Category Archives: News and Updates

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Urgently Need Textbooks

The new academic year begins shortly after February 10th and the Tibetan Buddhist nuns urgently need new math, science, and English textbooks. Can you help?

textbooks for nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns,

So far three nunneries, home to 650 nuns have sent their wish lists of textbooks. The total cost for the 1,005 textbooks comes to $5,563 or about $5 per book. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Three nunneries have already sent their lists of books they’d like to purchase from Collins India. We’re waiting to get the textbook requirements from the remaining four nunneries we support and also the list of storybooks needed for Shugsep Nunnery.

So far, the nunneries have asked for 1,005 textbooks in English for their 550 nuns. The cost of these orders is $5,563. The average cost of one textbook is between $5 and $6, so even if you can help purchase one textbook, that would be wonderful.

Tibetan Buddhist nun reading an English textbook.

Teaching and learning is a complex process. Studies show that illustrated textbooks help students learn more effectively. The nuns need textbooks for math, science, and English. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

At Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, home to about 100 nuns, the nuns would love math, science, and English grammar and composition books. The English teacher would like to improve the stock of English textbooks so the students can complete coursework up to Grade 8. The nunnery’s last big purchase of books was years ago and the books have been so well-loved that they are now falling apart. Shugsep Nunnery needs 369 textbooks. Cost: $2,019.

At Geden Choeling, the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala, the 200 nuns and their teachers are excited at the prospect of having good sets of books. Geden Choeling’s abbot is keen for the nuns to learn math, but the nunnery doesn’t have any math textbooks. They have asked for help to purchase textbooks so the teacher can use them for ideas and exercises in their classes. Geden Choeling would like 362 textbooks Cost: US $1,864. 

At Dolma Ling, home to 250 nuns, the teachers have asked for the higher grade books which were not previously available and for grammar and composition books. Dolma Ling has so far requested 274 textbooks. Cost: $1,680.

To help buy textbooks for nuns you can:

    1. Make a gift online here.
    2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901
    3. Mail a check to: The Tibetan Nuns Project (note for textbooks) 815 Seattle Boulevard South #418, Seattle, WA 98134 USA

The Power of Textbooks

A single book can transform hundreds of lives.

Textbooks provide organized units of work with each lesson carefully spelled out. Because they are illustrated, students can picture and visualize concepts.

Books for Tibetan Buddhist nuns

There’s a growing body of research showing that high-quality textbooks are important for students’ comprehension and success. Please help provide math, science, and English textbooks for the nuns. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

A textbook gives all the plans and lessons needed to cover a topic in some detail. They save time and energy when searching for information and provide a reliable point of reference. The textbooks will be ordered from Collins India.

Although we now have a science-learning program in the nunneries for one month per year, if the teachers had each level of science and general knowledge textbooks in their classrooms it enliven their classes and help to explain science topics.

Textbooks needed for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India

Traditionally Tibetan Buddhist nuns have not had equal access to education. The textbooks will help educate and empower the nuns to become teachers and leaders.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is also raising funds for teachers’ salaries for the 2024 academic year.

Creative Ways to Help Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

In this blog, we want to showcase some of the creative ways our supporters are helping Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

Since we are a small charity, it is hard for us to manage volunteers and events. So we appreciate our supporters doing things that they love, independent of our help, and then donating a portion of the proceeds to help the nuns.

Wool-Aid: Knitting for Nuns

Wool-Aid, knitted sweaters for Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Our deepest thanks to Terry Yokota and all the volunteer knitters with Wool-Aid for their latest shipment of sweaters, hats, and mittens for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

Since 2016, a group of volunteer knitters called Wool-Aid have knit hats, sweaters, and mittens for nuns at nunneries in northern India. The knitters thoughtfully choose colors in keeping with the nuns’ robes and also cover any shipping and receiving costs.

In December, the nuns at Dolma Ling received three boxes of knitwear from Wool-Aid. At this time, the Wool-Aid volunteers are fulfilling the needs of the various nunneries we support and there is no need for other knitters to send things.

Wool-Aid sweaters, hats and mittens, knitwear for Tibetan Buddhist nuns, ways to help

The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute are delighted with their new sweaters, hats, and mittens from Wool-Aid.

