The Dharma of Bees

The Dharma of Bees

by Alison Melnick Dyer


Happy Pollinator Week! Here in Maine the lupines are in bloom, and the air is finally warming up. The summer solstice brought some rainy relief from the drought we had been experiencing. And in my modest yard and in the nearby fields, I’ve noticed bees of all stripes working over the flowers.

As a Buddhist and sometimes bee-keeper, I’ve spent a lot of time with bees. They’re beautiful to watch and listen to, and to spend time with. The contented hum of a healthy hive is incredibly soothing, and it’s fun to sit and watch them coming and going from the hive. Lately I’ve been thinking about how the lives of honeybees reflect aspects of the Dharma (as I’ve come to understand it). There are few things that bring me as much contentment as watching my bees returning to the hive, their “saddlebags” (pollen baskets baskets on their legs) filled with pollen of all colors. They are working to share their bounty with the rest of the hive, seeking to benefit all.


In the spring and summer, honeybees work from dawn till dusk to get enough sustenance for the hive to survive. This means long forays out into the world, working over pollinating plants, searching out water sources, and learning good foraging spots from their fellow hive-mates. Bees share information with each other. They have different dances they use to communicate important sources of pollen and water. Some work away in the hive: nurse bees feeding and tending the young brood (future generations!), others packing away supplies of honey and pollen, cleaning and building new cells out of wax. Meanwhile, some are out foraging for the sake of all. They each have jobs, but all work for the good of the whole. Their work is for their own survival, sure, but also for the entire hive. Their efforts are coordinated so that the hive can flourish, and so there is enough put by for the long winter.


In the winter – the most difficult months of the year – honeybees will bunch up around the queen, fanning their wings to keep her and each other warm. They take turns with who is on the outermost edge of the bunch, the front line against the cold. And they take turns being close to the cozy center. Without the group they won’t survive.


Bees work together to make the hive viable, and there’s a really great lesson in this. We can’t get far without the sangha. If we don’t have a community of practitioners to connect and share ideas with, how can we progress along the path? If we didn’t have the wisdom of teachers – in their words, their actions, and their writing – it would be very difficult indeed to learn how to put Buddhist doctrine into practice. But being part of a sangha means offering support to those around us. Making sure that the teachers and dharma siblings have the ability to continue their practice and study, and participating alongside them. I can’t imagine a community that more thoroughly embodies this Bodhisattva ideal than the honeybee. If one of us is not free, how can any of us be?

Emerging Into the world- What is working for you?

We invite your responses to:

Our Tuesday Thursday morning meditation and Sunday Dharma class.

She Who Vanquishes Epidemics

Lady Parnashavari

In Buddhism we think of healing, ultimately, as a peaceful mind filled with love. We have many practices and visualizations to help us embody that realization. Tibetan Buddhism particularly cultivates images that evoke a personification of that state as various deities. It is sometimes explained that this is similar to light passing through a crystal lens, becoming a multicolored rainbow reflection, or many images to inspire devotion for different kinds of minds.

Within the family of Buddhas that emphasize how to learn compassion, there are famously 21 Taras, female Buddhas. Lady Parnashavari, the dakini who is attired in green leaves of medicinal plants, is the 20th of the 21 Taras.  She protects us from contagious diseases such as the Coronavirus that we have today. I find her image compelling, as unlike most deities, who are depicted in royal attire, she is clothed in medicinal plants and herbs. She carries a bow and arrow and battle axe to vanquish illness (ignorance) and medicinal plants. She sits with one leg extended, ready to jump into action, an ancient super-hero! The significance is to cultivate confidence in our own seed of wisdom and that of others by imagining a powerful accomplished example.

Chanting mantra unites our body, speech and mind with her realization.  We visualize her and all Buddhas filling the whole of space and sending healing nectar, filling the bodies of all sentient beings in every region and nation, all the bodies of water, all the vast extent of the skies. 


Listen to the Mantra  

Full Practice

This is her mandala. The seed sylable “PAM” in the center, is the sound of her compassion. The mandla can be printed and hung in windows or gardens as a prayer flag, with the air carring the sound of compassion and her blessings to all countries.

Here is a teaching on the mantra:

OM: sacred syllable that consists of three sounds A, O and M, representing Buddha’s purified body, speech and mind. Here in particular, the sounds are invoked to prevent, protect and liberate our body, speech and mind from the epidemic disease such as the coronavirus.
PISHATSI: a female divinity of great powers such as a dakini or yogini who can protect, prevent and liberate beings from all negative and obstructing forces
PARNA: a leaf of a tree or a plant
SHAWARI: a tribal lady of the forest who masters magic and healing using forest herbs and medicines.
PISHATSI PARNASHAWARI: a powerful dakini who attired in green leaves of medical plants that are remedies to all illnesses and pestilences
SARVA: all, everything
MARI: illness or pestilence
PRASHAMANI: pacifier
SARVA MARI PRASHAMANI: the Pacifier of all illnesses and pestilences
HUNG: to attain the siddhis (attainment), to fulfill the aspiration, to be established in the deity-state, the Parnashavari-hood.

The head of our Drikung Lineage, HH Tinle Lundup,  searched the ancient texts written by our founder, Lord Jigten Sumgon to find her practices so we could envision her now. He then composed this brief version.

Praise and Verses to the Goddess Who Eliminates All Diseases.

Out of the mandala of dharmakaya’s great bliss
You protect against dangerous diseases like epidemics
And against untimely death-
I pay homage to you, the mother of wish fulfilling activities.

You, golden colored Parnashavari, sit on a lotus seat,
Your main face is yellow, the right one blue, and the left one white
Your hair is bound up in a topknot, and you are full of splendor-
I pay homage to the divine body of the goddess granting accomplishments.

You Illustrious One, are the embodiment of wisdom and compassion, You stand in the midst of masses of fire, burning like in the end of time. With your three faces and six arms, you look terribly wrathful-
I pay homage to you, whose one leg is stretched and the other bent.

You who wears a robe of leaves, hold bow and arrow,
Battle ax, and a bunch of branches.
Parnashavari, you sow the threatening mudra and hold a vajra-
I pay homage to you, great mother, protectress of human beings.


By this virtue, may I swiftly accomplish Parnashavari

and establish all beings without exception in her state.

Full Practice

Loving the Stranger

This year I am the International Chair of a historic retreat in India, which has meant a lot of travel to organize the event. In December I went to Taiwan for many planning meetings. I asked for the support of one of our lineage centers as I needed to be there for quite some time. The Garchen Institute kindly offered a room and office support (Each of our centers is entirely separate, with different projects and concerns assigned by the leading Rinpoche of that center.) Which is to say I asked His Holiness’s office to arrange housing, basically inviting myself to stay for a month in HE Garchen Rinpoche’s Dharma Center. So, a stranger, not working on a Garchen project, comes for a month!  This already is a big ask.

The director, Mrs. Christine Hsu and the entire staff of about six were very welcoming and considerate. They prepared a lovely room, hosted a welcome dinner and assigned Lenny, one of the staff, to answer any questions and thoroughly orient me to the Dharma Center and the neighborhood. They made an offering to me for food and gave me use of the kitchen. They also included me in the delicious lunches that were prepared for the office staff every day by Mei Jing. I settled in for a long stay.

Then I got pneumonia. What I thought was a cold, got worse and worse. Lenny arranged for several doctor visits, but by the end of the first week I was so sick I could not breathe. I called Lenny at one in the morning and he escorted me to the emergency ward. You can imagine how fragile I felt in that state, unable to communicate directly with the doctors as I do not speak any Chinese. Lenny kept a close watch all night as I waited for a bed.

The next morning, the whole Center turned the full force of their loving kindness to helping me in every way. Mrs Hsu and her nephew Derek arrived to take over and quickly had me transferred to a branch hospital that had rooms. They insured that an excellent doctor was my physician ( Dr. Lin Heng YI turned out to be the president of the hospital and a respiratory medicine specialist.)  Immediately, Mei Yuan and Pei Ying were asked to take shifts so I could have 24/7 help, supervision and translation. They have become like sisters, spending a week with me in the hospital. Mrs Hsu came to the hospital three times a day for most of the week to make sure all was well, bringing soft blankets and pillows from her home. She totally made me feel safe and secure, reassuring me we were family now. She had Pei Ying start a log tracking every medicine and procedure. Pei Ying quickly added me to the Line-chat group so the whole office could follow my progress. She kept a close watch, making sure I took all the medicine correctly, turning into a practical nurse while she kept up her office duties on her computer.

Every day my new friends demonstrated their warm hearts. Mei brought towels, soaps and lotions, cups and thermoses so I had hot tea and luxuries to supplement my travel supplies. She made her grandmothers herbal remedy drink (made from a kumquat? and tasted a little like peanuts). Mai Jin, the center chef, sent many treats every day to supplement the hospital food, sliced fresh fruit, radish and egg pancakes and one day even a Chinese cake. Every day she made fresh fruit smoothies and her grandmother’s remedy; a tea and brown rice drink that tasted like nectar when I was very sick. She also did my laundry. Derek brought me a daily sandwich from a coffee shop so I also could have familiar food. One day he waited in line 20 minutes braving the brunch crowd, and one day on a bagel! All of the staff visited at least once, Lenny snuck in sparkling water and coke – my favorite drinks, but not recommended by Chinese medicine. By the week’s end I had to plead with them that one visit a day was fine and to please rest on the weekend.

They cared for me the way I would for my sister or mother, even better perhaps. I have learned a lot about loving kindness through them.  We sometimes say we can see the greatness of a teacher by the actions of their students. This experience has demonstrated for me Tara in action; HE Garchen Rinpoche’s love for all beings through his disciples. I will always use this experience as an ideal when I pray for the welfare of suffering beings. May we all feel so safe and tenderly treated.

