Sunday 6 October 2019

A Heart of Gold, Ani Lodro Palmo

The following post is an attempt to honour the life of Ani Lodro Palmo who was one of Tibetan Buddhisms most senior and accomplished western practitioners. She was also my most respected dharma sister and a very dear friend. She passed on from this world on the 1st of October 2019 displaying the accomplishments of a fully ripened practitioner. She is forever and fondly remembered and revered.

Ani Lodro Palmo (Linda Talbot)

The above photo was taken in the winter of 1991. At that time we were sharing a room in a monastery where the Kyabje Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche had been invited to stay. It was a bright morning and Anila was bathed in the warm rays of the early sun. I remember thinking that she looked perfectly angelic at that moment. It is the only photo I have been able to find of her.

It turned out that that winter was to be the final visit that Khyentse Rinpoche would make to Bodhgaya and although we did not know that at the time, we felt so blessed to be right there and so closely within his magnificent presence.

It was an eventful winter in many respects and there were numerous occasions when I felt that Anila Lodro was, for me, a perfect elder dharma sister.

She was an entirely authentic western Buddhist practitioner. From the first I felt immense regard for her and an intuitive and deep sense of respect. She was a shining example of how we should not only practice the Buddha's teachings but live them as well.

I saw her living them on many occasions and not in grand and sweeping gestures but in the small and seemingly trivial details of life. The kindly smile, the extended hand, the gracious glance. She was generosity incarnate and yet never in a way that pronounced itself. Quietly, almost unnoticeably she gave and gave and gave. She would have given her last dime if she saw someone in greater need of it.

I remember the first time I really noticed Ani Lodro Palmo.
It was during one of my first winter visits to Khyentse Rinpoche's monastery in Boudhanath, Nepal. The year was 1986. Khyentse Rinpoche had just given a teaching transmission to a small group of Lamas in his private rooms and there were a handful of close western students also present.

I had crept into the room when I noticed that something was about to happen and supposedly unnoticed was sitting at the back observing what was going on.
I remember Rinpoche, at one point, turning to Ani Lodro and asking her a question. Anila was gazing into space and absorbed in some revere. Rinpoche addressed her a couple of times but still, she was absorbed and then I will never forget the look of pure affection that came over Rinpoche's face. It was absolutely heart-melting, just like a grandfather gazing upon a beloved and wayward child.

That look and her unassuming attitude when she suddenly became aware of his attention will always remain with me. From that moment I marked her out as someone different and special. Later I came to understand that she was, in fact, a hidden yogini.

I was incredibly fortunate because over the years she was so very good to me. During one winter stay in Bodhgaya, some years after Khyentse Rinpoche had passed on both of us were there during the same period. At that time I was trying to unravel the deeper meaning of a small Dzogchen text and was spending most of my time in a little nook that I had discovered just outside the Maitreya Shrine on the upper level of the stupa. I was spending so much time there that the residing Indian priest actually gave me a key to the upper shrine. In those days we could come and go with a great deal of freedom.

I would sit in a tiny alcove with one solitary and ancient statue which was housed in a corner of the upper floor and cover my head and body with a shawl. I always brought bits of food and water for the many families of squirrels that resided on and around the Bodhi Tree and this little shrine was nestled within it wondrous branches and leaves. Ani Lodro was often the only other person I ever saw near that spot. She knew I would be there and the door would be open and so she appeared every day and sat quietly by doing her practice. She really took me under her wing during that period. Always encouraging, always, always kindly and sincerely supporting of my bumbling efforts.

It was such a special winter and she was so much a part of my memory of that time.

Several years later we agreed to meet in Gangtok, Sikkim. I used to go there several times a year as I was living just a few hours south in a small hermitage during those years. Khyentse Khandro* was, in those days, living in the Tsuk Lakhang near the palace at the top of the hill above Gangtok. Anila wanted
to meet her again and also visit Dodruchen Rinpoche and his Khandroma, Pema Dechen*.  She had established close connections with each of them over the years.

I was thrilled to be able to accompany her on these visits and always remember how warmly she was received. Khandro Pema Dechen was nothing short of delighted. We spent several hours as her honoured guests and she and Lodro Palmo laughed and exchanged many tales from past days.  Some of the stories Khandroma shared with us that day were so incredible I still feel thoroughly inspired whenever I think of them.

What does it take to be an exemplary practitioner of the Buddha's teachings?
Authenticity, which reveals itself to the world unselfconsciously in little acts carried out with the utmost humility.
It reveals itself in the deep and seasoned wisdom which knows when and where to speak and when and where to listen.
It reveals itself in the oft unnoticed gestures of spontaneous generosity and kindness.  Ani Lodro Palmo had a heart of gold, pure and untarnished.

We had remained in touch even during the later years when she no longer travelled to India. Regularly either she or I would phone one another. Therefore it was not with surprise but joy that I received her call just a few days before she was to pass on from this world. I had been trying to contact her for some time.

Not for years had her voice sounded so strongly and so clearly. She was nothing short of exuberant. That morning I had been feeling a little glum, but after our conversation, my mood was transformed and I was greatly encouraged and gladdened.

I could never have predicted that this would be our final conversation.

Beloved Anila whose many kindnesses were beyond counting, how you have blessed so many lives...


Please follow the link to Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche's eulogy for a more
detailed description of her life.

* Khyentse Khandro was the wife of the great Tibetan master Khyentse Chokyi Lodro. Details of her life can be found in Rigpawiki and also an article I wrote called; A Remarkable Woman, Khandro Tsering Chodron.

* Khandro Pema Dechen was the first wife of Tulshik Lingpa, the Lama who
led a group of devotees up towards the sacred hidden valley of Shamballa. He was swept away by an avalanche just near the fabled entrance and his followers were forced to return to the valleys below. The extraordinary tale is retold by Thomas Shor in his book, A Step Away from Paradise.
Details of Khandros life are recounted in Rigpawiki.

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