Category Archives: Dolma Ling Nunnery

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!

Tibetan Butter Lamps

It is good to offer Tibetan butter lamps whenever you feel there is a need for more light and hope in the world.

Offering butter lamps is deeply ingrained in the Tibetan tradition. Part of daily Tibetan practice, people light butter lamps for many occasions. It is common to offer butter lamps for those who have passed away or for those who are sick. Butter lamps are also lit for happy occasions like birthdays, marriages, and for one’s wishes to come true. Tibetans light butter lamps on sacred days in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar, such as the 10th, 15th and 25th day of each lunar month, as well as during the holy month of Saga Dawa.

Tibetan butter lamps, offering butter lamps, lighting butter lamps

Tibetan Buddhist nuns lighting butter lamps. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Tibetan butter lamps are a common feature of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries throughout the Himalayas. Traditionally, Tibetans used clarified butter from dri (female yaks), but in exile they use ghee.

offering Tibetan butter lamps

Tibetan Buddhist nuns add ghee and cotton wicks to hundreds of Tibetan butter lamps in preparation for a puja for someone who is sick. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Usually during morning prayers, Tibetan families offer a butter lamp and water bowls as part of their household shrine or altar. Part of the symbolism of lighting butter lamps is to dispel darkness and ignorance. Buddhist teachings consider ignorance as the source of suffering in the world.

Offering Tibetan Butter Lamps

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to sponsor butter lamps or prayers by the Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

If you, someone you love or even strangers are suffering, you can pay for butter lamps to be lit or prayers to be said for them via the Tibetan Nuns Project. The cost to light 100 butter lamps is $10. There are many types of pujas which you can request from the nuns.

When requesting a puja or prayers from the Tibetan Nuns Project, please provide information about the purpose of the prayer and who they are for.

Tibetan butter lamps

Tibetan nuns inside the butter lamp house at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The building in set apart from the rest of the nunnery to prevent fires. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Lighting butter lamps is a spiritual practice. The entire process is carried out in a meditative and devout manner. When you sponsor the lighting of butter lamps, you also earn merit for your generosity and compassion.

Torrential monsoon rains and flash floods hit Dharamsala area

Torrential monsoon rains hit Dharamsala in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh causing flash floods and devastation. Four of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project are in the area but the nuns and nunneries are safe: Geden Choeling Nunnery, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute and Tilokpur Nunnery.

The heavy rains which fell on July 12th are set to continue for the next several days and the India Meteorological Department has issued a Severe Rainfall Alert. Authorities have told tourists to avoid Himachal Pradesh due to the present situation.

Torrential monsoon rains and flash floods hit Dharamsala area

Dharamsala is the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government-in-exile. Many Tibetan refugees live there and it is the site of many Tibetan Buddhist nunneries and monasteries.

Dramatic videos after a cloudburst in McLeod Ganj, upper Dharamsala, show several cars being swept away as muddy water rushed through the hillside town. The rains also damaged many buildings. The local airport in Gaggal cancelled all incoming flights.

The Nuns’ Media Team at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have helped capture the situation through video and photographs. Here’s a video of the rains at Dolma Ling. (Can’t see the video? Click here.)

Dolma Ling Water Supply Damaged

The monsoon damaged the water channels and lines that provide 80% of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute’s water.  As the rains abated on July 13th, the nuns, staff, and teachers from Dolma Ling worked all day with local people on repairs. Without these channels the nunnery could face an acute water shortage. By the end of the day, the supply lines were fixed and the nunnery was able to access the water that they needed. Here’s another video. (Can’t see it, click here.)

We are extremely thankful to the late MN Ashish Ganju, architect of Dolma Ling, for his careful design of terraces and water channels. Our gratitude goes out to those who helped fund projects over the past five years aimed at preventing flooding and providing safe drinking water for both Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries. Without your support, the situation for both nunneries would be severe.

At present, the nuns are not in need of additional assistance, but if needed we will post projects on the Current Needs page of our website.

The nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute are safe but the nunnery has had a power outage. The power went out on July 12th to the local area and may not be restored for a few days.

