Category Archives: Buddhist Nuns Life

Reading the Words of the Buddha

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.

Because the month of Saga Dawa includes some of the holiest days in the Buddhist calendar, the nuns believe they can accumulate more merit by doing such practices at this time. Completing this full reading of the words of the Buddha takes several days as each nun reads from a different portion of the text.

words of the Buddha, Kangyur, Tenzin Sangmo

Each year over 230 nuns who live at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India read the entire Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha, during the month of Saga Dawa. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo.

The Buddha, also known as Siddhartha Gautama or Buddha Shakyamuni, was a spiritual teacher, religious leader, philosopher, and meditator born in ancient India about 2,500 years ago. Revered as the founder of Buddhism and worshipped as the Enlightened One, he taught the liberation from suffering. The title “Buddha” literally means “awakened” and was given to Siddhartha Gautama after he discovered the path to nirvana, the cessation of suffering,

The Kangyur

The word kangyur (in Tibetan བཀའ་འགྱུར་) means the “translated words” of the Buddha. The Kangyur and is a collection of the Tibetan translations of the Indian texts that are considered to be the words of the Buddha.

The Kangyur has sections on Vinaya (monastic discipline), the Perfection of Wisdom sutras, other sutras, and tantras.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling reading the words of the Buddha

This photo was taken before the pandemic in 2020 when the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling were able to sit together in the temple and read the words of the Buddha. Photo courtesy of the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

Marking the Holy Month of Saga Dawa

Saga Dawa is the holiest month in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. It is the fourth month in the Tibetan lunar calendar and this year it starts on May 12th and runs until June 10th 2021.

The 15th day of the lunar month, the full moon day is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Buddhists. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death (parinirvana) of Buddha Shakyamuni.

This year, Saga Dawa Düchen falls on May 26, 2021. On Saga Dawa Düchen the merits of one’s actions are hugely increased. In other Buddhist traditions, it is known as Vesak or is sometimes called Buddha Day.

Complete Kangyur words of the Buddha read at Saga Dawa

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

During this holy month, the nuns believe they can accumulate more merit by doing such practices as reading the spoken words of the Buddha, the Kangyur, at this time. The nuns also light butter lamps during the full moon and everyone tries to practice positive deeds during the entire month.  Some also take special vows such as eating only one meal a deal and doing large numbers of prostrations.

Saga Dawa is known as the month of merits. People make extra efforts to practice more generosity, virtue, compassion, and kindness in order to accumulate greater merit. The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project celebrate Saga Dawa in special ways.

Practices undertaken during this month include:

  • Praying and reciting mantras
  • Lighting butter lamps
  • Making pilgrimages to holy places
  • Refraining from eating meat
  • Saving animals from slaughter and releasing them
  • Making prostrations and circumambulations
  • Giving money to beggars

Reading the Words of the Buddha During the Pandemic

In 2020, due to the pandemic, the nuns at Dolma Ling had to practice physical distancing while reading the words of the Buddha. The nuns had to spread out throughout the Dolma Ling nunnery grounds. They sat in the temple, on balconies, and in the debate courtyard to collectively read the Kangyur over multiple days.

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.

Learning and Practicing the Sacred Arts of Tibet

Tibetan Ritual or Sacred Arts

The nuns at two Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in northern India are learning and practicing many of the sacred arts of Tibet. In this blog post, we will show you some of those ritual arts including making butter sculptures, making tormas, and playing traditional Tibetan musical instruments.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan butter sculpture, sacred arts of Tibet

Gen Karma la teaches nuns at Dolma Ling the Tibetan sacred art of butter sculpture. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Most of the nuns we support in India are Tibetan refugees who fled their homeland seeking freedom to live, study, practice, and teach in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. In addition, the Tibetan Nuns Project helps nuns and nunneries following the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in Buddhist communities in Indian Himalayas, such as Kinnaur, Spiti, Ladakh, and Zanskar .

Nunneries and monasteries are not only places of worship and religious training, they are also the preservers of tradition and the sacred arts

Tibetan Butter Sculpture

The highly revered artistic tradition of making Tibetan butter sculptures has been practiced for over 400 years in Tibet. The art of making Tibetan butter sculptures is now being preserved by monks and nuns living in India as refugees.

Tibetan Butter sculpture, Tibetan sacred arts, Tibetan ritual arts

At Losar, Tibetan New Year, the nuns at Dolma Ling create hundreds of butter sculptures including these tsepdro with individual designs including the eight auspicious symbols, the four harmonious friends – elephant, monkey, rabbit, and bird – and the sun and the moon. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Tibetan butter sculptures made with colored butter are used as offerings and for elaborate rituals and celebrations. Losar, or Tibetan New Year, is a very special time for the making and displaying of Tibetan butter sculptures.

