Category Archives: Events

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

Tibetan nuns Geshema Graduation Ceremony December 2016

This blog post is our special record of the historic milestone, the Geshema graduation ceremony, and is a permanent placeholder for the video of the event.

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

Geshema graduation ceremony

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the 20 Geshema graduates at the degree ceremony in Mundgod, December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of OHHDL.

The Geshema degree is equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. It could previously only be earned by monks and is called the Geshe degree.

This historic milestone for the 20 nuns was the culmination of decades of study and dedication. The rigorous exam process for the Geshema degree takes a total of four years to complete. Each May  the nuns  took 12 days of exams to test their knowledge gained in a 17-year course of study.

nuns watching Geshema graduation ceremony

Nuns attending the first Geshema convocation at Drepung Lachi in Mundgod, Karnataka, India on December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

At the graduation ceremony, His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke about the important of education for women and girls. “Through the power of education, women have been able to rise up to prominent roles including leadership in various societies. Education has played a big role in the advancement of gender equality and material development,” His Holiness said.

Tibetan political leader Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay was also in attendance, offering congratulations for the nuns’ hard work and dedication.

As doctors of philosophy, the nuns will now be expected to teach, a role reserved only for men until this point.

Video of the Geshema Graduation Ceremony

The full graduation ceremony can be seen here:

Watch the Tibetan language version of the ceremony.

On the day following the ceremony, the Tibetan Nuns Project shared many messages of congratulation that came from around the world for the nuns.

Geshema nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

A joyous occasion. Some of the 20 nuns react to a comment by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The ceremony took place in the courtyard of Drepung Lachi Monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka, India on December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan Nuns Project

Our 30th anniversary is an opportunity to thank our supporters and to take stock of the many historic milestones made possible through their compassion for the nuns. The support of our donors will be remembered in the history of Tibet and for future Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

Here are just some of the accomplishments:

  • Creating a ground-breaking educational program for nuns;
  • Feeding, clothing, housing, and educating almost 800 Tibetans nuns thanks to our sponsors;
  • Building and establishing of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, a non-sectarian nunnery;
  • Constructing and re-establishing Shugsep Nunnery in India;
  • Establishing the annual inter-nunnery debate, the Jang Gonchoe;
  • Laying the groundwork for higher degrees for nuns; and
  • Awarding of the Geshema degree for the first time in the history of Tibet.
Losar, tsampa, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan New Year, New Year celebrations

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India throw tsampa (roasted barley flour) in the air as part of the traditional celebrations of Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

In the coming months, we will be sharing more news about ways in which you and our wonderful global family can connect, such as through house parties and through online sharing of news, photos, and videos to commemorate this milestone.

We will be holding a gathering at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India and Institute in India on October 3rd 2017. For information, please contact us at info@tnp.org

Geshemas graduates celebrated at Dolma Ling Nunnery

On February 16, 2017, the nuns and staff at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India held a special celebration in honor of the six Geshema graduates from the nunnery.

The six nuns returned to the nunnery for the ceremony, which included the offering of white katak (or khata), the ceremonial scarves that are offered as a sign of respectful greeting.

Tibetan Buddhist nun, Geshema, khatas, ceremonial scarves

A smiling Geshema nun is almost submerged under a huge pile of katak. As part of the ceremony in their honor, the six Geshema graduates sat and received hundreds of white kataks (or khatas) from the nuns, teachers, and staff of Dolma Ling. These ceremonial scarves are offered as a sign of respect and they symbolize purity and compassion.

Also a part of the event was special debate session, called a Dam-cha, in which all of the nuns of the nunnery had a chance to challenge the Geshema’s with debates on difficult philosophical points.

Geshema nuns debating, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

The six Geshema graduates from Dolma Ling are seated during the special debate session.

Geshema nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Buddhist debate

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist debate is a integral part of monastic education. The nuns of Dolma Ling take turns debating with the six Geshema graduates.

Continue reading

Congratulations messages to Geshema graduates

During May 2016, as twenty nuns were taking their fourth and final round of the Geshema exams, the Tibetan Nuns Project put out a call for people around the world to share their messages of congratulations to the Geshema nuns.

Here are some of the many messages of congratulations that have been sent via mail, email, and social media.

“Thank you for studying and learning the dharma. In doing this you become a treasure for all beings.” Rebecca

messages to Geshema nuns

“Please convey my best wishes for successful completion for all participants. I am looking forward to hearing the results of this year’s examination. All their hard work, some learning to read and write, to reach this stage is amazing to me. The dedication, hard work & constant studying is impressive. I will keep all of them in my thoughts and prayers.” dgordon243

“Congratulations to all whose generosity makes learning and living possible for Tibetan nuns! Congratulation to the 20 nuns who have taken advanced exams! Congratulations to their teachers, too! We are so proud of each one you and your hard work. Thank you for your efforts and sacrifices to continue lifelong learning! With much love and encouragement,” Joy R., Northern California, USA

Geshema, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan nuns, Buddhist women, Tibetan Nuns Project,

“Very happy for the nuns who are finally given this opportunity. I am sure the exams will be a success and a new and happy path for them and the ones who follow. I am with you, girls! Love and support from Maria (Portugal).” MariaLuís

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Two of the many messages of congratulations to the Geshema nuns that we have received from supporters worldwide.

