Help Build a Retreat Center at Shugsep Nunnery
Shugsep Nunnery and Institute was re-established in exile after many Shugsep nuns escaped from Tibet. It is now home to 99 nuns and has an excellent academic program but no retreat facilities for the nuns.
This Nyingma nunnery traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. About 50 Shugsep nuns have now received their Lopon degrees, the highest qualification in the Nyingma tradition, equivalent to MA. These graduates are qualified to teach and many have taken up that role in the nunnery. Many want to consolidate their learning with a period of spiritual retreat.
But because of the lack of retreat facilities at Shugsep Nunnery, many nuns have been forced to go Nepal or to the caves at Tso Pema to do retreats. They would like to be able to practice retreat together within Shugsep where they will have access to the effective guidance of a proper teacher as well as good basic amenities. Read the full description below.
Please help the nuns build a retreat center:
- Make a gift online
- Call our office in Seattle, U.S. at 1-206-652-8901
- Mail a check to The Tibetan Nuns Project, 815 Seattle Boulevard South #418, Seattle, WA 98134 U.S. (note that it is for the Shugsep Nunnery Retreat Center)
- Donate securities
- Leave a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project
Here is a video made in 2006 telling the story of Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet and how it was re-established in India by the Tibetan Nuns Project.
Why Retreats Are Necessary
Spiritual retreats are considered essential for the development of one’s personal practice. Generally, after completing their philosophical studies, the nuns will go into retreat for an extended period of one, two, or three years to allow sufficient time for reflection, prayer, and meditation to internalize what they have studied.
However, not all their time is spent in isolation. Some sessions are undertaken as a group and so they need a prayer hall where they can receive instructions from an outside teacher, do prayer sessions together, and have the opportunity to talk among themselves to clear away doubts and concerns and to strengthen their practice. Monks and nuns who have completed a 3-year retreat are recognized as having achieved something worthy of respect and this also greatly enhances the significance of the nunnery. These nuns act as guides for the community and are an inspiration to the younger nuns.
Plans for the Retreat Center
Location Within the Nunnery Grounds
Shugsep Nunnery is 5 kilometers below Dharamsala on a 5-acre plot of land. Construction of the complex began in 2007 and the nuns moved into the nunnery in 2010. Because of the nature of the terraced land, there is very little space left which can be easily built on without overcrowding the buildings. In 2010, a large local school was built behind the nunnery further reducing the possible sites.
The nuns considered finding another plot of land nearby, but land prices and the difficulty in registering the land made them reconsider locating the retreat center within the nunnery grounds. In 2022, the nuns cleared the bushes on the steep overgrown land near the entrance to see if it would be feasible to construct a retreat centre there. They called in a team of local architects who made a detailed survey of the land and came up with plans based on a brief which was discussed with the nuns and the Khenpo who is head of the nunnery.
Plan for the Retreat Center
The most important point of the architects’ brief is that the retreat center should provide seclusion and privacy for the nuns. The nuns will confine themselves to this one building for the duration of their retreat and should not be seen by outsiders, except an occasional visiting teacher. The architects suggested that a sense of seclusion and invisibility can be achieved by raising the building high above the road so that no one can see into the balconies. The land in front and behind will be planted with flowering shrubs screening the building from outside view. To reduce noise so the nuns can meditate peacefully, the windows will have double glazing and fly screens.
The second point is to provide the nuns on retreat with a wide-open view to relieve their minds of tension. In the past in Tibet, retreat centers were located high on mountainsides. The position of the retreat center on the hillside overlooking farm land and the wide valley below will provide the nuns with an expansive view. Each room will have its own view-facing veranda, large enough for a small study table and chair. The top floor of the retreat center will have covered terrace with space for walking meditation.
The size and shape of the land limits the number of individual nuns rooms to 8, two on each floor in two buildings on either side of the central community building. According to the Khenpo, this is sufficient because if all the nuns were to decide to go into retreat at once there would be no one to teach the younger nuns or administer the nunnery. The nuns will rotate who goes into retreat and must agree to a specific duration to allow others the chance to take their place.
After discussion it was agreed that each room should have its own toilet and washroom so the nuns are self-sufficient for their basic needs and will not need to wait to use a common bathroom. A small countertop with a sink will be provided so that the nuns can heat water or make tea and wash and store their own utensils. Each room will have a fan and be large enough to hold a bed, and an altar/bookshelf with cupboards underneath and storage for clothes and bedding. It is spacious enough that the nuns can do prostrations inside their rooms.
A common kitchen and dining room will be provided on the first floor of the central community building. Food can be discreetly delivered from the nunnery’s main kitchen without the nuns on kitchen duty coming into contact with the nuns on retreat. The common kitchen area will be provided with a refrigerator, a hot plate for warming up food, and a stove and pans so that on occasion they can prepare something special. Below the stairs, it is possible to provide a clothes washing space and a toilet for visiting teachers.
A communal prayer hall is required for the nuns on retreat. Even though they will spend most of their time on their own, there will be occasions when they come together to pray, celebrate, or to receive guidance and instruction from visiting teachers. This can also be used as a library for scriptures which the nuns might need to consult. The prayer hall will be simply furnished, and have a wooden floor.
About Shugsep Nunnery
A Nyingma nunnery, Shugsep traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. In the previous century, Shugsep Nunnery was home to one of the most famous teachers of her time, Shugsep Jetsunma.
Following the Cultural Revolution in 1959, Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet was completely destroyed. Although the nunnery was partially rebuilt in the 1980s by the nuns themselves, the nuns there faced frequent harassment by Chinese authorities.
Many of the nuns at Shugsep in India came from the original Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet. They were expelled by Chinese authorities for their political activities on behalf of Tibet and escaped over the Himalayas to practice their religion in India.
Shugsep Nunnery was re-established in India in 1992 and the newly built nunnery was inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in December 2010. It is one of two nunneries built and completely supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. The other is Dolma Ling.
Here’s a charming video tour of the nunnery made in 2017: