I wrote this post about Thosamling Institute for International Buddhist Women on February 16, but wasn't able to publish it before my 10 day Introduction to Buddhism course began at Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala on February 17.
That Tushita course ended today. I start another course at Deer Park Institute in Bir Colony tomorrow. Soo ... my posts about the Tushita and Deer Park courses will come next week. Thanks for reading:) -- Nicole
I arrived at Thosamling Institute for International Buddhist Women on Friday, February 14. I didn’t realize the date until an Indian man I passed in a village on my way from the bus stop to Thosamling wished me a Happy Valentine’s Day. It was sweet, and also brought me back to the reality of the calendar. It’s easy for me to lose track of the days of the week and dates when traveling.
I was immediately struck by not only the beautiful scenery, but the reality of living at the base of the Himalayan mountains in February. It is COLD. It rained all day on my first day here, and was still raining when I woke up the following morning. The sun came out in the afternoon for a while, warming up the campus, and then it started to rain again. I have already lost track, but I think it was raining when I woke up this morning. Indoor heating in India is very rare, and we don’t have any at Thosamling. My room came with a pile of warm blankets and a rubber hot water bottle. I learned how to fill it with boiling water, “burp” it to get the air out so it doesn’t explode, and then nestle it in my sheets before I get into bed for the night. I have also started wearing the fleece blanket I bought in Calcutta, for times like this, as a sarong skirt over my leggings. It’s in the 40’s during the day, and the 20’s at night, but without any indoor heating, more appropriate clothing, and the rain it feels much colder than that. Yet it’s all worth it – Thosamling is an amazing place, and this part of the world is just so beautiful.
Thosamling was founded by nun Ani Tenzin Sangmo in 2001, after His Holiness the Dalai Lama advised her to establish a Rime (non-sectarian) nunnery in 2000. His Holiness visited Thosamling in 2009 after construction of Thosamling had been completed, to bless the temple. He also gave Thosamling its name, which means “place of hearing and contemplating the Buddhadharma”. His Holiness recommends newly ordained Western nuns stay at Thosamling. Its mission is to “encourage and provide a supportive environment in which international nuns and lay-women, from any of the four traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, can study and contemplate the Dharma.” (I am a lay-woman, a Buddhist but not a nun.) Thosamling allows lay-women to live, study, and take their meals here for extended periods of time for about $200/month, thanks to the support of an international audience. I am just here for 3 nights.
I found out about Thosamling from two friends I met during the Seven Points of Mind Training course, Maria from Finland and Natalia from Florida. Both have stayed here in the past. Maria is here now, taking one of Thosamling’s short-term Tibetan language courses. I saw her at lunch on my first day at Thosamling. I also saw Tia, who I met at His Holiness’ Lam Rim course over the winter holidays. I had no idea she’d be here. It is great to see her again.
The other 15 or so women staying here have been so warm and welcoming. They are here for the Tibetan language course, or are here for personally-directed retreats, or are nuns who live here at Thosamling. Mary, who is here on retreat used to live in the same community where I lived outside of Washington, DC and used to regularly travel to Africa for work. She has loaned me one her extra jacket, which is much appreciated. A woman taking the language course lives in Los Angeles, not far from where I lived in 2012. One of the nuns grew up in Westchester County, not far from where I grew up. There really aren’t that many Americans here, so it’s really funny. Everyone here has really interesting stories to tell about the places around the world where they’ve lived and worked, and their personal journeys that led them to Thosamling. My favorite thing about being here – other than the scenery – is sitting in the dining hall, talking with the other women over the delicious meals prepared by the Indian chefs.
On my first day, Friday, Maria gave me a tour of the villages near the community. We visited the bakery established by Thosamling that provides local Indians with career opportunities, and met one of Maria’s Tibetan language teachers, a young Tibetan woman from a nearby village. After dinner Maria, another woman and I watched a movie from Thosamling’s video collection, in the video room above the dining hall.
Yesterday’s weather was so miserable that I just stayed indoors and relaxed. Tia, who has been teaching yoga for the past several years – in Hong Kong and at a nunnery – is teaching yoga and yoga philosophy every afternoon but Mondays, for everyone at Thosamling. I participated in yesterday’s classes – they were great. On “Saturday night” we watched a movie made by an American travel filmmaker who got to interview His Holiness, and ask him 10 questions. It was nice to hear His Holiness’ voice again, for the first time since I last saw him in January.
Today I shared a taxi from Thosamling to Dharamsala (about a 30 minute ride) with Mary, Jampa who is originally from Fort Worth, Texas but now lives all over the world, and Louisa from Spain. We first visited the monastery and temple where His Holiness lives and teaches when he is in Dharamsala, and then did a circumambulation on a wooded path within view of the Himalayan mountains. It was gorgeous, and the sun was shining, which made it even better. We had lunch at a great hotel restaurant that had a wood burning fireplace, and then split up to do our own things. Louisa accompanied me on a shopping trip. I bought a handmade hat with ear flaps, 3 pair of handmade warm socks, handmade leg warmers, and a blanket made in Tibet. I did say it was cold, and I hear that the next 2 places I’m going are even colder, and have also seen snow.
Yes, I said snow. It started snowing in Dharamsala while we were there this afternoon. We watched kids throwing snowballs, and many locals taking pictures of the snow. The atmosphere in Dharamsala was like a party. It was fun. The taxi driver that took us back to Thosamling explained that Dharamsala usually sees snow in January, but not in February. Jampa said it should warm up soon. Fingers crossed. I am sitting in my room right now wearing my hat, 2 layers on top, pants, socks, and have a blanket wrapped around my legs. The power is out, likely due to the snow storm which ended a few hours ago.
I leave Thosamling tomorrow, February 17 and travel to Tushita Meditation Centre in Mcleod Ganj, just north of Dharamsala. Dharamsala is a mountain town, and home to many exiled Tibetans. The town’s upper part, Mcleod Ganj is separated from what is known as Lower Dharamsala “by 10km of perilously twisting road and almost 1,000 meters in altitude” according to the Rough Guide. I will find out tomorrow, because Tushita is in the upper right corner of Mcleod Ganj.
I am taking an Introduction to Buddhism course at Tushita. The course begins tomorrow and ends on February 26. The teacher is an American monk, Tenzin Legtsok, who I met at His Holiness’ Lam Rim teaching over the winter holidays. I have been looking forward to this course since I first heard about it. I will be in silence for the duration of the course, and will not have access to any electronics, including my cell phone, computer, or the internet. If you need to reach me then leave a message for me with the Tushita office.
On the day that the Tushita course ends, February 26, I travel from Mcleod Ganj to Bir Colony, southwest of Dharamsala, for another Buddhism course, held at the Deer Park Institute. I am checking into Deer Park on February 26, 1 day before my course begins. The course is called The Joy of Living Level 1. That course ends on March 2. I expect I will be unable to use my cell phone, computer, and the internet from February 27 until March 2 as well, so if you need to reach me during those dates then please leave a message for me with the Deer Park Institute office. (If you Google “Deer Park Institute” then include “Bir Colony” in your search so that Google gives you the correct “Deer Park” website.) The teacher for the Joy of Living Level 1 course is the teacher of an Indian woman I met at His Holiness’ Lam Rim teaching. I am sure it will be good.
If you are not in the middle of your own snow storm, then please send some of your warm weather my way. My next blog post will come from Bodhgaya, where I’m heading to, next for another course that begins on March 5.