The heavy rains which fell on July 12th are set to continue for the next several days and the India Meteorological Department has issued a Severe Rainfall Alert. Authorities have told tourists to avoid Himachal Pradesh due to the present situation.
Dharamsala is the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government-in-exile. Many Tibetan refugees live there and it is the site of many Tibetan Buddhist nunneries and monasteries.
Dramatic videos after a cloudburst in McLeod Ganj, upper Dharamsala, show several cars being swept away as muddy water rushed through the hillside town. The rains also damaged many buildings. The local airport in Gaggal cancelled all incoming flights.
The Nuns’ Media Team at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have helped capture the situation through video and photographs. Here’s a video of the rains at Dolma Ling. (Can’t see the video? Click here.)
Dolma Ling Water Supply Damaged
The monsoon damaged the water channels and lines that provide 80% of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute’s water. As the rains abated on July 13th, the nuns, staff, and teachers from Dolma Ling worked all day with local people on repairs. Without these channels the nunnery could face an acute water shortage. By the end of the day, the supply lines were fixed and the nunnery was able to access the water that they needed. Here’s another video. (Can’t see it, click here.)
In February 2021, the Tibetan Nuns Project asked for help to fund solar lights at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute. You responded magnificently and the project was fully funded by the end of the month.
We’re delighted to report back on the completed solar light project and to share photos with you. The nuns and the head of the nunnery, Khenpo Namgyal, are very grateful to all those who supported this project. We’ll report back on other parts of the Shugsep project such as the dough machine as soon as possible.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep dig a hole to install some of the new solar lights at the nunnery.
Solar Lights for Safety and Education
Earlier this year, the nuns and staff at Shugsep Nunnery asked for a number of solar-powered lights. They needed this lighting both for security and to enable the nuns to study outside their rooms in the evenings.
The lights arrived at the nunnery this spring. The nuns and staff helped to install them so there was no need to bring outside workers into the nunnery. This was especially important because it helped to keep the nuns safe from COVID-19.
The balconies outside the nuns’ rooms needed two solar lights each. The nuns also installed lights in each of the two garden areas in front of the main temple. The road to the nunnery gate was very dark. Now the the solar lights on the road brighten the path, keeping the nuns safe and allowing them to study at night.
A Nyingma nunnery, Shugsep traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. In the previous century, Shugsep Nunnery was home to one of the most famous teachers of her time, Shugsep Jetsunma.
The majority of the nuns studying in Shugsep Nunnery near Dharamsala came from the original Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet. Their nunnery was destroyed following the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the nuns were forced to leave. Although in the 1980s the nuns partially rebuilt the original Shugsep, they faced frequent harassment by Chinese authorities and many escaped to India.
Now nuns have the opportunity to participate in a nine-year academic program of Buddhist philosophy, debate, Tibetan language, and English.
Since late 2019, the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute wanted to proceed with two big repair projects, but both had to be put on hold because of the pandemic.
In February 2021, as the number of coronavirus cases in the area dropped, the nuns were finally able to undertake two projects with a significant impact on their daily lives. The nuns are so grateful to the donors that made this work possible.
What a Relief! New Security Wall for the Nunnery
The nuns are finally safe from prying eyes and dangerous intruders.
When Shugsep Nunnery was first built, it was in a small village at the end of a tiny road. However, over time, several new buildings have come up around the nunnery including a large private school with its entrance immediately behind the nunnery grounds.
Fortunately, in designing the nunnery, the plans left a 20-metre distance between the upper housing wing and the back boundary wall. This area is mostly covered in old mango trees. The trees form a buffer between the nuns’ living quarters and the activity of the nearby private school.
Privacy and security have been restored at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute thanks to this new wall funded by Tibetan Nuns Project supporters. The nuns are extremely grateful.
However, because the level of the road behind the nunnery grounds was raised by the school, the perimeter wall which was once an 8-foot-high wall and topped with barbed wire was reduced to just 4 feet above road level. This meant that the nuns lost their privacy and schoolchildren, bus drivers, and passers-by could clearly see over the wall into the nunnery.
