America, the 36’ Enlightenment Stupa, as an offering to Penor Rinpoche on the occasion of his conferral of the Rinchen Terdzod empowerments in 1988.
    More Details Hide Details Other stupas built by Jetsunma’s students include: Jetsunma has invited and hosted many important Nyingma and Kagyu lamas and offered her centers in Maryland and Arizona as venues for their teachings, including: HH Penor Rinpoche; Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche; HH Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok & Ani Mumtso; HH Karma Kuchen Rinpoche; Mugsang Tulku; Khentrul Gyangkhang Rinpoche; Khenchen Tsewang Gyatso; Khenchen Pema Sherab; Khenpo Namdrol; HH Ngawang Tenzin Rinpoche (Bhutan); Ven. Khenchen Palden Sherab Rinpoche and Ven. Khenpo Tsewang Dongyal Rinpoche; Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche; Ven. Yangthang Tulku; HE Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche; HH Chetsang Rinpoche; Tulku Sangngag, Choji Rinpoche; Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche; Ven. Ngagpa Yeshe Dorje; HH Orgyen Kusum Lingpa; Tulku Rigdzin Pema; Bhaka Tulku; Khenpo Tenzin Norgey; and Lama Kuntuzangpo, Baasan Lama, and Lama Baasansuren (Mongolia).
    Thus, on September 24, 1988, Penor Rinpoche conducted this ceremony for Jetsunma as the tulku of Genyenma Ahkon Lhamo.
    More Details Hide Details Jetsunma considers Penor Rinpoche to be her root guru, along with Ven. Gyatrul Rinpoche, Spiritual Director of Yeshe Nyingpo based in Ashland, Oregon, who is recognized as an incarnation of the first Ahkon Lhamo’s brother, Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab. In 1994, Terton Orgyen Kusum Lingpa indicated in a long life prayer he composed that Jetsunma was an emanation of Lhacham Mandarava, the Indian princess of Zahor and one of the consorts of Padmasambhava, a tantric master who helped establish the Buddha's teaching in Tibet. In 1996, she traveled to India and visited many of the places where Mandarava was known to have practiced. Inspired by these events, several of Jetsunma’s students sought out and found a copy of Mandarava’s middle-length spiritual biography, revealed as a terma in the 17th century by Samten Lingpa, at the U.S. Library of Congress. They then sponsored the first English translation of the text, published as The Lives and Liberation of Princess Mandarava in 1998.
    From June to September 1988, Penor Rinpoche was in residence at KPC in Poolesville to transmit all of the teachings contained in the Rinchen Terdzod (“Treasury of Precious Termas”), Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye’s massive 19th-century compilation of all of the extant revelations of Guru Padmasambhava’s teaching cycles known as terma.
    More Details Hide Details This was the first time that these teachings had ever been conferred in a Western country., According to Penor Rinpoche’s explanation at the time there is a point toward the end of the Rinchen Terdzod transmissions, during the conferral of the Vajrapani empowerment from Rigdzin Godem’s Jangter (“Northern Treasures”) cycle, where it is customary to perform enthronement of tulkus.
    He had it preserved in a crystal lotus and presented it to Jetsunma just prior to the occasion of her enthronement ceremony at Kunzang Palyul Choling (KPC) in 1988.
    More Details Hide Details The relic remains at KPC and is displayed on auspicious days (see image at right).
  • 1987
    Age 37
    Penor Rinpoche acquired it from him on a return trip to Tibet in 1987.
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    The Third Drubwang Padma Norbu (“Penor”) Rinpoche, 11th Throneholder of Palyul Monastery, former Supreme Head of the Nyingma tradition, described as a rather unassailable figure in Tibetan Buddhism, officially recognized Ahkon Lhamo in 1987 as the tulku of Genyenma Ahkon Lhamo during her visit to his Namdroling Monastery in Bylakuppe, Karnataka, India.
