Category Archives: Buddhist Nuns Life

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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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.

update from Sherab Coeling Nunnery

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

Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Spiti praying

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

New Buddha statue at Sherab Choeling Nunnery 2021

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

first snowfall at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

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

Daily life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti

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

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

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

cost of food, Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling peeling potatoes, cost of basic food items, peeling potatoes

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.

cost of basic food, vegetables in storeroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute copy

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

Happy Nuns in the Dolma Ling Kitchen

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

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

Helping the Nuns Cook Rice Safely

new electric rice cooker at Dolma Ling Nunnery

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist nun cooking rice at Dolma Ling

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist nun cooking rice

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

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

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

The New Dough Maker

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

before and after, Tibetan Buddhist nuns using new dough machine

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

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

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

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

New Refrigerator Saves Costs and Prevents Waste

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

A nun shows the new refrigerator at Dolma Ling

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

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

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

Thank you for your support!

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.

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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.

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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: