Little History ~ How it begun

Nuns of Bhutan – Kutira’s Journey

When you look into the bright eyes of a young nun after you just asked her what her needs are, you connect with the eternal spiritual flame of every woman.

My Journey Home

Bhutan_Kutira

For me it has been a long journey back to Bhutan, this secluded kingdom in the eastern Himalayas, east of Nepal, north of India and south of Tibet.

I was invited 30 years ago, but could not go at that time. Destiny has its own timing I suppose, and finally, in 2005, I was invited on a sacred journey to Bhutan with friends from America. Little did I know that I was embarking on a homecoming that has moved me deeply.

On that visit, through the most unusual circumstances, I met the Minister of Religion and Cultural affairs and became a close friend of two of the queens.

The Queen Mother, Her Majesty Tsering Yangdon, had taken the plight of the country’s nuns as her personal project and she appealed to me to help her reestablish a female line of transmission, and to improve the living conditions of the Bhutanese nuns.
I have been a seeker, teacher, musician, artist and environmentalist for more many years. My enthusiastic exploration of life has brought me to many wonderful spiritual paths.Women empowering women has been a passion and guiding light all my life. I feel that if women are honored and the divine feminine is encouraged to emerge the world will achieve a more harmonious state of peace and balance, honoring life with a compassionate heart.

Opening Ceremony

Bhutan, The Land of National Happiness

Let me share with you a few of my interesting observations about Bhutan.

bhutan_dance

Bhutan is a Tantric Buddhist country where women have an position of honor in the society. The family system is matriarchal, daughters inherit the family estate.

The country is a monarchy, though the king has plans to step down next year and instate a two party, democratic form of leadership.

The king is a visionary. He found the international community’s obsession with “National Gross Product”, was not in the best interest of his people. Instead he declared the measure of the success of his government was “National Gross Happiness”.

The focus of his reign has been on protecting the water, land and air and his government has made tremendous efforts to create an ecological sustainable future. His people have long valued living in harmony with nature and enjoy deep spiritual values. He has sought to nurture this in every way.

This small country (the size of Switzerland) is untouched by the pollution and greed that plagues Western society.

Bhutan_Monk

The King has declared 70% of the country’s forest “protected”. It is part of their new constitutional law.

The state religion is Buddhism, a spiritual teaching based on inner wisdom. His Excellency Jigmy Thinly, the Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs, told me over dinner one evening, “We don’t believe in faith, we Buddhists. The Buddha taught that we need to follow the path of self inquiry. We must explore and try to understand the truth.”

Bhtuan_Temple

The Nuns’ Great Aspiration

But even in this enlightened atmosphere it is recognized that the women who wish to devote their lives to spiritual practice do not have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. In Bhutan, there are more then 2000 monasteries for monks. In the entire kingdom there are only 12 nunneries. There is a magnificent institution for the purpose of higher studies, to train not only spiritual adepts but to ensure a teaching lineage. It is exclusively male.

In my first meeting with Her Majesty Tshering Yangdon I felt her longing and my longing merging in a river of compassion for all the women in her country who are dedicated to self realization, longing for to opportunity to receive the highest teachings and to be able to establish a lineage of transmission woman to woman.

Her Majesty is determined to build them a university so that they may receive the highest training and re-build the female lineage that was broken in the 11th century.

Traveling through Bhutan and visiting some of the nunneries gave me a deep appreciation for the challenging life these women, who have dedicated their entire life to a path of serving all sentient beings, follow.

They are excited about the idea of having their own university where they can be guided in the longer retreats required for higher spiritual trainings. They long to become teachers and to have women assume the role of abbess of their nunneries.

They would like to receive training in some of the special practices, such as debate and sacred dance. They were excited to hear about the Tara Dance. When I mentioned the dances of Tara their faces lit up and immediately they wanted me to teach them.

I was happy to find that their monk teachers and the highest Rinpoches of the country agreed that they would give their full support to the development of the university, the training of the nuns and would welcome a sacred dance program for them.

Pema Thekchoed Chholing

On my second visit the government arranged for me to trek to as many nunneries as possible. Most of the institutions are far from any village, nestled in the high mountains.

After a 2 day trek throughout the Bumthang mountains, partially riding on a pony or walking through a pristine landscape full of flaming rhododhendron and bamboo forests, we reached Pema Thekchoed Chholing. Currently under construction, the nunnery rests on a beautiful plateau. The foundation was laid by Her Majesty Ashi Tshering Yangdon and my party was the second official visit the nuns had received. The khenpo (teacher) of the nunnery’s one hundred nuns awaited us on the construction site, where a dozen nuns were mixing mud and carrying the big wall bricks.

The youngest nun in the nunnery is eleven years old and the oldest forty. Twelve nuns are in retreat on a distant mountain facing the main building.

I was thrilled to discover Rinzin Lhamo, a young nun of twenty-five years, spoke fairly good English. She has been practicing the dharma one pointedly since she was seven years old. When she was eighteen years old she went on pilgrimage to Bodhgaya and met a women in who told her that she could reach full realization – enlightenment as a women.

She decided right then to become a nun. She is in class five of the current training. and shared her longing to teach, to receive the highest Buddhist education to share with other women on the path.

After a lovely lunch at one of the construction houses she took me for a walk to the nuns quarter. As we entered the over crowded sleeping room, three young girls jumped up to their feet. They were all dressed in their kira (Bhutanese traditional dress). Each of them had a small suitcase beside them. I was told that they just arrived, two of them from the local region and rone from the east of Bhutan. They have come to become nuns and join the nunnery.

The oldest, Shithr Zangmo, is twenty-three years old. When I asked her what inspired her to become a nun she told me that she is interested in finding out more about death and learning the death rituals. She wants to assist people in this journey.

“Where will they sleep”, I asked Rinzin Lhamo. “Oh, don’t worry we will make space for them”. It seemed to me they are already running out of space.

I asked if any woman can knock at the nunnery door and be granted entry. She explained that the head of the monastery has to sign a letter and only then will they be allowed to stay. There are many women who like to join the nunnery but there is not enough space and financial support.

When I left the place I felt a sincere commitment to support those women who have a deep desire to learn the profound teachings, to be empowered to share the great joy of limitless compassion and wisdom.

Harsh Conditions,

Warm Hearts

As I continued my travels at one of the nunneries I was startled to hear there was only one toilet for 55 nuns. The group I was traveling with decided to do something about this, raised enough money and expertise with some friends, and I am happy to report they now have a good septic system and three wonderful new toilets.

One one trek I noticed that the nuns who accompanied me were wearing only sandals with no socks and we were walking through snow. On the next visit I brought a back pack full of socks.

We can help in many ways.

 

 

DSC00031.JPG

Our Proposal Meets With Approval

On my most recent journey home to Bhutan I was carrying the proposal that I had prepared. Sitting with Her Majesty Tshering Yangdon in the palace ground of Mouthithang I placed the document before us and at that moment a large black bird with a white band appeared outside the window. Her Majesty was quite taken by this unexpected visitor as she had never seen that bird before. The bird watched us throughout our long meeting.
As we were talking a small dog of the princess appeared and adopted me immediately. This also caused Her Majesty to marvel, the animal is not usually forthcoming with strangers, but he jumped onto my lap and settled in to hear the rest of the conversation. Her Majesty considered these to be very auspicious signs and has encouraged me to continue to develop the proposal.

 

 

November 2007 093

The Next Step

On my last visit to one of the nunneries the nuns were chanting the most beautiful, haunting set of prayers. They were delighted with my interest and told me that these were prayers and practices of Tara. As I was leaving the country His Excellency Jigmy Thinly, the Minister of Home and Cultural Affairs, told me about an international tour that was being organized by the Smithsonian Institute. Some of the most guarded sacred treasures of Bhutan will be on display as well as demonstrations of their sacred dance and rituals.

We discussed the idea of recording the nun’s beautiful Tara Chants, creating a CD to sell during the tour to raise funds. We would also develop a brochure to educate people about the current need of the nuns and invite financial participation.

We have made arrangements to return in November to record the Nuns. We are determined to improving the education and living conditions of the nuns of Bhutan.