Category Archives: Buddhist Nuns Life

Stories by Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

In this blog post, we want to share some special stories written and illustrated by Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

In the past, Tibetan Buddhist nuns have had few opportunities for education. Most of the nuns who escaped on foot over the Himalayas from Tibet were illiterate on their arrival in India. Until recently, women were not allowed to study for higher degrees such as the Geshema degree, roughly equivalent to a PhD.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute science fair 2019

Tenzin Norgyal, the English teacher organized a nuns’ science fair fin 2019. Now he has created a special book project for his students.

Much progress has been made and the Tibetan Nuns Project is deeply grateful to all our supporters.

Four Illustrated Stories by the Nuns

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is dedicated to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions.

Recently the English teacher at Dolma Ling, Mr. Tenzin Norgyal, assigned a special book project for his class. He understands the importance of creativity and inter-disciplinary learning.

Here are some of the sweet stories written and illustrated by the nuns.

Click here to view.

This first story teaches the importance of being happy with what you have.

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In “My Chapter” Kalsang tells the moving story of her escape from Tibet and joining Dolma Ling Nunnery.

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This third story talks about combining wisdom and effort in our brief lives.

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Finally, the story of Yak Gapa illustrates the need to help each other.

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The Tibetan Nuns Project believes that education is the key to empowerment. We work to give nuns the resources to carve out independent, creative identities for themselves.

Tibet’s unique religion and culture are under great threat. The nuns from Tibet who were once denied equal access to education and the opportunity to practice their religion freely are the teachers and leaders of the future.

Thank you for helping the nuns on their path!

The Meaning of Gestures in Tibetan Buddhist Debate

Watching nuns or monks practice debate is fascinating because of their lively hand and body motions, but many observers wonder about the meaning of the gestures in Tibetan Buddhist debate.

monastic debate, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan debate, debate gestures

A group of nuns act as Challengers and pose questions to seated nuns during daily debate practice at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Debate in Tibetan Buddhism serves many purposes including clearing up doubts, developing critical thinking skills, deepening one’s understanding of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, and increasing wisdom and compassion. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Monastic debate is noisy. When you see Tibetan debating for the first time, the debaters’ stances, gestures, and sounds may seem confrontational. Yet everyone practices debate with an attitude of respect and a shared desire to deeply understand the Buddhist teachings.

Each hand and body motion is rooted in wisdom and compassion, which must be united to attain enlightenment.

The Meaning of Gestures in Tibetan Buddhist Debate

Daily practice in monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, nuns and monks test and consolidate their classroom learning and gain a thorough understanding of the Buddhist teachings.

In daily debate practice, the Challenger chooses the topic from the Buddhist philosophical texts studied earlier that day. The Challenger stands and asks questions to the Defender who is seated and who must answer. Sometimes monastics debate in groups. There is strength is numbers and the weak learn from the strong.

As the Challenger asks the question, she or he claps loudly to punctuate the end of the question.

In the gestures of debate, the right hand represents compassion or method. The left hand represents wisdom. The loud clap signifies the joining of wisdom and compassion.

Tibetan Buddhist nun, monastic debate, Tibetan debate gestures

A Tibetan Buddhist nun practicing debate dramatically claps her hands together after asking her question. The loud clap signifies the coming together of compassion (right hand) and wisdom (left hand). Photo by Olivier Adam taken at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India.

When the Challenger claps her hands together, she simultaneously stomps her left foot. This symbolizes the slamming of the door to rebirth in the lower realms.

After the clap and stomp, the Challenger holds out her left arm which represents wisdom. Through this motion, she represents keeping the door to all rebirth shut.

Tibetan debate. monastic debate, meaning of Tibetan debate gestures

Stomping one’s foot in Tibetan monastic debate symbolizes slamming of the door to rebirth in the lower realms. Photo by Olivier Adam of a nun practicing daily debate at Geden Choeling Nunnery.

Then she uses her right arm to lift up her mala (Tibetan prayer beads) around her left arm. This gesture represents the compassionate lifting up of all suffering beings from the cycle of rebirth.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, “The root of suffering is the unruly mind, so the practice of Dharma is to transform the mind.” The practice of debate helps develop critical thinking skills, deepens one’s understanding of Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, and increases wisdom and compassion.

If the Defender’s answer is satisfactory, the Challenger moves on to the next question. If not, the Challenger will make a gesture like an alligator closing its jaws, loudly smacking her hands together as she seeks an in-depth explanation from the Defender.

Tibetan debate, monastic debate, gestures in Tibetan Buddhist debate

A nun uses her right arm to lift up her mala or Tibetan prayer beads around her left arm. This gesture represents the compassionate lifting up of all suffering beings from the cycle of rebirth. Photo by Olivier Adam.

The Importance of Tibetan Buddhist Debate

The following video is a great primer on debate by Tibetan Buddhist nuns. It is part of a longer video made by the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India. It answers many questions about monastic debate and shows and describes the gestures.

Can’t see the video? Click here.

“The logic and epistemology that prevailed in ancient India have lapsed in modern times, but we Tibetans kept them alive in our monasteries,” said His Holiness the Dalai Lama at an important debate event in India. “Our studies are rigorous. We memorize texts word by word, study commentaries to them and engage in debate during which we refute others’ positions, assert our own and rebut criticism.”

Debate pushes everyone to study and to try to understand the meaning of the texts.

Training Nuns in Debate

Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not had the same access to education as monks. This is true also for training in monastic debate. The Tibetan Nuns Project’s mission is to educate and empower nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as teachers and leaders, and to establish, strengthen, and support educational institutions to sustain Tibetan religion and culture.

Now nuns are able to get training and daily practice in monastic debate. In addition to their regular daily debate practice at their own nunneries, each year hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns from nunneries in India and Nepal gather for a special, month-long inter-nunnery debate called the Jang Gonchoe.

Here is a video of the 2019 Jang Gonchoe inter-nunnery debate. Can’t see it? Click here.

Before 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 our patron, 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.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, “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.”

Visit to an ancient Himalayan nunnery

In the remote Indian Himalayas lies a 700-year-old Tibetan Buddhist nunnery called Dorjee Zong. The nunnery has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization.

Dorjee Zong is one of seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. During the pandemic, this remote nunnery was even more cut off than usual.

In August 2022, a team from the Tibetan Nuns Project office near Dharamsala travelled for several days over hazardous roads from Leh to Zanskar. The team wanted to check on the nuns’ welfare and the progress of various projects at the nunnery including the major construction project started in 2019.

group photo showing the team from the Tibetan Nuns Project with the two oldest nuns at Dorjee Zong

Nangsa Choedon, Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project in India (middle), Tsering Diki, Assistant Director (left), and Delek Yangchen, one of the Dolma Ling media nuns (right) with the two eldest nuns at Dorjee Zong. These two nuns are both 90 years old.

For over 12 years the Tibetan Nuns Project has been helping this small nunnery with sponsorship of the nuns, teacher salaries, and a big construction project to improve all facilities at the nunnery.

Here’s a video of their visit. Can’t see video? Click here.

 

Old and new Dorjee Zong buildings
The old part of Dorjee Zong is on the hilltop on the left and the new school and other parts of the nunnery are lower down. The pandemic and the short building season at this high altitude have posed challenges.

Dorjee Zong is home to 20 nuns – 13 young nuns and 7 elder nuns. The oldest two are both 90-years-old. The seven elder nuns live at the ancient nunnery on the hill top. They spend most of their time reciting mantras and circumambulating the sacred site. They also take care of their field and greenhouse to stock up supplies for the harsh winters. The younger nuns live and study in the lower and newer part of the nunnery.

traditional kitchen at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in the Himalayas

The old traditional kitchen at Dorjee Zong Nunnery. The nunnery is one of the oldest centers in pursuit of monastic education in Zanskar.

