Category Archives: Events

Rejoicing the 2018 Jang Gonchoe and Geshema Graduation

October and November was an extraordinary time. Over 600 nuns came together for the 24th annual Jang Gonchoe inter-nunnery debate. At the conclusion of this month-long educational event, ten nuns more nuns graduated with their Geshema degrees. This blog post shares news and videos of these two special events.

The 2018 Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate

The annual, inter-nunnery debate called the Jang Gonchoe was held at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal from 3 October to 4 November 2018. More than 600 nuns from nine nunneries in India and Nepal attended this powerful educational opportunity.

Monastic debate is the traditional mode of study of the profound texts of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Through debate, the nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning. For many nuns, taking part in the Jang Gonchoe is an essential component of working towards higher academic degrees, such as the Geshema degree, which is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Here’s a video by Tizi Sonam showing the inter-nunnery debate. (If you can’t see the video, click here.)

Prior to 1995, there was no Jang Gonchoe for nuns, although Tibetan monks have held their Jang Gonchoe for centuries. The chance to have nuns from many nunneries gather and intensively debate with each other is a relatively new opportunity for ordained Buddhist women. The Tibetan Nuns Project has been fully supporting the Jang Gonchoe for nuns since 1997. Next year will be its 25th year.

In 2014, the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund so that this vital educational opportunity may continue for years to come. Unfortunately, we’re still a long way from reaching our goal for the fund. You can learn more here. 

The fact that so many nuns wanted to attend this year’s event is a testament to both its incredible value as a learning opportunity and the nuns’ growing confidence. In the early years of the Jang Gonchoe, it was difficult to find nuns to participate because they lacked confidence and felt uncomfortable to join in. Now the nuns are eager to take part. They know what an important chance it is for them to gain skills in debating and to help them with their studies.

In past years, the number of nuns who participated in the Jang Gonchoe was also limited by the ability of the host nunnery to accommodate and feed visiting nuns from other nunneries. However, Kopan Nunnery is a large nunnery and had the facilities and capacity to house many nuns, so many more nuns were able to attend this year. We are extremely grateful to our supporters, including the Pema Chödrön Foundation and the Rowell Fund for Tibet/ICT, whose generosity enabled so many nuns to take part by helping with their food and travel costs.

The 9 nunneries that took part this year were:

  1. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, near Dharamsala, India (min. 35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  2. Geden Choeling Nunnery,Dharamsala, India (min. 35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  3. Jamyang Choeling Nunnery, Dharamsala, India (35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  4. Thujee Choeling Nunnery, South India (35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  5. Kopan Nunnery, host nunnery, Nepal
  6. Jangchup Choeling, Nepal (35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  7. Jangsemling Nunnery, Kinnaur, India (24 nuns and 1 teacher)
  8. Jampa Choeling Nunnery, Kinnaur, India (16 nuns and 1 teacher)
  9. Yangchen Choeling Nunnery, Spiti, India (14 nuns and 1 teacher)

The Geshema Exams and Graduation

From August 15-26 2018, 44 Tibetan Buddhist nuns sat various levels of their four-year Geshema exams. These rigorous written and oral (debate) exams were held at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

Here are the results of the exams:
Fourth and final year exams: All 10 nuns passed
Third year exams: All 8 nuns passed
Second year: 11 of 14 nuns passed
First year: 8 of 12 nuns passed
The nuns who did not pass will have the option to re-sit their exams next year if they wish.

At the conclusion of this year’s Jang Gonchoe, held at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal, the ten nuns who passed their fourth and final Geshema exams in August took part in a formal debate process called damcha.

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Nuns line up to debate with the Geshemas in the damcha. This joyous and inspiring event was held for two days on November 3rd and 4th and was the final formal step in the Geshema graduation process. Photo courtesy of Tizi Sonam

Here’s a video by Tizi Sonam showing the part of the two-day damcha. (If you can’t see the video, click here.)


The 2018 Geshema Graduation Ceremony was held on November 5th at Kopan Nunnery with teachers and about 600 nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal in attendance.

