Category Archives: Dharamsala

The 2015 Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate in Dharamsala

The 2015 Great Winter Debate Event, also known as the Jang Gonchoe, took place at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India and started on October 3rd. This year marks the 20th anniversary of this special annual event.

Buddhist debate, Buddhist women, Tibetan nuns, Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, Jang Gonchoe

Nuns gather for a formal debate presentation with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on October 31. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Choejor, OHHDL

This year 359 nuns from 7 nunneries in India and Nepal took part in the month-long debates, with the event fully funded by the Tibetan Nuns Project. The $100 scholarships given by Tibetan Nuns Project donors cover costs such as transportation, food and accommodation. Continue reading

New tofu machine up and running at Dolma Ling Nunnery

We are delighted to report that the new tofu-making machine is now in use at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India, home to over 230 nuns.

Thanks to some very special donors, in particular Norman Steinberg and another private donor from Canada, this spring the nuns were able to fulfill their long-term dream of purchasing a new tofu machine and establishing it in a purpose-built facility. In April we shared a blog post with a video made in 2012 by the nuns of the old tofu-making process at the nunnery.

new tofu making machine at Dolma Ling NunneryThe nuns at Dolma Ling make tofu every Saturday. The new tofu machine allows the nuns to produce more tofu more efficiently. It takes the nuns much less time to make tofu for the nunnery and for other customers.

The nuns at Dolma Ling follow a vegetarian diet so tofu is an important source of nourishment and protein for them. The tofu is supplied regularly each week to the nunnery kitchen for consumption by the nuns and 2kg is bought every week by the nunnery café.

Tibetan Buddhist nun making tofuAt the moment the nunnery is also getting regular orders for tofu from Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala and sometimes from a few local Tibetan restaurants in the nearby refugee settlement of McLeod Ganj, located above Dharamsala. Both the monastery and the restaurants order as per their needs.

Tibetan Buddhist nun prepares soybeans for making tofuThere are six nuns at Dolma Ling who know how to make tofu. Each Saturday a team of three of those nuns makes the tofu, with the nuns taking turns to do the work. They start working at 6am and finish normally by 2pm. However, on occasions when they have large orders, their work ends at 10pm.

The market value for tofu is 150 Indian rupees per kg (about US$2.36) while the nuns sell it for Rs.130 per kg or approximately US$2.05.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to Norman Steinberg and the other donors from around the world who made the new tofu-making facility possible.

If you would like to learn more about how the nuns are moving towards greater self-sufficiency, or to help fund these efforts, please contact us at info@tnp.org or donate at https://tnp.org/youcanhelp/donate/.

All photos are courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdron.

nun making tofu at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Nuns making Tibetan momos with video

If you ask someone to name their favorite Tibetan food there’s a good chance they’ll say Tibetan momos. Momos are steamed savoury dumplings that are much loved by Tibetans around the world and that are often made on traditional holidays.

vegetarian Tibetan momos

Photo of vegetarian Tibetan momos and chili sauce courtesy of YoWangdu Tibetan Culture.

Momos are a bit of a delicacy because of the work involved in making them. They can be stuffed with a variety of fillings such as beef, yak meat, cheese, potatoes or vegetables.

The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala in northern India (one of the seven nunneries in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project) follow a vegetarian diet and make momos on special occasions such as Tibetan New Year and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday.

Here’s a lovely video that the nuns made in 2012 ago showing them preparing momos to celebrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6th. As you will see from the video, it’s no small task to make enough momos to serve over 230 nuns!

If you’d like to make momos at home, here a recipe for vegetarian momos and one for meat momos, both kindly shared by YoWangdu Tibetan Culture.

Saga Dawa

Saga Dawa is a very important month in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. This year, Saga Dawa, the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, started on May 19th 2015 and will run until June 16th. The 15th day of the lunar month, the full moon day, is called Saga Dawa Düchen and this year it falls on June 2nd. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of Tibetan Buddhism.

Like the Theravadin observance of Vesak, Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment and death parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni. Buddhist communities all over the world consider this a very sacred time of the year. People make extra efforts to practice more generosity, virtue, compassion, better temperament and conduct, in order to accumulate greater merit.

Saga Dawa is known as the month of merits. Tibetan Buddhists believe that during this month, the merits of ones actions are multiplied, and that on the 15th day of the month the merits of ones actions are hugely increased.

The nuns at the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project all mark Saga Dawa in special ways and we will be sharing photos and news of the 2015 celebrations via this blog and our Facebook page as soon as possible after June 2nd.

