an Extraordinary nun
Ani Pema began her practice at the age of five. Both her father and mother assisted her with practice by teaching reading fundamentals and gave her daily homework assignments to strengthen those practices.
Later in her youth following instructions, Ani Pema left her native village and attended her first mountain retreat. In order to reach the mountain cave, Ani Pema had to walk three hours from her village, crossing rivers on bridges constructed of nothing more than planks of lumber and rope. Overcoming her fears, Ani Pema arrived at the mountain cave and received instructions on the fundamentals of meditation. She later followed up this knowledge of meditation with a more targeted practice twelve hours away from her home.
By the year 1965, Ani Pema had increased her knowledge of Buddhism and strengthened her practice. She travelled to then small town of Shimla to begin a one year retreat, concentrating on her Ngondro and Chenrezig practices (prostrations, Dorje Sempa, Mandala Offering, and Guru Yoga). During Ani Pema’s prostration practice, a typical day consisted of 1,000 prostrations in the early morning before a breakfast, 1,000 after a breakfast, 1,000 after lunch and additional 1,000 after a dinner. Ani Pema completed 110,000 prostrations in one month.
Ani Pema remained dedicated to the practice, realizing that only a few women afforded the opportunity to study Buddhism the way she had been fortunate enough to do. At the completion of the one year retreat and with the support of Buddhist Foundation, Ani Pema turned her attention towards the creation of a monastery for nuns, a place where women could be learning, practicing and teaching in one central location. A monastery of this sort would be a great benefit to those who were not able to travel from one area of the country to the other, the same way Ani Pema had been able to do.
Later that year, H.H. the 16th Karmapa Rangjung Rigpe Dorje, leader of the Karma Kagyu School, visited Dalhousie. Ani Pema was ordained as a nun at that time by the 16th Karmapa and she received the name Pema Zangmo. She was 26 years old.
And so began the journey of the Extraordinary Nun
In 1966 Pema Zangmo travelled with Gelongma Palmo to Rumtek, where the 16th Karmapa asked Pema Zangmo to care for and look after Gelongma Palmo. The Karmapa also advised Pema Zangmo to go to Tilokpur (It is the origins of the Karma Kagyu lineage) adding, “it would be nice and blessed to build a monastery over there.” This meeting with the 16th Karmapa strengthened Pema Zangmo’s resolve and trust that a monastery for nuns was needed.
In the same year, together with Gelongma Palmo, they found the place for temple in Tilokpur. The Mahayana Buddhist Nunnery is still running up to this date. The 16th Karmapa gave the nunnery the name Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling.
Nearly for 20 years Pema Zangmo was living in Rumtek. She was often cooking and translating talks for the H.H. the 16th Karmapa.
In 1980, Pema Zangmo started to build Sherab Ling, a retreat center for nuns. In 1984, she was taking care of the first three years and three months retreat there, following a second retreat soon after.
In 1991, she started to build Tilopa Institute, which is also located in Tilokpur. It is still running up to this date, under the 17th Karmapa Thaye Dorje.
At the moment, she is focusing on building the New Nalanda Institute in Kalimpong, West Bengal.
"Buddhist sister Pema Zangmo is one who is extremely devoted to Buddha Dharma and one who has over years contributed tremendous efforts in the service of the Dharma.
She is a staunch disciple of the late 16th Karmapa, always a simple nun living humbly no matter where she is. But, from her personal courage and tireless efforts she has managed to do a lot for Dharma.
Pema Zangmo has travelled to many Buddhist places including Europe to raise funds for her worthwhile projects."