Since 2001, the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India have been studying this ancient art with their teacher, Gen Karma la. In addition to the larger butter sculptures made for the Losar altar, the nuns make smaller displays on individual sticks, called tsepdro, for each person in the nunnery — nuns, staff, and teachers. This means that each Losar, the nuns make around 300 of these, using a wide variety of designs. The nuns display them in their rooms as part of their Losar altars and offerings, as a kind of bundle of auspiciousness.

Butter has always been highly valued in Tibetan culture. Its availability and its malleable quality in the cold climate of the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas made it an ideal material for sculpting. Inside Tibet, the sacred Tibetan butter sculptures would be made from the butter of dri which are female yaks.

Tibetan butter sculpture, Tibetan sacred arts, Tibetan ritual arts, nuns making butter sculpture

It is the practice in Buddhism to offer flowers as a tribute to Buddha statues on altars. However, in winter when no fresh flowers can be found, flowers sculpted from butter are made as an offering. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

Making butter sculptures requires painstaking skill, learned from an excellent teacher and through years of practice. Like the famous Tibetan sand mandalas, butter sculptures are a unique Tibetan sacred art that has been handed down for centuries from teacher to student.

Losar, Losar altar, Tibetan New Year, Tibetan butter sculptures, Tibetan sacred arts, Tibetan ritual arts

Elaborate butter sculpture flowers and sacred symbols made by the nuns decorate the altar for Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The increasing shortage of well-trained and skilled butter sculptors in Tibet means that it is crucial that in India the nuns learn this religious art as part of their course of studies in order to keep it from dying out.

Tormas

Tibetan tormas, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, tormas, Tibetan ritual arts

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling make tormas out of flour and butter. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Tormas are figures used as offerings in Tibetan Buddhism or as part of tantric rituals. Made mostly of flour and butter, tormas are usually conical in shape but are also made in other shapes depending on their purpose. They are sometimes dyed, often with white or red for the main body of the torma. Typically, tormas are small and placed directly on a plate or on shrines.

tormas, Tibetan tormas, Tibetan sacred arts, Tibetan ritual arts

Elaborate tormas of different sizes, shapes, colors, and decorated with butter are arranged on the altar for the special Chod puja at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute. Chöd is a spiritual practice that aims to cut through ego and ignorance, obstacles on the path to enlightenment.

Tibetan Ritual Music Instruments

Tibetan ritual music like this audio recording of the Tara puja (prayer ceremony) at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute may surprise people who are not familiar with Tibetan Buddhism. Group chanting is accompanied by a variety of specialized Tibetan instruments and this can be very dramatic and loud. Ritual music is a form of offering.

The musical instruments used in pujas fall into two broad categories: percussion instruments and wind instruments.

Tibetan music, Tibetan instruments. Tibetan sacred arts. Tibetan sacred music

Tibetan Buddhist nun playing cymbals during puja Photo by Brian Harris

Here are some of the sacred Tibetan instruments that the nuns play during pujas:
1.    Various types of brass cymbals provide structure and rhythm during group chanting.
2.    Various kinds of drums including hand drums and a large drum mounted on a special stand often used to mark the time during group practice.
3.    A Tibetan wind instrument called gyaling (meaning Indian trumpet) a reed instrument, somewhat like an oboe.
4.    Another type of Tibetan wind instrument called a kangling, an ancient instrument from India that was historically made of a human thighbone, and often used in rituals regarding wrathful deities.
5.    Conch shells which when blown have a deep, resounding tone. They are also used to announce the arrival of important figures or to call monastics to assemble for prayers.
6.    Perhaps the most remarkable of all, the dungchen, a long trumpet with a deep, low sound that has been compared to the trumpeting of an elephant. Most dungchen are made of telescoping sections and are elaborately decorated with metalwork. Dungchen are played to welcome high lamas and Rinpoches to a monastery or temple.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns playing a Tibetan musical instrument called the gyaling

Two nuns from Shugsep Nunnery and Institute playing the gyaling, a Tibetan wind instrument somewhat like an oboe. Photo by the Media Nuns.

Two Tibetan Buddhist nuns play the dungchen, Tibetan long horns

Nuns playing dungchen, long trumpets with a deep, low sound used to are played to welcome high lamas and Rinpoches to a monastery or temple. Photo by the Media Nuns.

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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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:

Latest News on Coronavirus Lockdown and Tibetan Nunneries

Here is the latest news on the coronavirus lockdown at the Tibetan nunneries and how the nuns in India are coping.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns distribute food during coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus lockdown, Dolma Ling nuns, food relief

Compassion in action. Tibetan Buddhist nuns from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute share their rations with 100 of the poorest village families near the nunnery. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

New Statement from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on May 3rd

On Sunday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama issued a new statement calling on people to come together and give a “coordinated, global response” to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said we must focus on what unites us as members of one human family and reach out to each other with compassion.

His Holiness said, “Our human capacity to reason and to see things realistically gives us the ability to transform hardship into opportunity. This crisis and its consequences serve as a warning that only by coming together in a coordinated, global response, will we meet the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges we face. I pray we all heed ‘The Call to Unite’.”

Tibetan Administration Extends Coronavirus Lockdown

On May 1st, the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala called for an additional 30 days of lockdown for nunneries, monasteries, Tibetan settlements, old age homes, and schools.

The Indian lockdown was set to expire on May 3rd and on Friday it was extended for another two weeks to May 18th. However, the Central Tibetan Administration has called for a full 80 days of lockdown for Tibetan communities scheduled to end on June 5th, coinciding with the full moon day of Saga Dawa.

Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay said the curve in India is rising daily and that the risk of transmission will be greater than ever, given India’s densely packed population. He advised Tibetans in settlements to avoid coronavirus hotspots and not to come to Dharamshala, for the safety of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration. He praised the relief efforts of various monastic institutions and others and asked those distributing food to the poor to maintain social distancing.

Tibetan nuns, Dolma Ling, coronavirus lockdown, food distribution

Sharing is caring. The nuns at Dolma Ling gather rice, flour, sugar, cooking oil, and tea from their rations to share with their poorest neighbours. These Indian families are day laborers unable to work and afford food during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

Update on Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

At Dorjee Zong Nunnery, a 700-year-old Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Zanskar, the younger nuns from nearby villages have temporarily left the nunnery to stay with their families. These young nuns cannot stay at Dorjee Zong during the lockdown because there is not enough space to house them in separate quarters or to follow safe social distancing measures. Their elder siblings who have returned home are helping the younger children with their studies.

Seven elder nuns remain at the nunnery and spend most of their time reciting mantras and following their daily rituals. Two senior nuns are taking care of the nunnery complex and the two cows. Since they have the time, they are growing barley and vegetables.

To cope with the severe winters at this remote, high-altitude nunnery, each September the nuns stock up on rations, vegetables, and other essentials, storing enough to get them through May of each year. Soon the roads will open and in June the nuns will once again have access to fresh supplies.

Last year, Dorjee Zong Nunnery began an exciting expansion project. The plan is to build new housing blocks, a prayer hall, kitchen, dining hall, and storeroom. Good progress was made in 2019 during the short construction season.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery, Zanskar, Tibetan Buddhist nunnery

Down the hill from ancient Dorjee Zong Nunnery, a number of new buildings are being constructed. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown mean that further construction will likely be delayed.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be a problem with construction this year. Since most of the labor force comes from Nepal, they may not be able to work due to the strict guidelines imposed by every Indian state. We will continue to report back as we get fresh news.

Life in the Nunneries Under Lockdown

All the nuns and staff are fine, at the time of writing this post.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling social distance and pray, coronavirus lockdown

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery practice social distancing while praying. The nunnery is home to about 240 nuns. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

The nuns are reciting prayers and mantras in their rooms and when they go for kora, circumambulating the nunnery complex. The nuns are spending a lot of time studying on their own.

At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, the nuns shared their food rations with 100 poor village families. The local village administration asked the nunnery for help because many people cannot work and are suffering. This is a very stressful time for people who depend on work to eat, so the nuns were happy to share their food with them.

coronavirus lockdown, life under lockdown, Tibetan Buddhist nun, Dolma Ling

Outside the gates of Dolma Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist nun sanitizes vegetables during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team

The nuns have also made sure that the two single women employed by Dolma Ling are still being paid even though they are unable to work since the lockdown. These women were also given extra food rations.

