educating  heart and mind both

Dapel memorizing on roofOn the most basic level, the Buddhist path begins with an understanding of suffering and its deepest causes, and ends with the perfection of our wisdom. As such, we see the active pursuit of knowledge to be an indispensable complement to the monastic training and contemplative practices that we undergo in this community. To that end, beginning January 2010, our community members will undergo a five-year study program covering Buddhist philosophy, meditation, history and Tibetan language study. Our study program will be punctuated by periods of retreat to ensure that what we learn penetrates our hearts as well as our minds. We are collaborating with His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa in developing a curriculum that incorporates the strengths of Western education with the richness and value of more traditional Tibetan monastic training and study.

For Buddhist philosophy and meditation, we will turn to traditional Tibetan education methods, whereas we will draw on Western education for a grounding in Buddhist social and intellectual history, and for an additional course of study of women’s place within Buddhist institutions, history and practices. Where appropriate, our classes will be modeled on a graduate level education in a Western university, and elsewhere they will follow the model for transmitting Buddhist wisdom that evolved over the centuries within Tibetan scholastic education. The Tibetan language component of our study program will follow Western pedagogical principles.   

To begin with, from January through March 2010 Tenzin Dapel, Tenzin Nangpel and Karma Lodrö Drolma will attend a ten-week course in Buddhist philosophy, covering the tenet systems of three of the four major schools of Buddhist thought. This course will continue annually for five years, and is held at the Rigpe Dorje Institute in Nepal. While most traditional Tibetan study programs are limited to the positions and texts of a single school of Tibetan Buddhism, this initial three-month phase of the program employs Three Principles of the Path composed by the founder of the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism, with a commentary on that text by Jamgon Kongtrul Lodro Thaye, a leading master in the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism and a driving figure within the 19th-century non-sectarian movement in Tibet. As such, the program reflects our community’s commitment to an open and inclusive approach to education. The course includes an intensive meditation component as well. We are now seeking funding support to cover the expense of tuition, travel and living costs while three of our nuns are in attendance there.  (For more on this, see below.)

Download or view detailed 2010 program for this traditional study program.

Download or view five-year program for this traditional component of our study program.

principles of our program

In general, our study program will reflect our background as nuns who have already been trained in the Western educational system. Since we are accustomed to basing our actions on a clear understanding of the benefits of engaging in those particular practices, simply knowing that this is how others do those practices does not carry for us the same weight as it does for those who are born into a culture where such practices or attitudes appear natural. We are also accustomed to drawing our confidence from understanding the history of practices and ideas, knowing where they came from and seeing how they developed. This implies a slightly different emphasis than is normally found in more traditional monastic education, but we see this as an opportunity to combine what is useful from our Western education with what we value so highly from the Dharma.

Additionally, our study program will include a strong emphasis on women in Buddhism. In most presentations of Buddhism, women are simply invisible. To redress that imbalance, we will undertake a sustained study of the history of women’s role in Buddhist communities, bringing into focus the many contributions of female practitioners over the centuries.  

We hope that what we learn from this experiment might be useful as our study program for this community evolves, and might be productive in some way for other groups who are seeking to integrate Tibetan and Western models of education.

making it possible

The historical imbalance in the position of men and women within Buddhist communities has been greatly exacerbated by imbalances in the education opportunities given to monks versus nuns. Contributing to education programs for nuns is one way to help create the healthy gender balance that is crucial for the flourishing of the Dharma in the 21st century and beyond.

Our study program entails considerable expenses beyond our daily living budget. We estimate annual costs of $6,000, including building a library, compensating teachers, and the considerable costs ($3,500) of attending the ten-week program in Nepal. For this program to be possible, we will depend on the support of those of you who see some value in our aspirations.  If you have an ability and a wish to support us in these aims, we would be deeply grateful for financial donations of any size, as we would for your encouragement and moral support. To donate by credit card or Paypal, please follow the link to the right of this page. Until we have set in place our legal structures (which may be some time, as we need to do so in the States as well as India,) checks in US$ payable to Diana Finnegan may be sent to Nuns Community, PO Box 1651, Studio City, CA  91614-0651, USA. You may also contact us for other payment options. 

Thank you so very much.


“All beings throughout the reaches of space 
must have happiness, be free from suffering,
and quickly attain unsurpassable, perfect and complete awakening.

For that purpose, until buddhahood, I will employ
my body, speech and mind in virtue.
Until death, I will employ
my body, speech and mind in virtue.
From today until this time tomorrow, I will employ
my body, speech and mind in virtue.”

- From our morning prayers