Saturday, December 29, 2007

India vs. Canada

I'm on holiday at my family's home in Canada. I'd like to look at some of the differences between my life here and back in India.

Weather: I'm so cold here in Canada! I can't stop saying 'a-choo' which is 'brrrrr' in Tibetan. It is only -15C at the moment, but could go down to -30C at any time. Luckily we have heated homes and cars. I've spend winters in Nepal, without heating that's cold indeed. In South India it never drops below 15C.

Accommodation: I'm staying in the house where I grew up. It is just the three of us most of the time. Once people go back to work, I will have plenty of time alone. Outside of my room at the nunnery, I am never alone. The nunnery isn't crowded so much as very full.

Noise: It is so quiet here. Of course one might expect a monastery to be quiet, but with hundreds of nuns under the age of 20, there is plenty background noise. While I was studying for my exams last month a teenage nun set up camp under my window. She was chanting very loudly, reading not only prayers, but also chanting her way through the subjects which would be coming on her own exams. She would even chant the spelling of English words. Luckily after a few days she found another place to study. I was close to looking for things to throw accidentally drop from my window.

Food: The nunnery food is fairly simple. One day lunch is rice and lentil soup, the next day bread and vegetables. Dinner is rice gruel or flour gruel. I cook for myself, but even then, my menu is similar day to day. But here in Canada... wow! So much variety. Just seeing a full fridge and pantry is such a trip. Since I've gotten home I keep eating nachos and cheese, my favorite meal. If I gain a lot of weight here, that's okay-- in traditional Tibetan culture fat is handsome, and loosing weight brings concern. Many times nuns have told me, "We would love to be as fat and white as you." I tell them, "Drink milk, eat a lot." Honestly though, I hate being white. Maybe if I drink more chocolate milk...

Shopping: We've done some boxing day shopping here. Apparently if the Canadian salespeople are on commission they can be just as pushy and deceptive as some of their Indian counterparts. I do like the fixed prices here. In India it is rude not to haggle a bit, but I just can't do it. Over time certain merchants have taken pity on me for my lack of haggling; they just tell me the real price instead of the 'foreigner price'.

Culture: The longer I stay in Canada, the weirder it seems to be a Buddhist nun. In India, shaved heads and robes are normal. Western culture is confusing. Do people really think that they will be happier with a new car or a slimmer body? It is always such a relief to go back to India. India is a special place for spiritual development. However, India does has a booming middle class with goals and interests similar to the West. A lot of the younger nuns follow Indian Idol. The monks go mad about soccer, just like in The Cup. But the goals which guide our lives are spiritual.

Friends: Since joining Facebook this year I have reconnected with many old friends and classmates in Canada. It will be fun to meet people I haven't seen in 10 or 15 years! Back in India I've been something of a hermit for the last 5 months or so. Everyone says the fourth year of shedra (college) is one of the hardest. I've had to study a lot, to the utter dissolution of my social life. But most of my friends are shedra students or alumni, so they understand and haven't totally given up on me.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Another year ends...

Here's a photos of all the nuns in shedra together with our teachers. We finished our classes on November 1st. Now we have a month to study and then it will be time for our comprehensive final exams.
If this blog has any avid readers (other than my mother, of course, "Hi Mom!") I apologize for not having posted for several months. I lost my Internet connection in July and can't be bothered to blog from an Internet cafe (except this present post). Hopefully I'll be back online next March. In the meantime, once my holidays begin at the end of December I hope to post something new and interesting.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Our big Buddha thangka

On the 26th of May, during the one week drubchen leading up to the anniversary of the Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment and Parinirvana on May 31st, a giant thangka made of parachute fabric was displayed.

Here comes the big snake:
It is customary to headbutt the snake to get a blessing, or alternatively, throw a kata on it. Pushing and shoving to get one's head in butting range is also customary.
This building is seven stories tall. We call it "The Seven-Story Building" togsa dunpa. The apparatus on top was built with this thangka in mind.
The wind made it look like the mast of a ship. The great ship of Lord Buddha.
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Friday, May 25, 2007