The Etsy Shop Daughters of Buddha

Our long-time supporter, Olivier Adam, created an Etsy site called “Daughters of Buddha” in 2014 dedicated to supporting the Tibetan Nuns Project. Olivier sells fine art prints and postcards featuring his stunning photographs and kindly donates 50% of the sales to help the nuns.

Daughters of Buddha Etsy site banner

Banner image for Olivier Adam’s Etsy site where he sells fine art prints and cards with 50% of the proceeds donated to the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Since 2008 Olivier has travelled at his own expense to document the lives of nuns in India and Nepal. He shares his images with the Tibetan Nuns Project and we also sell greeting cards with his photos here. There are three packs to choose from and they are a great value. Each pack costs US $20 and contains 10 blank cards and envelopes with beautiful photos donated by Olivier Adam and Brian Harris.

ways to help, blank greeting cards, Tibetan greeting cards, cards by Olivier Adam

Greeting cards with photos by Olivier Adam are available through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store.

Brian Harris’s Creative Legacy Campaign

You may be familiar with Brian Harris’s iconic photo of laughing nuns. Brian and his wife Paula have left gifts in their wills to the Tibetan Nuns Project and they wanted to encourage others to do the same. Brian has donated 8×10 prints of his “Laughing Nuns” to be given to anyone who confirms that they are leaving a legacy to the Tibetan Nuns Project. You can read the story behind the famous Laughing Nuns photo here.

laughing nuns by Brian Harris, legacy gift, free gift

Do What You Love and Benefit the Nuns

Once or twice a year for the past 12 years, the Tibetan Nuns Project has received a check from the Oxford University Press for royalties from the sale of a Buddhist book after the authors kindly donated their royalties to help the nuns.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns holding a thank-you sign

We are so grateful to everyone who pays it forward to help the nuns!

If you have something that you love doing, like baking bread, growing flowers, or making art, why not consider donating a portion of the proceeds to help educate and empower Tibetan Buddhist nuns?

More Nuns Earn Highest Degree

2023 Geshema Graduation and Annual Debate Event

On November 27th, seven Tibetan Buddhist nuns graduated with their Geshema degrees at a special convocation ceremony in the holy city of Bodh Gaya, India.

Geshema graduation 2023, Geshema

The seven Tibetan Buddhist nuns who earned their Geshema degrees in 2023 at the graduation ceremony in Bodh Gaya. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The degree is the female equivalent of the Geshe degree for monks and is the highest academic degree available in the Gelug tradition, roughly equivalent to a PhD.

This was the sixth cohort of Geshemas since the degree was opened to women in 2012. The first 20 nuns graduated in 2016.

At the ceremony, Nangsa Choedon, the director of the Tibetan Nuns Project in India, spoke about the work to ensure a strong future for Tibetan nuns.

Geshema graduation 2023, Nangsa Choedon

Nanga Choedon of the Tibetan Nuns Project presents the Geshema graduates with robes and the yellow hats that signifies the holding of this highest degree. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Other special guests who attended the graduation included Kunga Gyaltsen, the additional secretary of Religion and Cultural Affairs for the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) who offered congratulations to the new Geshemas on behalf of the CTA. He encouraged the nuns to educate their local communities on core Buddhist teachings and also urged them to encourage participation in projects aimed at bringing insights from modern science to monastics.

2023 Geshema graduation

Tibetan Buddhist nuns line up to offer congratulations and ceremonial white katak scarves to the Geshema graduates. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The Geshema degree enables these dedicated women to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Geshemas, 2023 inter-nunnery debate

At the 2023 Jang Gonchoe inter-nunnery debate event, there were five Geshemas from previous years who acted as teachers during the month of intensive training in monastic debate. Two were from Jangchup Choeling, one from Kopan Nunnery, one from Jangyang Choeling, and one from Dolma Ling.

The Geshema exams took place in the summer and a record 132 nuns took various levels of the four-year exams. This is 38 more than the 94 nuns who took exams in 2022. Here’s a video  made by the nuns about the 2023 exams.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Geshema exams in 2023

In 2022, 94 nuns sat Geshema exams. This year, a record 132 nuns are taking various levels of the four-year exams. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Momentum is building and an increasing number of nuns wish to attain this highest academic standing. Many young and new nuns who join the nunneries we support in northern India are saying in their introductory interviews that they want to pursue the rigorous 17-year training that precedes the Geshema exam process.