May all traveling beings feel the protection of loving kindness, from  recovering well,  Khenmo

May. Benevolence Flow Like Water

The Highest Form of Benevolence Flows Like Water

I recently completed a temple pilgrimage in Taiwan and was deeply inspired by the artistry of this calligraphy by Master Master Hsing Yun, founder of the Fo Guang Shan Lineage and have been contemplating its deeper meaning The Highest Form of Benevolence Flows Like Water.

One of the largest Buddhist organizations in Taiwan is Tzu Chi. Led by its founding nun, Master Cheng Yen, the nun’s community and thousands of lay members, now rivals the International Red Cross the size and scope of service. While much of their work is focused on disaster relief, their diverse activitiesinclude hospitals and specialized responses to smaller events. Master Cheng Yen’s vision is to respond to the world with a heart of benevolence flowing like water to wherever it is needed.  Through exemplifying this conduct with a rare purity, a vast network arose to amplify her work.

The story began so humbly, five nuns in a tiny cabin determined to build a life only giving to others. They invited 30 housewives to save fifty cents from their food shopping and drop it in bamboo banks which they made form a grove nearby, sawing the stalks at the joints. With the slogan “50 cents can save lives”, and the aspiration of kindness formed with each deposit, funding small acts grew into an international community of response. Every suffering being who found their way to the cabin elicited heartfelt caring which grew exponentially.

Gradually the work of the nuns flowed into every dimension of experience. An example was a local explosion that injured 500 children. They started visiting the burn victims and found that the compression bandages used were inadequate. So, they invented new fabric, continuing to visit the patients weekly, offering comfort and assessing the fabric. After testing several versions, the new fabric is now useful for all burn victims. The tenderness extended towards cries for help also extends to how the solutions arise; the

environment and all the volunteers who implement the vision. For instance, hospitals; how do you create an environment of compassion? In the photo we see volunteers setting an intention of kindness before starting work. New medical students are met with volunteer “godparents” to lovingly encourage them throughout their studies. Their training begins with an extraordinary experience of appreciation that opens their hearts. The education of a doctor begins with anatomy and dissection. In this program they visit the families of the donors of the bodies and write a biography of their first teacher, the body given for dissection. Then before the start the study, a wonderful ceremony thanking the families and giving them a chance to say goodbye and honor the choice of their loved one is held at the hospital. There are prayers of gratitude to the donor by the students and a full ritual funeral attended by the whole monastery, students and families at the conclusion. The students are taught that their knowledge comes from a treasured gift and their work must honor its value. These doctors grow in understanding the role of compassion in their work.

The wonderful call and response of need and compassionate action; flowing so powerfully in the course of one lifetime is a joy to witness. The five nuns were joined by hundreds of thousands of lay volunteers and funds to cover the world, who are now often first on the ground in places like Fukushima and even in Texas after the disastrous tornados. The essence of compassion is ever-present in how they work.

I come away with a new understanding of seamless benevolence enabling boundless compassion. May benevolence flow in and from our lives like water.

Buddha’s Family

Lha Bab Duchen

Lha Bab Duchen falls on Nov 19th this year. One of the four major Tibetan Buddhist holidays, it marks the time Buddha went to the Tushita Heaven to teach his mother and then returns to his Sangha in our realm. Our special holidays honor Buddha’s birth, first teaching, Enlightenment, the miracles he displayed, his death and this journey to take spiritual care of his mother who had died giving birth to him.

Often when we tell the life story of the Buddha we begin with Buddha/Siddhartha leaving his family, just after his child was born, to find enlightenment.  As westerners, we hear this story through the lens of our culture and conflate it with the classic “hero’s journey” or suspect the abandonment as lacking in compassion.  Lha Bab Duchen more normally depicts Buddhas return to our realm after teaching his mother in the Tushita heaven realm. On Lha Bab Duchen, we can contemplate Buddha’s family story in a way that illuminates inclusion.

As we delve deeper into Buddha’s life, we see that it also includes his aunt, Mahaprajnapati, his wife Yasodhara, and the Naga Princess, a being from a water realm. All three attained enlightenment, and they represent the realities of many women’s lives.  Yasodhara, his wife, knowingly supported the unique conditions that allowed Siddhartha to achieve his potential, enlightenment, understanding the benefit for all beings. Mahaprajnapati, his aunt, raised Prince Siddhartha as a child (before he became the Buddha) and accepted the responsibility of ruling the country as queen after her husband died. She accepted a life of responsibility due to compassion. Completing worldly responsibilities, Mahaprajapati became the first nun and Yasodhara followed her. They became enlightened practicing within the nun’s community.

Finally, the Naga Princess can further demonstrate the holiness within “other” or
outsider. People of many clans and tribes joined the monastic community.  The Naga Princess was of another race of beings. Said to be his best student, she was an eight-year-old child of the dragon people, depicted as half dragon half human.  She defied all norms by demonstrating publicly and fearlessly, her profound understanding of the Dharma. When challenged to become a man in order to receive enlightenment she switched gender and then she switched back. What is gender she asked the assembly, thus destroying their ignorance.

