From Illiteracy to Academic Greatness
The story of the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute is one of perseverance, dedication, and hope.
Forty-nine Shugsep nuns have now attained the Lopon degree, equivalent to a Master’s degree. This is one of the highest degrees the nuns can achieve in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Nyingma (Tibetan རྙིང་མ་) or “school of the ancients” traces its origins to Guru Padmasambhava who came to Tibet in 817 CE.
Until very recently, Tibetan Buddhist nuns had little opportunity to receive training in Buddhist practice and knowledge. Nuns were considered to be second rank. 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.
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, it 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.
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.
Historic Graduation Ceremony
At a historic graduation ceremony on October 28, 2022, twelve senior nuns were present to receive their Lopon degrees from Khenchen Pema Sherab. These senior nuns had completed their Lopon degrees from 2010 to 2022, but this was their chance to finally receive their official degree certificates.
Many dignitaries attended the graduation event including Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the Tibetan Nuns Project’s Founding Director and Special Advisor, representatives from the Religious Department and Health Department of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Head of Mentseekhang, and representatives from various monasteries and nunneries.
Helping Shugsep Nunnery and Institute
Shugsep Nunnery is now home to about 100 nuns. Shugsep was re-established in India and officially inaugurated in December 2010. It is one of two nunneries built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.
This year, we’re working on two major projects to help the Shugsep nuns. The first is to create a circumambulatory or kora path and the second is to build a retreat center for the senior nuns.
A path inside the nunnery grounds will provide all 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 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.
The good news is that the retreat center is now 85% funded. We need $42,000 to make this big dream a reality. You can learn more about the Shugsep Retreat Center project here.
The Shugsep nuns have made huge strides, but there is still more to be done to empower them and preserve their rich wisdom tradition. Thank you for caring about them!