Although the nuns tried to be tolerant of being stared at, they were reluctant to sit on their verandas to study and they felt inhibited about using the bathrooms at the end of the building. The situation also became dangerous. There were some frightening intrusions into the nunnery by youths who broke down the barbed wire and climbed over the wall. It was clear that the wall had to be improved as soon as possible.
However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nuns could not raise the height of the wall in 2020. Fortunately, the adjacent private school was closed for the whole year.
The nuns were able to start the work in February 2021, adding another 4 feet in height along the length of the wall in front of the school. Now that the neighboring school has reopened, the view into the nunnery is blocked and the nuns feel very relieved.
The nuns have tidied the area behind the newly repaired wall. They can now use this secluded, shady area under the mango trees as a place to practice Tibetan Buddhist debate.
It is gratifying to see how the nuns’ relief has translated into their efforts to make the area pleasant. The nuns have worked hard clearing and levelling the area under the trees so they will be able to use it as a shady debate yard.
The nuns are extremely grateful to have their security and privacy restored.
Project approved to start: 10/12/19. Start delayed due to the pandemic.
Project started: 15th January 2021
Project completed: 22nd February 2021
Total cost: Rs. 1,17,715 which is roughly US $1,620
Scope of work:
A. Raised wall height with dressed stone, sand, bajari, and cement. Rs. 1,01,715 ($1,400)
B. Provided and fixed poles Rs. 11,000 ($151)
C. Removed old fence wire and re-fixed wire Rs. 5,000. ($69)
No More Leaks: Water Tank Repair
Shugsep Nunnery depends on the large double-story concrete water tank on the slope behind the nuns’ housing wing. The municipal water lines do not provide enough water to cover the needs of the nunnery and the tank is fitted so that it can be supplied by pumping from the bore well. After 12 years, the tank itself was in a very dilapidated condition and was seriously leaking.
After researching the best way to repair the tank, the nuns hired a local contractor to re-seal the inside of the tank with marble chips and to re-plaster and paint the outside. They also needed to repair and replace the plumbing lines.
The nuns had to purchase the marble chip material as a truckload from Rajasthan. The plan was to use the same material to seal the Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute water catchment. The order for both nunneries was placed in October 2019 and, when the materials arrived, they were stored at Dolma Ling because their water project repairs had to be done first. The Dolma Ling work was completed in December 2019.
The newly repaired and painted water tanks at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute. The work was delayed for a year due to the pandemic and the nuns are very grateful that the work was able to be completed.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of repairing the Shugsep water tank was put off until the end of 2020 when, with the reduced virus caseload, the nuns felt secure enough to agree to allow workmen into the back of the nunnery compound. The work was done in stages, fixing one tank and then the other so that the nuns always had some water supply.
The new water tanks look very clean and professionally repaired. The nuns are very happy that the water tanks are working well and no longer leak. The nuns are very grateful to the Tibetan Nuns Project donors for making this improvement to their facilities possible.
Project approved to start 10/10/19. Start delayed due to pandemic.
Project started: 15th December 2020
Completed: 1st February 2021
Cost of contract: Rs.169,720 (approximately $2,335)
Scope of work:
A. Provided and laid marble chips including chipping off and cleaning the old plaster and flooring. Rs. 1,36,720 ($1,881)
B. Removed and replaced water lines and fittings, gate valves unions, etc. Rs. 19,000 ($261)
C. Painted external areas of tanks, pillars etc. using waterproof paint: Rs. 14,000 ($193)
The nuns at two Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in northern India are learning and practicing many of the sacred arts of Tibet. In this blog post, we will show you some of those ritual arts including making butter sculptures, making tormas, and playing traditional Tibetan musical instruments.
Gen Karma la teaches nuns at Dolma Ling the Tibetan sacred art of butter sculpture. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.
Most of the nuns we support in India are Tibetan refugees who fled their homeland seeking freedom to live, study, practice, and teach in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. In addition, the Tibetan Nuns Project helps nuns and nunneries following the Tibetan Buddhist tradition in Buddhist communities in Indian Himalayas, such as Kinnaur, Spiti, Ladakh, and Zanskar .
