Ani-La’s Day

Ani-La’s Day

(Life in a Tibetan Buddhist Nunnery)

In Tibet there developed four main lineages, or schools, of Buddhism. Each traces its origins to a founding teacher and ultimately to Buddha Shakyamuni. The Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Geluk each has its own distinct practices, but all monasteries and nunneries have a similar structure and discipline.
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Drubten Pemo Jalpey Gyatsal is a Mahayana Buddhist nunnery located at Bhatoli Village near Tilokpur, Himachal Pradesh, India. This is in the beautiful foothills of the Himalayas. It follows the Kagyu Lineage and is dedicated to the Karmapas. Tilokpur is considered to be an auspicious place, the location of a revered cave where the great Indian Mahasiddha Tilopa is said to have meditated.

There are now 45 nuns in residence ranging from 6 to 50 years of age, including 28 new young girls. Many are from very poor families from remote areas such as Kinnaur, Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, and Sikkim, as well as from the Tibetan exile community. The nuns study Buddhist philosophies and ritual practices as well as having classes on English and Tibetan language, and basic math. They hope to soon incorporate science and computer skills into their studies. His Holiness Dalai Lama encourages monastics to unite science and spirituality to serve our world by seeking truth.

The nuns wake up at 5 a.m and clean their rooms. From 5.30 to 7.30 the novices learn prayers, and the elder nuns practice their meditations and pujas in their rooms. Breakfast will start at 7.30. This might consist of Tibetan “tsampa” (ground barley ) with fresh fruit and curd, accompanied by an Indian flatbread “chapati.” At 8:45 they all assemble for morning prayers to Manjushri, Lord of Wisdom. They then sing the Tibetan National Anthem. The elder nuns do daily pujas in the prayer hall. The children’s class is from 9a.m. to 12 noon. Lunch is at noon, perhaps rice and lentils with vegetables. Class will start again at 2p.m. After a short tea break, they will memorize scriptures from 4-6p.m. and then the abbot will teach them chanting. A light dinner of soup with crumbled Tibetan cheese will start at 6.15 p.m. The nuns have self study from 7.30 to 8.30 p.m .and from 8.30 to 9.30 p.m. nuns again say prayers. Ten p.m. brings lights off in the room and a bid good night.

The nuns do their monthly prayer sessions in the prayer hall. This is the nuns’ main gathering place, beautifully decorated in the traditional manner and rich with color.

On the 8th day of the Tibetan month they do Medicine Buddha pujas, to heal our world.

On the 10th day, All prayers are dedicated to Guru Rinpoche. Guru Rinpoche established Buddhism in Tibet by subduing the local “demons” and transforming them into “Dharma protectors.”

On the 15th day, performed on alternate months, they practice pujas for Karmapa (Karma Pakshi) and Milarepa. Karmapa is lineage holder for the Karma Kagyu. Milarepa was Tibet’s beloved poet and ascetic.

On the 25th day pujas are said to the female deity Vajra Yogini, also called Dorjee Pakmo.

On the 29th day (done through-out the day) there is Mahakala puja, for removing obstacles and for defending the Dharma.

On the 30th day of the Tibetan month are prayers to Amitabha, Buddha of infinite Light.

Daily prayer sessions in the prayer hall are Green Tara puja, Guru Rinpoche puja, Mahakala, and long life pujas for H.H.the Karmapa and all the rinpoches and lamas.

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The new Sakyapa College for Nuns in Manduwala near Dehra Dun has been in the planning stages for the past two to three years. H.H. Sakya Trizin set an inauguration date of September 2009. Her Eminence Jum Kushok prepared the following responses to some questions for the Clear Mind Newsletter of the Canberra Tibetan Buddhist Society.

Q. What is the traditional Tibetan Buddhist training program for those wanting to be teachers of Buddhist philosophy?
A. To become a traditional Tibetan Buddhist Philosophy teacher, one has to finish at least seven years of the higher studies in philosophy and should have graduated with the Kachupa Degree which is equivalent to the Bachelor of Arts Degree with outstanding marks. To be able to teach higher classes one needs to have graduated with the Lopon Degree which is equivalent to the Master of Arts Degree, with a total of nine years of studies of philosophy. A teacher should be an excellent student oneself during ones education years to be able to become an efficient teacher. One should have studied ones subjects thoroughly and must be a master of the subject.

Q. Does teacher training differ between the Tibetan Buddhist schools?
A. The basic sutras to be studied are generally the same but the names of the degrees differ in different schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

Q. What is the history of training for nuns before Buddhism came to Tibet and in the Tibetan Buddhist Culture?
A. Nearly nine hundred years ago there existed a magnificent college for higher studies in Buddhist Philosophy near Lhasa, which was known as Sangphu Monastery. The main abbot and a great scholar of that time, Venerable Chapa Shoesing, had about ten thousand students, both monks and nuns. It is said that during that time the nuns were very intelligent and efficient. At that time no degrees were officially given out to the students but the nuns would study the same curriculum as that of monks, which nowadays is equivalent to the degree of the Rabjampa (equivalent to the Dr. of Divinity) or the Geshe. At that time there were many famous nun scholars, but then during the course of time the nuns’ higher education disappeared. Lopon Sonam Tsemo, the 3rd of the 5 founders of the Sakyapa tradition, was also the student of Ven. Chapa Choesing.

Q. What recent training opportunities have Sakya nuns had after leaving Tibet?
A. The nuns are trained in the recitation and rituals of the Sakyapa tradition. Apart from this they study Tibetan Language, grammar and history. They also learn English and Hindi as additional languages.

Q. What is the selection process for the Sakyapa College for nuns – will the nuns apply or are they chosen? What age, previous training, etc. will be required?
A. The first batch that consists of a total of 25 nuns from the Sakya Nunnery, has been chosen on the basis of academic merit. The minimum age criterion for the admission to the course is 18 years.

Q. What is the program of study? How long will each degree take? How many months per year?
A. The program of study will be the same as Sakyapa College, Mussoorie. To obtain the degree of Kachupa, which is equivalent to the Bachelor of Arts Degree, a student would have to study for a minimum 7 years. The curriculum is as follows:
1st year- Tibetan Grammar, Poetry and History (with emphasis on the History of the Glorious Sakaypa Tradition)
2nd year- Bodhicharyavatara by Shantideva and Basic Logic
3rd & 4th years- Sakya Pandita’s Logic and Kunkyen Sonam Sangye’s (Ghorampa) commentaries on Logic
5th & 6th years- Prajnaparamita Sutra ‘Sutra on Perfection of Wisdom’ and commentaries by Kunkyen Sonam Sangye (Ghorampa) and Rongten Sheja Kunrik
7th year- Madhyamika Sutra’s Uma Jungpa by Chandrakirti
Then if the student wishes to obtain the degree of Lopon, which is equivalent to the Master of Arts Degree, she would have to study for 2 more years. The curriculum will contain:
8th year- Volume-6 of the commentary by Kunkyen Sonam Sangye (Ghorampa)
9th year- Abhidharma and Vinaya

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The Om Fund has granted $6,000 to the new Sakyapa College for Nuns, which helped to pay for the successful drilling of the new well.

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The life of a Buddhist nun requires great dedication, yet it is often the best chance a girl will have to improve her mind and life. Many would not otherwise have an opportunity to go to school because of poverty and societal constraints. Some aspire to dedicate their lives to Dharma at an early age. Throughout the Himalayas it is considered an honor to have a child enter monastic life. Progressive leaders such as His Holiness Dalai Lama have advocated for Bhikshuni ordination for nuns within the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.  Until recently, nuns traveled to Taiwan or other countries to take the vows of a fully ordained monastic.  The title of Geshema is now available for Tibetan Buddhist nuns who pass the doctorate exams in Buddhist philosophy.  Nuns will be able to teach and will be fully ordained.  This marks an exciting and historic decision towards equality between monks and nuns, men and women.
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If you would like further information on either of these projects for nuns or about other ways you can help, please contact Algienne.