Girls in the Himalayas are generally given far less education than boys. Girls are often removed from school as early as grade 4, if they are sent at all. The nunnery educates both lay girls and nuns. It gives them a chance for education that they would not otherwise have.

two young nuns at math class at Dorjee Zong Nunnery Zanskar

Math class. Lay girls and young nuns study at the nunnery up to Grade 5 after which they take the TNP-funded school bus 6 miles to continue their education.

Girls study up to Grade 5 at the nunnery, after which they travel by school bus for further schooling. The school bus was funded in 2019 by Tibetan Nuns Project donors and is also helping children from the local village attend school.

Construction Project Update

With the support of generous Tibetan Nuns Project donors, the nunnery embarked on an ambitious project to improve all the facilities for the nuns — an important and exciting transition for this ancient nunnery.

Construction started in 2019, but the work has been hampered by the pandemic. Also, the long severe winters and remote location reduce the construction window to around five months.

Nuns quarters at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar Tibetan Nuns Project

Nuns’ quarters in the new housing block at Dorjee Zong. Before 2019, the buildings at this 700-year-old nunnery were very basic. There was just one classroom and one main building that was used for everything.

The two-story hostel is finished! The ground floor is now being used as students’ quarters, sufficient for the current number of students. The top floor is being used as the school office, dining hall, staff quarters, and meeting room. Once other facilities are complete, the entire building will be used to accommodate future students.

new dining hall at Dorjee Zong nunnery

The new dining hall. In 2019, thanks to generous donors, the nunnery began a major construction project to improve all the facilities for the nuns.

The three-story kitchen and prayer hall building is coming along very well. The ground floor has a big dining hall which will, in future, be used by students, staff, and teachers. The dining hall is designed in local style with mats and low tables. However, they also plan to set up some tables and chairs for visitors.

life at Dorjee Zong nunnery in Zanskar prayers before breakfast

Prayers before breakfast. The nunnery has two cooks who prepare meals for all residents at the school. The food is healthy and vegetarian.

The first floor has a hall to be used for prayers, workshops, meetings, and teachings. This hall will also be decorated in the local style. Opposite there will be a library and computer room for the students. Six computer desks have already been made and will accommodate two per table. The library’s wooden book shelves will also serve as a room divider.

one of the new classrooms at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

One of the bright new classrooms being built. In the past, the nuns at Dorjee Zong did not have the opportunity to engage in rigorous studies, but their education program is improving.

According to the original plans, the nunnery was to have separate school blocks, staff blocks, and office blocks. Now, instead of building separate blocks, the construction committee decided to add a second floor onto the existing building. It is more cost effective and will also be warmer; there were not any other sunny building locations.

new building at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

The side of a new building at Dorjee Zong showing the traditional carpentry work for the windows and doors.

The nuns have been able to get a water connection with the help of the local government. This is very beneficial for the elder nuns as well as for the school. A water storage tank is being set up at the nunnery and the nuns’ committee will see what else needs to be done.

remote-Dorjee-Zong-Nunnery-in-Zanskar-by-Olivier-Adam

This photo of Dorjee Zong Nunnery was taken prior to the expansion project started in 2019. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Thank you so much for your support of the nuns!

Taking you inside the nuns’ classrooms

It’s back to school time! Today, we’re taking you inside classrooms to show how you’re helping provide groundbreaking learning opportunities for Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

Dolma Ling, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Buddhism, Buddhist nuns

Inside a classroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in May 2022. 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. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Educating the nuns is the core of our work. In the 1980s and 1990s, hundreds of nuns escaped from Tibet. The overwhelming majority of the nuns were illiterate. Most of the them had had no education in their own language. While in Tibet they were also denied education in their religious heritage.

