Spiritual History

Ani Palmo, the director and resident teacher of Song San Gampo Buddhist Center in Lakewood, Ohio, shares her spiritual journey from a Catholic upbringing to discovering Tibetan Buddhism. Growing up in Garfield Heights, a suburb of Cleveland, Ani Palmo navigated her Catholic education with a sense of dissatisfaction, grappling with the teachings and treatment of women within the faith.

Her exploration led her through various spiritual traditions, including New Age practices and Zen Buddhism in Japan, but she found them lacking in depth and spiritual fulfillment. It was during a retreat in Southern Thailand that she encountered Theravada Buddhism, which resonated deeply with her, offering a methodical approach to developing inner qualities.

However, it was a chance encounter with Sogyal Rinpoche in California and subsequent exposure to Vajrayana Buddhism in France that redirected her path. Inspired by the wisdom and compassion of Tibetan Buddhist masters, including the Dalai Lama, Ani Palmo embraced the Vajrayana tradition, despite initial reservations.

Her journey culminated in a spontaneous decision to embark on a three-year retreat at Chanteloube, France, under the guidance of respected teachers. Despite feeling unprepared, Ani Palmo’s dedication and openness led her to embrace this intensive practice, marking a significant turning point in her spiritual journey.

Throughout her narrative, Ani Palmo reflects on the importance of authenticity, openness, and a methodical approach to spiritual practice. Her journey underscores the transformative power of Buddhism and the profound impact of encountering genuine spiritual masters.

Qualities of a Teacher

Ani Palmo recounted her initial encounter with Rincophe, reflecting on the ambiance of Grenoble, France, where they first crossed paths during the teachings led by Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Amidst the serene surroundings, her impression of Rincophe was initially lukewarm, colored by a sense of skepticism towards his demeanor, which she perceived as veiled in false humility. However, as events unfolded and she embarked on a transformative three-year retreat, her perception of Rincophe underwent a profound shift.


During her retreat, Ani Palmo meticulously observed Rincophe’s actions, words, and intentions, gradually uncovering layers of authenticity and altruism beneath the facade of humility. She noticed his unwavering commitment to benefiting others, devoid of any personal ambition for power or wealth. His every action, even the simplest act of eating, seemed directed towards the well-being of others or the sustenance of his own body to serve others further.

Over the years, Ani Palmo’s relationship with Rincophe evolved from cautious observation to profound trust and admiration. She marveled at his encyclopedic knowledge of the Dharma, his boundless compassion, and his ability to address the innermost needs of his students, often providing answers that resonated deeply with their hearts. His humility, disdain for ostentation, and reluctance to accept veneration from others further endeared him to Ani Palmo, cementing her conviction in his authenticity as a spiritual guide.

Despite her initial hesitations, Ani Palmo eventually mustered the courage to formally request Rincophe as her teacher, marking a significant turning point in their relationship. With this formal acknowledgment, their bond deepened, leading to a heightened level of engagement and guidance from Garibache, including occasional displays of wrathful compassion when necessary for her spiritual growth.

Ani Palmo’s journey underscored the profound impact of a genuine teacher on one’s spiritual path. She emphasized the importance of discernment and cautious examination when choosing a teacher, cautioning against being swayed by charisma alone. Instead, she advocated for a balanced approach of skepticism tempered with humility and openness to the guidance of an authentic teacher.

In conclusion, Ani Palmo reflected on the invaluable role of a realized teacher as a living embodiment of the path’s attainability. Through her experiences with Rincophe, she found not only a mentor but also a source of inspiration and encouragement on her journey towards enlightenment.


Ani Palmo reflected on the transformative impact of her early retreat experiences, particularly in Thailand, where she grappled with anger and its management. A conversation with a monk left a lasting impression, urging her to confront anger directly by observing its physical and mental manifestations without getting entangled in its narrative. This practice revealed the profound discomfort and suffering inherent in anger, motivating her to seek its resolution.

Her exploration of anger not only deepened her personal insight but also cultivated compassion towards others struggling with similar emotions. Ani Palmo recognized the fallacy of viewing anger as empowering or justified, acknowledging its detrimental effects on clarity of mind and overall well-being. She emphasized the importance of logical reasoning alongside experiential practice in understanding and addressing negative emotions like anger.

During her retreat, Ani Palmo delved into the teachings of Shantideva’s “The Way of the Bodhisattva,” particularly the chapter on patience, which provided logical arguments against anger’s validity. Despite initial resistance, she found solace and guidance in the teachings, leading to transformative shifts in her perception and response to challenging situations.

Upon returning to her everyday life, Ani Palmo noticed profound changes in her emotional responses, particularly towards grief, as the retreat had dismantled the barriers around her heart. She became more empathetic and compassionate, experiencing grief on a deeper level and recognizing the impermanence of life.

Ani Palmo underscored the significance of teachings on impermanence, karma, and the illusory nature of the world in alleviating suffering. By embracing these teachings and integrating them into her life, she found herself suffering less, equipped with a deeper understanding of life’s transient nature and the interconnectedness of actions and consequences.

