Guided by the Gyalwang Karmapa’s broad vision of developing the inner potential and capacity of nuns, a group of 28 Karma Kagyu nuns recently completed a management skills training workshop. Running from January 5-7 at the Taj Darbar Hotel, Bodhgaya, over the course of 3 days the nuns were given an extraordinary opportunity to train in different aspects of management skills including communication, teamwork, conflict resolution, and leadership. The workshop also included a dedicated session on gender awareness, exploring different aspects of gender and the surrounding social processes.
The workshop was organized by the Kun Kyong Charitable Trust, which the Gyalwang Karmapa established in 2013 for promoting education, women, the environment, health, and welfare. It was conducted by the well-known women’s rights organization Jagori, and delivered by Ms Suneeta Dhar, Director of Jagori, and Mr Tejinder Bhogal of Innobridge Consulting. Coming from 7 nunneries in India, Nepal, and Bhutan, the nuns ranged in age from16 to 56, with many already occupying senior management positions in their nunneries. For most, it was the first time in their lives they’d been given the opportunity for such training.
Speaking at the opening session, Gyalwang Karmapa’s elder sister, Jetsunma Ngodup Pelzom, encouraged the nuns to take full advantage of this precious opportunity. “We need to take it seriously,” she told them, “so in the future we can extend the opportunities for this training to many more nuns. Women’s empowerment is an important part of His Holiness’s broad vision, and is something we all need to work together towards.”
Asked at the beginning of the workshop what their goals and aspirations were, the nuns’ response was unequivocal: “We want better teachers and opportunities for higher education,” they said.
But even as he is working to create better educational opportunities for them, the Gyalwang Karmapa has long recognized that, on its own, educating the nuns isn’t enough. His Holiness has emphasized that in addition to the increased educational opportunities that are now being afforded to them, the nuns also need to develop greater self-confidence. This gender awareness and management skills workshop forms part of his ongoing efforts at building confidence and empowering his nuns.
“One of the things I’ve learnt from this workshop is to know our inner potential and ability, and to find confidence within ourselves,” said one of the participating nuns during the workshop.
“At first we thought nuns can’t do these things and only monks are very brave. At first it seems impossible to achieve our goals,” said another nun. “But if we try, and if we have encouragement and support, nothing is impossible for us nuns.”
Over the three days the nuns were led through a series of workshop sessions— including role plays, interactive games, and videos—aimed at developing and honing their skills in communication, teamwork, and decision-making. The workshop emphasized collaborative learning through groupwork, allowing the nuns to cooperate and learn from one another.
For example, in small groups they covered ways to understand topics such as ‘what is a healthy nunnery’ and ‘what makes an effective manager’, while different focus groups worked on problem solving for issues including ‘difficulties working with the community’ and ‘difficulties working with monks’.
They also explored in detail concepts such as power, conflict, different communication styles, assertiveness, and the role of leaders.
On the third day the trainers led the nuns through a dedicated session on gender awareness, where they first explored ‘gender’ as a social construct as opposed to a biological fact. This led to discussions of social norms and values, the condition and position of women, and the idea of gender equality. The trainer Ms Suneeta Dhar reminded the nuns of the Gyalwang Karmapa’s own conviction that women’s rights are human rights. “His Holiness’s vision on gender equality is so inspiring and inclusive,” said Ms Dhar. “He leads us all to think about how the universe can be transformed.”
Throughout the workshop all the nuns were given opportunities to speak before the entire group. At the opening session many of the nuns were barely audible as they spoke, hunched over and shyly looking down, yet by the end of the first day they had already gained substantial confidence in projecting their voices and opinions in front of others.
When asked for their feedback at the end of the workshop, the nuns were confident and inspired.
“We will use this communication and management training in our everyday life when working and dealing with different people and broader society,” a group of the nuns said.
“We have to face many difficulties in our daily working life. When we face those difficulties we need confidence to tackle the problems without losing hope—and to have compassion and patience within us and around us.”
Another nun succinctly summarized the confidence-building benefits of the workshop: “We need change in our minds first—and this is exactly what the workshop is doing.”
At the conclusion of the training the nuns met with the Gyalwang Karmapa to brief him on the results of the workshop. He told them he was very happy with the outcomes, and offered them his continuing support.
Prior to the workshop, in October 2014 the Kun Kyong Charitable Trust ran a 3-day pilot empowerment training program facilitated by Jagori, in Sidhbari near Dharamsala. Twenty nuns from the Tilokpur nunnery took part in the pilot workshop, with very positive results. This second workshop in Bodhgaya builds on the pilot workshop and was offered to more nuns from a range of Himalayan nunneries, again with very positive results.
From January 8-24 the Second Annual Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering for Nuns is being held at Tergar Monastery, Bodhgaya. During this gathering around 400 Karma Kagyu nuns will train and practice in advanced Buddhist philosophy, dialectical debate, and a broad range of other dharma activities.