Photos taken by Olivier Adam in May 2022 at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The top left photo shows Geshema Tenzin Kunsel teaching. The bottom left photo shows nuns leaving one of the Tibetan classes. The nunneries in India are helping to preserve Tibet’s religion, language, and culture.

The Tibetan Nuns Project created an education program for nuns from the ground up. “Today when I see those nuns who didn’t know how to read and write their own names now have Geshema degrees, it is amazing. In a way, 30 years is a long time, but when it’s creating history it is not very long,” said Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor to the Tibetan Nuns Project.

The Tibetan Nuns Project also helps women and girls from the remote and impoverished border areas of India such as Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti, Lahoul, and Arunachal Pradesh. The women and girls from these areas are usually given far less education than men and boys. The nunneries give them a chance for education that they would not have otherwise.

Tibetan Buddhist class, Dorjee Zong Nunnery Zanskar

Dorjee Zong Nunnery in located in the remote, high-altitude area of Zanskar in northern India. Girls and women in the Himalayan regions have traditionally been given far less education than men and boys. All photos courtesy of Olivier Adam.

What the Tibetan Nuns Study

A primary goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to assist nuns in reaching the same level of education as the monks. Each of the four traditional schools of Tibetan Buddhism has its own specific curriculum and degrees, but they also share a great deal. All are based on the teachings of the Buddha and the Indian commentaries that developed to explicate them.

Exactly which commentaries the nuns most rely on varies between traditions as do the number of years of study, but there is uniformity as to the basic topics. All the nuns study:

  • Logic and Epistemology, which provide the basic tools for advanced philosophical study
  • Perfection of Wisdom for understanding of the Buddhist path
  • Middle Way for understanding of Buddhist philosophy, and
  • Tantra for the final level of teachings.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery Spiti Valley by Oliver Adam

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in India’s Spiti Valley is one of seven Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. This year, nuns from this remote nunnery will take part in the inter-nunnery debate which brings together hundreds of nuns for one month of intensive training in monastic debate. All photos by Olivier Adam.

At most of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, courses are also offered in Tibetan language, English, and computer skills, as well as in ritual arts such as sand mandalas and butter sculpture. The smaller nunneries in more remote areas are at earlier stages in the educational process.

Tibetan nun education, Education Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan calligraphy, Tibetan Buddhist nun

Tibetan Buddhist nuns taking part in a Tibetan calligraphy competition

In addition to providing basic educational requirements, the Tibetan Nuns Project seeks to elevate the educational standards and the position of women within the monastic community. To prepare the nuns for positions of leadership and moral authority in a culture that is going through challenging times, it is essential to combine traditional religious studies with aspects of modern education.

Why Educating Tibetan Nuns Is So Important

It is a historic time for Tibetan Buddhist nuns and Tibetan Buddhism.

Inside Tibet, nuns and monks are under constant surveillance and are unable to freely practice their religion. There’s a very great risk that the priceless wisdom and teachings of Tibetan Buddhism may be lost.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama, patron of the Tibetan Nuns Project, has said, “The Tibetan Buddhist philosophy is something precious which we can be proud of and should strive to preserve.”

Shugsep Nunnery letter on classroom wall

An essay in the English classroom at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute. The original Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet was completely destroyed and then partially rebuilt by the nuns themselves. However, the nuns faced frequent harassment by Chinese authorities and many escaped into exile in India. Shugsep was re-established in exile by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

It is also a time of opportunity for Buddhist women. Never before have Tibetan nuns been able to receive the same education and the chance to study and sit for the same degrees as monks.

For the first time in the history of Tibet, nuns can take the Geshema degree, roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism.

Our focus with the Tibetan Nuns Project has been on helping the nuns to gain the top degrees within their Tibetan Buddhist traditions, so that they could reach the same level of academic proficiency in those traditions as the monks. Our further hope is that they will go on to teach other nuns so that teachers do not always have to be monks.