They look to examples of Geshemas as teachers and leaders and they are inspired to follow in their footsteps. As of the end of 2023, there are 60 Geshemas in this tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

2023 Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate

The graduation was the culmination of the nuns’ annual inter-nunnery debate event called the Jang Gonchoe which took place from October 25th to November 28th.

inter-nunnery debate,2023 Jang Gonchoe

In 2023, over 500 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from India and Nepal took part in the month-long inter-nunnery debate event called the jang Gonchoe.

This year around 520 nuns from 10 nunneries from India and Nepal gathered at the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya to take part in the month-long intensive training in monastic debate.

Nuns practicing debate daily at Dolma Ling Nunnery.

Nuns practicing debate daily at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Throughout the year nuns practice debate daily at their nunneries. But, the Jang Gonchoe debate event provides the training and practice that is essential for nuns who wish to pursue higher degrees.

Long-Term Stability

Both the Geshema exams and the inter-nunnery debate are funded by endowments through the Tibetan Nuns Project and are self-sustaining. We are grateful to all those who supported these two funds.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Some of 510 nuns who took part in the 2023 inter-nunnery debate. Their food and travel costs were covered by the Debate Fund. Now we want to more more of our core programs on a sustainable footing with TNP’s Long-Term Stability Fund.

Now our wish is to put more of the Tibetan Nuns Project’s core programs on a sustainable footing. To that end, we launched the Long-Term Stability Fund. You can learn more about this vision and donate here

2023 Geshema Exams

The 2023 Geshema examinations began in Dharamsala, India on July 21st with 132 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from seven different educational institutes in India and Nepal taking part.

This year a record number of Tibetan Buddhist nuns are taking the rigorous written and oral examinations – 38 more nuns than last year’s record 94.

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. It is the same as the Geshe degree for monks but the ending “ma” marks it as referring to a woman.

Geshema, nun Tibetan Buddhism, 2023 Geshema exams

A nun taking her Geshema exams in 2023. TNP’s Founding Director and Special Advisor Rinchen Khando Choegyal has said, “Educating women is powerful… It’s about enabling the nuns to be teachers in their own right and to take on leadership roles at a critical time in our nation’s history.” Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Until recently, this degree was only open to men; it was only formally opened to women in 2012.

The Geshema degree enables Tibetan Buddhist nuns to become teachers, leaders, and role models. It makes these dedicated women eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

The exams take four years to complete, with one set held each year over two weeks. Candidates are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts. They must achieve a score of at least 75 per cent during their studies to be eligible to sit the exams.

Here’s a video by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns of this year’s exams. Can’t see the video? Click here.

The exams began on Chokhor Düchen, one of the holiest days in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar which celebrates the first teaching by Shakyamuni Buddha. On this auspicious day, over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths in Sarnath shortly after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. This event is known as the “turning of the wheel of dharma”.

The exams are being hosted this year by Jamyang Choling Institute in Dharamsala. The costs are covered by the Tibetan Nuns Project’s Geshema Endowment Fund. Twenty-one dedicated volunteer nuns are helping with food, shelter, and other tasks relating to holding the exams.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Geshema exams in 2023

In 2022, 94 nuns sat Geshema exams. This year, a record 132 nuns are taking various levels of the four-year exams. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The candidates in 2023 come from these 7 Tibetan Buddhist nuns’ educational institutes:

1. Geden Choeling Nunnery (Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India)
2. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute (near Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India)
3. Jangchub Choeling Nunnery (Mundgod, Karnataka, India)
4. Kopan Nunnery or Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery (Nepal)
5. Keydong Thukche Choeling (Kathmandu, Nepal)
6. Jangsemling Nunnery (Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, India)
7. Jamyang Choling Institute (Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India)

Here is a second video made by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The main organizers are the Board of Geshema Degree Examination Committee which is made up of three dedicated executive officers and two helpers. The Geshema exams are under the auspices of the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration and the Tibetan Nuns Project in Dharamsala.

monastic debate, 2023 Geshema exams, Geshema degree, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Nuns debating as part of their Geshema exams. Four senior Geshe Lharampa from the great Tibetan Buddhist learning centers in South India are the examiners for the nuns’ oral debate examinations. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The Geshema exams are rigorous and take four years to complete, with one set of exams each year. Here is the breakdown of this year’s 132 examination participants:
1st-year exams: 51
2nd year: 55
3rd year: 17
4th and final year: 9

Geshema exams, Geshema degree, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan nuns

At the start of 2023, 53 women now hold this highest degree. This year, 9 nuns are taking their final year of exams and, if successful, will graduate in November. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The Number of Geshema Graduates

In 2022, ten nuns graduated with their Geshema degrees bringing the total number of Geshemas in the world to 53.

