Author Archives: Tibetan Nuns Project

Congratulations messages to Geshema graduates

During May 2016, as twenty nuns were taking their fourth and final round of the Geshema exams, the Tibetan Nuns Project put out a call for people around the world to share their messages of congratulations to the Geshema nuns.

Here are some of the many messages of congratulations that have been sent via mail, email, and social media.

“Thank you for studying and learning the dharma. In doing this you become a treasure for all beings.” Rebecca

messages to Geshema nuns

“Please convey my best wishes for successful completion for all participants. I am looking forward to hearing the results of this year’s examination. All their hard work, some learning to read and write, to reach this stage is amazing to me. The dedication, hard work & constant studying is impressive. I will keep all of them in my thoughts and prayers.” dgordon243

“Congratulations to all whose generosity makes learning and living possible for Tibetan nuns! Congratulation to the 20 nuns who have taken advanced exams! Congratulations to their teachers, too! We are so proud of each one you and your hard work. Thank you for your efforts and sacrifices to continue lifelong learning! With much love and encouragement,” Joy R., Northern California, USA

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“Very happy for the nuns who are finally given this opportunity. I am sure the exams will be a success and a new and happy path for them and the ones who follow. I am with you, girls! Love and support from Maria (Portugal).” MariaLuís

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Two of the many messages of congratulations to the Geshema nuns that we have received from supporters worldwide.

“One of the nuns I sponsor from Geden Choeling is sitting her final exams and my prayers are with her as always. She is so special, as are all the nuns. I know she will do well and I will be bursting with pride to call her Geshema when I see her in September.” Karen D. Continue reading

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Make History: Congratulations Geshema Nuns!

Twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns have just made history, becoming the first Tibetan women to successfully pass all the exams for the Geshema degree, equivalent to a Doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. Exam results were announced by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration. All 20 candidates for the degree passed.

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A Geshema candidate on Day 1 of the Geshema examinations held this year at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India. Photo courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdron.

Their success fulfills a longstanding wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and marks a new chapter in the development of education for ordained Buddhist women and is a major accomplishment for Tibetan women.

The Geshema degree (a Geshe degree when awarded to men) is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. These women pioneers have accomplished a level of scholarship and Buddhist training that, until recently, was only open to men.

The Geshema examination process is an extremely rigorous one that takes four years in total, with one round per year each May. During the 12-day exam period, the nuns must take both oral (debate) and written exams. They are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts. In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first female to receive the Geshema title.

The new Geshema nuns will formally receive their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod in southern India.

Geshema exam nuns

Good luck! Nuns departing from Dolma Ling Nunnery to take their Geshema exams in the spring of 2016 receive wishes of good luck from the other nuns. Photo courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdon

This occasion is also a milestone for the Tibetan Nuns Project, which was founded in 1987 to provide education and humanitarian aid to Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in India. A number of the Geshema candidates were illiterate when they escaped from Tibet. To reach this historic milestone, the Tibetan Nuns Project had to build an educational system from the ground up.

“Educating women is powerful,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founder and Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project. “It’s not just about books. It is also about helping nuns acquire the skills they need to run their own institutions and create models for future success and expansion. It’s about enabling the nuns to be teachers in their own right and to take on leadership roles at a critical time in our nation’s history.”

Earning the Geshema degrees marks a turning point for the nuns. This degree will make them eligible to assume various leadership roles in the monastic and lay communities, previously reserved for men.

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Nuns must take both written and oral (debate) exams each year as part of the rigorous 4-year Geshema examination process. Photo courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdron

The Tibetan Nuns Project supports 7 nunneries in India as well as many nuns living on their own for a total of nearly 800 nuns. Many are refugees from Tibet, but the organization also reaches out to the Himalayan border areas of India where women and girls have had little access to education and religious training.

Learn about our Endowment Fund in support of the Geshema exams.

What we are working on now… sustaining Dolma Ling

We wanted to share with our blog followers some special projects in India that we’re working on. Each year we receive various projects focused on sustaining Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, near Dharamsala, India.

Dolma Ling was officially inaugurated in December 2005 and has increased in size and is now home to about 250 nuns. The nunnery was built by the Tibetan Nuns Project and is unique for its size and scope of education.

Dolma Ling Nunnery functions as a non-sectarian monastic university and provides the opportunity for nuns to study for higher degrees, including the Geshema degree, equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism.

While much of the maintenance and chores to keep the building sound and the nunnery running smoothly are done by the nuns themselves, like any large residential institution, there are some projects that need outside support.