All these women became enlightened, equal in spiritual understanding. The subtle teaching of this holiday is non dual understanding of spiritual capacity among genders and differences. There is no lesser Enlightenment, there is realization and nonrealization.

When we acknowledge the inherent holiness within all beings, we see that we are all included in Buddha’s story. This makes a difference in how we see ourselves and others. We are all the hero journeying in our own unique way towards recognizing our inner perfection and we are at the same time interconnected.

Recollecting Joy

Recollecting Joy      

By Khenmo Drolma

“All the world is on fire

All the world is burning

All the world is ablaze

All the world is quaking

That which does not quake or blaze

That to which worldlings* do not resort

Where there is no place for Mara**

That is where my mind delights.”

………………………………………………………………………………………Photo by Christine Racine

The Enlightened Buddhist Nun, Cala, wrote this in the 5thcentury BCE. It is a pithy and fresh description of anxiety and stress, just as evocative of our time as hers. It feels like our world is quaking some days. She then inspires us to look at our minds closely; there is unshakable peace within it and we can delight in it.

Often, in our day to day existence, we are caught up in chaos, in hope and fear. Thoughts, a claustrophobic barrage of illusory information, entrap us. What if? What did? Living in the past or future consumes our present. We do not see what is actually here, in this moment.

Joy opens with the barest shift of perspective. Now, the present fleeting awareness of life as it is, unadorned by elaboration, is always available. We remember to gaze at the sky. Vastness and clarity open as a vista, an expanse. This spaciousness of now is accompanied by peace and a tickle of joy, like a mental smile. The mind has peace and it is accompanied by heart’s delight. Rising joy, an eternal spring, independent of thoughts or senses simply is.

We may not have had direct experience of this treasure yet or we may have forgotten a rare fleeting taste, but it awaits us. Steadfastly, we begin and again, calming distracting conceptuality. Trusting, because as Cala reminds us, in our quaking, blazing world, peace also is present. Meditation is our mind simply coming home to now and that home is joy.

*Worldlings refers to those with no spiritual training.

*Mara is a personification of worldly ignorance.

Acharya Nuns Leadership Program

In 2017, Khenmo spent a month at Samtenling. Asking “How we better support you?”, a special meeting ensued with the current leaders of the nunnery including long time former director Mrs Namlha Taklha, current director Acharya Ani Tsekyi, accountant and secretary Acharya Ani Kunsang, teacher Acharya Ani Yeshe, long time German sponsor Vajramala and German nun, Ani Jinpa along with Khenmo and VDN board member Joanne Swirez.

During the meeting the Acharya nuns expressed their dreams for the future and obstacles the nunnery faced. In frank discussion, the long-term goal of proficiency in English and access to the larger world through competency in computers were determined to be problematic.  In addition, the leaders of the nunnery, also had personal dreams of serving the Dharma as Dharma teachers and translators. Mrs Taklha anticipated future needs and potentials of the nuns to serve the larger Tibetan community such as hospice and elder care like the wonderful Catholic nuns.  As each class produces more educated Dharma women their potential to effect the wider community as future leaders becomes significant.

It became clear, that this moment in time was a wonderful opportunity for the nuns to step forward in determining a beneficial future in order to contribute to the lineage as an institution and individuals. To understand the full potential and range of choices for making the best decisions and for increased confidence in their abilities, the international nuns and women at the meeting felt it would be most helpful for the Samtenling Acharaya nuns to widen their horizons in a leadership program.  The program would give them time to focus on English and computer skills, to experience women’s leadership as a norm in religious and secular communities, and have experiences allowing a wider world view informing their vision. This leadership program would be available to nuns selected by Samtenling, who have a commitment to return to Samtenling to share what they have learned. Khenmo Drolma of Vajra Dakini Nunnery, has committed to developing the vision into a fully active reality along with Mrs Taklha who, although no longer actively directing the nunnery, remains a close trusted advisor. The following description proposes a pilot program beginning in September 2018. With the participation of women leaders in the Drikung across the US, we will further refine the vision as we welcome the first Acharya Fellow to work with us forming the program for future nuns.

Samtenling Acharya Fellowship Program

A Leadership and Enrichment Program for Samtenling Acharya Nuns

An international twelve to eighteen-month program administrated by Vajra Dakini Nunnery

Advisors Mrs Namgyal Taklha, Khenmo Drolma

Goals:  Giving identified future leaders international teaching and professional experiences particularly in programs that are led by women and models that could be duplicated or modified to benefit Samtenling Nunnery and the Drikung lineage as well as nunneries throughout India. Passing areas of knowledge to the early classes of younger nuns gradually affecting the whole nunnery and influencing aspirations and goals of all the nuns (90).