Geshema graduation ceremony

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

Here’s a list of the Geshema graduations so far since the formal approval in 2012:

We are extremely grateful to the 159 donors to the Geshema Endowment, including the Pema Chodron Foundation, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Frederick Family Foundation, and the Donaldson Charitable Trust. We are also very grateful to all those who sponsor nuns and help them on their path. More sponsors are always needed. You can learn more about sponsoring a nun here.

Tibetan Nuns Celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 88th Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, birthday cake for Dalai Lama,

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

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

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

Happy birthday messages from Tibetan nuns to the Dalai Lama

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

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

Tibetan Nuns Celebrate the Dalai Lama's 88th Birthday

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

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

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

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

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

Dalai Lama birthday, Dolma Ling Nunnery

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

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

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

annual flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery

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

flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery 2023

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

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

Geshemas Have Audience With His Holiness the Dalai Lama

On May 17, 2023 Geshemas had a special audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Geshemas from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, Geden Choeling Nunnery, and Jangchub Choeling Nunnery met His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala.

Here is the video courtesy of Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Can’t see the video? Click here.

His Holiness spoke in Tibetan. Here’s a translation from courtesy of Dechen Tsering, a Tibetan Nuns Project board member.

“Now you all must keep studying the Buddhist script well. In order to achieve Gelongma (female Gelong) one must usually have the linage of Gelongma. Nevertheless, Buddha has granted access to his teachings to all – it is not limited to just male monks – so take the opportunity to study the scriptures well and achieve Geshema. Study the scriptures hard and benefit the world [with your knowledge and insight]. There are many people in parts of the world who previously had no idea of Buddhism who are now showing a lot of interest in the Buddha’s teachings. Therefore, by becoming Geshemas, it would be most beneficial if you now become teachers. So, do your best! Stay with peace of mind.”

“Remember that we Tibetans originally descend from the linage of the Avalokiteshvara so visualize that on the top of your head sits the Avalokiteshvara and move through the world to be kind-hearted and think only of benefiting others – never hurting others. If you do that then the blessings of Avalokiteshvara will follow you for lifetime after lifetime. I’m like the messenger of Avalokiteshvara. So, we from the people of the land of snow mountains (Tibet) are dedicated followers of Avalokiteshvara and have a special relationship with Avalokiteshvara. So, develop the Buddha’s compassion heart and do your best to benefit others and make some contribution for the benefit of others. These days there are many people showing interest in Buddhism – so if you do your best to help them. It will be very beneficial. So do your best!”

Also attending the event were Nangsa Chodon, Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project in India and Tsering Diki, Assistant Director.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is deeply grateful to our supporters for helping to educate and empower nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as teachers and leaders.

About the Geshema Degree

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism.

The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. The Geshema degree is the same as a Geshe degree but is called a Geshema degree because it is awarded to women.

Fifty-three nuns hold the Geshema degree as of November 2022. The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Geshema, geshema graduates

The 10 Geshema graduates from 2022. As of the start of 2023, there are 53 nuns who hold the Geshema degree.

Some Facts About the Geshema Degree

  1. The Geshema degree is comparable to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
    It is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
  2. The Geshema degree is the same as the Geshe degree for monks. The ending “ma” marks it as referring to a woman.
  3. Until recently, this highest degree could only be earned by monks.
  4. The historic decision to confer the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was announced in 2012 by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan Administration, following a meeting of representatives from six major nunneries, Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and the Tibetan Nuns Project.
  5. Candidates for the Geshema degree are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts.
  6. To qualify to begin the Geshema process, nuns must score 75% or above in their studies to be eligible to sit for the Geshema exams.
  7. On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.
  8. In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first woman to receive the Geshe degree. This was before the Geshema degree process was approved in 2012.

Making History: The Senior Nuns at Shugsep Nunnery

From Illiteracy to Academic Greatness

The story of the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute is one of perseverance, dedication, and hope.