We currently have six projects that the nuns need help with in order to keep Dolma Ling running smoothly:

  1. furnishing the kitchen that was expanded last year
  2. creating a butter sculpture workshop
  3. expanding the cow shed
  4. purchasing water filters and creating a boiled-water center
  5. repainting the main prayer hall, a nuns’ housing wing, and one of the staff quarters
  6. purchasing additional tables and stools for the nuns’ rooms.

A full description of each project is available on our Current Projects section of this website or by clicking the hyperlinks in the list above.

To help us with these projects you can:

  1. Make a gift online
  2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901 (Monday-Friday, 8-4)
  3. Mail a check to:
    The Tibetan Nuns Project
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216
    Seattle, WA 98134 USA
    (Please include a note about how you wish your gift to be used.)

Sustaining Dolma Ling Nunnery with special projects

Award-winning artist, Miya Ando, helps Tibetan Buddhist nuns with online auction

Miya Ando, the renowned New York minimalist artist, has created a special series of five mandalas to be auctioned online to raise funds for the Tibetan Nuns Project, a registered charity based in Seattle and India.

All proceeds of the sale of the works, after the small fees from the auction house, will be donated by the artist to the Tibetan Nuns Project and will be used to provide food, shelter, education, and health care to over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns living at seven nunneries in northern India.

Miya Ando, bodhi leaf, meditation mandala, Tibetan Nuns Project, Paddle8 Auction

Miya Ando’s Dark Red Small Bodhi Leaf Meditation Mandala, 21×21 inches, framed, dyed bodhi skeleton leaves, monofilament, ragboard, 2015.

Online Auction of Unique Mandalas by Miya Ando
May 26-June 9 2016

Miya Ando has created a series of mandalas in the colors of Tibetan prayer flags. To create the works she’s used skeleton leaves from the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) that she has bleached, dyed, and sewn.

bodhi leaf, prayer flag, Miya Ando, Tibetan Nuns Project, Paddle8

Miya Ando’s five prayer flags made from Bodhi leaves being auctioned online through Paddle8 from May 26 to June 9 2016 with proceeds going to the Tibetan Nuns Project

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The Tibetan Buddhist holy month of Saga Dawa

Saga Dawa is a very important month in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. This year, Saga Dawa, the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, started on May 7th and runs until June 5th 2016.

The 15th day of the lunar month, the full moon day, is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Buddhists. This year Saga Dawa Düchen falls on May 21 2016. In other Buddhist traditions it is known as Vesak or is sometimes as Buddha Day. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death (parinirvana) of Buddha Shakyamuni.

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A young Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery reads scriptures to mark Saga Dawa. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo.

Since 1999, the United Nations has marked this sacred Buddhist day each year with a special message from the UN Secretary General. The UN Vesak page states, “Vesak, the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world. It was on the Day of Vesak two and a half millennia ago, in the year 623 B.C., that the Buddha was born. It was also on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha attained enlightenment, and it was on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha in his eightieth year passed away.”

This year’s message from the UN Secretary General highlights the primary role that women can play in promoting peace, justice, and human rights. Continue reading

First batch of Geshema candidates sit their final round of exams

This month twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns are making history as they take their fourth and final round of examinations for the Geshema degree. Those who pass will receive their degrees in December 2016 from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony in India.

The Geshe degree (Geshema for women) is equivalent to a Doctorate in Buddhist Philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetan nun, Buddhism, Geshema, Gesha, Tibetan Nuns Project, Geden Choeling, Dharamsala, Tibetan Buddhism

A Geshema candidate on day 1 of the Geshema examinations being held this year at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India. Photo courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdron.

Once only open to men, the opportunity to get the Geshe degree was opened to women in 2012. The Geshema examinations represent a huge milestone for Tibetan Buddhist nuns and this batch of 20 nuns will be the first Tibetan women with this highest degree in the history of Tibet.

This year’s Geshema examinations are being held at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India from May 1 to 12th 2016.  Continue reading

Giving the gift of prayer – pujas by Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Did you know that you can visit the Tibetan Nuns Project website to request special prayers, also known as pujas, to be said by the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India on your behalf?

The nuns regularly perform a variety of pujas and also offer butter lamps for the benefit of others. People around the world can sponsor or request pujas in honor of a friend, family member, or even an animal who may be suffering from obstacles, ill health, or who has passed away.

Buddhist nuns saying prayers

This photo shows nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India saying sponsored prayers in 2013. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

There are many different types of prayers or pujas to choose from, ranging from offering 100 butter lamps to the elaborate “Twenty-one Praises of Tara” which includes 100,000 recitations of the “Twenty-one Praises to Tara” prayer, renowned for removing obstacles and fulfilling wishes.

