10,000 Nuns here!
E = MC2
Enlightenment equals Motivation times the presence of Consciousness squared.
Whenever my motivation starts to flag, I remember the nuns of Yarchen Monastery. Their compound (in the shape of a giant bodhi leaf) sits on a peninsula in the Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture of Sichuan Province at 4,000 meters above sea level. That’s almost as high as Long’s Peak, the highest mountain in Colorado. Thierry Bornier, who took the main photo here, called it the ‘River of Ten Thous…and Souls’. The Nyingma nuns’ humble dwellings are grouped around Yaqing Temple under the guidance of Abbot HH Achuk Rinpoche. [Recognized by the Chinese government as the head of the Nyingma Sect in China.]
There are around 10,000 nuns here who study and practice in unbelievably harsh conditions for an average of four to 15 years. They spend much of this time in tiny retreat huts (seen in the foreground of the picture) that are not much more than a shanty box one or two meters square. They seldom lie down; they sit in meditation posture (awake or asleep) 24 hours a day, except for breaks. The box is just tall enough to sit in and usually has one small window through which they can do their tögal ‘sky gazing’ meditation. Nuns who cannot even afford a box, dig a hole to sit in, sometimes with a plastic tarp or a piece of corrugated steel propped up on sticks to keep the snow off their heads. These nuns, called Juemu, sit in their boxes and practice Buddhism day and night for months or even years at a time. Some Juemu live in these boxes for the rest of their lives. They have no other ambition than to practice Vajrayana Buddhism like Padmasambhava and Milarepa.
Within the complex, food, water, and clothing are in short supply, and electric power is only available from 7pm to 10pm every day. In such tight quarters, communicable illnesses are a problem and medical facilities meager, so the nuns depend on each other to survive. Winters can be very snowy and temps fall to minus 20-30 degrees C at night. There is no sanitation system, so the nuns have to resort to toilets in the open air beside the river.
So, the next time you catch yourself feeling stressed about your practice, think about one of those Juemu sitting alone in the snow at 13,000 feet. She won’t be watching the New England Patriots this weekend. She’s up there examining the innate nature of her own mind. She’s up there with her sisters on the roof of the world, praying day and night for all sentient beings to see through the illusion of samsara. That’s practice!
Written by Jon Norris
(Some editing done) (This has been reproduced here strictly to inspire practitioners around the world to pursue the spiritual path and don’t look for excuses to fail but to succeed. Tsem Rinpoche)
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