The Bhutan Nuns Foundation (BNF), which operates under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother Ashi Tshering Yangdoen Wangchuck to educate and empower Buddhist nuns in the remote Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan, has shared some welcome updates on the foundation’s new Training & Resource Center on the outskirts of the Bhutanese capital Thimphu.
The BNF Training & Resource Centre has been established to provide educational opportunities for female monastics and lay women who are following the Buddhist path. Programs will include counseling training, hospice and basic healthcare, palliative care, leadership and management, and teaching methodology for Buddhist nuns who will go on to become teachers themselves. In addition, the center will also provide short retreats for lay women conducted by the resident nuns, along with regular short meditation courses, Nungey instruction (a Bhutanese fasting practice used as a means of physical and spiritual purification), as well as classes in qi gong, tai chi, and yoga for the nuns.
“We recently relocated the BNF’s head office to our new Training & Resource Centre. And although the site is not yet 100 per cent complete, we have been providing training for our nuns and using the center in full swing, since our official opening in 2021,” BNF executive director and Buddhist activist Dr. Tashi Zangmo shared.
“Following the landmark bhikshuni ordination ceremony in June last year,* we have conducted Vinaya (Dz: Dul ba) courses for more than 50 Buddhist nuns from throughout the Bhutan. This is in addition to life skills education, courses in effective communication, and traditional yoga,” Dr. Zangmo observed. “Very soon we plan to provide Dzongkha Unicode typing courses for nuns who are involved in administration and managing accounts at their respective nunneries. We also plan to offer spiritual instruction for lay women, and our nuns are ready and waiting to guide them.”
Established in 2009 under the patronage of Her Majesty Tshering Yangdoen Wangchuck, and managed by Dr. Zangmo, the Bhutan Nuns Foundation aims to empower and educate Bhutanese girls and women to improve their living conditions and the economic vitality of rural villages, in turn helping to preserve the Kingdom of Bhutan’s rich Buddhist culture in the face of rapid development. The foundation works directly with about 28 Buddhist nunneries, educating and training nuns to be teachers, spiritual advisers, and community leaders.
“Her Majesty the Queen Mother is determined that we can create a traditional eco-village here using local builders and local materials rather than concrete,” Dr. Zangmo explained. “As such, we have made every effort to construct this center in harmony with the natural landscape. I admit, it has been challenging, and the work has taken much longer than we originally forecast since we tried our best to avoid using modern machinery to clear the area, and instead have relied on the hard work of men and women who support our vision.”
Dr. Zangmo herself was born and raised in one of the most remote and rural areas of Bhutan. She was fortunate to have an opportunity to pursue higher education in India and subsequently in the US, eventually graduating with a PhD from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.
“We have located the BNF Training & Resource Center near the base of a hill, beneath the gaze of the big Buddha statue in Thimphu. It’s just outside the capital, which is an ideal place for our nuns to receive training,” Dr. Zangmo noted. “We have been working on this project for almost for seven years now, with support from a slow and steady patchwork of supporters around the globe. Our major supporters include: FireFly Mission Singapore; Brother Iwan and his friends from Indonesia; Linda Zarchin and David from America; Chade-Meng Tan and family; Carmen Busquets; local friends of the BNF; as well as invaluable support from Bhutan Foundation in Washington, DC. Of course, our ambitious project is a work in progress and so we still have room for sincere supporters to come forward in the spirit of dana. You will not regret joining us in manifesting this Dharma project!”
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Nestled on the edge of the mighty Himalayan mountain range, sandwiched between economic heavy-hitters China and India, the tiny Buddhist kingdom of Bhutan is perhaps best known for prioritizing “Gross National Happiness” over the shortsighted acquisitiveness of unrestrained economic growth, and for its sustainable approach to environmental stewardship. The kingdom is also unique in being the world’s only remaining Vajrayana Buddhism nation. The spiritual tradition is embedded in the consciousness and culture of this remote land, where it has flourished with an unbroken history that dates back to Buddhism’s introduction from Tibet in the eighth century by the Indian master Padmasambhava, also known as Guru Rinpoche.
While the nation’s holistic approach to development has resulted in a healthy level of growth and low inflation over the last 20 years, life in Bhutan is not without very real challenges, even for those who find their calling in monasticism. Female practitioners in particular face major obstacles in accessing opportunities for spiritual and practical education, and nearly all of Bhutan’s rural nunneries have poor living conditions and lack conducive learning environments.
The BNF has been working diligently and without fanfare to address this imbalance, ensuring that each nunnery maintains adequate, healthy living conditions, and providing practical, hands-on training for the female monastic population. The foundation aims to enable female monastics to create self-sufficient monastic communities that not only provide a healthy environment for Buddhist study, but also actively engage with and contribute to lay society as mentors, teachers, and leaders.
“I would like to emphasize that without Her Majesty the Queen Mother, the foundation’s patron and constant inspiration, none of this would have been possible,” Dr. Zangmo told BDG. “Therefore, the nuns of Bhutan and the BNF staff offer their thanks to Her Majesty for her unconditional, motherly, compassionate guidance, and for being there for every step we took toward accomplishing this dream. May the Buddha and bodhisattvas be always with us.”
Related news reports from Buddhistdoor Global
142 Buddhist Nuns Receive Full Ordination at Landmark Ceremony in Bhutan
Bhutan Nuns Foundation Announces Opening of the Training & Resource Center for Buddhist Nuns
Bhutan Nuns Foundation Counts Blessings Amid Pandemic
BBC Names Dr. Tashi Zangmo of the Bhutan Nuns Foundation among 100 Most Influential Women of 2018
Bhutan Nuns Foundation Poised to Launch New Training Center for Female Monastics with First Resident Nuns
Related features from Buddhistdoor Global
Gelongma Dompa (dgeslongma’i sdom pa): The Blessing of Bhikshuni Ordination in Bhutan
My Story: Walking the Path of a Female Monastic in Bhutan
Changing Mindsets: Tashi Zangmo and the Bhutan Nuns Foundation
An Agent of Change: Empowering Bhutanese Nuns