Jan Willis reveals why life is getting better for the nuns of Ladakh.
Tucked away on a high plateau in the far northwest of India lies the dry and windswept region of Ladakh, one of the most beautiful and remote outposts in the Buddhist world. To the east it is bordered by the Himalayas. To the west lies war-troubled Kashmir and Pakistan. From the fifth to the fifteenth century Ladakh was an independent Tibetan kingdom and many Buddhist monasteries were established there.
Modern-day Ladakh—whose population of 160,000 is about evenly divided between Buddhists and Muslims—is still home to many monks and nuns, but for generations nuns have held a grossly inferior position. I first travelled to Ladakh in 1995 to attend the Sakyadhita Conference of Buddhist Women held in its capital city, Leh. I was astounded by the appalling conditions of Ladakh’s nuns, who seemed to be mere helpers for the monks, with no status and no attention being paid to their spiritual path. But on a return visit in July 2003, I was able to see how the work of the Ladakh Nuns Association in the intervening eight years had made it possible for many of Ladakh’s nuns to move away from servitude and towards becoming true spiritual practitioners.