(19 October, 2014 – Dharamsala) The Gyalwang Karmapa met with a group of nuns from Tilokpur Nunnery upon their completion of a three-day training workshop in confidence-building, management skills and gender awareness. The training was provided by Jagori, a highly-respected local organization committed to women’s empowerment, and was organized for the nuns by the Kun Kyong Charitable Trust, of which His Holiness the Karmapa is primary patron.
Reporting to the Gyalwang Karmapa at the close of the three days, the senior Tilokpur nun Wangchuk Palmo observed that as the nunnery has grown, the nuns have recognized that they need to develop skills and confidence to allow them to interact more effectively with the wider community. She explained that the three-day training workshop had given them a clearer grasp of the issues involved in establishing gender equality, which is increasingly being discussed in Tibetan society nowadays. She said that this had inspired the nuns to imagine that they could become qualified to offer greater service to society.
She reported that the training had also given them specific tools in communicating effectively, in gaining confidence in public speaking and in resolving the interpersonal conflicts that can arise in any community. Finally, she described the work that they had done in the workshops to identify and cultivate leadership skills. The Karmapa then solicited the nuns’ views as to whether the training programme should be extended, and they unanimously supported the idea.
Speaking to the 16 nuns who had attended the workshop, the Karmapa emphasized that along with a profound knowledge and practice of the Buddhadharma, monastics nowadays need also to understand more about how wider society works, in order to enhance their ability to contribute in positive ways. He spoke of the growing appreciation in their society that women can offer as much as men, and the new opportunities that are opening up for women to take greater leadership roles. Along with keeping abreast of these changes, he encouraged the nuns to prepare themselves to contribute as leaders in society. “Women have the capacity,” he said, “to have an even greater impact on society than men.” He urged them to continue pursuing whatever education was useful to equip them to do so. “We need more leaders among the nuns, to be educated in modern skills as well as the Dharma, to increase your ability to serve society.”
Last January, with the inauguration of the first-ever winter gathering for Karma Kagyu nuns, which he named the Arya Kshema Winter Gathering, the 17th Karmapa launched a series of initiatives to ensure that nuns are afforded the education and training opportunities needed to assume a larger responsibility as full members of the Buddhist sangha. This three-day training forms part of that broader initiative. During this meeting with the nuns, the Gyalwang Karmapa spoke of the Arya Kshema Winter Gathering and urged the nunnery not just to send nuns who were engaging in Buddhist dialectics (or debate)—the traditional cornerstone of the institution of winter gatherings in Tibetan Buddhism. A broader group of nuns should attend, he said, since the Arya Kshema Winter Gathering was also aimed at building confidence and offering wider Dharma education opportunities for nuns.
Abha Bhaiya, the founder of Jagori, told the Karmapa during this meeting: “The fact that you are giving importance to them becoming self-confident and igniting a fire in them to learn more—this has been of great value to them.”
Jetsunma Ngodup Pelzom—His Holiness the Karmapa’s sister—spoke at the opening session of the three days of trainings, sharing with the nuns her own life experience in the hope it might be of some benefit to them. She was raised in a small village where education simply was not offered to women, she said, a fact that left her wholly unequipped to take on the responsibilities that arose later as her brother has become a world spiritual leader. She stressed to the nuns the great importance of education in both understanding the principles at work in their own life, as well as in being able to be of significant benefit to others and to accomplish their own aims in life.
“I firmly believe that this training—which has never been available to you before—will be of tremendous benefit to you in making the most of your Dharma understanding in helping others but also in your own development as nuns,” she said, encouraging them to make the most of the opportunity.
“My brother is continually looking for ways to support nuns and is always working to empower nuns and Himalayan women,” Jetsunma said. “If you empower yourselves through this sort of training, this could help fulfill his wishes for gender equality. As you become more confident and more educated, gender equality could actually begin to happen in actual reality, and not just in words.”
In the following session, the nuns themselves were asked to state what they hoped to receive from the training. A recurring theme was the need to overcome shyness and gain confidence to speak in public. Over the next three days, Abha Bhaiya and Nimisha Desai—who had traveled from Gujarat to help lead the workshops—guided the nuns through a series of interactive exercises, including role play, team building and creative writing exercises. The overall aim was capacity building and gender awareness, with sessions focused on defusing community disputes, leadership training, public speaking, planning and time management.
In the concluding session at Jagori, the nuns sat in a circle as each expressed what she had learned. The transformation from the initial session was dramatic. In the opening session, many nuns had been barely audible when addressing the group, speaking hunched over without lifting their eyes. In the concluding session, most of them projected self-confidence, as they spoke movingly of all they had learned from the experience. “Times are changing,” one of the nuns commented during this concluding session. “I did not understand much about the situation in society, especially about gender.”
“Before, when we saw a woman being mistreated,” said another, “we just felt pity. Now, I can see that there is something to be done about it.”
Echoing a comment made by many of them, one young nun said: “Since I came here, I gained the courage to speak up in front of the public.”
Kun Kyong Charitable Trust, which sponsored the training of the nuns from Tilokpur Nunnery, was established in February 2013 to support the religious and charitable activities of His Holiness the 17th Karmapa, Ogyen Trinley Dorje.