Buddhist nun reading sacred texts

A nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery reads part of the Tibetan Buddhist canon during Saga Dawa in 2013.

Practices undertaken during this month include:

  • praying and reciting of mantras
  • lighting of 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

It is considered a time of the year when our one positive act of kindness is multiplied a million times over to accumulate good merit.

In the meantime, here’s a description of some of the usual practices by Tibetan Buddhist in general and by the nuns in particular. For instance, every year, during the month of Saga Dawa, over a period of several days, the 240 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 this month 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. Butter lamps will also be lit during the full moon and everyone will try to practice positive deeds during the full month.

Buddhist nuns reading Buddha's words

Nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery reading the words of the Buddha to celebrate Saga Dawa in 2013.

On this day many individuals from the monastic and lay communities also take Thikchen Tsochung. His Holiness at the main temple gives the vow if he is in town during the year or it is given by a Khenpo or Geshe. The vows are to follow the eight Mahayana precepts for 24 hours. Individuals taking this vow take just one meal that day mainly lunch that has to be taken before noon and once one has stopped the meal it is considered finished. One can drink water or light drinks but not whole milk, thick juice with pulp etc.

Buddhist nun and Tibetan texts

Reading the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon takes several days. This photo was taken on the second morning of the Saga Dawa readings in 2013 and shows the sacred texts carefully wrapped and stacked.

In Dolma Ling nunnery many nuns eat only twice a day during this month. Nuns refrain from eating any solid food after finishing their lunch. They can drink water and are served light tea (with little milk) at 6 p.m.

At Tilokpur Nunnery, the nuns participate in a number of pujas such as the Nyugney puja, Vajra puja, Avalokiteshvara mantra, Guru Rinpoche puja, Green Tara puja, Phakmo Dakini puja. The nuns also do prostrations and offer thousands of butter lamps during the month. The other nunneries like Geden Choling also do the Nyugney puja (fasting).

Tibetan Losar Prayers and Ceremonies in Dharamsala

This is a guest post about Tibetan Losar celebrations at two Buddhist nunneries in India by Dominique Butet and with photos by Olivier Adam.

Last month, on 19 February 2015, my partner Olivier Adam and I participated in the ceremonies for Tibetan New Year or Losar at Geden Choeling Nunnery in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala in northern India.

In the very early morning, at 3:30 a.m., the 135 nuns of the nunnery were already sitting in the temple, beginning their Losar puja or prayers with great dedication.

We shared cups of traditional Tibetan salty butter tea with the nuns. Then two nuns brought the offering of tsampa (roasted barley flour) around to everyone so that we could celebrate the start of the new year by throwing tsampa into the air and wishing everyone “Losar Tashi Delek” (Happy New Year) with pure, joyful smiles.

Buddhist Nuns chemar Losar ceremony

Two nuns carry a chamar bo, an open, decorated box with one half filled with chamar, made of roasted barley flour or tsampa and the other half filled with roasted barley. People are invited to take a pinch of the chemar then offer a blessing with three waves of the hand in the air, then taking a nibble. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Inside the temple, the sound of the prayers grew to fill the entire space and the nuns’ voices were accompanied by bells and Tibetan hand drums (damaru). We were each served sweet rice with dry fruits, followed by a delicious tsampa soup served with all sorts of nuts and dates. Just as sweet tea was brought to the temple, we were also each given the authentic khapse, the deep-fried pastries served at Losar. They come in all sizes, but the ones we were given looked like two big open ears! (You can learn more about khapse by reading this Tibetan Nuns Project blog about these New Year’s cookies.)  Continue reading

Report on the 2014 Jang Gonchoe Annual Inter-Nunnery Debate

The annual Jang Gonchoe, the inter-nunnery debate session held in October, brings together hundreds of nuns from different nunneries for an important educational opportunity that was once only open to monks.

Crowd of Tibetan Buddhist nuns at debate event in India

This debate session plays a great role in sharpening the nuns’ minds and preparing them for higher examinations, such as the Geshema exams, as they share their knowledge and debating skills among themselves.

This opportunity wasn’t always available to nuns. The first inter-nunnery debate session was held on September 20, 1995 in Dharamsala, India. This milestone for Tibetan Buddhist nuns was modeled on the Jang Gonchoe debate sessions of the great monastic institutions of Tibet. It was organized by the Department of Religion and Culture and was attended by nuns from 4 nunneries in India — Jangchup Choeling, Jamyang Choeling, Geden Choeling, and Dolma Ling. Continue reading