In Dharamsala, efforts are underway to clear up the blocked roadways and clogged streets after the mud gushed down the mountainsides.

The following news video shows flash floods and damage caused by the unusually heavy monsoon rains. (Can’t see the video? Click here.)

Tibetan Nun to Study Science at Emory University

A senior Tibetan Buddhist nun from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute has been selected for the Emory Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars program. She is one of 7 monastics chosen to study science for two years at Emory University in Atlanta starting in September 2021.

6th cohort Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars Program

A senior nun from Dolma Ling, Venerable Kelsang Lhamo (bottom right), has been selected as one of 3 nuns and four monks to study for two years at Emory University as part of the 6th cohort Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars Program. She and the other 6 monastics are to start at Emory University in September 2021 following a preparation course in South India. Photo from Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars Program.

Venerable Kelsang Lhamo was one of three nuns from Dolma Ling who applied for the program and sat qualifying exams. She has finished her studies at the nunnery and opted not to pursue a Geshema degree.

Born in 1988 in McLeod Ganj in upper Dharamsala, Venerable Kelsang Lhamo was studied at the Tibetan Children’s Village School in Choglamsar, Ladakh before becoming a nun at Dolma Ling.

The Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars Program is part of the Emory-Tibet Science initiative started in 2010 to support monastic science education. Over the past 10 years, 30 monastic scholars have completed the program and returned to serve their monastic institutions.

On March 16th, the newly selected science scholars began intensive training in math, science, English, and computer skills at Drepung Losel Ling Meditation and Science Center in South India. This course aims to prepare the scholars with the knowledge they need in advance of their two-year residency program at Emory University.

The three nuns and four monks will join the university in the fall of 2021 and focus on deepening their understanding of the basic sciences.

Training Monastic Science Leaders

The Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars Program is designed to develop and nurture Tibetan monastic science teachers by providing college-level science education at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

The aim is to ensure the long-term sustainability of science education within Tibetan monasteries and nunneries in India. The scholars program, named after His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is supported by the Dalai Lama Foundation and Emory University. The program is part of the wider Emory-Tibet Science Initiative.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns taking part in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative in 2019.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns taking part in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative in 2019. Photo from the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative Facebook page.

As The New York Times wrote in 2013, a big challenge in teaching science is the lack of a Tibetan lexicon for many scientific terms. “How does one create new words for concepts like photosynthesis and clones, which have no equivalent in the Tibetan language or culture? How does one begin to name thousands of molecules and chemical compounds? And what of words like process, which have several levels of meaning for Tibetans?” Over recent years, thousands of new scientific terms have been added to the Tibetan language.

The ultimate goal of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative is to build a bridge between two complementary systems of knowledge by educating future scientific collaborators who can contribute to new discoveries in the science of mind and body. The program is designed to give Tibetan monastics new tools for understanding the world, while also providing them with fresh perspectives on how to employ and adapt time-tested, Buddhist, contemplative methodologies for the relief of suffering in the contemporary world. Additionally, scientists and science educators are encouraged to learn more about the Buddhist science of mind and what it can contribute to the understanding of human emotions, the nature of consciousness, and integrative approaches to health and well-being.

The scholars are primarily selected from Tibetan monastic institutions participating in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative science education program. They represent all the major Tibetan Buddhist schools, including Tibet’s indigenous Bon religion.

Since the start of the program in 2010, five cohorts of 30 scholars have completed the program. The fifth group graduated from their 2-year residency program in May 2021.

Upon the completion, the monastics return to their institutions to take up leading roles in the science education programs such as teaching science classes, serving as liaisons between Emory and their home institutions, and coordinating logistics for the annual summer intensives science courses that are part of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative.

In addition, the scholars participate in Buddhism and science dialogues and seminars, collaborate on research projects with scientists, and give presentations on various scientific topics.

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns and Science

Since 2014, nuns from Dolma Ling have taken part in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, a four-week program held at Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India. During the course, Tibetan nuns and monks are taught the philosophy of science, physics, neuroscience, and biology. The course is presented by faculty members from Emory and other distinguished universities with assistance from the Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars.

