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What happens in a Tibetan monastery?

Our community at Namdroling is composed of a monastery with at least 3000 monks and a nunnery with just over 500 nuns. Both the monastery and nunnery have three main parts: primary school (lobtra), ritual arts college (dratsang), and philosophical college (shedra). The monastery also has a three year retreat center (drubdra) and the nunnery hopes to build one as soon as sponsorship is available.
The lobtra provides an eight year school program for children between the ages of seven and twenty-two (approximately). All classes are taught in Tibetan. Subjects include reading, writing, chanting, and English in the early years. Later years also study basic Buddhist texts, debate, ritual arts, and ritual music. This type of primary education prepares students to enter the shedra or dratsang after graduation. The students take the monastic robes and thus become monks and nuns, but usually do not take novice vows until after graduation.
The dratsang is home to the greatest percentage of the monastery population. The dratsang’s main occupation is to carry out liturgical services (puja). Pujas are performed within the monastery’s temples and also within the private homes of the local laity. Dratsang monks and nuns study litugical chanting, the making of ritual substances, and playing liturgical instruments.
The shedra offers a nine year program in Buddhist philosophy. Students study 6 to 8 texts each year. They debate for an hour each day, and write comprehensive final exams at the end of the year. Since this is where I study, it will be the subject of many future blogs.
The drubdra is a retreat center where participants practice in a sealed group retreat for three years, three months and three days.
There are many different teachers in the monastery. Foremost is our revered abbot and spiritual guide, His Holiness Penor Rinpoche. His Holiness offers empowerments and meditation instruction as well as practical advice to the monks, nuns, and laity. Graduates of the shedra, lopons and khenpos, teach in the shedra and lobtra. A senior lama offers instruction inside the drubdra. And as is traditional, many older monks and nuns teach the younger ones and offer guidance based on their experience.
Another essential part of the monastery community is the large number of monks and nuns who serve as ‘workers’. They cook, build, oversee sections of the monastery or specific projects, and maintain discipline. Some workers hold their positions permanently, but most are appointed to serve for three years.
All members of the monastery may engage in their individual practices of prayer and meditation. There are also group practices and retreats held every year.


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