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Tenzin Palmo founded the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery in 2000. She was encouraged to open a monastery by her root guru, the 8th Khamtrul Rinpoche for years. While he passed away before the opening, one of his reincarnations is the active Spiritual Director. It is the 9th Khamtrul Rinpoche who gave the nunnery the name Dongyu Gatsal Ling which “Garden of the Authentic Lineage”.
“Provide a program of study, meditation and service.
Train nuns in integrating their daily life and work with Dharma principles.
Encourage a life based on monastic vows and communal harmony and eventually to reintroduce the bhikshuni (higher monastic) ordination.
Re-establish the precious 'Togdenma' (yogini) tradition of the Drukpa Kagyu lineage and train some nuns as teachers in meditation.
Prepare some of the nuns who undertake higher philosophical studies to become teachers or professors.”
The monastery began in a small room among Tashi Jong, The Rinpoche’s founding community. Within a year young nuns were arriving to help Palmo’s vision grow. The numbers started at less than twenty-one who were taught philosophy, Tibetan and English. After a while the nuns were able to move to an ancient mud brick building so that the Khampagar Monastery could reestablish the college that the nuns had previously lived in.
The nunnery held a trust that purchased seven acres of land which allowed construction of an official building to begin. In 2005 the nuns were able to move in. The DGL Nunnery will be able to hold over one hundred nuns in the future as it is already growing. The land now contains two dormitory buildings, a study center, a small clinic, and a retreat center (among some others). There is a traditional Tibetan Temple that was constructed after the monsoon in 2007. The building is still being decorated with murals, pillars, and paintings.
The nunnery has grown to roughly seventy five nuns since its opening. The nuns mostly come from Nepal, Lahaul, and Darjeeling. All incoming nuns are ordained by the 9th Khamtrul Rinpoche and receive their later novice ordination a year after arrival in the presence of senior monks. The nuns are as young as twelve when entering the monastic life and many come in with little to no education.
Upon entering the nunnery, nuns enter a six year program.Tibetan language is taught intensively in the first year to aid the comprehension of other subjects taught. Buddhist philosophy is taught by Khenpo Ngawang. Two senior nuns assist in the lessons and the students enter into debate to deepen their grasp of the material. English is also taught to help functioning in the world outside of the nunnery grounds. The women take ritual courses and partake in a two month retreat. After completing six years, some nuns may choose to enter a long retreat as their founder Palmo did. Five nuns have gone on strict retreats of two or more years. The nuns who have completed long retreats are then eligible for selection in training as Togdenma.
Togdenma are “realized ones” who follow the ascetic path. Many male and female yogis chose this path out of compassion for humanity so that they may attain enlightenment quickly. The tradition was lost in the Cultural Revolutions that was meant to dissipate Tibetan Buddhism. The tradition had several accomplished nuns and those studying at the DGL Nunnery are preparing to revitalize the traditional training and become yogis. Four nuns are already beyond four years of strict retreat. Palmo’s efforts to reintroduce the practices are heavily reinforced by the male lamas of the Drukpa Karhyu Lineage.
A Dream Realized
Tenzin Palmo was unprepared for the DGL Nunnery when she was beginning her journey as a nun. Her root guru requested her heading of a monastery several times before he died, however she was not yet ready. After finishing her extensive retreat in a cave, Palmo left prepared to undergo the daunting task of building a community. With the support of senior monks, Palmo was able to begin fundraising. The book written about her experiences only helped spread the dream and brought in financial support.
The nunnery is rapidly expanding with the spiritual support of the male monastic community. Volunteers come from around the world to aid in the expansion of Palmo’s dream for realized nuns. While, she wishes to return to retreat one day she remains at the head of the DGL’s developments, encouraging women to strive for anything.