The nun in the cave
Throughout 2017, roomsXML’s national BDM Sasha Luckey completed her yoga teacher training, including a 2 week immersion in Northern India. She shares some thoughts.
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo is of English descent who in 1974 lived in a Nepalese cave for 10 years and meditated, to seek enlightenment as a woman.
We were staying at the Cornels resort which is in Himachal Pradesh. The monastery housing the Buddhist nuns was closer to Dharamsala. Back in the car for two hours. Just as well I knew these people intimately by this stage having studied yoga teaching with them for the past nine months.
The monastery itself features a wonderful manicured gardens, but they are not monasteries is in the Christian sense but more temples built in the Buddhist style; high ceilings, ornate artwork, stained-glass windows, books of teachings.
Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo is of English descent who in 1974 lived in a Nepalese cave for 10 years and meditated, to seek enlightenment as a woman. Her meditative findings and teachings opened the doorways to a line of research ageing which rediscovered the equal and important place of the Buddhist nun next to the Buddhist monk. In short, she created the Buddhist equivalent of a pathway for the sisters.
When you consider this impact, it makes her one of the most influential people in global religion in the world today. Her teaching of the Dharama are provided to Nuns of a very high standard in her Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, emphasising the role women can play is the social outreach of Buddism. “I saw for myself that nuns, however intelligent and devoted, had no opportunity to study and no access to higher teachings.”
Before I left I was telling Mark my husband about our itinerary and he had a good old laugh about the nun who lived in the cave. “Was she allowed to see anybody? Who brought her food? She didn’t even lie down, she kind of slept in this 3’ x 3’ box. Did she get sick? Why would you do that?”
He was pretty easy to convince once I related to him about the experience
She did not want to talk about that experience. She’d moved on from that decade. It was another lifetime ago. Insignificant. Can you get much more humble than writing off the creation of the path of enlightenment for Buddhist nuns with “oh, that was just something I did”. .
The convent she now runs has 109 nuns of which are vast majority are Tibetan refugees, taken in at four years old onwards. Their family may send them there to have a better life, one that is safe. It is never directly referenced by Tenzen but the nuns are fleeing, in the large part, from Chinese persecution. To get a true understanding you need to speak to the staff at the hotel, your tour guides or locals who might speak English in the shops. Eventually someone will know somebody somewhere who was persecuted for their religious beliefs, whatever the denomination.
This part of northern India is a melting pot of the cultures which surround Dharamasala from neighbours that include Pakistan, Kashmir, Tibet and China. There is tension in history, but it’s all part of the experience.
We were invited into the temple to pop our cushions on the ground whilst she spoke from her throne like chair. She then invited our tour leader to explain why we were all there and she just started taking questions for over an hour.
To condense a takeaway perception of what she was saying is that we are living in one of the most complicated times in humanity. That the kindest thing you can do for yourself is to get your own mind into a good space. That women in particular need to support one another, learn to use their own wisdom and stop cutting each other down. Very much a feminist, very much well-educated. Incredibly well spoken, humble and very entertaining.
These pilgrimage type experiences become the cornerstone of an Indian itinerary. They take more organising, they take more work, they take a lot more effort on the day, but they are peak experiences. They become the stories we talk about and we reflect on for many years to come. They work particularly well in holidays of a longer duration when you have the chance to really sink into the destination and be open to the experiences.
It delivers a much more granular understanding of the country and the people that you wouldn’t get from visiting the Taj Mahal. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but on my fifth trip, I think I can tell which one is the real India.