The Eight Fasting Practices at Nagi Gompa (Nagi Nunnery)
~ Kinley Dema ,MA Student from Bhutan
Every year, in the hills above Kathmandu, in the nunnery called Nagi Gompa, the nuns practice the eight white fasting practices. In the Vajrayana tradition, it is believed that the practice of fasting (nyungne), brings about the purification of all evil deeds gathered by the body, speech, and mind throughout many lifetimes. Moreover, it is said to be effective in the healing of illness, appeasing malicious spirits, and ultimately helping one attain birth in a pure land. The practice of nyungne is often done during the sacred month of Saga Dawa as this is a time of gaining immense merit.
In Bhutan, where I’m from, I’ve done a nyungne program before, however, it is far shorter than the practice at Nagi Gompa. The nyungne practice I’ve done in Bhutan is a two-and-half-day practice that involves keeping strict vows, of which the second day is devoted to complete silence and fasting. At Nagi, however, the nyungne practice is sixteen days long and is broken up into eight sets of two days each. In each set, every second day is a fasting day. On the first day of the set, the participants are allowed to eat breakfast and lunch and talk as well. The second day of each set is devoted to fasting and complete silence. On both days, a sadhana of Avalokiteśvarais practiced, focusing primarily on the accumulation of prostrations and mantra recitations.
This year the practice was held from the 30th of May until the 16th of June. Being a student of Buddhist Studies at RYI and having understood the great benefit of nyungne practice, I thought joining the practice would be a great opportunity. So, with two of my friends from RYI, we went to Nagi gompa to participate in nyungne practice. At the end of the first day of fasting practice, I was starving and thirsty, which made me realize the suffering of the hungry ghosts, which would be more severe than what I was experiencing during that period. However, the more we practice the more our body gets used to it, and we don’t struggle as much as in the beginning. Many lay people were participating in fasting practices, and the nuns of Nangi Nunnery provided us with great care. Overall, I think the nyungne practice at Nagi Gompa is an incredible experience and I hope more RYI students will join in the future.