At the beginning of March 2016 Tsoknyi Gechak Ling held its annual drubchen.
This year the intensive nine-day group ritual practice was based on Hayagriva, the wrathful manifestation of Avalokiteshvara that is the main yidam of the Tsoknyi Lineage.
If you feel inspired after reading this small account, please consider helping Rinpoche’s project Tsoknyi Gechak Ling to the best of your ability, as it is a true rising star in the world of female dharma practitioners that will bring an immeasurable benefit to beings.
Text: Elena Sautkina
Photos: Ani Könchok Lhamo, Pundarika Taiwan, Elena Sautkina and Bella Wilshire
The First Moments at Tsoknyi Gechak Ling
Having never attended a full nine-day drubchen before, I was feeling thrilled. Upon arrival to Gechak Ling, I met the amazingly welcoming nuns, saw with my own eyes the warmth and beauty of the new shedra building and the rising foundations of the temple, and felt the peacefulness of Chobhar Hill with its wide-open view of the Kathmandu valley and the soft contours of the mountains. The whole place felt very inspiring for a retreat, and this is what I was there for: to have a quiet practice time away from the busyness of everyday life, supported by this perfect atmosphere.
On the first morning, we all lined up to greet Rinpoche: the khenpos, the nuns, and a handful of lay practitioners from across the world. We all were Rinpoche’s students, and despite the differences in cultural backgrounds, this immediately created a feeling of connectedness between us. When Rinpoche arrived, we offered him khatas, and followed him into the old temple, where the drubchen began.
The Drubchen: Accumulation of Merit and Wisdom
Our days started at four in the morning when nuns blew the horns calling everyone into the temple, and finished at seven in the evening. I discovered that in the early hours my mind was very clear and gentle, and practice felt easier than usual. Although some of us could not follow the Tibetan drubchen text and did our own practice, we nevertheless felt included in the ceremony and each day was very meaningful.
Rinpoche gave us one short teaching particularly relevant for our busy lives in the West. We are often excited to start new projects, he said, but past that stage our enthusiasm diminishes, and we may feel tired or bored. When this happens, we need to generate compassion. This compassion is a great practice in itself, it is the ‘never give up’ principle. As if to illustrate this, Rinpoche, even during his personal breaks amidst the extremely busy drubchen schedule, received day visitors and supervised construction work and other activities at the nunnery.
We were very blessed that Rinpoche had invited two other great Masters, Mingyur Rinpoche and Sogyal Rinpoche, to briefly join the drubchen at Gechak Ling. And during both visits, with a lot of hospitability and humbleness, Rinpoche offered them his throne while he sat on a simpler one.
The Tsoknyi Nuns
Many of the nuns taking part in the drubchen were children and teenagers. It was surprising to see them conduct the whole nine days of the drubchen ceremony, as well as the nights, in shifts. Some of them, as young as eleven to fifteen, performed the roles of chant masters and played the ritual instruments, and did this with much confidence, precision and ease. I knew that this was due to the rigorous training system and their diligence, but could not help thinking that the naturalness in the way they were performing this complex ceremony was magic, stemming from their devotion and carrying blessings.
The young nuns are also making excellent progress at school. This, in a country where women’s lives are hard, and educational opportunities are few, is so important. Tsoknyi Gechak School impresses with the variety of subjects and the quality of its education, as well as the great work and care of its Director, Fionnuala Shenpen. Rinpoche explained that the school fulfilled a double goal: it gives the nuns the education that they need in our modern world, and helps their conceptual minds develop, in order to sow the precious seeds of dharma into a cognitively prepared ground. Later, in addition to the opportunity of studying at the shedra and deepening their practice, they will be able to do retreats in the new beautiful retreat centre that is currently being brought to completion. Thus, nuns are given a real chance to become great practitioners and teachers in the very near future.
The Limitless Intent
Although Tsoknyi Gechak Ling is still a building site, Rinpoche’s concept of this place is emerging very clearly and I was amazed at how thoughtful it was. Rinpoche oversees with greatest attention every important detail: architectural styles, precise design of each space in relation to activities that it will host, the quality of materials, and much more. Rinpoche often says that he wants the nunnery to be an uplifting, beautiful place which the nuns can be proud of. Without any doubt, the Tsoknyi Gechak Ling project demonstrates just how awareness, the view of interdependence and bodhichitta can translate into practice.
Because much of the building work is still in progress, and the nature of the project is ongoing, our international community needs to continue raising funds in order to help fulfil and sustain Rinpoche’s wonderful vision for Tsoknyi Gechak Ling. And, when things are in place, visiting the nunnery will be an unforgettable, life-changing experience for anyone who feels connected with Rinpoche and the nuns. To me, the visit to the nunnery has proven that this kind of inspiration is so needed if one wants to genuinely learn and practice the dharma.
I feel very grateful to Rinpoche for showing this example. His utter dedication to the work for the benefit of all beings, providing nuns with the best conditions to reach accomplishment, to teach and inspire others who, will in turn benefit more people, is a living proof of the limitlessness of the enlightened intent. May it ceaselessly reach the hearts of all beings, leading them to liberation.