The nunneries remain shut. The nuns are being vigilant and guard the gates, making sure no one comes in without good reason and taking sanitization precautions. Shopping for essentials is proceeding smoothly for all the nunneries.

coronavirus lockdown, Dolma Ling, Tibetan Buddhist nuns chores

Even under lockdown, chores continue. The nuns at Dolma Ling work together to clean the large drinking water reservoir. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

In Himachal Pradesh, home to five of the nunneries, the curfew situation has eased slightly.  People are allowed out for morning walks from 5:30 am to 7 am. From 8 am to 12 pm, people may go out to buy essentials and motor vehicles can travel without government passes. The government has allowed many shops to stay open during these hours.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns wearing masks, doing chores at Dolma Ling

Life under lockdown at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute include chores, prayers, and studying on one’s own. Photos courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is very grateful to Charles-Antoine Janssen for his generous gift of over 3,500 masks for the nuns at various nunneries.

donated face masks, Charles-Antoine Janssen

In April, Mr. Charles-Antoine Janssen, Founder and Managing Partner at Kois Invest in Mumbai, donated more than 3,500 masks to the Tibetan Nuns Project for the nuns at various nunneries.

The Tibetan Nuns Project office gave 500 masks to the Nuns’ Committee at Dolma Ling for distribution to nuns and staff and has contacted the other nunneries so that the masks can be quickly collected. The Dolma Ling nuns offered a puja gift for Charles-Antoine Janssen, his wife, and two sons.

Update on the Sherab Choeling Nuns

As we reported in April, in mid-February 44 of the nuns from Sherab Choeling travelled to the town of Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes.

Then the coronavirus lockdown happened and all classes were suspended. After lots of hard work, the nuns were able to arrange for two buses to take them and their two teachers back to Sherab Choeling. To maintain social distancing, the nuns had to sit apart, requiring more bus space that would be needed under normal circumstances.

Sherab Choeling Nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, social distancing

Sherab Choeling nuns stand apart in circles at a checkpoint en route back to the nunnery. To get back home to Sherab Choeling Nunnery during the coronavirus lockdown, the nuns had to rent two big buses and sit apart from each other.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns’ food and delicious vegetarian recipes

Today we’re taking you behind the scenes to some of the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project. You’ll see what the Tibetan Buddhist nuns eat and how they prepare their food.

Scroll down for four recipes for delicious vegetarian food that you can cook at home.

Tibetan vegetarian recipes collage

A collage of food photos from the Tibetan Buddhist nuns, including vegetarian Tibetan momos, top right. The photo on the left is courtesy of Dustin Kujawski. The photo of Tibetan momos in the top right is courtesy of YoWangdu.

The nunneries in India follow a simple vegetarian diet. The nuns’ diet is influenced by Indian food and local ingredients. With your support, their nutrition has greatly improved over the years.

Tibetan Buddhist nun checking rice

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

At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, a typical breakfast might be a piece of flatbread, some cooked mixed vegetables, and tea. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is often rice, two kinds of vegetables, dal, and sometimes fruit. Dinner is often a noodle soup and maybe a steamed bun.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns cooking breakfast

The nuns on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute rise just past 3 a.m. to start preparing breakfast for the over 280 nuns and staff at the nunnery. In this photo by Brian Harris, a nun is making Indian-style flatbreads on a griddle.

vegetable storeroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

It takes a lot of vegetables to feed about 250 nuns. A few years ago, the kitchen at Dolma Ling was expanded and this new storage room was built. It is designed to keep birds and animals out and has a special chopping area.

For 2,500 years, since the time of the Buddha, it has been considered an act of merit to give food to monks and nuns. As Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and poet, said, “The practitioner and benefactor offering food create the cause to achieve enlightenment together.”

In the seven nunneries in northern India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, the nuns work together to prepare food for the entire nunnery. While the nunneries do their best to be self-sufficient, all of them are still heavily reliant for food support through our sponsorship program and through general donations.

young Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery eating

Young nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti sit in the warm sun and eat. The nunnery is located in the remote, high-altitude region of Spiti in northern India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Good health and nutrition are essential for the nuns to be able to study. The majority of nuns came to India as refugees from Tibet and most arrived destitute, malnourished, and ill. As refugees without their families and traditional communities to support them, they rely more than ever on the compassion and generosity of others. Providing the nuns with a steady supply of nutritious food makes a dramatic difference in the energy they are able to devote to their studies.

Tibetan-Buddhist-nuns-roasting-tsampa

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute roast barley to make tsampa, the staple food of the Tibetan people. Once roasted, the barley is ground into flour and mixed with Tibetan tea for a high-energy meal.

Food at Remote Nunneries

The nuns in remote nunneries, such as Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti and Dorjee Zong in Zanskar, have difficult living conditions. These two nunneries are located in high-altitude, arid regions where the growing season is short. The nuns face long, harsh winters and must stock up on supplies of food and cooking fuel well before the onset of cold weather.

kitchen at Tibetan Buddhist nunnery Sherab Choeling

The simple kitchen at Sherab Choeling Nunnery is one of the warmest parts of the nunnery in winter. During the coldest months, the nuns hold their classes, prayers, and meetings in the kitchen because it is warmer and helps to save wood.