Nuns presenting science posters at Dolma Ling science fair

Nuns presenting science posters at a Dolma Ling science fair in 2019.

The nuns and monks attend classes for six hours a day and are tested on the last day of each course. Classes consist of lectures, discussions, demonstrations, and hands-on experiments. In 2018, eight nuns from Dolma Ling attended.

In 2017, in collaboration with the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative initiated a 6-year science program for nuns from five major nunneries in India.

The first nuns selected as Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars were two nuns from Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod, South India. They were part of the 4th cohort of scholars to study science at Emory University and they completed their residency there in 2019. Both served as translators for the summer program of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative held at Drepung Loseling Monastery in 2019.

Many Nuns Get Vaccinated, Outbreak at Nunnery Over

Here’s the latest news from India about vaccinations and a COVID update from some of the nunneries.

Many Dolma Ling Nuns Get Vaccinated

As we reported on May 4th, the almost 250 nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute had started registering for vaccinations in April. However, as coronavirus cases in India surged, vaccines ran out. We’re happy to report that in May, many nuns at Dolma Ling, the largest nunnery we support, were able to be vaccinated.

Tibetan Buddhist nun gets vaccinated for coronavirus May 2021, vaccinations, COVID-19 vaccination

A nun from Dolma Ling receives her first vaccine in May. In May, 178 Dolma Ling nuns aged 18-44 from received first vaccinations. All nuns and staff over 45 have also received both dose of Covidsheild.

The vaccination roll out in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh was by age. The nuns and staff of Dolma Ling as well as the Tibetan Nuns Project India staff aged 45 and over have now received both shots of Covishield from the Tibetan Delek Hospital, the Zonal Hospital, and close by centers.

Himachal Pradesh opened up vaccinations for those aged 18-44 on May 17th. In the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, there are around 46 vaccination centers and 5 days in May for vaccinations: May 17th, 20th, 24th, 27th and 31st.

It was difficult in the beginning for the nuns to book appointments because the website kept crashing. Only a handful could book for vaccination. However, after downloading an alternative booking application, the nunnery slowly picked up the pace and around 70 nuns and staff were able to book and get their first dose of Covishield on May 27. A further 108 nuns were able to book for May 31st, the final day available for the vaccinations.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns get vaccinated for coronavirus

It was a Herculean task to get bookings for vaccines in May because the website kept crashing. The nuns persisted and many of the nuns at Dolma Ling aged 18-44 were able to get their first dose.

Tsering at the Tibetan Nuns Project office said, “I guess Tara has blessed us as we know others are facing a tough time getting themselves booked for vaccine.”

The Hindustan Times said booking a vaccination in Himachal Pradesh was a Herculean task. “If you are in the age group of 18-44 years and waiting to get vaccinated in Himachal, get ready for a long haul. Booking a vaccination slot in the state is no less than hitting a jackpot.

“Even those with high-speed internet and fastest fingers are at their wits’ end as there is no guarantee that they will get a spot,” the paper said. “Slots open for a fraction of second, one blink and they are gone.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns wait to be vaccinated, vaccinations

After overcoming obstacles of booking and transport, Tibetan Buddhist nuns from Dolma Ling wait to be vaccinated at one of the 46 vaccine centers set up in Kangra District in May 2021.

Booking vaccinations wasn’t the only problem the nuns faced. Safe transport was another major issue. None of the 46 vaccination centers was within walking distance of the nunnery. And since the state of Himachal Pradesh is still in lockdown, the nunnery had to organize safe transport for the nuns to and from the vaccination centers.

Vaccination centers were scattered throughout the region, ranging between 0.5 and 2.5 hour’s drive away. The nuns and staff successfully managed the complex logistics of safely transporting the 178 nuns to and from the various centers. Dolma Ling organized taxis for some nuns and the teachers and staff with cars or motorbikes also helped by taking as many nuns as possible. We are very grateful for their help.

Tibetan nuns at Dolma Ling leaving to get vaccinated

On May 31st, 108 nuns from Dolma Ling were vaccinated. Coordinating safe transport to the various clinics in the region was a big task and we are grateful to the teachers and staff at the nunnery for their help in transporting the nuns and in taking these pictures for this update.

