Sunday, December 31, 2006

New Year's resolutions

1. practice more
2. study more
3. exercise
4. patience (there is no austerity like it!)
5. memorize the root text of Abhidharmakosa before classes begin, not after!
6. take more photos
7. go to puja every single 10th and 25th
8. speak more Tibetan
9. practice Tibetan speed reading everyday
10. learn a new torma each week

So, what are your resolutions?

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Little nuns

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

See Samten Study

Exams... Part 2, the revenge!

I've finished one of my five exams (Madyamakavatara- it went pretty well!), and I've got the second one tomorrow.
What's it like? At 7:15 am we enter the main temple. All the students from year one to nine write their respective exams at the same time. We bring clipboards, pens and correction fluid. We sit on mats on the floor, spaced apart and separated from our classmates. At 7:30 we receive our question papers and start writing.
We have three hours to answer at least five essay questions (up to eight questions on certain exams). The exams cover the entire text and may also include questions on topics covered in previous years. Some exams cover two or three small texts. Teachers patrol the room, making sure there is no cheating. A bell is rung every hour so we know how much time is left. At 9 am Tibetan butter tea is served, yuck! At 10:30 a bell rings, and we are given an extra 15 minutes to finish off our questions and proof-read. Then we hand in our papers and start to prepare for the next exam, which will be held four days later.
Marks are given for content, spelling, and handwriting. Most people write in kyu yig, the smallest form of Tibetan calligraphy. This year my handwriting is worse than ever, due to having broken my right arm in November. I'm trying to write a bit bigger, so it will be legible.
Why am I blogging this? I should get back to studying. Wish me luck!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Our Class with Ani Lopon Yeshe Lhamo

Study and exams...

Classes ended a few weeks ago and now it is study time. We get 24 days to study what we have learned this year, then we will write five comprehensive exams. This study period is one of my favorite times of year. I feel like I really get into the texts. During the school year, going to classes and debate, I feel a bit busy. But now I have nothing to do but study. The texts my class studied this year are:

1. Madyamakavatara
Entering the Middle Way by Chandrakirti and the commentary by Chandrakirti himself, translated from the Sanskrit. This text explains the view of Madyamaka in the context of the ten bodhisattva levels. It was not easy to read, as Tibetan translated from Sanskrit can be tough compared to the language used in original Tibetan compositions. I also read Mipham
Rinpoche's commentary in both English and Tibetan to help clarify the meaning. My teacher was Lopon Sonam Tobden.

2. Mulamadyamakakarika
Root Stanzas on the Middle Way called "Wisdom" by Nagarjuna and the commentary by Mipham Rinpoche. This is the text which instigated the Madyamaka tradition and other texts such as Madyamakavatara and Catu Sataka Sastra Karika are commenting and elaborating on the philosophy which it sets forth. I found it poetic and profound. It primarily sets forth the ultimate view of the Middle Way by negating the ultimate existence what we usually take to be established phenomena, such as coming and going. My teacher was Ani Lopon Sangye Drolma.

3. Catu Sataka Sastra Karika
Four Hundred Verses on the Middle Way by Aryadeva and commentary by Botrul Tenpai Nyima. Aryadeva was a disciple of Nagarjuna. This text primarily sets forth the meditation of the Middle Way. It includes relative mind training and ultimate meditation on the view of the Middle Way. My teacher was Ani Lopon Yeshe Lhamo.

4. Pramana Nyaya Pravesha
Door to Logic by Dignaga. This is a very short text by an Indian master. It deals with dialectics and logic. My teacher was Lopon Migmar Dorje.

5. Don rNam Nges Shes Shes Rab Ral Gri
Sword of Wisdom by Mipham Rinpoche. A very clear text on the two truths, the logic by which they are established, and the result of logic. My teacher was Lopon Migmar Dorje.

6. Kabyadarsha by Dandi with commentary by Bokhey. This is a text on poetry. We only studied part of the text and we will continue next year. It was not easy, as I met a lot of unfamiliar words in this text. We wrote examples during the year to familiarize ourselves with over sixty types of simile and poetic devices. My teacher was Lopon Kharpo.

7. Chos 'Byung
History of the Dharma by Dudjom Rinpoche Part Five. We study this text from first year until sixth year. This year we covered the period of the propagation of the three inner tantras in Tibet during the time of Guru Rinpoche. My teacher was Ani Lopon Yeshe Lhamo.