Geshema Delek Wangmo, teaching, Dolma Ling Nunnery

Geshema Delek Wangmo teaching at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. She and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel made history when they were hired in 2019 to teach the nuns there. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Your support has helped bring about these major educational accomplishments:

Do you want to do more to help the nuns? Learn about our Current Projects here and how you can sponsor a nun. More sponsors are always needed.

The Flowers of Dolma Ling

In the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, the 250 Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute grow many flowers to beautify the nunnery.

Flowers grown by nuns, flowers at Dolma Ling

A selection of the many types of flowers that the nuns grow.

Dolma Ling is a unique center of higher learning for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India. The nuns helped build the nunnery, laboring to carry bricks and mortar, dig the foundations, and landscape the lush flower gardens that are a refuge for birds and insects. The Tibetan for Tara is “Dolma”, and thus “Dolma Ling” means “Place of Tara”.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns with flowers, Dolma Ling flower competition

Each year, the nuns at Dolma Ling hold a flower competition to celebrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6th.

The nunnery is set in a serene area of Himachal Pradesh. It is surrounded by green terraced wheat and rice fields, with beautiful views up towards the snow peaks of the nearby Dhauladhar mountain range. The town of Dharamsala, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration, is about a 20-minute drive away.

flower contest, Dolma Ling flowers

Judging the annual flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Video Tour of the Flowers of Dolma Ling

For Buddhists, it is traditional to offer flowers to the Buddha. Flowers are significant as offerings because their freshness, fragrance, and beauty are impermanent. They are a reminder of the Buddha’s teachings that all things are impermanent.

flowers of Dolma Ling, Tibetan nuns carrying flowers

Dolma Ling nuns carry flowers to beautify the debate courtyard for the Tibetan Nuns Project 30th anniversary celebration in 2017.

We want to take you on a tour of the flowers of Dolma Ling with this video by Brian Harris. Can’t see the video? Click here.

Tibetan Monastic Robes

Monastic robes date back to the time of the Buddha over 2,600 years ago. The robes are a mark of identity, clearly distinguishing members of a monastic community from lay people. The disciplinary texts for monks and nuns contain many guidelines on robes.

Originally, the robe was just one rectangular piece of cloth carefully wrapped. Over time, each Buddhist tradition has developed its own set of rules and robes and settled on a color.

Tibetan monastic robes, monastic robes,

A young Tibetan Buddhist nun learns how to wear monastic robes. Photo by Olivier Adam

The Different Colors of Monastic Robes

The original rules about monastic robes are recorded in the Vinaya Pitaka of the Pali Canon and these include rules about color. The Pali Canon says the robes of fully ordained monks, may be dyed “tinting them red using the bark of the bāla tree, or using saffron, madder, vermillion, āmalakī, ocher, orpiment, realgar, or bandujīva flowers.” It is also said that the robes should be made using a dye that was readily available, not something expensive or special.

These natural dyes, created from various plants, minerals, and spices such as saffron gave the cloth used in southeast Asia a yellow-orange color. Hence the term “saffron robes”. The Theravada monks of southeast Asia still wear these spice-color robes today, in bright orange as well as shades of curry, cumin, and paprika.

The colors of Buddhist monastic robes vary depending on the tradition and on what was readily available. Also, the color of female monastics robes sometimes differs from that of male monastics, even in a shared tradition.

In Thailand, monks wear orange and saffron robes and nuns wear white robes. In Japan, monks’ and nuns’ robes are traditionally black, grey, or blue. In Korea, robes are black, brown, or gray. In Tibet and in the Tibetan diaspora, both monks and nuns wear maroon or burgundy red robes.

Tibetan monk and nun dolls showing Tibetan monastic robes

These charming monk and nun dolls are handmade by the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The dolls’ robes are made from recycled nuns’ robes. Each doll has its own mini mala, a set of prayer beads. We sell them in our online store to help the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries.