Tibetan nuns, pujas, Tibetan Nuns Project

Tibetan nuns preparing ritual offerings for a special puja.

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Behind the scenes at Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

Here’s a chance for you to take a trip behind the scenes at some of the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India that are supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Whether the nunnery is large or small, there are many tasks or chores that the nuns must do to ensure that they are as self-sufficient as possible and to make sure that the nunneries function smoothly and are well maintained.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns chores

Collage of some of the many tasks of the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India, in addition to their studies and prayers.

In terms of regular tasks, one could view a nunnery as something like a cross between a very large household and a university or college. As you can imagine, there’s a lot of chores that need to be done each day, week, month, and year in order to keep everything running like a well-oiled machine. Continue reading

An updated, larger kitchen for the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery!

The nuns who live at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala, India now have an expanded kitchen facility thanks to the generosity of some very special donors.

The old kitchen at the nunnery was initially built in 1993 when there were just 82 nuns. Slowly, over time, the number of nuns more than tripled to 240 plus 40 staff so it was no longer large enough to adequately prepare food for that number of people.

To try to cope, the nuns, in 2001, took over a ground floor classroom as a vegetable storeroom and cutting room. The space was very cramped and the classroom that served as a kind of kitchen extension was sorely needed by the expanding education program.

Enter some very generous donors who made the nuns dream of a new kitchen a reality. We’re excited to show you these photos and a little video.

Dolma Ling kitchen

The front of the new kitchen showing the solar panels for hot water. By extending the kitchen forward into the courtyard, an additional 750 square feet of functional space was added.

In the spring of 2015 we sought funding for the kitchen extension project. Our donors have helped the nuns solve many problems at once. Not only do the nuns have much more space for preparing and storing food, but by moving the solar panels and water tanks the nunnery has been able to solve problems with maintenance and leakage.

Dolma Ling Nunnery kitchen

The ground floor of the kitchen extension is a purpose-built space for the storage and preparation of vegetables and supplies. The nuns follow a vegetarian diet.

The nuns also make tofu each week to supply the nunnery kitchen and to sell to other monastic institutions and local people to raise some funds for the nunnery.

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Nuns working in the spacious new kitchen at Dolma Ling. The nuns have 3 meals a day and all the cooking is done by the nuns themselves.

The head cook is always busy and the kitchen is kept spotless. The nuns rotate in and out of kitchen duties so everyone participates. Breakfast preparations begin as early as 3 a.m. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is often rice, two kinds of vegetables, dal, and sometimes fruit. Dinner is often a noodle soup and maybe a steamed bun.

See this blog post showing the old kitchen space at Dolma Ling and giving a recipe for dal.

ktichen at Dolma Ling

A dream come true. A view into the new kitchen space at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Our deepest thanks to the donors who made this possible.

A long journey to an amazing result: one nun’s story

Born into a simple family in eastern Tibet, Lobsang Dolkar, became a nun in her teens. With no opportunity to study, she spent her days in household chores and tending livestock. Being a nun meant reciting mantras and doing prostrations.

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Venerable Lobsang Dolkar, one of the first Dolma Ling nuns

When her brother married, she became free to make a pilgrimage to Lhasa where she made friends with another nun. They decided to go to India to attend
the 1990 Kalachakra being given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Caught twice crossing into Nepal and handed back to the Chinese, their third attempt was successful.

Lobsang Dolker had not planned to stay in India, but her friend convinced her it was no use returning to Tibet and they should instead enroll in the newly founded nunnery, Dolma Ling.

She is among the first batch of nuns who entered the study program and at the same time helped with its construction. It was a joyous moment in 1994 when they moved into newly constructed rooms and had a home in India. Sadly she did not see her parents again; they passed away two years ago.

When she began her studies, it was hard for her to grasp what was being taught since she had had no previous education. But she never gave up. She feels that the opportunity to earn the Geshema Degree is very special and is grateful to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his continuous support of  nuns’ education. Access to this degree encourages nuns to persevere.

Lobsang says that, in the beginning, she was scared to sit the Geshema exams, but she never thought of backing out because she did not want younger nuns to accept failure without trying hard for their degree. In May she successfully passed Year 2 of the four-year exams. All being well, she will be a Geshema in 2017.

Looking back on how far she has come, Lobsang appreciates the importance
of education and is grateful to all the teachers and staff for their dedication to the nuns.

We are looking for more sponsors. You can sponsor a nun for less that $1 a day and help provide food, education, shelter and health care. 100% of your sponsorship gifts go to India. Learn more at https://tnp.org/youcanhelp/sponsor/