Tibetan photographer with a compassionate eye: Delek Yangdron

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 Tibetan Buddhist nun

Venerable Delek Yangdron’s path to academic and professional success has been long and difficult. She now heads the Media Team of nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India.

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.”

newly escaped Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Delek Yangdron was one of this large group of nuns who escaped from Tibet and arrived in India where there was no space at existing nunneries to accommodate them.

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.

This photo from our archives shows the early days before the nuns had classrooms. They studied in the open air or in tents and helped with the construction of Dolma Ling Nunnery.

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.

Delek Yangdron working at the computer

An early photo of Venerable Delek Yangdron building her computer skills at Dolma Ling Nunnery near Dharamsala.

“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.

Delek Yangdron Tibetan Buddhist nun photographer

Delek Yangdron, far left, and another media nun shooting video and photographs at the nunnery.

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.

15 thoughts on “Tibetan photographer with a compassionate eye: Delek Yangdron

  1. Lucinda Green

    Thank you for sharing the story of Delek Yangdron. i am happy that Delek has been supported to receive education and follow her path.
    We all benefiti when any of us do so, and besides that, through these valuable media skills people all over the world get to benefit from learning about you and the Nun’s Project.

    Reply
  2. John Kittridge

    Thank you for sharing this inspiring story. How delightful to learn about someone whose work has brought so much joy.

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Thank you, John, for your lovely comment. We’re so glad you liked the post. We deeply appreciate your sponsorship of Venerable Dechen Dolma and we send you and Laura our warmest wishes and profound thanks.

      Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Thank you, Clotilde, for your kind words. We are so grateful for your sponsorship of Venerable Khetsun Wangmo.

      Reply
  3. Jeannie O'Connor

    Bravo Delek Yangdron and the media center for having the tools to tell your own stories. I met Delek Yangdron in 2013 at Dolma Ling Nunnery, and she guided me around Dolma Ling Nunnery to take photographs. Her warmth and curiosity about the camera made it a pleasure to work there. I am glad the photography tools will be in your hands now, to give us an insiders view of the news of Dolma Ling Nunnery.
    Jeannie O’Connor

    /Users/jeannieoconnor/Desktop/delek/_MG_5111.jpg

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dear Jeannie, Thank you for sharing your memory of time spent with Venerable Delek Yangdron and for your enthusiastic response. It means to much coming from you, a professional photographer who has used your amazing talent to help tell the nuns’ stories. We are so thankful for your support and encouragement.

      Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Thank you, Sharon! We are delighted that you liked the blog post. Thank you so much for your support and kindness.

      Reply
  4. Norman

    One of my greatest joys was to travel with Ani Delek Yangdon Ngari Rinpoche ,Rinchen Khando and Tsering Dicki to Zangskar and watch her work as a photographer. A great friendship was born during those two weeks and deepens everyday.

    Reply
  5. janis alexander

    These are the stories that restore and add strength to our hearts, that can sometimes (these days) feel somewhat beleaguered. It fills my with joy… Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Thank you so much, Janis! We’re very happy that you liked reading Venerable Delek Yangdron’s story and that it brought you joy.

      Reply
  6. Helen Ponder

    Thank you so much for your post on Delek Yangdron.
    I have been fortunate to sponsor Delek over a number of years, and it gives me great joy to see recent photos of her and read about her skilful work.
    What a gorgeous girl! Love Helen xox

    Reply
    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dear Helen, We are so grateful for your sponsorship of Venerable Delek Yangdron. Thank you so much for your lovely words and your amazing support.

      Reply
  7. Lynn Sharp

    Thank you for this article about Delek Yangdron and her studies and work. I have recently retired from my work as a teacher, and have found the time to read your wonderful website. I have been a sponsor for some time, and it is good to see the women I think so often of.

    Reply

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