Astonishingly rapid progress has been made at Surmang Kyelaka nunnery.
Surmang Dutsi Til monastery, the home monastery for the Trungpa lineage, received permission just over a year ago to reopen the nunnery that was close to the monastery, for the first time since 1959. At the time of the blessing ceremony for the Kyelaka location in June 2019, the site was a yak pasture (the yaks are still close by, calmly watching the construction while they graze).
The arrival of approximately one hundred nuns, all of whose families live in the Surmang area, from the institution where they had been studying, Yachen Gar, gave impetus to this project. The nuns are highly diligent practitioners and have been living, meditating, and studying at the Surmang shedra on the Dutsi Til monastery grounds while the nunnery site, several miles south of the monastery, is being developed.
Fortunately, there have been no cases of covid at all so far in the local area. All group gatherings and group practices were prohibited by the government for a couple of months last winter—the nuns practiced in their rooms—but that restriction was relaxed last spring.
Konchok Foundation and its donors are providing financial support to Surmang Dutsi Til to make the nunnery possible, led by major donations from Scott Wellenbach and the Pema Chodron Foundation, and with contributions from many additional donors. Thank you to everyone who is participating.
The nuns are so excited about moving into the nunnery that they’ve now begun to do so even while construction continues. The lhakhang (shrine hall, above) for the nunnery, although it has plastering and painting still underway and all furnishings and artwork yet to come, already has its second floor in use by the nuns as a shrine room.
More than one hundred small houses for the nuns, all of the same design similar to the one captured here, are in various stages of construction. In addition to the lhakhang, the donors to Konchok Foundation have supported the site preparation, including roads, electrical lines to all of the houses, and water lines from up the mountain, with outlets for each group of houses. The small houses will be heated in the winter with stoves that burn wood or dried yak dung.
Portable propane tanks are provided for use with propane cooktops when the main stove for each house isn’t in use. Help with the foundations and basic building materials were provided for each house. The nuns and their families are providing all of the rest of the labor for the houses, and their families are buying the interior furnishings. Enough houses already have complete interiors that the nuns have moved in, with up to four nuns living in a house until more are completed.
At this moment, the nuns are in the midst of a one-hundred-day practice cycle. The particular segment they are doing now, in mid-October, is a Dzogchen practice conducted outdoors, further up the mountain. In the photos above, one can see groups of nuns returning in the late afternoon from their practice, and congregating at the lhakhang to help out with finishing the work of the day. On this day, that was removing and stacking the exterior scaffolding materials.