Here’s a video made by Tizi Sonam of the 2018 Geshema graduation ceremony at Kopan Nunnery. (If you can’t see the video, click here.)

The graduation this year of ten more Geshemas brings the total number of nuns with this degree to 37, including the German-born nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who was the first-ever Geshema.

This is the third year in a row in which a group of nuns completed the challenging four-year exam process. In 2016, Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history when 20 nuns received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony in South India. Last year, another 6 nuns graduated at a ceremony at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree will make them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

The Impact of Your Support of the Nuns

The impact of your support goes far beyond providing funding to cover food and travel so the nuns could take their exams and attend the inter-nunnery debate. We are deeply grateful to all our donors for helping nuns receive the same opportunities for deep study and practice as monks have always had and for supporting these devoted women to become teachers and to contribute to their communities.

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Ten new Geshemas surrounded by Tibetan Buddhist nuns on the steps of Kopan Nunnery in Nepal, following the Geshema graduation ceremony on November 5 2018. Photo courtesy of Tizi Sonam

By furthering the education of hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, you are also helping to foster the dharma for future generations and to preserve Tibet’s rich religion and culture at a time when it is seriously under threat.

By helping to further educational opportunities like the inter-nunnery debate, you are encouraging more intense study and practice, increasing the nuns’ knowledge and confidence, and empowering these dedicated women to become great teachers in their own right. Thank you!

Thank you to Venerable Lobsang Dechen

Venerable Lobsang Dechen, Co-Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, is retiring after working on behalf of Tibetan Buddhist nuns for almost three decades.

A nun from the age of 13, Venerable Lobsang Dechen studied at the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) in Dharamsala until Class 10, before completing her schooling at the Central School for Tibetans in Mussoorie.

Venerable Lobsang Dechen

Archival photo of Venerable Lobsang Dechen working at the Tibetan Nuns Project office in India.

She then attended St. Bede’s College, a women’s college in Shimla, and received her B.A. Degree followed by a B.Ed. Degree from Pubjab University in Chandigarh. With her teaching credentials, she returned to Lower TCV where she taught English and geography from 1984 to 1991.

In 1992, she left her teaching career to join the Tibetan Nuns Project to advance its efforts to make educational opportunities available for nuns throughout the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Since then, she has helped to establish a system in which nuns could be nurtured into educated, confident young women.

Venerable Lobsang Dechen, Betsy Napper, Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Tibetan Nuns Project

Venerable Lobsang Dechen (left), with Rinchen Khando Choegyal and Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Napper. This photo of the three directors of the Tibetan Nuns Project was taken in October 2017 at the celebrations to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Because Venerable Lobsang Dechen is a nun, her work towards the betterment of nuns has been very encouraging for the nuns. We will always be very grateful for her hard work, patience, dedication, and teamwork.

Venerable Lobsang Dechen, Geshemas, Geshema, Geshema Namdol Phuntsok,

Venerable Lobsang Dechen, Co-Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, speaking to the Geshemas at the Geshema graduation ceremony at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka, India on December 22, 2016. The nun she is speaking to is Geshema Namdol Phuntsok from Kopan Nunnery, who attained the highest marks in the Geshema examinations. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

She has personally seen the nuns grow mentally and emotionally into stronger women, and move beyond the unthinkable situations they had faced in Tibet. After years of effort, it is wonderful thathe has seen the nuns graduate with the Geshema Degree (Geshe for monks), a great milestone in the history of Tibet.

Though we would have liked her to continue working with the Tibetan Nuns Project, we wish her all the best in life.

Venerable Lobsang Dechen

Collage of archival photos of Venerable Lobsang Dechen working to help the nuns.

2018 Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate at Kopan Nunnery

Around 600 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal have gathered at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal for 2018 Jang Gonchoe, the annual inter-nunnery debate.

Running from October 3 to November 4 2018, this special event brings together nuns and teachers for intensive training in Tibetan Buddhist debate.

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Sheltered under tarps, about 600 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal gather at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal to practice Tibetan Buddhist debate for one month. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

Training in Tibetan Buddhist debate is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition. Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practice Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that joins logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

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A photograph of nuns at the opening ceremony of the 2018 inter-nunnery debate at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery.

The annual debate session for nuns has been an integral part of the nuns reaching their current level of excellence in their studies. It is critical to fostering the nuns’ ability to pursue higher degrees, such as the Geshema degree, which is roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism. Since 2016, 36 nuns have passed the rigorous written and debate exams to become Geshemas – a historic milestone for Tibet. This achievement would not have been possible without the intensive training that the inter-nunnery debate helps provide.

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Taking part in the annual inter-nunnery debate allows nuns to gain knowledge and build confidence. By debating with nuns from other nunneries, they can “up their game” and prepare for higher degrees. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

Dr. Elizabeth Napper, Co-Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, said, “Opening up education to the women, particularly in conjunction with training in debate, has been transformative for the nuns. 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.”

If you wish to see many more photos of this year’s event and video footage of the nuns debating, visit the Kopan Nunnery Facebook page. 

The Importance of Tibetan Buddhist Debate and the Jang Gonchoe

Although Tibetan monks for centuries have held the Jang Gonchoe, prior to 1995, this form and level of learning was not open to nuns.

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About 600 nuns gather for the start of the 2018 Jang Gonchoe at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery.

In 1995, the Jang Gonchoe for nuns was started. Since 1997, it has been fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. We are extremely grateful to the supporters of this year’s event and of our Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund.

The inter-nunnery debate is a unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to help ensure that a centuries-old tradition continues and expands to include the nuns, and fosters the dharma for future generations. The Jang Gonchoe also helps empower Tibetan nuns to become great teachers and examples for their nunnery communities. The host nunneries also gain the experience of putting on a large and complex event. In 2017, the Jang Gonchoe was held at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been very supportive of the education of the nuns and has praised their debating skills. His Holiness has said, “Nowadays, the Nalanda tradition of approaching the Buddha’s teachings with logic and reason is only found amongst Tibetans. It’s something precious we can be proud of and should strive to preserve.

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At the Jang Gonchoe, nuns have the opportunity to debate with nuns from other nunneries. This build confidence and skill. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

The Importance of the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund

The Tibetan Nuns Project, with the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has played a critical role in opening up this learning opportunity to women. Although all Tibetan nuns and nunneries are welcome to take part, the main obstacle to wider participation has always been lack of funding. There are more nuns who wish to attend than there is funding to support them with their travel costs and for food during the month-long event.

An average of 7 nunneries takes part each year:

  • Dolma Ling Nunnery & Institute – participant since 1995
  • Jangchup Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Jamyang Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Geden Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Khacho Ghakil Ling, Nepal – yearly participant
  • Thugjee Choeling Nunnery, Nepal – yearly participant
  • Buddhist Education Centre, Kinnaur – yearly participant
  • Drikung Nunnery – participant once
  • Dongyu Gyatseling Nunnery – occasional participant
  • Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • Yangchen Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • Jampa Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • (The nuns from the latter three nunneries now hold their own inter-nunnery debate session each year in Spiti.)

In 2014, the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a special Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund to support the Jang Gonchoe so that this vital educational opportunity may continue for years to come. Gifts to the Endowment Fund help to preserve Tibet’s culture and religion, and also open up a centuries-old tradition to the nuns, empowering them to become great teachers in their own right. The benefit of this is inestimable and will be an enduring legacy for generations to come.

To support the Debate Endowment Fund you can:

  1. Make a gift online – see below.
  2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to:
    The Tibetan Nuns Project
    (for Debate Endowment)
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216
    Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Donate securities
  5. Leave a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project

Give to Debate Endowment

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The main costs associated with the Jang Gonchoe are food for the nuns for a month and their travel costs to and from the event.

 

Send messages of support to Geshema candidates

When you’re facing big challenges, it feels great to know that people are wishing you good luck. You can send a message of support to the Geshema candidates by writing a comment on this blog.

From August 15-26 2018, 45 Tibetan Buddhist nuns will sit various levels of their Geshema exams. To attain the Geshema degree, the nuns must take four years of exams. (Earlier we reported that there were 46 nuns, but one of the nuns taking first-year exams had to postpone and return home to care for her ailing mother.) The Geshema exams take place over 4 years and are the culmination of a rigorous 17-year course of study.

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Nuns reading messages of good luck and support from other nuns prior to the 2016 Geshema candidates. We’re collecting messages from support from you and will send them to the nuns taking their exams in August 2018.

The Geshema degree (or Geshe degree for monks) is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. Until recently, this degree was only open to men. In the last two years, 26 Tibetan Buddhist nuns have made history and earned this degree. Geshes and Geshemas are the most educated monastics, carrying much of the responsibility for preserving the Tibetan religion and culture.

Here’s a little video about the 2018 Geshema exams. [Can’t see the video? Click here.]

The nuns taking their exams this year gathered at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute on July 15th to make their final preparations and studies.

In August 2018 there will be:

  • 12 nuns taking their first-year exams
  • 15 nuns doing their 2nd year
  • 8 nuns doing their 3rd year
  • 10 Geshema candidates doing their fourth and final year of exams. All being well, there will be 10 new Geshema graduates this fall.
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A Tibetan Buddhist nun takes her Geshema exams in 2017. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree will make them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.

We are seeking donations to help to cover the costs of travel for the Geshema candidates to and from Dolma Ling Nunnery and for their food during their 6-week study and exam period. You can donate here.

In November 2017, another 6 nuns graduated with their Geshema degrees. They received their degrees in a special ceremony on November 5th. The six new Geshemas had the opportunity to join the Geshemas who received their degrees in December 2016 in a groundbreaking new Buddhist tantric studies program. This two-year program at Dolma Ling Nunnery started in November 2017 and is funded by generous supporters through the Tibetan Nuns Project.

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns had in their exam papers during the Geshema exams in 2017. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

Tibetan Buddhist nuns offer long life prayers to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

On March 1 2018, Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all five Tibetan schools of Buddhism including Bön will offer long life prayers to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The special ceremony will take place at the Main Temple in McLeod Ganj above Dharamsala. The event will be graced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, long life prayers,

Photo of His Holiness the Dalai Lama courtesy of Olivier Adam.

The long life prayers are being offered as a mark of gratitude to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his continued care and support offered to the Buddhist nuns.

As the Tibetan Journal reported, the historic ceremony also aims to fulfill His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s compassionate vision for the welfare of all sentient beings.

We look forward to sharing more news and photos of this special event.

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays 2018

This is an illustrated list of some of the major Tibetan Buddhist holidays in 2018, as well as some other important dates in the Tibetan calendar.

Each year, the Tibetan Nuns Project publishes a Tibetan calendar with the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and other important ritual dates, plus phases of the moon, inspirational quotes, and major US and Canadian holidays. This beautiful 2018 calendar is still available from our online store and proceeds from it’s sale help to provide education, food, shelter, and health care for over 700 Buddhist nuns living in northern India.

February 16 2018: Losar (Tibetan New Year)

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Tibetan nuns throw tsampa (roasted barley flour) into the air to mark Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is a very special time of year. This year February 16th is the first day of the Earth Dog Year of 2145 by the Tibetan calendar. Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, the nuns, like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home from top to bottom. After that, the Losar or “new year” is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives. Special food is prepared such as such as khapse and a  noodle soup called guthuk. See this recipe for vegetarian guthuk. Continue reading

Tibetan Buddhist debate and the 2017 Jang Gonchoe

The annual inter-nunnery debate, called the Jang Gonchoe, was held at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute from October 3 to November 2, 2017.

The nuns debated every day from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and again in the evening from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight. A total of 376 nuns from 8 nunneries in India and Nepal took part this year.

