Category Archives: News and Updates

Keeping the nunneries strong and healthy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Carpentry Work

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

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

before and after leak repair Dolma Ling 2019

Roofing, Repair, and Maintenance Work

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

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

Blacksmith Work

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

bathroom repairs Dolma Ling maintenance 2019

Protecting the Retreat Huts from Monsoon Rains

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

work to prevent dampness in Dolma Ling guesthouse copy

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

Masonry Work

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

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

Work to be Done in 2020

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

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

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

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

Another great debate!

Thank you for making the annual inter-nunnery debate a big success.

The 25th annual inter-nunnery debate, called the Jang Gonchoe, took place from October 25-November 30th 2019.

At the month-long event, 422 nuns received intensive training in Tibetan Buddhist debate.

Jang Gonchoe Inter Nunnery debate 2019 in Bodh Gaya

Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating in pairs at the Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate held at the Kagyu Monlam Pavilion in Bodh Gaya, India. Over 400 nuns took part in the 25th annual event.

The historic event was held at the huge Kagyu Monlam Pavilion in Bodh Gaya, India. The nuns also debated outdoors in front of the Mahabodhi Temple, the “Great Awakening Temple” marking the location where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Tibetan Buddhist debate is a unique method of learning that, until very recently, was not open to women. This form of learning has helped to produce many renowned Tibetan scholars over the centuries. With the steady religious and cultural persecution inside Tibet, these important Tibetan Buddhist practices can only survive in exile.

Here’s a video about the 2019 Jang Gonchoe:

The nuns came from the following nine nunneries in India and Nepal:
1.     Geden Choeling Nunnery, Dharamsala: 60 nuns attended
2.     Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, Sidhpur: 70 nuns attended
3.     Jamyang Choeling Nunnery, Dharamsala: 48 nuns attended
4.     Jangchub Choeling Nunnery, Mundgod: 74 nuns attended
5.     Jangsemling Nunnery, Kinnaur: 23 nuns attended
6.     Jampa Choeling Nunnery, Kinnaur: 16 nuns attended
7.     Yangchen Choeling Nunnery, Spiti: 16 nuns attended
8.     Khachoe Gakhiling Nunnery, Kopan, Nepal: 60 nuns attended
9.     Thugke Choeling Nunnery, Nepal: 55 nuns attended

The vast Kagyu Monlam Pavilion provided an excellent space for the nuns to debate all under one roof. The Kagyu Monlam Committee kindly provided the complex free of cost for the nuns’ Jang Gonchoe, only requesting a small thank-you donation for water and electricity consumption. We are extremely grateful for their support.

At the conclusion of the event, the 7 nuns who passed their fourth and final year of Geshema exams in August took part in a formal damcha debate with the assembled nuns.

Following the damcha, there was a Geshema graduation ceremony to conclude the Jang Gonchoe. The graduation of 7 more Geshemas brings the total number of Geshemas to 44.

Geshemas debate at 2019 Jang Gochoe for Tibetan Buddhist nuns

The 7 nuns who earned their Geshema degree, the highest degree in their tradition, debate with other nuns in a formal session called a damcha at the conclusion of the 2019 Jang Gochoe. With their graduation in November, this brings the total number of women with this highest degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism, to 44.

We are extremely grateful to everyone who helped support this amazing educational opportunity by donating to our 2019 Jang Gonchoe fund and to the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund.

The practice of debate combines logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy and is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition. To grasp the importance of Buddhist debate, one might compare it to the significance of essay writing in secondary and post-secondary education. Both methods of learning develop skills in critical thinking, demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the topic, involve structuring and organizing an argument, referencing texts, and gaining different points of view.

25th nuns Jang Gonchoe 2019 Bodh Gaya

During the 2019 Jang Gonchoe, the nuns also debated outdoors in front of the Mahabodhi Temple. The “Great Awakening Temple” marks the location where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Until the 1990s, Tibetan Buddhist nuns were excluded from this form and level of education. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked hard to open up this opportunity for the nuns and make debate a core part of their education.

Establishing a comparable debate session for nuns has been an integral part of the nuns reaching the level of excellence in their studies that they have.

It is only by attending the Jang Gonchoe and getting intensive debating practice that the nuns can advance their knowledge and gain the necessary confidence and experience to pursue higher degrees such as the Geshema degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism.

Let’s Make the Inter-Nunnery Debate Sustainable

The Jang Gonchoe for nuns was started in 1995. Since 1997, the Tibetan Nuns Project has been fully supporting it.

The obstacle to wider attendance at the Jang Gonchoe has always been funding. Sadly, more nuns wish to attend than there is funding available to support them.

We would like to make the nuns’ Jang Gonchoe sustainable. To that end, we have created a Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund so that revenue from the endowment can cover the annual costs.

Our goal is to have $600,000 in the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund.

So far we have raised $242,000 which is 40% of the goal. We hope that we can raise the remaining $365,000 soon.

The individual costs for each nun are very low. For instance, the food allowance for each nun is 100 rupees a day, equivalent to US$1.46. However, with hundreds of nuns attending for one month, these small costs add up. It now costs about $30,000 a year to fund the event each year.

Geshema graduates 2019

Congratulations to the 7 new Geshema graduates. At the end of the Jang Gonchoe, they took part in a formal debate and graduation ceremony. The graduation of 7 more Geshemas brings the total number of Geshemas to 44.

By donating to the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund, you would be opening up a centuries-old tradition to the nuns and enabling and 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.

By helping nuns attend the annual Jang Gonchoe, you will also be helping to preserve the Tibetan religion, culture, and language — all of which are under severe threat inside Tibet.

This is a unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to foster the dharma for future generations, and to ensure that this unique tradition continues and grows. Donations to the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund can be made here. Thank you for helping the nuns!

Special Convocation Ceremony at Sakya College for Nuns

A very special event was held at the Sakya College for Nuns in November 2019. The event was attended by Geshemas and nuns from throughout India and the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

At a convocation ceremony, seven Sakya nuns received the Kachupa degree, the culmination of eight years of study. The Kachupa degrees were conferred by His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche.

Seven Sakya nuns received their Kachupa Degree

Seven Sakya nuns received their Kachupa Degrees from His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche at a special convocation ceremony in November 2019.

In addition to the convocation event, the nuns held the opening ceremony of the first-ever Three-Day Nuns Seminar on the First Chapter of Pramanavartikka by Acharya Dharma Kirti. The seminar ran from November 13th to 15th, 2019. Thirty nuns from eight different nunneries and an additional 50 nuns from the Sakya College itself participated in the three-day seminar.

Sakya College for Nuns event Nov 2019

Eighty nuns took part in the first-ever Three Day Nuns Seminar on the First Chapter of Pramanavartikka by Acharya Dharma Kirti held at the Sakya College for Nuns.

Three leaders of the Tibetan Nuns Project were invited to the convocation: Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor; Nangsa Chodon, the Director of Tibetan Nuns Project in India; and Dr. Elizabeth Napper, U.S. Founder and Board Chair.

Rinchen Khando Choegyal speaking at Sakya College for Nuns

Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nuns Project, speaking at the special Sakya College for Nuns event in November 2019.

The event included a grand reception for His Holiness the 42nd Sakya Trizin, Ratna Vajra Rinpoche. The Sakya Trinzin (meaning “Throne-Holder”) is the traditional title of the head of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism.

There were prayers and a mandala offering (mandal tensum) to His Holiness by H.E. Dungse Asanga Rinpoche and Khenchen Sonam Gyatso, the Director of the Sakya College for Nuns.

special convocation Sakya College for Nuns 2019

Participants with various observer invitees at the special convocation and seminar at Sakya College for Nuns in November 2019.

Speeches included an address by Choepa Dechen Wangmo Acharya, the Principal of the Sakya College for Nuns; a lecture on the “Evolution of Epistemology” by the Venerable Khentrul Khorchag Rinpoche; and speeches by Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Nangsa Choedon, and Dr. Kurt J. Schwalbe.

Nangsa Choedon Director of Tibetan Nuns Project in India

Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project in India, speaking at the Sakya College for Nuns.

Following the presentation of the Kachupa Degrees to the graduating students by His Holiness the 42nd Sakya Trizin Ratna Vajra Rinpoche, there was a speech by His Holiness and concluding prayers.

congratulating graduate Sakya College for Nuns Nov 2019

Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project in India, congratulates one of the seven graduates who earned her Kachupa Degree at the Sakya College for Nuns.

Sakya College for Nuns in the Media

On December 3, 2019, VOA Tibetan did this 15-minute video interview and story in Tibetan about the convocation at the Sakya College for Nuns. Can’t see the video? Click here.

About the Sakya College for Nuns

The Sakya College for Nuns was established to train nuns in higher Buddhist philosophical studies. It is the only Sakya nunnery outside Tibet.

