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Tsultrim Allione

Tsultrim Allione

Tsultrim Allione is one of the most widely known contemporary Western women teachers of Buddhism. She received her master's degree from Antioch University in Buddhism/Women's Studies and was among the first Western women ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun. She has been a practicing Buddhist for over thirty years and has taught throughout the world, making great efforts to create teaching methods which facilitate the Western understanding of Buddhism. She is founder and director of Tara Mandala, a retreat center in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, that has been described as one of the most dynamic new Buddhist centers in North America. In 2009, Allione received the Outstanding Woman in Buddhism Award.

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About the Author

Lama Tsultrim Allione, author and international teacher, is the founder and spiritual director of Tara Mandala. In 2009, Lama Tsultrim was selected by an esteemed committee of scholars and practitioners to receive the International Outstanding Woman in Buddhism Award given in Bangkok, Thailand.



Born in 1947 as Joan Rousmaniere Ewing,  the daughter of a small town New England newspaper publisher, James Ewing and Ruth D. Ewing, a labor mediator. Her maternal grandparents both received PhD. degrees in philosophy at Harvard University, and her grandmother was the fifth women to receive a PhD. there having to ask men to get books from the library as women were not allowed to enter. She gave Lama Tsultrim her first book on Buddhism when she was fifteen, planting a seed which would come to fruition in a life devoted to Buddhist teachings.  On her father’s side, she descended from Oscar Ewing, a lawyer and politician who, as a cabinet member under President Truman, sought universal health care, but due to the political climate had to settle for what became Medicare. Her family was politically progressive and involved in early environmental activities.


She grew up in Maine and New Hampshire with an older sister Carolyn and younger brother, Tom. At nineteen, in 1967, having read every book available at the time about Tibet, she traveled to Nepal and India with her college friend filmmaker, Victress Hitchcock. Meeting the Tibetan refugees  in Nepal, she recognized that she was ‘home’ and began to sit in the Kagyu monastery on Swayambhu mountain. At this time she was living with the American yogi Bhagavan Dass when he met Dr. Richard Alpert, an already eminent Harvard psychologist and psychedelic pioneer with Dr.Timothy Leary.  Alpert and Bhagavan Dass embarked on the famous journey to see Neem Keroli Baba, where Alpert bacame Baba Ram Dass, and documented this journey in his famous influential book Remember Be Here Now. Lama Tsultrim left to go to see the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala after hitch hiking across India to Dharamsala,  to the home of the Dalai Lama, she began a lifelong study of Tibetan Buddhism.


Study and Practice

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche circa 1967

After a six month stay in India and Nepal, she returned home and went back to school, but felt what she wanted to learn was not being taught in American colleges, and in 1969 made her way to the first Tibetan monastery established in the West: Samye Ling in an old Scottish country house  in Dumfriesshire, Scotland.


She stayed for six months and there met Trungpa Rinpoche arriving the day he returned from the hospital after a car accident and shortly before his departure for the U.S.A. From him she received The Sadhana of Mahamudra which he had composed at Taksang in Bhutan.


In the sadhana (a Tantric meditation practice)  the line, “The only offering I can make is to follow your example” struck her as significant. Leaving Samye Ling for Nepal at the end of 1969 she practiced  The Sadhana of Mahamudra daily while traveling overland in a VW bus with five other people from London to Kathmandu , where she met H.H. 16th Karmapa,  great master and a committed monk. He spotted her in a large crowd at Swayambhu and made prophecies that she would benefit beings through the Dharma. Not knowing this at the time, but feeling spontaneous devotion for His Holiness she recalled the line from the sadhana and decided to follow his example by becoming a monastic.


At the age of 22 on the full moon of January 1970 in Bodhgaya, India, she was ordained as Karma Tsultrim Chodron  by H.H. 16th Karmapa Rigpai Dorje, with the four main reincarnate tulkus: H.E. Tai Situ, H.E. Jamgon Kongtul, H.E. Gyaltsap Rinpoche, and H.E. Sharmar Rinpoche as her witnesses.  She was the first American ordained by H.H. Karmapa and he became her root Lama.


