Nuns of Gebchak Nunnery

Ani Lama Sherab Zangmo

The Great Yogini, Ani Lama Sherab Zangmo. © Karen Harris, 2007.

Ani Lama Sherab Zangmo was a resident nun and meditation teacher at Gebchak Gonpa. Often referred to as “The Great Yogini of Gebchak Gonpa”, Sherab Zangmo was famed among the lamas in Eastern Tibet for her high realization. She passed away in the autumn of 2008 with many signs of an accomplished practitioner. She spent 70 years in unbroken meditation practice since first coming to Gebchak Gonpa when she was 16 years old. She was the last remaining from the earliest generation of nuns at Gebchak Gonpa, and was integral in rebuilding the Nunnery in the late 1980′s and in the revival of its unique system of Buddhist practice for women. Sherab Zangmo was extraordinary in many ways: for the spontaneous enlightenment she gained through devotion to her guru, Tsang-yang Gyamtso[1]; the profound simplicity of her teachings; and her flexibility in the face of challenging conditions.

Sherab Zangmo guided the younger nuns of Gebchak Gonpa in their practice right up until the moment of her passing. As she neared the moment of her death she laughed as she encouraged the nuns, and narrated the clear visions of buddhas that were appearing before her. Read more about her passing below.

Lama Sherab Zangmo’s repeated teaching was this: “Knowing one thing, everything is liberated” – by knowing the mind through practice, everything is liberated.

An interview with Ani Lama Sherab Zangmo & Wangdrak Rinpoche

[Wangdrak Rinpoche requests Sherab Zangmo for mind-teaching and meditation instructions. She was 85 years old at the time of the interview.]

Wangdrak Rinpoche with Ani Lama Sherab Zangmo, 2007.

Sherab Zangmo: What can I say? I don’t know, Rinpoche!

Wangdrak Rinpoche: Please, it will benefit practitioners.

Sherab Zangmo: [She recites a verse.]

From the very beginning the mind’s nature is empty,
Practice naturally, free from fabrications.

Pray strongly to one’s lama, keeping one’s mind at all times in an undistracted state of devotion, faith, and pure perception.

Wangdrak Rinpoche – Question: What is the antidote when a lot of conceptual thoughts arise? How should we meditate?

Sherab Zangmo: Do not try to stop conceptual thoughts, but let them arise. Know their nature by praying to the lama, understanding that the lama’s mind and one’s own mind are inseparable. Rest in the nature of the thoughts and in this way they are transformed.

It’s impossible to stop conceptual thoughts that arise, and if you try to stop them they will only increase. See the very nature of the thoughts as they arise, pray to the lama, and rest in meditation.

[Throughout the whole interview Sherab Zangmo is continuously chanting a prayer to Tsang-Yang Gyamtso while spinning her prayer wheel.]

Sherab Zangmo: I was 16 or 17 when I first came to Gechak. At that time the Nunnery and all of the nuns were under the care of the first Wangdrak Dorje. The first Tsang-Yang Gyamtso and Tsogyal Rinpoche had both passed away by then and I never got to see them.

In the beginning of the Cultural Revolution the remaining nuns and local nomads in the area were forced to live together in tight communes. During those days I would sit in meditation up on the mountain in the daytime and return to the camp to sleep at night. After our local commune broke up I lived in my brother’s home and pretended as though I had no legs and couldn’t walk. In this way nobody forced me to work and I was able to continue my practice quietly within my mind. In 1988 when some religious freedom was regained I got up out of bed and surprised everyone by doing circumambulations around Dzong-go Ling! From then on I continued my meditation practice in a cave near the Nunnery.

Wangdrak Rinpoche: Really she is someone who has spent her entire life in meditation practice. Even though she is in her 80′s now, her intelligence and clarity of mind have not degenerated. She experiences no suffering or discomfort in her mind whatsoever, even though her body has some sickness. She is extraordinary!

She doesn’t give lengthy teachings; just a few essential words are enough. If the meaning was elaborated vast amounts could be explained. As it is taught, “Knowing one thing, everything is liberated”. By knowing the mind through practice, everything is liberated.

Sherab Zangmo:

[Sherab Zangmo recites a verse of supplication to Wangdrak Rinpoche.]

Outwardly a master of all tantras, statements and instructions,
Inwardly accomplished in the channels, winds and essences,
He who has attained the realization of Samantabhadra,
At the feet of Wangdrak Dorje, I pray.

Wangdrak Rinpoche – Q: In the old days did the nuns at Gebchak have shaven heads? I heard that it was a pure vision of Tsang-Yang Gyamtso that the nuns wear their hair slightly grown out, because they were practitioners of Secret Mantrayana.

Sherab Zangmo: Yes, the nuns all wore their hair slightly grown out. But I don’t think this tradition is written down anywhere.

Wangdrak Rinpoche: Gebchak Nunnery has an exceptional system of practice, unlike other nunneries, and the practice of the Gebchak nuns themselves is exceptional. Adeu Rinpoche has praised Gebchak Nunnery and said that it is difficult to find other nunneries with the same caliber of practice.

Sherab Zangmo is now the last nun remaining from the early generation of nuns at Gebchak. We are very fortunate to have this chance to visit with her and receive her teaching.

