Shugsep, a Nyingma nunnery, traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. In the previous century, Shugsep was home to one of the most famous teachers of her time, Shugsep Jetsunma. The nuns followed a routine primarily of memorizing scriptures and meditating, living as ascetic hermits in caves in the hillside.
Following the Cultural Revolution in 1959, the nuns were forced to leave Shugsep and it was completely destroyed. Although the nunnery was partially rebuilt in the 1980s by the nuns themselves, the nuns have faced frequent harassment by Chinese authorities.
The majority of the nuns studying in Shugsep Nunnery in Dharamsala come from the original Shugsep. Here the nuns have the opportunity to participate in a nine-year academic program of Buddhist philosophy, debate, Tibetan language and English. Their teachers come from Penor Rinpoche’s monastery, Namdrol Ling, in southern India.
Every Sunday night the Shugsep nuns practice Chod ritual, following the lineage of Chod practice that comes down from the great female practitioner of the 11th century, Machik Lapdron. This ritual focused on severing worldly attachments as one imagines satisfying the needs of all living beings everywhere by offering up oneself.
In May 2008, 58 Shugsep nuns moved into the completed first phase of a new nunnery. They settled in the core buildings, which included a housing wing, 5 classrooms, library, lecture hall, dining hall, and kitchen. Solar panels on the roof supply piping hot water to the kitchen all year round. Prior to the construction of the new nunnery, the nuns were living in a building that was steadily deteriorating despite our efforts to improve it. In addition, the old building had such limited accommodations that no new nuns could be admitted.
Over 23 nuns have completed the nine-year course of study to reach the degree of Lopon. These nuns are now handling administration of the nunnery and focusing their attention on English and ritual arts. They hope one day to reach the level of the Khenmo degree. The current top level class is at the eighth year of study.
The nunnery was officially inaugurated in December 2010.