Fellows would begin their experience in the US with language and computer skills at Vajra Dakini along with visits to western nunneries, inter faith and service events and programs designated as fitting the listed goals; including administrative experience.  Vajra Dakini runs a variety of programs that the Fellow would participate in during her stay. These include Dharma teachings, retreats and interfaith events. Vajra Dakini organizes an annual Feeding the Hungry Walk for Buddhist Global Relief and volunteers at the local soup kitchens. Khenmo is on the Portland Interfaith Council and participates regularly in a variety of interfaith events that the Fellow would join in. Khenmo is on the organizing committee for the annual Western Monastic Gathering which models monastics of all Buddhist lineages working together across traditions equitably among genders and seniority. This reduces historic misunderstandings and prejudices that arose due to isolation among the traditions as well as models equal respect among genders. The Fellow would participate in this year’s gathering. Additionally, the Fellow would travel to other cities for further teaching experience and additional investigation of organizations as described. On her return to India, the Fellow would design a talk or workshop for Samtenling on her return, in which she would share her experiences.

If the budget permits: inclusion of the Sakyadita International conference and potentially attending as a presenter. The ideal would be two nuns per year but we may begin with one nun.

  • Intensive English and computer classes
  • Dharma talks or programs that the selected nun would lead after a few months of intensive English classes (Some of the centers have easy access to translators and would be happy to arrange a talk on the subject of their choice, and we have had a request for a children’s program)
  • Participation in Sakyadita, the International Buddhist Women’s Organization with assistance in preparing and presenting a paper for the annual Conference
  • A variety of service experiences, tailored to the interests of the participant, could include:
    • education programs
    • hospice
    • small medical clinics
    • publishing books
    • GO Green projects

Adminstration: Vajra Dakini will host the Fellowfor up to 5 months and provide structured training in English and computer proficiency along with multiple Interfaith and Dharma activities. At least one internship relating to the Fellow’s goals for Samtenling nunnery and the Drikung Lineage is planned.

Partners: Centers and or individuals who offer financial and or hosting experiences as outlined in the proposal. We envision 1-2 month residencies in participating sites that will help build an education module in the areas of Translation, Public Health Environmentalism, Education using new technologies.


Letting Go of “Sides”

In this world, a lot of harm is caused by righteousness, including those of religious views.  Unitarian Universalist congregations are a very special community.  You have done what many people are unable to do, let go of the divisions between religions.  We may have not considered that letting go of  “sides” is an important part of our spiritual journey. To complete it, we are instructed to let go of everything, all views entirely. I expect just giving voice to this idea causes lots of views to arise in your minds. Great! Let’s be brave.

Exerpted from the Chinese teaching poem: Faith-Mind by Seng-ts’an, Third Chinese Patriarch

The Great Way is not difficult for those not attached to preferences. When not attached to love or hate, all is clear and undisguised. Separate by the smallest amount, however, and you are as far from it as heaven is from earth.

If you wish to know the truth, then hold to no opinions for or against anything. To set up what you like against what you dislike is the disease of the mind…Indeed, it is due to our grasping and rejecting that we do not know the true nature of things.

Observing the intensity of the polarization in our nation and communities, we can certainly accept that for and against is as a disease of our contemporary society.

In the Buddhist philosophical tradition we have one description of the path towards enlightenment distilled into eight accomplishments and symbolized as an 8-spoked wheel. One spoke on that wheel is Right View. Even the translation Right View is misleading because the concept is multi-layered, more an evolving of understanding.  At the beginning of our journey, when our minds are childlike we need to be encouraged to observe the difference between healthy and unhealthy behaviors, or that which causes harm to ourselves and others. All traditions have a moral code, views of right and wrong. However there is complexity and breath of understanding of spirituality as we mature. Can we lie to save a life for instance?

When our behaviors are tamer, we investigate where we wish to go. Using concepts, we describe enlightenment and the path to the fruition of our journey. We develop views about which belief system has the most clear and helpful understanding of that fruition. In Tibetan Buddhism we have a philosophical debate system. It sounds like a football game when the monastics are debating views about which Buddhist tenet systems are the most complete.  Finally, we put our theories into practice and investigate our minds in meditation, using the views as a support for understanding. As we progress finally let go of all views because they are in fact concepts not realizations. Our religions and philosophies are conceptual, to finally free our minds we let go, even of this raft that has held us on our journey. Right View is ultimately letting go of all views.

Hold on you might be thinking about now. Of course there is clear right and wrong justice and injustice. How can I advocate something like this as a spiritual path?

We might identify truth or fruition in all traditions as the capacity for profound wisdom and compassion. When we examine what this really means in Buddhism, it is the vastness of peaceful mind not bound by conceptuality. It is the nature of limitless compassion, a clear, spacious, compassionate, wise mind. Like the sun shining and the rays reaching the whole earth, the enlightened mind it is not discriminating. It does not judge which beings to help, which are deserving and which are not. Unwavering from the state of wisdom and kindness, one sees the suffering of all beings and has the wisdom to know what is needed.

What about taking action? What does it look like when we don’t frame our thoughts and actions as for and against with righteousness as in justice and injustice?

