|Jetsunma Akhon Rinpoche|
Jetsunma Akhon Lhamo is the spiritual director of Kunzang Palyul Chöling Centers. She was the first female American tulku to be recognised, in 1985, enthroned as Palyul Lineage holder, and given her name in 1988 by HH Penor Rinpoche with whom she continues to be associated. HH Penor Rinpoche has recently retired as the Supreme Head of the Nyngma school.
Her arrival at this position was despite seemingly inauspicious beginnings. She describes herself as "just a girl from Brooklyn".
She was born to a poor Brooklyn immigrant family who named her Alyce Zaoli. She had an innate sense of spiritual mission and changing her name to Catherine Burroughs along the way, she started out in business with a psychic counseling and channeling practice in the District of Columbia, which generated followers for her and developed a prayer group of its own. Many of these were inspired to follow her into committed Buddhist practice.
In 1987, she went to HH Penor Rinpoche's monastery in Bylakuppe, India, where he and His Holiness the late Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche formally recognized her as the incarnation of a 17th Century Tibetan saint, Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo. Ahkön Lhamo was instrumental in founding the original Palyul monastery at which her then brother, the Vidyadhara Kunzang Sherab, was the first throneholder. For most of her life, Genyenma Ahkön Lhamo lived and practiced in a cave above Palyul. Miraculous signs attended her death, including the production of a sacred relic in Palyul, to which Penor Rinpoche is said to have prayed in this life that he might find her incarnation. A portion of this relic survived to this day, and His Holiness presented it to Jetsunma Akhon Lhamo in 1988 when she was formally enthroned.
In 1994, Jetsunma was recognized also as an incarnation of Lhacham Mandarava an emanation of White Tara and consort to Padmasambhava.
Jetsunma has gathered around her a large traditional Buddhist community at the Kunzang Palyul Chöling temples where she teaches, in Maryland, just outside Washington, DC and in Sedona, Arizona. Such was the transformation that followed her discovery by HH Penor Rinpoche that her Maryland center is now said to be the largest Buddhist institution of its kind in the United States. She now has some hundreds of students, including 34 traditionally ordained monks and nuns.
It is perhaps inevitable that someone whose life has undergone such radical transformation and has achieved so much in so little time would be subject to a great deal of curiosity, speculation and even the whiff of scandal and this is true in her case.