8. rGyal Rabs
Tibetan Political History by Dudjom Rinpoche Part Two. We study this text from second year to fourth year. This year we covered the period from the reign of King Trisong Deusten up to the reign of Lang Darma and the subsequent period when Tibet was in pieces. My teacher was Ani Lopon Yeshe Lhamo.

How, you might ask, will we write five exams on eight subjects? The three Madyamaka texts will have separate exams. The two history texts will be combined on one exam. And the other three will be combined on one exam. Our first exam will be on December 17th.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Friday, October 27, 2006

What happens in a Tibetan monastery?

Our community at Namdroling is composed of a monastery with at least 3000 monks and a nunnery with just over 500 nuns. Both the monastery and nunnery have three main parts: primary school (lobtra), ritual arts college (dratsang), and philosophical college (shedra). The monastery also has a three year retreat center (drubdra) and the nunnery hopes to build one as soon as sponsorship is available.
The lobtra provides an eight year school program for children between the ages of seven and twenty-two (approximately). All classes are taught in Tibetan. Subjects include reading, writing, chanting, and English in the early years. Later years also study basic Buddhist texts, debate, ritual arts, and ritual music. This type of primary education prepares students to enter the shedra or dratsang after graduation. The students take the monastic robes and thus become monks and nuns, but usually do not take novice vows until after graduation.
The dratsang is home to the greatest percentage of the monastery population. The dratsang's main occupation is to carry out liturgical services (puja). Pujas are performed within the monastery's temples and also within the private homes of the local laity. Dratsang monks and nuns study litugical chanting, the making of ritual substances, and playing liturgical instruments.
The shedra offers a nine year program in Buddhist philosophy. Students study 6 to 8 texts each year. They debate for an hour each day, and write comprehensive final exams at the end of the year. Since this is where I study, it will be the subject of many future blogs.
The drubdra is a retreat center where participants practice in a sealed group retreat for three years, three months and three days.
There are many different teachers in the monastery. Foremost is our revered abbot and spiritual guide, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche. His Holiness offers empowerments and meditation instruction as well as practical advice to the monks, nuns, and laity. Graduates of the shedra, lopons and khenpos, teach in the shedra and lobtra. A senior lama offers instruction inside the drubdra. And as is traditional, many older monks and nuns teach the younger ones and offer guidance based on their experience.
Another essential part of the monastery community is the large number of monks and nuns who serve as 'workers'. They cook, build, oversee sections of the monastery or specific projects, and maintain discipline. Some workers hold their positions permanently, but most are appointed to serve for three years.
All members of the monastery may engage in their individual practices of prayer and meditation. There are also group practices and retreats held every year.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

What led you to become a Buddhist nun?

I was born in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada. I attended Greystone Heights Elementary School and Walter Murray High School. In my last year of high school I encountered Buddhism when my father invited me to see a performance by some Tibetan lamas. I found the performance interesting and it started me reading books about Buddhism. I discovered that Buddhism provided answers about life which felt true to me.
As a graduation gift, I was able to visit Vancouver, and I took that chance to formally become a Buddhist by taking refuge.
A few months later I met Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo, the founder of Sakyadhita, she gave me the opportunity to teach English at Jamyang Choling Monastery for Women in Dharamsala, India. I taught English at Jamyang Choling for 4 months in 1999. I greatly admired the life the nuns led. They seemed very pure hearted, joyful, and free of worldly concerns.
Although I wished to become ordained immediately, there didn't seem to be a community where I could live, and there were other obstacles, so I returned to Canada. It turned out to be very beneficial to wait a few years before ordaining. I was able to consider the decision deeply, and help my family become comfortable with the idea.
I came to Namdroling Monastery in South India in 2001. I received the ceremony of 'going forth' from Khenchen Pema Sherab. In May of 2002, I received novice vows from His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, the abbot of the monastery. I have been living at Namdroling since that time. In 2004 I joined the nuns philosophical college (shedra), Tsogyal Shedrup Gawa'i Tsal.

Tibetan nuns ending the rainy season retreat

I've been a Buddhist nun for five years. I receive all sorts of questions about my life, so I'd like to post the answers here. As well, before I became a nun I cherished any sort of information about the monastic life, particularily the accounts of Western monastics, but it was very hard to come by. With that in mind, I hope to share a bit about what its like to be a Westerner ordained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.