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The Spiritualist 
who became 
a Tibetan 
Buddhist nun – Researcher Leslie Price explores 
the unusual case of Diane Perry

Diane Perry (born 1943) was brought up above a fish shop in Bethnal Green, London. Her father died when she was young. Her mother was a Spiritualist who hosted a weekly home circle on Wednesdays, where there were powerful table movements and communications.

Diane later recalled: “I gained a lot from those experiences. There is no way now that anyone could tell me that consciousness does not exist after death because I have so much proof again and again that it does. It’s not a belief, it’s a knowledge, a certainty.”

“Tenzin Palmo has vowed to obtain enlightenment in a female body, no matter how many 
lives it takes.”   

As her biographer noted – “It was her house, she knew there were no trapdoors and no one was being paid.”

“We used to sit round this huge mahogany table with legs the size of tree trunks which had come from some grand house and one of the neighbours who was a medium would go into trance and get messages from the spirit guides,” Diane remembered.

“I remember one night my mother made some joke about the spirits not being very strong and they took up the challenge. They asked the greengrocer, a woman of about 18 stone, to sit on top of the table then they lifted the whole thing up, this huge heavy piece of furniture, and it sailed around the room with the greengrocer perched on top. We all had to run into the corners to get out of the way.”

    “They told her to pray that in her next life she would be born male so she could fully join in. No wonder she later withdrew to a mountain cave!”

Despite this, Diane became critical of the Spiritualists she met. “They did not get down to the profound issues that I thought really mattered. They were mostly interested in chit-chat with their dead relatives. Personally I thought it was a waste of the spirit guide’s time and knowledge.”

Later she concluded that the guides’ answer to the question ‘How do we become perfect?’ was insufficient, and she lost interest in Spiritualism. She found Buddhism, travelled to India and became a Tibetan nun, only the second western woman to do this.

Under the name Tenzin Palmo she made history by overcoming the discrimination against nuns enforced by the male monks. Nuns had become excluded from the higher teachings and rituals.

The Cave in the Snow   

In March 1993, a conference on Western Buddhism was held at the home of the Dalai Lama, in Dharamsala, India. Tenzin Palmo was one of several women present who challenged male dominance in Buddhism. She recalled that on first coming to India she had lived in a monastery with 100 monks. They told her to pray that in her next life she would be born male so she could fully join in. No wonder she later withdrew to a mountain cave!

After the 1993 conference, Tenzin become involved in the nurturing of Buddhist nuns, and their campaign to secure full ordination. The Dalai Lama is reportedly sympathetic to this, but it is an issue for the Buddhist community worldwide.                                                                   

Tenzin Palmo has vowed to obtain enlightenment in a female body, no matter how many lives it takes. In 2000, she founded a nunnery in India where women are able to able to receive full spiritual training.

    Is this reincarnation?   As with some other western seekers, Diane Perry showed affinities to a different culture when young. But it was her meeting with Khamtrul Rinpoche, on her twenty-first birthday and already in India, which changed her life.  She recalled: “The feeling was two things at the same time. One was seeing somebody you knew extremely well who you haven’t seen for a very long time. A feeling of – ‘Oh, how nice to see you again!’ And at the same time it was as though an innermost part of my being had taken form in front of me. As though he’d always been there but now he was outside.”

In her biography by Vicki Mackenzie – Cave in the Snow (1998), from which I have quoted – she continued to have various contacts with the spirit world, especially with the dakinis (female Buddhist spirits) who helped her find, and be protected in, the cave where she meditated for twelve years. 

This case reminds us that some of the best survival evidence derives from home circles, but that for many seekers, evidence is not enough. They seek to tread a steeper path. Nevertheless, Tenzin Palmo’s knowledge of psychic truths informs her teaching.

“The lamas tend to present the after-death state as a reward or punishment for what we have done in this life, which lasts for a certain amount of time until we come back again to earth and start working for our spiritual development anew… But to me the spiritualist [sic] idea is more meaningful.

“They also believe there are many different dimensions where you can go after death, where you meet up with like-minded people. The difference is that the spiritualists maintain that after death you are able to work helping others who are less fortunate, which creates further spiritual evolution. It’s one of the ways we evolve by cultivating love and compassion while one is in the spirit realm.”

If you want to learn more of the Tibetan evidence for past lives, Leslie Price recommends reading the chapter ‘The Baby and the Buddha’ in Roy Stemman’s Big Book of Reincarnation, published by Hierophant in 2012. 

For more on Tenzin Palmo, visit: www.tenzinpalmo.com 

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