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British woman Palmo came to Hong Kong to receive the precepts

British woman Palmo came to Hong Kong to receive the precepts

Freda Bedi standing with a group of Tibetans at Buxa.

A translation of an article from Neiming (Inner Clarity), issue 6, page 34, published September 8, 1972, about the full ordination of the first Western bhikshuni in the Tibetan tradition, Venerable Kechog Palmo (Freda Bedi).

Sramaneri Palmo is a British nun who came to Hong Kong from Sikkim especially to participate in the ordination ceremony organized by the Buddhist Sangha Association. She was born in 1910 in Derbyshire, England, into a devout Christian family. Later, she studied Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at Oxford University and obtained a master’s degree. While at university, she loved engaging in deep solitary contemplation in pursuit of life’s highest truths. She always believed that liberation could not be attained solely by relying on an external divine power for salvation. Instead, all the afflictions in our mind were the source of our suffering, and we must eliminate all our afflictions to attain peace, tranquillity and lasting liberation. That she had these accurate insights before hearing the Buddha’s teachings shows that the truths the Buddha discovered are universal in all worlds in the ten directions.

During her postgraduate studies, she met an international student from the Bedi clan in Punjab, India, whom she fell in love with and married. She followed her husband back to settle in India, where she first came into contact with Buddhist scriptures. She realized that the Buddha’s teachings were in line with her deep contemplations, which increased her faith in Buddhist philosophy. On many occasions, she wished to leave her family, go forth, and practice the Dharma as a monastic, but her relatives persuaded her not to do so. She reflected that she had borne two sons and a daughter who were still young and needed her care, thus her wish could not be fulfilled.

Nonetheless, over the decades, the thought of becoming a monastic remained in her mind. By 1953, her children were grown and could support themselves independently. She resolved to ordain as a sramaneri in Myanmar. First, she studied with the Vice-president of the local Buddhist Fellowship and President of the Sixth Buddhist Council Sayadaw U Titthila , focusing on Buddhist teachings and meditation methods for years. In 1963, Tibetan lamas fled to India as refugees. When she returned to India, she also became a disciple of His Holiness the Karmapa, who is now based in Sikkim, and studied tantra.

In her early years before becoming a nun, Venerable Palmo led a colorful life. She had careers as a university professor, writer, and social worker. After her ordination, she specialized in relief work assisting Tibetan refugees. She established a Buddhist monastery and a school for lamas where monastics could settle and receive education and training. She feels that her ordination not only supports her own practice but will also benefit new English-speaking Buddhists around the world. Venerable Palmo’s primary interests are teaching meditation and serving as translator for the monastic lamas who preside over the Sikkim Buddhist Center.

In the past few years, Venerable Palmo has traveled countless times to Europe, South Africa, and so forth, to spread the Dharma and teach meditation. This time, she was able to come to Hong Kong to receive the full precepts through the introduction of Venerable You Tan, a senior monk from Hong Kong who travels to Myanmar. She attended the seven-day grand ordination assembly hosted by the Buddhist Sangha Association and was very impressed by the magnificence and solemnity of the Chinese-style head-shaving and ordination ceremony. She also expressed her deepest gratitude to all the laity for their enthusiasm in helping her to fulfill her long-cherished wish.

Venerable Palmo flew back to Sikkim on August 8.

Photo captions from top left going clockwise: [photos in the original article are not shown here]

  1. When she came to Hong Kong to receive the precepts, she paid respect to Venerable Minzhi as her ordination master and received the Dharma name Guoxin. The scene of bowing to the Buddha at the ordination platform.
  2. The scene of sincerely offering incense on her head to the Buddha fully expresses her aspiration to dedicate her body and mind to all sentient beings with confidence and courage. She said that she resolves to serve Buddhism for the rest of her life.
  3. Venerable Guoxin said, “In this world, only the Buddha’s truths can lead humanity to the right view, because the truths that he discovered are philosophies derived from direct realizations of life’s experiences.”
  4. Venerable Guoxin, who still serves in Tibetan refugee camps, said, “The true spirit of religion is to sacrifice oneself and serve all of humanity directly.” This outfit is a lama’s robe that she wore when she first became a disciple of His Holiness the Karmapa.

Article translated by Dronsel Yap.

Venerable Thubten Damcho

Ven. Damcho (Ruby Xuequn Pan) met the Dharma through the Buddhist Students’ Group at Princeton University. After graduating in 2006, she returned to Singapore and took refuge at Kong Meng San Phor Kark See (KMSPKS) Monastery in 2007, where she served as a Sunday School teacher. Struck by the aspiration to ordain, she attended a novitiate retreat in the Theravada tradition in 2007, and attended an 8-Precepts retreat in Bodhgaya and a Nyung Ne retreat in Kathmandu in 2008. Inspired after meeting Ven. Chodron in Singapore in 2008 and attending the one-month course at Kopan Monastery in 2009, Ven. Damcho visited Sravasti Abbey for 2 weeks in 2010. She was shocked to discover that monastics did not live in blissful retreat, but worked extremely hard! Confused about her aspirations, she took refuge in her job in the Singapore civil service, where she served as a high school English teacher and a public policy analyst. Offering service as Ven. Chodron’s attendant in Indonesia in 2012 was a wake-up call. After attending the Exploring Monastic Life Program, Ven. Damcho quickly moved to the Abbey to train as an Anagarika in December 2012. She ordained on October 2, 2013 and is the Abbey’s current video manager. Ven. Damcho also manages Ven. Chodron’s schedule and website, helps with editing and publicity for Venerable’s books, and supports the care of the forest and vegetable garden.

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