Personal Adversity 

Ani Palmo reflects on her father’s passing, a poignant experience that illuminated the truths of impermanence and non-self. Despite their complex relationship, she found herself caring for him during his final days, witnessing the gradual dissolution of his defining characteristics. Through this process, she saw firsthand the teachings of Buddhism manifest in reality, realizing the emptiness of self and the transient nature of identity.

Her years of practice prepared her for the emotional upheaval of her father’s death, allowing her to maintain a sense of calm amidst chaos. This inner peace enabled her to provide support to her family and be present for her father in his time of need. Ani Palmo also recognized the power of compassion, as she wished to alleviate her father’s suffering out of pure love for him.

In this profound experience, she found validation of the teachings and the transformative potential of the Buddhist path, even in the face of life’s greatest challenges. It underscored the importance of practice in navigating the complexities of existence and deepened her understanding of the boundless qualities of love and compassion.

Mental Health

Ani Palmo shares her deeply personal journey with depression, highlighting how the teachings of Buddhism have been instrumental in her ongoing battle with the condition. From a young age, she struggled with clinical depression, but her engagement with Buddhist principles offered her a lifeline through the darkest moments.

Impermanence became a guiding principle, reminding her that even the most intense suffering is transient. When faced with the descent into a depressive episode, she learned to recognize the signs early and apply coping mechanisms. Ani Palmo emphasizes the importance of self-compassion during these times, acknowledging that even small acts of self-care can make a difference.

Moreover, she discusses the danger of suicidal ideation and the power of compassion as a counterforce. By extending compassion to others, she found a way to alleviate her own suffering and overcome feelings of isolation.

Ani Palmo’s journey underscores the multifaceted approach needed to address mental illness. While Buddhist practice played a significant role, she also advocates for medication and other forms of support. Through it all, her teacher and the Buddhist community provided crucial guidance and encouragement.


Ani Palmo emphasizes the importance of avoiding the exoticization of spiritual practices, particularly in Western contexts, where there’s a tendency to view Buddhism, especially Vajrayana, as foreign or exotic. This mindset creates unnecessary barriers between individuals and their practice, hindering confidence and progress. She stresses the need to accept one’s current state without harsh judgment or unrealistic expectations, recognizing that transformation takes time and effort.

Furthermore, Ani Palmo addresses the perception that only certain groups, such as Tibetan men, can fully engage with and understand Buddhist teachings. She highlights the universality of human experience across time and culture, emphasizing that the mind functions similarly regardless of external circumstances. By reframing Buddhism as accessible and relevant to all, regardless of background or gender, she encourages practitioners to recognize their own potential for enlightenment.

Ani Palmo acknowledges the challenges of practicing Buddhism in the West, where societal support may be lacking and individuals may face skepticism or misunderstanding from family and peers. She underscores the importance of finding strength and confidence within oneself, trusting in one’s inherent Buddha nature. Ultimately, she urges practitioners to view Buddhist teachings as both ordinary and extraordinary, allowing for a more authentic and inclusive engagement with the path.

Function of Sangha

Ani Palmo, committed to nurturing a deep understanding of Tibetan Buddhism within a Western context, orchestrates a multifaceted program that caters to various levels of interest and experience. At the heart of her approach lies a structured curriculum designed to guide students through profound texts such as “Words of My Perfect Teacher” during the three-year Exploring Tibetan Buddhism program. This journey delves into the intricate layers of Buddhist philosophy, gradually unfolding its wisdom through rigorous study, reflection, and discussion.

In addition to the comprehensive program, Ani Palmo offers shorter classes tailored to accommodate the curiosity of those seeking a more casual exploration of Buddhist teachings. These sessions serve as entry points for beginners or as refreshers for seasoned practitioners, covering diverse topics to cater to the interests of a wide audience.

Central to Ani Palmo’s teaching philosophy is the integration of practicality and authenticity. She endeavors to present the teachings in a manner that resonates with the everyday lives of her students, steering away from abstract or esoteric interpretations. By incorporating her own struggles and triumphs along the spiritual path, she cultivates a sense of relatability and trust, creating a space where students feel empowered to engage with their own experiences openly.

Navigating the complexities of cultural differences and the foreignness of certain Buddhist concepts, Ani Palmo advocates for a balanced approach of inquiry and acceptance. She encourages students to question deeply while maintaining an openness to new perspectives, guiding them towards a nuanced understanding that transcends rigid belief systems. This approach fosters intellectual rigor without compromising the essence of the teachings, empowering students to navigate the rich tapestry of Buddhist philosophy with clarity and discernment.

Through her unwavering dedication and compassionate guidance, Ani Palmo embodies the bridge between ancient wisdom and contemporary life, ensuring that the profound teachings of Tibetan Buddhism remain accessible, relevant, and transformative for all who seek its wisdom.

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