She returned to Nepal and studied with Sapchu Rinpoche  and with many of the great masters who had escaped from Tibet including Lama Thupten Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. She received Phowa and Gyalwa Gyamtso from Sapchu Rinpoche.


Then in 1971 she traveled to Darjeeling and studied the Ngondro (Preliminary Practices) and Chenrizig extensively with Khabje Kalu Rinpoche and was also able to meet many great Tibetan masters such as Khabje Chatral Rinpoche, Dudjom Rinpoche and Drukpa Thugse Rinpoche. At this time she went to see His Holiness Karmapa in Sikkim at Rumtek monastery where foreigners were allowed to stay only one week and was not able to see him again until 1981, however he appeared often in her dreams giving teachings and empowerments.


She then went to Bodhgaya for the winter of 1971 reconnecting with Baba Ram Dass and meeting his followers who were there doing the first Goenka Vipasana courses.


She then went to Sarnath where she met Nyichang Rinpoche, and studied Buddhist philosophy with him. That spring  she traveled to Himachial Pradesh where she met H.E. Khamtrul Rinpoche and in Manali she encoutered her heart teacher Apho Rinpoche, grandson of  the great yogi Shakya Shri. Here she practiced Ngondro and received Shene Lhakthong (Shamanta/Vipasana) teachings and completed the half of her first Ngondro. Then in late 1972, the age of 25 she returned to America and went directly to Trungpa Rinpoche’s center in Vermont called Tail of the Tiger


Ani Tsultrim Darjeeling 1971

(now Karma Choling) and went into retreat to finish her first Ngondro. At this time she met Allen Ginsberg and traveled with him in a Volkswagon Bug around Wyoming and Montana and then again with Ginsberg and Ram Dass, she traveled through Colorado, New Mexico and Wyoming. Allen Ginsberg later asked her to be his meditation instructor.


After a year in the United States Trungpa Rinpoche sent her back to India as his emissary to invite His Holiness Karmapa to the United States. During this visit she received the Dam Ngag Dzod Empowerments  from Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche  which took  three months in Tashi Jong hosted by H.E. Khamtrul Rinpoche.  Then she returned to Manali to be with Apho Rinpoche and  there learned her first Chod practice of Naro Sang Chod  from Gegyen Khyentse. At this time she made the difficult decision to return her monastic vows and shortly afterwards  married Paul Kloppenburg from Holland in Delhi. They then returned to America and moved to Vashon Island in the Puget sound South of  Seattle. There they began to study with the great all knowing Deshung Rinpoche. It was during this period that she gave birth to her two daughters Sherab (1974) and Aloka (1975). The family then moved to Boulder to study with Trungpa Rinpoche. Here she separated from her first husband and became one of the first meditation instructors trained by Trungpa Rinpoche. She began to teach at Naropa Institute (now Naropa University) and to work for his organization at that time called Vajradhatu (now Shambhala International). She was in the first group to receive the Vajra Varahi Empowerment from Trungpa Rinpoche and was also asked to become a Vajrayana instructor.


Women of Wisdom

In 1978, at Naropa she met Italian documentary filmmaker Costanzo Allione, who became her second husband. She  moved to Italy with her two daughters where she met Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche with whom she studied and practiced Dzogchen teachings for the next eighteen years. In 1980 she gave birth to twins: a boy, Costanzo, and a girl, Chiara. When they were two and a half months old, Chiara died of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

This event triggered a need to find the life stories of women teachers from the Buddhist tradition and so she began research  what became  her first book, Women of Wisdom, a groundbreaking book on the lives of great Tibetan women  practitioners published in 1984.  At this time Lama Tsultrim earned her Master’s degree in Buddhist Studies/Women’s Studies from Antioch University. After leaving her Italian husband in 1986, she moved back to the USA and began teaching widely under Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche. She met her third husband David Petit in 1988. David taught dance and theater at The Waldorf School in Spring Valley, NY, which her children attended. This marriage proved to be  a true partnership on every level and  until David`s sudden death in 2010 they worked together on many projects, primarily Tara Mandala.


