Interview With Ani Tenzin Palmo

The following article is from the Autumn, 1996 issue of the Snow Lion Newsletter and is for historical reference only. You can see this in context of the original newsletter here.

The Creation of Tashi Choling Nunnery

by Mary Pernal
October 1996

Mary: Anita Tenzin Palmo, you are committed to building a center for Buddhist nuns. Could you describe this project and your motivations for undertaking it?

Anila: We are planning to start a nunnery in Himachal Pradesh as a sister to Tashi Jong Monastery. As of now there are no Drukpa Kagyu nunneries in India, and yet there is a tremendous need. There are many nuns who have taken ordination who have no where to go. For example, there are many nuns in Ladakh, Lahaul and Kinnaur, regions that have been homes for Buddhist traditions for centuries, who have no opportunity to receive adequate training. In some cases they end up cooking in kitchens for monks, and many spend their time in their family homes cooking, spinning wool and weaving just to receive sustenance. They have no access to philosophical training and are have very little opportunity to practice.

For this reason, we want to start a nunnery where young women can come together to train in Buddhist ritual and philosophy, and in particular so that those with an aptitude have an opportunity to train in the special yogic tradition of the Drukpa Kagyu Lineage.

M: How far along are you?

A: I've spent the past year traveling in Malaysia and Singapore giving Dharma talks and raising funds. We now have enough to purchase land and start building, but I hope that further funds will come so we can finish (laughter). As you know I'm present touring the United States and giving talks. I hope to return to India by the end of the year and start construction.

M: Where is the best place to sand donations for support?

A: Right now, the best place is:

Tashi Choling Nunnery Fund

c/o Wong Pee Lee

108D Oxley Rise

Singapore

M: What, motivated you to begin this project?

A: The previous Khamtrul Rinpoche (the 8th) asked me to start this project several times in the 1980s, but there was no way I could start at that time. Then in 1993 the Tulkus of Tashi Jong got together and asked me to begin and offered their full support.

M: Could you describe Tashi Jong?

A: It's a community of 300-400 people which focuses on the practice of the traditional arts of Tibet. The Monastery itself has 19 monksnot very big but very special. The head of the Monastery is Khamtrul Rinpoche, the head of the Drukpa Kagyu, of Kham, Tibet. The previous Khamtrul Rinpoche was a great artist, so he inspired a very high level of artistic achievement among both monks and lay people. The monks are also noted for their Lama dances.

M: Am I correct, in assuming that although the nuns will come primarily from Tibet and India, this is not exclusively the case?

A: The nuns can come from anywhere. But, the teachings and practice will be in Tibetan. Nevertheless, it's open to anyone. Several Malaysian Chinese women, for example, have expressed an interest in becoming nuns once the center is started.

M: Will there be facilities for visitors who are not nuns?

A: There will be a guest house and international retreat house for women where women can practice in a conducive atmosphere. Eventually I would like to see some of the nuns learn English in order to give teachings to English speakers.

M: What will the nuns' training entail?

A: First they will train in the basics, such as learning to recite pujas such as Tara and Mahakala. Every nunnery and monastery has its own cycle of ritual that has to be memorized. In addition, classic texts and logic must be studied. After covering this basic education they will be able to enter meditation retreat. Eventually, some will have the chance to study with yogis; the yogis of Tashi Jong Monastery will decide out of the willing candidates who is ready for yogic teachings.

M: It sounds quite unusual for nuns to have the opportunity to study in such depth.

A: It is. Even though a lot of progress is taking place it is difficult for nuns to study. A few have studied at Sarnath, but in the cases I know of, there was difficulty in attaining sponsorship, so that one nun I know had to recite rituals in lay Buddhist homes to support her studies. She did very well, anyway, and in fact was the top in her class. After two years, however, she was told to return to her nunnery, that she had learned enough. However, there are nuns presently studying at the School of Dialectics in Dharamsala. Recently some nuns who had begun to follow a parallel course of study under the tutelage of monks from the School of Dialectics showed up to debate. It was an historic moment, one without precedent. Sixty-some nuns debated in front of the monks, the teachers and H. H. the Dalai Lama, and did very well.

M: Can you describe this yogic tradition?

A: In the Khampagar monastery of Tashi Jong there are a group of yogis known as Tokden who practice the traditions of Naropa and Milarepa. These practices are unique. Before the invasion into Tibet there was a female lineage of Tokdenma...who were wiped-out. We want to re-establish this lineage while there are a few of these yogis still left to hand down the tradition.

M: Are these yogis monks?

A: Yes, and yogis at the same time.

M: Can you say more?

A: Well, actually, the recent issue of Cho Yang (No. 7) out of Dharamsala has several articles on Tashi Jong Monastery, and on the yogis residing there. I strongly recommend it. It's very well done and informative. Personally, I lived near them for one year in Dalhousie. The impression they made on me was strong, but very low key, not outwardly spectacular or amazing. They were completely simple and non-judgmental. It made me realize how extremely artificial people usually are. The yogis have a very special quality which is ineffable, but you can feel it. And certainly they are the most egoless people.

M: Thank you. Best of luck in your project.

A: Thank you. ä_æ

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