Category Archives: Dolma Ling Nunnery

Geshemas Visioning Their Future

TNP Holds Geshemas Strategic Visioning Workshop

From April 8-12, 2024, the Tibetan Nuns Project organized a Geshemas Strategic Visioning Workshop at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in Dharamsala in conjunction with the Women’s Empowerment Desk of the Central Tibetan Administration.

The workshop was held with eight Geshemas from Dolma Ling and four Tibetan Buddhist nuns who are currently studying for their Geshema exams. The workshop aims to empower Geshemas in shaping the future of their role within Tibetan Buddhism.

collage Geshema Visioning Workshop

The 5-day workshop aimed to explore the future vision of the Geshemas (holders of the highest academic degree in Tibetan Buddhism) and support their participation in the larger social realm. The goal is to empower the Geshema to contribute back to the community through various leadership roles.

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. The Geshema degree is the same as a Geshe degree but is called a Geshema degree because it is awarded to women.

The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. Sixty nuns currently hold the Geshema degree and many nuns will take various levels of the four-year Geshema exams this summer. The degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Geshema Visioning Workshop Dolma Ling Timeline

As part of the workshop, the nuns used a big graphic illustration of Dolma Ling’s timeline called HERstory (rather than history) to help set the stage for the subsequent days. Hearing about their journeys from Tibet to the present was fascinating and awe-inspiring for everyone.

As part of the workshop, the nuns shared their stories. Several nuns started learning the Tibetan alphabet in their 20s and many only after they came to Dolma Ling. Many nuns had no schooling in Tibet or they were sent to Chinese schools with no opportunity to learn Tibetan. Here are some photos from the first days of the workshop.

The Workshop Organizers

The five-day workshop was conducted and facilitated at Dolma Ling by TNP board member, Dechen Tsering, with the help of TNP board members Tseten Phanucharas and Robin Groth.

Tibetan Geshemas take part in visioning workshop 2024

The Geshema degree stands as the pinnacle of educational attainment within the Gelugpa tradition. The workshop was aimed at enhancing leadership skills and awareness among Geshemas, empowering them to navigate life more effectively and cultivate their leadership qualities.

We are very grateful to our partner co-facilitators from CTA’s Women’s Empowerment Desk who helped prepare the workshop charts and banners and did the Tibetan-language translations. The team from the Women Empowerment Desk included Tsering Kyi (Lead Facilitator), Tenzin Tseten (co-facilitator), and Tenzin Dolkar (Tibetan language translator). They also offered a workshop on Gender and Leadership on April 10th.

Geshema Strategic Visioning Workshop April 2024

Geshemas at Dolma Ling offer prayers as part of the visioning workshop. The Geshema degree (called a Geshe degree for monks) was only formally opened to women in 2012. As of November 2023, 60 nuns hold this highest degree roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is also very grateful to our thought partners, Beckie Masaki and Nancy Wan from Bay Area’s Gathering Strength Coalition for working with Dechen Tsering in co-conceptualizing the workshop agenda and creating the HERstory timeline chart used to illustrate major milestones – past and future – by the workshop participants.

A Range of Workshop Activities

Over the five days, the participants took part in many group and individual activities including written vision statements about where they saw themselves in five years in 2029. Many of the nuns pictured themselves returning to their hometowns in Tibet or Spiti as principals of new schools they would start. Two nuns envisioned themselves as bilingual online Buddhist teachers. Four of the nuns already speak quite good English and want to improve so they can teach. One nun envisioned herself as director of TNP-paid staff at Dolma Ling. One nun saw herself in solitary retreat for five years to prepare for the next life.

Geshema Visioning Workshop 2024

Throughout the five days, attendees engaged in discussions on a range of topics, including effective communication, problem-solving, active listening, gender and leadership, leadership qualities and styles, team-building exercises, and visualization exercises.

Dechen Tsering wrote, “The Geshemas (and four future Geshemas) who took part were extremely enthusiastic, energetic, engaged, and participated fully throughout the five days! Together, we shared, we learned, we meditated, we played, and we laughed all week. We had fun!”

Rinchen Khando Choegyal speaks at Geshema workshop

Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nuns Project gave an inspirational talk. She emphasised the evolution and significance of the Geshema degree, highlighting how the Geshema’s contributions to the Tibetan community and Buddhist philosophy play a pivotal role in shaping history.

Making Headlines

The workshop made the news. On April 10th, a media team from VOA Tibetan came to Dolma Ling and did a 20-minute feature video story and interview in Tibetan with lead organizer, Dechen Tsering. Within two days the story had been viewed by over 2,600 people.

