Passing of Choje Akong Rinpoche
Akong Rinopche with three-year retreat nuns at Gebchak Gonpa.
The Gebchak nuns are extremely saddened at the recent death of Akong Rinpoche and are engaging in 49 days of prayers for this great master as are many sanghas worldwide. Akong Rinpoche was the founder of ROKPA, an NGO that performs some of the most skillful charity and cultural preservation work in the world. Over the last ten years Akong Rinpoche has quietly supported the preservation of Gebchak Nunnery during a time of great change in Tibet. He rebuilt the Gebchak nuns’ 16 retreat divisions, the new 3-year retreat house, a medical clinic and installed a system of running water. Akong Rinpoche will live on in the nuns’ prayers, inspiration and the long-term preservation of the Gebchak tradition.
News agencies across the globe have reported on Akong Rinpoche’s outstanding life including The Telegraph and numerous others.
Jogema Dondrub Chomtso recounting her memories of Gebchak. Photo: CDR.
Autumn brings clear memories for the nuns at Gebchak Gonpa. Khenpo Tsultrim Lodrö, one of the most respected lamas in Tibet today, recently contacted Wangdrak Rinpoche, Abbot of Gebchak Gonpa, requesting written histories of the Gebchak’s “Jogema”. These elderly nuns are the pride of Gebchak Gonpa. Their enlightened examples have inspired an influx of new nuns at Gebchak since it was rebuilt in the 1980’s. Read more about the Jogema here. Gebchak has an amazing history of spiritual accomplishments that continues to this day, but so far little has been recorded. Now the nuns have begun to record all the memories they hold of Jogemas who survived the Cultural Revolution and returned decades later to re-establish Gebchak’s unique female lineage. Tibetan culture is radically – and rapidly – changing in China. Yet the Gebchak nuns still fan the flame of tremendous devotion to Tsangyang Gyamtso, their founder, and continue to engage in a practice system that is as rigorous and pure as it was in the beginning.
New Temple Construction Nearly Completed
Nestled in the middle of the Nunnery, the new temple takes shape. Photo: CDR.
Gebchak’s main temple is the nexus of the Nunnery, where all 350 nuns (plus surrounding nomadic communities) gather for prayer ceremonies throughout the year. In 2011 the old temple was demolished due to crumbling mud brick and rotting wooden beams, and a 7ft-deep foundation laid for a new temple to be built of steel, cement and local stone. This summer construction of the outer new temple was almost completed. Murals are scheduled to be painted on the inside in May 2014, when construction can resume in spring.
There are only two Jogema left today at Gebchak. One, the precious Jogema Dondrub Chomtso, despite her advanced years (now 86) constantly recites her prayers even while laboring on the temple. Her final wish is to gather for prayers in the completed new temple before she dies. With the successful momentum of temple construction so far, it is likely the surviving Jogema will live to practice in their beloved new temple.
Wangdrak Rinpoche has been at the helm steering the design, planning and onsite supervision, as well as spearheaded fundraising for the first two years of the temple’s construction. For the final (third) story other lamas have also generously contributed to help finalize construction. The Gebchak nuns are extremely grateful to all the supporters around the world who have contributed to the temple project. As the present generation of Gebchak nuns continue to preserve their lineage, they look with delight to the new temple as the hub that will hold their prayer ceremonies and keep their authentic practice strong. With outer construction nearly finished, any contribution towards the temple’s inner statues and mural paintings would be greatly appreciated, and bring enormous merit by supporting this centre of intense spiritual practice.
Prayer Festival – Jama Monlam
Dressed as dakinis, these nuns join a long procession at Jama Monlam 2013. Photo: CDR.
Gebchak Gonpa hosted a Nyingma “Monlam” (a Prayer Festival) as they do each year in September. Ten full days of prayer lead up to the full moon. It is popularly known as “Jama Monlam”, named after the place where it is held and located many hours drive away from Gebchak itself. Gebchak Nunnery organizes the entire event including feeding and housing guests, and collating prayers that they published as a book for distribution. The Gebchak lamas and other prominent lamas of Nangchen county preside at the Monlam, while the Gebchak nuns take the lead in ritual chanting and music. Many nuns and monks from Gebchak’s branch nunneries also joined the Monlam.
The atmosphere is very “Rimey”, or non-sectarian, in spirit. Nearby communities participated including Drikung Kagyu, Nyingma and Drukpa Kagyu monasteries. Thousands of lay people converged for this important event, supporting the Monlam in all manner of meritorious activities such as making offerings, raising prayer flags, prostrating and circumambulating around the temple complex. Jama Monlam has become a key community and spiritual highlight for the region and the Gebchak nuns are highly respected for instigating it. Check out our online photo set of the Jama Monlam.
Revitalizing sacred land – Dongtsang Ritro
Guru Rinpoche statue painting was completed mid October.
On advice from a elderly Gebchak yogi, Wangdrak Rinpoche is currently building a hermitage named Dongtsang Ritro with the generous support of his Asian disciples. Located on the outskirts of Nangchen township, it will serve as a residence for Gebchak nuns who need to come to town for supplies, medical treatment or other work. A place of retreat, the hermitage will also serve as a restful place for Jogemas and those nuns who suffer from the high altitude at Gebchak itself.
Dongtsang Ritro is infused with blessings. It is said that the 12th century yogi, Tishri Repa Sherab Sengge, had his hermitage on this exact spot. Tishri Repa was a disciple of Barompa Darma Wangchuk – a disciple of Gampopa. Historically, the site is a vestige to Nangchen being hailed as “Gom De” or Land of the Meditators. Many high lamas and yogis have graced the land with blessings in recent months and consecrated a beautiful Guru Rinpoche statue in an uncommon form of “Guru Nan-Si Silnon“. Wangdrak Rinpoche was inspired to use this form after seeing a photo of H.H. Dilgo Khyentse striking a similar pose. View photos of Dongtsang Ritro here.
Achyi, house mother, with orphans. Photo: K. Irvine.
Fortunately, all our orphans have passed their yearly exams and enrolled in subsequent classes in Yushu primary and secondary schools. Completing high school is essential for these children’s future prospects. The modern Chinese education system is efficient but fiercely competitive; if students fail their yearly exams they are denied a seat in subsequent classes. It is Wangdrak Rinpoche’s priority to see that all conditions are met for the orphans’ academic enrollment each year.
Yushu has undergone massive rebuilding since the 2010 earthquake, and residents who lost their homes are no longer permitted to live in tents. With the skillful help of ASIA Onlus our orphans now have improved provisions and accommodation in a building in Yushu. We look forward to working with ASIA Onlus – with its long experience of helping orphans in eastern Tibet – in fostering these children to adulthood.
Gebchak Wangdrak Rinpoche will be giving Dharma teachings in Singapore in November 2013. If you are interested in attending, please contact our Singaporean contact listed here.
On behalf of all the Gebchak nuns and lamas, Wangdrak Rinpoche is beaming heartfelt prayers, gratitude and Tashi Deleks to you!
From all countries across the globe you can make a safe online donation with our secure online system for any of Wangdrak Rinpoche’s activities. Donation instructions are here.