Category Archives: Dolma Ling Nunnery

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 230 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

Make a Donation

Prepping for Losar, Tibetan New Year

We’ve just received a wonderful batch of photos of the nuns preparing for Losar, Tibetan New Year, and we wanted to share them with you.

This year, Tibetan New Year or Losar falls on February 12th, 2021. The year of the Iron Ox, 2148, begins on this day.

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. As part of the preparations for Losar, the nuns, like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects.

Here’s a slideshow for you. If you can’t see it, click here.

previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider

You’ll see photos of the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute being taught by Gen. Karma, the ritual arts master. Usually, in the past, the nuns were not tested on the ritual arts such as making butter sculptures, making tormas, and drawing, but this year their teacher wanted to test the nuns to see how seriously they have taken their classes over the years. It takes great practice, precision, and patience to keep up these sacred arts.

You’ll also see photos of the nuns making khapse for Losar. These deep-fried Tibetan cookies or biscuits are are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations everywhere. The nuns make them in a variety of shapes and sizes.

All the photos were taken by the Media Nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

This year, because of the pandemic, Losar will be different from previous years. The Tibetan Health Department and the COVID-19 Task Force of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamshala have called for extreme precautions ahead of Tibetan New Year. They have urged Tibetans around the world to keep the gatherings small and safe.

The vaccine rollout began in India on December 16, 2020. As of the end of January, 152 Tibetan health workers and front line workers had received the first shot of the vaccine.

Slideshows and Updates from all the Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries

As 2020 draws to a close, we wanted to update you with slideshows and news from all the nunneries and institutions in India that we support. if you sponsor a nun, scroll down to her nunnery and find the associated slideshow.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DOLMA LING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider

Due to the pandemic, the nunnery was put on lockdown from March 2020. Many of the nuns’ classes were put on hold until July, but the nuns continued to study on their own and also do prayers for all sentient beings during this difficult time. For safety, the nuns no longer gathered together for morning assembly, meals, or pujas. The nunnery has been closed throughout for outsiders, and staff and teachers were only allowed to go out of the nunnery complex once a week if necessary.

Dolma Ling Tibetan Buddhist nuns 2020

The main gate of the nunnery remains closed and notices have been posted to ensure that no one enters without permission. The nuns created a makeshift gatekeeper room and every day. two nuns wearing masks take turns to guard the gate, with an electronic thermometer, hand sanitizer, and materials to sanitize things such as food and fuel canisters ready to hand. Essentials such as vegetables, rice, flour, and fuel are kept at the gate under the sun for hours and sanitized properly before being brought into the nunnery.

During the holy month of Saga Dawa which this year ran from May 23 to June 21, the nuns once again read the Kangyur, the spoken words of the Buddha, and Tengyur, the Tibetan collection of commentaries to the Buddhist teachings. Together, the 108-volume Kangyur and the 225-volume Tengyur form the basis of the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The texts were divided among the nuns. The nuns maintained physical distancing while reciting the texts in their rooms, on the verandahs, in the dining hall, and in the prayer hall. It took about three days for the nuns to complete the reading of the whole set. The nuns also marked Saga Dawa with the burning of juniper branches.

On August 24, the nuns held their annual academic award ceremony, an event that usually takes place in late March or early April. It was the first time since the pandemic began that the nuns assembled in such a big group. Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nun’s Project, was the guest of honor and other special guests were Mrs. Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project and Mr. Norman Steinberg. The nuns received awards for academic achievement in their classes, the inter-house quiz competition, the handwriting competition, and memorization exams.

Since good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. the nuns are regularly making tofu for meals. Fruits and vegetables and juices are given to the nuns. Meals are eaten in the nuns’ respective rooms or apart in the courtyard.

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHUGSEP. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider

When the first lockdown of the year was announced, the senior nuns were in Bylakuppee, South India to where they were attending a special teaching from Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche. With the travel restrictions, the senior nuns had to remain in south India for a couple of months. Eventually, the senior nuns were able to return to Shugsep they quarantined for the required period. After the quarantine, they took COVID-19 tests and all tested negative.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns gardening at Shugsep Nunnery 2020To prevent the disease from spreading inside the nunnery, we shut the gate to visitors and all the transactions for prayers were done online. We had the basic necessities delivered to our gate so that we could stay isolated. We also barred the staff and students from leaving the nunnery grounds until and unless it was urgent. Weekend outings for the students were cancelled and the staff were strictly instructed not to leave the premises without permission.

In mid-June, the results of the annual exams for 2019-20 were announced and classes for 2020 officially began in July. At the beginning of August, the summer retreat started and lasted for 45 days from August 4 to  September 17. During that period, we organized a lot of debates, essay competitions, and public speaking for the students.

Recently, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute had a drawing competition among the younger students and we are glad that all of them participated and showed their talents. Classes stopped on December 14th for the annual examinations with a study holiday of one week after every test. The examinations begin on December 24th and the last tests will be on January 25th.

December 7, 2020, marked the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery and Institute by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Geden Choeling Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT GEDEN CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider

At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the major routine activities of the nuns such as in-person classes, debating practice, group religious activities, and other social and cultural gatherings were stopped. However, the ten nuns preparing for the Geshema exams continued to attend regular classes taught by the three Buddhist philosophy teachers. All the other nuns have been learning through online classes run by their respective teachers who also provide notes and homework. The nuns memorize texts and are doing well in their studies in their rooms and are always in touch with their teachers.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala

In terms of health care and emotional matters, all the nuns are in good health. They received frequent talks and advice from Geden Choeling Nunnery’s Abbot, office administrator, teachers, and Gekoe (Disciplinarian) to keep them mentally strong without any fear and anxiety during this pandemic period.