On April 13th, the Voice of Tibet did this interview and feature story entitled “Conversation on building a strategic vision and challenges for Geshemas.” The video is in Tibetan and shows many of the activities in the workshop. Can’t see the video? Click here.

Helping Geshemas on the Path

Please help build 16 rooms at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute for nuns who hold their Geshema degree so that they can get the education they need to become fully qualified teachers of their tradition.

The Geshema degree (called a Geshe degree for men) is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012.

Geshema, Geshema degree, Geshema Endowment Fund

A Geshema holds the yellow hat that signifies her degree. Detail of photo by Olivier Adam.

Housing for Geshemas

There is a housing shortage for Geshemas who want to do Tantric studies. To solve this problem, we would like to construct 16 rooms plus bathrooms, kitchen and dining facilities, and a study hall. These 16 rooms and facilities will be on the third floor of the Yangchen Lophel Center at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Geshemas from nunneries all over India and Nepal will be able to stay here so that they can take the final year of advanced education at the nearby Gyuto Tantric University.

Geshemas studying Tantric Buddhism

Part of the first group of 23 Geshema nuns who had the opportunity to do Buddhist Tantric Studies. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The 16 rooms can either be single-bed study rooms or, as the groups of Geshema graduates become larger, accommodate two nuns per room. Now that this degree is open to women, more nuns from India and Nepal are studying to be Geshemas. It is difficult to predict how many graduates there will be each year, so the facility must be as flexible as possible. We also hope that the Geshema Organizing Committee’s office can be moved into this facility to free up the room they are now using in Dolma Ling Nunnery.

To help the Geshemas on their path you can:

  1. Make a gift online
  2. Call our office in Seattle, U.S. at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to The Tibetan Nuns Project, 815 Seattle Boulevard South #418, Seattle, WA 98134 U.S. (note that it is for Housing for Geshemas)
  4. Donate securities

Background

December 22, 2016, marked an important day in the history of Tibet as 20 nuns became the first Tibetan women to receive their Geshema degrees, equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Geshema, Geshema nuns, Tibetan nuns, His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Tibetan Buddhist nuns make history. Collage of photos from the Geshema graduation event on December 22, 2016. Photos courtesy of Olivier Adam and OHHDL.

The Geshema degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. Now Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Geshema, online Buddhist teaching, Geshema Delek Wangmo

Geshema Delek Wangmo has completed her Tantric Studies and now teaches at Dolma Ling Nunnery. In May 2023, she and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel gave an online Buddhist teaching and taught other Geshemas how to do this.

Their success fulfils a longstanding wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and marks a new chapter in the development of education for ordained Buddhist women and is a major accomplishment for Tibetan women. It is also a milestone for the Tibetan Nuns Project, which was founded in 1987 to provide education and humanitarian aid to Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in India.

Tantric Studies

After monks attain their Geshe degree (the male equivalent of the Geshema degree) they must study the Tantric treatises to become fully qualified masters capable of teaching their complete tradition. The monks normally join one of the two main Tantric Colleges to do this.

The Tibetan Nuns Project set up a Tantric Studies program out of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute for all the recent Geshema grads from India and Nepal. In 2018, 23 of the 26 nuns in the first two groups of Geshema graduates started Tantric studies. The nuns attended classes at nearby Gyuto Tantric University to receive the necessary empowerments and transmissions from the senior monks. The Tantric Studies Program generally takes around 12 months to complete.

The Need for Housing for Geshemas

After monks attain their Geshe degree (the male equivalent of the Geshema degree) they must study the Tantric treatises to become fully qualified masters capable of teaching their complete tradition. To do this, the monks normally join one of the two main Tantric Colleges.

The Tibetan Nuns Project has set up a Tantric Studies program out of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute for all the recent Geshema grads from India and Nepal. In 2018, 23 of the 26 nuns in the first two groups of Geshema graduates started Tantric studies. The nuns attended classes at nearby Gyuto Tantric University to receive the necessary empowerments and transmissions from the senior monks. The Tantric Studies Program generally takes around 12 months to complete.

The Current Problem

Since 2018, the Geshemas have been housed and fed at Dolma Ling, traveling daily by jeep to Gyuto Tantric University for their studies. These arrangements are currently funded by the Tibetan Nuns Project under the Geshema Endowment Fund.

Tantric studies, Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Buddhism, Dolma Ling

For the first time in the history of Tibet, Buddhist nuns have the opportunity to formally study Tantric Buddhism and become teachers. But they need your help to provide accommodation and food. Photo courtesy of the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Although there are many advantages for the Geshemas with this arrangement, it is placing a big strain on Dolma Ling to accommodate them. It also restricts the number of new nuns who can be admitted to Dolma Ling. Space must be available for young nuns to join Dolma Ling to give the nunnery fresh input each year.