Nunneries and monasteries are not only places of worship and religious training, they are also the preservers of tradition and the sacred arts
Tibetan Butter Sculpture
The highly revered artistic tradition of making Tibetan butter sculptures has been practiced for over 400 years in Tibet. The art of making Tibetan butter sculptures is now being preserved by monks and nuns living in India as refugees.
At Losar, Tibetan New Year, the nuns at Dolma Ling create hundreds of butter sculptures including these tsepdro with individual designs including the eight auspicious symbols, the four harmonious friends – elephant, monkey, rabbit, and bird – and the sun and the moon. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.
Tibetan butter sculptures made with colored butter are used as offerings and for elaborate rituals and celebrations. Losar, or Tibetan New Year, is a very special time for the making and displaying of Tibetan butter sculptures.
Since 2001, the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India have been studying this ancient art with their teacher, Gen Karma la. In addition to the larger butter sculptures made for the Losar altar, the nuns make smaller displays on individual sticks, called tsepdro, for each person in the nunnery — nuns, staff, and teachers. This means that each Losar, the nuns make around 300 of these, using a wide variety of designs. The nuns display them in their rooms as part of their Losar altars and offerings, as a kind of bundle of auspiciousness.
Butter has always been highly valued in Tibetan culture. Its availability and its malleable quality in the cold climate of the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas made it an ideal material for sculpting. Inside Tibet, the sacred Tibetan butter sculptures would be made from the butter of dri which are female yaks.
It is the practice in Buddhism to offer flowers as a tribute to Buddha statues on altars. However, in winter when no fresh flowers can be found, flowers sculpted from butter are made as an offering. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns
Making butter sculptures requires painstaking skill, learned from an excellent teacher and through years of practice. Like the famous Tibetan sand mandalas, butter sculptures are a unique Tibetan sacred art that has been handed down for centuries from teacher to student.
Elaborate butter sculpture flowers and sacred symbols made by the nuns decorate the altar for Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.
The increasing shortage of well-trained and skilled butter sculptors in Tibet means that it is crucial that in India the nuns learn this religious art as part of their course of studies in order to keep it from dying out.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling make tormas out of flour and butter. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.
Tormas are figures used as offerings in Tibetan Buddhism or as part of tantric rituals. Made mostly of flour and butter, tormas are usually conical in shape but are also made in other shapes depending on their purpose. They are sometimes dyed, often with white or red for the main body of the torma. Typically, tormas are small and placed directly on a plate or on shrines.
Elaborate tormas of different sizes, shapes, colors, and decorated with butter are arranged on the altar for the special Chod puja at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute. Chöd is a spiritual practice that aims to cut through ego and ignorance, obstacles on the path to enlightenment.
Tibetan Ritual Music Instruments
Tibetan ritual music like this audio recording of the Tara puja (prayer ceremony) at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute may surprise people who are not familiar with Tibetan Buddhism. Group chanting is accompanied by a variety of specialized Tibetan instruments and this can be very dramatic and loud. Ritual music is a form of offering.
The musical instruments used in pujas fall into two broad categories: percussion instruments and wind instruments.
Tibetan Buddhist nun playing cymbals during puja Photo by Brian Harris
Here are some of the sacred Tibetan instruments that the nuns play during pujas:
1. Various types of brass cymbals provide structure and rhythm during group chanting.
2. Various kinds of drums including hand drums and a large drum mounted on a special stand often used to mark the time during group practice.
3. A Tibetan wind instrument called gyaling (meaning Indian trumpet) a reed instrument, somewhat like an oboe.
4. Another type of Tibetan wind instrument called a kangling, an ancient instrument from India that was historically made of a human thighbone, and often used in rituals regarding wrathful deities.
5. Conch shells which when blown have a deep, resounding tone. They are also used to announce the arrival of important figures or to call monastics to assemble for prayers.
6. Perhaps the most remarkable of all, the dungchen, a long trumpet with a deep, low sound that has been compared to the trumpeting of an elephant. Most dungchen are made of telescoping sections and are elaborately decorated with metalwork. Dungchen are played to welcome high lamas and Rinpoches to a monastery or temple.