Of the various Buddhist traditions, Tibetan Buddhism has perhaps one of the more complex variety of robes. Although the main color of Tibetan robes is burgundy, the historical yellow of monastic robes is still present in both nuns’ and monks’ robes.

Cloth for Monastic Robes

The cloth and sewing pattern of monastic robes has ancient symbolism. Like the wandering holy men at the time of the Buddha, the first monastics wore a robe stitched together from rags.

The Buddha instructed the first monks and nuns to make their robes of “pure” cloth, meaning cloth that no one wanted. They scavenged in rubbish heaps and cremation grounds for discarded cloth and cut away any unusable bits before stitching the pieces together to form three rectangular sections of cloth. The humble nature of the cloth itself represented detachment from the physical world in pursuit of enlightenment.

monastic robes, Tibetan robes, Tilokpur

Vinaya texts insist that robes should be clean at all times and should be dried in the open air. This, of course, is a challenge during the monsoon. Photo from Tilokpur Nunnery courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Tibetan Monastic Robes

Geography and climate have shaped the evolution of monastic robes. The Buddha is usually depicted wearing a simple robe draped over his body, often leaving his right shoulder bare. This style of robes is still found in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. Early Buddhist robes were meant for hot climates and were not warm enough for Tibet’s cold, high-altitude conditions. Hence, an upper and an outer garment are part of monastic robes in Tibetan Buddhism.

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Early Buddhist robes were meant for hot climates and were not warm enough for Tibet’s cold, high-altitude conditions. An elderly nun saying the Tara Puja at Geden Choeling Nunnery, Dharamsala. Photo by Olivier Adam

The Tibetan word for robes is ཆོས་གོས་ [pronounced: chos gö], meaning “religious clothing,”. A basic set of robes for a Tibetan Buddhist monastic consists of these parts:

The dhonka, a shirt with cap sleeves. This shirt was added to Tibetan monastic robes in the 14th century, at the time of Tsong Khapa. Because of the cold Tibetan climate, it was felt that the monks needed an upper robe. The dhonka is maroon or maroon and yellow with blue piping. The blue piping has historic symbolism, remembering a period in Tibetan history when Buddhism was almost wiped out. There were not enough monks remaining to bestow ordination, but with the help of two Chinese monks, who always wore some blue garments, they were able to do so. In memory of that help, the blue sleeve edging was made a part of the upper garment.

The shemdap is a maroon skirt made with patched cloth and a varying number of pleats. This is the transformation of the original  monastic robe of the Theravada tradition. Monks and nuns no longer wear discarded cloth, but wear robes made from cloth that is donated or purchased. And nowadays the lower robe of Tibetan monastics is simply sewn to look patched.

The chogyu is yellow and worn for certain ceremonies and teachings. Similar to the Theravada robe, it is made of many pieces.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama photo by Olivier Adam

Tibetan lineages wear a maroon color upper robe ordinarily, but generally wear a yellow robe during confession ceremonies and teachings. Photo of His Holiness the Dalai Lama courtesy of Olivier Adam

A maroon zen is similar to the chogyu and is for ordinary day-to-day wear.

The namjar is larger than the chogyu, with more patches, and it is yellow and often made of silk. It is for formal ceremonial occasions and is worn leaving the right arm bare.

A dagam is a heavy woollen cape that monastics wrap around themselves when sitting for long periods of time doing meditation or ritual during cold weather.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Buddhist nuns, Tibetan nuns making prayer flags

The tailoring program at Dolma Ling Nunnery had a modest start with a plan to make nuns robes so that the nuns wouldn’t have to go to the market and pay for the service. Now the tailoring program has expanded greatly and is quite successful. In addition to making robes, the nuns make item for sale in our online store including prayer flags, nun and monk dolls, bags, and Tibetan door curtains.