At Sherab Choeling Nunnery, the nuns work hard during the summer months to grow food for the long winter. During the summer, the nuns grow spinach, beans, peas, and wheat.

Tibetan Buddhist nun working in greenhouse in Spiti

The nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Indian Himalayas have three greenhouses where they mostly grow spinach. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Vegetarian Recipes

recipe for Tibetan noodle soup thenthuk

Tibetan noodle soup, thenthuk. This comfort food is a common noodle soup in Tibetan cuisine, especially in Amdo, Tibet.

Here are some recipes from past blog posts for typical dishes that the nuns eat.

Daily Life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti Valley India

In the remote Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, lies Sherab Choeling Nunnery, currently home to about 65 Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Many of the nuns are sponsored by Tibetan Nuns Project donors.

Tibetan Buddhist nun studying

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.

We just received lots of photos showing daily life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery that we wanted to share with the sponsors of the nuns and with Tibetan Nuns Project donors worldwide.

Nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

The nuns after their annual result ceremony. Many of the nuns are holding sweaters, vests, and hats knitted and donated by Wool-Aid.

The nunnery was founded in 1995 with the goal to educate Himalayan Buddhist nuns who would otherwise have no opportunity to receive any formal schooling or spiritual education. It is a non-sectarian nunnery that recognizes the beauty and value in all Buddhist traditions.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti Himachal Pradesh

The nunnery is very secluded and lies in the village of Morang (between Manali and Tabor) at 4,000 meters altitude. The nuns have difficult living conditions. They often face long harsh winters and heavy snowfalls.

The nunnery was built in 1995 by 20 nuns and their teacher and was consecrated that year by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. There is the main building, a prayer hall, a classroom, an office, a kitchen, and a storeroom.

nuns studying at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Traditionally women and girls in this region have suffered from many social and educational disadvantages. Many have been deprived of any kind of education. Sherab Choeling Nunnery was the first religious educational project for Spiti women, providing women and girls with the opportunity to overcome these obstacles.

Typically, women who live in remote areas like Spiti and who are interested in studying or practicing their religion have very few options. The Tibetan Nuns Project was approached by the nunnery in 2006 to help them develop their institution and the nunnery was accepted into our sponsorship program.

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

Nuns at Sherab Choeling practice Tibetan debate

The nuns practice Tibetan Buddhist debate. Training in Tibetan Buddhist debate is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition. Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practice Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that joins logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

Although the area of Lahaul-Spiti is part of India, ethnically, the people are descended from Tibetans and the majority are devout Buddhists. They have preserved an ancient Tibetan culture, speaking an old dialect of the Tibetan language, as written in Tibetan scriptures.

firewood for winter at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

During the coldest months, the nuns hold their classes, prayers, and meetings in the kitchen because it is warmer and helps to save wood.

The nuns have difficult living conditions. They often face long harsh winters and heavy snowfalls. During winter the region is cut off from neighboring villages so the nuns must stock up their daily supplies well before the onset of cold weather.

Winter at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

The frozen reservoir. Washing clothes and dishes in freezing-cold water is a challenge.

greenhouse and supplies at Sherab Choeling Nunnery 2019

With the help of volunteers, the nuns have been able to set up three greenhouses where they mostly grow spinach. Before winter, the nuns must stock up rations of food and fuel.

Summer is the most important and busy season at the nunnery. The nuns must work hard in the fields and store firewood for the winter in addition to concentrating on their studies.

taking care of the cows at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

The nuns are very positive about their future and someday want to be able to serve as teachers back in their villages.

sponsor a Tibetan Buddhist nun

A Tibetan Buddhist nun at Sherab Choeling Nunnery holding gifts from her sponsor. We’d like to thank all our sponsors of nuns at Sherab Choeling for their support. We are always looking for more sponsors for nuns at the seven nunneries we support in northern India.

We’d like to thank all our sponsors of nuns at Sherab Choeling for their support. We still need more sponsors. To sponsor a nun please visit https://tnp.org/youcanhelp/sponsor/

Here is an audio recording of the nuns reciting the Lama Chopa or Guru Puja recorded in 2015 by the French photographer, Olivier Adam.

