After the Chinese occupation, nuns from Tibet chose to accept the challenge of crossing the perilous, snow-covered peaks and treacherous ascents of the 22,000 foot Nangpa La to seek asylum at Deboche and be with Deboche’s head nun and spiritual leader, Ani Ngawang Pema. Ani Pema was a well-known Buddhist practitioner who spent some 51 years in solitary retreat. She accumulated great merit and powerful wisdom from decades of meditation and ministry to fellow nuns and the wider international and local communities.

The nuns of Deboche are considered ceremonial nuns who perform ‘pujas’ or religious ceremonies throughout the Khumbu. They start each day with prayers for the well being of all sentient beings..that they may find happiness through compassion and loving kindness. The nuns have voiced a desire for further monastic training so that they may become teachers and learned mediators. By rebuilding Deboche and creating a teaching/meditation facility, we are working to enable these nuns and other dedicated students to achieve lifelong goals and preserve their Tibetan/Sherpa culture and Buddhist traditions.

Photos by Dana Berenson

During the winter and spring of 2009, I was fortunate enough to spend about four months at Deboche Nunnery as part of a research grant. Ani Pema was in retreat at the time, but nonetheless took me under her wing. The depth of her warm heart and ability to know (without even seeing her in person) the obstacles that arose and the corresponding emotions I felt regarding research touched me deeply. A seed had been planted without my knowing and would result in years of study and my ordination as a Buddhist nun.
What a simple and beautiful life the nuns live. How content and kind they are, yet so hospitable and open-minded to all the foreigners who show up (along with their strange customs and culture) looking for something ineffable but not quite sure what it is or why we are so curious. The spacious environment and extreme beauty of the Khumbu Himalayas coupled with the harshness of life in such a climate provides the perfect setting for reflection. While walking in the mountains amongst so many places of pilgrimage and spiritual practice, one naturally becomes curious about one’s own mind and its true nature. Meeting the Deboche nuns, who have dedicated their lives to finding the Buddha that we all carry within us, can be life changing. Certainly it was for myself and also many other travelers, mountaineers and pilgrims who visit this region.
— Ani Sangye Chodron Board Member for the Deboche Project