Two nuns from Shugsep Nunnery and Institute playing the gyaling, a Tibetan wind instrument somewhat like an oboe. Photo by the Media Nuns.
Nuns playing dungchen, long trumpets with a deep, low sound used to are played to welcome high lamas and Rinpoches to a monastery or temple. Photo by the Media Nuns.
We’ve launched a fundraising campaign to raise $8,450 and supporters can donate here.
Solar Lights So the Nuns Can Study
The nuns and staff at Shugsep Nunnery have asked for solar-powered lights, both for security and so they can study outside their rooms in the evening. The balconies outside the nuns’ rooms need two solar lights each and we’d also like to install lights in each of the two garden areas in front of the main temple. The road to the nunnery gate is very dark, so two solar lights on the road would brighten the path and also help the students study at night.
A nun at Dolma Ling studies at night by lamplight. The nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute have requested solar-powered lights so that the nuns can study and also for security. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.
Kitchen Equipment Needed
Shugsep Nunnery and Institute is home to 76 nuns plus staff. To make bread and dumplings twice a day for close to 100 people is a challenge. The nuns need a dough-making machine to lighten the considerable workload in preparing dough for bread and Tibetan dumplings.
The nuns have requested a dough-making machine and a fridge-freezer for the kitchen at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, home to 76 Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.
To reduce food waste and save costs by making food last longer, the nuns need a fridge/freezer so that they can purchase more food in bulk at a time since, during the pandemic, it is not always possible to go shopping. The nuns also need two steel shelf units for their pantry to help organize their food supplies.
In addition, the plastic chairs purchased for the dining hall 15 years ago are falling apart and it is time to replace them. The nuns want to avoid plastic and are happy to use wooden benches. The ceiling fans in the dining hall have also worn out and need replacing.
Prayer Hall Tables
The nuns at Shugsep have asked for 15 low tables for the prayer hall and 2 higher tables for the presiding masters or teachers. The office also requires a new large wooden storage unit for keeping the files.
Shugsep traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. Tables are needed in the prayer hall for the nuns and their teachers. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.
Our goal is to raise $8,450 to fund all the items requested by the nuns.
You can help the nuns at Shugsep with this essential equipment and furniture.
As 2020 draws to a close, we wanted to update you with slideshows and news from all the nunneries and institutions in India that we support. if you sponsor a nun, scroll down to her nunnery and find the associated slideshow.
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DOLMA LING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
COVID-life Dolma Ling
Due to the pandemic, the nunnery was put on lockdown from March 2020. Many of the nuns’ classes were put on hold until July, but the nuns continued to study on their own and also do prayers for all sentient beings during this difficult time. For safety, the nuns no longer gathered together for morning assembly, meals, or pujas. The nunnery has been closed throughout for outsiders, and staff and teachers were only allowed to go out of the nunnery complex once a week if necessary.
The main gate of the nunnery remains closed and notices have been posted to ensure that no one enters without permission. The nuns created a makeshift gatekeeper room and every day. two nuns wearing masks take turns to guard the gate, with an electronic thermometer, hand sanitizer, and materials to sanitize things such as food and fuel canisters ready to hand. Essentials such as vegetables, rice, flour, and fuel are kept at the gate under the sun for hours and sanitized properly before being brought into the nunnery.
During the holy month of Saga Dawa which this year ran from May 23 to June 21, the nuns once again read the Kangyur, the spoken words of the Buddha, and Tengyur, the Tibetan collection of commentaries to the Buddhist teachings. Together, the 108-volume Kangyur and the 225-volume Tengyur form the basis of the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The texts were divided among the nuns. The nuns maintained physical distancing while reciting the texts in their rooms, on the verandahs, in the dining hall, and in the prayer hall. It took about three days for the nuns to complete the reading of the whole set. The nuns also marked Saga Dawa with the burning of juniper branches.
On August 24, the nuns held their annual academic award ceremony, an event that usually takes place in late March or early April. It was the first time since the pandemic began that the nuns assembled in such a big group. Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nun’s Project, was the guest of honor and other special guests were Mrs. Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project and Mr. Norman Steinberg. The nuns received awards for academic achievement in their classes, the inter-house quiz competition, the handwriting competition, and memorization exams.
