Category Archives: Buddhist Nunneries

Goodbye Winter? Photos from Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries

Today is the first day of spring, but is it really goodbye winter at Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in northern India?

Visit two nunneries with videos and photos to see the life of the nuns in winter.

Winter at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote, high-altitude Spiti Valley is one of seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. It was founded just over 25 years ago to educate Himalayan Buddhist nuns who would otherwise have no opportunity to receive any formal schooling or spiritual education.

sign for Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Sign for Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Indian Himalayas. The nunnery is very secluded and is at almost 4,000 feet or 1,200 meters altitude.

Winters are tough at Sherab Choeling and this year was no exception. In February it was snowy and cold with temperatures dropping down to -8°F or -22°C.

The 62 nuns at the nunnery have many winter chores such as carrying water, washing dishes at an outdoor pump, and shovelling snow. There is very little heat in the nunnery, aside from the stoves for cooking.

fetching water at Sherab Choeling Nunnery, winter photos Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

The nuns wash their dishes at an outside pump and fetch water from for the nunnery.

Last week, an avalanche blocked one of the main roads into Spiti, the Manali-Leh highway, stranding vehicles while another avalanche blocked a major road through the Spiti Valley. Winter may not be over yet.

Tibetan nuns shovelling snow, Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Spiti, winter at Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

The nuns gather in the sunshine to shovel snow and sweep the steps of the nunnery.

Here’s a video of winter at Sherab Choeling with clips made by the nuns. Can’t see the video? Click here.

Life in Winter at Dolma Ling

The wonderful Media Nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have documented daily life at the nunnery in January and February.

With the rise of the highly transmissable omicron variant in the early part of 2022, the nuns did more activities outside. Despite the cold weather, they studied and ate their meals outdoors as much as possible.

Here’s a slideshow. Can’t see it? Click here.

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Geshemas Teach Children on Their Winter Break

Every winter, the Tibetan children who live near the nunnery have a long winter break. This year, the Geshema nuns at Dolma Ling wanted to help the children improve their Tibetan reading and writing skills. These nuns hold the highest degree in their tradition, roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Here’s a slideshow of the Geshemas teaching the children. Can’t see it? Click here.

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Update on Life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in 2021

Despite the pandemic, the nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery have all been well and the academic year has gone smoothly. They recently send these photos and an update on life there. Thank you to everyone who has sponsored a nun at Sherab Choeling! We hope you enjoy this post about daily life at this remote nunnery.

snow on the mountains above Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti

Fresh snow on the mountains above Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti. The nuns took this photo on October 21st, 2021 and it also shows the newly paved road leading up to the nunnery. The road enhancement was done by government.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Spiti Valley of northern India is one of the seven Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. It is a non-sectarian nunnery that recognizes the beauty and value in all Buddhist traditions.

daily life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

The nuns’ daily routine is to have prayer sessions in the morning, followed by regular classes and internal debate sessions. Nunnery kitchen and cleaning duties are shuffled amongst the nuns.

Currently 62 nuns live there. The youngest nun at the nunnery is around 13 while the eldest nuns are in their 60s.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns practice debating

The nuns practice debating in the sun-filled corridor of the nunnery. Learning traditional monastic debate is an essential component of working towards higher academic degrees, such as the Geshema degree, equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

The nunnery is very secluded and lies in the village of Morang at 4,000 meters altitude. It was built in 1995 by 20 nuns and their teacher to address the problem of the inadequate education of women in the region.

mealtime at Sherab Choeling Nunnery, update from Sherab Choeling
Traditionally women in this region have suffered from many social and educational disadvantages. Many have been deprived of any kind of education, and this institute is the first in Spiti to provide women with the opportunity to overcome these disadvantages.

Tibetan nun cooks simple food

One of the nuns on kitchen duty cooks flatbreads on the stove that also serves to help heat the room. The nuns have a simple vegetarian diet.

Many young girls seek admission to Sherab Choeling, but due to lack of facilities and sponsors, it is not possible for all to gain entrance. The Tibetan Nuns Project helps by raising awareness, finding sponsors for the nuns, and helping them to fundraise for the further development of the institute.

The nuns at follow a 17-year study program. The curriculum is designed to educate the nuns in Buddhist philosophy, meditation, Tibetan language and literature, plus a basic education in English, Hindi, and math. The broad education is intended to provide the nuns with necessary skills to educate future generations of nuns and the communities from which they come.

Tibetan Buddhist nun cooking

A Tibetan Buddhist nuns makes what looks like tea and tsampa (roasted barley flour) using an improvised whisk made of thin sticks.

The senior most nuns are in Uma class. The nunnery’s two philosophy teachers have been very encouraging to the nuns and and have been telling them to prepare themselves mentally to achieve the Geshema degree.

update from Sherab Choeling Nunnery

The nuns have a simple vegetarian diet and grow some of their own food. The nuns have three female cows which are cared for by the nuns. They now have three greenhouses and had a good crop this year of radishes and spinach. Since the greenhouses are so successful, two nuns each from Pin Nunnery and Khowang Nunnery came to Sherab Choling to learn how to grow vegetables and take care of the greenhouse.

Also this year, the nuns set up an underground water tank to irrigate their fields. In 2019 there were reports of a water crisis in the Spiti Valley from inadequate snowfall and retreating glaciers. Lakes, ponds, and streams that once helped irrigate fields are drying up.

update from Sherab Coeling Nunnery

Nuns lining up for a simple meal at Sherab Choeling Nunnery.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Spiti praying

Morning prayers by the light of solar lamps at Sherab Choeling Nunnery. The nuns are making the Mandala Offering Mudra, a complex sacred hand gesture that is a symbolic offering of the entire universe for the benefit of all sentient beings.

New Buddha statue at Sherab Choeling Nunnery 2021

The nuns are very grateful to Shaptung Rinpoche who sponsored the cost of making a seven-foot Lord Buddha statue for Sherab Choeling. It was from Tso Pema and the nuns were able to get it moved to the nunnery in October 2021. The statue is now in the big hall which is being painted and will be used in future as a simple community prayer hall.

first snowfall at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

First snowfall this season at Sherab Choeling Nunnery. The photo was taken by the nuns  in the early morning on October 21st, 2021.