Sherab Zangmo: Before when I meditated I thought that I was practicing samantha[2]. When I discussed my meditation experience with my lamas they told me that it wasn’t samantha, but spontaneous recognition of the nature of mind.

[She recites another verse.]

Maintain the original natural state,
Practice free from conceptualizations.

Wangdrak Rinpoche: All Dharma is included within these two lines.

Sherab Zangmo declines to teach any Dharma. She says she has nothing to explain about what is or isn’t the true nature of mind. When we understand the true nature without stopping what arises in the mind, praying wholeheartedly to the lama whose mind is inseparable from our own, while constantly developing love and compassion for all beings… this is the Dharma.

These instructions are the same as what she taught last year.

Sherab Zangmo:

Keep one’s independence through one’s own practice of maintaining the natural state of the mind,
Protect the wishes of others through the practice of love and compassion.

Wangdrak Rinpoche: When it comes to practice, besides these two lines nothing else needs to be said. There are many stories of beings who realized spontaneously, for example that of King Indrabhuti who was liberated simply through receiving an empowerment, or Aryadeva’s realization when Nagarjuna hit him on the head with a shoe. For them, besides these simple introductions nothing else needed to be explained. When put into words there are many texts of the Buddha’s teachings, but all of these are not needed in order to realize. “Knowing one thing, everything is liberated”.

[1] Tsang-Yang Gyamtso: the founder of Gebchak Nunnery. The first Tsang-Yang Gyamtso was a heart disciple of the first Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche.
[2] samantha: calm-abiding meditation.

Note: This interview was conducted in July, 2006, at Gebchak Gonpa. Translation by Tenzin Chozom.

[Extracted from: http://gebchakgonpa.org/gebchak-nuns/interviews-with-nuns/sherab-zangmo/%5D

Ani Lama Sherab Zangmo Passes Away

By admin | Published: February 25, 2009

Ani Lama Sherab Zangmo, the Great Yogini of Gebchak, in 2007.

The great yogini of Gebchak Gonpa, Sherab Zangmo, passed away in the autumn of last year at the enlightened old age of 86 or so. She had been unwell for some time, but then seemed to recover and was strong and in high spirits for some days. During these days she gave meditation teachings to the nuns and often sang the prayer “Calling the Lama From Afar.”  Near the time of her death her complexion lightened, and her face and body became youthful and small like a child’s. She told those who were with her that she could see Jetsun Tara clearly before her, and that she was now going to Dewachen, the Pure Land of Amitabha. She counseled the nuns to serve their lamas well and to live in harmony with each other, and told them not to worry, and that all would go well for them in the future. The sky remained like a morning sky, bright and clear for the whole day of Sherab Zangmo’s death, and she remained in tukdam meditation for six days afterwards.

Forty-nine days after her passing, Sherab Zangmo was cremated at Gebchak Gonpa, with the great yogi Pema Drimey, Gebchak Wangdrak Rinpoche, and all the Gebchak nuns performing the ceremony. The sky was clear blue and the temperature unusually warm on this day, in a season of constant inclement weather. After the ceremony, many white crystalline relics of different shapes were found in her ashes.

Very sadly, four other nuns passed away as well at Gebchak Gonpa over the last year. Oser Chomtso, who was in her 50s, Choying Paldron, an elderly nun, Kunzang Jinpa, in her 20s, and Pema Palmo, also in her 20s, passed away from various sicknesses. Their deaths are a great loss, and more so of a tragedy because each of them likely could have survived had they had proper medical treatment.

The death of the young Pema Palmo, however, is another story with cause for inspiration. She passed away in the first year of a three-year retreat, in the small retreat house where 25 nuns live side by side in their meditation boxes. After her death, Pema Palmo remained for seven days in tukdam meditation and had other amazing occurrences accompanying her death, which the other nuns in the retreat all saw and experienced.

Being so remote and removed from easy access to proper medical care, the nuns at Gebchak Gonpa have always been resolved to bear with and sometimes die from illnesses that could be easily treatable in the modern world. This has been the way of life and death for most Tibetan people in the past.

With the help of the Gebchak lamas, the nuns, the local medical community, and sponsors like you, the aim now is to set in place a system of regular check-ups, providing health care training for a few of the nuns, recognizing the symptoms of disease, and monitoring that the nuns follow through with necessary treatment.

Please keep the Gebchak nuns in your mind and prayers, and remember their dedicated practice towards enlightenment for the sake of all beings. There are still places in this world where human beings reach their full spiritual potential, and the benefits very positively reach each one of us. However, these nuns need our continued support to be able to continue their practice.

Wangdrak Rinpoche and all the nuns at Gebchak Gonpa wish you a very blessed and joyful Tibetan New Year!

Very best wishes,
Tenzin Chozom

[Extracted from: http://gebchakgonpa.org/sherab-zangmo-passes/%5D


Takme Wangmo

[Takme Wangmo was 70 years old in 2006.]

I first entered Gebchak Nunnery when I was 12, during the time of Chodrak Gyamtso (the second Tsang-Yang Gyamtso[1] Rinpoche). Now I stay in the Jig-se[2] retreat division.