All the nuns and staff members are restricted from visiting outside places and the market area since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. No visitors are allowed in the institute, except for prayer offerings by the well-wisher. The nuns maintain daily hygiene and sanitation using sanitizing spray for COVID-19.

Finally, the nuns hold regular prayer sessions twice a day from 6-7:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 4:30 pm.

Tilokpur Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT TILOKPUR. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider

Here’s an update on the current condition of Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling at Tilokpur and the nuns’ activities and initiatives over the last couple of months during this pandemic. In general, so far, the 87 nuns are mentally and physically healthy and doing well. To cope with this pandemic, they are strictly following all the basic instructions provided by the government and their medical assistant, such as hand sanitizing, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distancing. The nuns are still not allowed to leave the nunnery except for the kitchen runner. No visitors are allowed to enter the nunnery grounds.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Tilokpur Nunnery receiving wool items from Wool-Aid

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Tilokpur Nunnery receiving handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteers at Wool-Aid

In December, the nuns received two large boxes of handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteer knitters at Wool-Aid.

In terms of education and other activities, the nuns are continuing with their philosophy classes, monastic debate practice, and computer learning in person, with only English classes being taught online. The younger nuns are also learning painting and drawing. The nunnery holds two prayer sessions each day, in the morning and evening, to pray for all sentient beings and for the betterment of this world.

The nuns wrote, “We are making our best attempt not to get caught with any virus in the community so everyone remains safe and healthy. We hope that this pandemic will finish soon and that everyone can enjoy normal living.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHERAB CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider

When the pandemic hit in mid-February 2020, 44 of the nuns from Sherab Choeling were away from the nunnery in the town of Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes with their philosophy teachers who were there. Shortly after, the coronavirus lockdown in India happened and all classes were suspended. Eventually, the nuns were able to arrange for two buses to take them and their two teachers back to Sherab Choeling.

The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley marked the holy month of Saga Dawa as always with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows. During the holy month, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well-being. The nuns also offered the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DORJEE ZONG. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider

Dorjee Zong Nunnery is one of the oldest centres of monastic education in Zanskar and has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization. This remote 700-year-old nunnery now provides much-needed educational opportunities for young girls and women.

Young Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zaskar

In 2019, Dorjee Zong began a major expansion project and good progress was made last year. The housing block and the structure of a multi-purpose two-story building were completed before extreme weather shut down construction in October. The two-story building contains the kitchen, dining hall, storeroom on the ground floor and, on the upper floor, the prayer hall and a conference hall.

When the coronavirus pandemic hit India in the spring, we feared that no construction would be possible because most of the labor force comes from Nepal and strict restrictions would prevent their travel. However, in July and August, the nunnery was able to move forward gradually with the building process.

As life after the nationwide lockdown in the spring began slowly getting back on track, the nuns’ committee decided to move forward to complete the interiors of the multi-purpose building with work such as plastering of the floors, electrical work fittings etc. They have also undertaken the construction of the bathroom and toilet block needed to go with the housing block. Around six to seven local village workers were hired for this job because outside laborers were stopped from coming to Zanskar. All labor work this summer was done by local village people under the guidance of the working committee.

Currently, the housing block is being used as living quarters on the ground floor for the young nuns, while the top-floor rooms are being used for multiple purposes including as temporary classrooms, office, and a meeting room.

During the lockdown, the younger nuns from nearby villages temporarily left the nunnery to stay with their families. These young nuns were not able to stay at Dorjee Zong because there is not enough space to house them in separate quarters or to follow safe physical distancing measures. Their elder siblings who have returned home are helping the younger children with their studies.

In 2019, generous donors funded the purchase of a school bus to enable the young nuns at Dorjee Zong to continue their education. The nuns needed a school bus to make the 12-mile round-trip journey to the government school to continue their education beyond Grade 5. The bus has arrived in Zanskar and is ready for use. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the schools in India are currently closed. We will keep you updated.

Sakya College for Nuns

HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SAKYA COLLEGE FOR NUNS. Can’t see it? Click HERE.

previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow
Slider

Sakya College for Nuns is situated in Manduwala, about 12 miles from Dehradun and is home to 55 nuns. It is one of the seven nunneries and institutes of higher learning in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project through our sponsorship program.

Like many other nunneries and monasteries, Sakya College for Nuns has been strictly observing lockdown since March this year. Although the lockdown has been lifted in many parts of India, the nuns consider to observe it with great care and caution. The College’s gates remain locked 24/7.

Since the start of the new academic session in July 2020, the nuns’ regular classes are proceeding as usual. Inside the campus, everything looks so normal, just as it used to be during the pre-COVID-19 times, that is with morning prayers, classes, debates, self-study and so on.

The only thing that is missing is the monthly outing that nuns enjoy every month. Because the nuns used to visit the market only about once a month, in that sense the pandemic and the lockdown has not greatly affected the nuns at Sakya College.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns learn yoga at Sakya College for Nuns Even so, as part of measures to provide emotional health care, a Vipassana meditation master and a yoga expert were invited to give workshops. The College invited Associate Professor Ramesh Chandra Negi from the Central University of Tibetan Studies and an expert in Vipassana meditation in the Theravada tradition to give a workshop for the nuns. The professor gave a 10-day course in Vipassana mediation and advised the nuns to continue the practice.