Daily life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti

The nuns share chores. Spiti is a cold desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayas in north-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh in northern India. The name “Spiti” means “the middle land”, that is the land between Tibet and India.

If you are interested in seeing more photos of life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery you can see these blog posts:
Slideshows and Updates from all the Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries
Daily Life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti Valley India
Life at a remote Tibetan Buddhist Nunnery in Spiti [with photos and audio of chanting]

Armchair travel to seven nunneries

Where Your Gifts Help

Your generosity supports over 700 nuns in 7 different nunneries in northern India from all religious orders of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

ibetan Nuns Project nunneries, Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India

Map showing the 6 nunneries and one nuns’ college in India where your donations to the Tibetan Nuns Project support nuns.

Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not had the same access to education as monks. The Tibetan Nuns Project aims to elevate the educational standards and the position of women.

The majority of Tibetan Buddhist nuns left Tibet because of the repressive political situation. In the 1980s and 1990s in particular, a steady stream of nuns arrived in Dharamsala in the Himalayan region of northern India seeking refuge. These brave and dedicated women wished only to live, study, practice, and teach in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. Ranging in age from early teens to mid-80s, the nuns came from all parts of Tibet and from many different backgrounds.

Your support also helps women from the remote and impoverished border areas of India such as Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti, and Arunachal Pradesh. Women and girls from these areas have traditionally been given far less education than men and boys. Your generosity gives them a chance for education. Finally, your donations also support some nuns who are not living in nunneries, but who prefer to live on their own. They are often older nuns interested in meditative retreat rather than in learning higher Buddhist philosophy.

Seven Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries in India

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is a non-sectarian nunnery that was built and is fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. It was the first institute dedicated specifically to higher education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions. The nunnery is now home to 247 nuns and is a model educational institution.
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, of the Nyingma tradition, was built and fully supported by the Project, and traces its lineage back to some of the greatest female teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. Shugsep is home to about 92 nuns.

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute in Himachal Pradesh, Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

Geden Choeling Nunnery, of the Gelug tradition, is the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala and is home to about 178 nuns. It is located on the wooded slopes of McLeod Ganj in Upper Dharamsala. The nunnery had absorbed a steady stream of refugee nuns since 1975.

Geden Choelng Nunnery in Dharamsala, Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

Tilokpur Nunnery, of the Kagyu tradition, is home to about 89 nuns. Built near the cave of the great Indian yogi Tilopa, Tilokpur Nunnery (also known as Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling) overlooks a small town about 20 miles from Dharamsala. It was founded in 1966 by Mrs. Freda Bedi, a British nun who was ordained by the previous Karmapa.

Tilokpur Nunnery

Sakya College for Nuns is not a nunnery but a college for nuns. Home to almost 60 nuns, it was inaugurated in 2009 in Mundawala near Dehradun. The college offers a full course of studies followed by the monks at Sakya College.

Sakya College for Nuns near Dehradun

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in a non-sectarian nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley. It has about 62 resident nuns who pursue a rigorous course of study, the first of its kind for women of that region.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti

Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar is an ancient nunnery dating back to the 14th century. It has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization and attainment. It is home to about 20 nuns. The nunnery is now going through a very important and exciting transition with a major construction project started in 2019 to build new classrooms, a housing block, kitchen, storerooms and more.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

Other nuns and nunneries that we help include nuns not living in nunneries and nuns on retreat.

Happy Nuns in the Dolma Ling Kitchen

Cooking for about 250 nuns a day is a challenge, especially during the pandemic. This spring, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute asked for your help to buy an electric rice cooker, a dough-making machine, a refrigerator, and two new gas burners.

The kitchen equipment has arrived now and the nuns are happy because their daily tasks are safer and easier.

Helping the Nuns Cook Rice Safely

new electric rice cooker at Dolma Ling Nunnery

“We are very happy with the new rice cooker. Now we just have to wash the rice, put it in the rice cooker, add water, close the lid, and press the cook button. So easy and safe! We don’t have to worry about the hot rice water,” said one nun. It also saves on fuel costs and produces better, more nutritious rice.

Venerable Samten Dolma, the nun in charge of the kitchen this year, said, “Before, I had to check regularly to see if the rice was cooked perfectly or not. Now, with the new rice cooker, I don’t have to worry about rice being undercooked or soggy.”

Tibetan Buddhist nun cooking rice at Dolma Ling

“The rice is so delicious now and every time it is evenly cooked.” The new rice cooker can cook up to 77 pounds of rice safely and efficiently. The nuns eat rice every day, so it’s a huge help to them.

“Every day five nuns have to prepare a day’s meal,” said a nun on kitchen duty. “In the morning while preparing lunch, we used to have two nuns in charge of the rice and three nuns to cut and prepare the lunchtime vegetables. But now, with the rice cooker, it is so much easier. All five nuns can cut and prepare vegetables for lunch. While we eat our lunch, we can use the dough machine to prepare the dough for the evening. Now we have more time on our hands.”

Tibetan Buddhist nun cooking rice

With the old way of cooking rice, the nuns were always in danger of being scalded by the boiling water and steam. Detail of photo by Brian Harris.

Before the nuns got the rice cooker, it took a long  time to cook rice in a huge caldron over one of the two large gas burners. When the rice was half cooked, the excess water had to be poured off – a very risky operation. It took two strong nuns to pick up the pot and carry it across the kitchen to the drain. This operation had to be done quickly and carefully to avoid scalding from the boiling water and losing the steam.

Having the new electric rice cooker means that the rice cooks more evenly and keeps more of its nutritional qualities so it is better for the nuns’ health. 

The New Dough Maker

Each day the nuns on kitchen duty prepare traditional Tibetan bread and steamed buns for hundreds of nuns. Until now, the nuns had to mix the dough by hand which was very labor intensive and less hygienic than using a machine.

before and after, Tibetan Buddhist nuns using new dough machine

“The dough machine saves us a lot of time and energy! I never knew it was this easy to knead dough.” The nuns bought a 55-lb (25 kg) capacity dough maker. Before photos by Brian Harris; after photos by Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

On special occasions, the nuns make paratha (fried flatbreads) and khapse which are fried Tibetan biscuits. At Losar, Tibetan New Year, every member of the nunnery gets a large bag of khapse to celebrate Tibetan New Year so preparing large quantities is a great deal of work.

making dough, Dolma Ling Nunnery, inside the kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Before, as in this photo, the nuns had to knead dough by hand. Now mixing dough by machine takes only 15 to 20 minutes, so it is much easier to prepare multiple batches for bread, buns, and noodles. Normally the nuns up to 20 kg (44 pounds) of flour at a time.