COVID Outbreak at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala

In mid-May there was a small outbreak of COVID-19 at Geden Choeling Nunnery, the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala.

Nine nuns tested positive. Some had a fever and cough. The nuns were quarantined in a separate block of the nunnery and a committee of nuns were designated to care for them, providing meals and other needs. Medical staff from the Tibetan Delek Hospital visit regularly to check on them.

The Tibetan Delek Hospital in Dharamsala distributed Covid Health Safety and management Kits to Geden Choeling Nunnery and 15 other Tibetan institutions around Dharamsala. Items included PPE kits, a pulse oximeter, digital and infrared thermomters, disinfectants, N95 masks, surgical gowns and masks, disposable gloves, an oxygen flow meter with nasal prong, blood pressure machine, and hand sanitizer.

Nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery Practice Social distancing

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery, the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala.

There have been no further outbreaks at the nunnery. One of the nuns who had tested positive had low oxygen level so she was taken to the Tibetan Reception Centre and kept under observation by Central Tibetan Administration Health Department. Fortunately, she is doing well and will return to the nunnery after she finishes 21 days in quarantine.

The other nuns who tested positive but showed no symptoms of COVID-19 will also be finishing quarantine soon.

Nunneries in India have largely avoided outbreaks. Sadly, in March, 156 monks at the Gyuto Monastery in Dharamsala tested positive. Then in late May, as coronavirus cases rose throughout India, there were serious outbreaks at Namgyal Monastery in McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh and at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim.

We will continue to post news via our blog and social media.

A Tibetan Buddhist nun gets tested for COVID at Geden Choeling Nunnery

A Tibetan Buddhist nun gets tested for COVID at Geden Choeling Nunnery

Remembering Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju, architect of Dolma Ling

We are very saddened by the passing of Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju. He was the architect of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute and long-time friend of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

MN Ashish Ganju passed away on May 5, 2021 due to COVID-19. He was 78. He is survived by his wife, Neelima, and daughters Tara, Surya and Chandini. One obituary said, “True to his love for nature, his daughters’ names translate as Star, Sun, and Moonlight respectively.” The nuns and everyone at the Tibetan Nuns Project send our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju, Dolma Ling architect

Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju, a long-time friend of the Tibetan Nuns Project and the architect of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute passed away from COVID-19 on May 9, 2021.

About Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju

Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju trained at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and qualified in 1966. He returned to India in 1967 where he later taught at the School of Planning and Architecture and at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. MN Ashish Ganju was also a visiting professor at the UK’s University of East London and Italy’s Universita IUAV di Venezia.

He was highly respected and won many national and international design competitions. He was the founding Director of the TVB School of Habitat Studies in New Delhi and was a member of several Government of India committees.

Remembering MN Ashish Ganju, The Indian Express wrote, “For him, architecture was a deeply spiritual pursuit, where he combined his knowledge of Kashmiri Shaivism and Tibetan Buddhism.”

architectural model of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Tibetan children looking at the architectural model for Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo from the Tibetan Nuns Project archives.

“One never saw him as trying to be a legend or an architect, he just went about doing what he believed in,” said architect Henri Fanthome. “He had a refreshing spirit and an undying ability to go after what he believed in.”

“He brought an innovative perspective to design combining Eastern philosophy, local materials with a Western rigour,” said Sumita Singha, Director of Ecologic Architects. “In time, his body of elegant and masterful works included his own home, community centres, a Buddhist memorial and nunnery for the Dalai Lama and urban design projects.”

MN Ashish Ganju described his work as follows: “My architectural practice provided the ground for the exploration of architecture as a manifestation of ancient sacred principles, so much a part of our everyday existence. The practice made no distinction between architecture, interior, landscape, or urban design. The message from our cultural roots was very clear; our existence on Mother Earth was an interdependent process with all five elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space manifest in the dynamic equilibrium of human activity and the physical environment, as found and as built.”

Dolma Ling Nunnery in the monsoon photo by Norman Steinberg, MN Ashish Ganju architect

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in the monsoon. The region experiences heavy monsoon rains and is the second rainiest place in India. The design has a series of courtyards and terraced gardens drained by a network of water channels. Photo courtesy of Norman Steinberg

Architect for Tibetan Projects

MN Ashish Ganju did many projects for Tibetan refugees. “I was asked by Tibet House (the cultural office of HH the Dalai Lama) to design a memorial in Buddha Jayanti Park in New Delhi. The memorial was to house a two and a half metre tall statue of Buddha which was presented by the Dalai Lama to the people of India as a symbol of gratitude by the Tibetan people who were given refuge in India… The iconography of the canopy was worked out in close consultation with Tibetan Lamas and scholars, while the tectonics were decided with the stone masons who belonged to a tribe practising this vocation since time immemorial by building temples in Central India as well as Rajasthan and the North Indian plains.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns helping to build Dolma Ling Nunnery

Tibetan Buddhist nuns helping to build Dolma Ling Nunnery. Architect MN Ashish Ganju said the design was “in keeping with Buddhist principles of harmonious interdependence of all living beings and objects.”

“This assignment led to my being asked to design a monastery for Tibetan refugee nuns in Dharamsala in the Kangra Valley. The project, sponsored by the Tibetan Nuns Project, was executed as an exercise in self-build by the user community. The design was worked out in close consultation with the users, and in keeping with Buddhist principles of harmonious interdependence of all living beings and objects. The construction, including materials and labour, was managed by the user community.”

Dolma Ling: Living with Nature

Here’s how MN Ashish Ganju described the Dolma Ling project:

The Tibetan Nuns Project has undertaken an extensive program to resettle many of the nuns fleeing their homeland in Tibet to escape persecution by the Chinese government.

The site for this Nunnery is piece of agricultural land, measuring about 6 acres, situated in the valley below Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama now lives. The requirement was to house 250 nuns along with teachers and support staff. The plan provides for 125 rooms and 12 classrooms, an assembly building containing a hall for religious assembly, a library, a large lecture room and a residential suite for the Dalai Lama; as well as common dining hall with kitchen, a workshop for craft activities, a health centre, an office, a guest house, and staff residences.

The site slopes to the south and was terraced for farming. This region experiences extremely heavy rainfall during the monsoon making it the second rainiest place in India. The design makes use of system of verandahs which distribute the built spaces around a series of courtyards and terraced gardens which are drained by a network of water channels lined with locally quarried stone.

Aerial view of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

An aerial view of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute taken in 2018. MN Ashish Ganju was the architect for this large campus.

The common facilities are placed on a central axis across the contours with the office at the bottom near the entrance, the dining hall in the center, and the assembly building at the top. The nuns’ rooms are placed along the contours overlooking south-side terraced gardens and connected by north-side verandahs to the common facilities and the central courtyards. These courtyards are flanked by the main verandahs to form a ceremonial route rising up the slope and culminating in the assembly building.

A water reservoir on the north-east corner of the site and a water channel running along the northern boundary act as a moat to protect the buildings from the flash floods which inundate the fields above during the monsoon. The construction is being done by local masons and carpenters supervised by volunteers of the Tibetan Nuns Project. The construction techniques are chosen to be easily managed by a somewhat inexpert building team. The main building materials are locally quarried stone and slate tiles, as well as local bricks.

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.

Inside the Kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery

The kitchen is a central part of life at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, home to about 250 nuns and 30 staff. It is run by one nun who is permanently stationed there, supported by a rotation of 8 other nuns. The nuns are willing but not always experienced!

Dolma Ling Nunnery, Brian Harris, inside a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery kitchen

Inside the kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery. The Tibetan Nuns Project is fundraising for a rice cooker, a dough-making machine, a fridge, and two new gas burners. See below for more details. Photo by Brian Harris.

Breakfast Means an Early Start!

Each morning, the nuns on kitchen duty wake up around 3:30 am (2:30 am in the summertime) to prepare round flatbreads called Amdo Balep for breakfast. The evening before, the nuns prepare the dough and leave it to rise overnight so it is ready to shape and bake on the large gas griddle. To feed all the nuns and staff, the nuns must make and bake 350 pieces of bread. The 6-inch diameter flatbreads are served in the dining hall at 7:00 am following the nuns’ morning prayers.

making parathas, inside the kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery

On special occasions, the Tibetan Buddhist nuns on kitchen duty make paratha, a fried flatbread, for breakfast. Photo by Brian Harris.

As well as bread, the nuns get eggs on some days and on other days they eat cooked vegetables. And, of course, tea.

Lunch

The nuns start preparing lunch after the morning tea has been served at 10:15. Some of the group of nuns on kitchen duty may already have been assigned to clean and cut vegetables downstairs in the special area below the kitchen that was built for this purpose. To have lunch ready at 12:15, the nuns must start work very soon after breakfast.

lunch at a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery, Dolma Ling

Lunchtime at Dolma Ling Nunnery. During the pandemic lockdown, the nuns ate their meals apart. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Cooking rice for nearly 300 people is a challenge and dangerous. Keep reading to learn about our special campaign to buy the nuns a rice cooker, a dough-making machine, and a freezer. It takes a long time to cook the rice in a huge caldron over one of the two large gas burners in the kitchen. When the rice is half-cooked, the nuns must pour off the excess water – a very risky operation.

It takes two strong nuns to pick up the giant pot and carry it to the drain where they strain off the water through a cloth. This action must be done swiftly and carefully to avoid being scalded by the boiling hot water and also to prevent the loss of steam. The nuns then cover the rice with a cloth and leave it to stand in its own steam for up to an hour to become soft and tasty.

cooking rice, Buddhist nunnery kitchen, Dolma Ling, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Cooking rice for hundreds of nuns is dangerous and the nuns need an electric rice cooker. You can donate below. Photo by Brian Harris

In the meantime, the nuns prepare and cook the two vegetable dishes and one dal (lentil dish) which form the standard lunch in the nunnery. Because there are only two large gas burners, it is quite a tricky exercise to cook three dishes as well as the rice in time for lunch. The kitchen nuns can’t keep everyone waiting in the dining hall! Having a separate electric rice cooker will make managing the kitchen considerably smoother.

Supper

After lunch, the nuns prepare dough and leave it to rise until it is time to prepare dinner or supper. The evening meal usually consists of tingmo (Tibetan steamed buns) served with a vegetable dish. The quality of the steamed buns depends on how well the dough is prepared. If the dough is inadequately mixed, it won’t rise properly and the buns will be chewy and indigestible. A dough-making machine will help to ensure that the nuns get lovely soft fluffy buns!

chopping papayas, Dolma Ling kitchen, Tibetan Buddhist nuns cooking

Chopping papayas. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

Sometimes the nuns prepare thukpa, Tibetan noodle soup, for supper. Once again, having a dough-making machine would be a great help in preparing the dough for the noodles. Thukpa is normally made using a mix of eggs, flour, and water but there are some nuns who don’t eat eggs so the nuns on kitchen duty always make two batches of noodle dough.

Once the dough is mixed, the nuns run through the noodle-making machine. Having a dough-making machine would be so helpful to the nuns and they will be saved from the temptation of buying readymade noodles from outside the nunnery, thus saving the nunnery money.
After dinner, the nuns set about preparing the dough for the breakfast bread and leave it to rise overnight. It is hard work mixing and kneading so much dough by hand! Usually, the kitchen nuns don’t finish their duty until 8:00 pm. Since they start work at 2:30 or 3 am, it is a very long day!

Help the Nuns Cook Rice Safely

Cooking rice for nearly 300 people is dangerous and challenging. Currently, the nuns cook rice in a huge cauldron over a large gas burner. When the rice is half-cooked, they have to pour off the excess water – a very risky operation.

The safety of the nuns is the main reason why we are asking for your help to purchase an electric rice cooker for the Dolma Ling Nunnery kitchen. A rice cooker would also save on fuel costs.

Having an electric rice cooker will mean that the rice cooks more evenly and that it keeps more of its nutritional qualities and will be better for the nuns’ health. Rice cooked in a giant caldron does not cook evenly and has to be frequently stirred.