 

Life during the monsoon

In India, the monsoon starts in late June and lasts until September. While the torrential rains are vital for agriculture and bring relief from scorching summer heat, the monsoon can also be deadly, causing floods and landslides. Less disastrously, the monsoon brings daily obstacles to everyone. Here’s how the nuns cope with the challenges of life during the monsoon.

At times this summer, the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, was the rainiest place in India. In August, it was headline news when monsoon rains broke a 60-year record and 292.4 mm of rain (over 11.5 inches) fell in 24 hours in Dharamsala, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and location of Geden Choeling Nunnery. The nearby Tibetan Buddhist nunneries of Dolma Ling, Shugsep, and Tilokpur have also been hit by close-to-record rainfalls this summer.

The Challenges of Life During the Monsoon

Here’s a video taken in July 2018 by the Nuns’ Media Team showing the rains at Dolma Ling Nunnery. The deep drainage ditches that weave around and through the nunnery complex to prevent flooding were almost overflowing.

Tibetan Nuns Project, Buddhist nunneries, Tibetan nunneries, Tibetan nuns, Buddhism in India,

Five of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project are located in parts of northern India that receive some of the heaviest rains in the country. Only Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti and Dorjee Zong in Zanskar are spared the monsoon deluges, but they face other problems such as water shortages.

You Need a Good Roof

To cope with the monsoon, you need a good, solid, and well-maintained roof. In the early days of the Tibetan Nuns Project, before new nunneries were built, the nuns who had escaped from Tibet had to camp by the side of the road. The nuns were eventually moved into tents and a series of houses rented by the Tibetan Nuns Project, but the roofs couldn’t always cope with the monsoon rains. Dr. Elizabeth Napper recalls the house used by the Shugsep nuns: “Every available space was filled by a bed; even under the stairs there were beds. The structure was poorly built and rain would run down the walls during the monsoon. It was damp and moldy in there. It was awful.”

Now, thank goodness, all the nuns we support have more solid roofs over their heads. Their dormitories, classrooms, dining halls, kitchens, and libraries can remain dry. However, to remain strong these roofs must be maintained.

In September, we are launching a big project to repair and paint all the metal roofs at Shugsep Nunnery. We need help from our global family of supporters to make this happen. Learn more about the Shugsep Roof Project here. The roof is already rusting in places and, unless the painting is done this fall, the roof will fail.

Wear Plastic Shoes

Puddle jumping is a daily activity during the summer monsoon. There’s no point wearing leather shoes, which will only be destroyed by the damp. To keep one’s feet healthy and as dry as possible, plastic shoes and sandals are essential footwear for the nuns.

shoes outside of classroom, life during the monsoon, Tibetan nuns footwear, plastic sandals, how to cope with the monsoon, life during the monsoon

Nuns shoes outside of a classroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery on a nice day in May. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

The Art of Drying Clothing

One of the biggest challenges of life during the monsoon is laundering and drying clothes. This is true for everyone in India, but the situation for Tibetan Buddhist nuns (and monks) can be even trickier. Nuns and monks are traditionally allowed only two sets of robes so washing and, above all, drying robes during the monsoon is hard. The nuns seize opportunities when the sun is out to hang their robes and other clothing on fences etc. and, during showers, under overhanging balconies. The humidity is so relentless that things just don’t dry.

life during the monsoon, nuns clothing, coping with the monsoon, life during the monsoon

Nuns’ clothing drying on the nunnery rooftop. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The Challenge of Staying Healthy

Frequent rains make people more vulnerable to illness, especially through exposure to dirty water and the increase in waterborne diseases. During the monsoon, a number of illnesses increase. We are so grateful to the donors who helped with the urgent septic system repairs at both Dolma Ling and Shugsep. The repairs were completed in June before the onset of the monsoon, so this made both nunneries much safer for the nuns. Even so, the nuns must very careful about washing their vegetables during monsoon season to avoid contamination.

Secondly, getting partially wet or totally soaked from the rain water destabilizes your body temperature and makes you vulnerable to sickness. Fungal infections caused by wearing damp clothes and shoes are also a risk.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, nunnery life, life during the monsoon

Nuns washing vegetables. The monsoon rains bring an increase in water-borne illnesses. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Making Friends with Animals and Insects

Just like humans, animals want to get in out of the rain. The nuns sometimes find that they have visitors to their nunneries, such as snakes, spiders, centipedes, and scorpions. Also, all that standing water becomes a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, which are vectors for many diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Dengue fever is communicated through mosquito bites and the most common symptoms are sudden onset of fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and skin rashes. Some patients also develop symptoms which include vomiting, diarrhoea and loss of appetite.

