Damchö was born and raised in New York. She left a career as a journalist, in her hometown of New York and later as bureau chief in Hong Kong, to ordain as a Buddhist nun in 1999. While devoting time to retreat during winter and summer breaks, she completed a graduate program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, studying Sanskrit, Tibetan and interdisciplinary studies of Asian culture and history. Her MA thesis explored reading strategies of Mahayana sutras, particularly the Sanghata Sutra, of which she later produced an English translation and a website devoted to the sutra. After spending over a year reading Sanskrit texts in Pune, Varanasi and Vishakhapatnam with Prabhakara Shastry, (you can read her blog on this period here) she moved to Dharamsala and began living with two of other nuns who formed this community in 2009. In the same year, Damchö received her PhD, with a thesis on gender and ethics in Sanskrit and Tibetan narratives about Buddha’s direct female disciples, entitled “For the Sake of Women, Too: Ethics And Gender in the Narratives of the Mūlasarvāstivāda Vinaya.”
In 2010, working closely with the 17th Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje, she wrote Karmapa: 900 Years, a historical survey of the Karma Kagyu lineage that has since been translated into twelve languages and downloadable here. She co-translated and edited The Heart Is Noble: Changing the World from the Inside Out, a book of teachings by His Holiness the Karmapa based on several weeks of dialogue between the Karmapa and a group of students from the University of Redlands. She has since organized several other extended interactions between young people and His Holiness, and co-edited a second book resulting form them: Interconnected: Embracing Life in Our Global Society. In 2015, she co-translated and edited Nurturing Compassion, teachings by the Karmapa during his first trip to Europe. Under the Gyalwang Karmapa’s guidance, she produced a visual biography to commemorate his predecessor, Dharma King: The Life of the 16th Gyalwang Karmapa in Images, launched in 2016. (Dapel served alongside Damchö to photo-edit this book.) Her translation of the 17th Karmapa’s script of a play on the life of Milarepa is also forthcoming from KTD Publications.
As founder of Comunidad Dharmadatta and its main teacher, Damcho gives weekly Dharma talks in Spanish, which are streamed live on our Youtube channel and can be viewed on this website. With Leslie Serna, she co-founded a Buddhist study institute that offers online courses in Buddhist philosophy and practice in Spanish, free of charge. The institute’s seven-year study program comprises modules on the graduates path, ethics, meditation, working with emotions and bodhichitta, and currently has over 400 students enrolled.
Although the bulk of her time is now spent serving practicing communities across Latin America, Damcho spends three months each year engaged in strict retreat. She also continues to participate in academic circles, presenting at conferences and engaging in collaborative research projects. She has served as a board member of Maitripa College, a Buddhist college in Portland, Oregon, since its founding in 2005.