Ani Gompa – A Buddhist Nunnery in Tawang
The Ani Gompas or nunneries of Tawang are steeped in the same time-honoured Tibetan Buddhist traditions as their larger all-male counterparts, the monasteries. Devoted to the study and practice of Lord Buddha’s teaching, the nuns known as ‘Anis’ commit their lives to helping others.
Coming from a Western society which generally views random acts of kindness by strangers with suspicion rather than with faith, it was only after moving to India that the bell of compassion began to resonate with me. Still, to actually meet a holy being and feel spiritual energy of that dimension was something entirely new. And it was about to happen again.
“Tashi Delek”, a voice called out the Monpa greeting. We walked ahead and a nun welcomed us with a gentle shake of her work-worn hand. She led us to the main prayer hall which was noticeably smaller than the others we had visited but no less ornate. From inside a glass casing adorned with white prayer scarves, the Lord Buddha, the Protectoress with 1000 benevolent arms and the Rinpoche in his golden hat held level unblinking gazes into infinity.
I turned away and the nun stood before me holding a red thread. She tied a knot in it, said a mantra over it and then tied it around my neck. Indeed, the warm-heartedness of the moment as I was given my so-called ‘protection and blessing cord’ made me forget the sting of cold under my soles.
Back again in the courtyard the wind nipped at our cheeks and sensing this, the nun offered to serve us yak-butter tea. We eagerly accepted and sat down on a narrow bench near the entrance to the kitchen. She set a tray on the table in front of us and the steam from two mugs curled upward. Seating herself, at last she told us her name – Sonam. She was responsible for cooking for the 45 resident nuns and had been at the Ani Gompa ever since she could remember. She was the child chosen from her family’s generation to become a monk or nun.
Before taking our leave, Sonam placed juniper branches on the fire smouldering in the incense burner outside and together we lit some butter lamps. Then she walked us back toward our car, raised her hand in a wave and waited until we were on our way back down the mountain toward town.