Tibetan Buddhist nun sorting rice

The nuns have asked for help to buy a rice cooker with a capacity to cook up to 77 pounds of rice. Photo by Brian Harris

The nuns would like a rice cooker with a capacity of up to 35 kilograms (77 pounds) of rice which is about the biggest they can find in their area. Normally, the Dolma Ling nuns cook 20 to 25 kilos (44 to 55 pounds) of rice for one meal, but it will be good to have a slightly bigger capacity for special occasions. By buying from a reputable local kitchen equipment supplier who is prepared to give the nuns a good warranty and service, the nuns feel that this will be a huge benefit to the nunnery and will be a much safer and more efficient way of cooking rice.

Help the Nuns Buy a Dough Mixer

Each day the nuns on kitchen duty prepare traditional Tibetan bread and steamed buns for hundreds of nuns. Mixing the dough by hand is incredibly labor intensive and less hygienic than using a machine. The nuns have asked for help to buy a dough-making machine with a capacity of 25 kg (55 pounds).

kneading dough, making Tibetan bread

Kneading dough by hand is an incredibly labor-intensive process and the nuns have asked for help to purchase a dough-making machine. Photo by Brian Harris

Mixing dough by machine takes only 15 to 20 minutes, so it would be so 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 and the machine would be used for at least two meals each day.

The dough-making machine will also be used on special occasions when the nuns serve paratha, a fried flatbread, for breakfast and also for times like before Losar, Tibetan New Year, when the nuns prepare delicious crisp khapse, fried Tibetan biscuits. 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

The nuns make dough daily for Tibetan bread (Amdo Baleh) and steamed buns (tingmo) and also, on special occasions, for khapse which are fried Tibetan biscuits, and paratha, fried flatbreads. Mixing dough by hand is hard work when you have almost 300 people to feed. A dough-making machine would make the work much easier and give better results. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The Nuns Need Two New Hot Water Boilers

The nuns like to have hot water to drink in their rooms while they are studying in the evening. The nunnery built a small covered facility in the first wing courtyard in which there are two hot water boilers where the nuns can fill their thermoses to take to their rooms. However, each boiler takes about four hours to heat 100 litres (26 gallons) of water and there is not enough for everyone to get even one litre of water.

water boiler Dolma Ling

The nuns need two new water boilers to have enough water for everyone. Right now some nuns get up in the middle of the night to fill their thermoses because there’s not enough supply at other times. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Some nuns are getting up in the middle of the night to fill their thermoses if they miss out on the first boiling. The nuns have asked for help to buy two new boilers so they can have enough hot water for all the nuns. They also need to get the two older boilers serviced. Right now, the nuns are unable to take even one boiler out of service to get it repaired because there will be a drastic shortage of boiled water.

New Refrigerator for the Dolma Ling Kitchen

Dolma Ling’s old, large, 4-door refrigerator was bought a very long time ago. It has broken down many times and was frequently repaired. However, it has now stopped working and must urgently be replaced. During the winter when it is very cold (and because the nuns follow a vegetarian diet and do not cook meat in the nunnery), the nuns have managed without a fridge, but soon the summer heat and monsoon humidity will come meaning that vegetables and fruits will quickly rot. It is not possible to get fresh supplies daily and the nuns buy in bulk. The nunnery needs to be able to safely store perishable vegetables and fruit to avoid wastage and to save money. Milk, butter, cheese, and tofu also need to be refrigerated.

Dolma Ling kitchen

A nun sanitizes food outside the nunnery. The nuns have asked to help to buy a new fridge to replace their old one which has completely broken down. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Without a new fridge, the nunnery is restricted in what it can buy and the nuns’ diet will be more monotonous. Especially during the pandemic and these times of lockdown, everyone looks forward to lunchtime. If the kitchen can provide a variety of vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach, all of which must be kept chilled, the nuns and staff will not only be healthier but also happier!

Please help the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling with this essential kitchen equipment!

The total cost for all items is $10,700.

  1. Make a gift online at tnp.org
  2. Call our office in Seattle at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to The Tibetan Nuns Project (for Rice Cooker and Dough Maker at Dolma Ling)
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216, Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Give a gift of securities
  5. Leave a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project

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