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We associate vacations with indulgence, but what if a travel experience was all about the joys of simplicity? An account of living in a Tibetan nunnery.
We associate travel and vacations with indulgence, but what if a travel experience was all about the joys of simplicity? An account of living in a Tibetan nunnery.
Ever thought of spending your holiday in a nunnery instead of staying in hotels? Well, that’s what I have been doing since two weeks now. As part of a program called Gurukul 2014 by the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I have been staying in a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in lower Dharamshala.
Most people have a very fixated image of how a nunnery looks like: austere and minimalistic living, strict and silent environment, conservative and orthodox. Having only been acquainted with Catholic nuns via movies, convent schools, etc, that’s the image I had of a nunnery and was quite sceptical when we were told we would have to live there and follow the rules.
But Dolma Ling Nunnery & Institute, which is situated in Sidhpur in lower Dharamshala has been a pleasant surprise till now. Dolma Ling has been built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, a project set out to provide facilities for education and to empower and improve the overall status of ordained Tibetan women. The Dolma Ling Institute is dedicated specifically to higher education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns. It offers an educational program previously unavailable to women, starting with basic literacy and leading to the highest level of Buddhist philosophical education.
Besides the traditional studies, His Holiness the Dalai Lama put a lot of emphasis on being up to date with the time and to study and understand science. Therefore, the nuns also have courses in English, mathematics, social studies and computers. The nunnery has its own clinic where Phuntsok Wangmo who first completed her education and then became a doctor before dedicating her life to monastic living, is available for an hour at the evenings, providing first aid and medication for minor illnesses, and attending emergency cases at any time.
The nunnery houses eight retreat huts which the nuns themselves helped to build. Then, there is a debate courtyard. Daily practice of philosophical debate, called Jang Gönchoe is an essential aspect of the traditional Tibetan study program. Next comes the most impressive building of the nunnery, i.e, the media center. It is a center for media and language training, and includes an income-generating cafe operated by the nuns. The Dolma Ling Nunnery believes that technology is the pen and paper of our time and hence the nuns have shown great interest and aptitude in learning how to communicate their as well as stories of the Tibetan community to the wider world.
The Dolma Ling Nunnery believes that technology is the pen and paper of our time and hence the nuns have shown great interest and aptitude in learning how to communicate their as well as stories of the Tibetan community to the wider world.
Harald Weichhart, an Austrian, has been giving continuous training to a large group of nuns on InDesign, Photoshop, video- making skills, video editing and photography. After the successful completion of their video- making course, the nuns made a documentary on Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, the trailer of which can be seen here:
Apart from this, 10 nuns from Dolma Ling are preparing for the prestigious Geshema degree (equivalent to a PhD), which is the highest degree in Buddhist philosophy. Earlier, the nuns were not allowed to take this exam, but with the continuous support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the dedication of the nuns, this opportunity has been made available to them.
Stream down the balcony of Japleen’s room.
When I first arrived at the nunnery, I was sceptical. But as time passed, I started loving this place. The joy of living your life differently, something which you’d have never imagined before is ecstatic. Though it’s difficult, for example, if you don’t get up at 6 AM, you miss breakfast, dinner is at 7 PM and you need to switch off your lights at 11.30 and go to bed come what may, I still enjoy my short stay here.
The nuns are very friendly and cooperative. They thank us for coming and staying with them, although it should be the opposite. We live a very basic life here; we don’t have fans, although it gets quite hot sometimes. We don’t even have a mirror in the wash rooms and wash our clothes near a small stream next to our rooms. We have simple Tibetan food but the big heart with which they serve us makes up for all lost luxuries.
Although evenings are usually free for the nuns, they offered us a meditation class on our request. They bring us food and medicines to our rooms whenever anyone falls sick and always have a warm smile to make us feel welcome and at home. Sometimes they come over and we chat for hours on topics varying from politics to philosophy. The nuns here are quite well informed on what’s happening in the outside world.
I have made friends with young as well as old nuns, spend time with them and tried to help with the chores. This experience has given me a lot to think about and reflect and I’m sure to bring a lot back with me after my one month stay at the Dolma Ling Nunnery.
Lead pic credit: Brian Harris
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Mostly Normal is a book of innocence, longing, filial love, angst and acceptance, encapsulating a gamut of human emotions within its lightweight edifice. The book touches the human heart and will stay with you.
Some books enthral you till the last page, and then there are those that you stop reading after turning a few pages. Some books are a one-time read, while you carry some books with you long after you have read them. Then, once in a while, a book hits you so close to home that you find it difficult to slot into any category.
I will put Priyadeep Kaur’s Mostly Normal (BookSoul Reads, 2022) in this last bracket.
At a little less than hundred pages, Mostly Normal is a testimony of the power of words to inspire, irrespective of their length.
Most women do not get to live their lives the way they want, on their own terms. So why should they be tied down in their old age?
Every morning, while dropping the kids at the bus stop, I find a grandfather waiting with his granddaughter. I see him again when I fetch the kids. This has been the pattern for the last few years.
He is seen actively participating in his granddaughter’s activities, from morning and evening walks to attending her parent-teachers meeting, sending her for extracurricular activities to even planning her birthday party. He is admired by all. He is appreciated for making himself useful in his old age. People rave that the doting grandfather is doing his duty towards his children and grandchildren. The much-admired grandfather is also a widower, having lost his wife years ago to chronic disease. It’s also to be noted that both his son and daughter-in-law are working parents.
Every day, the onlookers appreciate his sense of duty and dedication. They say that this is how the elderly should keep themselves occupied. They should bring up their grandchildren while their children go off to work.
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