Thicht Nhat Hanh taught his students in Vietnam to serve the people without taking sides in the war. Students  brought food and medicine to the North and South even as bombs dropped, and were vilified for not taking sides. Thicht Nhat Hanh himself worked untiringly for peace, at the Paris Peace talks, and in the US, the land of the bombers of his countries’ villages. After the war, because he had not created consepts of enemies, he was able to facilitate reconciliation between US army veterans and Vietnamese people. In the bigger picture, he did not stop one war but he did bring a lasting peace to many minds and through the clear peace, joy and dignity of his meditation practice, this peace is rippling internationally.

How do we start exploring letting go of sides? Begin by noticing how pervasive this kind of thinking is, how quickly concepts of like and dislike arise in our minds.  Can we feel the subtle contraction of our mind when we give rise to dislike in fairly simple situations? Rather than judging ourselves for having this very universally human disease, can we examine our minds like scientists. Like rooting for Super Bowl teams, what happens in my mind when I take a side. Can I simply look at the mental experience.  What about things I feel very strongly about. When I feel close to righteous about an opinion, what is happening in my mind? Is my experience of my mind vast and open? One of the trainings for meditators in the caves is to examine love and hate and question if there is a difference, what is the quality of openness in the heart of our experience of strong emotions.

Having any view involves judging and or defending. We can ask is my mind in this moment soft open flexible or closed. Am I creating habits of mind that are leading where we want to go or reinforcing habits in the opposite direction?

From the Buddhist perspective the most pervasive subtle and insidious “for and against” is the notion of I and thou. The belief that we are separate and independently existing rather than interconnected. This is the primal ignorance that is the root of suffering. It is also a constructed view of mind. Look at how we define me and mine. My family couple, plus children, plus aunts and uncles cousins great and grand nieces and nephews?  We construct boundaries and determine how far and wide we stretch our heart. I will honor the life transitions and joy markers of these people, the hopes and dreams of these people. They are my family, they are important to me so much so that I will rejoice and grieve with them, do everything in my power to help them to be happy. Look at how arbitrary these boundaries are. The day you got to he pound there are one hundred anonymous dogs and cats.  You choose one and in that moment, they are yours and you want the best for them, feed them care for them, provide medicines and toys.

What if every crying child was equally important to us, every child held in our hearts as our family. Shantideva teaches:

I should eliminate the suffering of others because it is suffering; just like my own suffering.  I should take care of others because they are sentient beings just as I am a sentient being.

If one thinks that the suffering that belongs to someone is to be warded off by that person himself, then why does the hand protect the foot when the foot does not belong to the hand?

Hands and other limbs are thought of as the members of a body. Shall we not consider others likewise- Limbs and members of a living whole?

Just as I defend myself  from all unpleasant happenings, however small. Likewise I shall act for others’ sake to guard and shield them with compassion.

May we truly understand this mind that has the capacity to love limitlessly like the sun shines, with no barriers or reservation.

Empowerment of Tibetan and Himalayan Buddhist Nuns

By Mrs Nyamgyal Taklha   

What was life for a nun in Tibet before 1959? I interviewed a few elderly nuns from Tibet. Life of nuns in Tibet was spent cleaning their simple rooms, preparing their meals, making prostrations, memorizing prayers and praying.

Nyung-ney, a fasting and prostration retreat introduced in the 11th century by Gelongma Palmo, an Indian nun from Oddiyana, was a popular activity and taken by many nuns in conjunction with Chenresig or Buddha of Compassion (Avaloketeshvara) practice. The retreat involves fasting and multiple daily sessions of prostration and recitation of the six-syllable mantra OM MANI PADME HUNG. This is an intensive spiritual practice to purify obscurities and negativities and accumulate merit. The practice involves taking only one

  Mrs Taklha                                        vegetarian meal and water the first day. The next day no food or water is taken and it goes on. There was no special Dharma classes or Tibetan language classes for the nuns. They were lucky if a literate nun would give them lessons in reading and writing.

Many nuns were admitted into a nunnery by their parents when they were very young, although a few older ones did join a nunnery on their own wishes. Parents of young nuns would sometimes offer their daughters or wards as disciples to an older nun. If there were many daughters in a family, one or two would be sent to join a nunnery. If one was physically or mentally challenged, her hair would be shaven, she would be made to wear maroon robes and yellow blouses and be identified as a nun and kept at home.

When girls or older women joined a nunnery, they had to build their
own living quarters, or live with another nun and get their own provisions for their daily meals. They did not receive support from the nunnery except for butter tea in the mornings, served during the prayer assembly. On special holy days, sponsors may offer tea and meals as well as some monetary offering. Poorer nuns did much of the work in the common kitchen, looked after the sheep, dri ( female yak)and dzo  (cross between a yak and a cow known for their excellent milk) and cows belonging to the nunnery. They took the animals to higher places for grazing, brought them back in the evening and milked them. The nuns fetched water for the common kitchen, which could be quite a distance in some cases. They collected firewood or dried animal dung for the kitchen and they would be given some tsampa, tea and maybe some butter. Many nuns coming from far places such as from Jangthang (nomad region) and from Kham faced difficulties feeding

themselves. They were lucky if they had relatives in Lhasa who would supply them with their needs.  If not, there were some nuns from aristocratic and well to do business families in the nunnery, who kept the poorer nuns to do the cleaning, washing and cooking for them while they fed them, gave them clothing and some pocket money too. They treated them like maidservants, but some were also kind to teach them to read and write.