Since good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. the nuns are regularly making tofu for meals. Fruits and vegetables and juices are given to the nuns. Meals are eaten in the nuns’ respective rooms or apart in the courtyard.
Shugsep Nunnery and Institute
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHUGSEP. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
When the first lockdown of the year was announced, the senior nuns were in Bylakuppee, South India to where they were attending a special teaching from Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche. With the travel restrictions, the senior nuns had to remain in south India for a couple of months. Eventually, the senior nuns were able to return to Shugsep they quarantined for the required period. After the quarantine, they took COVID-19 tests and all tested negative.
To prevent the disease from spreading inside the nunnery, we shut the gate to visitors and all the transactions for prayers were done online. We had the basic necessities delivered to our gate so that we could stay isolated. We also barred the staff and students from leaving the nunnery grounds until and unless it was urgent. Weekend outings for the students were cancelled and the staff were strictly instructed not to leave the premises without permission.
In mid-June, the results of the annual exams for 2019-20 were announced and classes for 2020 officially began in July. At the beginning of August, the summer retreat started and lasted for 45 days from August 4 to September 17. During that period, we organized a lot of debates, essay competitions, and public speaking for the students.
Recently, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute had a drawing competition among the younger students and we are glad that all of them participated and showed their talents. Classes stopped on December 14th for the annual examinations with a study holiday of one week after every test. The examinations begin on December 24th and the last tests will be on January 25th.
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT GEDEN CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the major routine activities of the nuns such as in-person classes, debating practice, group religious activities, and other social and cultural gatherings were stopped. However, the ten nuns preparing for the Geshema exams continued to attend regular classes taught by the three Buddhist philosophy teachers. All the other nuns have been learning through online classes run by their respective teachers who also provide notes and homework. The nuns memorize texts and are doing well in their studies in their rooms and are always in touch with their teachers.
In terms of health care and emotional matters, all the nuns are in good health. They received frequent talks and advice from Geden Choeling Nunnery’s Abbot, office administrator, teachers, and Gekoe (Disciplinarian) to keep them mentally strong without any fear and anxiety during this pandemic period.
All the nuns and staff members are restricted from visiting outside places and the market area since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. No visitors are allowed in the institute, except for prayer offerings by the well-wisher. The nuns maintain daily hygiene and sanitation using sanitizing spray for COVID-19.
Finally, the nuns hold regular prayer sessions twice a day from 6-7:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 4:30 pm.
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT TILOKPUR. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
Here’s an update on the current condition of Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling at Tilokpur and the nuns’ activities and initiatives over the last couple of months during this pandemic. In general, so far, the 87 nuns are mentally and physically healthy and doing well. To cope with this pandemic, they are strictly following all the basic instructions provided by the government and their medical assistant, such as hand sanitizing, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distancing. The nuns are still not allowed to leave the nunnery except for the kitchen runner. No visitors are allowed to enter the nunnery grounds.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Tilokpur Nunnery receiving handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteers at Wool-Aid
In December, the nuns received two large boxes of handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteer knitters at Wool-Aid.
In terms of education and other activities, the nuns are continuing with their philosophy classes, monastic debate practice, and computer learning in person, with only English classes being taught online. The younger nuns are also learning painting and drawing. The nunnery holds two prayer sessions each day, in the morning and evening, to pray for all sentient beings and for the betterment of this world.
The nuns wrote, “We are making our best attempt not to get caught with any virus in the community so everyone remains safe and healthy. We hope that this pandemic will finish soon and that everyone can enjoy normal living.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHERAB CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
When the pandemic hit in mid-February 2020, 44 of the nuns from Sherab Choeling were away from the nunnery in the town of Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes with their philosophy teachers who were there. Shortly after, the coronavirus lockdown in India happened and all classes were suspended. Eventually, the nuns were able to arrange for two buses to take them and their two teachers back to Sherab Choeling.
The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley marked the holy month of Saga Dawa as always with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows. During the holy month, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well-being. The nuns also offered the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch.