“One of the nuns I sponsor from Geden Choeling is sitting her final exams and my prayers are with her as always. She is so special, as are all the nuns. I know she will do well and I will be bursting with pride to call her Geshema when I see her in September.” Karen D. Continue reading

The importance of debate in Tibetan Buddhist monastic education

Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning.

The following video is a great primer on Tibetan Buddhist debate by nuns. It’s taken from a longer video made by the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India and it answers many of the frequently asked questions about monastic debate, such as the meaning of the hand movements.

In addition to their daily debate practice, each year in India, hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns from nunneries in India and Nepal gather for a special, month-long inter-nunnery debate called the Jang Gonchoe. This annual inter-nunnery debate takes place each autumn and is a critical part of the nuns’ education, allowing them to really “up their game” so to speak. Continue reading

Award-winning artist, Miya Ando, helps Tibetan Buddhist nuns with online auction

Miya Ando, the renowned New York minimalist artist, has created a special series of five mandalas to be auctioned online to raise funds for the Tibetan Nuns Project, a registered charity based in Seattle and India.

All proceeds of the sale of the works, after the small fees from the auction house, will be donated by the artist to the Tibetan Nuns Project and will be used to provide food, shelter, education, and health care to over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns living at seven nunneries in northern India.

Miya Ando, bodhi leaf, meditation mandala, Tibetan Nuns Project, Paddle8 Auction

Miya Ando’s Dark Red Small Bodhi Leaf Meditation Mandala, 21×21 inches, framed, dyed bodhi skeleton leaves, monofilament, ragboard, 2015.

Online Auction of Unique Mandalas by Miya Ando
May 26-June 9 2016

Miya Ando has created a series of mandalas in the colors of Tibetan prayer flags. To create the works she’s used skeleton leaves from the Bodhi tree (Ficus religiosa) that she has bleached, dyed, and sewn.

bodhi leaf, prayer flag, Miya Ando, Tibetan Nuns Project, Paddle8

Miya Ando’s five prayer flags made from Bodhi leaves being auctioned online through Paddle8 from May 26 to June 9 2016 with proceeds going to the Tibetan Nuns Project

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The Tibetan Buddhist holy month of Saga Dawa

Saga Dawa is a very important month in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. This year, Saga Dawa, the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, started on May 7th and runs until June 5th 2016.

The 15th day of the lunar month, the full moon day, is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Buddhists. This year Saga Dawa Düchen falls on May 21 2016. In other Buddhist traditions it is known as Vesak or is sometimes as Buddha Day. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death (parinirvana) of Buddha Shakyamuni.

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.

Since 1999, the United Nations has marked this sacred Buddhist day each year with a special message from the UN Secretary General. The UN Vesak page states, “Vesak, the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world. It was on the Day of Vesak two and a half millennia ago, in the year 623 B.C., that the Buddha was born. It was also on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha attained enlightenment, and it was on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha in his eightieth year passed away.”

This year’s message from the UN Secretary General highlights the primary role that women can play in promoting peace, justice, and human rights. Continue reading

First batch of Geshema candidates sit their final round of exams

This month twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns are making history as they take their fourth and final round of examinations for the Geshema degree. Those who pass will receive their degrees in December 2016 from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony in India.

The Geshe degree (Geshema for women) is equivalent to a Doctorate in Buddhist Philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetan nun, Buddhism, Geshema, Gesha, Tibetan Nuns Project, Geden Choeling, Dharamsala, Tibetan Buddhism

A Geshema candidate on day 1 of the Geshema examinations being held this year at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India. Photo courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdron.

Once only open to men, the opportunity to get the Geshe degree was opened to women in 2012. The Geshema examinations represent a huge milestone for Tibetan Buddhist nuns and this batch of 20 nuns will be the first Tibetan women with this highest degree in the history of Tibet.

This year’s Geshema examinations are being held at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India from May 1 to 12th 2016.  Continue reading

Shugsep Nunnery celebrates 5th anniversary of inauguration

December 7, 2015 marks a very special anniversary for the Tibetan Nuns Project and the nuns of Shugsep Nunnery. It is the fifth anniversary of the inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery and institute by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is also a celebration of the bravery, determination, and dedication of the nuns of Shugsep, many of whom were imprisoned and tortured in Tibet and who escaped to India seeking freedom and education.

Shugsep Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan nuns, Buddhist nuns, Shugsep

Inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on December 7, 2010.

Shugsep Nunnery was re-established in northern India on the outskirts of Dharamsala and is now home to over 50 Tibetan nuns. Many of those nuns risked their lives fleeing their homeland to seek sanctuary in India. These nuns wish nothing more than to live, study, practice, and teach in accordance with their spiritual beliefs.

Shugsep Nunnery, Buddhist nuns, Tibetan nunnery, Dalai Lama nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project

Tibetan Nuns Project Founder and Director, Rinchen Khando Choegyal (left) with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery on December 7, 2010.

The Story of Shugsep

Shugsep Jetsun, Shugsep Nunnery, Tibet, Tibetan Buddhist nuns,

The great female master Shugsep Jetsun Rinpoche (1852–1953) was revered as one of the last century’s best known woman teachers. She was the Abbess of Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet and passed away in 1953

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute follows the Nyingma school of Buddhism and traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history, including one of the most famous teachers of her time, Shugsep Jetsun (1852-1953).

The late Tibetan scholar, Lobsang Lhalungpa, visited Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet in the early 1940s and met Shugsep Jetsun. He wrote, “She was an extraordinary woman, small in stature, with a serene face radiating compassion and sensitivity… In her presence we felt an awesome power that permeated our whole stream of being… Her teachings and blessings have given me inner strength and inspiration ever since. To me she was the personification of the great woman teachers of Tibet.”

Oppression and Escape

During the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet was completely destroyed and the nuns were ordered to leave. Although the nunnery was partially rebuilt in the 1980s by the nuns themselves, the nuns faced frequent harassment by Chinese authorities.

In the 1980s and 90s, prior to their life in exile in India, a large number of the nuns from Shugsep Nunnery participated in peaceful demonstrations in Lhasa. As a result, they were expelled from the nunnery and many were also imprisoned and tortured.

In the early 1990s, many nuns from Shugsep Nunnery fled Tibet seeking freedom, hope and a safe place to practice their religion. Their escape was perilous and difficult and they faced frostbite, starvation and arrest. They trekked through the snow-covered Himalayas for about 17 days to Nepal and then finally sought refuge in Dharamsala.

One nun describes what happened to her after she took part in a freedom demonstration in Lhasa:

“My friend threw a rock and the Chinese police arrested us both. We were imprisoned and tortured. We escaped and reached the Nepalese border, where we were arrested again. We were imprisoned this time for two years and nine months in Sikkim. We were placed in six different prisons, where we met many monks and nuns who had also tried to enter India. Finally we were sent back to the Tibetan border. Fearing for our lives, we walked for one month in the mountains. We were weak and sick. We were without food for days. By divine grace, we met some Western tourists trekking with a Nepalese porter. They gave us food and clothing and treated our frostbite. On the roadside, we found four Tibetans who had died from the cold: a boy, a monk, a lady, and a soldier. We carried their valuables to give as offerings at the temple in Dharamsala, as they would have wanted.”

After fleeing to India, the Shugsep nuns wished to remain together to maintain the unique Nyingma traditions of Shugsep. At the time, there were almost no facilities for the nuns in exile and they were forced to camp by the side of the road. The Tibetan Women’s Association stepped in to look after them and then the Tibetan Nuns Project, with wonderful support from donors, took responsibility for their longterm care and support.

Shusep Nunnery, Shugsep nuns, Buddhist nuns, Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project

A group of Shugsep nuns in India in the early 1990s following their escape from Tibet.

The Shugsep nuns, together with other escapee nuns, were temporarily housed in two buildings in Gambir Ganj on the hillside below McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala. They had no beds and few blankets. The kitchen was set up outdoors, and they shared one cold-water spigot among them. Thanks to the sponsorship of Tibetan Nuns Project donors and the Tibetan Women’s Association, conditions steadily improved.

The Rebirth of Shugsep Nunnery in India

The Tibetan Nuns Project was able to purchase for the nuns the small piece of land with two small buildings where they had been living on the outskirts of Dharamsala. Initially there were plans to enlarge their facilities there, but that proved impossible, and so a new piece of land a half hour below Dharamsala was acquired and construction of a new nunnery began in 2003. We had been fundraising for the rebuilding project for a number of years. Once construction began, a major donor stepped up and promised to support the project through to its completion, and so we were able to move ahead steadily.

In May 2008, 58 Shugsep nuns moved into the completed first phase of their new nunnery which included a housing wing, 5 classrooms, a library, lecture hall, dining hall, and kitchen. Phase 2 of the creation of Shugsep Nunnery in India included the building of two further housing wings, a prayer hall, an office, a clinic, the solar shower facility, and a guesthouse. This was completed in 2010.

The majority of the nuns studying in Shugsep Nunnery in Dharamsala come from the original Shugsep. In Tibet they had little education. For decades, the nuns at Shugsep nunnery in Tibet were primarily engaged in learning scriptures and meditation and lived the aesthetic life of hermits in caves on the hillside. Shugsep Nunnery in India offers the nuns a 9-year academic program of Buddhist philosophy, debate, Tibetan language and English. Thanks to Tibetan Nuns Project supporters, the nuns now have a safe place to practice their religion, access to education, and the opportunity preserve their unique Nyingma traditions.

Shugsep Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan nuns, Buddhist nuns,

Two Shugsep nuns in the 1990s.