Forty-nine Shugsep nuns have now attained the Lopon degree, equivalent to a Master’s degree. This is one of the highest degrees the nuns can achieve in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Nyingma (Tibetan རྙིང་མ་) or “school of the ancients” traces its origins to Guru Padmasambhava who came to Tibet in 817 CE.

Until very recently, Tibetan Buddhist nuns had little opportunity to receive training in Buddhist practice and knowledge. Nuns were considered to be second rank. It is a historic achievement for nuns to reach this high academic level and to become teachers, leaders, and role models. Their success is even more remarkable given the many obstacles on their path.

Refugee Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan refugees, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dharamsala

“In a way 30 years is a long time, but when it’s creating history it is not very long,” said Rinchen Khando Choegyal, TNP’s Founding Director and Special Advisor. This photo was taken in 1991 by Susan Lirakis. The nuns arrived from Tibet with nothing, 99% not knowing how to read and write, traumatized in the prisons, beaten by the prison guards, and with all kinds of health problems.

Educating women and girls is a powerful way to change the world. It is only through education that women will rise and attain equal footing. For Tibetans, struggling to preserve their culture and religion in exile, it is even more critical.

These senior nuns are now qualified to teach. Nine of the Lopons have taken on regular teaching responsibilities at Shugsep. They also teach yearly at Tashi Choling Nunnery in Arunachal Pradesh on a rotation basis.

The Lopons teach philosophy to the nuns at Shugsep, as well as teaching the youngest nuns reading, writing, basic Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, rituals, and the basics of debate. This gives them the groundwork they need before they merge into the mainstream Nyingma education which takes nine years to complete and receive the degree.

Historic Graduation Ceremony

Shugsep Nunnery graduation ceremony 2022

On October 28 2022, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute held a historic graduation ceremony in which Pharchin, Uma and Lopon nuns were given their graduation certificates.

At a historic graduation ceremony on October 28, 2022, twelve senior nuns were present to receive their Lopon degrees from Khenchen Pema Sherab. These senior nuns had completed their Lopon degrees from 2010 to 2022, but this was their chance to finally receive their official degree certificates.

Many dignitaries attended the graduation event including Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the Tibetan Nuns Project’s Founding Director and Special Advisor, representatives from the Religious Department and Health Department of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Head of Mentseekhang, and representatives from various monasteries and nunneries.

Helping Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

Shugsep Nunnery is now home to about 100 nuns. Shugsep was re-established in India and officially inaugurated in December 2010. It is one of two nunneries built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

This year, we’re working on two major projects to help the Shugsep nuns. The first is to create a circumambulatory or kora path and the second is to build a retreat center for the senior nuns.

Shugsep Nunnery, Nyingma nunnery, kora path, circumambulation

In April a generous donor gave $5,000 as a matching gift to help finish the circumambulatory path which the nuns want to complete before the summer monsoon. So if you donate now your gift will be doubled.

A path inside the nunnery grounds will provide all the nuns with safe, regular exercise and allow them to practice kora, the act of walking around a sacred place which is a form of pilgrimage and meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

The retreat center is a bigger project. To become fully qualified teachers, the senior nuns at Shugsep need a place where they can go on retreat and consolidate their learning. Because there are no retreat facilities at the nunnery, many nuns have been forced to go to Nepal or to the caves at Tso Pema to do retreats. They would like to be able to practice retreat together within Shugsep Nunnery where they will have access to the effective guidance of a proper teacher as well as good basic amenities.

The good news is that the retreat center is now 85% funded. We need $42,000 to make this big dream a reality. You can learn more about the Shugsep Retreat Center project here.

The Shugsep nuns have made huge strides, but there is still more to be done to empower them and preserve their rich wisdom tradition. Thank you for caring about them!

Shugsep Nunnery history, Shugsep nuns, Shugsep nuns

When many nuns from Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet escaped to India they lived in an old, mouldy rented house and had classes outside on the roof. Now they are making history, graduating with high academic degrees and becoming teachers. Thank you for supporting these brave, dedicated women!

Debate Courtyard Expansion Completed!

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

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

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

The Impact of the Improved Debate Courtyard

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

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

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

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

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

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

Debate Courtyard Expansion project at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

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

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

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

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

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

debate courtyard at Dolma Ling Nunnery

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

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

The Important of Tibetan Buddhist Debate

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns holding thank you signs

Remembering Venerable Thupten Lobsang

Venerable Thubten Lobsang, a senior nun at Geden Choeling Nunnery, has died at the age of 105.