Previously malaria and dengue have not been a problem for the nuns, but the risk may increase as the climate warms up and the storms become more intense. On August 31 2018, the Hindustan Times reported that so far during this rainy season there have been over 1,500 cases of dengue in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the location of five of the seven nunneries we support.

Drainage Ditches Are Essential

Without drainage ditches to channel the water away, the nunneries would be flooded. The nuns work hard year-round to keep these all-important drainage ditches clean and working. One of the projects we’re working on this fall is to improve the drainage in and around the 8 retreat huts at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Some of the Geshema nuns are staying in the retreat huts while taking their two-year course in Buddhist tantric studies. We need to add gutters and drainpipes to the hut roofs huts so that the rainwater does not damage the walls and we need to add drainage ditches all around to prevent flooding. You can learn more about the project here. 

Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, coping with the monsoon

The nuns of Dolma Ling Nunnery clean the nunnery paths and drainage ditches daily. Photo courtesy of Dustin Kujawski

Mudras: Meaning of Sacred Hand Gestures

Mudras are sacred hand gestures or positions that used to evoke a state of mind. The Sanskrit word “mudra” means “seal”, “mark”, or “gesture”. In Tibetan the word is ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ or “chakgya”. Each of these sacred hand gestures has a specific meaning. Many of them symbolize major moments or events in the Buddha’s life.

mudras, sacred hand gestures, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

In this beautiful photo by Olivier Adam, an elderly nun in Zanskar shows a novice nun how to make the Mandala Offering Mudra.

8 Mudras and their Meaning

Sacred hand gestures or mudras are often depicted in Buddhist art. In this blog we’d like to share descriptions and images of some common mudras. The list here is not exhaustive.

The Earth Witness Mudra

When Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, was meditating under the Bodhi tree, he was assailed by the demon Mara, who tried to disturb his mind. Mara represents the passions that trap and delude us. Siddhartha refused to be tempted from the path to enlightenment and he called on the earth to witness his worthiness to become enlightened, saying, “The earth shall be my witness, I will not let myself be seduced.” In the Earth Witness Mudra, (also known as the Bhumisparsa Mudra or Gesture of Witness), the historical Buddha is seated in the meditation posture and touches the earth with the fingertips of his right hand, palm facing inwards. The left hand is placed in the lap with the palm facing upwards.

earth witness mudra, Buddha, thangka,

In this detail from a thangka print, the historical Buddha is depicted seated in meditation and calling the earth as his witness.

The Mudra of Meditation

The Mudra of Meditation (dhyana) is made by placing both hands on the lap, right hand on the left, with the palms facing upwards, the tips of the thumbs touching, and the fingers fully stretched. This mudra helps to calm the mind for meditation and is used for deep contemplation and reflection. The mudra of meditation is a characteristic gesture of the Buddha Shakyamuni.

Mudra of Meditation, sacred hand gestures, mudras, Buddha sculpture

This ancient stone sculpture shows the Buddha with his hands in the Mudra of Meditation

The Namaskara or Anjali Mudra

This mudra, while not found in representations of the Buddha or other deities, is commonly used by nuns, monks, and lay people to symbolize devotion, prayer, and admiration. Called the Namaskara Mudra or the Anjali Mudra, it is used as a common form of greeting in most Asian countries. Anjali is a Sanskrit word which means “salutation” or “to offer” and Namaskar is Hindi for “good day”. To make this mudra, you bring your palms together in front of your heart space, fingers pointing upwards, and thumbs close to the chest, to symbolize honor, respect, and devotion.

Dalai Lama, Olivier Adam, gesture of greeting, mudra, mudras

His Holiness the Dalai Lama holds his hands together in greeting and in offering respect to others. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Mudra of Holding the Jewel or Manidhara Mudra

The Mudra of Holding the Jewel looks very similar to the Namaskara Mudra or the Anjali Mudra shown above. Also called the Manidhara Mudra, it is made by holding one’s hands together in front but with the palms and fingers slightly arched, holding the precious, wish-fulfilling jewel. This jewel or gem is also depicted in Tibetan prayer flags, carried upon the back of the Lung Ta  or wind horse. This sacred hand gesture of holding the jewel is a mudra of Avalokiteshvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. The Tibetan word for Avalokiteshvara is Chenrezig (སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་). The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Chenrezig,

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An elderly nun in Zanskar places her palms together in devotion, holding the wish-fulfilling jewel, a mudra associated with Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan: Chenrezig). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

The Mandala Offering Mudra

The Mandala Offering Mudra is a complex and sacred hand gesture that acts as a symbolic offering of the entire universe for the benefit of all sentient beings. Performing the Mandala Offering Mudra helps to reduce one’s attachment and to purify the clinging mind. Although this mudra is usually made together with prayers and Buddhist chants, non-Buddhists can also perform it to receive its spiritual benefits.