Here’s a 3-minute video of the 2017 Jang Gonchoe:

The participating nuns were from:

  1. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, the host nunnery (207 nuns took part)
  2. Geden Choling (27)
  3. Jamyang Choeling (27)
  4. Thukjee Choling, Nepal (27)
  5. Kopan Nunnery (Khachoe Gakyil Ling), Nepal (27)
  6. Jangchub Choling, Mundgod (27)
  7. Jangsem Ling, Kinnaur (19) New participant nunnery this year.
  8. Jampa Choling, Kinnaur (13) New participant nunnery this year.
  9. Nuns’ Committee members (2)

Here’s a gallery of images taken by the Nuns Media Team at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Continue reading

Tibetan Nuns Project Celebrates 30th Anniversary

On October 2nd 2017, the Tibetan Nuns Project celebrated 30 years of work to educate, empower, and improve the status of ordained Tibetan women.

It was a chance to reflect on how far we have come together and how much more is still needed.

Rinchen Khando Choegyal,

Tibetan Nuns Project Founder and Director, Rinchen Khando Choegyal and Chief Guest Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay arrive at the event to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan Nuns Project. Photo by Nuns Media Team.

A special event was held at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India. The non-sectarian nunnery is the largest of the two nunneries built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project and is now home to over 230 nuns. In October, the nunnery also hosted the month-long annual inter-nunnery debate event, the Jang Gonchoe, bringing up to 450 nuns from about 7 nunneries in India and Nepal.

The timing of the 30th anniversary event was also ideal because the 20 nuns who graduated with their Geshema degree in December 2016 had just gathered at Dolma Ling. In November, they will begin a brand new and historic two-year program in Buddhist tantric studies.

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Hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns and special guests gathered at the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling Nunnery for the formal celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan Nuns Project on October 2nd, 2017. Photo by Nuns Media Team.

Speaking to the crowds and honored guests at the event, Rinchen Khando Choegyal, founder and director of the Tibetan Nuns Project said, “Our early days were very hard. A huge influx of nuns arrived in India from Tibet with nothing. The nuns were in bad health, 99% couldn’t read or write, and they were traumatized from being imprisoned and beaten. We supported the nuns with their immediate needs and turned our attention to the future – building two nunneries and establishing a system of education for them.” Continue reading

Another Historic Achievement: Geshemas to Receive Higher Education in Tantric Studies

For the first time in the history of Tibet, nuns will be given the opportunity to receive higher education in tantric studies. Although there have been accomplished female practitioners in Tibet’s history, women have never before been given an opportunity to formally study tantric Buddhism.

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18 of the 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns who received their Geshema degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in December 2016. The Geshema graduates now have the opportunity to study tantric Buddhism.

Traditionally, monks who have attained their Geshe degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism, must also study tantric treatises in order to become fully qualified masters capable of teaching their complete tradition. Monks have always been able to receive these teachings at one of the great tantric colleges.

After the first-ever Tibetan Geshemas graduated in December 2016, a committee of representatives from six nunneries approached His Holiness the Dalai Lama for advice on starting a tantric studies program for the nuns. He kindly gave detailed instructions about the curriculum and the treatises to be used. He recommended that the Geshema nuns study as a group at Dolma Ling Nunnery, one of the nunneries founded and supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, since it has a quiet and peaceful atmosphere, conducive to intense study.

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Joy among the 20 Geshema nuns who received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in December 2016 at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The committee then asked the Tibetan Nuns Project to provide funding for this groundbreaking program. On August 30th, the program was fully funded.

The two-year program starts in the first week of October. Two teachers are being hired and the Geshema nuns will receive training in tantric theory, rituals, and mind-training techniques used by those engaged in advanced meditation.

About Saga Dawa

The most important month in the Tibetan lunar calendar is Saga Dawa, the 4th month. This year Saga Dawa starts on May 26th 2017 and runs until June 24.

The 15th day of this lunar month, the full moon day, is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Buddhists. This year, Saga Dawa Düchen falls on June 9, 2017. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni. In other Buddhist traditions it is known as Vesak or is sometimes called Buddha Day.

Tibetan nun, Buddhist nun, Tibetan Nuns Project, nun reading scripture, Tibetan Buddhism, Saga Dawa, Dolma Ling Nunnery A young Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery reads scriptures to mark Saga Dawa. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo. Continue reading