When I was about 18 years old I began my three-year retreat, during which we practiced a sadhana[3] of Guru Rinpoche along with tsa-lung and trul-kor[4]. A profound experience from the practice occurred for me and I had a clear vision of the eight manifestations of Guru Rinpoche. As a result of this vision my mind was deeply transformed.

Immediately following my three-year retreat the Cultural Revolution occurred and Gebchak Nunnery was completely destroyed. Most of the 700 nuns there at that time were killed or eventually starved to death. I managed to escape and fled to Lhasa, where I stayed with my family. Of course we weren’t allowed to do any visible Dharma practice during this time … But I relied on the Three Jewels in my mind and continued my practice internally, and in this way there were no obstacles for me.

When some religious freedom was regained in the late 1980′s, my family and I returned to Gebchak. About 30 older Gebchak nuns like me returned to help rebuild the Nunnery. We taught the new nuns the former traditions of practice – how to practice the Trolo sadhana (wrathful Guru Rinpoche), the manner of practicing in retreat, the chanting tradition and so forth. Nowadays there are only about seven of these white-haired, older nuns left at Gebchak. The rest have passed away.

Question: You and your family suffered greatly during the Cultural Revolution, and many of your loved ones were killed. How have you dealt with sorrow and anger?

Tamke Wangmo: Yes, there was a lot of suffering. Some of my relatives were killed, some died from starvation, but I understand that the nature of life is impermanent. I rely on my meditation practice and I don’t feel anger.

Q: Now, what is the essence of your practice?

Tamke Wangmo: My yidam is Jig-se**[5]. Basically my practice is to pray to my lama, knowing that my lama’s mind and my own mind are inseparable, and to meditate on the awareness nature of mind.

When I was a young nun in Gebchak, the senior nuns who had accomplished their deities would go straight to the buddha-field when they died and remain in samadhi[6] for several days afterwards. That’s not all. In those days the nuns would practice tsa-lung and trul-kor sitting on the tops of high cliffs above a nearby river, and some of the nuns could fly across the river due to the power of their yogic accomplishments.

Q: How do you think Gebchak Nunnery can preserve this pure and profound lineage of accomplished nun-practitioners?

Tamke Wangmo: The nuns here are practicing the lineage of Ratna Lingpa, and both in and out of retreat the practice is maintained very well. But in order to maintain this practice lineage the food, clothing and shelter at this Nunnery are presently insufficient. We are all nuns, females, and the lamas of Gebchak are all still young, and therefore it is difficult for us to generate financial income. The nuns need improved conditions, particularly more food, so that they can remain in practice and in retreat year after year, day after day, dedicating their lives solely to accomplishing the Dharma. This is my hope. But I don’t know what the future will bring. How wonderful if it is possible, as it will allow this Dharma practice to continue.

As Milarepa said:

The meditator in retreat on the mountain
And the benefactor who provides his or her sustenance
Share the mutual karma to reach buddhahood at the same time
Due to the blessing of the heart of dependent-arising.

How wonderful it would be!

[1] Tsang-Yang Gyamtso: the founder of Gebchak Nunnery. The first Tsang-Yang Gyamtso was a heart disciple of the first Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche.
[2] Jig-se**: an aspect of Yamantaka which is the wrathful aspect of Manjushri, the Buddha of Wisdom.
[3] sadhana: Skt -’Means of accomplishment’, Tib – སྒྲུབ་ཐབ།. Tantric liturgy and procedure for practice. The typical sadhana structure involves a preliminary part including the taking of refuge and arousing bodhichitta, a main part involving visualization of a buddha and recitation of the mantra, and a concluding part with dedication of merit to all sentient beings.
[4] tsa-lung and trul-kor: yogic methods which lead to the control of the internal channels and the vital energy
[5] yidam: personal meditational deity.
[6] samadhi: meditative absorption.

Note: Interview conducted in July, 2006, at Gebchak Gonpa. Translation by Tenzin Chozom.

[Extracted from: http://gebchakgonpa.org/gebchak-nuns/interviews-with-nuns/takme-wangmo/]


Urgyen Chodron & Chemchok Palmo

Both Urgyen Chodron and Chemchok Palmo are Gebchak nuns and were in their late 30′s at the time of the interview in 2006. Urgyen Chodron is the ritual master that travels to other branch nunneries to teach nuns. Chemchok Palmo is also a ritual master and leads most of the twenty great prayer ceremonies (drubchens[1]) that take place at Gebchak throughout the year. Both nuns are considered by Wangdrak Rinpoche to be very strong practitioners who will become known in the future as “Ani Lamas”.

An interview with Urgyen Chodron, Chemchok Palmo & Wangdrak Rinpoche

Urgyen Chodron

Urgyen Chodron: I came to Gebchak Nunnery when I was 13. I had two older relatives already at the Nunnery – one died at age 95 and the other is Sherab Zangmo[2], who is now about 85. When I was a young girl my parents wanted me to join Gebchak Nunnery, and I wanted to become a nun myself. I knew that I would enjoy being a nun. I have made the promise to stay at Gebchak Nunnery until I die.

When I first came there were about 40 or 50 old nuns with white hair. The previous Ngaksam Rinpoche was here at that time, and well as the old Lama Tenchok. Lama Lodro Wangchuk was here but he passed away in the autumn of my first year at Gebchak. The senior nun Ani Palmo taught all of the nuns the yogic practices of tsa-lung[3], and Sherab Zangmo gave the nuns mind and meditation teachings.

