2011 Update on the Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns

Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s Spiritual and Material Support of the Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns in Nepal and Nangchen, Eastern Tibet

A Brief History

In the mid-19th century, Tsoknyi Rinpoche the First created the conditions for more than 3,000 women. His work was carried on by his next incarnation, Tsoknyi Rinpoche the Second, who offered material support and spiritual guidance across a network of 26 nunneries and retreat centers in and around the Nangchen area, including the main nunnery Gebchak Gonpa. Many of these nunneries and retreat centers were destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, and the women who trained there were forced into labor camps or hid in remote caves in the region, and the lineage of Tsoknyi Nuns was almost extinguished.

During the 1980s, the limitations imposed on Buddhist practitioners began to subside and the rebuilding of precious centers of teaching and practice were re-energized, while travel and communication restrictions between Tibetans and the masters who had taken up residence in Nepal and India began to ease. (See Calling the Lama from Afar by Jampa Kalden.)

In 2005, Tsoknyi Rinpoche the Third assumed responsibility for the spiritual and material welfare of the Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns, a project that involved assisting in the reconstruction of the nunneries and retreat centers, as well as overseeing the spiritual training and material welfare. The day-to-day affairs of Gebchak Gonpa and the other nunneries and retreat centers of the Tsoknyi lineage are overseen by Wangdrak Rinpoche III, the abbot of Gebchak Gonpa, by Tsangyang Gyamso Rinpoche, and the third incarnation of Tsoknyi Rinpoche the First, who was primarily responsible for building Gebchak Gonpa. Both Tsangyang Gyamso Rinpoche and Wangdrak Rinpoche carry out their responsibilities as requested by Tsoknyi Rinpoche and work together to ensure that the Nuns can survive and flourish under directions outlined by his previous two incarnations. Today, more than 2,000 nuns live, practice, and teach in the newly rebuilt nunneries and retreat centers, while offering desperately needed community and spiritual sustenance to the surrounding villages.

Tsoknyi Rinpoche is also responsible for the support and training of approximately 100 nuns of the Tsoknyi Lineage in Nepal, many of whom were initially trained at Gebchak and other nunneries in the Nangchen region.

Financial Support of the Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns

Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s aspiration is to provide support for all of the Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns in Nangchen and Nepal through endowment funds, although some of the Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns in Nangchen receive meager support from their families. Nevertheless, their lives are extraordinarily difficult. Many of them go without meals for days at a time because land use regulations deprive them of the right to grow their own food.

Water is in short supply and must be carried in buckets from springs and streams located at some distance. Many of the buildings, hastily rebuilt after the Cultural Revolution, are crumbling. The Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns in Nepal receive no such familial or community support, and live in abject poverty, often harassed by members of neighboring communities hostile to the presence of Buddhist practitioners.

Consequently, Tsoknyi Rinpoche created two endowments, one designed to assist the Nuns in Nepal and one to provide for Nuns in Nangchen. The Nepal endowment, established in the late 1990s, invested contributions from generous sponsors for the long-term support of the Nuns of the Tsoknyi Lineage, as well as for the monks at Ösel Ling Monastery in Nepal, originally founded by Rinpoche’s father, Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, and overseen by Tsoknyi Rinpoche after his father’s passing in 1996. In 2010, the administration of Ösel Ling was transferred to Mingyur Rinpoche, and the Nepal Endowment is now committed entirely to the support of the two institutions that support the Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns in Nepal. Unfortunately, the cost of living in Nepal has continued to escalate, diminishing the capacity of the Nepal endowment to provide for the basic needs of the Nuns of the Tsoknyi Lineage.

In 2005, Tsoknyi Rinpoche established an endowment for the Nangchen Nuns—formally known as the Tsoknyi Lineage Nangchen Nuns Endowment, but more commonly referred to as Nangchen Nuns Endowment. Its purpose is to enable a perpetual source of support for the Nuns in this remote, mountainous region to survive, continue their training and practice, and serve surrounding communities deprived of spiritual guidance for many years.

Of course, the fate of the endowment and of the dedicated women who depend upon it is subject to uncertainty due to the global economic fluctuations and the uncertain political and economic challenges facing this region of Tibet. Annual distributions from the endowment will be based on the essential needs of the nunneries. In this sense Rinpoche’s mandala includes all the Nuns in his lineage throughout Eastern Tibet and Nepal.

The Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns Endowment is growing, but has not reached a level that will fulfill Rinpoche’s aspiration to create a long-term means of supporting these extraordinary women. Fortunately, two documentary films, Journey to Nangchen and Blessings—which Rinpoche inspired and helped to create—have raised awareness among Buddhists and the general public about the desperate situation in Tibet and more specifically for the Nuns of the Tsoknyi Lineage. These films, together with the teaching retreats Rinpoche has led across the world, his books, press interviews, and articles about his work have aided in drawing global attention to these remarkable Nuns, the challenges they face, and their commitment to endure in spite of obstacles that would make most of us shudder. It is hoped that this small endowment (now slowly recovering from the sharp drop in the worldwide financial markets since 2008) can start to meet the needs of the Nuns as soon as possible.

Recent Funding Updates

During Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s visit to Nangchen in March 2010, a group of Tsoknyi Rinpoche Lineage Nuns arrived to ask for assistance in rebuilding the main meditation and practice building at Gebchak Gonpa, which is currently crumbling. Rinpoche pledged to donate $100,000 of privately raised funds to initiate this project, but advised the Nuns that because he is facing similar pleas for assistance from other Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns who are facing similar situations, Wangdrak Rinpoche III would have to assume primary responsibility for raising additional funds to complete the project.

Of course, support for the Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns through the endowments would not be possible without your kind and generous contributions. We realize that many of you may be experiencing financial hardship right now, but whatever contribution you are able to offer at this time will help the Nuns in Tibet and Nepal immensely. (All donations are tax-deductible.)

Many thanks to those of you who can and do contribute to the endowment fund, and to those who cannot, your heartfelt intention is very much appreciated. Please know that it does make a difference. In order to make a contribution, please visit https://app.etapestry.com/hosted/PundarikaFoundation/OnlineDonation.html. Thank you again!

(You can read previous reports on the Tsoknyi Lineage Nuns here: June 2010, May 2010, March 2010, and by browsing the Nangchen Nuns and Nepal Monastics news categories in general.)