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A Tibetan Buddhist nun performs the Mandala Mudra with her mala (Buddhist prayer beads). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

To make this complex mudra, sit in meditation pose with your back straight. Calm your breathing and visualize offering the mandala – the universe – to the Buddha, bodhisattvas, and all holy beings, giving with great joy and with purity of heart. Place your hands palms up and intertwine your fingers. With the tips of your thumbs, press down on the tips of the opposite little finger. Then, with the bent tips of your index fingers, press down on the tip of the opposite middle finger. Finally, take your ring fingers, unclasp them, and put them back to back, pressing the backs together and with both fingers going straight up through the center. Together the ring fingers symbolize Mt. Meru, the sacred mountain, and the four continents described in Buddhist cosmology.

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A Tibetan Buddhist nun in Zanskar performs the mandala offering mudra. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Vitarka Mudra or Teaching Mudra

The Vitarka Mudra (the Mudra of Teaching or Discussion) is a common mudra representing the discussion and transmission of Buddhist teachings. It is formed by joining the tips of the thumb and index finger together to form a circle, keeping the other three fingers pointing straight up. The circle formed by the joined fingers symbolizes perfection with no beginning or end.

This mudra is usually made with one hand, most often the right one, with the hand held upward close to the chest and the palm facing outward. However, the mudra may also be made with both hands held in front of the chest, with each index finger and thumb joined in a circle. When two hands are used, the left palm faces inward and the right palm is turned outward. The Teaching Mudra represents the Buddha’s first teaching after becoming enlightened. It also symbolizes the “Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma” or Dharmachakra. There are a great number of variations of this mudra in Mahayana Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is the mystic gesture of Taras and bodhisattvas.

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This sculpture shows the mudra of teaching or the Vitarka Mudra, with the tips of the thumb and index finger joined to form a circle.

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In this detail from a thangka print, White Tara is holding an utpala flower in her raised left hand. The tips of her thumb and fourth or ring finger are touching. This is a gesture of good fortune and shows that, by relying upon her, one may accomplish complete purity of mind and body.

Generosity Mudra or Varada Mudra

The Varada Mudra is the gesture of generosity, charity, and compassion. It is commonly found in representations of the Green and White Tara. This sacred hand gesture represents the granting of blessings, wishes, or even pardon. It also symbolizes the “gift of truth” – the precious gift of the dharma or Buddhist teachings. In the Varada Mudra, the palm faces out and hangs down, usually touching the right leg. This mudra is often used in conjunction with another mudra. The five fingers represent the five perfections: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, and meditation.

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Detail of a thangka print depicting White Tara and showing the outward facing palm and downward hand of the Varada Mudra or Mudra of Generosity.

Mudra of Fearlessness or Abhaya Mudra

Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness. The Mudra of Fearlessness or the Abhaya Mudra symbolizes the dispelling of fear. It can look to Westerners like the common hand gesture for “stop”. The mudra is made by raising the right hand to shoulder height, with the arm bent and the palm facing outward. This mudra is more commonly depicted in standing images.

This very ancient hand gesture is also a sign of peace and friendship. Placing one’s hand up and open in this way indicates that one is free of weapons and comes in peace. In Buddhism, the mudra shows the fearlessness and therefore the spiritual power of the Buddha or bodhisattva who makes it.

It is said that the historical Buddha made this sacred hand gesture immediately after gaining enlightenment. At a later time, the Buddha was about to be attacked by a mad elephant. The poor animal had been fed alcohol and tortured by one who hoped to use the elephant as a weapon against the Buddha. The elephant, enraged and in pain, charged at the Buddha and his followers. While others ran away, the Buddha stood calmly, raising his hand in the gesture of fearlessness. He felt great love and compassion for the stricken elephant. In response, the elephant stopped in its charge, became calm, and then approached the Buddha and bowed its head.

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A giant Buddha statue in Hong Kong shows the seated Buddha with the mudra of fearlessness or the Abhaya Mudra

A note about the images of mudras: The thangka prints shown in this blog post were donated to the Tibetan Nuns Project by a generous donor. A range of thangka prints are available through our online store, with all proceeds from sales going to help the nuns. We are very grateful to Olivier Adam for sharing his beautiful photos. Many of his photos are available as cards through our online store. Prints of Olivier Adam’s photographs are available through his Etsy shop, Daughters of Buddha.