Temple at Tara Mandala 2010

In 1993, after Lama Tsultrim’s children had grown up, she recalled her vision formed in Manali in 1972 to create a western retreat center where meditation could be practiced as it had been in Tibet.   She envisioned a place  that would explore the interface between Western psychology and Buddhism. On Sept 18, 1993, following dreams and visions she and her husband David found the beautiful 700 acres of rolling hills, flowering meadows,   forests, that became Tara Mandala. The land in  Pagosa Springs in Southwest Colorado has many special features including ridges, views of two snow mountain ranges.


In June 1994 Lama Tsultrim and David moved to the land with a group of supporters and began to hold retreats, build retreat cabins and host visiting teachers. In 1999 the first stupa on the land was consecrated by Chogyal Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche, dedicated to Nyala Pema Duddul, great Dzogchen master who took rainbow body in 1872. The community lived on the land for ten years before any permanent buildings were built,  retreats were held in large tents and yurts. Between 2005 to 2008, three buildings  were completed at Tara Mandala: the Community Building, which houses the kitchen, dining room, offices, store, and bathing facilities; Prajna Residence Hall, which houses forty people in spacious sunlit rooms; and the extraordinary three-story mandala-shaped Tara Temple.


In 1999 the great yogi and Dzogchen master Adzom Paylo Rinpoche, reincarnation of Pema Wangyal one of the gyalse or sons of Adzom Drukpa also recognized as an emanation of Jigme Lingpa came to Tara Mandala for the first time. Lama Tsultrim and her family made a close connection with him. He  taught at Tara Mandala many years offering the lineage of Longchen Nyingtig and Adzom Drukpa. He back a heart teacher of Lama Tsultrim and a great support for Tara Mandala. He revealed an extraordinary  Troma Terma on December 19, 2002 at Tara Mandala and witnessed by many people imprinted his hand into a stone in 2003 .  has on several occasions made auspicious prophecies about its future. He taught Ngondro extensively, Chod, Green Tara and Yeshe Lama.


Machig Labdron’s Lineage

Since learning Chod from Gegyen Khyentse in 1972 she always felt and connection with Machig Labdron. Thwn in 1981 she had a vision of her while practicing Chod with Chogyl Namkhai Norbu which lead to the discovery and translation of her biography for her first book Women of Wisdom.

For many years, Lama Tsultrim focused her teachings on the lineage of Machig Labdrön, the 11th century Tibetan yogini who founded the Chöd lineage.  While teaching Norbu Rinpoche’s Chod she developed the five steps of feeding your demons that  developed into her book Feeding Your Demons (Little Brown 2008) .


While traveling in Tibet in 2007 Lama Tsultrim was recognized as an emanation of Machig Labdrön by the resident Lama of Zangri Khangmar (Machig’s monastery in Tibet). Before Lama Tsultrim’s arrival, the resident Lama had had a dream of a white Dakini coming from the West loudly sounding a damaru (drum used in Chöd). There were other indicative signs during the visit such as rainbows that stayed for hours, rain after a long drought etc. After these signs Lama Karma Dorje Rinpoche tulku of the brother of the second Karmapa Karma Pakshi made the announcement of the recognition  and gave her Machig’s relics to bring back to Tara Mandala, claiming that the future of Machig’s lineage would be in the West.


The pilgrimage group then returned to Nepal where Lama Tsering Wangdu  who holds the lineage of Machig from Tingri Langkhor, the seat of Phadampa Sangye in Tibet and is abbot of the Shelkar Chode monastery in Kathmandu which is dedicated to Machig Labdron’s lineage was waiting for them. He also had  had a dream. Three days before the group arrived, he dreamed of Machig Labdrön and her entire lineage in the sky above him. Machig said to him, ‘In three days I will be there.’  When the pilgrimage group arrived he gave the  the Machig Chöd Empowerment at his monastery and saw Mchig Labdron dissolve into Lama Tsultrim heart through the top of her head.


While  visiting Tara Mandala in 2008, he gave Lama Tsultrim the title of  ‘Lama’ and wrote a recognition letter of her as an emanation of Machig Labdrön, a long life prayer, and praises of her. Read more about Lama Tsultrim’s recognition. Lama Wangdu subsequently came to Tara Mandala and wrote a Long Life Pray

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