The first practices I did were the 500,000 preliminaries (prostrations, refuge prayer, Vajrasattva, mandalas, and guru yoga). At that time there was no big building for the 16 retreat divisions, each group did their practice in separate little houses. There were about 30 other new nuns doing the preliminary practices with me at the time. For one month we all slept in the two main temples and did our practices there together. After finishing them I became the junior chant master for three years, and then the senior chant master for four years – altogether for seven years. After being the chant master I stayed in Vajrakilaya retreat for seven months, and after that my three-year retreat began. I really enjoyed this time in retreat, I felt very happy. To tell you the truth, I enjoyed being in retreat more than coming out!

There were twenty nuns in the three-year retreat house together. The first year of the retreat was a little difficult because we had to learn all of the chanting and meditation practices. The second year was more enjoyable because I’d become familiar with the meditation practices and my own mind. By the third year I enjoyed the retreat so much. We practiced six sessions every day and night, with almost no breaks except fifteen minutes or so to eat our meals. Throughout the three-year retreat we also did over a million prostrations in between our meditation sessions. We had no boards for these prostrations, we just covered our knees and hands and prostrated on the dirt ground in the basement of the retreat house. Each day we at least did 1000 to 1500 prostrations.

At that time there were two retreat houses: one for the Vajrakilaya retreat and the other for the three-year retreat. When the new retreat division building went up the old Vajrakilaya retreat house was torn down and since then a new one hasn’t been rebuilt. Akong Tulku sponsored the new building for the retreat divisions.

My mind transformed while I was in retreat. I didn’t want to come out when the retreat was finished. Although the practices were hard physically, in my mind I was very joyful. Before I did my three-year retreat I had a lot of wild emotions and distractions. But during the retreat these emotions were pacified and transformed into the five wisdoms.

Now my retreat division is Guru Drakpo [Wrathful Guru Padmasambhava]. Every morning from 6 until 8 o’clock each retreat division holds a practice session of meditation and prayers. There is a big room downstairs in the retreat division building where all the nuns do their daily practices of trul-kor[4] and tsa-lung. We have to do these yogic practices everyday throughout our whole lives.

Gebchak Nunnery’s practice of specialty is tsa-lung, and it is practiced here according to the unique teachings of the first Tsang-yang Gyamtso[5]. Tsang-yang Gyamtso wasn’t a scholar, but wrote these practice commentaries from his pure vision and meditative realization.

Wangdrak Rinpoche & Chemchok Palmo at Gebchak Nunnery.

Wangdrak Rinpoche: Now the Nunnery’s practice lineage is completely in tact. All the practices of tsa-lung, trul-kor, the 20 drubchens, and all the original traditions of the Nunnery have been passed down by the senior nuns to the young nuns. At present they are all being upheld.

Before they enter the three-year retreat the nuns have faith and belief. But during the three-year retreat they practice the Three Roots[6] and the Six Yogas[7], and from their meditative experience they develop a very strong, unshakable faith in the practice.

During the three-year retreat the five negative emotions become transformed, not by rejecting them but by realizing their wisdom nature.

Urgyen Chodron: When we are in retreat there are no particular times for meditation; we constantly maintain our practice. We chant along with visualization and contemplation of the meaning, and we meditate on the inseparable prana[8] and mind. During the stage of mantra recitation the lama is visualized above the head, during the stage of accomplishment the lama is at the throat, and during the stage of activities the lama’s mind and one’s own mind merge as one.

Chemchock Palmo

Question: What are the differences between the practices in the 16 retreat divisions and those in the three-year retreat?

Chemchok Palmo: The yidams [deities] are different, but the practices of trul-kor and tsa-lung and the fundamentals are the same.

If one hasn’t received the transmissions of trul-kor and tsa-lung, you are not allowed to view these yogic practices. If you happen to see them without having received the transmissions, there is a danger that the Dharma protectors will cause harm to your eyes and limbs.

After you’ve received the transmission, teachings, and permission you may practice these yogas. Trul-kor and tsa-lung are hidden, secret teachings.

Q: What would be your heart advice to other Buddhists in foreign countries?

Urgyen Chodron: Have faith in the lama, have belief and certainty in the lama’s instructions, have the compassionate mind to benefit all other beings, and have renunciation of samsara.

Chemchok Palmo: Abandon harming others.

Q: Do you pray to be reborn in a male body in your next life?

Chemchok Palmo: There is no male or female in enlightenment. Once you’re a Dharma practitioner it is joyful and there is no difference for monks or nuns. I don’t think that a fully ordained monk is superior and I’m worse off. I just think that accomplishing the Dharma is joyful.

In the past there have been nuns at Gebchak Nunnery who have attained the rainbow body. Gebchak is a particular place for women to accomplish the Dharma. Here is a well known story: Many years ago at the place called Kilakar some lamas were giving a Dharma teaching to the nuns. Two older nuns named Tendron and Yendron were in retreat some distance away at Gyarong. From their hermitage they took on forms as small birds and flew to Kilakar to receive the teachings. They flew around the lamas and with their beaks they tugged at the lamas’ ears. The lamas knew who they were. These two nuns later attained rainbow bodies.

Q: At that time how many Gebchak nuns were there?

Urgyen Chodron: There were many. And many nuns could miraculously cross the Kyichu River without need of a bridge. These miracles came through the yogic accomplishments of the Sang Tri Rig Nga[9] – such as emanating from the state of dream yoga.

Wangdrak Rinpoche: Gebchak Nunnery must seem like another planet to these visitors! You can see the meditation practices and bodhicitta here are very good. Please introduce Gebchak Nunnery to others and tell them what you’ve seen and heard here.

Urgyen Chodron: During the winter there is not even one day break, we are continuously staying in drubchens. Besides these 20 drubchens we also have various other ritual ceremonies for removing obstacles.

Q: What are the benefits of these drubchens?

Wangdrak Rinpoche: We begin each drubchen by going for Refuge to the Three Jewels and contemplating the Four Immeasurables. Then is the main practice of generating the deity, followed by mantra recitation along with the inner, outer and secret visualizations. We make many offerings to the Three Jewels, and at the end of the drubchen we make a proper dedication of the merits for the temporary and ultimate happiness of all sentient beings. In this way we are accumulating merit and wisdom and accomplishing the three bodies of a buddha. All the chanting of the drubchens is performed together with contemplation of the meaning.

Chemchok Palmo: It is said that Gechak Nunnery is a second Zangdog Palri[10]. Whoever sees the Nunnery and witnesses the practice here feels joy. Even hearing about it brings joy. Coming here is like taking the first step towards buddhahood.

[1] drubchen: Great accomplishment practice; a sadhana practice undertaken by a group of people which goes on uninterruptedly for seven or more days.
[2] Sherab Zangmo was a highly accomplished nun who was known as the Nunnery’s “Ani Lama”.
[3] tsa-lung: the yoga of channels and energies.
[4] trul-kor: yogic methods which prepare for the practice of the internal channels and the vital energies.
[5] Tsang-Yang Gyamtso: the founder of Gebchak Nunnery. The first Tsang-Yang Gyamtso was a heart disciple of the first Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche.
[6] Three Roots: guru, yidam (personal meditational deity), and dakini.
[7] Six Yogas: Six Yogas of Naropa: tummo, illusory body, dream yoga, clear light, bardo, and phowa
[8] prana: the wind element; vital energy.
[9] Sang Tri Rig Nga: the Six Yogas of Naropa as practiced according to the revealed treasure of Ratna Lingpa.
[10] Zangdog Palri: the Glorious Copper-colored Mountain; the pure land of Guru Rinpoche.

Note: Interview conducted in July, 2006, at Gebchak Gonpa. Translation by Tenzin Chozom.

[Extracted from: http://gebchakgonpa.org/gebchak-nuns/interviews-with-nuns/urgyen-and-chemchok/]


Karchug, the visionary nun

Karchug with Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo in 2007.

I have lived at Gebchak Nunnery for 25 years. I was 14 years old when I first came here, and besides me there were only about 12 other new nuns here at that time. The previous Ngagsam Tulku was here then. Now his reincarnation is at Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s monastery, and he must be 16 or 17 years old. Lama Lodro Wangchuk, Lama Tencho, and Achen were also here at Gebchak when I first came.

Last year, for five days before Wangdrak Rinpoche came to the Nunnery I could see the protectors and local deities were all preparing for his arrival, and I knew that he would be coming soon. Also last year, while Wangdrak Rinpoche was giving a teaching to the nuns on Tsang-Yang Gyamtso’s commentary of the Bodhisattvacharyavatara there was an enormous parasol floating over Rinpoche’s throne, and all of the nuns listening to the teachings were adorned with white silk katas. It was marvelous, but the other nuns couldn’t see this. Outside the main entrance of the temple the two smoke-offering vessels were overflowing with white yogurt.

Usually there is a Mani drubchen[1] every year. Last year’s was exceptional. The giant torma[2] offering melted like butter in to the skull cup below it, and I could hear the Hayagriva torma[3] was neighing.

This year for ten days before Wangdrak Rinpoche came the protectors and local deities were preparing for his arrival with even more elaborate displays. There were three rows of deities forming a circular parade in the sky and the whole Nunnery was resting on a giant lotus throne. All around it were victory banners and the Eight Auspicious Symbols, and it appeared more resplendent and luminous than usual – like Zangdog Palri[4] itself.

At another time when the nuns were all gathered in the temple Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Tsang-Yang Gyamtso Rinpoche and Wangdrak Rinpoche all appeared on elevated thrones, although they were actually in Nepal and other places. They explained that they were not able to come in body because they had to be elsewhere. And they declared Gebchak Nunnery to be an extraordinary, wondrous place of great blessings. I saw all of the nuns chanting the feast offering songs and offering music to the lamas, and the temple appeared more majestic and vivid than usual.

Before any prayer ceremonies that we have in the temple, the protectors and other deities have performed them a day or so in advance of us. This happened before the Yeshe Tsogyal prayer ceremony that we recently did. During all the drubchens and ritual ceremonies that we have the deities, dakas and dakinis, and protectors are all present in the temple, and the main yidam[5] of our practice in front of the mandala.