Here at the nunnery there are two types of electricity: government light, from the Indian government, and generator light, from the nunnery generator. I live in the 'new building', which does not get government light. The reason for this seems to be some sort of bureaucratic issue which has prevented us from joining the local power grid. If you've spent anytime in India you may have an idea of the length of time it takes to solve these bureaucratic snarls. Our building has been standing for two years... and still not a flash of government light.
On a good day we get electricity from the generator for five whole hours. It comes from 5am to 7am and from 7pm to 10pm. That's when we really need it-- before sunrise and after sunset. Sometimes we don't get any electricity in the evening-- that was the case every evening last week. This week has been better, but each evening around seven we start to wonder if light will come or not. There is some hopefulness, but also a patient realism, "It may not come." We all have candles and flashlights at hand, should we be left in darkness. When we do get light, it is a pleasant surprise each time. We rejoice in our good fortune.
The system seems to be- if there is class the next day we usually have light that evening. If it is a Saturday evening we definitely don't get electricity because "It is a holiday, you don't need it." If there is puja the next day, only Buddha knows if light will come or not.
Electricity is necessary to pump water into the tank on the roof which supplies the bathrooms and showers on the three floors of our building. Mysteriously, although electricity doesn't come to the rooms during the day, water will nonetheless come at various times of day. At those times, unless we are in class, there is a mad rush of nuns carrying laundry, dishes and shower things in the direction of the washrooms. In about an hour the water gets used up, occasionally stranding some unlucky soap covered showerer. We've kept a few buckets full of water in our bathroom, which has thus far seen us through the periods without water. Not everyone is so prepared-- and the toilets can get rough indeed. I've also taken to keeping a bucket and a basin in my room to wash my dishes. When I'm done I just throw the water off the balcony-- which is the normal thing to do here. I've just got to make sure there is no one walking around on the ground below. I've splashed a few people by accident, and I've also been on the receiving end of a few dishwater showers.
So water and light come and go-- without a regular schedule--spontaneously. We could say it depends on our merit at any given time. I used to feel that this was a hard part about living in India, but now it is just the situation and not something to worry about. When I visit Canada it takes some time to get used to water always coming out of the tap whenever I turn it on (and even hot water-- wow) and being able to turn the light on in the middle of the night, when, yes indeed, there is light, even though most people are asleep and don't need it.
You might wonder, "Well why not run the generator all the time?" That'd be an idea, but it would be expensive... And these blessed chances to practice patience and abandon expectation are priceless.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Inside the Temple

The main temple:

The door to the main temple:

The shrine in the front of the temple. The statues are: Guru Rinpoche on the left, Shakyamuni Buddha in the center, Amitayus on the right. The throne of our abbot, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche, is in the bottom right corner:

Nuns praying:

Nuns praying:

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

What does the nunnery look like?

Nuns on their way to puja in the nunnery temple. On the second floor there is a library and two classrooms.

The dratsang building to the right of the temple. This building houses nuns studying in the primary school and nuns who carry out pujas and study the ritual arts (dratsang).

The shedra building to the left of the main temple. This building houses nuns studying in the philisophical college.

The new building to the left of the shedra building. This building houses mainly dratsang nuns, primary school nuns and a few shedra nuns. There are five classrooms in the left wing.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The Main Point

I visited the West after my exams in January and had the chance to discuss Buddhism with several people. I think this video by the Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche sums up some essential points nicely.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Ani Lopons Lhamo and Tenzin Chokyi

Female Teachers

For hundreds of years, higher education in Buddhist philosophy has been taught and received mostly by men. There have been a few female teachers, great meditators, such as Shugseb Jetsun, and incarnations of the Buddhas, such as Yeshe Tsogyal. No doubt there have been many great female meditators, who have quietly received the teachings, attained realization, perhaps instructed a few disciples, and then passed away. I should point out that the teachings on meditation, which bring us to enlightenment, have been available to women since the advent of Buddhism in Tibet. However, systematic training in Buddhist philosophy, has mainly been the domain of monks.

Only in the last twenty years or so, have there been shedra programs instituted for nuns. Shedra allows students to gain a correct understanding of the great texts of Buddhism authored by the Buddha and their commentatries by Indian and Tibetan masters. It is not necessary to study in shedra in order to meditate correctly. Merely by relying on the instuctions of one's guru, it is possible to attain enlightenment. However, studying the great texts before engaging in long term mediation is much like studying a map before embarking on a journey.

The meditator who has not studied extensively may have a perfect realization, but he or she may be unable to communicate it as well as a mediator who has studied.

In 1992, Penor Rinpoche opened a nunnery and later instituted a shedra program for nuns. In 2004, four nuns complete their ninth and final year of shedra and thus became ani lopons. The following year seven more nuns graduated, so now we have quite a few female teachers at our nunnery.

These ani lopons have been teachings both in the nuns' shedra (college) and in the lobtra (primary school). Previously, all the shedra courses were taught by monk lopons and khenpos from Namdroling, and the lobtra classes were mostly taught by senior students from the nuns' shedra.

I've received about half my courses in the past two years from these ani lopons. In their ability to explain the Dharma texts, I don't think they are any different than male teachers. Of course most teachers improve as they gain more experience, so there is definitely a difference between old and newer teachers. I've found that many new teachers have a difficult time assessing whether their students have correctly understood the teachings. Experienced teachers can pinpoint their students' level and teach accordingly.

A difference I have seen between the ani lopons and monk lopons is something which has to do with their students. To start with, nuns are extremely shy, especially in the presence of monk teachers. Some monks find ways to lighten the mood and these nuns slowly come out of their shells. Others fail to do this, and find that no one will ask or answer questions in class. When ani lopons are teaching, there is less shyness on the part of students. The students will more readily ask questions and participate in class discussion. Since question and answer sessions are crucial to gaining a correct understanding of the Dharma, this is a great advantage of having female teachers.

Another advantage is that young nuns may now have role models of their own gender. In a way, the lama or guru is the main role model, we hope to attain his or her level of realization and become a great being. However, you won't find any nuns at our nunnery who say, "In this life, I'm planning to become a spiritual master who can guide others." It would be an extremely arrogant thing to say. So now that we have ani lopons, who are qualified to teach, and hold greater responsibility among nuns, what better role models for young nuns?