Nuns’ Letters to Sponsors and Photos from Sakya College for Nuns

The pandemic has made it very difficult for nuns to send letters to their sponsors. In normal times, nuns try to write to their sponsors at least once a year, ideally twice. This spring, as another wave of COVID-19 washed over India, getting physical letters to sponsors has not been possible. Even getting scanned letters to people is proving a challenge. For this, the nuns and the Tibetan Nuns Project are very sorry.

We know this situation is disappointing for our sponsors. Even though you may not hear from the nun or nuns you sponsor, please know that you are in their hearts and prayers. Thank you for your kindness and compassion!

Sakya College for Nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Kangyur,

Sakya College nuns reading the kangyur, the spoken words of the Buddha, on February 14, 2022 for the well-being of all sponsors. The prayer day happened to coincide with Valentine’s Day.

Ideally, the nuns at the 7 nunneries we support would write the letters and they would be taken or delivered to the Tibetan Nuns Project headquarters at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala. To protect sponsors’ privacy, we do not share addresses. At the office, the letters would typically be mailed to sponsors.

During COVID, because physical mail was disrupted, the staff in India have been scanning any letters received and sending them via email. The office team in India has never done anything on this scale before and face many obstacles including limited staff and undependable internet.

Losar prayers, Tibetan New Year 2022, Sakya College for Nuns, photos from Sakya College for Nuns

Prayer session on the first day of Losar, Tibetan New Year, March 3 2022 at Sakya College for Nuns

Moreover, during the pandemic, the typical trips between nunneries ceased. Recent news reports say that India’s pandemic death toll may be over 3 million and up to seven times the nation’s official number.

Sponsors are still welcome to send letters to the nuns, but we recommend that you e-mail them to the India office at sponsorshipindia@tnp.org where they will be printed and delivered to the nuns. Please be sure to include the nun’s name and her nun number in your subject line.

Prayers for Sponsors at Sakya College for Nuns

Last Friday, we received a big batch of photos from the nuns at Sakya College. They show the nuns preparing for Losar, Tibetan New Year, on March 3, 2022 by cleaning and making khapse biscuits.

There are many photos of the nuns doing special prayers for all their sponsors. On February 14, 2022, the nuns read the Kangyur, the spoken words of the Buddha, for the well-being of their sponsors.

Here’s a slideshow from Sakya College for you. Can’t see it? Click here.

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Symposium at the Sakya College for Nuns

On January 15th, to mark his Parinirvana Day, the nuns of Sakya College held a symposium on Sakya Pandita. Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyeltsen (1182–1251), founder of the Sakya school, was one of Tibet’s most learned scholars and is held to be an emanation of Manjusri, the embodiment of the wisdom of all the Buddhas.

Eight nuns spoke at the symposium, including one in English and one in Nepalese. Part of the discussion was on one of Sakya Pandita’s masterpieces, Distinguishing the Three Vows. His Eminence Asanga Vajra Sakya Rinpoche graciously blessed the occasion with his presence. Each speaker’s presentation was followed by questions from the audience. All in all it was a wonderful experience for the nuns.

Here’s a slideshow of more photos from Sakya College for Nuns, including the symposium and classes. Can’t see it? Click here.

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Drolma Bumther Puja Offering
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Khen Rinpoche's class 1
Khen Rinpoche's class 2
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Kunga Paldon (teacher) taking class
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Losar in Photos: Tibetan New Year 2022

Losar or Tibetan New Year is a joyful holiday celebrated by Tibetans and people in the Himalayan region with festivities traditionally lasting for several days.

Here are photos and slideshows from two Tibetan Buddhist nunneries showing how the nuns prepare for and celebrate Losar.

This year, Losar began on March 3rd, 2022. According to the Tibetan lunar calendar, it is the start of year of the Water Tiger, 2149.

Losar, Tibetan New Year, Dolma Ling,

Nuns at Dolma Ling hold a chemar box for Tibetan New Year. This ornately carved box contains roasted barley and tsampa (roasted barley flour). It is decorated with butter sculptures made by the nuns. The chemar is an auspicious offering to make at the Losar shrine to bring prosperity in the new year.