This year, more than ever before, I have seen many amazing signs and occurrences. Tsering Che-nga [the Five Sisters of Long Life; female protectors] appeared, and during our Om Mani Padme Hum accumulation retreat the great compassionate bodhisattva was clearly present in the temple, along with so many buddhas and bodhisattvas – I couldn’t count them. The same thing happened during our Vajrakilaya drubchen. No thangka painter on earth, no matter how talented, could paint how magnificent all these deities appeared.

There is no Zangdog Palriother than this very Nunnery. As far as I see it, aside from Gecbhak Nunnery and the way of life here, there is no other way to some separately existing Zangdog Palri. Tsang-Yang Gyamtso said that Gebchak Nunnery is the second Zangdog Palri – the heavenly one is in the Akanishta pure realm, and the earthly one is here.

In my visions I’m able to see what fortune or misfortune lies ahead for the Nunnery. If I see obstacles approaching for people, I let them know what rituals and practices to do in order to avoid them.

I don’t want to be anywhere else but here, spending my time practicing these unique teachings. I made a promise to the previous Ngagsam Rinpoche, before he passed away, that I will spend my entire life practicing here at Gebchak Nunnery. To me this is a pure land.

[1] drubchen: a “great accomplishment practice” where a particular sadhana practice is undertaken by a group of people. It goes on uninterruptedly for seven or more days. “Mani drubchen” would be a great prayer ceremony of accomplishing the practice of Chenrezig.
[2] torma: sacrificial sculptured cakes made according to the type of deity to which they are addressed.
[3] Hayagriva: the Horse-headed One; the wrathful aspect of Amitabha.
[4] Zangdog Palri: the Glorious Copper-colored Mountain which is the pure land of Guru Rinpoche.
[5] yidam: personal meditation deity.

Note: Interview conducted in July, 2006, at Gebchak Gonpa. Translation by Tenzin Chozom.

[Extracted from: http://gebchakgonpa.org/gebchak-nuns/interviews-with-nuns/karchug/]


Yeshe Zangmo

[Yeshe Zangmo was 34 years old in 2006.]

Yeshe Zangmo: I entered Gebchak Nunnery when I was nineteen. My first retreat was to complete the 400,000 preliminary practices. After that I did the mantra accumulation retreat of Vajrakilaya[1], and then 100 sets of Nyung Naes[2]. And then I began my three-year retreat. It’s been five or six years now since I completed it.

My practice group is that of Dorje Trolo [Wrathful Padmasambhava], and I am presently the drubpon [retreat leader] of this retreat division. This means that I have to recite the daily protector prayers, which takes about three hours. So far I’ve been the drubpon for two years, and I have one year left. All of the nuns in my retreat division take turns holding this responsibility for three years.

All of the nuns in my retreat group live together happily, as we’ve spent so much time together.

Question: Why did you first become a nun at Gebchak Nunnery?

Yeshe Zangmo: I knew that samsara is meaningless and I was happy to become a nun. My parents supported me in coming here. Gebchak is the most famous for its practice among all the monasteries and nunneries in Nangchen.

Q: During all the years of intensive retreat practice that you’ve done, has your mind transformed?

Yeshe Zangmo: Yes, it has transformed!

Q: How so?

Yeshe Zangmo: In a good way. My mind has turned from samsara and I know now that samsara is no good. I only ever think to stay here at Gebchak Nunnery, and my mind is happy.

Wangdrak Rinpoche is very kind. Because of his kindness in providing us food, Gebchak Nunnery is a very joyful place. I only want to stay here at Gebchak Nunnery.

Q: What is your main practice?

Yeshe Zangmo: Meditation. My personal deity is Dorje Drolo.

Q: Why is samsara meaningless?

Yeshe Zangmo: Samsara has no happiness, only suffering, and so there is no joy. There are the sufferings of heat and cold in the hell realms, hunger and thirst in the hungry ghost realm, stupidity and exploitation in the animal realm … in every place in samsara it is all suffering. It’s the same for the gods and demi-gods. All of the six realms are suffering. Aren’t they??

Q: And yet you say your mind is so happy. You have poor facilities here – the food is not so good, nor are the buildings, the weather is freezing cold in the winter, and every night you stay in a meditation box. If most people saw your meditation box and the conditions that you live in, they would be aghast and see it as suffering! So why are you so happy?

Yeshe Zangmo: Because my mind is happy.

Q: When you were a child did you hear many teachings about the sufferings of samsara?

Yeshe Zangmo: I heard these teachings from my root lama, Pema Drimey, after I came to Gebchak Nunnery.

Yeshe Zangmo: Do you still have your parents? [The interviewer nods yes]. If you have no parents it is sad. I have an older brother and sister, two younger brothers and a younger sister. I’m in the middle. None of them are monks or nuns. They come once a year to bring me tsampa, wheat and rice.

Q: Do you have any money?

Yeshe Zangmo: No. I plan to stay at Gebchak until I die. I don’t think about going anywhere else.

Q: How is your health?

Yeshe Zangmo: It’s good, except for my eye. Since I’ve been at Gebchak Nunnery I have read the Kangyur twenty times, together with the rest of the nuns. Now my eyes give me problems. The electricity is not good.

