One of the older nuns seen in Blessings: The Tsoknyi Nangchen Nuns of Tibet is Sherab Zangmo, considered to be one of the most accomplished practitioners in Nangchen. Sherab Zangmo became a nun at the age of 20. As she describes in Blessings, while doing a dark retreat, Sherab Zangmo had many visions and completely accomplished the practice. Although she was still a young nun at the time, this was not a temporary meditation experience, but a profound realization, very rarely accomplished in such a sudden fashion.
During the Cultural Revolution, Sherab Zangmo went into hiding in the mountains of Nangchen. She continued to meditate, and despite illness, stayed in retreat for more than 20 years including four years in solitary retreat in a mountain cave. In the mid-1980s after condition improved, Sherab Zangmo was requested to return to the newly rebuilt Gebchak Gompa and teach. Until her death in her mid 80s, she gave empowerments, instructions and inspiration to a new generation of nuns. She died joyfully in 2008, while teaching on the pure lands.
“Having realized the nature of mind which is, in essence, the mind that wishes to benefit others and lead them from suffering, you can be of great benefit to others.”
~ Ani Sherab Zangmo
A Teaching on Bodhichitta
by Tsoknyi Rinpoche III
Bodhichitta, or enlightened mind, is the essential unity of emptiness and compassion. It is the vast, profound, brilliant warmth and intelligence of awakened mind, which transcends all relative situations, but still included them. It expresses itself in us, and we catch glimpses of it all the time, but it cannot be pinned down. It is simply beyond our conceptual grasp. It is the basis of all the forms the mind takes; it is the mind’s natural, uncontrived state. Thus if we train in a way that helps us to realize the inseparable unity of emptiness and compassion, we can awaken into the wisdom of bodhichitta that is our true birthright.
Relative bodhichitta is what we can practice right now on the level of our ordinary thoughts, moods, and feelings. It is connected with the thought of enlightenment, the idea that we can definitely awaken from confusion and suffering and thus help others do the same. This thought inspires us and makes us want to reach out to others with compassion and intelligence to relieve their suffering.
“When you have love deep in your being, then you naturally benefit others.
~ His Holiness Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche
“The ground of liberation is this human form… and here distinctions of male and female have no consequence. And yet, if bodhichitta graces it, a woman’s form will be supreme.”
~ Padmasambhava, 9th century
Throughout Blessings, the Nangchen nuns talk about the importance of meditation and contemplation. One essential part of the Tsoknyi Nangchen nuns daily practice is the generation of an altruistic mind through deeply felt concentrations on Bodhichitta (the enlightened mind of compassion), such as…
Contemplation on Bodhichitta
by Tsoknyi Rinpoche III
Remain free and completely at ease.
Within this open state of mind, remind yourself that all sentient beings possess this awake openness as their basic nature. Everyone has Buddha nature, yet, unaware of this, they suffer in all sorts of terrible samsaric states. Contemplate how utterly sad this is, and form the resolve: ‘Through the method of this training, I will remove the delusion of all sentient beings. I will do away with this temporary delusion of seeing things as they are not.’ Develop that confidence, that courage. Remind yourself that all the confusion of samsara, all deluded experience comes about through clinging to the notion of me and mine. It all originates from cherishing oneself. Breath out deeply and slowly, a long deep breath, and imagine the exhalation carries all your virtue, positive karma and merit to all sentient beings. Gently breathe in again, gather all their negative karma, obscurations, and suffering. Take it into yourself, and again send them your positive merit. Practice like this for awhile.
Now imagine that all the suffering of sentient beings really does dissolve into yourself, that you really do take it on yourself. When their suffering enters you, it vanishes completely, melting into the state of primordial purity, like snow on water. Imagine your positive karma, virtues, and merit are truly given away to all sentient beings, and that they receive it, and it dispels all their suffering.
“May all beings have happiness and be free from suffering.
May they achieve the sublime happiness and dwell in equanimity.”
Sherab Zangmo in ‘Blessings’ Trailer
Credits: Text adapted from “Blessings: A Companion Booklet to the Film,” compiled by Victress Hitchcock, Jampa Kalden, and Cynthia Kneen.
Photos 1, 2, & 5 of Ani Sherab Zangmo & Tsoknyi Rinpoche by James Gritz;
photo 4 of Pema Yangki, Nangchen Nun at Tsoknyi Gechak Ling in Nepal by Olivier Adam;
photos 3 & 6 of Tsoknyi Rinpoche, photographer unidentified.