New Refrigerator Saves Costs and Prevents Waste

Dolma Ling’s refrigerator was very old and broke down in the spring. Thanks to our supporters, the nuns were able to buy a new fridge in time to store food during the summer heat.

A nun shows the new refrigerator at Dolma Ling

When the old refrigerator broke down, you kindly helped the nuns buy a new one, just in time to keep food from spoiling during the intense summer heat. The temperature in the kitchen regularly reached 97 degrees.

The nuns follow a vegetarian diet. Without a fridge, vegetables, fruits, milk, butter, and tofu quickly rot. It is not possible for the nuns to get fresh supplies of everything daily so they need to buy for more than one day. They are happy to have the fridge to safely store perishable vegetables and fruit to avoid wastage and save money.

Without the fridge, they would be restricted in what they could buy and their diet would have been more monotonous. Especially during the pandemic, everyone looks forward to lunchtime. Now, the nuns can use different vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach which need to be kept chilled. With the new fridge, the nuns and staff are healthier and happier!

Thank you for your support!

Update on Tibetan Nunneries During the Pandemic

As cases of COVID-19 rise in India, we know that many are concerned about the health of the Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Here’s what we know now. We will try to provide updates as often as possible.

Tibetan Nunneries Observe Precautions

The majority of the nuns are Tibetan refugees and part of a wider Tibetan diaspora while others are from remote border areas of India. Living in close communities, with classes, prayers, and shared rooms and bathrooms means that nuns are very vulnerable to the coronavirus. If the virus were to enter a nunnery, it would spread rapidly.

In the nunneries that we support, the nuns chose to be very cautious from the beginning of the pandemic and have continued that care, with almost all the nuns remaining within the monastic compound and visitors from outside not allowed.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling register to be vaccinate

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling register to get vaccinated. They began registering at the end of April.

So far, the nuns are safe. “All the nuns and staff are well here. We are being very cautious,” said staff at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, home to almost 250 nuns. “As the situation in India is not good, we have decided to keep the office and classes closed for a week.” Dolma Ling is the largest nunnery supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

“Luckily nuns in all the nunneries are fine and busy with their day to day schedule,” we were told on May 2nd.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns register for vaccination

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute registering last week for vaccinations.

At the end of April, nuns began registering to get vaccinated. The nuns had to register in groups of four. Four is the most  who can register under one phone number, according to guidelines.

The Tibetan nunneries in India have been taking strong precautions against the coronavirus since the pandemic first broke out. Some nunneries closed to visitors in the first week of February 2020, shutting their gates and monitoring anyone who came in or out.

The nunneries have benefited from an extra level of health care from the Department of Health of the Central Tibetan Administration. As early as January 24, 2020, the Department began issuing guidelines to the monastic communities and to the Tibetan diaspora as a whole. Just one week after the WHO declared COVID-19 as a pandemic on 11th March 2020, a special Tibetan COVID-19 Task Force began working to mitigate the potentially catastrophic impact of the disease, particularly in Tibetan refugee settlements.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama Is Fully Vaccinated

His Holiness the Dalai Lama received his second dose of the COVID-19 vaccine at his residence in Dharamsala on April 26th. The vaccine was administered by a medical team of Delek hospital led by Dr Tseten Dorjee, personal physician to His Holiness.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama vaccinated,

His Holiness received his first dose on 6 March at the local government hospital. According to the Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (OHHDL), the entire staff and security details of His Holiness, including those living in the residence, were also vaccinated.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama again encouraged everyone to get the vaccine. He described it as “something helpful” for the greater good of humanity and he has tried to bolster public confidence in the vaccine.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama gets COVID-19 vaccine

His Holiness the Dalai Lama receives the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine on March 6, 2021 at the government hospital in Dharamsala, HP, India. Photo/OHHDL

His Holiness the Dalai Lama gets vaccinated

His Holiness the Dalai Lama returning to his home in Dharamsala after taking the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine on March 6th. Detail of photo by Tenzin Jigme, CTA.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama used the opportunity of his first vaccine to make a strong public statement about the importance of getting vaccinated. He said, “In order to prevent some serious problem, this injection is very helpful and good. So those other patients should take this injection for greater benefit.”

View His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s statement about COVID-19 vaccines here.

Tibetans Caught in India’s COVID Wave

A Radio Free Asia report on May 3, 2021 provided an update on how Tibetans in India are being caught in the rising numbers of COVID-19 infections as another wave of the pandemic hits India.

With more than 300,000 new infections a day for over two weeks, India is struggling.

In Dharamsala, the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration, Tibet’s exile government, there is a shortage of vaccines at Delek Hospital. Delek Hospital is the largest Tibetan hospital in India. A doctor told Radio Free Asia that the hospital has now put an end to a program aimed at inoculating Tibetans age 18 and over.

“For now, we don’t have any vaccines in Delek Hospital, but we have a few options we are working on,” Dr. Tenzin Tsundue told RFA’s Tibetan Service.

“One idea is for us to collaborate with larger hospitals, as the amount of vaccines we would need would be too small for us to order directly from the supplier.”

Since last week, almost 140 Tibetans living in Dharamsala have tested positive for COVID-19. The numbers of Tibetans infected are rapidly rising as the virus spreads through the community, Dr. Tenzin Tsundue said.

“I urge Tibetans to get vaccinated in government hospitals now if they get the chance,” Dr. Tsundue said, adding, “Don’t wait for the Delek Hospital to get more vaccines. This is a matter of necessity now, not of choice.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns wearing masks

Young Tibetan Buddhist nuns at the remote Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Spiti Valley of northern India wear masks during class. Photo from July 2020.

Some Monasteries Hit by COVID-19

83 Tibetan Buddhist monks have tested positive at Sakya Monastery in Dehradun, capital of northern India’s state of Uttarakhand, according to Radio Free Asia and sources at the monastery said.

So far, we have no news that any nuns at nearby Sakya College for Nuns have been infected. The nunnery is situated in Manduwala, about 12 miles from Dehradun and is home to about 55 nuns.

According to Radio Free Asia, Sakya Monastery had under lockdown for a year, but staff had often gone out to purchase supplies in a nearby town.

“We are isolating our monks, and no one is in serious condition yet, but a few of them have shown low oxygen levels, and so we have had them admitted to the Dekyiling Tibetan Hospital,” one source at the monastery said.

“The 83 monks who were infected are among the 225 Tibetans in Dehradun who have tested positive for COVID-19 during this second wave of the pandemic in India,” the anonymous source told Radio Free Asia.

Tibetan Buddhist nun makes cloth masks

A Tibetan Buddhist nun sews cloth masks. When the pandemic broke out in 2020, the nuns in the tailoring section who normally make robes, prayer flags, Tibetan door curtains etc. began making cloth masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to protect the nuns. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

Earlier this year, 156 Buddhist monks at Gyuto Tantric Monastery in Himachal Pradesh tested positive for COVID-19. According to reports, most of the monks were asymptomatic. About 15 monks came from Karnataka and Delhi. The first cases were reported on 23 February.

CTA COVID-19 Emergency Relief Committee Provides Regular Updates

The CTA COVID-19 Emergency Relief Committee continues to provide regular updates on the developing situation for Tibetans in India and elsewhere. In its update on April 30th, the COVID Task Force urged strict adherence to safety precautions.

“The monasteries and institutions are especially cautioned and they are advised to avail isolation rooms for unforeseen situations. Also, given the efficacy and safety of the vaccines, Tibetans are urged to get the vaccines in order to bring the normality back.”

 

Security and privacy restored at Shugsep Nunnery

Since late 2019, the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute wanted to proceed with two big repair projects, but both had to be put on hold because of the pandemic.

In February 2021, as the number of coronavirus cases in the area dropped, the nuns were finally able to undertake two projects with a significant impact on their daily lives. The nuns are so grateful to the donors that made this work possible.

What a Relief! New Security Wall for the Nunnery

The nuns are finally safe from prying eyes and dangerous intruders.

When Shugsep Nunnery was first built, it was in a small village at the end of a tiny road. However, over time, several new buildings have come up around the nunnery including a large private school with its entrance immediately behind the nunnery grounds.

Fortunately, in designing the nunnery, the plans left a 20-metre distance between the upper housing wing and the back boundary wall. This area is mostly covered in old mango trees. The trees form a buffer between the nuns’ living quarters and the activity of the nearby private school.

new wall behind Shugsep Nunnery

Privacy and security have been restored at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute thanks to this new wall funded by Tibetan Nuns Project supporters. The nuns are extremely grateful.

However, because the level of the road behind the nunnery grounds was raised by the school, the perimeter wall which was once an 8-foot-high wall and topped with barbed wire was reduced to just 4 feet above road level. This meant that the nuns lost their privacy and schoolchildren, bus drivers, and passers-by could clearly see over the wall into the nunnery.

Although the nuns tried to be tolerant of being stared at, they were reluctant to sit on their verandas to study and they felt inhibited about using the bathrooms at the end of the building. The situation also became dangerous. There were some frightening intrusions into the nunnery by youths who broke down the barbed wire and climbed over the wall. It was clear that the wall had to be improved as soon as possible.

However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nuns could not raise the height of the wall in 2020. Fortunately, the adjacent private school was closed for the whole year.

The nuns were able to start the work in February 2021, adding another 4 feet in height along the length of the wall in front of the school. Now that the neighboring school has reopened, the view into the nunnery is blocked and the nuns feel very relieved.

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

The nuns have tidied the area behind the newly repaired wall. They can now use this secluded, shady area under the mango trees as a place to practice Tibetan Buddhist debate.

It is gratifying to see how the nuns’ relief has translated into their efforts to make the area pleasant. The nuns have worked hard clearing and levelling the area under the trees so they will be able to use it as a shady debate yard.

The nuns are extremely grateful to have their security and privacy restored.

Project approved to start: 10/12/19. Start delayed due to the pandemic.
Project started: 15th January 2021
Project completed: 22nd February 2021
Total cost: Rs. 1,17,715  which is roughly US $1,620
Scope of work:
A.  Raised wall height with dressed stone, sand, bajari, and cement. Rs. 1,01,715 ($1,400)
B.  Provided and fixed poles Rs. 11,000 ($151)
C.  Removed old fence wire and re-fixed wire  Rs. 5,000. ($69)

No More Leaks: Water Tank Repair

Shugsep Nunnery depends on the large double-story concrete water tank on the slope behind the nuns’ housing wing. The municipal water lines do not provide enough water to cover the needs of the nunnery and the tank is fitted so that it can be supplied by pumping from the bore well. After 12 years, the tank itself was in a very dilapidated condition and was seriously leaking.

After researching the best way to repair the tank, the nuns hired a local contractor to re-seal the inside of the tank with marble chips and to re-plaster and paint the outside. They also needed to repair and replace the  plumbing lines.

The nuns had to purchase the marble chip material as a truckload from Rajasthan. The plan was to use the same material to seal the Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute water catchment. The order for both nunneries was placed in October 2019 and, when the materials arrived, they were stored at Dolma Ling because their water project repairs had to be done first. The Dolma Ling work was completed in December 2019.

repair projects, painted water tanks at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute.

The newly repaired and painted water tanks at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute. The work was delayed for a year due to the pandemic and the nuns are very grateful that the work was able to be completed.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of repairing the Shugsep water tank was put off until the end of 2020 when, with the reduced virus caseload, the nuns felt secure enough to agree to allow workmen into the back of the nunnery compound. The work was done in stages, fixing one tank and then the other so that the nuns always had some water supply.

The new water tanks look very clean and professionally repaired. The nuns are very happy that the water tanks are working well and no longer leak. The nuns are very grateful to the Tibetan Nuns Project donors for making this improvement to their facilities possible.

Project approved to start 10/10/19. Start delayed due to pandemic.
Project started: 15th December 2020
Completed: 1st February 2021
Cost of contract:  Rs.169,720 (approximately $2,335)
Scope of work:
A. Provided and laid marble chips including chipping off and cleaning the old plaster and flooring. Rs. 1,36,720 ($1,881)
B. Removed and replaced water lines and fittings, gate valves unions, etc. Rs. 19,000 ($261)
C. Painted external areas of tanks, pillars etc. using waterproof paint: Rs. 14,000 ($193)

Slideshows and Updates from all the Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries

As 2020 draws to a close, we wanted to update you with slideshows and news from all the nunneries and institutions in India that we support. if you sponsor a nun, scroll down to her nunnery and find the associated slideshow.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DOLMA LING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

COVID-life Dolma Ling, Two Tibetan Buddhist nuns wearing masks
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COVID-life Dolma Ling
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Due to the pandemic, the nunnery was put on lockdown from March 2020. Many of the nuns’ classes were put on hold until July, but the nuns continued to study on their own and also do prayers for all sentient beings during this difficult time. For safety, the nuns no longer gathered together for morning assembly, meals, or pujas. The nunnery has been closed throughout for outsiders, and staff and teachers were only allowed to go out of the nunnery complex once a week if necessary.

Dolma Ling Tibetan Buddhist nuns 2020

The main gate of the nunnery remains closed and notices have been posted to ensure that no one enters without permission. The nuns created a makeshift gatekeeper room and every day. two nuns wearing masks take turns to guard the gate, with an electronic thermometer, hand sanitizer, and materials to sanitize things such as food and fuel canisters ready to hand. Essentials such as vegetables, rice, flour, and fuel are kept at the gate under the sun for hours and sanitized properly before being brought into the nunnery.

During the holy month of Saga Dawa which this year ran from May 23 to June 21, the nuns once again read the Kangyur, the spoken words of the Buddha, and Tengyur, the Tibetan collection of commentaries to the Buddhist teachings. Together, the 108-volume Kangyur and the 225-volume Tengyur form the basis of the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The texts were divided among the nuns. The nuns maintained physical distancing while reciting the texts in their rooms, on the verandahs, in the dining hall, and in the prayer hall. It took about three days for the nuns to complete the reading of the whole set. The nuns also marked Saga Dawa with the burning of juniper branches.

On August 24, the nuns held their annual academic award ceremony, an event that usually takes place in late March or early April. It was the first time since the pandemic began that the nuns assembled in such a big group. Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nun’s Project, was the guest of honor and other special guests were Mrs. Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project and Mr. Norman Steinberg. The nuns received awards for academic achievement in their classes, the inter-house quiz competition, the handwriting competition, and memorization exams.

Since good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. the nuns are regularly making tofu for meals. Fruits and vegetables and juices are given to the nuns. Meals are eaten in the nuns’ respective rooms or apart in the courtyard.

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHUGSEP. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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When the first lockdown of the year was announced, the senior nuns were in Bylakuppee, South India to where they were attending a special teaching from Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche. With the travel restrictions, the senior nuns had to remain in south India for a couple of months. Eventually, the senior nuns were able to return to Shugsep they quarantined for the required period. After the quarantine, they took COVID-19 tests and all tested negative.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns gardening at Shugsep Nunnery 2020To prevent the disease from spreading inside the nunnery, we shut the gate to visitors and all the transactions for prayers were done online. We had the basic necessities delivered to our gate so that we could stay isolated. We also barred the staff and students from leaving the nunnery grounds until and unless it was urgent. Weekend outings for the students were cancelled and the staff were strictly instructed not to leave the premises without permission.

In mid-June, the results of the annual exams for 2019-20 were announced and classes for 2020 officially began in July. At the beginning of August, the summer retreat started and lasted for 45 days from August 4 to  September 17. During that period, we organized a lot of debates, essay competitions, and public speaking for the students.

Recently, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute had a drawing competition among the younger students and we are glad that all of them participated and showed their talents. Classes stopped on December 14th for the annual examinations with a study holiday of one week after every test. The examinations begin on December 24th and the last tests will be on January 25th.

December 7, 2020, marked the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery and Institute by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Geden Choeling Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT GEDEN CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the major routine activities of the nuns such as in-person classes, debating practice, group religious activities, and other social and cultural gatherings were stopped. However, the ten nuns preparing for the Geshema exams continued to attend regular classes taught by the three Buddhist philosophy teachers. All the other nuns have been learning through online classes run by their respective teachers who also provide notes and homework. The nuns memorize texts and are doing well in their studies in their rooms and are always in touch with their teachers.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala

In terms of health care and emotional matters, all the nuns are in good health. They received frequent talks and advice from Geden Choeling Nunnery’s Abbot, office administrator, teachers, and Gekoe (Disciplinarian) to keep them mentally strong without any fear and anxiety during this pandemic period.

All the nuns and staff members are restricted from visiting outside places and the market area since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. No visitors are allowed in the institute, except for prayer offerings by the well-wisher. The nuns maintain daily hygiene and sanitation using sanitizing spray for COVID-19.

Finally, the nuns hold regular prayer sessions twice a day from 6-7:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 4:30 pm.

Tilokpur Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT TILOKPUR. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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Here’s an update on the current condition of Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling at Tilokpur and the nuns’ activities and initiatives over the last couple of months during this pandemic. In general, so far, the 87 nuns are mentally and physically healthy and doing well. To cope with this pandemic, they are strictly following all the basic instructions provided by the government and their medical assistant, such as hand sanitizing, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distancing. The nuns are still not allowed to leave the nunnery except for the kitchen runner. No visitors are allowed to enter the nunnery grounds.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Tilokpur Nunnery receiving wool items from Wool-Aid

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Tilokpur Nunnery receiving handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteers at Wool-Aid

In December, the nuns received two large boxes of handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteer knitters at Wool-Aid.

In terms of education and other activities, the nuns are continuing with their philosophy classes, monastic debate practice, and computer learning in person, with only English classes being taught online. The younger nuns are also learning painting and drawing. The nunnery holds two prayer sessions each day, in the morning and evening, to pray for all sentient beings and for the betterment of this world.

The nuns wrote, “We are making our best attempt not to get caught with any virus in the community so everyone remains safe and healthy. We hope that this pandemic will finish soon and that everyone can enjoy normal living.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHERAB CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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When the pandemic hit in mid-February 2020, 44 of the nuns from Sherab Choeling were away from the nunnery in the town of Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes with their philosophy teachers who were there. Shortly after, the coronavirus lockdown in India happened and all classes were suspended. Eventually, the nuns were able to arrange for two buses to take them and their two teachers back to Sherab Choeling.

The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley marked the holy month of Saga Dawa as always with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows. During the holy month, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well-being. The nuns also offered the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DORJEE ZONG. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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Dorjee Zong Nunnery is one of the oldest centres of monastic education in Zanskar and has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization. This remote 700-year-old nunnery now provides much-needed educational opportunities for young girls and women.

Young Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zaskar

In 2019, Dorjee Zong began a major expansion project and good progress was made last year. The housing block and the structure of a multi-purpose two-story building were completed before extreme weather shut down construction in October. The two-story building contains the kitchen, dining hall, storeroom on the ground floor and, on the upper floor, the prayer hall and a conference hall.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit India in the spring, we feared that no construction would be possible because most of the labor force comes from Nepal and strict restrictions would prevent their travel. However, in July and August, the nunnery was able to move forward gradually with the building process.

As life after the nationwide lockdown in the spring began slowly getting back on track, the nuns’ committee decided to move forward to complete the interiors of the multi-purpose building with work such as plastering of the floors, electrical work fittings etc. They have also undertaken the construction of the bathroom and toilet block needed to go with the housing block. Around six to seven local village workers were hired for this job because outside laborers were stopped from coming to Zanskar. All labor work this summer was done by local village people under the guidance of the working committee.

Currently, the housing block is being used as living quarters on the ground floor for the young nuns, while the top-floor rooms are being used for multiple purposes including as temporary classrooms, office, and a meeting room.

During the lockdown, the younger nuns from nearby villages temporarily left the nunnery to stay with their families. These young nuns were not able to stay at Dorjee Zong because there is not enough space to house them in separate quarters or to follow safe physical distancing measures. Their elder siblings who have returned home are helping the younger children with their studies.

In 2019, generous donors funded the purchase of a school bus to enable the young nuns at Dorjee Zong to continue their education. The nuns needed a school bus to make the 12-mile round-trip journey to the government school to continue their education beyond Grade 5. The bus has arrived in Zanskar and is ready for use. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the schools in India are currently closed. We will keep you updated.

Sakya College for Nuns

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SAKYA COLLEGE FOR NUNS. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

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Sakya College for Nuns is situated in Manduwala, about 12 miles from Dehradun and is home to 55 nuns. It is one of the seven nunneries and institutes of higher learning in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project through our sponsorship program.

Like many other nunneries and monasteries, Sakya College for Nuns has been strictly observing lockdown since March this year. Although the lockdown has been lifted in many parts of India, the nuns consider to observe it with great care and caution. The College’s gates remain locked 24/7.

Since the start of the new academic session in July 2020, the nuns’ regular classes are proceeding as usual. Inside the campus, everything looks so normal, just as it used to be during the pre-COVID-19 times, that is with morning prayers, classes, debates, self-study and so on.

The only thing that is missing is the monthly outing that nuns enjoy every month. Because the nuns used to visit the market only about once a month, in that sense the pandemic and the lockdown has not greatly affected the nuns at Sakya College.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns learn yoga at Sakya College for Nuns Even so, as part of measures to provide emotional health care, a Vipassana meditation master and a yoga expert were invited to give workshops. The College invited Associate Professor Ramesh Chandra Negi from the Central University of Tibetan Studies and an expert in Vipassana meditation in the Theravada tradition to give a workshop for the nuns. The professor gave a 10-day course in Vipassana mediation and advised the nuns to continue the practice.

Some of the nuns claim the course has been of immense help in terms of maintaining tranquillity and peace of mind. They have continued to practice individually since the workshop. As meditation is all about dealing with the mind, the main purpose of the workshop was to help the nuns keep their minds in peace and stress-free throughout the lockdown period.

The College had previously invited Tibetan yoga trainer Tsering Yangzom and, on two different occasions, she conducted a 10-day yoga workshop. This greatly motivated the nuns in keeping their bodies in proper health and shape in order to lead healthy, happy lives.

In the special update in mid-December 2020, the College wrote, “We believe that with the introduction of yoga and Vipassana mediation we ensure that our nuns are relatively more relaxed, healthier, and stronger physically and mentally. This, apart from the daily academic activities and curriculums, always keeps their body and mind busy and active.”

The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to all those who sponsor nuns and to all our supporters. Thank you for your compassion and generosity!

Slideshow and news from Sakya College for Nuns

Here is a special update with a slideshow and news from Sakya College for Nuns showing life at the College during the coronavirus pandemic.

Sakya College for Nuns is situated in Manduwala, about 12 miles from Dehradun and is home to 55 nuns. It is one of the seven nunneries and institutes of higher learning in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project through our sponsorship program.

Like many other nunneries and monasteries, Sakya College for Nuns has been strictly observing lockdown since March this year. Although the lockdown has been lifted in many parts of India, the nuns consider to observe it with great care and caution. The College’s gates remain locked 24/7.

Since the start of the new academic session in July 2020, the nuns’ regular classes are proceeding as usual. Inside the campus, everything looks so normal, just as it used to be during the pre-COVID-19 times, that is with morning prayers, classes, debates, self-study and so on.

Here’s a slideshow. Click the arrows on the side of the images. Can’t see it? Click here.

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The only thing that is missing is the monthly outing that nuns enjoy every month. Because the nuns used to visit the market only about once a month, in that sense the pandemic and the lockdown has not greatly affected the nuns at Sakya College.

Even so, as part of measures to provide emotional health care, a Vipassana meditation master and a yoga expert were invited to give workshops. The College invited Associate Professor Ramesh Chandra Negi from the Central University of Tibetan Studies and an expert in Vipassana meditation in the Theravada tradition to give a workshop for the nuns. The professor gave a 10-day course in Vipassana mediation and advised the nuns to continue the practice.

Some of the nuns claim the course has been of immense help in terms of maintaining tranquillity and peace of mind. They have continued to practice individually since the workshop. As meditation is all about dealing with the mind, the main purpose of the workshop was to help the nuns keep their minds in peace and stress-free throughout the lockdown period.

The College had previously invited Tibetan yoga trainer Tsering Yangzom and, on two different occasions, she conducted a 10-day yoga workshop. This greatly motivated the nuns in keeping their bodies in proper health and shape in order to lead healthy, happy lives.

In the special update in mid-December 2020, the College wrote, “We believe that with the introduction of yoga and Vipassana mediation we ensure that our nuns are relatively more relaxed, healthier, and stronger physically and mentally. This, apart from the daily academic activities and curriculums, always keeps their body and mind busy and active.”

The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to those who sponsor nuns at Sakya College for Nuns and to all our supporters. Thank you for your compassion and generosity.

Life at Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries During COVID-19 Pandemic

Here’s our monthly update on life at some Tibetan Buddhist nunneries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tibetan Nuns Project supports seven nunneries in northern India.

This month, India reported a surge in COVID-19 cases even as the nationwide lockdown eased. India now has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. Hospitals are swamped in the worst-hit cities of Mumbai, New Delhi, and Chennai. Experts predict that the infection rate in India will continue to rise through July. On June 19, a new lockdown will go into effect for the 15 million people in Chennai.

This is worrying news for the tens of thousands of Tibetans refugees who live in India. The Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala has issued special guidelines for nunneries and monasteries.

The nuns are doing their best to adhere to physical distancing, the use of face masks in public spaces, hand and respiratory hygiene, and environmental sanitation.

Health checks for Tibetan Buddhist nuns during coronavirus pandemic

Tibetan Buddhist nuns get their temperatures checked during health checks at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

Geshema Exams Postponed

Each year, the nuns sitting various levels of the four-year Geshema examinations gather together for one month of final exam preparations and then for about 12 days of exams.

The Geshema exams, normally held each August, are being tentatively postponed to October 1. This year’s venue for the Geshema exams will be Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala.

Nuns often travel long distances to take the exams, such as from Nepal and South India. With the number of COVID-19 cases in India rising and with stricter travel rules from Nepal, the committee decided to postpone the exams to lessen the risk of infection. Last year, all 50 nuns took who took Geshema exams passed.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

The nunnery is closed until the end of June. The nuns are still not getting together in groups so there are no classes, pujas etc. In lieu of face-to-face classes, some philosophy teachers are recording their lessons using an mp3 player and sharing the files with their students.

Each year, during the holy month of Saga Dawa, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha.

Saga Dawa Tibetan Buddhist nuns reading Kangyur 2020

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling maintain physical distance while reading the Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. Photos courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

After finishing the reading the Kangyur texts, the nuns had a two-day break with free time to themselves.

COVID-life Dolma Ling, Two Tibetan Buddhist nuns wearing masks

COVID life at Dolma Ling. Thank you for helping to support the nuns during this difficult period.

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

The nuns at Shugsep have been organizing a few classes each day and have now decided to follow their normal schedule. They are once again performing pujas or prayers, so if you have a puja request you can make it here.

The Shugsep Khenpo and the senior nuns who were in Bylakupee, South India, have returned safely to the nunnery and are currently in two weeks of quarantine.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

According to the latest news, all the nuns at Sherab Choeling nunnery are safe and well. To mark Saga Dawa, the nuns read special puja texts including:

– Yum Puthi Chunyi (a full reading of all the 12 volumes of the Perfection of Wisdom in the Kangyur, the 108-volume set of the words of the Buddha)
– Dolma (the Tara puja)
Dukkar Tsezung for all sentient beings (This a long-life ritual focused on Sitapatrā, Goddess with the White Umbrella, who appears from the Buddha’s uṣṇīṣa.)
– Reading pages from each Kangyur book (Called shal chad, this is the “opening and partial reading of the entire canon. To read it all would take too long so each volume is opened and a bit of it read.)

Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Saga Dawa

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery marked the holy month of Saga Dawa with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows.

During the holy month of Saga Dawa, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well being. The nuns also offered Menla, the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch. On the 15th of the holy month, they took Thekchen Sojung, the eight Mahāyāna vows.

Earlier Updates on Life at Tibetan Nunneries During the Pandemic

Since March, we’ve been providing regular updates on life at some Tibetan nunneries in India during the coronavirus pandemic. Each update has photos and news from some or all of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. Here’s a list of earlier updates:

The Four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism

We are sometimes asked, “What are the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and which nuns do you support?”

The four schools of Tibetan Buddhism are Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug or Gelugpa.

  • Nyingma (founded in 8th century)
  • Kagyu (founded in the early 11th century)
  • Sakya (founded in 1073)
  • Gelug (founded in 1409)

The Tibetan Nuns Project supports nuns from all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. See more details below.

four schools of Tibetan Buddhism photo by Brian Harris

Photo of Tibetan Buddhist nuns courtesy of Brian Harris

The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Nyingma or “ancient” tradition is the oldest of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Often referred to as “the ancient translation school”, it was founded in the eighth century following the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit to Tibetan.

Around 760, the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen invited two Buddhist masters from the Indian subcontinent, Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita, to the “Land of Snows” to bring Buddhism to the Tibetan people. Thus began a massive translation project of all Buddhist texts into the newly created Tibetan language.

The legendary Vajrayana master Padmasambhava, who Tibetans call Guru Rinpoche, is considered the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. He supervised the translation of the tantras (the esoteric teachings of the Buddha) while Shantarakshita, abbot of the great Buddhist Nalanda University, supervised the translation of the sutras (oral teachings of the Buddha).

Tibetan block printed prayers by Olivier Adam

Tibetan block-printed prayers. Photo by Olivier Adam.

Together they founded the first monastery in Tibet, Samye, which became the main center for Buddhist teaching in Tibet for around three centuries.