    More Details Hide Details As is customary, Penor Rinpoche sought confirmation of his recognition before announcing it. He received it from both Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (1910–91), the then Supreme Head of the Nyingma tradition who was on a teaching visit to Namdroling at the time, and the most senior Palyul tulku, the Second Dzongnang Jampal Lodro Rinpoche (d. 8/87). The Buddha From Brooklyn asserts that the students determine what title they will use for their own teacher and that Zeoli's ex-husband, Michael Burroughs, selected the title 'Jetsunma' for her. This is a title rarely given to even the most revered Tibetan Buddhist women teachers. The first Genyenma Ahkon Lhamo, a meditator recognized as a primordial wisdom dakini was one of the main disciples of Namchö Mingyur Dorje (1645–67) and sister of Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab, Migyur Dorje’s Dharma heir and the First Throneholder of Palyul Monastery (founded 1665). 8 She is remembered both as being instrumental in the founding of Palyul (now one of the Nyingma’s six main or "mother" monasteries) and for leaving an extraordinary relic. During the cremation of her body, her kapala (top half of the skull) is said to have flown three kilometers and come to rest at the foot of the teaching throne of her brother. Found to be miraculously embossed with the sacred syllable AH, the kapala became one of the most treasured relics at Palyul monastery.
  • 1986
    Age 36
    Beset by health problems, she also made a trip in 1986 to Ashland, Oregon to visit Gyatrul Rinpoche, one of Penor Rinpoche’s other hosts on his American tour the previous year.
    More Details Hide Details She formed a “strong and immediate” connection with Gyatrul Rinpoche, himself recognized as an incarnation of Palyul Monastery’s founder, Rigdzin Kunzang Sherab (1636-1699). Gyatrul Rinpoche echoed the sentiment that the practices and teachings that naturally arose in Zeoli’s mind were due to many past lifetimes as a lama, and encouraged her to visit Penor Rinpoche in India to investigate the matter further. In 1985, the Center for Discovery and New Life formed a corporation and purchased an antebellum style mansion in Poolesville, Maryland. They also purchased numerous large crystals weighing hundreds of pounds and held a three-day retreat to bring in Universal Spirit as they reinstituted the 24 hour prayer vigil at the new location. Already overextended with their new mortgage, the crystals, and extensive renovations in anticipation of HH Penor Rinpoche's first visit, the temple was forced to refinance. Participants have maintained two-hour prayer shifts. The vigil is dedicated to the end of suffering and has remained largely unbroken. In 1999, Kunzang Palyul Choling (KPC) began another 24 hour prayer vigil shortly after Alyce established the Sedona, Arizona location.
  • 1984
    Age 34
    In 1984, Zeoli’s growing group of students met a Tibetan man named Kunzang, Penor Rinpoche's main lay attendant, who was selling rugs to support Namdroling Monastery.
    More Details Hide Details The students sponsored seventy Namdroling monks. A few months later, Penor Rinpoche stayed with the Burroughs on his first visit to the US. During that week, he interviewed most of Jetsunma’s students, as well as Jetsunma herself, about what was being taught and what they were practicing. At the time, he concluded that Zeoli had been “teaching Mahayana Buddhism without any formal instruction” and attributed it to a very high level of practice accomplished in previous lifetimes. Penor Rinpoche then gave Jetsunma's students the traditional refuge and bodhisattva vows, which constitute formal entry into the Hinayana and Mahayana Buddhist paths, respectively. Rinpoche visited the meditation and prayer center operated by the Burroughs, which at the time was nonsectarian rather than Buddhist. Thereafter Zeoli continued the channeled teachings, but they took on a more Buddhist flavor, for example gradually shifting terms such as "Christ consciousness" to "Buddha consciousness" between 1984 and 1987.
  • 1983
    Age 33
    Zeoli moved with Burroughs and her two sons to Kensington, Maryland. She married Burroughs in 1983 and changed her name to Catharine Burroughs.
    More Details Hide Details Together they formed the Center For Discovery and New Life beginning with former members from the Black Mountain Light Center. She continued to give channeled teachings, specifically a three-year cycle of teachings from a being called Santu and the prophet Jeremiah called the "Santu Series." Her group quickly expanded, with the students practicing the meditation techniques Zeoli herself practiced from her dreams, a version of Jim Gore's Light Expansion Prayer, and taking vows of compassion that Zeoli composed. The group began a 24-hour prayer vigil in the basement of their Kensington home in April, 1985 inspired by her experiences when she searched for a place to pray and found locked doors.
  • 1981
    Age 31
    She and Mulloy separated in 1981.
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  • 1980
    Age 30
    In 1980, she met Michael Burroughs, a graduate student in religions at the University of Virginia.
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  • 1949
    Born in 1949.
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