Surrounded by forests, the Sakya College for Nuns is located in Manduwala, about 12 miles from Dehradun and a few kilometers from the Palace of His Holiness the Sakya Trizin.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns studying at the Sakya College for Nuns

Tibetan Buddhist nuns studying at the Sakya College for Nuns

In 1993, a first small group of nuns arrived from Tibet and were housed near the monastery. This group quickly grew and the need for a permanent nunnery become a pressing issue.

Khen Rinpoche Gyatso believed it was essential to provide equal educational opportunity to nuns as well as monks. His Holiness the Sakya Trizin completely supported this idea and wished for a nunnery to be built for the Sakyapa nuns.

The Sakya nunnery was officially established in 1998 with His Holiness’ blessings and the Sakya College for Nuns was inaugurated on September 26, 2009. It has ushered in a new era for Sakya nuns. It is now home to 59 nuns who are supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project sponsorship program.

Tibetan Buddhist Nun at Sakya College for Nuns holding card from her sponsor

Tibetan Buddhist Nun at Sakya College for Nuns holding card from her sponsor. The Sakya College for Nuns is one of seven Tibetan nunneries in India supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project sponsorship program. People can sponsor a nun for $1 a day and help provide all the nuns with food, education, shelter, clothing, and medical care.

Some nuns come from Nepal, Bhutan, and the neighboring Himalayan regions. Most nuns, however, come from Tibet and have left behind their families and friends. To escape into exile, many Tibetan nuns faced a dangerous journey through difficult mountain passes on foot. Now the Sakya College for Nuns is their home and it is almost impossible for them to return, or even visit Tibet.

Now, for the first time, the Sakya nuns can engage in higher Buddhist studies at a dedicated facility and earn the highest degrees in the Sakya tradition. It provides a welcoming and nurturing environment where nuns can study and practice the core of Buddhist teachings.

Education at Sakya College for Nuns

The curriculum at the Sakya College for Nuns is based on the 18 classical texts which are traditionally studied at the Sakya monastic colleges.

The curriculum of the Buddhist Institute offers 6 main areas of Buddhist studies, which encompass both the Buddhist philosophical view and the stages on the path. They are 1. Logic 2. Abhidharma 3. Vinaya 4. Prajnaparamita 5. Madhyamika 6. Three Sets of Vows. Providing an opportunity for nuns to study these subjects is important for them to be able to teach others and for their own practice.

As the nuns advance through their studies, for the first time in the history of Tibet they are able to earn the following series of degrees:

Kachupa Degree: after 8 years of study
Lopon Degree: after 10 years of study
Rabjampa Degree: Those who complete 12 years of study, including an examination and the composition and defense of an original thesis, will be awarded the Rabjampa degree.
Ngagrampa Degree: After 14 years of study, including two years of tantra
Khachodma or Machigma Degree: In the 15th year of study, the nuns go on retreat to attain this degree.
Geshema Degree: Finally, after at least 15 years of study and four years of exams, the nuns are able to receive the highest degree, the Geshema Degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Science Fair at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

In November 2019, a group of nuns held a science fair at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

The nuns chose topics such as the water cycle, environmental issues, the solar system, and the human digestive system. Since clean drinking water is an important issue, some nuns conducted simple experiments of home-made water filters.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns take part in Dolma Ling science fair

Tibetan Buddhist nuns take part in Dolma Ling science fair

The science fair was held in the main courtyard of the nunnery and was organized with the help of the nuns’ English teacher, Mr. Tenzin Norgay.

Tibetan Buddhist nun explains science fair poster

A Tibetan Buddhist nun explains her science fair poster on the human digestive system to her sister nuns. The science fair also gave the nuns a chance to practice their English and public speaking skills and helped them build confidence.

“It was an extremely beautiful and thoughtful exhibition,” said Tsering Diki, manager of the Tibetan Nuns Project office which is based at the nunnery.

The posters and displays were written in English and the event was an excellent example of inter-disciplinary learning because the nuns used their English skills to express scientific ideas.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute science fair 2019

The science fair was held in the main courtyard of the nunnery and was organized with the help of the nuns’ English teacher, Mr. Tenzin Norgay.

The nuns’ science fair was held by the Lorig class, which is a junior class at the nunnery. Many of the senior nuns were in Bodh Gaya for the month-long inter-nunnery debate, called the Jang Gonchoe.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns take part in science fair

Tibetan Buddhist nuns in the courtyard at Dolma Ling review the science posters and displays.

The science fair offered the nuns many learning opportunities and integrated many subjects into one project, such as English reading and writing, critical thinking, problem-solving, graphic arts, and public speaking.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns science fair at Dolma Ling 2019

The science fair at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute helped the nuns learn both science and English, as well as research and presentation skills.

It was a fun chance for the nuns to gain confidence in speaking. It makes science relevant by allowing students to conduct research and experiments based on their own interests.

Nuns presenting science posters at Dolma Ling science fair

Nuns presenting science posters at Dolma Ling science fair

As the photos show, the nuns created scientific posters, models, and dioramas to convey their various topics. The bright, engaging posters also show the creative use of recycled materials.

solar system projects at Tibetan Buddhist nuns science fair

For the science fair, the nuns chose topics of interest to them such as the solar system, the human digestive system, the water cycle, and environmental issues such as clean water.

The nuns presented their posters and displays to the group. Tsering said, “Visually seeing things when being explained makes a bigger impact on our memory as well.”

Water filtration project at Dolma Ling Science Fair

Clean drinking water is an important issue for health. As part of the science fair, nuns conducted simple experiments of home-made water filters.

Every year since 2014, nuns from Dolma Ling take part in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, a four-week program held at Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India. During the event, Tibetan nuns and monks are taught the philosophy of science, physics, neuroscience, and biology. The course is presented by faculty members from Emory and other distinguished universities with assistance from the Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars.

Students attend classes for six hours a day and are tested on the last day of each course. Classes consist of lectures, discussions, demonstrations, and hands-on experiments. In 2018, eight nuns from Dolma Ling attended.

Thank you to everyone who has supported our Teachers’ Salaries fund!

Human digestive system display by nuns

This display of the human digestive system shows the creative use of recycled materials.

All the nuns passed their Geshema exams!

2019 Geshema Exam Results

We’re delighted to tell you that the results for the 2019 Geshema exams are in. All 50 Tibetan Buddhist nuns who took their Geshema exams in August have passed. We congratulate them on their success and dedication.

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a Ph.D. 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.

Tibetan Buddhist nun holding Geshema hat

Photo of a Geshema holding the yellow hat that signifies her degree. Detail of photo by Olivier Adam.

The 2019 Geshema results are as follows:
Fourth and final year exams: all 7 nuns passed
Third-year exams: all 11 nuns passed
Second-year: all 10 nuns passed
First-year: all 22 nuns passed

The seven nuns who passed their final year of exams will take part in a week-long formal debate session in front of hundreds of nuns at the Jang Gonchoe inter-nunnery debate session. The graduation ceremony will be held in Bodh Gaya, at the conclusion of the Jang Gonchoe.

About the Geshema Degree

The first Geshema degree was conferred in 2011 to a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo.

In 2012, a historic decision was made to allow Tibetan Buddhist nuns the opportunity to take examinations for the Geshe degree, known for women as the Geshema degree. This year marks the fourth year in a row that a group of nuns will graduate with the degree.

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

2016: 20 nuns became Geshemas
2017: 6 nuns graduated as Geshemas
2018: 10 nuns became Geshemas
2019: 7 nuns will graduate at the end of November

This brings the total number of Geshemas to 44 as of the end of 2019. This year, two of the Geshemas who graduated in 2016 were hired as teachers at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

“As a Tibetan Nuns Project Board member,” said Vicki Robinson, “I am so very proud of the achievements of the nuns who are working on the Geshema degree. It has been such a pleasure to watch these nuns assume leadership positions in the nunneries and to go where no women have gone before.”

10 Geshema graduates in 2018 in front of Kopan Nunnery, Nepal

The 10 Geshema graduates in 2018 in front of Kopan Nunnery, Nepal. Photo from Kopan Nunnery Facebook page.

The Geshema Exam Process

To be eligible to take their Geshema exams, the nuns must first complete at least 17 years of study. The Geshema examination process is extremely rigorous and takes four years to complete, involving both written and debate exams and also the completion and defense of a thesis.

Each year, the nuns preparing to sit various levels of the examinations gather together for one month of final exam preparations and then for about 12 days of exams. In 2019, the exams were held at Jangchup Choeling Nunnery in South India.

Geshema exams 2019 Jangchup Choeling Nunnery

“The remarkable achievements of these excellent women are an inspiration to all,” said one supporter in her message of good luck to the nuns. Photo of the 50 nuns taking their Geshema exams in 2019 courtesy of the Nuns Media Team.

“The fact that growing numbers of women are achieving equality with men in the highest levels of Buddhist monasticism, by earning the equivalent of doctorate degrees, is joyous and of enormous importance to the world,” says Steve Wilhelm, a Tibetan Nuns Project board member. “This means that women monastics will be leading more monastic institutions, and will be teaching other women and men. Humanity needs this gender equity if we are to navigate perilous times ahead.”

The Geshema degree will make the nuns eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Here’s a video about the 2019 Geshema exams. (If you can’t see the video, click here.)

Once again, we would like to thank the Pema Chödrön Foundation and everyone who supported our 2019 Geshema Exam Fund for covering the food and travel costs for the Geshema candidates.

Over 100 people from around the world sent the nuns messages of good luck before the exams started. John wrote, “Sending my best wishes to all the nuns for their testing period. I know it’s been a long journey and I am really happy for them to finally complete this process. I’ll be anxiously awaiting the final results and ready to celebrate, kicking up my heels and hooting and hollering for a good while.”

“As a USA Tibetan Nuns Project Board member, I am honored and privileged to be part of this organization. The Tibetan Nuns Project puts emphasis on the importance of education and practice as both elements enrich the entire community. Congratulations to all the Geshemas, as you have reached one of the highest levels of education. Thank you so much for your diligence and commitment to your communities.” Liza Goldblatt, Tibetan Nuns Project board member.

Robin Groth, another board member wrote, “I am thrilled by this news! This is what the work of the Tibetan Nuns Project and its donors is about — giving opportunity where it has not been before and then see lives change, dreams fulfilled, and leaders emerge. What an honor to witness this evolution.”

May this good news bring you joy! Thank you for your support!

Big changes at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

Dorjee Zong Nunnery is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist nunnery located in the remote high-altitude area of Zanskar in northern India, near Ladakh. Dorjee Zong is now going through a very important and exciting transition.

New buiding at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

Dorjee Zong Nunnery is undergoing an exciting expansion to improve the living conditions and education for the nuns. A number of new buildings are being constructed down the hill from the ancient nunnery. This photo shows the newly completed housing block and the start of a building to house a dining hall, kitchen, prayer/conference hall, and more.

The nunnery is one of the oldest centers in pursuit of monastic education in Zanskar. Founded 700 years ago in the 14th century, it has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization and attainment.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery Zanskar by Olivier Adam

In the past, the nuns at Dorjee Zong did not have the opportunity to engage in rigorous philosophical studies, but their education program is improving. This photo of Dorjee Zong Nunnery was taken prior to the expansion project started in 2019. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Currently, there are 19 nuns at the nunnery. The school is residential in nature, with the senior nuns acting as caretakers for the younger ones. The eldest are in their late 80s, while the youngest is 5. The youngest nuns are provided primary education at the nunnery up to Grade 5.

new housing block Dorjee Zong Nunnery

The new housing block at Dorjee Zong Nunnery was completed in the summer of 2019. It is part of an

One teacher has been sent from the Central Institue of Buddhist Studies to look after the young nuns’ education. Modern and traditional education form the basic teaching practice of the school.

young girls study at Dorjee Zong Nunnery photo Olivier Adam

The girls and women from this area have traditionally been given far less education than boys and men and were often removed from school as early as Grade 4 if they were sent to school at all. The nunnery gives them a chance for an education that they would not have otherwise. Photo by Olivier Adam

Around 9 other nuns have completed their Grade 5 education at the nunnery and, thanks to the generous donors of a school bus, are now attending classes at the government school 6 miles away.

Expansion of Dorjee Zong Nunnery

Until this year, the nunnery had one main building that was used for everything. The building was used as a classroom, sleeping facilities for the teacher, young nuns, and volunteers, a common kitchen, and a single washroom for everyone.

Until now the nuns had only one classroom, so the different classes had to be well planned so as not to conflict. The nunnery had only three rooms for accommodation. All the nuns slept in one big room, while the teachers, volunteers, and caretaker slept in the remaining two rooms.

New and old nunnery buildings Dorjee Zong 2019

The new buildings are located down the hill from the ancient old nunnery.

With the growing number of students, the nunnery needed a well-organized and expanded facility. The nuns’ committee asked the Tibetan Nuns Project for help and, after much discussion, we decided to pursue their project. A generous donor in the U.S. kindly funded the major building project, along with local help.

