Lincoln will host nunnery to carry on Tibetan tradition

By JOHN FLOWERS, Addison Independent, August 1, 2005

Lincoln, NE (USA) -- The town of Lincoln has for years provided a pastoral refuge for people to contemplate nature and pause to think about their lives and about the world around them.

<< Khenmo Drolma

Sometime next year, four women will be taking that kind of deep introspection to a new level, as they begin their lives as part of what organizers are calling the first Tibetan Buddhist Nunnery in North America, to be built at the Sunray Peace Village off Downingsville Road in Lincoln.

More than 70 people of several different faiths and nationalities converged upon the Sunray grounds on Thursday to celebrate a ?ground blessing? at the future site of the Vajra Dakini Nunnery. There, as soon as next fall, four women will seek Buddhist ordination and live a monastic life under the tutelage of Khenmo Drolma, herself an ordained Buddhist nun.

A second phase of construction could expand the nunnery to accommodate a total of eight women before the end of the decade, organizers said.

?Our hope is to have (phase one) finished in a year from this September,? Drolma said, after a full morning of ceremonies that included traditional Buddhist prayers, offerings, poems and a symbolic smoke fire.

Drolma, formerly known as Gina Kelley, explained that planning for the nunnery dates back many years.

Sunray, under the direction of the Ven. Dhyani Ywahoo, has been offering instruction on the meditation practices of Tibetan Buddhism since 1976. Drolma became one of Ywahoo?s students in 1981. Ywahoo ultimately encouraged Drolma to take the novice vows as a Tibetan Buddhist nun. She completed her novice training after six years, and received encouragement to pursue plans for a nunnery at the Sunray property, which consists of roughly 25 acres.

Sunray trustees said they expect to soon receive official word of local permitting for the nunnery, which will include a meditation hall and living space for the four future nuns. The project must also receive an Act 250 permit.

With permits in hand, organizers hope to break ground later this summer on the nunnery project, expected to cost around $300,000. As of March, the project had garnered $135,000 in donations.

?Fund-raising is going very well,? said Janet Kahn, a member of the nunnery?s board of trustees. ?I have every expectation it will be a success.?

Ultimately, trustees envision a ?phase two? of the project, which would add residential wings to the main building, along with a kitchen and dining facility for larger public events. That second phase, projected to cost another $600,000, would provide space for eight nuns and is being targeted for completion in 2009.

Drolma will serve as the abbess for the nuns-in-training, who will go through a five-year ordination process and live at the nunnery for an indefinite period of time.

The nuns will live a very cloistered life dominated by meditation and prayer. The typical day, according to Drolma, will include silence and meditation in the morning, work in the afternoon, and silence and meditation at night.

?They pretty much don?t leave,? Ruth Diamond, another nunnery trustee, said of the future inhabitants. ?Once a week maybe, one of them will go into town to get supplies.?

The nuns will pray for happiness and peace for ?all beings,? according to Drolma.

Participants will be single, celibate and will not be exposed to television or other outside diversions.

?We?re focusing on seeing the nature of our minds without seeing distraction,? said Drolma, who sports traditional orange Buddhist robes and a shaved head.

Ultimately, organizers hope the Vajra Dakini Nunnery will serve as a model in establishing similar ventures and perpetuating a lineage of Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Western society.

It?s a process that will soon start in Lincoln.

?We?re very pleased,? Drolma said of progress to date.

Khenmo Drolma is the first Western Abbess/Abbott, as well as the first fully ordained nun, in the Drikung Kagyu lineage. She has studied with Pema Sangzin Khandro for over 20 years, and received monastic and shedra training at Gampo Abbey.

For more information on the Vajra Dakini Nunnery, please visit: