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Tibetan Nuns Project Targets Kora and Retreat Center for Buddhist Nuns of Shugsep Nunnery in Dharamsala

Tibetan Nuns Project founding director and special advisor Rinchen Khando Choegyal with young nuns at Shugsep Nunnery. Image courtesy of the TNP

The Tibetan Nuns Project (TNP), a US-registered charity based in Seattle and in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, India, is planning to complete two major projects for the Buddhist nuns of Shugsep Nunnery near Dharamsala in northern India, aiming to provide a circumambulatory kora pathway for devotional walking and meditation, and a retreat center for the senior nuns.

Affiliated with the Nyingma tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute traces its Buddhist heritage and practices directly to Tibet and some of Tibet’s most influential female Vajrayana practitioners. In the 20th century, the original Shugsep Nunnery was home to the celebrated female master Shugsep Jetsun Rinpoche (1852–1953), one of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history and a recognized incarnation of the revered tantric yogini Machig Labdron (1055–1149).

Shugsep nuns clear overgrown land near the entrance to where the planned retreat center will be located. Image courtesy of the TNP

“A path inside the nunnery grounds will provide all of the nuns with safe, regular exercise, and allow them to practice kora, the act of walking around a sacred place, which is a form of pilgrimage and meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition,” the TNP said in an announcement shared with BDG. 

“The retreat center is a bigger project. To become fully qualified teachers, the senior nuns at Shugsep need a place where they can go on retreat and consolidate their learning. Because there are no retreat facilities at the nunnery, many nuns have been forced to go to Nepal or to the caves at Tso Pema to do retreats. They would like to be able to practice retreat together within Shugsep Nunnery, where they will have access to the effective guidance of a proper teacher as well as good basic amenities.”

Although the original Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet was destroyed in 1959 and the resident nuns forced to leave, the nunnery was re-established in India and officially inaugurated in December 2010. Along with Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute was built and is completely supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. Shugsep is now home to about 100 nuns, who have the opportunity to participate in a nine-year academic program of Buddhist philosophy, debate, Tibetan language and English.

“Until very recently, Tibetan Buddhist nuns had little opportunity to receive training in Buddhist practice and knowledge; nuns were considered to be second rank,” the TNP explained, noting that 49 nuns from Shugsep have now attained the lopon degree—equivalent to a master’s degree in Tibetan Buddhist studies.

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute held a historic graduation ceremony on 28 October 2022, in which pharchin, uma, and lopon nuns received their graduation certificates. Image courtesy of the TNP

“It is a historic achievement for nuns to reach this high academic level and to become teachers, leaders, and role models. Their success is even more remarkable given the many obstacles on their path,” the TNP emphasized. “Educating women and girls is a powerful way to change the world. It is only through education that women will rise and attain equal footing. For Tibetans, struggling to preserve their culture and religion in exile, this is even more critical.

“These senior nuns are now qualified to teach. Nine of the Lopons have taken on regular teaching responsibilities at Shugsep. They also teach yearly at Tashi Choling Nunnery in Arunachal Pradesh on a rotation basis,” noted the TNP. “The Lopons teach philosophy to the nuns at Shugsep, as well as teaching the youngest nuns reading, writing, basic Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, rituals, and the basics of debate. This gives them the groundwork they need before they merge into the mainstream Nyingma education which takes nine years to complete and receive the degree.”

The Tibetan Nuns Project provides education and humanitarian aid to refugee nuns from Tibet and Himalayan regions of India. Established under the auspices of the Tibetan Women’s Association and the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration, the TNP supports hundreds of nuns from all Tibetan Buddhist lineages and seven nunneries. Many of the nuns are refugees from Tibet, but the organization also reaches out to the Himalayan border areas of India, where women and girls have little access to education and religious training.

For information on ways to support the work of the Tibetan Nuns Project, click here

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Tibetan Nuns Project
Shugsep (Tibetan Nuns Project)

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