Living, Researching, and Writing at Nagi Gompa
|Upper Temple Hall, Nagi Gompa
I first encountered Nagi Gompa, a nunnery in the Shivapuri National Park at the outskirts of the Kathmandu Valley, three years ago, during Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche’s seminar. It was love at first sight, and since then, an unending affair. This is so for many reasons: the kindness and holiness of the nuns; the spectacular views of the valley; the clean air, and the great trekking trails to the top of Shivapuri and down to Boudha. In the long run, this place is one of the most important reasons for me to stay in Nepal.
Nagi Gompa was the seat of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche, a renowned Dzogchen master who passed away in 1996. He was the father of Chokyi Nyima Rinpoche. Many of Tulku Urgyen Rinpoche’s foreign students continually came to visit him and stay for some time. This why now there are rooms available for the steady flow of foreigners coming here. Other of his students built their own retreat places.
I have been living there for more than a year now, doing a combination of research, writing, and meditation. I go down to Boudha, in Kathmandu, on Fridays, and come up on Sundays. During weekends, I go to teachings, buy books, and keep in touch with people in the US who are assisting me with my research and writing, and with family and friends.
The nuns here are living examples of Tibetan Buddhist values. Ani Sonam is a personification of compassion, the always-caring mother of the monastery’s dogs, cows and foreigners living or staying at Nagi Gompa. She is a regular character in the always unfolding animal stories. Kochen, a dog, is usually prickly with anyone other than Ani Sonam. One time, scared by a particularly loud thunderstorm, he ended up huddling with people he would usually bark at, looking for company and protection in his time of fright. The family cows includes a cow, bull, and a young bull, their offspring. Sunauri, the cow, readily comes when Ani Sonam calls her. Bulls are naturally aggressive and indocile. Not this one; he is as placid as the cow, I guess as a result of Ani Sonam’s loving and compassionate hand. Provoked by the young bull, he would always playfully lock horns with him. One time, during one of such encounters, the young bull ended up in a hole. The workers had to figure out how to get him out, which they did successfully, not withstanding my skepticism about their method.
|Ani Gentara (center) and other Nagi Gompa nuns
Ani Gentara is an embodiment of joy, always with a big and happy smile. Some time ago, she organized a seven-month Nyungne, a day-in, day-out Chenrezig fasting and silence practice. On late afternoons, on their non-fasting/talking days, some nuns, Tibetans, local people, Westerners, and I would sometimes join the four nuns participating for the last part of their practice. The highlight of this last part was “Calling the Guru From Afar.” Amber, the filmmaker whom almost everybody around the Shedra knows, filmed the nuns singing it, and will have this available online shortly.
Then there are the little Anis, Lundok Drolma and Yeshe Lhamo. They are both about eleven. With contrasting characters, one bubbly, the other more introverted, they are progressing with their Tibetan lessons in stride. Twice we went with them for a day walk and picnic up Shivapuri peak, the first time with Patricia and Laura from the US, and Arnica from Holland. This year, when Arnica came back, we decided to do it again, this time all the way up to the top. The little nuns loved it.
One day, arriving to Nagi Gompa from my weekend stay down in Boudha, I saw Ani Sonam talking with a mysterious, robed, long-haired woman. I thought perhaps she was a visiting yogini, and later asked Ani Sonam who her visiting friend was, but she could not quite identify any such visiting friend. I was able to decipher the mystery only when visiting each of the nuns coming out of three-year retreat together with Ani Sonam, right before they moved out of the retreat place. All of them still wore their hair long and uncut. A few months later, at an auspicious date, a new group of ten nuns moved in to this place and started their three-year retreat.
Many things coalesce to bring about the very special atmosphere here: the pujas and personal practices of the nuns, the ten nuns in three-year retreat, a Tibetan in life retreat, a few Westerners in various length long retreats, and the continuous flow of foreigners for shorter retreats. For Lena, a Ukrainian now staying for some weeks in the retreat cave, some twenty minutes from the main compound, this is her favorite place in the world, and I join her in this thought. This is her second time here.
|Nagi Gompa Nuns Preforming Chod Dance
The constant flow of foreigners adds to the flavor of the place: people from all around the world, some trying to figure what to do with their lives; others, looking for the solace of a place of retreat; some just going for a trek. One recent such visitor was Florian from Germany, who stayed in the cave for several weeks. He is student of an unusual teacher from China, holder of a Tibetan lineage who tells his students “Don’t follow me, because I will break you.” He speaks fluent Spanish, and happened to live in Peru for a year as a volunteer at a rehabilitation clinic. Erica, from Canada; Wendy, from Denmark; Ida, from Brazil; Heather from the US; all were my temporary neighbors in their retreats. Alex from Russia, here for the second time, wanted to stay in the cave already taken by Florian. I have made some good friends here.
The arrival of the little Yangsi, Tulku Urgyen’s Rinpoche recognized reincarnation, to live here will probably slowly become momentous for the nunnery. From being a backwater nunnery for years, its dynamic is already changing. Right now, the Yangsi’s tutors are also staying. Main among them is Tulku Pasang Tsering, whom I met once before in Pharping.
Nagi Gompa has proved to be a great place to write. I cannot think of any other place nearly as good. No internet, no phone, no TV, no distractions. It has been and continues to be, a very fruitful writing experience. I don’t know of any Tibetan equivalent to the muses . In any case, I have received their constant visits and inspiration.
Staying in a place like this, combining writing and meditation, is my own modest personal version the ideal of the scholar-practitioner which Chokyi Nyigma Rinpoche brings up so often in his teachings. He personified this ideal in Mipham, the 19th-early-20th-century scholar and meditation master, deeply involved in meditation practice, and writing in-between meditation sessions.
The first product of my stay is a seventy-page paper entitled “Signa Mortifera: The Prognostication of Death in Late Medieval Tibet and Europe.” Starting from the Tibetan sciences of the signs for knowing the signs if death is coming, I explored the cultural equivalent in medieval Europe, saints’ prophetic foreknowledge of their own and others’ deaths. In my next entry, I will write about this. For now, I got an A from my professor Matthew Kapstein, for which I am extremely happy. The next step is trying to publish it. This is something I have never done before. They say it takes about a year.
In the meantime, I do not know how much longer I will be here. Perhaps in the next few months my academic work will take me somewhere else in Asia, or maybe I can stay for one more year. And then, probably back to school. Wherever life takes me, I will remember this as a happy and fruitful time.
~Raul from Peru