Geden Choeling Nunnery was founded in December 1973 and is is one of the oldest nunneries in exile Tibetan community. It is in Mcleod Ganj, Upper Dharamsala and from its earliest days absorbed a steady stream of nuns escaping from Tibet.

The nunnery, which pre-dates the Tibetan Nuns Project by about 15 years, was started by several nuns who fled the Nechung Ri Nunnery in Tibet after it was destroyed during the Cultural Revolution.

Venerable Thubten Lobsang senior nun at Geden Choeling Nunnery in 2013

Venerable Thubten Lobsang passed away peacefully on February 23rd, 2023 at the age of 105. Here she is in 2013 photographed at Geden Choeling Nunnery by Brian Harris

With no nunnery in existence these women worked with Tibetan children until a number of refugee nuns gathered together with the purpose of building a nunnery. As there were nuns from different nunneries in Tibet, they decided to call the new nunnery “Geden Choeling” which means “Home of the virtuous ones who devote their lives to the Buddha Dharma”.

The nuns based themselves initially in rented accommodation in Rashtra-Bawan. Later, eight wooden rooms and a small congregation hall were constructed for around 50 nuns. The construction work at Geden Choeling was undertaken by the nuns themselves carrying the stones, soil, and other building materials on their backs.

Borrowing pots and pans and 600 rupees from a monk, they were able to rent an old house in the forest above McLeod Ganj and performed the opening ceremony in December of 1973. From such humble beginnings, these determined women raised and borrowed enough money to begin to build housing and a temple. At the very beginning they built with their own hands. Today the nunnery is home to about 200 nuns.

About Venerable Thupten Lobsang

Geden Choeling was founded by a group of nuns in 1973 who came from Tibet. Venerable Thupten Lobsang (also known as Thupten Tsomo) was one of those nuns while the others have passed away. They were all very well loved and cared for by the younger nuns.

Venerable Thubten Lobsang was born in 1918 in Nyemo Ta, Tibet and escaped to India after the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1959. Here is her story.

I was born in Nyemo Ta to a landlord family, named Gyora Chang, and had three brothers and two sisters. One brother was older than me. None of them became monks or nuns and none of them went to school in Tibet.

As a child I worked in the fields and spun wool. When I was 21 years old, my uncle attempted to arrange a marriage for me. He was in the military and had found an officer’s son as my groom. But I heard about it and didn’t want him, so I ran away to a place called Metrogongar.

Geden Choeling Nunnery, Tibetan Buddhist nunnery, Venerable Thupten Lobsang

Photo from around 1985 of the senior nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery. Venerable Thubten Lobsang is on the right next to Rinchen Khando Choegyal, founder of the Tibetan Nuns Project. Taken from Meridian Trust documentary “Two Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries”.

I met a man named Wangda and married him for love. At first, my parents didn’t know what l had done. They looked for me everywhere to bring me back and get me married to the officer’s son. They went as far as Kalimpong, India. I was staying with some relatives and they scolded me about all the problems I was causing my family. But since the man I had chosen for myself was also from a noble family, my relatives told me it was OK and that they would talk to my parents for me. After this my parents accepted my husband and even gave me my share of the inheritance.

Senior Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery Oct 2019

Celebrating the senior nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery in October 2019. Thubten Lobsang (second person from the right) became a nun at age 48..

When I was 25 years old, I gave birth to twin boys but they both died. Then the Chinese came. My husband went with the resistance movement, Chushi Gangdruk and I was left alone. One day, a man came and gave me a message from my husband. He said, “Do whatever you want or need to do. I will fight until my live is sacrificed.” I tried to find information about him but couldn’t hear anything definite although I did hear he was in pnson.

I was very unhappy then. I thought it might be better to go to India because I heard that many lamas and other people had been put in prison. My family and I thought that all of their things and their land would would be taken by the Chinese soon. I went to a lama and had a divination done, asking if it would be good for me to go. He told me not to think about my possessions, but only about my mind. He told me it would be very successful if I went to India. I gave all of my things to my friends and family. I also went to a female oracle, Upchee Lhamo, who said I should go. The oracle gave me blessed barley seeds to wear in an amulet around my neck and to scatter wherever I went.