Rinchen Khando Choegyal with Geshemas at Dolma Ling 2017

Celebrating Losar at Dolma Ling – Photo Essay

Sit back, relax, and take an armchair journey to Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India, home to about 250 Tibetan Buddhist nuns. The wonderful team of Media Nuns at Dolma Ling took dozens of photos showing the nuns preparing for and celebrating Losar, Tibetan New Year.

butter sculptures, Losar, Tibetan butter sculptures

The art of making sculptures out of butter has been practiced for over 400 years in Tibet. This highly revered artistic tradition is now being taught to nuns at Dolma Ling and is being preserved by them.

Losar or Tibetan New Year is a very special time of year. This year, Losar fell on February 10th and, according to the Tibetan calendar, is the start of the year of the Wood Dragon 2151. In the traditional calendar, each year has an animal, an element, and a number.

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, the nuns, like all Tibetans, prepare for the new year and say goodbye to the old year, letting go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of the preparations involves cleaning the nunnery.

Tibetan butter sculptures

In the weeks leading up to Losar, the nuns make elaborate butter sculptures of flowers and Buddhist sacred symbols to decorate the Losar offering table and offering boxes.

Since 2001, the Dolma Ling nuns have been studying the ancient art of butter sculpture making. 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.

Besides making butter sculptures, the nuns prepare special Losar foods like the deep-fried biscuits called khapse. Khapse means literally “mouth-eat” and the dough is usually made with flour, eggs, butter, and sugar. It is then rolled out into various shapes and sizes. The most common shape is the small twisted rectangular pieces served to guests.

making khapse for Losar or Tibetan New Year

Each year the nuns make khapse in various shapes and sizes. These deep-fried Tibetan cookies are a staple of Tibetan New Year celebrations everywhere.

On the night of the 29th day of the 12th month, or the eve of Losar, Tibetans eat a special soup called guthuk. Guthuk is eaten only once a year as part of a ritual of dispelling any negativities of the old year and to make way for an auspicious new one.

special food for Losar or Tibetan New Year

The top photos show nuns getting guthuk soup with the dough balls containing hidden messages. The bottom photos show the special tea and sweet rice served in the temple at Losar.

Guthuk has at least nine ingredients and the soup is extra special because each person receives a large dough ball containing a hidden item or symbol in it. Each item is meant as a playful commentary on the character of the person who gets it.

Before the first day of Losar, the nuns create an elaborate altar or offering table using their large butter sculpture flowers and stacks of specially made khapse. The Losar altars serve as prominent, central symbols of a wish to cultivate a generous heart and to invoke beautiful blessings for the New Year for all sentient beings.

The nuns also use their butter sculptures to decorate chemar bo. The chemar bo is an open, ornately carved wooden box divided down the middle. The left side is traditionally filled with roasted barley seeds and the right side is filled with chemar, made of roasted barley flour (tsampa), sugar, and butter. On arriving, Losar guests are invited to take a pinch of the chemar, after which they offer a blessing and good luck wish while throwing the chemar in the air with three waves of their hands and then taking a tiny nibble. The chemar is an auspicious offering to make at the Losar shrine to bring blessings in the new year.

Losar offering tables, Losar altar, Losar at Dolma Ling, Losar 2024, Tibetan New Year

The Losar offering tables are decorated with butter sculptures and large pieces of khapse called bhungue amcho or donkey ears. These big hollow tubes of crispy pastry are stacked on the Losar altar and decorated with strings of dried Tibetan cheese.

On the day of Losar itself, Tibetans get up early in the morning and wish each other “Tashi Delek” or Happy New Year and then go to the prayer hall for prayers. Part of the prayer ceremony includes tsok, the offering of blessed food including khapse and fruit.

At the end of the puja or prayer ceremony, all the nuns line up to pay homage at the throne of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to the nunnery’s leaders. They offer white kataks, ceremonial Tibetan prayer scarves.

Losar at Dolma Ling, throwing tsampa, Losar 2024, Tibetan New Year

Nuns play a Tibetan wind instrument called gyaling somewhat like an oboe as part of their prayers. They also offer kataks to the portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Visiting others is a special part of Losar. The nuns and staff at the nunnery visit each other’s rooms to wish each other a happy new year and to drink cups of traditional Tibetan salty butter tea.

It is customary to hang new sets of prayer flags at Losar. Old prayer flags from the previous year are taken down and burned with bunches of fragrant pine and juniper. The nuns also hang new prayer flags with a wish that all beings everywhere will benefit and find happiness.

If you would like to hang Tibetan prayer flags, you can order prayer flags that are made and blessed by the Dolma Ling nuns.

hanging prayer flags at Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan prayer flags, Tibetan prayer flags at Losar, Tibetan New Year

Tibetan prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be spread by the wind and bring goodwill and compassion to benefit all beings.