Q: Are you afraid of death?

Yeshe Zangmo: Yes, I’m afraid. I could die today, or tomorrow – nobody knows. So I’m afraid.

[1] Vajrakilaya: Tib – རྡོ་རྗེ་ཕུར་པ།, a wrathful deity embodying enlightened activity. This deity is noted for being the most powerful for removing obstacles and destroying non-compassionate forces.
[2] Nyung Nae: a two-day purification of Chenrezig. On the second day the practitioner may not speak, eat, nor drink anything, and on both days many hundreds of prostrations are performed.

Note: Interview conducted in July, 2006, at Gebchak Gonpa. Translation by Tenzin Chozom.

[Extracted from: http://gebchakgonpa.org/gebchak-nuns/interviews-with-nuns/yeshe-zangmo/]


Kunzang Pantso

I first came to Gebchak Gonpa when I was 15 and now I am 23. In my very first year here I had the job of looking after the yaks. After that I completed two sets of preliminary practices, and then I spent a year doing 100 sets of Nyung Naes[1]. Then I did the accumulation retreat of Vajrakilaya[2], and once I finished that I began my three-year retreat. It has now been a little over three years since I finished my three-year retreat.

My yidam[3] is Vajrasattva[4], and I currently have the responsibility of being the leader in my retreat division.

Question: How did your mind change in your three-year retreat?

Kunzang Pantso: I developed complete renunciation of samsara. Thinking about the sufferings to come in the future, I now feel an unshakable resolve to get out of samsara. My mind can no longer be discouraged toward this goal.

Q: When you were a young girl, what were your thoughts before becoming a nun?

Kunzang Pantso: I liked the life of a nun, and I didn’t like samsara. Due to Tsang-Yang Gyamtso’s[5] compassionate blessings, I was inspired and entered Gebchak Nunnery with the wish to stay in retreat.

Q: Did your parents support you in this decision?

Kunzang Pantso: Yes, as well as my siblings. I have three younger brothers – one is a monk at Khenpo Jigme Phuntsok’s monastery, another is at Achen Rinpoche’s monastery, and the youngest is at home with my parents. My family is very religious.

Q: Has it been difficult doing all the intensive retreats and practices you have done so far – for example, never being able to leave the three-year retreat house, or sharing such a small space with the 18 other nuns in retreat with you, or not sleeping more than three hours a night?

Kunzang Pantso: No, it was never really difficult. As long as I remembered the Dharma and my future lives, I remained happy.

Q: Why do you have such s strong renunciation of samsara? What are its faults?

Kunzang Pantso: All the higher and lower six realms of samsara are by their nature suffering, and there is no real freedom until we reach the spiritual level of no return. Only then will there be no more suffering rebirths in samsara. I strongly pray to my root lama, Tsang-Yang Gyamtso Rinpoche, with the great aspiration to reach this level.

Q: The physical conditions at Gebchak Nunnery are quite difficult. Your food is not very good, neither are the buildings. You never get to go on any holidays, you have to be separated from your parents, and the weather becomes extremely cold. What is the reason why you are so happy?

Kunzang Pantso: Because I’ve got this precious human life. I’ve met with an authentic lama, and I’ve received practice instructions from him and from my other teachers. I really feel how precious this life of Dharma is.

Q: Do you have complete faith that you can become liberated from samsara?

Kunzang Pantso: Yes, I do.

Q: And this state of liberation from samsara, what is it like?

Kunzang Pantso: Once you reach the level of no return, you can go to Dewachen[6] where you don’t need to wander in samsara, and there you can quickly get enlightened.

If your mind is attached to samsara, then that is where you will stay. If you’re not attached to samsara, then you can get free and go to the true happiness of buddhahood.

Q: What qualities do enlightened beings have to accomplish the benefit of others?

Kunzang Pantso: They have great blessings to help others. I pray to reach the same state of enlightenment myself.

Q: Isn’t it difficult living everyday in your meditation box? Doesn’t your body ache?

Kunzang Pantso: No, it doesn’t, due to the kindness of the Three Jewels. Our system of practicing in meditation boxes was set out by Tsang-Yang Gyamtso, and so it is very blessed.

In the beginning it was difficult to sit like that and my knees hurt, but then after two or three months it became fine, and now I can sit like that for as long as I want.

Q: Nowadays you practice continuously in your Vajrasattva retreat division. What would you say is at the heart of your practice?

Kunzang Pantso: Mainly the Four Reversals, the four thoughts that turn the mind from samsara: the rarity of a precious human rebirth, death and impermanence, the inevitable results of karma, and the faults of samsara. Mainly I think about these in my practice sessions. If you don’t have these thoughts then your attitude in your practice is no good. We need to practice with an understanding of impermanence, how rare human life is, and so forth. First we must meditate on these thoughts, and based on them we can practice Dzogchen and Mahamudra. These Four Reversals are really at the heart of my practice.

Q: Can you tell me more about the reasons your mind is so happy? Is it because you have the faith that you are going to buddhahood?

Kunzang Pantso: Yes, I have this faith and happiness. If you have the faith that you can achieve buddhahood, then you can achieve it. If you don’t believe that you can achieve buddhahood, then you can’t achieve it, can you?