Construction site for expansion at Dorjee Zong Nunnery 2019

Taken in the summer of 2019, this photo shows the construction site for the expansion at the nunnery, including the newly completed housing block on the right and the prayer hall, kitchen, dining hall, and storeroom under construction behind it.

Construction of the new facilities began in the spring and summer of 2019. Already the new housing block for the nuns is complete.

Distribution of sweets for foundation of Dorjee Zong Nunnery

Nuns distribute sweets to celebrate the building of the foundations for the new buildings at Dorjee Zong Nunnery.

As these photos show, work is well underway on the new prayer hall, kitchen, dining hall, and storeroom, located immediately behind the housing block.

collage of photos showing construction at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

A collage of photos showing the construction at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar during the summer of 2019. This is the second building being done and will house the dining hall, kitchen, and storeroom on the ground floor, and a prayer/conference hall on the upper floor, with two adjacent rooms preferably to be used as a library.

History of Dorjee Zong Nunnery

The nunnery was founded by Master Sherab Zangpo, renowned as the Bodhisattva from the upper region of Tibet. He was one of the chief disciples of Tsongkhapa Lobsang Drakpa (1357-1419) founder of the Geluk order.

Young nuns at Dorjee Zong Nunnery

Young girls who live and study at Dorjee Zong Nunnery. Though they live and dress as nuns, they do not take vows until they are old enough to understand.

There have been a number of highly accomplished practitioners who devoted their entire life to dharma at this nunnery. Khandroma Yeshi Lhamo, popularly known as Jomo Shelama, was one of those highly realized practitioners from the nunnery.

At present, the nunnery is very small and basic and seeks to provide education and guide the nuns in community service. The nunnery was accepted into the Tibetan Nuns Project’s sponsorship program in 2009.

Six nuns from Dorjee Zong Nunnery have studied in nunneries in Dharamsala for many years. Among them, three nuns have taken on the responsibility to revive their ancient nunnery.

Two nuns at Dorjee Zong Nunnery

Nuns at Dorjee Zong Nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam 2014.

 

How the Tibetan Nuns Project Calendar is Created

Each year, the Tibetan Nuns Project sells a wall calendar through our online store. Our 2020 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar is available for order now.

How the Tibetan Nuns Project Calendar is Created

We started the calendar about 20 years ago as a fundraising and friend-raising tool to help support over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns at seven nunneries in northern India.

selection of old Tibetan Nuns Project charity calendars

A selection of some of the early Tibetan Nuns Project charity calendars from 2002 to 2008. The Tibetan Nuns Project wall calendar is now full color and uses photos taken by the nuns themselves.

In the past, we used photographs generously provided by volunteer photographers. Recently,  we have only used photographs taken by the nuns themselves. These photographs provide an intimate insight into the daily lives and religious and cultural practices of the nuns.

Each summer, the nunneries that we support send a selection of photos for possible inclusion in the next year’s calendar. Once all the photos are gathered together a final selection is made.  We try to balance the images, choosing at least one photograph from each nunnery and selecting photographs that are windows into the nuns’ lives.

photo from the Tibetan Nuns Project 2020 calendar

In this photo from the 2020 calendar, two nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute play the gyaling, a traditional Tibetan woodwind instrument. The photo was taken by a nun at Shugsep and is an illustration of how the annual calendar provides an intimate insight into the daily lives and religious and cultural practices of the nuns.

Each photo is captioned and paired with inspirational quotations from renowned Tibetan Buddhist teachers, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and others

“Each summer at our Seattle office, it’s really exciting to open up emails from India and see the photos sent by the nunneries for possible inclusion in the calendar,” says Lisa Farmer, Executive Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

“In the past, there were challenges with photo quality. Now, thanks to our Media Equipment Project donors, each of the nunneries has a digital camera and the nuns received training on how to use them. We’re looking forward to sharing more photos with supporters, especially from the remote nunneries that didn’t have this capacity until now,” says Lisa.

The Tibetan Calendar vs. the Gregorian Calendar

The Tibetan Nuns Project calendar also includes the dates of the Tibetan lunar calendar, as well as special ritual days, Tibetan holidays, and the full and new moons.

Each year, as we assemble the selection of photos for the calendar, the astrologers at the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute in Dharamsala, India supply us with the dates for the year’s Tibetan Buddhist holidays and holy days.

The Tibetan calendar is thousands of years old and is different from the Gregorian calendar, which is the international standard used almost everywhere in the world for civil purposes.

