Thrangu Rinpoche’s Nuns Study at the
Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies
in Sarnath, India
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The education and training of Tibetan women in the Dharma has been an issue of concern for many people and often the assumption is made that they are somewhat neglected. By comparing the numbers of monks and nuns with equal training and degrees it may seem that there is a strong bias toward the men, however, this is not looking at the situation closely enough.
It is true that more young men have received a higher degree of training than young women, but the fault is not necessarily in the monastery. Many more boys than girls have had some degree of schooling when they enter the monastery, and a very high percentage of young women entering the monastic life have had absolutely no education whatsoever. This puts them at a great disadvantage. They must study the sadhanas that are practiced daily as well as learn to read and write and perform all of the duties required of them.
In the monasteries, those who have studied longer teach the newer students. But in the case of the nuns, there have been very few who have been educated enough to pass the state exams and go for further study - let alone to teach the others - so it has been a slow process of development. Additionally, this situation has been complicated by the sheer number of women arriving and asking for ordination each year.
For the Thrangu Monastery it has been quite a task to coordinate the building of the abbey, provide the basics for all of the women, and to begin to have them study and practice the Dharma as well as language and other basic subjects. This is a gradual and ongoing process but we are happy to relate that in addition to the the nuns who are in three year retreat, several nuns have finished their basic education and passed the required exams enabling them to continue with higher education. Five nuns have now been studying at the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies in Sarnath, India, and two more will be taking their entrance exams soon. The Institute was established in 1967 by the Indian government and it is free to anyone who qualifies by having a minimum of a class 8 certificate and passing the entrance exam. The exam has two parts, one in Tibetan, which includes Tibetan grammar, history and the basics of Buddhist philosophy and one part in either English or Hindi.
The course of study at the Central Institute (fondly known as the Tibetan University) is nine years for those who choose to complete all possible degrees. There are three majors to choose from, Buddhist Philosophy, Ayurved (Tibetan Medicine) and Jyotish (Tibetan Astronomy or Astrology). Four degrees are granted: PM - Purva Madyama (2 years, 9th and 10th grade), UM - Uttar Madyama (2 years, 11th and 12th grade), Shastri (BA, 3 years), and Acharya (MA, 2 years). The PM and UM make up the first four years of the complete course of study and the Shastri and Acharya follow respectively.
There are six basic subjects for all students for the first four year course. These are Buddhist Philosophy I and II (by Indian and Tibetan Masters), Sanskrit, Tibetan Grammar and either English or Hindi plus one subject is chosen from either Tibetan History, Political Science, Asian History, Economics, Pali, Sanskrit II or Western Philosophy for those who will major in Philosophy. For those majoring in Ayurved (Tibetan Medicine) and Jyotish (Tibetan Astronomy or Astrology), the subjects to choose from are, Ayurved, Jyotish, Buddhist Philosophy I (Indian Masters), Tibetan Grammar, Sanskrit and either English or Hindi for the first four years.
After completion of this first four year course students must declare one major and study it separately in more depth. The Ayurved students study only Ayurved whereas the Jyotish students are required to study Tibetan Grammar as well as Jyotish. For the Philosophy majors, the subjects in the Shastri course are the same with only one addition to Buddhist Philosophy I. During the two year acharya course only Buddhist Philosophy I (a,b) and II (a,b) are studied.
Rinpoche’s nuns who are studying now at the Institute are Phuntsok, who is eighteen years old and in the PM 1st year, Karma Lobsang Wangmo (21) and Karma Lodro Lhamo(18) who are in the UM 1st year, and Karma Sherab Wangmo (20) and Karma Sonam Palmo (25) who are both in the Shastri 1st year. Currently, there are about 70 women out of nearly 350 students at the Central Institute. Only about ten of these students are nuns, the rest are lay women. Of the men attending, most of them are monks. The number of women students will soon be increasing, however, as the new girls’ hostel is completed in the summer of 2001. The new dormitory will have three floors and will be able to accommodate 100 students.
The nuns live on campus in the girls hostel and the University gives them vouchers for their rooms and for meals in the girls dining hall. (All other needs, including books are their responsibility.) They attend classes with the men and study very hard. The school year begins in mid-July and continues through the end of May. During their vacation they try to visit their families for a short time and then, as requested by Thrangu Rinpoche, they return to Tashi Jong to teach the other nuns.
The Institute is very well equipped with a large library, media equipment and their own printing department. Men and women from all over the world, monks, nuns, and lay people all study and attend class together. The grounds include gardens and athletic fields as well as teaching halls and dormitories. The Deer Park of Sarnath and the MahaBodhi Temple are close by and when they have time, the nuns can sometimes do practice at the stupa or attend functions at the new Vajra Vidya Institute. Nine of Thrangu Rinpoche’s monks also are studying at the institute and all, both monks and nuns, feel that it is a very precious and worthwhile opportunity.
Thank you for your support in making this possible.