Dharamshala — Located in McLeod Ganj, Geden Choeling Nunnery, of the Gelugpa tradition, is the oldest nunnery in Dharmshala. The nunnery had absorbed a steady stream of refugee nuns since 1975. Today, it is home to 140 nuns, one of whom TPI had the pleasure of speaking to.
The nunnery was started by several nuns who fled the Nechung Ri Nunnery in Tibet after it was destroyed by China during the Cultural Revolution. Those very nuns collaborated with others from several other former nunneries in Tibet to build a new nunnery which they called "Geden Choeling," meaning "home of the virtuous ones who devote their lives to the Buddha Dharma."
The nunnery has a well-established education system and an office run by the nun's committee. Out of the roughly 140 nuns, just over half attend classes regularly and others are take on responsibilities in the nunnery.
The nunnery is also home to a number of elderly nuns, many of whom, became nuns later in life and who are taken care of in the nunnery by the younger nuns.
The Tibetan Nuns Project helps with the sponsorship of nuns at Geden Choeling and has also aided the nunnery in establishing an educational curriculum which includes English classes and an introductory course to Computers.
On asking Pasang about her choice to enter this life of servitude, she said, "I've wanted to be a nun ever since I was little. In our village, nuns and monks are held in high regard and are greatly respected. We have six people in our family and none of those six members are monks or nuns. My parents felt that it was good to be a nun. My uncle's father was a monk and he always said that the feeling arousing out of being a monk by profession was wonderful."
Pasang quit school at the tender age of 16, sacrificing her education for her life at the nunnery, "As I was really young then, I didn't have much of an opportunity to be a nun. We had a relative who was a nun at a nunnery nearby our place and through her, we found out about Geden Choeling. I was 16 and hadn't finished the 10th grade as yet. I would have to leave my education incomplete if I wanted to become a nun and the whole year would've been wasted. After a lot of contemplation, my parents gave me the thumbs up to leave my education and said that if I wished to be a nun, I had to work towards being a nun and only a nun," she explained.
On enquiring about her life at Geden Choeling, Pasang informed TPI of her day to day routine. She is awakened by the morning bell which rings at 5am after which she must make her way to the prayer room for two hours of prayer followed by some breakfast. "Classes start 8am onwards and last till about 12:30pm. Lunch follows and prayers resume from 3pm onwards lasting till 4:30pm. After dinner, we are to attend our evening Tibetan classes," she explained. Two hours of study time, lasting between 9pm and 11pm are given to the students after which they are expected to tuck themselves in and retire for the night.
On Sundays, nuns are allowed to leave the nunnery and take momentary refuge in what Dharamshala has to offer. They are allowed to explore the city's walls and gauge in guilty pleasure in the form of sweet treats. Passang said that she "recently felt that within the nunnery, it is more calm in comparison. It is very noisy outside and tourists are always in a rush."
"I feel very happy here as I spent every moment with my friends so that keeps me occupied and I have something to do with my time. I have learnt how to control my anger and negative emotions, I' have learnt how to be more compassionate and more tolerant," mentioned Pasang
On asking Pasang if she had any advice for the future and current generations in this day and age, she cast light upon the concept of Dharma.
"Our philosophy teacher has taught us to think about our next life and not just focus on the one we are currently living. Do not only think about this life, think about your next life and what it encompasses. If you do things for the benefit of this life, that is not Dharma, if you do work for the next life and others, that is Dharma."