Tenzin Palmo was born Diane Perry in London in 1943. She converted to Buddhism at the age of 18 and moved to India at 20, where she began training as a Buddhist nun and was given the name Tenzin Palmo by her teacher, His Eminence the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche. In 1964 she became only the second western woman to be ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
In 1976, she retreated to a cave in the Himalayas measuring 10 feet wide and six feet deep and remained there for 12 years, for three of which she was in full retreat. The cave was high in the remote Lahul area of the Indian Himalayas. In the course of the retreat she grew her own food and practiced deep meditation based on ancient Buddhist beliefs. In accordance with protocol, she never lay down, sleeping in a traditional wooden mediation box in a mediation posture for just three hours a night. The last three years were spent in complete isolation. She survived temperatures of below −30° Fahrenheit (−35°C) and snow for six to eight months of the year.
She emerged in 1988 and traveled to Italy. Since then she has taken on the cause of equal rights and opportunities for Buddhist nuns. In support of this, she spent several years traveling the world fund raising for a new Buddhist nunnery. In 2000, the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery was opened with the purpose of giving education and training to women from Tibet and the Himalayan border regions.