Category Archives: Sakya College for Nuns

April Update: Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries During COVID-19

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist nunnery under coronavirus lockdown, COVID-19

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

Sakya College for Nuns

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

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

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

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist nun at Sakya College for Nuns 2017 low res

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

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

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

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

Tibetan Buddhist nuns from Sherab Choeling Nunnery

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

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

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

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

COVID-19 lockdown, Spiti

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

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

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

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

fields and Dhauladhar range above Dolma Ling Nunnery

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist nun coronavirus lockdown update, COVID-19 lockdown

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

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

social distancing coronavirus Tibetan Buddhist nun

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

Tibetan Buddhist nuns do laundry

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

Sponsors Needed

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

This means that quite a few nuns need sponsors.

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

Sponsor a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Inda

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.

The joys of sponsorship

Sponsorship is the heart of our programs at the Tibetan Nuns Project. Our supporters around the world help over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns at seven nunneries in northern India. The relationship between a sponsor and nun goes far beyond giving and receiving but can be deeply meaningful on both sides.

Sakya nun holding card from her sponsor 2015

The joys of sponsorship. A nun at Sakya College for Nuns holding a card from her sponsor

We recently received a batch of photos from Sakya College for Nuns near Dehradun in the foothills of the Himalayas where over 50 nuns live and study. One of the nuns there, Venerable Kunga had received a gift of sleeping bags from her sponsor, Sister Paula, a Catholic nun in the US. Venerable Kunga distributed the sleeping bags among her classmates, teachers and two nun friends studying in the same institute.

nuns getting sleeping bags

A generous sponsor in the USA, Sister Paula, sent sleeping bags for the nuns at Sakya College for Nuns in India.

The way the sponsorship system works is as follows: once you sign up to be a sponsor, you will be connected with an individual nun. You will receive her photograph and her story or biography and she will write to you at least two times a year. You have the opportunity, if you wish, to write to her.

Tibetan Buddhist nun receiving gift of sleeping bagWe have maintained our annual sponsorship cost at $360 a year since 1998, however some sponsors choose to give more knowing that there has been considerable inflation in India over the past 15 years. One hundred percent of sponsorship money goes directly to India.

Sakya nuns holding gifts from sponsors

Sakya nuns with gifts from sponsors

The distribution system is equitable so that there is not a disparity between nuns who have sponsors and nuns who do not yet have sponsors. We do this by giving the money to the nunneries of sponsored nuns, rather than individuals themselves,  and within each nunnery the funds are used collectively to cover the basic expenses of food, housing, clothing, medical care and education.

Buddhist nun holding note of thanks

Returning the love. Venerable Kunga holds a special note for her sponsor, Sister Paula, a Catholic nun in the US.

Each nun receives 200 rupees per month for incidental expenses. In the case of nuns who do not reside in a nunnery (nuns in retreat), funds are issued to them on a monthly basis to cover food, rent and incidentals. When these nuns have additional needs, such as medical care or clothing, they may apply to the Project for assistance.

Sakya nun with a gift from her sponsor

Sakya nun with a gift from her sponsor

Many sponsors also choose to send small gifts or pocket money to their nuns as direct donations. Contact us for details on how to do this.  The Tibetan Nuns Project has also set up a “Wish List” through Amazon of items that are useful to the nuns such as clothing, shoes, socks and so on.

There is joy in both giving and receiving. Many of our sponsors have told us how much they love being a sponsor and how meaningful the relationship is to them.

Bonnie said, “When I saw the ad in Tricycle for sponsoring a Buddhist nun, I knew this could be one way to give back something for all that I was given to be born and raised in the US. A most powerful reward is to get a hand-written letter from one of ‘my’ nuns, which always move me to tears.”

Jan wrote, “I can make an important change in the life of a particular woman on the other side of the world whom I don’t really know and will not likely meet by helping her live as a nun. This makes all of sentient life more real to me, and every month when I write a sponsorship check, I have a moment of freedom from my own self-preoccupation and a moment of deep gladness that I can be of use to someone else.”

Here’s a note from Felicia: “I started years ago with one nun (same age as my son) and have stayed with her the entire time in terms of being a sponsor (co-sponsor now I think). I really like that I can support a project like this and also know there is a real person there who writes and I write to. She has been a blessing in my life, to say the least, which was a side benefit to being a sponsor in the first place.”

Sakya nuns with gifts of sleeping bags

Sakya nuns with gifts of sleeping bags thanks to Sister Paula