On the third day of the Tibetan New Year, a special incense-burning offering called sang-sol is held. While many nuns travel home to visit their families at Losar, some nuns remain at the nunnery and take part in this special event.

After the Losar holiday, the new academic year begins and, if space allows, new nuns join the Tibetan nunneries in India. If you would like to sponsor a nun for just $1 a day, we are always looking for more sponsors.

Losar at Dolma Ling, throwing tsampa, Losar 2024, Tibetan New Year

The nuns gather in a line or circle. Each nun takes some tsampa (roasted barley flour) in her right hand as an offering. They raise their arms simultaneously twice and then, on the third time, they throw the tsampa high into the air shouting “Losar Tashi Delek”.

Thank you for supporting the nuns! You are educating and empowering them and helping to preserve Tibet’s wisdom and culture. We wish you a very happy, healthy, and peaceful New Year.

 

Life at Dolma Ling

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India is a special place.

Here are the latest photographs from Dolma Ling’s media nuns. We hope they bring you joy and help convey the impact of your support.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala

Dolma Ling is the first institute dedicated to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions.

Dolma Ling was established by the Tibetan Nuns Project to educate and empower nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as teachers and leaders, and to sustain Tibetan religion and culture. It is now home to about 250 nuns. Most nuns have sponsors, but new sponsors are always needed. 

The nunnery is unique because it offers a 17-year curriculum of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate, as well as modern courses in Tibetan language, English, basic mathematics, and computer skills. The nuns also receive training in the ritual arts such as sand mandalas and butter sculpture.

Drawing classes at Dolma Ling

In early autumn, the nuns learned and practiced drawing, including the sacred symbols of Tibetan Buddhism.

The nuns helped to build the nunnery and they work hard to maintain it. The large campus is near Dharamsala at the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, one of the wettest areas in India. In the summer of 2023, the monsoon rains were very intense.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns working by the river

In September, after torrential monsoon rains all summer, the nuns had to move large rocks affecting water lines.

The academic year begins in early spring after Losar, the Tibetan New Year. Throughout the year, the nuns have exams and quizzes as they pursue their degrees. The Tibetan Nuns Project aims to elevate the educational standards and the position of women within the monastic community.

Exam time at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Exam time at Dolma Ling! Photos by the media nuns of the July written exams. When the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, most of the nuns escaping from Tibet were illiterate.

The ultimate goal is to empower the nuns to become teachers and leaders in their own right and to help preserve Tibet’s unique culture and religion.

Teaching Tibetan Buddhist nuns science at Dolma Ling

On September 13th, Science for Monks and Nuns held a one-day exhibition on “Secrets of Particles” for the Dolma Ling nuns and staff. Over 100 nuns from different classes attended.

In September, Sikyong Penpa Tsering, the political leader of the Central Tibetan Administration, visited three nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project: Dolma Ling, Shugsep, and Geden Choeling Nunnery. His visits were part of his assessment tour of the Tibetan refugee community in India.

Sikyong Penpa Tsering's visit to Dolma Ling in September 2023

Sikyong Penpa Tsering visited Dolma Ling in September and met with Rinchen Khando Choegyal, TNP’s Founding Director and Special Advisor (center upper right) and Nangsa Chodon, Director of TNP in India (right).

The curriculum is divided into two parts: (1) secular subjects such as Tibetan language, Tibetan history, English, social sciences, mathematics, and science and (2) monastic education. The nuns have quizzes and exams and are now able to proceed through a degree-granting program.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns learning traditional torma making and computing at Dolma Ling

Ancient and modern. The nuns learn sacred arts, such as making tormas, as well as computing, science, and mathematics.

In September, students from Upper TCV school (the Tibetan Children’s Village) visited Dolma Ling and learned about monastic debate from the nuns. These photos show the growing role of nuns as teachers and leaders in the Tibetan exile community.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns teaching monastic debate to students from Upper TCV

Geshema Delek Wangmo (top photos) teaches Tibetan students from Upper TCV school about traditional Tibetan monastic debate and the importance of critical thinking and logic.

Debating is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition and combines logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

In late October, dozens of nuns set off for the holy city of Bodh Gaya to attend the annual Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery debate. In Bodh Gaya, they will join hundreds of nuns from nunneries in India and Nepal. The costs are funded by our Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund. We are now fundraising for our Long-Term Stability Fund.

Dolma Ling nuns leaving for Jang Gonchoe

Nuns from Dolma Ling departing in late October to attend one month of intensive training in monastic debate. Before 1995, there was no Jang Gonchoe for nuns. Only monks had the opportunity for intensive debate training.

Thanks to your support, the Tibetan Nuns Project has created a ground-breaking education system to preserve Tibetan culture and equip and empower these dedicated women to become leaders in the modern world.

tibetan Buddhist nuns education

Quiz time!

“The Buddhist philosophy of tolerance and compassion has something very important to offer in a world full of intolerance and hatred… As a Tibetan, I feel it is very important that an organization like the Tibetan Nuns Project makes it possible for nuns to study and practice their religion and thus contribute to the preservation of Buddhism and the unique Tibetan culture,” said Tseten Phanucharas, TNP Board Member. Thank you for your support!

Smiling Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling

Thank you for helping the nuns!

To donate or sponsor a nun for $1 a day, click here.

Tibetan Nuns Celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 88th Birthday

On July 6th, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 88th birthday was celebrated by Tibetans worldwide with prayers for his good health and long life.

At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, home to about 250 Tibetan Buddhist nuns, His Holiness’s birthday is always a day of big celebrations. This year the nuns marked the occasion with prayers, offerings, games, and cake. The Dolma Ling Media Nuns captured the fun with this series of photos and a short video.

Dalai Lama's birthday, Dalai Lama, 88th birthday Dalai Lama,

Nuns offering white prayer scarves or kataks to the portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

The day started early with the nuns, teachers and all the staff seated in the Dolma Ling prayer hall for prayers, tsok, and offerings of Tibetan prayer scarves to His Holiness the Dalai Lama whose portrait sits at the front.

tsampa offering, throwing tsampa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's birthday, Dolma Ling Nunnery

A circle of nuns from Dolma Ling Nunnery prepare to throw tsampa, roasted barley flour, in the air as an offering for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

On July 6th, His Holiness the Dalai Lama attended birthday celebrations at the main temple in Dharamsala. He said, “Today, you are celebrating my 88th birthday, but when I look in the mirror, I feel I look as if I’m still in my 50s. My face doesn’t look old, it isn’t wrinkled with age. What’s more I still have all my teeth so there’s nothing I can’t eat or chew.

“I was born in Tibet and I bear this name Dalai Lama, but in addition to working for the cause of Tibet, I’ve been working for the welfare of all sentient beings. I’ve done whatever I could without losing hope or allowing my determination to flag.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, birthday cake for Dalai Lama,

Part of this year’s festivities included a birthday cake in honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

His Holiness the Dalai Lama also said, “I believe there is knowledge within Tibetan culture and religion that can benefit the world at large. However, I also respect all other religious traditions because they encourage their followers to cultivate love and compassion.”

“According to indications in my own dreams and other predictions, I expect to live to be more than 100 years old. I’ve served others until now and I’m determined to continue to do so. Please pray for my long life on that basis.”

Happy birthday messages from Tibetan nuns to the Dalai Lama

The bulletin board at Dolma Ling Nunnery displays birthday wishes and poems from the nuns to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Everyone enjoyed playing games such as a relay race and the bursting of a balloon tied to another person’s ankle. The nuns even played a game of basketball in the courtyard.

Tibetan Nuns Celebrate the Dalai Lama's 88th Birthday

There was lots of laughter as the nuns tried to grab pears with their mouths. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the Patron of the Tibetan Nuns Project. He has always been very supportive of nuns’ education and opening up opportunities for higher degrees. The first conferment of Geshema degrees to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in 2016 fulfilled a longstanding aspiration of His Holiness.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns celebrate Dalai Lama's birthday, Dolma Ling Nunnery

The courtyard of Dolma Ling Nunnery was filled with laughter as nuns watched the games and festivities marking His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 88th birthday on July 6th. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

Shortly after his birthday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama travelled to Ladakh where he will give teachings from July 21-23 on Gyalsey Thokme Sangpo’s 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. 

Dalai Lama birthday, Dolma Ling Nunnery

The nuns played a variety of games to celebrate the occasion, including this water bucket challenge. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

The Dolma Ling Media Nuns also created this little video. Can’t see it? Click here.

At this time of year, Dolma Ling Nunnery holds an annual flower competition. The old debate courtyard at the nunnery fills with beautiful potted flowers placed in front of portraits of His Holiness. Scoring for the competition is done by the teachers.

annual flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery

The annual flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery 2023

The nuns make posters, cards and banners, and grow flowers in celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama birthday. During the annual flower contest, the old debate courtyard is full of beautiful potted plants.

Thank you so much for supporting the nuns through the Tibetan Nuns Project!

Educating and Empowering Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

Education is the Key

The Tibetan Nuns Project believes that education is the key to empowerment. We seek to give Tibetan Buddhist nuns the resources to carve out independent, creative identities for themselves. In this blog post, we’ll explain what and how the nuns study and give an outline of their degrees and curriculum.

Through all its work, the Tibetan Nuns Project is strengthening Tibet’s unique religion and culture — both under great threat due to the occupation of Tibet — by educating and empowering women. These dedicated women were previously denied equal access to education and the opportunity in Tibet to freely and safely practice their faith. The nuns are an integral part of the spiritual roots of the society and are teachers and leaders of the future.

Starting from Scratch

When the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987 in response to many nuns escaping from Tibet to India, most of the newly arrived nuns had no education in their language. Many were illiterate and were unable even to write their names. While in Tibet they had also been denied education in their religious heritage.

outside classroom, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, educating Tibetan Buddhist nuns

An outside classroom in the early days of the Tibetan Nuns Project. TNP had to create an education program for the nuns from the ground up.

The Tibetan Nuns Project has created a groundbreaking education system aimed at both preserving Tibetan culture and equipping and empowering these women to live and become leaders in the modern world.

The Tibetan Nuns Project aims:
– To combine traditional religious studies with the best of a modern education
– To preserve Tibet’s rich culture and religion through giving ordained Buddhist women educational opportunities
– 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 a very challenging transition
– To support a number of nuns who opt to live in meditative retreat rather than in a nunnery.

The Tibetan Nuns Project also serves women from the remote and impoverished border areas of India such as Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti, and Arunachal Pradesh. The women and girls from these areas have traditionally been given far less education than the men and boys and were often removed from school as early as Grade 4 if they were sent to school at all. Our programs give them a chance for education that they would not have otherwise.

educating girls, educating women, empowering women and girls, Zanskar, Spiti

Photos by Olivier Adam showing girls receiving education at nunneries supported by TNP in the remote Spiti Valley (top) and Zanskar (bottom). Girls and women in these regions lack equal access to education.

Since the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, many nuns have been educated and have assumed leadership roles in their community, such as teachers in Tibetan schools, instructors for other nuns, health care providers and other roles serving the Tibetan-exile community. Thanks in part to consistent effort from the Tibetan Nuns Project, for the first time in Tibetan history, nuns are now receiving educational opportunities previously available only to monks.

educating and empowering women, educating women, Geshema teaching, Geshemas, Dolma Ling

In May 2023, Geshema Delek Wangmo (shown) and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel gave online teaching via Facebook Live with help from two Dolma Ling media nuns. Geshemas from other nunneries also attended to learn how to deliver such basic philosophical knowledge to the lay community. Photo courtesy of the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Another goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to empower nuns to teach Buddhist philosophy in nunneries and schools. To do this, the nuns must achieve equal academic standing with the monks, proving their qualifications by earning the highest degrees. For monks, depending on their tradition, these degrees are called the Geshe or Khenpo degrees; for nuns, the equivalents are the Geshema or Khenmo degrees.

Geshemas teaching Tibetan children, compassion in action, Tibetan education, Dolma Ling

Wisdom and compassion. The Geshemas at Dolma Ling teach Tibetan refugee children during the children’s school holidays. Photos by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The Curriculum

The education program varies by nunnery but the nuns have been introduced to a systematic form of education in their respective nunneries. Though their core subject is Buddhist philosophy they have also been equally educated in Tibetan and English languages since the very beginning. The nuns have built up a strong foundation in Tibetan language over the years.

The curriculum at the nunneries is divided into two parts: (1) secular subjects such as the Tibetan language, Tibetan history, English, social sciences, mathematics, and science and (2) monastic education. The nuns have quizzes and exams and are now able to proceed through a degree-granting program. If the nuns are very young as may be the case in the very remote nunneries, they do not receive teaching in philosophy, but rather a basic education in subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Once that is established a more robust curriculum is used.

education and empowering Tibetan Buddhist nuns, educating women, classroom Dolma Ling Nunnery

Geshema Tenzin Kunsel teaching Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo by Olivier Adam

Most courses take place in classrooms, much as in a school, except for the practice of monastic debate, which takes place in the open air.  As part of their monastic education the nuns are also instructed in the performance of ritual music, the creation of butter sculptures, and other Tibetan Buddhist ritual arts.

The curriculum of the nunneries varies depending on which of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism the nunnery follows:
– Nyingma (founded in the 8th century)
– Kagyu (founded in the early 11th century)
– Sakya (founded in 1073)
– Gelug (founded in 1409)
The Tibetan Nuns Project supports nuns from all four traditions.

Tibetan debate, monastic debate, Dolma Ling Nunnery

Tibetan Buddhist nuns practice monastic debate each day at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Through debate, nuns and monks test and consolidate their classroom learning and gain a thorough understanding of the Buddhist teachings. Photo by Olivier Adam.

The Gelukpa monastic curriculum in Dolma Ling for example is as follows:
Preliminary studies: 4 years
Perfection of Wisdom: 7 years
Middle Path: 3 years
Phenomenology or “meta-doctrine”: 3 years
Monastic discipline: 1 year

After about ten years, the nuns receive a first diploma called Parchin which is equivalent to a BA and allows the students who so desire to continue to higher studies. The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012 thanks to the work of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Khenmo enthronement, Sakya College for Nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Buddhist women teachers

In 2022, Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history as the first group of Khenmos were enthroned at Sakya College for Nuns. The Khenmo degree for nuns, like the Khenpo degree for males, is roughly equivalent to a PhD. In the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya traditions, the title is awarded usually after 13 years of intensive post-secondary study. The comparable title in the Gelug and Bon lineages is Geshe or, for nuns, Geshema.

In the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya traditions, the Khenmo degree for nuns, like the Khenpo degree for males, is roughly equivalent to a PhD. This title is awarded usually after 13 years of intensive post-secondary study. A nun who holds the title Khenmo is recognized as a female Buddhist teacher/scholar who can give official and high-level teachings to nuns.

Reacing the highest degrees in the monastic curriculum takes between 20 and 25 years. Our goal is to support nuns’ education and to enable them to progress to higher degrees such as the Geshema and Khenmo degrees if they so wish.

Thank you for supporting the Tibetan Nuns Project and educating and empowering Tibetan Buddhist nuns!

Debate Courtyard Expansion Completed!

We are very pleased to report that the debate courtyard expansion at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is now complete. The improved courtyard provides an additional 2,500 square feet of covered area. With 60% more covered area than the old debate courtyard, all the nuns can have shelter as they practice daily monastic debate.

This big project was kindly funded by Tibetan Nuns Project donors. We are extremely grateful to the donors and the entire team for their hard work and dedication which has resulted in this elegant structure, totally in keeping with the original design.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Before the debate courtyard was expanded there was not enough sheltered space for the nuns to debate. The improved courtyard has an additional 2,500 square feet of covered space along with other improvements such as sliding windows on the back and sides of the courtyard to prevent rain coming in.

The nuns are already using the courtyard for their daily debates. Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning. Without training and practice in debate they are unable to attain higher academic degrees such as the Geshema degree.

The Impact of the Improved Debate Courtyard

In the spring of 2022 the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a fundraising campaign to expand and improve the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling.

Over the years, the number of nuns at this large non-sectarian nunnery increased to over 260 nuns. The existing debate courtyard was too small and at least two-thirds of the paved area was open to the elements, so many nuns were forced to debate in the open under the hot sun. When it rained, as it does throughout the summer monsoon season, the unprotected space was unusable.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns practicing monastic debate under tarp at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

In an attempt to create more shelter the nuns have been stringing up tarps for years as they practice monastic debate. The area near Dharamsala experiences one of the heaviest monsoons in India and the sun is also fierce.

During their debate sessions, pairs of nuns spread out across the courtyards and even onto the adjoining grassy areas and steps. Some distance is required between the pairs or groups of challengers and responders. The aim of the project was to provide enough covered space to shelter the nuns as they do their daily practice of Tibetan monastic debate.

Work on the courtyard began in January 2022. The first phase involved protecting the upper courtyard from rain by enclosing the back and sides with sliding windows that can open to allow ventilation during the hot season.

Debate Courtyard Expansion project at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Work on Phase 1 to improve the debate facilities at Dolma Ling. This part of the project involved enclosing the back and sides of the existing debate courtyard to prevent rain coming in.

The steel roofing over the upper section was also extended on all four sides to prevent rain from blowing in. Finally, an additional row of stone seating was added at the back and sides of the courtyard in front of the windows.

Olivier Adam photo of Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Nuns debating in front of the new windows at the back of the debate courtyard. Because of its reputation for providing excellent teachers and the best facilities for nuns to study, the number of nuns applying to join Dolma Ling has increased substantially. In 2022, 32 nuns joined the nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

In the early autumn of 2022, the Tibetan Nuns Project office in India signed a contract with the contractors for Phase 2 of the expansion project. On September 29th, the architect for the project came to assist the contractor with the positioning of the 8 new pillars for the extension roof.

debate courtyard at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Phase 2 of the debate courtyard expansion began in October 2022 and involved excavating and building 8 more columns and extending the roof.

The nuns were very involved in the design of the new space and in discussions with the architect and engineers. Building specifications for this high-risk seismic zone were made and the extension complies with current building standards. In addition to the eight new columns, there had to be tie beams and two additional below-ground-level columns because they are building in previously filled land.

The Important of Tibetan Buddhist Debate

Dolma Ling is unique because it offers a 17-year curriculum of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate, as well as modern courses in Tibetan language, English, basic mathematics, science and computer skills. Training in Buddhist debate, the extensively practised method for examining philosophical, moral and doctrinal issues, is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition.

Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practise Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that uses logical enquiry to build a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked hard to make this opportunity available to nuns by including debate as a core part of their education, which enables them to extend their use of logic and deepen their understanding of the arguments asserted in the texts they are studying.

monastic debate, Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating, Buddhist debate

Before: Tibetan nuns practice debate on the grass under a makeshift shelter of netting. Since the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, nuns are training in debate for the first time in the history of Tibet.

“Opening up education to the women, particularly in conjunction with training in debate, has been transformative for the nuns,” says Dr. Elizabeth Napper, US Founder and Board Chair of the Tibetan Nuns Project. “Not only have they been given access to the full intellectual richness of their Buddhist tradition but also, through debate, they have been trained to actively engage with it in a way that gives them confidence in their knowledge. Their body language changes from the traditional meekness of nuns to that of women who occupy space with confidence in their right to do so.”

The practice of debate takes many years to master fully and is critical to the nuns’ ability to assume roles as fully qualified teachers of their tradition.

We are very grateful to everyone who has contributed to providing this unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to help ensure that a centuries-old tradition of learning continues to expand to include more nuns, and to foster the dharma for future generations.

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns holding thank you signs

Five More Illustrated Stories by the Nuns

In January, we shared four stories by Tibetan Buddhist nuns created as part of an English assignment. The stories got a wonderful response, so here are five more for you!

Pat said, “Oh, I loved reading those handwritten and illustrated stories! I hope to see more in future blogs.” Suzanne wrote, “I love reading these stories! The words are wise and the illustrations are beautiful.”

English class at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is dedicated to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions. These stories are part of a book project assigned by the English teacher at Dolma Ling, Mr. Tenzin Norgyal.

Traditionally Tibetan Buddhist nuns have had few opportunities for education. Most of the Tibetan refugee nuns were illiterate on their arrival in India. Now the nuns are at last able to study for higher degrees such as the Geshema degree, roughly equivalent to a PhD.

Thank you for educating and empowering these dedicated women. We hope you enjoy these stories written by nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. This nunnery was built and is fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project

Five Illustrated Stories by the Nuns

Click here to view.

This first story, The Arrogant Rose, teaches not to judge by appearances.

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In A Group of Clouds

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The third story, Act of Kindness, illustrates how a small act of kindness can make a big difference.

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Here’s a cautionary tale called Naughty Meat with a cliff

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Finally, we have Venerable Sonam’s story The Destiny of Tenzin. We were unable to put this story in a slideshow without cutting off part of the text, but you can download the PDF here.

The Tibetan Nuns Project believes that education is the key to empowerment. We work to give nuns the resources to carve out independent, creative identities for themselves.

Thank you for helping the nuns on their path!

Here’s the link to the other four stories by Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

If you would like to donate to help fund Teachers’ Salaries, click here.

Stories by Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

In this blog post, we want to share some special stories written and illustrated by Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

In the past, Tibetan Buddhist nuns have had few opportunities for education. Most of the nuns who escaped on foot over the Himalayas from Tibet were illiterate on their arrival in India. Until recently, women were not allowed to study for higher degrees such as the Geshema degree, roughly equivalent to a PhD.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute science fair 2019

Tenzin Norgyal, the English teacher organized a nuns’ science fair fin 2019. Now he has created a special book project for his students.

Much progress has been made and the Tibetan Nuns Project is deeply grateful to all our supporters.

Four Illustrated Stories by the Nuns

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is dedicated to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions.

Recently the English teacher at Dolma Ling, Mr. Tenzin Norgyal, assigned a special book project for his class. He understands the importance of creativity and inter-disciplinary learning.

stories by Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Tibetan nuns at Dolma Ling hold a book fair to share stories that they have created.

Here are some of the sweet stories written and illustrated by the nuns.

Click here to view.

This first story teaches the importance of being happy with what you have.

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In “My Chapter” Kalsang tells the moving story of her escape from Tibet and joining Dolma Ling Nunnery.

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This third story talks about combining wisdom and effort in our brief lives.

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Finally, the story of Yak Gapa illustrates the need to help each other.

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The Tibetan Nuns Project believes that education is the key to empowerment. We work to give nuns the resources to carve out independent, creative identities for themselves.

Tibet’s unique religion and culture are under great threat. The nuns from Tibet who were once denied equal access to education and the opportunity to practice their religion freely are the teachers and leaders of the future.

Thank you for helping the nuns on their path!

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.