A new year in an ancient tradition

Dispelling rituals before Losar

As they do every year, the Gebchak nuns spent ten days before Losar performing intensive dispelling rituals, based on yidam (tantric deity) practices from the nunnery’s sixteen retreat divisions. These annual end-of-the-year rituals function to clear negative energy and habitual patterns through prayer, deity visualization, ceremony and profound meditation. With the threshold to the lunar new year cleared and charged with blessings, the nuns then celebrated Losar by cooking a feast in their new central kitchen, which was recently built beside the main temple.

Gebchak Nunnery has survived a turbulent passage into modernity in Nangchen – one shared by everyone in the region. Rapid economic development, the internet and modern education has brought with it a ‘new intellect’ among Tibetans that is slightly skeptical of ritual and faith-based practices.

First day of the new year

The nuns are aware of this and of some recent local criticisms of their full-time practice program which lacks a strong philosophical component. Nevertheless, they have observed modernization of Tibetan Buddhist practices over the last few years and concluded for themselves that nothing can replace the transformative power of their drubchens (extended group sadhana ceremonies) and the other Vajrayana rituals that comprise their Dzogchen practice system. The nuns are consciously maintaining the same practice system that Gebchak nuns practised at the turn of the 19th century.

Meanwhile, down the mountain at Dongtsang Ritro hermitage, about 40 nuns and monks are engaged in winter retreats, with 8 young nuns training to start a 3-year retreat in the next year or so. These girls are from Gebchak’s branch nunnery regions, and they will practice the Gebchak tradition in this 3-year retreat center, and then stay permanently on this ancient hermitage land or return to their branch nunneries. Dongtsang Ritro hermitage has been built on the oldest uncovered cultural site in Qinghai Province and is intended to serve as a training hub for the wider Gebchak lineage in the long-term future.

Nuns moving into retreat huts for the winter at Dongtsang Ritro

Thus the Gebchak community in Nangchen is thriving, despite a sea change in cultural values taking place in modern China. All of us reading this are participants in this thriving in various ways, through sponsorship, our own practice and/or the inspiration and faith we feel for the Gebchak nuns.

The Gebchak nuns and lamas pray sincerely, and with gratitude, for your health, success and for all of your spiritual aspirations to be easily fulfilled! They are beaming many tashi delek for the new lunar year of the Metal Ox!


The Gebchak nuns are sustained by the generosity of global supporters like you. Donations for their food, healthcare and other basic needs can be made online (or by bank transfer) from this link: http://gebchakgonpa.org/donate/food-health-care-fund/

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A View to the Future of Gebchak Gonpa

Dondrub Chomtso in 2019

Gebchak’s eldest nun, Dondrub Chomtso (see a video interview with her here), passed away on January 25th. She was 91 years old, and the last nun to have lived at Gebchak before the Cultural Revolution. Dondrub Chomtso was a deeply joyful, toothless character who loved mouthfuls of sugar, and had more than 600 pages of Gebchak texts memorized from a lifetime of practice. Her devotion to the Gebchak lineage was strong and she died with an open, trusting mind. Her body was offered to vultures in a sky burial on a nearby mountaintop, according to her wish and to Gebchak’s tradition.

Gebchak nun and her niece

It is truly a new era now at Gebchak Gonpa. The remaining nuns grew up in China’s religious revival from the 1980s, within a changing value system in Tibetan society accompanying economic development. State school for children is mandatory now, and ordaining as a monk or nun is not permitted by law until age 18. Gebchak is perhaps the remotest of Nangchen’s large gonpas today. Many large monasteries have rebuilt themselves at lower altitudes over the last ten years.

Gebchak’s valley

An unexpected syndrome of modernity in Tibet is altitude sickness. Tibetans now travel regularly between higher and lower altitudes –with schools, hospitals and markets now in town centres – and many experience altitude sickness when they return to higher areas. This is true for the Gebchak nuns and lamas, and older nuns suffer especially when they are sick.

Amidst all these changes, Wangdrak Rinpoche has developed Dongtsang Ritro hermitage across the river from Nangchen town, on an ancient meditation site sacred to yogins for over a thousand years. It was developed to preserve yogic practice in Nangchen, a region that has been historically known in Tibetan as ‘Gomdé’ – the ‘Land of Meditators’. More specifically, it will serve as a base for the Gebchak lineage in the future. A 3-year retreat centre has been constructed there to train nuns from over 30 branch nunneries in Gebchak practices. Twelve senior Gebchak nuns now live at Dongtsang Ritro, and more will be based there in the future.

Wangdrak Rinpoche at Dongtsang Ritro hermitage, 2017.

Uncertainty is at the heart of Buddhist teachings, and the Gebchak community is doing remarkably well adapting and keeping firm-at-heart their dedication to lifelong contemplative training. They do this with compassion and the wish to contribute peace and positivity to the inner life of all beings on this earth – knowing the collective uncertainty we are all facing in this world.

Thank you for all of your financial support, which allows them to continue doing this. For more details on how your funds are spent, please visit this page.

As an offering in return, please see this video link of a spirited Gebchak nun talking about life at Gebchak Gonpa, and the amazing death of an old nun:

Visit with a cheeky Gebchak nun, Karma Tsultrim

Tashi Delek and may the Force be with you in the Tibetan and Chinese Year of the Metal Mouse!

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Wangdrak Rinpoche’s Australian retreats

Wangdrak Rinpoche’s next retreat program will be held in Melbourne and NSW in November 2020. Stayed tuned at http://www.gebchakrigpaharsey.org/retreats/ for the upcoming program and registration.

In memory of Dondrub Chomtso, 1929-2020

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Remembering a vibrant year

preparing drubchen texts for training

Gebchak Gonpa is the mother nunnery to over 40 branch gonpas (nunneries, monasteries and hermitages) throughout Eastern Tibet. Last July-August Gebchak hosted a summer training camp for nearly 200 nuns and monks from these gonpas to refresh their practical knowledge of Gebchak’s tradition. Gebchak Gonpa’s annual curriculum includes 20 drubchens – extended group ritual practices of Tantric deities like Hayagriva, Green Tara and Vajrakilaya.

training starts young

Drubchens are a core element of the nuns’ lifelong Vajrayana practice, and the ritual meditations, materials and recitations that comprise them were the content of the summer training camp. Gebchak nuns taught all aspects of the training to the hundreds of people gathered, including to senior male yogins. The training camp was a success and an important event for keeping the Gebchak community united and thriving for the future.

Guru Rinpoche statue, Sept 2018

During the training camp, a Guru Rinpoche statue was built on the hillside behind Gebchak Gonpa, overlooking the valley with an all-embracing gaze. Its construction was a joint effort by several lamas from Gebchak and its branches, also intended as a an anchoring presence and blessing for the posterity of the Gebchak tradtition. The Tibetan Plateau has very quickly modernised and contemplative traditions of full-time practice are waning. Gebchak Gonpa’s nuns and lamas are doing all they can to keep their practices for realising human potential burning bright.

Lama Pema Drimey, May 2018

Sadly, towards the end of the training camp the senior most yogin of the local Gebchak community, Lama Pema Drimey, passed away in his late 70s. His death was accompanied by amazing signs and relics. Lama Pema Drimey lived permanently in retreat over the mountain pass from Gebchak, surrounded by hundreds of nuns and monks practicing his oral instructions on Vajrayana ritual, yogas and meditation. His passing is a great loss for the community and felt deeply by his disciples. Yet hundreds of them remain committed to lifelong training of his instructions, and this is extremely heartening as a future generation of masters.

Wangdrak Rinpoche and the Gebchak nuns pray that your year ahead is healthy, meaningful and fulfills your deepest aspirations. They are extremely grateful for all the moral and financial support you offer as Gebchak’s international community of friends. You are helping them to maintain their lifelong contemplative tradition in a quickly changing Tibetan world.

Please see this video link as an offering in return of Gebchak nuns sharing their advice on Buddhist practice:

https://vimeo.com/gebchak way of life

All best wishes for the Tibetan and Chinese New Year! Tashi Delek!

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Happy New Year 2018 (with photos to share)

For the start of the Western, Tibetan and Chinese New Years, the nuns and lamas of Gebchak Gonpa send a resounding Tashi Delek to you all!

The nuns planting leafy greens.

The nuns have begun their spring schedule of drubchens, beginning with a 9-day Mahakala drubchen to prepare for the ‘Losar’ Tibetan new year. A group of nuns is in their first year of a 3-year retreat at Gebchak, while many of the other nuns recently performed the annual ‘Chu-Rey’ (Drying Wet Sheets) ceremony that demonstrates their accomplishment of tummo yoga (the yoga of inner heat). The nuns are enjoying an improved diet of leafy greens grown in their own greenhouses, and a quieter atmosphere since the population of 100+ Gebchak dogs were sterilized by a group of volunteer vets last June (funded by Fondation Brigitte Bardot)!

Kaying Wangmo with Gebchak’s Tsogyal Rinpoche, Sept 2017.

Last October Kaying Wangmo, one of Gebchak’s two remaining elderly nuns, passed away at the Nunnery. She was nearly 90 years old and the circular rainbows that appeared at her death reflected her lifelong dedication to practice. There is now one remaining elderly nun at Gebchak Gonpa – Dondrub Chomtso, who first came to Gebchak in the 1930s and was among the returning generation of nuns who re-established Gebchak’s practice tradition after the Cultural Revolution. These elderly nuns are the foundation of today’s Gebchak Gonpa and they mentored the nuns who currently hold the lineage. A new wave of tiny nuns has joined Gebchak over the last few years – they are being mentored as the next generation of Gebchak’s tradition-holders.

A new generation of Gebchak nuns.

Please don’t miss these two photo albums (click below) that beautifully show these generations of Gebchak nuns, and share some of their happenings over the last year:

Life at Gebchak Gonpa 2017
Gebchak Autumn and Winter 2017

The Yushu orphans are presently on Losar holiday from school, many staying with extended families in nomad camps for the 2 month break. In the years ahead many of our 22 children will reach year 10 of their education, and move to dormitories at higher secondary school and colleges.

The girls at a picnic last August.

We are seeking scholarships to support these children through higher education so they have the best chance at adapting well to the modernized Tibetan world. Please visit this link for how to contribute to an orphan’s scholarship. And have a look at this album of recent photos of the Yushu children:

Yushu children 2017

Gebchak Wangdrak Rinpoche enjoyed another year of meditation retreats with his students in 2017, in both Australia and at Dongtsang Ritro Hermitage in Nangchen. Visit gebchakrigpaharsey.org to learn more.

To make a donation from anywhere in the world for the Gebchak nuns or Yushu orphans, please visit our donation page.

Thank you for your support.

On behalf of the Gebchak nuns, lamas and the Yushu orphans, sending cheers, prayers and heartfelt intentions for each of you in the year to come!

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