BUDDHIST NUNS IN LADAKH
BUDDHIST NUNS IN LADAKH
Since the 10th Century, Buddhism flourished in Ladakh – a vast and beautiful desert high in the North-Western Indian Himalayas. The purity of Buddha’s teaching has been well preserved by the Ladakhi people, who have been relatively isolated from the outside world up until four decades ago. Ever since Buddhism was introduced in the region, Ladakhi women studied and practiced the Buddha-Dharma. Many renounced their family ties and possessions to become Buddhist nuns. Unfortunately over time, this pious tradition was not adequately supported, and the number of nuns dwindled to near extinction. Due to the lack of nunneries in which to live and study, nuns had to live with their families and work as domestic help and field labor. Historically, nuns had a presence in Ladakh dating back to over 500 years and based their practices inside temples.
It had become custom for families to have a daughter who shaved her head, lived a celibate life and worked to serve the family — parents, siblings and eventually nieces and nephews. While these girls and women longed for a spiritual life, ironically, they were denied the precepts and religious practices that support the life of a nun. Consequently, they were reduced to mere unmarried servant daughters, for whom the ordained life was but a dream. These conditions remained almost unchanged until the 1990’s. By 1994, the traditions of Buddhist nuns and nunneries had seriously declined; moral and financial support from villagers had ceased, and they were given no respect or status by the community, or even by the monastic institutions. As a result, the number of ordained women declined drastically and there were barely 300 nuns in Ladakh by 1994. Having served their families their whole lives, the overwhelming majority of these nuns were elderly and illiterate. To sum up, Ladakh was on the brink of losing an integral part of its culture: the Nuns’ Sangha.
In 1996, realizing the nun’s situation and other social problems in Ladakh, Venerable Dr. Tsering Palmo, a Ladakhi nun and traditional Tibetan Medical (Amchi) doctor with far sighted vision established the Ladakh Nuns’ Association (LNA). Venerable Dr. Tsering Palmo had begun her work to revive and rejuvenate the tradition of nuns in Ladakh, and it became apparent that unless nunneries were built and opportunities for education were created only a few young women would be ordained. Today, the LNA aims to raise the education level of the nuns and provide opportunities to both study and practice the Dharma. The organisation also wishes to reach out to lay women and provide spiritual education and guidance.
Since its establishment, the LNA has been able to provide opportunities for young girls whose families maybe have experienced difficulties, to have both a secular and monastic education and live in the nunnery with the spiritual nurturing and care of the older nuns. In promoting the role of nuns, LNA has worked tirelessly to providing opportunities for them to obtain higher education in Buddhist Philosophy and in AMCHI (Traditional Tibetan Medicine) studies, inside Ladakh and throughout India. Ladakhi society needs educated nuns who are steeped in the religious life and whose communities are places of prayer and refuge. Ordained women contribute greatly to the preservation of spiritual life and to the highest values of society. A renewed order of nuns supported and educated by the Ladakhi people and institutions can contribute enormously in the modern materialistic world, especially in such an era of rapid change.
Support from His Holiness, the 14th Dalai Lama
During his visit to Ladakh in 1999, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama expressed his support and stressed the need for the upliftment of nuns in Ladakh. His Holiness, stated that in Buddhism and other religions, monks and nuns should have equal opportunities to study and that nuns should be able to study to the level of the male (‘Lopon ma’ and ‘Geshe’ degree, the equivalent of a PhD in Buddhist Philosophy); and, that they should be able to provide teaching and support to the lay community. He expressed that the Ladakhi and wider society would benefit from such an advancement.
“I have spent my precious life serving, first my grandparents, my parents and finally my nephew and nieces. I pray every day that younger nuns receive in the future religious instruction and education that I never had the opportunity to receive. I am praying for their success”
– Nun (3rd Vinaya Seminar, 1998)
There are 28 nunneries in Ladakh; some part of the LNA network and some independent. There are around 1200 nuns in total, of whom 600 belong to LNA nunneries and 600 to independent nunneries.
- Thubten Choskor Ling (Leh) – LNA home
- Thikchen Chatsnan Ling (Thiksay)
- Thinless Ling Sakay Nunnery (Choglamsar)
- Thardot Choling (Redzong)
- Phuntsogling (Hemisshukpachen)
- Thekchen Choling (Temisgang)
- Jangchub Choling (Waka)
- Khachot Dekeling (Mulbik)
- Deachen Choling (Shargol)
- Zhapat Dorjayling (Bodh Kharbu)
- Shardup Gayphel Ling (Basgo)
- Lingshed Nunnery
- Chuchikjall Kachod ling Nunnery (Karsha)
- Namgyal Choling (Pishu)
- Byangchub Choling (Zangla)
- Phuntsog Ling (Tungri)
- Rizhing Dorje Dzong
- Kachod Ling (Sani)
- Phagmo Ling (Skyagam)
- Padma Choling (Manda)
- Bya Dolma Choling
- Chumig Gyatse Namtak Choling Changthang
- Samdup Choling (Rongo)
- Tashi Choling (Hanlay)
- Karma Tashi Choling (Mayee)
- Padma Odbar Ling (Kharnag)
- Deachen Choling (Skidmang)