Some of the nuns claim the course has been of immense help in terms of maintaining tranquillity and peace of mind. They have continued to practice individually since the workshop. As meditation is all about dealing with the mind, the main purpose of the workshop was to help the nuns keep their minds in peace and stress-free throughout the lockdown period.

The College had previously invited Tibetan yoga trainer Tsering Yangzom and, on two different occasions, she conducted a 10-day yoga workshop. This greatly motivated the nuns in keeping their bodies in proper health and shape in order to lead healthy, happy lives.

In the special update in mid-December 2020, the College wrote, “We believe that with the introduction of yoga and Vipassana mediation we ensure that our nuns are relatively more relaxed, healthier, and stronger physically and mentally. This, apart from the daily academic activities and curriculums, always keeps their body and mind busy and active.”

The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to all those who sponsor nuns and to all our supporters. Thank you for your compassion and generosity!

Life at Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries During COVID-19 Pandemic

Here’s our monthly update on life at some Tibetan Buddhist nunneries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tibetan Nuns Project supports seven nunneries in northern India.

This month, India reported a surge in COVID-19 cases even as the nationwide lockdown eased. India now has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. Hospitals are swamped in the worst-hit cities of Mumbai, New Delhi, and Chennai. Experts predict that the infection rate in India will continue to rise through July. On June 19, a new lockdown will go into effect for the 15 million people in Chennai.

This is worrying news for the tens of thousands of Tibetans refugees who live in India. The Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala has issued special guidelines for nunneries and monasteries.

The nuns are doing their best to adhere to physical distancing, the use of face masks in public spaces, hand and respiratory hygiene, and environmental sanitation.

Health checks for Tibetan Buddhist nuns during coronavirus pandemic

Tibetan Buddhist nuns get their temperatures checked during health checks at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

Geshema Exams Postponed

Each year, the nuns sitting various levels of the four-year Geshema examinations gather together for one month of final exam preparations and then for about 12 days of exams.

The Geshema exams, normally held each August, are being tentatively postponed to October 1. This year’s venue for the Geshema exams will be Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala.

Nuns often travel long distances to take the exams, such as from Nepal and South India. With the number of COVID-19 cases in India rising and with stricter travel rules from Nepal, the committee decided to postpone the exams to lessen the risk of infection. Last year, all 50 nuns took who took Geshema exams passed.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

The nunnery is closed until the end of June. The nuns are still not getting together in groups so there are no classes, pujas etc. In lieu of face-to-face classes, some philosophy teachers are recording their lessons using an mp3 player and sharing the files with their students.

Each year, during the holy month of Saga Dawa, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha.

Saga Dawa Tibetan Buddhist nuns reading Kangyur 2020

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling maintain physical distance while reading the Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. Photos courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

After finishing the reading the Kangyur texts, the nuns had a two-day break with free time to themselves.

COVID-life Dolma Ling, Two Tibetan Buddhist nuns wearing masks

COVID life at Dolma Ling. Thank you for helping to support the nuns during this difficult period.

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

The nuns at Shugsep have been organizing a few classes each day and have now decided to follow their normal schedule. They are once again performing pujas or prayers, so if you have a puja request you can make it here.

The Shugsep Khenpo and the senior nuns who were in Bylakupee, South India, have returned safely to the nunnery and are currently in two weeks of quarantine.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

According to the latest news, all the nuns at Sherab Choeling nunnery are safe and well. To mark Saga Dawa, the nuns read special puja texts including:

– Yum Puthi Chunyi (a full reading of all the 12 volumes of the Perfection of Wisdom in the Kangyur, the 108-volume set of the words of the Buddha)
– Dolma (the Tara puja)
Dukkar Tsezung for all sentient beings (This a long-life ritual focused on Sitapatrā, Goddess with the White Umbrella, who appears from the Buddha’s uṣṇīṣa.)
– Reading pages from each Kangyur book (Called shal chad, this is the “opening and partial reading of the entire canon. To read it all would take too long so each volume is opened and a bit of it read.)

Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Saga Dawa

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery marked the holy month of Saga Dawa with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows.

During the holy month of Saga Dawa, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well being. The nuns also offered Menla, the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch. On the 15th of the holy month, they took Thekchen Sojung, the eight Mahāyāna vows.

Earlier Updates on Life at Tibetan Nunneries During the Pandemic

Since March, we’ve been providing regular updates on life at some Tibetan nunneries in India during the coronavirus pandemic. Each update has photos and news from some or all of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. Here’s a list of earlier updates:

Latest News on Coronavirus Lockdown and Tibetan Nunneries

Here is the latest news on the coronavirus lockdown at the Tibetan nunneries and how the nuns in India are coping.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns distribute food during coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus lockdown, Dolma Ling nuns, food relief

Compassion in action. Tibetan Buddhist nuns from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute share their rations with 100 of the poorest village families near the nunnery. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

New Statement from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on May 3rd

On Sunday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama issued a new statement calling on people to come together and give a “coordinated, global response” to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said we must focus on what unites us as members of one human family and reach out to each other with compassion.

His Holiness said, “Our human capacity to reason and to see things realistically gives us the ability to transform hardship into opportunity. This crisis and its consequences serve as a warning that only by coming together in a coordinated, global response, will we meet the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges we face. I pray we all heed ‘The Call to Unite’.”

Tibetan Administration Extends Coronavirus Lockdown

On May 1st, the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala called for an additional 30 days of lockdown for nunneries, monasteries, Tibetan settlements, old age homes, and schools.

The Indian lockdown was set to expire on May 3rd and on Friday it was extended for another two weeks to May 18th. However, the Central Tibetan Administration has called for a full 80 days of lockdown for Tibetan communities scheduled to end on June 5th, coinciding with the full moon day of Saga Dawa.

Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay said the curve in India is rising daily and that the risk of transmission will be greater than ever, given India’s densely packed population. He advised Tibetans in settlements to avoid coronavirus hotspots and not to come to Dharamshala, for the safety of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration. He praised the relief efforts of various monastic institutions and others and asked those distributing food to the poor to maintain social distancing.

Tibetan nuns, Dolma Ling, coronavirus lockdown, food distribution

Sharing is caring. The nuns at Dolma Ling gather rice, flour, sugar, cooking oil, and tea from their rations to share with their poorest neighbours. These Indian families are day laborers unable to work and afford food during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

Update on Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

At Dorjee Zong Nunnery, a 700-year-old Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Zanskar, the younger nuns from nearby villages have temporarily left the nunnery to stay with their families. These young nuns cannot stay at Dorjee Zong during the lockdown because there is not enough space to house them in separate quarters or to follow safe social distancing measures. Their elder siblings who have returned home are helping the younger children with their studies.

Seven elder nuns remain at the nunnery and spend most of their time reciting mantras and following their daily rituals. Two senior nuns are taking care of the nunnery complex and the two cows. Since they have the time, they are growing barley and vegetables.

To cope with the severe winters at this remote, high-altitude nunnery, each September the nuns stock up on rations, vegetables, and other essentials, storing enough to get them through May of each year. Soon the roads will open and in June the nuns will once again have access to fresh supplies.

Last year, Dorjee Zong Nunnery began an exciting expansion project. The plan is to build new housing blocks, a prayer hall, kitchen, dining hall, and storeroom. Good progress was made in 2019 during the short construction season.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery, Zanskar, Tibetan Buddhist nunnery

Down the hill from ancient Dorjee Zong Nunnery, a number of new buildings are being constructed. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown mean that further construction will likely be delayed.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be a problem with construction this year. Since most of the labor force comes from Nepal, they may not be able to work due to the strict guidelines imposed by every Indian state. We will continue to report back as we get fresh news.

Life in the Nunneries Under Lockdown

All the nuns and staff are fine, at the time of writing this post.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling social distance and pray, coronavirus lockdown

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery practice social distancing while praying. The nunnery is home to about 240 nuns. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

The nuns are reciting prayers and mantras in their rooms and when they go for kora, circumambulating the nunnery complex. The nuns are spending a lot of time studying on their own.

At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, the nuns shared their food rations with 100 poor village families. The local village administration asked the nunnery for help because many people cannot work and are suffering. This is a very stressful time for people who depend on work to eat, so the nuns were happy to share their food with them.

coronavirus lockdown, life under lockdown, Tibetan Buddhist nun, Dolma Ling

Outside the gates of Dolma Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist nun sanitizes vegetables during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team

The nuns have also made sure that the two single women employed by Dolma Ling are still being paid even though they are unable to work since the lockdown. These women were also given extra food rations.

The nunneries remain shut. The nuns are being vigilant and guard the gates, making sure no one comes in without good reason and taking sanitization precautions. Shopping for essentials is proceeding smoothly for all the nunneries.

coronavirus lockdown, Dolma Ling, Tibetan Buddhist nuns chores

Even under lockdown, chores continue. The nuns at Dolma Ling work together to clean the large drinking water reservoir. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

In Himachal Pradesh, home to five of the nunneries, the curfew situation has eased slightly.  People are allowed out for morning walks from 5:30 am to 7 am. From 8 am to 12 pm, people may go out to buy essentials and motor vehicles can travel without government passes. The government has allowed many shops to stay open during these hours.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns wearing masks, doing chores at Dolma Ling

Life under lockdown at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute include chores, prayers, and studying on one’s own. Photos courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is very grateful to Charles-Antoine Janssen for his generous gift of over 3,500 masks for the nuns at various nunneries.

donated face masks, Charles-Antoine Janssen

In April, Mr. Charles-Antoine Janssen, Founder and Managing Partner at Kois Invest in Mumbai, donated more than 3,500 masks to the Tibetan Nuns Project for the nuns at various nunneries.

The Tibetan Nuns Project office gave 500 masks to the Nuns’ Committee at Dolma Ling for distribution to nuns and staff and has contacted the other nunneries so that the masks can be quickly collected. The Dolma Ling nuns offered a puja gift for Charles-Antoine Janssen, his wife, and two sons.

Update on the Sherab Choeling Nuns

As we reported in April, in mid-February 44 of the nuns from Sherab Choeling travelled to the town of Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes.

Then the coronavirus lockdown happened and all classes were suspended. After lots of hard work, the nuns were able to arrange for two buses to take them and their two teachers back to Sherab Choeling. To maintain social distancing, the nuns had to sit apart, requiring more bus space that would be needed under normal circumstances.

Sherab Choeling Nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, social distancing

Sherab Choeling nuns stand apart in circles at a checkpoint en route back to the nunnery. To get back home to Sherab Choeling Nunnery during the coronavirus lockdown, the nuns had to rent two big buses and sit apart from each other.

April Update: Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries During COVID-19

On Tuesday, India extended the COVID-19 lockdown for 19 days to May 3rd. Here’s an update on the situation at some of the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

So far we’ve received updates from 4 of the 7 nunneries we support. Earlier this month we reported on Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries. We’ll continue to update this blog post as new information arrives.

Tibetan Buddhist nunnery under coronavirus lockdown, COVID-19

Nuns wear face masks at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. On Tuesday, the Indian Prime Minister extended the initial 21-day COVID-19 lockdown for 19 days to May 4. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Sakya College for Nuns

The nuns wanted to send this special message to donors and sponsors. Venerable Dechen Wangmo wrote, “I hope all our kind sponsors are well and keeping themselves safe. We pray for all in the world and our dear sponsors and supporters. Our deep prayers to all!”

The nuns began taking precautionary measures well before coronavirus cases were found in India. From January onwards, the nuns cancelled outings from the nunneries. Nuns left only to consult physicians or for urgent personal reasons. Otherwise, a select group of nuns is assigned to purchase essentials such as vegetables, cooking gas cylinders, other rations and gas for the generators.

The nuns who do these tasks are very cautious when they go out. They wear face masks and use sanitizer. When they return to the nunnery, instead of going to their rooms, they go straight to the washroom to change their clothes and soak their clothing in detergent mixed with Dettol.

The nuns have been refraining from getting together in large numbers. They have cancelled assembly, pujas, debating practice, and all classes except for philosophy.

The Sakya nuns manage their philosophy class in a special way. Each day, one student from each class is allowed to go to class and record everything said by the teacher. This recording is then shared with the other nuns who listen to it in their rooms.

Tibetan Buddhist nun at Sakya College for Nuns 2017 low res

The nuns are studying are on their own in their rooms. Each day they get a recording of the philosophy class. Photo of a Sakya nun studying in her room from 2017.

The nuns are being given hot black tea, honey-ginger-lemon tea, and warm water to keep themselves well hydrated.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Sherab Choeling is a remote nunnery in the Spiti Valley, an arid mountain valley located high in the Himalaya mountains in the north-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh. All 62 nuns are doing fine as of April 13th.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns from Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Of the 62 Sherab Choeling nuns, around 18 nuns remained at the nunnery in Spiti, while 44 nuns travelled to Hamirpur in mid-February so that they could continue their philosophy classes. The 18 nuns are the young ones getting primary education plus some senior nuns.

As we reported in the 2019 Newsletter, the nuns are grateful for their two philosophy teachers. One has been teaching them for 14 years, enduring the extreme weather of the Spiti Valley far from his monastery in south India.

This year the teachers were told to return to their monasteries unless they had a permit to stay. The head nun asked the government office in Kinnaur for permits, but no permits are being issued now because of the coronavirus scare.

She discussed the situation with the committee and the philosophy teachers and decided they would move to Hamirpur so that the nuns could continue with classes. In mid-February, 44 nuns and their 2 philosophy teachers moved to Hamirpur, about three hours drive from Dharamsala. They are staying in a three-story Spiti Hostel building. The nuns were able to continue their classes through March 2nd, but since then they have been cancelled to comply with health regulations.

COVID-19 lockdown, Spiti

In mid-February, 44 nuns and their 2 philosophy teachers moved to the Spiti Hostel in Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes. Unfortunately, from March 2nd, due to the coronavirus lockdown and health precautions, the nuns can no longer assemble in groups.

Other than the problems with permits and classes, staying outside Spiti has not been difficult. The nuns were able to stock up on rations before the lockdown. They are also able to get vegetables whenever they need. Back at Sherab Choeling, around 18 nuns remain, some senior nuns and the young nuns receiving primary education.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Like other nunneries, Dolma Ling took many precautions for the COVID-19 early on. As we reported earlier, since the first week of February, the nunnery has been closed to visitors. Before the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries bought a month’s worth of rations.

fields and Dhauladhar range above Dolma Ling Nunnery

Wheatfields and the Dhauladhar range above Dolma Ling Nunnery. As air pollution levels in India have dropped during the COVID-19 lockdown, many people are seeing these mountains for the first time in 30 years. The name Dhauladhar means “the white range”.

Since the India lockdown began on March 2nd, entry to the nunnery is even stricter. Under the lockdown, the use of vehicles has stopped. However,  both Dolma Ling and Shugsep received special government permits allowing the nuns to use the truck to get supplies. Once the nuns return with rations such as vegetables and cooking fuel, people and goods are disinfected as much as possible before they enter the nunnery grounds.

Tibetan Buddhist nun coronavirus lockdown update, COVID-19 lockdown

The nuns are doing their best to practice social distancing. Nuns continue to study on their own in their rooms or at safe distances outdoors. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

At Dolma Ling, classes, pujas, and other group activities are cancelled to lessen the risk of infection. The nuns study on their own and do chores such as cleaning, laundry, caring for the cows, and making tofu.

social distancing coronavirus Tibetan Buddhist nun

A Tibetan Buddhist nun sits alone on the verandah to eat. The nuns no longer gather in the dining hall but bring their dishes to the courtyard to collect food and then sit apart to eat it. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns do laundry

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling do laundry in the spring that flows in channels through the top of the nunnery grounds. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Sponsors Needed

Sadly, some sponsors of nuns have had to stop their sponsorships because of the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means that quite a few nuns need sponsors.

It costs just $1 a day to sponsor a nun and help provide the basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and education. If you can sponsor a nun, please click here.

Sponsor a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Inda

Latest news and photos from the Tibetan nunneries

Here’s the latest news and photos from some Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown. Last week we posted this update from India and about the Seattle office.

update on Tibetan nunneries Covid-19

Unfortunately, now we only have detailed reports from two of the seven nunneries supported by Tibetan Nuns Project donors, Dolma Ling and Shugsep. We will do our best to give you updates via our blog and Facebook page as other news comes in.

new calf born at Dolma Ling Nunnery April 2020

Some good news during the crisis. The nuns were delighted with this beautiful addition to Dolma Ling’s small herd of dairy cows. The day-old female calf brought joy and we hope it sparks joy for you too.

Update from Dolma Ling

The nunnery has been closed to visitors since the first week of February when the nuns shut the gates and monitored anyone who came in or out.

Since the all-India lockdown began on March 25, the nunnery closure has been even stricter. The nuns at the front gate are armed with a spray can of disinfectant which they spray on people and goods entering the nunnery grounds.

update from Tibetan nunneries covid-19 debate courtyard

A late evening view of the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling. A few nuns were out memorizing texts. Some nuns were doing kora (walking and circumambulating the nunnery) while many prefer to stay in their rooms or walk up and down the housing block verandas.

Things are running pretty smoothly at the nunnery. The projects funded by donors, such as the tofu-making facility, the expanded kitchen and storeroom, and the new cowshed are helping the nuns to cope during this crisis.

Tibetan Buddhist nun making tofu

A photo of the tofu-making facility taken in 2013 by Brian Harris. The nuns are making tofu weekly and that is helping the nunnery to be more self-sufficient during the Covid-19 lockdown in India.

In theory, people are allowed to go shopping between 8 and 11 in the morning, but the nuns and staff are barred from leaving, so the traffic in and out of the nunnery is extremely limited, with the result that they all feel relatively safe.

After the first few days, the nuns made an arrangement for a jeep to supply vegetables and other goods and to offload them outside the gate where they were sprayed and then left for some time in the sun before the nuns carried them in.

The nuns were also able to get special permission to take the Dolma Ling jeep to get the essentials such as cylinders of cooking gas and vegetables. They also went to the Tibetan settlement of Bir to buy tsampa (roasted barley flour), which is a staple food for the nuns.

vegetarian diet at nunnery, food for thought, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project

This photo, taken in 2017, shows part of the vegetable storage area constructed to keep animals out and hold a lot of supplies. It takes a lot of vegetables to feed over 240 nuns! With the Covid-19 pandemic, the nuns are trying to purchase vegetables with a long shelf-life.

The nuns serve the food from the veranda and everyone goes to their own spot to eat it. After their meal, the nuns walk around a bit as usual before returning to their rooms.

Dolma Ling Nunnery mealtime during Covid-19

Communal meals in the dining hall are a thing of the past. The nuns use their own dishes to collect food from the courtyard and they eat on their own.

Tofu making is in full swing and there is the milk from the dairy cows and greens from the kitchen garden. Water and electricity are in quite good supply these days and the air is wonderfully fresh without the normal traffic pollution!

Tibetan Buddhist nun social distancing Covid-19

A Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute practices social distancing from the 240 other nuns, eating her meal alone.

nuns washing at Dolma Ling Nunnery

On bright sunny days, nuns take the opportunity to wash their laundry and to clean their rooms. They are also cleaning the nunnery and gardening.

At Dolma Ling, all group activities such as classes, pujas, and eating together are being avoided. The nuns are doing their best to practice social distancing.

dairy cow and calf Dolma Ling Life under Covid-19

Some good news during the crisis is that this week a beautiful calf was born to one of the Dolma Ling dairy cows. The mother is highly protective of her beautiful female baby calf.

At the time of writing, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the location of five of the seven nunneries we support, there were 3 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Tsering wrote, “In fact, we have no great alarms in this area at present with only 3 confirmed cases. It’s hard to know if this is a huge underestimate. Next week should show the truth of the situation. So the nuns and staff are all being careful!”

Update from Shugsep

At Shugsep, the nuns have been able to speak to suppliers and convince then to deliver vegetables, other rations, and cylinders of cooking gas to the nunnery instead of having to venture out during the curfew.

Between 50 to 60 nuns are in the nunnery right now. The Khenpo and around 25 senior nuns are in South India where they went prior to the lockdown to receive teachings.

The Shugsep nuns are not gathering together for pujas or meals. However, they are still going to classes which they feel is more practical because no one is coming into the nunnery from outside and everyone is staying in the nunnery.

The nuns have about three classes a day as well as Tibetan handwriting in the afternoon and ritual practice in the evening.

Tibetan Butter lamps and prayers Covid-19 April 2020

Tibetan butter lamps flicker through the night at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute as part of prayers to end Covid-19 and the suffering of all sentient beings.

The Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan government in exile has asked all of the monasteries and nunneries to say special prayers over the next ten days and then continuing onwards on a weekly basis to help alleviate this pandemic.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns pray for victims of Australian fires

In January of 2020, the world’s attention turned to Australia, where the worst wildfires experienced in decades have destroyed homes, displaced people, killed animals, and left large swaths of the country devastated.

In light of this tragedy, one thousand butter lamps were offered by the Tibetan Nuns Project on behalf of all our nuns and staff, praying to give strength to the victims to overcome this disaster.

Offering of Tibetan butter lamps for victims of Australian bush fires

“We want to express our sadness, love, and support for all those affected by the devastating Australian bush fires, for the vast species of wildlife that have been destroyed, and for every soul that has been hit at varying degrees. May all heal with the love, support, and care of people around them. May one never lose hope to work towards a holistic space for everyone to live in.”

Those Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India who have sponsors living in Australia are very concerned about the safety and well-being of their sponsors.

Tibetan Butter Lamp Offering

Offering butter lamps is deeply ingrained in the Tibetan tradition. Butter lamps are part of traditional daily Tibetan puja and serve a variety of purposes, including aiding focus and meditation, providing a symbolic flame to light the path towards liberation, and facilitating the cultivation of merit for those who sponsor the lamps’ fuel which is usually butter or oil.

Tibetan butter lamps may be offered for many occasions, such as when you or someone you know is in trouble. They may also be offered when someone is starting a new venture, to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or graduation, or to say thank you.

Tibetan butter lamp offering for victims of Australian fires

Tibetan butter lamp offering to the victims of the Australia bush fires. Photo taken at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Message to Australians

On January 8, 2020, His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote to the Australian Prime Minister to express his sympathy and deep sadness about the bushfires that have caused such devastating damage.

Portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Olivier Adam

Portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Olivier Adam. In January, His Holiness expressed his sorrow over the bushfire devastation in Australia in a formal letter to the Australian Prime Minister.

Writing to Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison from the holy city of Bodh Gaya, His Holiness said:

“It is simply heart-wrenching to see reports of these ferocious infernos, while the personal bravery of so many volunteers who have come together as firefighters is an inspiration.

“I offer my condolences to the families of those who have died and to the many people who have lost their homes in these fires.

“It is also becoming increasingly clear that a great number of birds and animals have died in the fires — this is also very distressing.

“I would like to commend your government and the respective state governments for the measures they have taken to provide victims with necessary support and assistance.

“I am heartened by the generous solidarity being shown by the global community for those who have been affected. Disasters like this remind us that humanity is one community. Even on an individual level, each and every one of us must take steps to counter global warming.

“As you may know, I have been able to visit Australia quite regularly over the years and have been deeply touched by the friendship and affection Australians have shown me, as well as the interest they have taken in my efforts to promote human values and peace of mind.” 

Tibetan Butter lamp puja

The sign with the 1,000 butter lamps says, “Offering of Butter Lamps by the nuns for the victim of Australian bush fire. There is a saying in Tibetan, ‘Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.’ No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that’s our real disaster.”  by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

Keeping the nunneries strong and healthy

It takes a lot of work to maintain the nunneries that we support.  In 2019, a long list of maintenance and repair projects were completed at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

On behalf of the over 240 nuns at Dolma Ling, thank you to everyone who gives to the Maintenance Fund.

carpentry work to maintain Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, Dolma Ling maintenance projects

Suresh, the longtime carpenter at Dolma Ling, hard at work fixing damaged windows.

On seeing the list of completed projects, one supporter wrote:

“From a homeowner’s perspective, for the small cost, so much was accomplished. The volume of the work impresses me and for such a small annual investment. It is work focused on sustainability, environmental effects and impact, and living harmoniously with the Earth. Yay!”

We hope this report conveys the enormous impact of your gifts to keep Dolma Ling a strong and healthy place for the nuns to live and study.

Here’s a list of 36 Dolma Ling maintenance projects that were completed in 2019 thanks to your generosity.

Carpentry Work

Suresh, the longtime carpenter at Dolma Ling, completed the following projects in 2019:

  1. Fixed leaks in the slate roof before the monsoon rains began.
  2. Repaired various damaged windows.
  3. Put up protective splash covers on the outside doors of His Holiness’ suite on the top floor of the temple building.
  4. Made 6 bulletin boards for the housing blocks so that the nuns do not have to tape notices on the walls, spoiling the paintwork.
  5. Cleaned the café gutters and checked the café roof.
before and after leak repair

before and after leak repair Dolma Ling 2019

Roofing, Repair, and Maintenance Work

  1. Extensive repairs were made to the multiple bathroom blocks at Dolma Ling, including to the floors, pipes, and to the windows and doors which were damaged by water. The toilet and bathroom areas were, in some cases, 20 years old because the nunnery was built in stages. Many of the water pipes were corroded and needed replacing. Urgent action was needed to prevent further degeneration of the building structure.
  2. Filled holes and gaps in the stone and slate paving throughout the nunnery complex.
  3. Cemented the area in front of the septic tank to help with drainage.
  4. Repaired the slate flooring in the nuns’ bathhouse and the stairs of the teachers’ housing block.
  5. Cleared and filled holes in gardens and courtyards and improved drainage.
  6. To prevent dampness in the nunnery guesthouse and to facilitate drainage, workers dug a two-foot ventilation gap between the back wall of the building and the land behind it. This was money well spent as the condition of the ground floor of the building is very much improved. The building is to be painted this winter.
  7. Created steps and filled in the guesthouse garden.
  8. Built a clothes-washing area for the nuns by installing half-round concrete pipes into the water channel. This was carried out efficiently and with the least disruption to the nuns’ washing area.
  9. A tree was removed which was dripping water onto the windowsill of a nun’s room making it constantly damp inside.
  10. Painted the doors of the tofu-making building.
  11. Replaced the valves in the pump house.
  12. Tested the water from the bore well and the water filtration system. The water was found to be clear of coliforms and heavy metals but has a large amount of iron and some turbidity which will need to be filtered out.
  13. Built an overhead water tank stand. This is part of a larger project to pipe water from the bore well in the front garden to an overhead tank from which it will be filtered and fed to the kitchen, dining hall, and to the shed where there is a water boiler which the nuns use to fill their thermos flasks for their rooms.
  14. Started work on the repair and cleaning of the solar panels. The nuns need to remove all deposits that have collected inside the solar collectors, replace leaky valves, and check and clean all the panels and piping regularly to keep the system running. The bulk of the work has been done on all three solar units but has revealed some problems that will need to be fixed in 2020.
  15. Painted large sections of the nunnery including three of the six housing wings, the dining hall, and the courtyard external faces of the corridors, dining building, and the temple.
  16. Hung curtains in the prayer hall. There have been recent cases of thefts in temples because thieves get tempted by seeing images and ritual items through the clear windows of the hall.
painting the Tibetan nunnery

Regular re-painting of the Nunnery buildings is essential. Since the construction of the first wings at Dolma Ling, over 20 years ago, we have made efforts to re-paint the buildings in rotation every three years. However, the last time the first three nunnery wings were painted was in 2015 so a good deal of repair work was also overdue, especially in the bathrooms.

Blacksmith Work

  1. Three ventilating skylights were added to the bathhouse to prevent the build-up of humidity within the building. These have been very simply made and installed and are very effective.
  2. The blacksmith who put the guttering on the retreat huts also installed guttering and downpipes to stop water damage down the sides of the building.
  3. Put up fencing and a gate on the ground floor of the senior teachers’ house to prevent staff children from falling.
  4. At the nuns’ request, four small gates were added to the entrances of the staff and teachers’ residences and an office, to prevent stray dogs from taking refuge inside the buildings.

bathroom repairs Dolma Ling maintenance 2019

Protecting the Retreat Huts from Monsoon Rains

The eight retreat huts built and inaugurated in 2014 are now occupied by nuns in retreat and by the newly qualified Geshemas.

During the summer of 2017, the nuns noticed that water was flooding through the land during heavy monsoon downpours and causing problems inside the huts and to the access paths, as well as water logging parts of the gardens.

drainage work for retreat huts at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute 2019

The eight retreat huts, completed several years ago thanks to generous donors, are occupied by nuns in retreat and by the newly qualified Geshemas. Drainage work was needed to prevent flooding during the monsoon.

The following work to fix the retreat huts was done between June and October 2019:

  1. Drains were dug and lined to ensure that water flows efficiently into the main drain behind the huts.
  2. The guttering was installed on all 8 huts so that the water from the roofs does not splash back against the walls.
  3. Each hut has two downpipes on opposite corners of the building, which takes water efficiently into the drain.
  4. The drainage system has been made to accommodate the water from the downpipes.

We are confident that these arrangements will be effective in channeling the monsoon rainwater away from the buildings. This will reduce dampness and make the retreat huts more comfortable and healthier for the occupants.

work to prevent dampness in Dolma Ling guesthouse copy

The nunnery guesthouse is an income-generating project for the nunnery where visitors can come and stay. To prevent dampness in the guesthouse and to facilitate drainage, workers dug a two-foot ventilation gap between the back wall of the building and the land behind it. This was money well spent as the condition of the ground floor of the building is very much improved. The building will be painted this winter and will have a new lease on life.

Masonry Work

A mason named Bablu and his assistants were hired to carry out the general repair work required including:

  1. Filled holes in the paving.
  2. Re-set the levels on the septic tank in front of the café to enable water to drain better.
  3. Repaired the slate flooring on the teachers’ house stairs and in the bathhouse.
  4. Built a low stone wall in the garden between the office and the teachers’ house to improve the possibility of creating a nice garden for the rose trees which are planted in that area.
  5. Created a drain at the bottom of the kitchen stairs to help remove excess water that collects there.
  6. Tiled the torma room floor. The nuns decided to make new surfaces on which they make tormas out of black granite and also requested that the floor be tiled so that it could be kept as clean as possible, befitting the room in which these special ritual offering cakes are made.
  7. Tiled the wall in the dining room behind the serving table. The wall was badly marked and is much easier to keep clean now that it is tiled.

Work to be Done in 2020

Dolma Ling is a bit like a university campus, with many buildings, housing blocks, and systems. In the harsh climate and heavy monsoons of northern India, there is always work to be done to keep the nunnery complex strong, safe, and healthy.

For this reason, the Tibetan Nuns Project fundraises each year for the Maintenance Fund.

Here are just a few of the projects to be done in 2020:

  1. Fix the café roof with bituminized surfacing.
  2. Stop the dripping from the overhead pipes in the debate courtyard.
  3. Paint the guesthouse, the clinic, and the lower teachers’ house, all of which are urgently in need of doing as they have not been painted since 2015.