Perched on a high ridge overlooking the capital city of Thimphu, the Thangtong Dewachen Nunnery represents the merging of Bhutan’s spiritual past, the evolving present, and the challenges of the future.
This institution of Vajrayana practice houses a temple dedicated to Thangtong Gyalpo which serves as the principal space for rituals and ceremonies throughout the year. The centerpiece of the temple is a commanding gilded image of the Great Yogi with rare Thangkas adorning the walls.
The Thangtong Dewachen Nunnery was established in 1976 by Rikhey Jadrel Rinpoche, the 16th reincarnation of Thangtong Gyalpo, to promote the dharma in general and the teachings of this lineage in particular. Today it is the seat of the 17th reincarnation of Thangtong Gyalpo driven by his vision to connect with the changing society, particularly the youth.
The resident nuns are trained in the ritual arts, formally educated in grammar and philosophy, and take English language classes. Affiliated nuns, monks, students, and other practitioners are also provided support. The nunnery serves the spiritual and liturgical needs of a society seeking the right balance between a rich tradition and the new trends of modernity. As an institute of Buddhist practice, it brings a sacred spiritual aura to a valley bustling with political, social, and economic activity.
A unique feature of the nunnery is its organic growth. Rikhey Jadrel Rinpoche did not seek government support for its development and, instead, introduced a culture of independence and innovation. It was in the 1980s that he instructed the management to avoid the limitations characteristic of fixed working procedures and times then being introduced in the country by officialdom.
For the nunnery to serve the community effectively and, be sustainable in every sense, the services should suit the needs of the people and not impose regulations. Spirituality could not be a nine-to-five practice with weekends off. Rinpoche even advised that there should not be more than about 40 to 50 nuns to avoid the complications of a large sangha.
The institution is comfortable with the fact that its sustainability is not dependent on any single wealthy patron, that it can sustain its services with community involvement, and it is convinced that this comes from the blessings and aspirations of the lineage.