Tibetan Nuns Project camera and media training for nuns

Here’s another image that will be in the 2020 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar and shows nuns receiving camera training from a volunteer Tibetan photographer. Now all 7 nunneries have cameras thanks to Media Equipment donors.

While the Gregorian calendar is a purely solar calendar, the Tibetan calendar (Tibetan: ལོ་ཐོ, Wylie: lo-tho) is a lunisolar calendar. This means that the Tibetan year is composed of either 12 or 13 lunar months, each beginning and ending with a new moon. A thirteenth month is added every two or three years so that an average Tibetan year is equal to the solar year.

In the traditional Tibetan calendar, each year is associated with an animal, an element, and a number. This year, 2019, is the year of the Earth Pig, 2146, according to the Tibetan calendar. Next year, starting at Tibetan New Year or Losar on February 24, 2020, it will be the year of the Iron Mouse, 2147.

The animals are similar to those in the Chinese zodiac and are in the following order: Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Mouse, Ox, and Tiger. The five elements are in this order: Fire, Earth, Iron, Water, and Wood.

front and back covers of the 2020 Tibetan Nuns Project charity calendarA Unique Charity Calendar

The proceeds from the sale of the Tibetan Nuns Project calendar are used to support over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns and seven nunneries in India.

Thank you for buying our 2020 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar and helping the nuns!

You can order your 2020 Calendar here.

50 Tibetan Buddhist nuns take their Geshema exams

Starting on August 1, 2019, 50 Tibetan Buddhist nuns began almost two weeks of Geshema exams. The Geshema degree is the highest degree in their tradition and was only recently opened up to women. Known as the Geshe degree for monks, it is like a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism. This year, the exams were held at Jangchup Choeling Nunnery in South India.

Geshema exams 2019 Jangchup Choeling Nunnery

The Geshema exams start at 8 a.m. each morning. Two groups of nuns take written exams from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m., while the other two groups take debate exams. Photo courtesy of the Nuns Media Team

These rigorous exams take four years to complete, with one set held each year. The nuns are examined on their 17-year course of study.

Here’s a video about the 2019 Geshema exams.

Before the exams began, Geshe Jampa Kalden, who is the Geden Choeling Khenpo and the head of the Geshema examination committee, spoke to the nuns. He explained the examination rules and advised the nuns to stay grounded when taking their exams, not to rush through their papers, and not to be in a hurry to submit their answer sheets just because another person has submitted her papers.

Advice to the nuns before the start of the 2019 Geshema examinations

Advice to the nuns before the start of the 2019 Geshema examinations

The nuns must take written and oral exams in the form of traditional Tibetan Buddhist debate. The debate takes place in front of the examiners and lasts for four hours in the morning (8 a.m. to 12 p.m.) and four hours in the afternoon (2 p.m. to 6 p.m.)

As shown in the video below, examiners supervise the debate, making sure that what is said is relevant to the topic, and they intervene as needed.

The nuns cannot choose their own debate topics. Instead, they must draw slips of paper on which three topics from one subject are written. Each nun can then choose one topic from the three options and debate on that. The nuns are given 15 minutes for each debate.

Geshema examination committee preparing paperwork for the 2019 Geshema exams

Geshema examination committee preparing paperwork for the 2019 Geshema exams. Photo courtesy of the Nuns Media Team

We would like to extend our deepest thanks to the Pema Chödrön Foundation and everyone who supported our 2019 Geshema Exam Fund to cover the travel costs and the food for the Geshema candidates. By supporting the education of the nuns, you are helping to pave the way for future generations of nuns to follow in the Geshemas’ footsteps. The Geshema degree will make the nuns eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Geshema exams 2019 Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Geshema candidates take a break for a simple vegetarian meal. We are extremely grateful to everyone who donated to our 2019 Geshema Exams Fund which supports the Geshema candidates by covering their food and travel costs for the exam and for the one-month pre-exam study period. Photo courtesy of the Nuns Media Team.

Written examinations were held in the open debate courtyard, while debates were held in the prayer hall.

Examination hall for the 2019 Geshema exams

Examination hall for the 2019 Geshema exams. Photo courtesy of the Nuns Media Team

Initially, we reported that 51 nuns were taking their exams in August 2019, but sadly, one nun who was planning on taking her fourth and final year of exams backed out due to stress. This year 22 nuns sat their first round of exams, 10 nuns took their second year, 11 nuns sat third-year exams, and 7 nuns took their fourth and final set of exams. All being well, there will be 7 new Geshemas graduating this fall.

Over 100 supporters of the Tibetan Nuns Project sent beautiful and heartfelt messages of good luck to the nuns taking their Geshema exams. Here is an example, written by Alan who sponsors two nuns: “Dear Geshema Candidates: You are not only contributing to the survival and expansion of Tibetan Buddhism, but you are all changing the world and making it a better place by means of your studies, self-transformation, compassion, and example. Thank you all and good luck. You are in our prayers. We look forward to the day when the two nuns who we sponsor take their Geshema exams. Blessings.”

Nuns preparing for the Geshema examinations 2019

Nuns preparing for the Geshema examinations 2019

Emergency at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

On July 17th, we received an urgent email from our office in India about an emergency at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute.

The nuns are all safe. However, heavy monsoon rains have caused massive flooding around the nunnery and a gigantic tree at the temple entrance was uprooted and has crushed the newly painted metal roof.

Emergency at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute fallen tree

Two disasters at Shugsep. A huge tree has crushed part of the metal roofing and heavy monsoon rains have caused flooding. Without emergency drainage, the library and the ground floor will be seriously damaged.

YOU CAN HELP with the emergency here. We are extremely grateful to everyone who has donated so far to help the nuns with this unforeseen crisis.

It is a huge job to cut and remove the fallen tree and to rebuild the roof support structure and the metal roof.

During the monsoon, a huge tree beside the temple came down crashing down, seriously damaging the roof. The temple itself is not damaged, but the junction roof and its steel support structure are destroyed and need to be replaced.

To prevent catastrophic flooding of the library and the ground floor hall, the nuns have been rapidly trying to dig extra drainage ditches. There is more water than ever flowing through the nunnery complex and the monsoon rains will continue until September.

Here’s a video showing the monsoon rains and flooding at the nunnery. Can’t see the video? Click here.

The nuns are working hard to help with the crisis. Luckily, no one was injured by the falling tree. The nunnery has had to hire local workers to use a chainsaw to cut up the tree and to assist with the building of more drainage ditches.

Nuns working during emergency at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

The nuns are working hard to help dig emergency drainage ditches to prevent flooding of the library and ground floor and to also remove the fallen tree off the roof.

To help you can:

  1. Make a gift online at tnp.org
  2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to The Tibetan Nuns Project
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216, Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Give a gift of securities

Historic accomplishment as Geshemas hired to teach nuns

Two nuns with Geshema degrees have been hired to teach Tibetan Buddhist philosophy at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

Tenzin Kunsel, Dolma Ling nunnery, nun from Tibet, Geshema, 2019 Message

You’re making dreams come true! Geshema Tenzin Kunsel always dreamed of getting an education and
becoming a teacher. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

This is an important milestone for the nuns. For the first time, Tibetan Buddhist nuns are being taught these topics by other nuns, rather than by monks.

Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not had the same access to education as monks.

One of the goals of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to elevate the educational standards and the position of women. To this end, the project created a groundbreaking education system aimed at both preserving Tibetan culture and equipping and empowering the nuns to live and become leaders in the modern world.

The two Geshemas hired this spring as teachers are Geshema Tenzin Kunsel (right) and Geshema Delek Wangmo.

The Geshema degree, which is equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, is the culmination of at least 17 years of study.

The Geshema degree was only opened up to the nuns in 2012. Now there are 37 Geshemas and these dedicated women are a beacon of inspiration to all the other nuns.

The two Geshema teachers endured a lot to reach this historic status. Geshema Tenzin Kunsel had to leave school in Tibet at age 12. (She tells her story in a video interview.) Geshema Delek Wangmo (below) was illiterate when she arrived in India after escaping from Tibet.

Delek Wangmo, Geshema, Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project

Your support in action. Delek Wangmo could barely read when she escaped from Tibet. Now she holds the Geshema degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Like the other nuns from Tibet, they risked their lives to escape to India for the chance to freely practice their religion.

After graduating as Geshemas, both nuns completed further studies in Tantric Buddhism. This groundbreaking program launched in 2017 for the nuns has enabled the graduates to become fully qualified teachers of their complete tradition.

Until now, Tibetan nuns never had the opportunity to be educated at this high level.

We thank His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his support. We are also very grateful to our global family of supporters for helping to educate, feed, clothe, and house the nuns.

Here is a list of projects we’re working on now and that need funding.