Meet a Teacher: Pema Khandro Rinpoche

Pema Khandro Rinpoche gets personal with the Lion’s Roar readership.

Pema Khandro Rinpoche
25 July 2023

I was enthroned by Gyaldak Rinpoche as the reincarnation of Pema Khandro, a yogini from eastern Tibet. Moreover, the most powerful transmission I ever received was from a woman—a ninety-seven-year-old Tibetan who was regarded as a living dakini. So, as a female Buddhist teacher, I walk in the footsteps of a long history of Buddhist women. Whenever I’m facing obstacles or witnessing triumphs, I feel a connection with Buddhist women around the world. Sakyadhita, the international association of Buddhist women, really opened my eyes to this.

From a young age, I followed my teacher Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche around the world. Traveling to Asia, I received many teachings from kind lamas in India, Nepal, and Tibet. But the most life-changing experience was spending time among Ngakpas (people who balance spiritual training with work and family life) in Tibet.

I felt it was important to share the rich tradition of practice outside monasteries. Thus, I founded Ngakpa International in 1999 and developed its three projects: the Buddhist Studies Institute, Yogic Medicine Institute, and Dakini Mountain Retreat Center.

I just finished my PhD in Buddhist Studies and now work as a scholar, professor, and lama. My research focuses on Dzogchen and women. So, I spend my days reading fourteenth-century Tibetan texts, teaching dharma classes, teaching university classes, and practicing Vajrayana. I currently train meditation teachers and am developing a chaplaincy-training program. I am keenly interested in the next generation of Buddhist leaders.

Your favorite virtue?

In Tibetan it’s bzod pa, which means endurance, capability, or resilience in the face of hardship. Usually, it’s translated as patience.

Your chief characteristic?


Your principal poison?


Your idea of happiness?


Your idea of misery?

Buddhists tolerating violence toward women.

What’s the worst job you’ve ever had?

Well, I love being a professor, but I hate grading. I don’t like giving bad grades, even if the work deserves it.

If not yourself, who would you be?

Since there aren’t really models for what I am as a feminist, woman of color, scholar, lama, and multicultural person, I’m trying to just be as present and real as possible.

The natural talent you’d most like to have?

Drawing and painting.

Favorite meditation practice?

Chöd, Vajrayogini, and Dzogchen.

What dharma books do you recommend?

Samsara, Nirvana, and Buddha Nature by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Ven. Thubten Chodron; Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life by Shantideva; Love and Liberation by Sarah Jacoby; and Love Letters from Golok by Holly Gayley.

Your favorite author?


Your favorite musician or group?

My favorite song is “Blackbird.” I like all the different renditions.

Your favorite current TV show?

Dancing with the Stars.

What’s for dinner?

Black beans, sweet potatoes, and a big salad with heirloom tomatoes and organic cucumbers.

Name your heroes.

Garchen Rinpoche, Gangteng Tulku Rinpoche, Ngak’chang Rinpoche, Lama Rigzin Drolma, and Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo.

A motto that represents you?

Diversity is beautiful.

Guilty pleasure?

Long, leisurely walks by the river with dogs and friends when I forget about time.

Pema Khandro Rinpoche

Pema Khandro Rinpoche

Pema Khandro is a teacher and scholar of Buddhist philosophy, as well as a lineage holder in the Nyingma and Kagyu traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. She founded the nonprofit organization Ngakpa International and its three projects, the Buddhist Studies Institute, Dakini Mountain, and the Yogic Medicine Institute. She is completing a doctorate specializing in Tibetan Buddhism at the University of Virginia.