Q: How did you develop such a faith?

Kunzang Pantso: From my lamas Tsang-Yang Gyamtso and Pema Drimey, and from my spiritual teachers like Khenpo Kargon – from all of them I learned about the suffering nature of samsara, the preciousness of human life, impermanence and so forth, and that through good practice we can go to a Buddhist pure land in our next life.

Q: How many nuns are there in your retreat division? Does it ever disturb you living in the same room everyday and night with so many other nuns? Like for example, if others are talking while you’re trying to meditate?

Kunzang Pantso: No, not at all! The nuns here are all [gives the thumbs up gesture]! Among the nuns here at Gecbhak there are never any disputes. This is due to Tsang-Yang Gyamtso’s compassionate blessings.

Q: Now Gebchak Nunnery is quite poor, and in the future it will have to depend on relationships with many sponsors from modern, foreign countries. There is a big difference between the simple way of life here in Nangchen and that of the outside, developed countries where the pace of life is so busy and materialistic. How can Gebchak’s lineage of pure practice be preserved in the future?

Kunzang Pantso: In order to preserve Tsang-Yang Gyamtso’s lineage, his special system of practice that he established, each nun has to fulfill the instructions of the lama. If the teachings of Tsang-Yang Gyamtso are practiced and upheld by each nun, then his lineage will remain unbroken in the future, which is good. Otherwise, the lineage will be broken, won’t it? Therefore, all of the nuns now practice and pray strongly to maintain the practice in their future lives. And they pray that by Tsang-Yang Gyamtso’s compassionate blessings his lineage will remain forever and continue to flourish. All of the nuns pray in this way. It depends on the nuns themselves; as it’s taught that the teachings of the Buddha depend on the sangha, it depends on all of the nuns. The 84,000 teachings of the Buddha need to be upheld by the nuns, the sangha. If the nuns, the sangha, practice well, then the teachings of the Buddha, the lineage of Tsang-Yang Gyamtso will remain pure and grow ever greater.

Q: Do you have a wish that in the future, once you feel you’ve accomplished the Dharma, you may teach the Dharma to others?

Kunzang Pantso: Yes, yes I do. Now I’m not able to teach others in this way. But I pray to the Buddha that in the future I may be able to teach and benefit all my mother sentient beings, and lead them to perfect buddhahood. Once I’m a buddha myself, this is my plan. All sentient beings of the six realms have at one time or another been our father or mother. All beings are our mothers! But under the power of karma they are being born again and again in samsara.

[1] Nyung Nae: a two-day purification of Chenrezig. On the second day the practitioner may not speak, eat, nor drink anything, and on both days many hundreds of prostrations are performed
[2] Vajrakilaya: Tib – རྡོ་རྗེ་ཕུར་པ།, a wrathful deity embodying enlightened activity. This deity is noted for being the most powerful for removing obstacles and destroying non-compassionate forces.
[3] yidam: personal meditational deity.
[4] Vajrasattva: Tib – རྡོ་རྗེ་སེམས་དཔའ།, A sambhogakaya buddha who embodies all of the five or hundred buddha families. He is also a support for purification practice.
[5] Tsang-Yang Gyamtso: the founder of Gebchak Nunnery. The first Tsang-Yang Gyamtso was a heart disciple of the first Drubwang Tsoknyi Rinpoche.
[6] Dewachen: Amitabha’s pure land of Great Bliss.

Note: Interview conducted in July, 2006, at Gebchak Gonpa. Translation by Tenzin Chozom.

[Extracted from: http://gebchakgonpa.org/gebchak-nuns/interviews-with-nuns/kunzang-pantso/]


Gebchak Nuns

About the nuns

Spiritual Training

Senior Gebchak nuns, 2007.

Gebchak Gonpa is unique for its intensive retreat system, which includes a three-year retreat for all nuns followed by entry into one of sixteen retreat groups where they remain in practice for the rest of their lives. This retreat system and all Gebchak meditation practices are based on sixteen Volumes composed by the first Tsang-Yang Gyamtso. These Volumes outline detailed instructions on the Six Yogas of Ratna Lingpa, with adaptations of these yogas for the female body, including eight volumes of meditations that the nuns continue to practice today in intensive group practices. These are: Hayagriva, Troma Nagmo, Tamdrin Nagpo, Tamdrin Marpo, Garuda, Varjapani, Yamantaka, and Yeshe Tsogyal. To this day the nuns continue to read and follow these texts.

For the nuns’ practice teachings including Tsa-lung and other yogas, as well as Dzogchen meditation, the senior nuns provide instruction. All the official monastic posts are filled by nuns, such as the role of Vajra Master, chant leader, disciplinarian and bursar. A committee of nuns decides regulatory matters by consensus.

The nuns rely on and request their Gebchak lamas for necessary empowerments, spiritual guidance, as well as their welfare. Gebchak Gonpa has strict rules in order to maintain their spiritual endeavors with purity and integrity. As the nuns are not permitted to leave the nunnery for extended periods of time, the nuns depend on outside support.  Wangdrak Rinpoche oversees their spiritual training and holds responsibility for their food, health care, and material well-being.

[Extracted from: http://gebchakgonpa.org/gebchak-nuns/]

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