Category Archives: Buddhist Nuns Life

Visit to an ancient Himalayan nunnery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

traditional kitchen at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in the Himalayas

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

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

two young nuns at math class at Dorjee Zong Nunnery Zanskar

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

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

Construction Project Update

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

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

Nuns quarters at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar Tibetan Nuns Project

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

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

new dining hall at Dorjee Zong nunnery

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

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

life at Dorjee Zong nunnery in Zanskar prayers before breakfast

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

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

one of the new classrooms at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

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

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

new building at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

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

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

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

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

Thank you so much for your support of the nuns!

Taking you inside the nuns’ classrooms

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

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

Inside a classroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in May 2022. Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not had the same access to education as monks. The Tibetan Nuns Project aims to elevate the educational standards and the position of women. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

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

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

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist class, Dorjee Zong Nunnery Zanskar

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

What the Tibetan Nuns Study

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist nuns taking part in a Tibetan calligraphy competition

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

Why Educating Tibetan Nuns Is So Important

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

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

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

Shugsep Nunnery letter on classroom wall

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

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

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

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

Geshema Delek Wangmo, teaching, Dolma Ling Nunnery

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

Your support has helped bring about these major educational accomplishments:

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

The Flowers of Dolma Ling

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

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist nuns with flowers, Dolma Ling flower competition

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

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

flower contest, Dolma Ling flowers

Judging the annual flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Video Tour of the Flowers of Dolma Ling

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

flowers of Dolma Ling, Tibetan nuns carrying flowers

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

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

Tibetan Monastic Robes

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

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

Tibetan monastic robes, monastic robes,

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

The Different Colors of Monastic Robes

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

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

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

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

Tibetan monk and nun dolls showing Tibetan monastic robes

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

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

Cloth for Monastic Robes

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

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

monastic robes, Tibetan robes, Tilokpur

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

Tibetan Monastic Robes

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

monastic robes,

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

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

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

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

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

His Holiness the Dalai Lama photo by Olivier Adam

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sakya College for Nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Kangyur,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayers for Sponsors at Sakya College for Nuns

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

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

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

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Symposium at the Sakya College for Nuns

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

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

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

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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.