Alliance of Non Himalayan Nuns (ANHN) Historic Gathering, March 2024 – A report from Tsunma Tenzin Dasel (Organizer)

We have exciting news to share! Thosamling Nunnery and Institute for International Buddhist Women was the site of the Alliance of Non Himalayan Nuns (ANHN) Gathering 2024 from March 3-24.

Ten years ago in 2014 many ordained Buddhist female monastics from non traditional Buddhist countries and cultures met at Thosamling for a day long event. It was then that the idea to hold a long term gathering arose. The ANHN Gathering in March 2024 was the first highly organized three week program ANHN has ever held.

The nunnery gratefully received a grant from the Pema Chodron Foundation to be able to thoroughly prepare to host this historic happening. This included: painting all the rooms, upgrading and repairing the walkway from the bridge to the nunnery, as well as pathways inside, and helped to cover the food costs involved in providing daily meals to all the attendants for three weeks. The day before the beginning of the program, Thosamling benefited from the help of thirteen tsunmas from nearby Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery who volunteered their time, giving up a whole day of their studies, to come to give a meticulous cleaning to make the nunnery completely ready for the arrival of the forty-four attending nuns the next day.

The ANHN Gathering 2024 Opening Ceremony was attended by forty-four nuns (tsunmas) who arrived from sixteen countries and five continents. For the first time ever Thosamling’s blessed temple on March 3, 2024 was full and overflowing with red robes chanting and praying in Tibetan, which as Venerable Tenzin Sangmo said, “When I saw that, I felt this is what I had made the nunnery for and that moment was like a dream come true!”

The senior monastics attending the entire three weeks included two of the ANHN Board members, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo and Venerable Tenzin Sangmo, who is the founder of Thosamling. These monastics were also joined by Geshe Ma Dawa Dolma who is from Tibet, and is the senior teacher and a resident of the nunnery. All total there were seventeen countries represented. This was a non-sectarian event, with attendees from several lineages of the Kagyu, Nyingma and Gelug traditions, only missing the Sakya representation.

A list of the qualified monastic teachers participated in the Gathering 2024 in person or via Zoom, including: Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo; Geshe Ma Kelsang Wangmo; Venerable Tenzin Sangmo; Venerable Thubten Chodron; Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo; Venerable Robina Curtin; Khenmo Drolma; Venerable Amy Miller; Geshe Ma Dawa Dolma; Geshe Ma Tenzin Lhadron; Venerable Tenzin Dolma and Venerable Ani Jinba; and Venerable Pema Deki. These esteemed teachers reflect a nonsectarian approach as well. The ANHN Gathering 2024 also received private Dharma discourse, guidance and encouragement from Ven Geshe Dorji Damdul, who is the Director of Tibet House Delhi and organizer of the Buddhist Philosophy study program there, and from His Eminence Serkong Tsenshap Rinpoche.

Ven Geshe Dorji Damdul was very careful to point out that women who enter Buddhist monasticism from non-traditional cultures and societies bring with the a wealth of talents and various life experiences which are different from women from traditional Buddhist cultures. He emphasized to the ANHN Gathering nuns to value their unique gifts and background training as academics or in other professional careers and to find way to translate these into the service of the Buddha Dharma. “Sometimes older nuns come to me and say they want to retire up into the mountains to simply live life as a hermit and focus on a solitary practice. But that is a wrong approach! At this time, Dharma needs daily involvement especially from highly skilled nuns, who can have a variety of ways to bring so much benefit to so many by applying their talents!” We all felt very moved by Geshe la’s high praise and inspired words. His Eminence Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche likewise spoke of his high esteem and cherishing of the monastic Sangha, saying, “I feel a little uncomfortable sitting here in this teaching seat looking out at all of your red robes. To be a monastic is so very wonderful and precious. Please never forget that. We are so grateful that you, as foreigners, found meaning in the Three Jewels and are now upholding it as ordained Sangha.”

We shared a rich three weeks, with a six day week beginning daily with a wake up gong at 5:45 AM and then seated in the temple for morning meditation and prayer from 6 – 7 AM. Followed by breakfast, and then morning workshop sessions that began with group meetings in the large classroom by all participants. Over the three weeks we addressed all the topics and a few new suggestions that the ANHN nuns themselves had identified and ranked as most important and beneficial to their practice. The large class then broke into groups of six to seven discussion groups who went off to have more in depth conversation on the topics. We reconvened in the big classroom to share and listen to all of the various insight that came out of these investigative learning sessions.

Lunch was from 12 noon to 12:30PM and after a rest period, we met at 2:00PM daily for afternoon in person or Zoom teachings. There were occasionally evening Zoom teachings from 6:30-8PM, otherwise there were evenings for rest. It was a very unexpected blessing that early in the Gathering all attendants were invited to join His Holiness the Great Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s blessing line at His residence in McLeod Ganj for individual blessings directly face to face and from his own hands.

How wonderful indeed that is!

Future plans are in the works to organize the ANHN Gathering, once in two years. Thosamling Nunnery will look forward to hosting again in 2026.

Thank you to everyone who made this first ANHN Gathering 2024 a resounding success!