The Keydong Thuk-Che-Cho-Ling Nunnery, originally founded in the southwest Keydong region of Tibet, today lives on in exile in Kathmandu, Nepal. Established formally in 1982, the Keydong Nunnery exists due to the perseverance, courage, and dedication of a core group of women monastics who, having fled Tibet in 1959, made the arduous journey across Tibet to found a new home for their nunnery. They first settled in the remote village of Helambu, Nepal, near the Tibet border, but it was overcome by floods in a monsoon in 1980 and so again these women moved on, determined to again reestablish their home.
They eventually arrived in Kathmandu. With its mix of world religions and culture and its intensely urban lifestyle, Kathmandu was a monumental change from the rural life these women had known. Undaunted and with the assistance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the local Tibetan Welfare Office, friends and other lay people, the nuns settled in Kathmandu and then travelled throughout India and Nepal seeking donations to create a nunnery. Eventually, they were able to purchase a small parcel of land and an old house. This was the beginning of the impressive nunnery that exists today in the heart of the Swayambu district of Kathmandu. The Nunnery houses over 80 Tibetan nuns from Tibet, India, and Nepal.
A Center for Nuns’ Spiritual and Educational Development
Traditionally, the primary concern of Tibetan Buddhist nunneries has been to perform prayer ceremonies (pujas) for the lay community, and to cultivate contemplative practices. No women have ever had the opportunity to become a Geshe (teacher of the dharma, the highest degree of education within Tibetan Buddhism). Keydong Thuk-Che-Cho-Ling Nunnery is one of the first institutions in the Tibetan tradition to develop an educational program for Buddhist nuns. These efforts include Tibetan debate, Tibetan language, and other subjects, and special opportunities for nuns to study arts like mandala, thangka, Tibetan medicine, and traditional tailoring.
The potential is great for the Nunnery to become an important center for both religious and general education and the development of women. The three remaining senior nuns from Tibet are leaders in encouraging their younger members to take advantage of the changing attitudes and opportunities within the Tibetan community in exile.
Besides maintaining the basic structure of a traditional Tibetan monastic community, the young nuns also study English and Tibetan, mathematics, health, and hygiene when teachers are available. The Nunnery hires teachers for subjects the senior nuns cannot teach and requests other monasteries to train nuns in ritualistic arts like instrument playing.
Beyond these changes, the Keydong nuns have begun to pursue higher Tibetan religious education, a step unthought of in traditional Tibet. Beginning in 1981, the Nunnery requested Sera monastery to train nuns in Tibetan debate. A Geshe from Sera comes each year to teach theyoung nuns, and they practice among themselves as well. Eight of the Keydong Thuk-Che-Cho-Ling nuns became the first Tibetan Buddhist nuns to learn sand mandala creation. A lead monk from Zonga Choede Monastery in South India began teaching the nuns mandala in 1993 and 1994. Since then the nuns have made mandala three times each year. In 1994, two nuns also began to learn the sacred practice of thangka creation, and three nuns began training to become Tibetan medical doctors or nurses.