Generally Lamas and monks managed the nunneries, and a senior nun would be chosen to                Khenmo, Namlha, Ani Tsekyi, Ani Yeshe and newest nuns   represent the monk. She would look after the day-to-day affairs of the nunnery. This nun would not take any decision without consulting the Lama or the monk-in-charge.  I learnt from a nun in Gari Gonpa near Lhasa, that when a nun wanted to take a long leave, she had to send an application to the Khenpo or Rinpoche in charge. After the application was approved with a seal, a local oracle the nuns considered very important was requested to go into trance to re-approve the leave.

The nuns did not have classes for language or dharma studies in the Nunnery. The younger nuns would be lucky if they were under the supervision of a senior nun who would teach them to read and write. The emphasis was on memorization of prayers, which they had to recite at the daily prayer assemblies. If there was a public Teaching in Lhasa or nearby, they could go and attend, but this was not often. Lack of education and financial support, low self esteem and trying to be humble, the nun’s hesitance to break out of their closed selves were major obstruction to advancement and their recognition in society.

In Tibet and other Himalayan Buddhist regions, it was the custom for girls to be quiet, obedient and submissive. Being humble was a message put in the mind of most women, especially nuns. These qualities were embedded in them.  I was very talkative and mischievous when I was young and my nanny used to say, “If you are so naughty and talkative, you will not find a husband.” The role model for girls was to find a good husband.

In Ladakh or maybe even in other Himalayan regions, one daughter was made a nun and she was kept at   Joanne,  Khenmo, Tashi Drolma with newest class                                                   home to do all the manual work in the house. An educated nun from Ladakh told me that nuns were actually family slaves till things changed about a decade back. Another nun, who was a pioneer in opening a modern nunnery in Leh, Ladakh, faced much opposition and non-cooperation from the community, but the nuns in this nunnery are receiving good education, a few are traditional physicians and they take care of the sick and the needy and they also assist with family problems.

On 19th September 2004 I became the Director of Drikung Kagyu Samtenling Nunnery at Dehra Dun.  I was requested to look after the nuns by my brother, His Holiness Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche. A few young monk staff members and some nuns at the nunnery also asked me to come and take charge of the nunnery administration. I took up the job without a salary and on voluntary basis. A senior monk was in-charge of the Nunnery and they thought a woman would be a better administrator. My first job there was to make a rule that no monk or man could visit a nun in her room. They could always visit them, but they must meet in the common room or out in the garden.  Education was a priority and modern education was very important for the nuns, so was getting some exercise and healthy nutrition. Most important was for the nuns to administer their own nunnery.

The nuns were studying Tibetan language and dharma, but they needed more general knowledge and to learn to read, write and speak English and Hindi. They also needed to know simple calculation. One day I took a couple of the older nuns from Tibet to the hospital, and on the way they wanted to buy some fruits.  They could not add up the cost and I had to help them.

The nuns were encouraged to have debating classes. At first a couple of senior monks thought this was not done by nuns and they were discouraging, but we continued and now the nuns are debating and doing well.

The nuns needed to express themselves and answer questions instead of keeping their heads down and not utter a word. When I asked a few nuns their names, they would look down, giggle and say their names so softly that one could hardly hear them. This was terrible. I told them, “ Why are you not looking up at my face and tell me your names with a louder voice? ” There was no response.              Nuns during the Great Mandala Offering   

After I settled down to work, I requested the nuns to vote a senior nun to become Asst. Director. Workshops were organized for the nuns on empowerment and public speaking. We also invited nuns from other nunneries of different Tibetan Buddhist                                                                                                               Schools, and the Chief Guests were all nuns. Our first guest was H.E. Khando Rinpoche from Mindoling Monastery. We had Jetsun Tenzin Palmo from Drukpa Kagyu Dongyu Gatsel Nunnery, Tsuenma Losang Dechen from Dolmaling Nunnery and a Chinese nun, a Professor from Taiwan. It was important for our nuns to see that nuns can become leaders.

During important functions it was the custom for the Heads of the Departments of Drikung Kagyu Institute to come and present the Mandala Offering to His Holiness. During one teaching, I told the Asst. Director, Tsunma Yeshi Drolma that now she should offer the Mandala on behalf of the nuns instead of me.

The big day came, the large hall was packed, the Heads of DKI branches slowly walked towards His Holiness’s throne and Yeshi la refused to get up. People were looking at me. I got up and went over to Yeshi la and told her to please go up to present the Mandala. She refused. I told her that in no way would I go up. Tears collected in her eyes and she would not budge. I asked the Disciplinarian, who was sitting next to her to go up and she too refused. Tsuenma Kunchok Palmo, a Msc. Graduate was nearby and she too refused to go. I went back to my seat, continued to sit there, and slowly Yeshi la got up, prostrated and went to join the small group for the Mandala Offering. When the ceremony was over, I went up to her and asked her, “Was it difficult?” She was beaming and she said, “No” and started giggling. Since then during all ceremonies the nun Director offers the Mandala.

Nuns also sat at the back of the hall during Teachings. I requested His Holiness Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche, Lineage Head to let the nuns sit on one side and the monks on the other side. We had senior nuns who were well versed in the Teachings and why should they sit behind some young monks, who had just joined the monastery? He gave instructions to let the nuns sit on one side of the Prayer Hall in the temple. Initially the nuns would not come to the front and kept sitting at the back. I had to tell them that they must now come forward. When the nuns did not come up front, the Director of the Monastery, Kusho Choenyi la came up to me and said, “ We have made the seats for the nuns so that they need not sit at the back, but they refuse to come up to the front!” Now they sit in front.

We also encouraged the nuns to join workshops and conferences organized elsewhere by other nunneries or the Tibetan Women’s Association. We also encouraged teachers and visitors from abroad to come to the nunnery.  Meeting and mixing with people outside one’s region is so important to open up and learn of the outside world. This also helps them to improve their English.

After two years I left the post of Director and a nun was elected for the Director’s post. I continued to assist the nuns as their Advisor. Yeshe Drolma la, the first Asst. Director missed one year of studies. Thereafter it was decided that the nuns elected to the post of Director take this duty for a year only, because they were still students.

As for my part, instead of visiting them once a week as done during the early stages of my work, I went to the nunnery, once in two or three weeks. There is a trained Accountant- cum-Secretary in the office and the nuns have done a very good     Acharya Nuns Receive Diplomas                                                 job of running their nunnery now. There is still some hesitancy about being the Director.

We now have 74 nuns. We have a computer, an art class and a class for ritual training every Sunday. On their own initiative    the nuns have also founded a Publication Department. They  have started a vegetable garden and they took part in cleaning campaigns in the nearby villages.

Ten nuns wished to take up computer and English courses in Dharamsala during this summer instead of going home or spending their summer holidays elsewhere. This is a good sign that they wish to grow.

It gives me much pleasure to see the nuns maturing, growing out of their shyness and gaining confidence and trust in themselves. Last year two nuns graduated from the Kagyu College for monks and nuns, and obtained their Acharya degree. They went for further studies on a program at Sera College in South India. Now they returned to Kham to teach in a Kagyu Nunnery there.

Five nuns graduated this year. One nun wishes to enter the 3 years, 3 months and 3 days retreat. It will be the first time a nun who has graduated with an Acharya degree is joining our Retreat Center. Another nun, Yeshi Dolma will go to assist Khenmo Drolma in the first Drikung Nunnery in USA. Of the three others, Tsunma Kunchok Tsekyi is selected to become the first Director for a period of two years, which will be extended to three when the next election for the post takes place.  The other two nuns will be teaching at the Nunnery.

My wish to see the nuns administer their own nunnery is now a reality. Thanks to our lineage Head, His Holiness Drikung Kyabgon Chetsang Ani Sonam, Ani Konchog, Khenmo and Ani Teskyi.   Rinpoche, our teachers, the staff at the Nunnery and all who have supported us, this big step is possible. Without the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, expressing his wish for gender equality and his special concern for the education of Buddhist nuns, I doubt we would have come this far. The nuns have also been very supportive of each other. I take leave as Advisor of the Drikung Kagyu Samtenling Nunnery this August. A few senior nuns will be elected  to       form a Board of Advisors of the Nunnery. I wish the nuns well and I am confident that they will do a good job.  21st August 2016

After this letter, I took Acharya Kunchok Tsekyi, the new Director of DK Samtenling Nunnery with me to show her how other nunneries are run in Dharamsala. We visited Dolmaling. The Asst. Director of the Nun’s Project, Tsuenma Lobsang Dechen was very kind to take us around. We then visited Shugseb Nunnery. Due to teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and my departure from Dharamsala, we could not visit more nunneries. Tsekyi had visited the Nunnery in Mcleod Ganj. I am very happy to see that Tsekyi is taking her responsibilities successfully.

She said, “During the Shravasti Teachings, I had to go along with the heads of other departments and Khenpos during some events and it was very difficult.  I did it as you said and not for myself, but for the future of our Drikung nuns. I joined in all the events and I

was the only female. It was not easy, but I did it.”

I think a nun getting the same education and position, as a monk is quite new in the Tibetan and Himalayan community. There is insecurity and disapproval from some monks. One senior monk from Tibet said, “Now the nuns are growing wings!” and it was said in a sarcastic way. But nothing is permanent and we have to change and change for the better. December 2016.          Ani Sonam, Ani Tsekyi, Ani Drolma, Ani Yeshe Metok, Khenmo Drolma, Ani Drolkar at the 2018 Shravasti Teachings