“My feeling is that in the future well-trained nuns will have an increasingly important role to play in upholding the sacred Dharma and we are committed to helping this come about.”
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo
There are seventy five nuns living, studying and practising at DGL. The 6th intake of nuns was ordained recently. They are mainly from Darjeeling, Lahaul and Nepal. New nuns receive initial ordination from His Eminence the 9th Khamtrul Rinpoche, our Spiritual Director. After a year they receive novice ordination from His Eminence Dorzong Rinpoche in the presence of senior monks from the Khampagar Monastery.
These nuns range in age from 12 to twenty five years. Many have had only basic schooling and occasionally some have received no education at all. The DGL Nuns initially enter a demanding six year programme and their achievements are a credit to their commitment and hard work.
Buddhist philosophy classes are taught by Khenpo Ngawang, a highly trained Tibetan monk teacher from Khampagar Monastic Institute In Tashi Jong. He is assisted by 2 senior qualified nuns from nunneries in South India. The nuns do debating which provides a valuable opportunity to consolidate and deepen understanding of the texts studied and is a powerful means to strengthen the nuns’ self-confidence.
Intensive Tibetan lanuage courses are the main focus of the first year. The acquisition of this language is vital, particularly for non-Tibetan speakers, enabling the nuns to fully participate in their philosophical education.
English courses at various levels are taught by a local experienced teacher. Proficiency in English will enable them to function in the modern world. In the future some will be involved in office management and maintaining international sponsorship.
Ritual and torma-making (ritual offerings) classes are given by senior monks from Khampagar Monastery who also train the nuns to play traditional ceremonial instruments..
A two month retreat is undertaken by the nuns each year in the monsoon season. Apart from ritual chanting the nuns maintain silence during the retreat. This balance of study and meditation allows intellectual knowledge to be incorporated with meditation experiences and realisation.
The nuns' daily life is varied and full, starting with pujas and meditation in the early morning and finishing with yoga and a final puja. Each nun shares the chores of the Nunnery such as maintaining the puja / prayer hall, the purchase and cooking of food, recycling materials, cleaning and maintaining the buildings and basic health care for the nuns.
Each year the nuns hold elections to decide who will hold positions of authority within the community. These include the disciplinarian, the chant leader, several storekeepers and class monitors. The nuns also elect a Nunnery committee of five which meets weekly and makes day-to-day decisions. Some of the nuns have recently started driving lessons and others will be given office training which will enable them to gain valuable experience and skills necessary for running the Nunnery and ultimately enabling them to become as self sufficient as possible. Of the Dongyu Gatsal Ling seven Trustees three are now DGL nuns and more will be appointed in future years.
At the completion of the first six year philosophical study programme, the nuns may undertake long retreat. Five nuns have completed 2 out of 3 years in strict retreat. In the future those nuns who do long retreat and display the necessary qualities, aptitude and dedication may be selected to train as Togdenma (yoginis) if they so wish, or they can choose to do further education. It is also hoped that in the future some of the nuns undertaking higher philosophical studies will become Khenmos (fully qualified philosophy teachers). Later some of the fully trained nuns may return to their own remote regions to establish well-run nunneries, become Dharma teachers, and contribute to the community with the life skills they have learned at DGL.
The Nunnery buildings are:
Two circular wings each surrounding a central courtyard form the nuns' living quarters. Each wing has a kitchen, a dining room, central bathrooms with solar power heating and bedrooms. Each bedroom is shared by three nuns. A large recreation room joins the two wings.
The office/staff block includes the offices; a reception area and shop; Tenzin Palmo's living quarters and office; accommodation for the Khenpo and other staff including a kitchen and dining area.
The Study Centre is a large building with ground and first floors. There are four classrooms, a teachers' room, a visitors' room, a large Prayer/Puja Hall and a library which opens on to a covered verandah. Downstairs there is also a courtyard for debating. The nuns moved into the new Puja Hall in Spring 2010. It is a large hall and beautifully decorated with stunning hand crafted statues that include Prajnaparamita, Green Tara and Manjushri. The walls are being painted with murals of Tara and other Deities. The acoustics in this room are excellent, and the nuns' chanting can be heard throughout DGL Nunnery.
The boundary walls, entrance roads, and some retaining walls on the sloping site have been completed. The service building is temporarily being used for workshops and site workers' accommodation. The guardhouse is finished as is an area which will one day be a small clinic. Two bore wells, a large water tank and filtration unit have been installed. We have a transformer for our own electricity supply. Landscaping of the grounds has started recently.
The Nuns' Retreat Centre is a single storey building divided into two; each with its own square central courtyard and a common connecting entry area. One wing has twelve rooms for short-term retreat and the other wing will be used for long term retreats and by the nuns chosen to train as Togdenmas.
A small clinic has been built facing the office entrance.
After the monsoon in 2007, construction began on a traditional Tibetan Temple, the heart of the Nunnery. The 3 story structure has been completed. It contains a ground floor temple, rooms for visiting high lamas and their attendants, a library to house the sacred texts and storage rooms. Work on the traditional embellishments is nearly complete and painting of the ornate murals, carvings pillars and ceilings has begun.
Eventually there will be some rooms available for guests for short-term stays.