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
“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
“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
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 →
Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning.
The following video is a great primer on Tibetan Buddhist debate by nuns. It’s taken from a longer video made by the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India and it answers many of the frequently asked questions about Tibetan Buddhist debate, such as the meaning of the hand movements.
Nuns Learning Tibetan Buddhist Debate
In addition to their daily debate practice, each year in India, hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns from nunneries in India and Nepal gather for a special, month-long inter-nunnery debate called the Jang Gonchoe. This annual inter-nunnery debate takes place each autumn and is a critical part of the nuns’ education, allowing them to really “up their game” so to speak.
This photo shows the nuns during a night debate at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Thanks to generous donors, the new roof of the debate courtyard was completed in 2013. The special courtyard allows the nuns to debate year-round and in all weather, including during the heaviest storms and monsoon rains.
Prior to 1995, there was no Jang Gonchoe for nuns and this learning opportunity was only open to monks. The Tibetan Nuns Project, with the wonderful support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, played a critical role in opening up this learning opportunity to women. Establishing a comparable debate session for nuns has been an integral part of the nuns reaching their current level of excellence in their studies.
The inter-nunnery debate helps bring the nuns closer to equality with the monks in terms of learning opportunities and advancement along the spiritual path. For many, the Jang Gonchoe is an essential component of working towards higher academic degrees, such as the Geshema degree, equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism.
“It all happened because of the kindness, generosity, and genuine concern shown by all the wonderful donors who supported us for so many years. Much as we had the blessings from His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the vision, determination, and courage to pursue this matter to the full, without their generosity we would not have been able to have the Jang Gonchoe every year, which was and is the moving force behind every step of progress in education the nuns have made,” said Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founder and Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project.
The Jang Gonchoe Annual Inter-Nunnery Debate
The inter-nunnery debate has been fully supported since 1997 by the Tibetan Nuns Project. We hope that, with gifts to our Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund and to help the annual debate, the inter-nunnery debate will be able to continue for many years to come. Donations help to cover costs such as transportation, food, and accommodation for the nuns who wish to attend.
Nuns debate in front of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the last day of the Jang Gonchoe in 2014. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Choejor, OHHDL
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has often spoken of the need to examine the teachings of the Buddha closely and with an inquisitive mind. “This is the 21st century and we need to understand the Buddha’s teachings in the light of reason. When we teach, we need to do so on the basis of reason,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama told the nuns at the end of the 2014 Jang Gonchoe.
His Holiness added, “Nowadays, the Nalanda tradition of approaching the Buddha’s teachings with logic and reason is only found amongst Tibetans. It’s something precious we can be proud of and should strive to preserve.”
A teacher with the nuns during the 2015 Jang Gonchoe debate event in Dharamsala. 2015 marked the 20th anniversary of the inter-nunnery debate which draws hundreds of nuns each year.
If you would like to support the Jang Gonchoe, we would be most grateful. Gifts to our Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund or to this year’s inter-nunnery debate help to both preserve the Tibetan culture and open up this centuries-old tradition to the nuns, enabling and empowering them to become great teachers in their own right.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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’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.
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
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.
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 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.
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 →
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.
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 preparing ritual offerings for a special puja.
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.
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 →
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.
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.
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.
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.