Goodbye to All Negativities of the Old Year

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, Tibetans say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home from top to bottom. After that, the “new year” Losar (ལོ་གསར་) is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives.

Before Losar, there are many preparations at the nunneries, including making khapse, the deep-fried biscuits that are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations everywhere. The dough is usually made with flour, eggs, butter, and sugar and is then rolled out and twisted into a variety shapes and sizes. Some are served to guests and some decorate the Losar altar.

Here’s a slideshow of the nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery preparing for Losar and making khapse. Geden Choeling is the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala, India and is home to about 175 nuns.

Can’t see the slideshow? Click here.

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Losar at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is the largest of the seven nunneries we support in India. Home to about 250 nuns, the nunnery is a busy place at Losar. The nuns at Dolma Ling make butter sculptures to help decorate the Losar altar. They also roll, shape, and fry thousands of khapse biscuits.

Here’s a slideshow showing Losar at Dolma Ling. Can’t see it? Click here.

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We are grateful to the Media Nuns at Dolma Ling for the photos.

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.

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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]

A little goes a long way

A little goes a long way to help Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

In this blog post, we want to share with you the cost of basic food items at the largest nunnery we support in India so that you can see the impact of your support. In this blog, we take you inside the kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, home to 347 nuns plus staff.

Rice

Rice is a staple food for the nuns in all the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries we support in India. One of the most common meals for Tibetans in exile is rice and dal. This simple dish is nutritious and inexpensive. A huge bag of rice costs 640 Indian rupees or just under $9. Each day at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, the nuns use about 1.5 bags of rice to feed close to 400 nuns and staff.

$12/day feeds rice to 350 nuns

Tibetan Buddhist nun checking rice

A nun on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling checks rice. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Flour

Flour, like rice, is used daily at the nunneries to make bread, noodles, and steamed buns. An 88 pound (40 kg) bag of flour costs just over $12 and is enough to feed over 300 people.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns in kitchen using flour Brian Harris copy

This summer, donors kindly helped the nuns at the two largest nunneries we support, Dolma Ling and Shugsep, purchase dough-making machines. Until now, the nuns would have to knead dough by hand.

$12/day provides 350 nuns with flour

Potatoes

All the nunneries have a vegetarian diet and potatoes are important staple food. Just a small monthly donation to the Tibetan Nuns Project feeds hundreds of nuns in a day. For instance, a 110 lb (50 kg) bag of potatoes costs just $14 and will feed a lot of nuns. We are extremely grateful to everyone who sponsors a nun and also to those donors who give monthly at any amount they choose. As you see, even $5 a month helps feed hundreds of nuns.

$14 buys 110 lbs of potatoes

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A nun on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling Nunnery pauses from peeling potatoes. There are about 350 nuns at the nunnery so that means a lot of peeling! Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Onions

Some Buddhists follow a strict diet that avoids aliums including onions, garlic, and chives. However, Tibetan Buddhists do use onions and garlic in their cooking, especially in exile in India and Nepal. A 55 lb bag of onions (25 kg) costs $10.

$10 buys 55 lbs of onions

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute chopping onions ⓒ Robin Groth

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute chopping onions ⓒ Robin Groth

With COVID, the nuns have not been shopping in the same way as before because it was unsafe to go to the market. Instead, during the lockdown times, they had supplies such as vegetables delivered to the gates of the nunnery where they would be sanitized and then stored in the storage room shown below.

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Vegetables in the storeroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India. The nunnery is home to about 350 Tibetan Buddhist nuns and they have a vegetarian diet, so lots of vegetables are needed.

Thank you again for helping the nuns!

a little goes a long way, Dolma Ling Nunnery

Bags of vegetables outside the gate of Dolma Ling Nunnery during the COVID lockdown in 2020