April Update: Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries During COVID-19

On Tuesday, India extended the COVID-19 lockdown for 19 days to May 3rd. Here’s an update on the situation at some of the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

So far we’ve received updates from 4 of the 7 nunneries we support. Earlier this month we reported on Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries. We’ll continue to update this blog post as new information arrives.

Tibetan Buddhist nunnery under coronavirus lockdown, COVID-19

Nuns wear face masks at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. On Tuesday, the Indian Prime Minister extended the initial 21-day COVID-19 lockdown for 19 days to May 4. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Sakya College for Nuns

The nuns wanted to send this special message to donors and sponsors. Venerable Dechen Wangmo wrote, “I hope all our kind sponsors are well and keeping themselves safe. We pray for all in the world and our dear sponsors and supporters. Our deep prayers to all!”

The nuns began taking precautionary measures well before coronavirus cases were found in India. From January onwards, the nuns cancelled outings from the nunneries. Nuns left only to consult physicians or for urgent personal reasons. Otherwise, a select group of nuns is assigned to purchase essentials such as vegetables, cooking gas cylinders, other rations and gas for the generators.

The nuns who do these tasks are very cautious when they go out. They wear face masks and use sanitizer. When they return to the nunnery, instead of going to their rooms, they go straight to the washroom to change their clothes and soak their clothing in detergent mixed with Dettol.

The nuns have been refraining from getting together in large numbers. They have cancelled assembly, pujas, debating practice, and all classes except for philosophy.

The Sakya nuns manage their philosophy class in a special way. Each day, one student from each class is allowed to go to class and record everything said by the teacher. This recording is then shared with the other nuns who listen to it in their rooms.

Tibetan Buddhist nun at Sakya College for Nuns 2017 low res

The nuns are studying are on their own in their rooms. Each day they get a recording of the philosophy class. Photo of a Sakya nun studying in her room from 2017.

The nuns are being given hot black tea, honey-ginger-lemon tea, and warm water to keep themselves well hydrated.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Sherab Choeling is a remote nunnery in the Spiti Valley, an arid mountain valley located high in the Himalaya mountains in the north-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh. All 62 nuns are doing fine as of April 13th.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns from Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Of the 62 Sherab Choeling nuns, around 18 nuns remained at the nunnery in Spiti, while 44 nuns travelled to Hamirpur in mid-February so that they could continue their philosophy classes. The 18 nuns are the young ones getting primary education plus some senior nuns.

As we reported in the 2019 Newsletter, the nuns are grateful for their two philosophy teachers. One has been teaching them for 14 years, enduring the extreme weather of the Spiti Valley far from his monastery in south India.

This year the teachers were told to return to their monasteries unless they had a permit to stay. The head nun asked the government office in Kinnaur for permits, but no permits are being issued now because of the coronavirus scare.

She discussed the situation with the committee and the philosophy teachers and decided they would move to Hamirpur so that the nuns could continue with classes. In mid-February, 44 nuns and their 2 philosophy teachers moved to Hamirpur, about three hours drive from Dharamsala. They are staying in a three-story Spiti Hostel building. The nuns were able to continue their classes through March 2nd, but since then they have been cancelled to comply with health regulations.

COVID-19 lockdown, Spiti

In mid-February, 44 nuns and their 2 philosophy teachers moved to the Spiti Hostel in Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes. Unfortunately, from March 2nd, due to the coronavirus lockdown and health precautions, the nuns can no longer assemble in groups.

Other than the problems with permits and classes, staying outside Spiti has not been difficult. The nuns were able to stock up on rations before the lockdown. They are also able to get vegetables whenever they need. Back at Sherab Choeling, around 18 nuns remain, some senior nuns and the young nuns receiving primary education.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Like other nunneries, Dolma Ling took many precautions for the COVID-19 early on. As we reported earlier, since the first week of February, the nunnery has been closed to visitors. Before the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries bought a month’s worth of rations.

fields and Dhauladhar range above Dolma Ling Nunnery

Wheatfields and the Dhauladhar range above Dolma Ling Nunnery. As air pollution levels in India have dropped during the COVID-19 lockdown, many people are seeing these mountains for the first time in 30 years. The name Dhauladhar means “the white range”.

Since the India lockdown began on March 2nd, entry to the nunnery is even stricter. Under the lockdown, the use of vehicles has stopped. However,  both Dolma Ling and Shugsep received special government permits allowing the nuns to use the truck to get supplies. Once the nuns return with rations such as vegetables and cooking fuel, people and goods are disinfected as much as possible before they enter the nunnery grounds.

Tibetan Buddhist nun coronavirus lockdown update, COVID-19 lockdown

The nuns are doing their best to practice social distancing. Nuns continue to study on their own in their rooms or at safe distances outdoors. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

At Dolma Ling, classes, pujas, and other group activities are cancelled to lessen the risk of infection. The nuns study on their own and do chores such as cleaning, laundry, caring for the cows, and making tofu.

social distancing coronavirus Tibetan Buddhist nun

A Tibetan Buddhist nun sits alone on the verandah to eat. The nuns no longer gather in the dining hall but bring their dishes to the courtyard to collect food and then sit apart to eat it. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns do laundry

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling do laundry in the spring that flows in channels through the top of the nunnery grounds. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Sponsors Needed

Sadly, some sponsors of nuns have had to stop their sponsorships because of the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means that quite a few nuns need sponsors.

It costs just $1 a day to sponsor a nun and help provide the basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and education. If you can sponsor a nun, please click here.

Sponsor a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Inda

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