Supported by the progressive policies of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Lama Zopa Rinpoche, advanced Buddhist education for girls and women in Asia is taking a foothold in Ladakh. A somewhat revolutionary concept for traditional Tibetan culture and developing Asian countries, His Holiness and Lama Zopa Rinpoche have promised equal education for girls and women. As a result, a cohort of bright, energetic young female geshes is on the horizon at Khachoe Ghakyil Nunnery, FPMT’s largest nunnery in Kopan near Kathmandu, and at nunneries in Dharamsala under the guidance of the Tibetan Nuns Project.
Ladakh, part of the northern Indian province Jammu and Kashmir, has enjoyed a peaceful and traditional Tibetan Buddhist culture for centuries, however, for girls and women interested in monasticism, only very small and remote nunneries with poor educational opportunities are open to them.
Following the work of Dr. Tsering Palmo who founded the Ladakh Nuns Association and who has dedicated herself to improving the situation of Ladakhi nuns since 1997, a dedicated group of 12 young educated Ladakhi nuns from Gephel Shadrubling Nunnery now dreams of starting the first university for nuns in Ladakh according to the strict course of study outlined by the Gelug tradition and looking to Khachoe Ghakyil Nunnery as a prototype. This summer, Marlies Bosch, founder of the Dutch Foundation for Ladakhi Nuns (DFLN), had the opportunity to talk with Rinchen Khando, the director of the Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in Dharamsala, and her husband, Tenzin Choegyal, brother of the Dalai Lama, about this matter. Rinchen Khando and Khachoe Ghakyil Nunnery are setting up a curriculum to make sure that the last part of the geshe studies program for nuns is taken seriously by both nuns and monks. Some of the Ladakhi nuns will participate in this program.
The 12 young women of the Gephel Shadrubling Nunnery were all fortunate enough to travel out of Ladakh to obtain higher education at Khachoe Ghakyil and Dharamsala, maintaining their vision of returning to their home country to improve educational opportunities for their monastic sisters there. Three of these remarkable women, now in their 30s, Vens. Thupten Dechen, Saldon and Namdol, obtained permission from Khensur Rinpoche Lama Lhundrup Rigsel before his death to postpone finishing their studies at the nunnery so they could return to Ladakh and start building and recruiting for the new university there.
Since their return to Ladakh, these hardworking nuns have moved forward with educational support from the DFLN and financial support from a non-Buddhist sponsor from Britain. They have established Gephel Shadrubling Nunnery on a small piece of property near Leh and recruited 13 young nuns between the ages of 5 and 16, mostly from the poor and remote area of Zanskar, where education for girls is scarce. They are teaching the girls English, Tibetan, philosophy, debating, reading and writing as well as Buddhist studies, and they themselves have a geshe as a part-time teacher.
Since their current property is too small for the university, they have acquired a larger piece of land in Basgo, north of Leh and have managed to break ground this past summer and complete a 20-room building to house the school and accommodate additional young nuns. They eventually plan to turn their original site into a retreat center and already have a program in place to house and teach Western retreatants as a means of financial support. Additionally, they were able to send several nuns, who had been trained to support health workshops, to travel with our team of DFLN and medical volunteers in July 2012. Our group distributed the Tibetan women’s health book Healthy Body, Healthy Mind and taught workshops in remote nunneries throughout Ladakh and Zanskar, presenting the materials in the nuns’ own language.
Ven. Thupten Dechen has spent most of the summer out in the hot Ladakhi sun personally supervising the new construction. Vens. Thupten Dechen, Saldon and Namdol hope to obtain spiritual and educational support and guidance from Kopan Monastery and FPMT in the future. We salute their aspiration to create opportunity for higher education for women in Ladakh.
Visit “Tibetan Buddhist Nuns in Ladakh and Zanskar Photo Gallery“ to see pictures from Gephel Shadrubling Nunnery.
Dr. Mary Wellhoner is a student of Lama Yeshe and Lama Zopa Rinpoche. She is a practicing gynecologist in Reno, Nevada, where she lives with her husband, George Mars, and two children, Zia and Kai. She completed her Masters of Public Health online through Johns Hopkins, focusing on global health.
Marlies Bosch is a photographer and the founder of the Dutch Foundation for Ladakhi Nuns (DFLN), an organization dedicated to supporting Ladakhi nuns.Tags: ladakh, marlies bosch, mary wellhoner, ordained sangha, women