The Nyingma tradition classifies the Buddhist teachings into nine yanas or vehicles. The first three vehicles are common to all schools of Buddhism, the next three are common to all schools of Tantric Buddhism, and the last three are exclusive to the Nyingma tradition. The highest is known as Dzogchen or the Great Perfection.

Unlike the other schools, the Nyingma traditionally had no centralized authority or a single head of the lineage. However, since the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the Nyingma school has had representatives.

Here is a list of the 8 representatives of the Nyingma school since this practice began in the 1960s:

  1. Dudjom Rinpoche (c. 1904–1987), served from the 1960s until his death.
  2. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (c. 1910–1991), served from 1987 until his death.
  3. Penor (Pema Norbu) Rinpoche (1932–2009) served from 1991 until retirement in 2003.
  4. Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche (c. 1930–2008), served from 2003 until his death.
  5. Trulshik Rinpoche (1923–2011), selected after Chatral Rinpoche declined the position.
  6. Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche (1926-2015), appointed head in 2012 and passed away in Bodhgaya in 2015
  7. Kathok Getse Rinpoche (1954-2018), passed away ten months after being named to a three-year term as the supreme head of the Nyingma school.
  8. Dzogchen Rinpoche Jigme Losel Wangpo was selected in January 2019 as the eighth head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism by the heads of the principal monasteries of the Nyingma tradition.

The Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism gets its name from the Tibetan བཀའ་བརྒྱུད། meaning “oral lineage” or “whispered transmission”. While it traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni, the most important source for the specific practices of the Kagyu order is the great Indian yogi Tilopa (988-1069).

The practices were passed orally from teacher to disciple through a series of great masters. The transmission lineage of the “Five Founding Masters” of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism is as follows:

  1. Tilopa (988-1069), the Indian yogi who experienced the original transmission of the Mahamudra
  2. Naropa (1016–1100), the Indian scholar-yogi who perfected the methods of accelerated enlightenment described in his Six Yogas of Naropa
  3. Marpa (1012–1097), the first Tibetan in the lineage, known as the great translator for his work translating the Vajrayana and Mahamudra texts into Old Tibetan
  4. Milarepa (1052–1135), the poet and greatest yogi of Tibet who overcame Marpa’s reluctance to teach and attained enlightenment in a single lifetime
  5. Gampopa (1079–1153), Milarepa’s most important student, who integrated Atisha’s Kadam teachings and Tilopa’s Mahamudra teaching to establish the Kagyu lineage.
Complete Kangyur words of the Buddha read at Saga Dawa

The Kangyur, the words of the Buddha. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team

The Kagyu lineage practices have a special focus on the tantric teachings of the Vajrayana and Mahamudra teachings. Some of the most distinguished works of the Kagyu Tibetan masters are the works of Marpa, the Vajra Songs of Milarepa, the Collected Works of Gampopa, of the Karmapas, of Drikhung Kyöppa Jigten Sumgön, and of Drukpa Kunkhyen Pema Karpo.

In the Kagyu school, there are a large number of independent sub-schools and lineages.

The Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism dates to the 11th century. The name comes from the Tibetan ས་སྐྱ་ meaning “pale earth” describing the grey landscape near Shigatse, Tibet where the Sakya Monastery – the first monastery of this tradition and the seat of the Sakya School – was built in 1073.

The Sakya tradition developed during the second period of translation of Buddhist scripture from Sanskrit into Tibetan and was founded by Drogmi, a famous scholar and translator who had studied under Naropa and other great Indian masters.

The heart of the Sakya lineage teaching and practice is Lamdre, The Path and Its Fruit, a comprehensive and structured meditation path in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.

The head of Sakya School is the “Sakya Trizin” (“the holder of the Sakya throne”), who is always drawn from the male line of the Khön family. It was previously a lifetime position that rotated between the two branches of that lineage, the Phuntsok Potrang and the Dolma Potrang. The previous head of the Sakya School, His Holiness Ngawang Kunga Thekchen Palbar Samphel Ganggi Gyalpo, was born in 1945 in Tsedong, Tibet and served as Sakya Trizin from 1958 to 2017. It has now become a three-year position that rotates between the next generation of trained male offspring of those two families.

The Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Gelug or Gelugpa (དགེ་ལུགས་པ་) school is the newest and largest school of Tibetan Buddhism. Its story begins with Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), one of the period’s foremost authorities of Tibetan Buddhism who studied under Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma masters.

Tsongkhapa, the most renowned teacher of his time, founded Ganden Monastery in 1409 and, though he emphasized a strong monastic sangha, he did not announce a new monastic order. Following his death, his followers established the Gelug (“the virtuous tradition”) school. The Gelug school was also called “New Kadam” for its revival of the Kadam school founded by Atisha.

The Throne-Holder of Ganden (Ganden Tripa) is the official head of the Gelug school, a position that rotates between the heads of the two Gelug tantric colleges. Its most influential figure is the Dalai Lama, who is a monk of the Gelug tradition, but as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet for over fifty years has always represented all Tibetans.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Olivier Adam

Portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Olivier Adam

The Dalai Lamas are considered manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have chosen to be continuously reborn to end the suffering of sentient beings.

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th reincarnation. He was born in 1935, two years after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama encourages non-sectarianism.

The central teachings of the Gelug School are the lamrim (stages of the path to enlightenment) teachings of Tsongkhapa, based on the teachings of the 11th-century Indian master Atisha.

Nunneries Supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project

The Tibetan Nuns Project began in 1987 in the Dharamsala area, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a large number of Tibetan refugees.

We initially reached out to assist the nearby nunneries, Geden Choeling and Tilokpur. In response to a large influx of refugee nuns escaping from Tibet, the Tibetan Nuns Project built two new nunneries, Dolma Ling and Shugsep.

Currently, the Tibetan Nuns Project supports these 7 nunneries in northern India:

  1. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, non-sectarian,
  2. Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, Nyingma
  3. Geden Choeling Nunnery, Gelugpa
  4. Tilokpur Nunnery, Kagyu
  5. Sherab Choeling Nunnery, non-sectarian
  6. Sakya College for Nuns, Sakya
  7. Dorjee Zong Nunnery, Gelugpa

Map of Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries supported by Tibetan Nuns Project