Lhundup Damchö was born and raised in New York. After high school, she spent a year back-packing alone in Europe before starting her university studies at Sarah Lawrence, where she earned a BA in humanities. She then spent a year studying and living abroad in Paris and Poland, and then joined the New School for Social Research, for MA studies in Continental and Greek philosophy. In 1989, she left to begin a career as a journalist, continuing for seven years in her hometown of New York and later as bureau chief in Hong Kong. Later, during a year’s sabbatical writing as a freelance journalist, she engaged in a 10-day retreat at Kopan Monastery in Nepal’s Kathmandu valley. It was there that she first heard teachings on Buddhism, from Swedish nun Ani Karin.
Within two years, Damchö had left her career, completed several retreats and taken ordination vows in 1999. She was in Dharamsala preparing for another retreat when she first met His Holiness the Karmapa, weeks after his escape from Tibet. Following her retreat, she returned to Madison, Wisconsin, where she continued her seven years of Buddhist philosophy study with Geshe Lhundup Sopa, her abbot. At the same time, Lama Zopa Rinpoche also had a profound influence, and his teachings on renunciation and the cultivation of compassion greatly inspired her practice. In 2003, she was sent to Puerto Rico to offer Dharma talks at the Dharma center founded by Geshe Sopa and directed by Yangsi Rinpoche. Upon arrival in Puerto Rico, Damchö learned that Rinpoche had informed the students there that she would be teaching in Spanish – although her rudimentary knowledge of the language at the time came from having a Cuban sister-in-law, many Latino friends and a lifelong love of languages. Nevertheless, on that slim toehold Damchö began her long engagement with the Dharma in Spanish.
During this same period, she lived with other nuns at Deer Park and engaged in graduate studies 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.
In 2006, she returned to India after a six-year absence. 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 where Dapel and Nangpel had just received their monastic vows from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. After two years in Dharamsala, the seeds of a nuns’ community began to sprout, and when the nuns shared their aspiration with His Holiness the Karmapa, he quickly granted his blessing for them to proceed. 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.” Damchö has a project pending to publish an English translation of those stories of these nuns’ lives.
Since completing her dissertation in 2009, Damchö has lived in India participating in the life of the nuns’ community, serving His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje, on various projects, and engaging in various Spanish-language Dharma initiatives.
In 2010, under the guidance of the 17th Karmapa, she wrote Karmapa: 900 Years, a historical survey of the Karma Kagyu lineage that has since been translated into twelve languages. 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. 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, which will be launched in 2016 as part of a commemorative event in Bodhgaya. (Dapel served alongside Damchö to photo-edit this book.) Her translation of his script of a play on the life of Milarepa is also forthcoming from KTD Publications.
Damchö gives weekly Dharma talks in Spanish, which can be viewed at www.facebuda.org. She travels regularly to Dharma centers across Latin America, and leads an annual retreat in Mexico. With Silvia Sevilla, she co-founded Editorial Albricias, a Spanish-language publisher of books on Buddhism. With Leslie Serna, she co-founded a Buddhist study institute that offers online courses in Buddhist philosophy and practice in Spanish, free of charge. This study program was given the name Instituto Budadharma by His Holiness the 17th Karmapa in 2012, and currently admits over 500 students each semester.
Although the bulk of her time is now divided between India and Latin America, Damchö 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.