I was born near Lake Nam Tso in Tibet. I had two elder sisters, two elder brothers, and two younger sisters. We lived in a big, black tent most of the time, allowing our herds of sheep, goats, and yak to graze. We traveled by horseback. We lived a pure nomadic lifestyle.I used to go with my sister Ngawang to take the goats and sheep out to graze. I learned how to control them by watching other people. We had a whip and I would whistle to the dogs to herd the sheep. At night we would bring the sheep into a pen because we had many problems with wolves.
It was bitterly cold and it was always snowing. We lived in sheepskin coats with the wool turned in towards our skin. It would be so cold that the men's moustaches would freeze! We would cook inside the tent on yak-dung fires. There was a big hole in the centre of the tent so that the smoke went straight out. We used oil lamps and candles for light at night.For entertainment we held picnics and we sang songs and danced and drank "chang" (Tibetan barley beer) -- such as at Losar (New Year) and weddings.
Each month the Chinese came and collected taxes in the form of butter, cheese, meat, and animal skins. They took everything quite freely and gave us a little money in exchange for only at the fraction of their value.My sister became a nun one year before me. When I told my parents that I also wanted to be a nun, they were pleased. My cousin came to Sera monastery with me and I offered my hair to Geshe Senge-la. I was twenty at the time. I then entered Gari Nunnery, situated high in hills behind Lhasa. There were only twenty-six nuns, so it was very quiet -- like my life as a nomad.
The nunnery had been destroyed following the chinese invasion of 1959, so we lived in caves, going outside to do our prayers. We had no comforts at all. When the snow fell and it blew inside our cave we had to dig it out with our bare hands. The rain also caused problems.The money to build the nunnery had been raised by the older nuns. It took six years to rebuild and it was still not complete when I left. These nuns were very well-educated and had memorised many texts. All the sacred books had been thrown into a pyre when the nunnery was destroyed so they were rewriting the texts from memory. There ws no time to teach Buddhist philosopy but they planned to begin once the nunnery was finished. Sometimes Geshe came and taught us.
In 1989, I took part in the pro-independance demonstrations and was arrested. When I was in prison I was severly tortured. I was kept in prison for seven months and after my release I returned to Gari for twenty days. The old nuns nursed me because I was so ill. The Chinese came to Gari and announced the names of the nuns who were to be dismissed -- I was one of them. So I returned to my family for two months. My mother spent a long time talking with me because I was still in a state of shock and was silent and withdrawn.
The nuns at Gari called me back and so I returned for five months. I couldn't understand why they had asked me back, until I heard it was an order from the Chinese in order to prevent me from participating in further demonstrations.I decided to leave for India. I made my escape with my prison-mate's brother. He took me close to the border in his truck along with forty other people. I came to Dharamsala because I wanted a blessing from His Holiness the Dalai Lama. At the time I didn't know about Geden Choeling. When I first arrived at the reception center in Dharamsala, it was so crowded with refugees that I had to sleep on the roof, just wrapped in a blanket. Now, at last, I am very happy to live here at Geden Choeling.
Shugsep, a Nyingma nunnery, traces its ritual and practice to some of the most illustrious female practicioners in Tibetan history. In this century, Shugsep was home to one of the most famous practioners and teachers of this century, Shugsep Jetsunma. There the nuns followed a routine primarily of memorizing scriptures and meditating, living as ascetic hermits in caves in the hillside. Following the cultural revolution in 1959, the nuns were forced to leave Shugsep and it was completely destroyed. Although the nunnery was partially rebuilt in the 1980's by the nuns themselves, those who continue to reside there faced harrassment by Chinese authorities. Nearly all of the nuns studying in Shugsep Nunnery in Dharamsala come from the original Shugsep.
Most of the 60 nuns at Shugsep come from the original nunnery in Tibet. Here they have the opportunity to participate in a nine-year academic program of Buddhist philosophy, debate, Tibetan language and English. Their teachers come from Penor Rinpoche's monastery in southern India.Every Sunday night, the Shugsep nuns practice the Chod ritual, following the lineage of chod practice that comes down from the great female practioner of the 11th century, Machik Lapdron. This ritual focuses on severing worldy attachments by offering one's own body parts to visualized dieties.
"In ancient Tibet, educational programs were available in some nunneries. But in recent times there are no standard training programs in any of them. Dolma Ling can therefore set a precedent and become a model for nunneries throughout Tibet."
- His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Oct. 9, 1995 during a visit to Dolma Ling.
Dolma Ling is open to those from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism and is the first of its kind to offer this level of education to Tibetan women. Dolma Ling is unique in that it offers a 13-year curriculum of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate along with modern courses in Tibetan language, English, mathematics, Tibetan history, computer skills and basic medical training. The nuns also have access to sacred arts such as sand mandala and butter sculpture. When their studies are complete, the nuns will fill an important role as teachers, both in the nunneries and throughout the Tibetan exile community.
Since 1994, the nuns have participated in Jang Gonchoe, an inter-nunnery debate session. Held for monks for centuries, this is a new undertaking for nuns and is funded by TNP.Dolma Ling is also the site of several pilot self-sufficiency projects in tailoring, weaving, the braiding of freedom bracelets and papermaking.
To purchase products from current projects at Dolma Ling.
Read the story of a Dolma Ling nun.
On a hilltop overlooking a small town 40 km from Dharamsala is Tilokpur Nunnery, at the site of Tilopa's cave (a Tibetan saint). It was founded in 1966 by Mrs. Freda Bedi, a British nun under the previous Karmapa Rinpoche It is the oldest Kagyu nunnery outside of Tibet. Sixty-five nuns from Tibet, the Himalayas and Mustang (Nepal) live here. The oldest nun is over 80; the youngest is 12 years old.The nuns are under the spiritual guidance of Tai Situ Rinpoche, and the nuns regularly participate in 3-year retreats at Situ Rinpoche's facility in Bir, Sherap Ling.
It is a small, but well run nunnery that is supported primarily by doing prayers for the exile community. However, the nuns have been hampered in their abilities to develop and sustain themselves by the general lack of education. The Nuns Project has helped them to start basic classes in Tibetan and English. The biggest problem is in finding and keeping teachers. Now that basic literacy has been accomplished, if a teacher can be found, they will also add instruction in key texts of their Kagyu tradition.Geden Choeling, of the Gelukpa tradition is the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala. A number of the nuns are over 60 years old. Over 120 nuns live and study in the small nunnery.
In the early 1960's several nuns fled the Nechung Ri Nunnery in Tibet, that was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution. With no nunnery in existence these women worked with Tibetan children until a number of refugee nuns gathered together with the purpose of building a nunnery. As there were nuns from different nunneries in Tibet, they decided on "Geden Choeling" which means "Home of the virtuous ones who devote their lives to the Buddha Dharma".
Borrowing pots and pans and 600 rupees from a monk they were able to rent an old house in the forest above McLeod Ganj and performed the opening ceremony in December of 1973.From such humble beginnings, these determined women raised and borrowed enough money to begin to build housing and a temple. At the very beginning they built with their own hands; today the nunnery houses over 120 nuns far more than its intended capacity.