Venerable Delek Yangdron is one of the most senior nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India. She arrived in India the winter of 1990 as part of the first group to join the newly founded nunnery. Almost illiterate on arrival, she began her education in Buddhist studies and is now the leader of the nuns’ Media Team and is a skilled photographer and videographer.
Her determination and story of academic and professional success are inspiring.
Delek Yangdron was born in Lithang in the eastern Tibetan province of Kham, surrounded by open grasslands and snow-capped mountains. Born into a nomad family, she helped care for the family’s animals, moving the livestock in search of better pastures. Sadly, her father passed away when she was just seven and her mother died in 2000. During her time at home in Tibet, Delek Yangdron never had the opportunity to go to school or to study.
In the late 1980s, a lama from Kham, Yonten Phuntsok Rinpoche, decided to organize a special pilgrimage from Parlhakang in Kham all the way to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Delek Yangdron joined the group of over 150 pilgrims.
The journey was an extraordinary undertaking. “The pilgrimage was hard, as we had to cover the distance from Lithang to Lhasa by prostrations,” says Venerable Delek Wangmo, another nun from the same group. “We would do prostrations in the rain and our clothes got wet and dirty and we could not wash them out every day.”
It took the group of nuns and monks two years to complete the 1,200-mile pilgrimage distance. They did prostrations day in and day out, from early in the morning, stopping only for meals and at night to rest. It was during this life-changing event that Delek Yangdron received an audience with Tenzin Delek Rinpoche in Lithang and she took her nun’s vows from him. Formerly illiterate, she also began learning the Tibetan alphabet and to read with the help of monks in the group.
Unfortunately, on reaching their destination of Lhasa, the group were denied access to the city and, instead, were loaded into trucks and taken to be interrogated. They were not allowed by the Chinese government to visit the sacred Jokhang temple.
After changing course to Mount Kailash, most of the pilgrims decided to escape from Tibet to freedom in India. They left their tents behind to fool the watching Chinese soldiers and escaped under the cover of darkness. The group was ill equipped and was forced to hide during the day and walk at night in order to avoid detection. It took them 27 or 28 days to reach Nepal, where they went to the Tibetan Reception Center at Kathmandu for medical care and to register as refugees. From there they traveled to the holy city of Varanasi, where His Holiness the Dalai Lama was giving the Kalachakra teachings. It was a dream come true for Delek Yangdron and the other nuns to have an audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
After the teachings, Delek Yangdron, along with the other escaped nuns, traveled to Dharamsala in northern India, location of the Central Tibetan Administration and home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. On reaching Dharamsala, the large group of nuns was unable to join Geden Choeling Nunnery, the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala, because there was no space and the nunnery was very poor.
The Tibetan Women’s Association and Tibetan Nuns Project sprang into action to help them. The Tibetan Nuns Project purchased a plot of land to establish a new nunnery, Dolma Ling, to help the many nuns escaping from Tibet. The nuns moved to rented rooms close to the plot of land where they also helped with the construction of the nunnery. Delek Yangdron still remembers attending classes under trees and in makeshift tents, formally starting her studies at an adult age of 20.
Delek Yangdron has always loved studying and thoroughly enjoyed her classes. Thanks in part to Tibetan Nuns Project donors and volunteers, Delek Yangdron has not only received 15 years of academic studies, she has also taken an important leadership role in learning and teaching new technology and media. Under the guidance of volunteer teachers, she took basic computer classes. With time and effort, she has become very proficient in MS Word, design programs such as InDesign, Photoshop, photography, and video editing.
She was among the first group to receive training in computer skills and because of her special interest, she also taught in the Dolma Ling computer room, providing basic computer education to the other nuns while continuing her own studies. While in charge of the computer room, she designed the nuns’ yearly magazine and helped a senior Dolma Ling teacher with design for his book on full ordination for nuns. In 2008, when the unrest in Tibet started, a teachers’ group from Darjeeling approached her to design and type a book on Tibetan issues. Because she spent three months helping them, she was unable to take the year-end exam to continue her studies. Returning to Dolma Ling, she worked in the nunnery as a receptionist and caretaker of the guesthouse, before specializing in computer and media skills.
“I am now serving the nunnery with all my skills in photography and video making,” says Delek Yangdron. Her pictures are used for the Tibetan Nuns Project website, blog posts, Facebook page, annual newsletter, and wall calendar. “I am more than happy with my decision to work at the media room. I positively feel I will be of much better service to others following this path,” she says.
Delek Yangdron’s long-term wish is to help her country by teaching inside Tibet. “There are many others like me in my village who are deprived of their basic freedom to education or may never be getting a chance to study. So I deeply wish to share my knowledge with people living in more remote areas of Tibet,” she said.
The other nuns who work with her on the Media Team and who have been trained by her are grateful for the chance to be taught by her. One of the nuns that Delek Yangdron helped train, Venerable Ngawang Choedon, said, “My best opportunity was learning from the Tibetan Nuns Project’s Media Section staff like Delek Yangdron, Gen Lhakpa Tsering, and our volunteer teachers Hamilton from Canada and Henry from Austria. Through their guidance, I was able to make a movie of the inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery.”
“At that time His Holiness the Dalai Lama was there. I could not believe that I could do such a great [important] job like taking photographs very near to him. After that I felt so great. I think that it’s like a miracle,” said Ngawang Choedon.
At least nine nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery have now been trained in new technology and media arts and a further 20 nuns have received training on image editing and layout using Photoshop and InDesign, allowing them to produce their own newsletters and brochures. There are many more nuns who wish to learn these types of skills.
Already the nuns have accomplished great things. “Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is quite exceptional when it comes to computer and media knowledge,” says Harald Weichhart, an Austrian volunteer who provided training at the nunnery. “I have yet to find a Tibetan monastic community in India or Nepal where there is such a level of expertise in this field.”
We are extremely grateful to the 14 donors who helped fund new camera equipment for the Media Team this spring. The camera and memory cards will be purchased in the US and hand-delivered to the team in September 2017 in time for the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Tibetan Nuns Project in October.