Before I decided to leave things were very bad. Many lamas were caught by the Chinese. Getting a visa was very difficult, however there was a Nepalese man in Lhasa, the representative of the Nepal embassy. I had travelled twice to Mt. Kailash with him and his wife. He arranged for me to get a Sherpa visa. He was a noble-minded man and helped many people.

Nuns practicing monastic debate at Geden Choeling Nunnery in May 2022. Pho

Nuns practicing monastic debate at Geden Choeling Nunnery in May 2022. The nunnery founded in 1973 and whose name means “Home of the virtuous ones who devote their lives to the Buddha Dharma” is now home to about 200 nuns. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Greater difficulties arose because one needed to get both a Nepalese and a Tibetan stamp for the visa. This, along with getting a bus ticket, took two and a half years. I got a bit anxious again and went up to the hill of Chokpori, where the hospital was, to light incense. But the Chinese had set a trap there. Under the burning box they had put some kind of wires that told them if something was being done there. Three men came and pulled me down the hill, shoving bayonets into my back. (My back is still painful to this day.) Then I thought it would be better to die. My brother had been put in prison and my father had been beaten to death. I felt totally alone and thought constantly of my relatives, worrying and feeling sick.

I stayed for a while in a rented house in Lhasa. The owner was very helpful and I got a bit better. She advised me to sell my jewelry and get out of Tibet using that money. I did this and my Sherpa friend finally got me the tickets.

I came through Kalimpong where I met Lama Gonesey. He took me to Varanasi but I couldn’t stay there long because it was so hot. So with his help I went to another place called Sukay, up in the hills. Then I went to Varanasi again and then to Dharamsala. In Dharamsala, I gave birth to a son who became a monk in Namgyal Monastery. I went to do road work, earning half a rupee per day. I did this work for many years.

Tibetan refugee road workers in the 1960s.

Before she became a nun, Thubten Lobsang was a road worker for many years. It’s estimated that 20,000 Tibetans refugees worked in these road construction sites in the 1960s. They broke stones by hand and it was an extremely hard life. Photo from the Tibet Museum exhibition “Journey in Exile- 1960s”

I became a nun when I was 48 years old, the year before the unlucky year for women (age 49). I had been very sick and went to Lama Tenzin Gyaltsen in Kinnaur to ask for his prayers. Without doing a divination he told me that if l become a nun it would save my life. I asked him how I could do this since I had no resources to support myself and no education. I felt I knew nothing about the Dharma. He said, “Being wealthy does not bring you enlightenment, the same is true of education. The most important thing is to help other people and to never cause harm. If you become a nun and do these things it will remove all your obstacles.”

I took vows and ritually offered my hair to Ling Rinpoche and went to live at Geden Choeling Nunnery. I did a lot of nunnery work until I was 62 years old and then I was allowed to retire from kitchen duty and so on. Then I spent my days completing the practices for the vows and initiations I have taken. I completed the preliminary practices and I recite the refuge mantra each morning and then the 36 names of the Buddha. Then I do prostrations and mandala offerings, as well as a recitation of the Yamantaka text (5 pages) and others. I visualize Tsongkhapa and Tara and then recites more mantras and mani. It takes a long time.
[Story told in July 1993. Interview done by JoAnn Vrilakis, Yankyi Tsering translating.]

Venerable Thubten Lobsang could manage by herself until she was 71.  After that she couldn’t attend any of the nunnery activities as she could not walk because of severe leg problems. From that point on, two younger nuns took turns to care for her including changing her clothes and bedding, massaging her with herbal oil and cream, and changing her body position frequently to avoid getting bed sores.

Venerable Thubten Lobsang holding mala by Brian Harris 2013

Venerable Thubten Lobsang holding saying mantras with her mala in 2013. Photo by Brian Harris

During the COVID lockdown (2020-22) she started losing her memory and couldn’t eat solid food and fruits. Finally, she passed away peacefully on February 23rd, 2023, the second day of Losar or Tibetan New Year. She lived to a grand age of 105 years. She was much loved and cared by all the nuns who treated her like a mother.

We pray for her peaceful soul!

Five More Illustrated Stories by the Nuns

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

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

English class at Dolma Ling Nunnery

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

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

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

Five Illustrated Stories by the Nuns

Click here to view.

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

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In A Group of Clouds

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

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

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

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

Thank you for helping the nuns on their path!

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

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