Dorjee Zong Nunnery
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DORJEE ZONG. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
DZyoung nuns 2
elder nuns working 1
Dorjee Zong Nunnery is one of the oldest centres of monastic education in Zanskar and has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization. This remote 700-year-old nunnery now provides much-needed educational opportunities for young girls and women.
In 2019, Dorjee Zong began a major expansion project and good progress was made last year. The housing block and the structure of a multi-purpose two-story building were completed before extreme weather shut down construction in October. The two-story building contains the kitchen, dining hall, storeroom on the ground floor and, on the upper floor, the prayer hall and a conference hall.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit India in the spring, we feared that no construction would be possible because most of the labor force comes from Nepal and strict restrictions would prevent their travel. However, in July and August, the nunnery was able to move forward gradually with the building process.
As life after the nationwide lockdown in the spring began slowly getting back on track, the nuns’ committee decided to move forward to complete the interiors of the multi-purpose building with work such as plastering of the floors, electrical work fittings etc. They have also undertaken the construction of the bathroom and toilet block needed to go with the housing block. Around six to seven local village workers were hired for this job because outside laborers were stopped from coming to Zanskar. All labor work this summer was done by local village people under the guidance of the working committee.
Currently, the housing block is being used as living quarters on the ground floor for the young nuns, while the top-floor rooms are being used for multiple purposes including as temporary classrooms, office, and a meeting room.
During the lockdown, the younger nuns from nearby villages temporarily left the nunnery to stay with their families. These young nuns were not able to stay at Dorjee Zong because there is not enough space to house them in separate quarters or to follow safe physical distancing measures. Their elder siblings who have returned home are helping the younger children with their studies.
In 2019, generous donors funded the purchase of a school bus to enable the young nuns at Dorjee Zong to continue their education. The nuns needed a school bus to make the 12-mile round-trip journey to the government school to continue their education beyond Grade 5. The bus has arrived in Zanskar and is ready for use. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the schools in India are currently closed. We will keep you updated.
Sakya College for Nuns
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SAKYA COLLEGE FOR NUNS. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
Like many other nunneries and monasteries, Sakya College for Nuns has been strictly observing lockdown since March this year. Although the lockdown has been lifted in many parts of India, the nuns consider to observe it with great care and caution. The College’s gates remain locked 24/7.
Since the start of the new academic session in July 2020, the nuns’ regular classes are proceeding as usual. Inside the campus, everything looks so normal, just as it used to be during the pre-COVID-19 times, that is with morning prayers, classes, debates, self-study and so on.
The only thing that is missing is the monthly outing that nuns enjoy every month. Because the nuns used to visit the market only about once a month, in that sense the pandemic and the lockdown has not greatly affected the nuns at Sakya College.
Even so, as part of measures to provide emotional health care, a Vipassana meditation master and a yoga expert were invited to give workshops. The College invited Associate Professor Ramesh Chandra Negi from the Central University of Tibetan Studies and an expert in Vipassana meditation in the Theravada tradition to give a workshop for the nuns. The professor gave a 10-day course in Vipassana mediation and advised the nuns to continue the practice.
Some of the nuns claim the course has been of immense help in terms of maintaining tranquillity and peace of mind. They have continued to practice individually since the workshop. As meditation is all about dealing with the mind, the main purpose of the workshop was to help the nuns keep their minds in peace and stress-free throughout the lockdown period.
The College had previously invited Tibetan yoga trainer Tsering Yangzom and, on two different occasions, she conducted a 10-day yoga workshop. This greatly motivated the nuns in keeping their bodies in proper health and shape in order to lead healthy, happy lives.
In the special update in mid-December 2020, the College wrote, “We believe that with the introduction of yoga and Vipassana mediation we ensure that our nuns are relatively more relaxed, healthier, and stronger physically and mentally. This, apart from the daily academic activities and curriculums, always keeps their body and mind busy and active.”
The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to all those who sponsor nuns and to all our supporters. Thank you for your compassion and generosity!
December 7, 2020 is the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery and Institute by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is also a celebration of the bravery, determination, and dedication of the Shugsep nuns, many of whom were imprisoned and tortured in Tibet and who escaped to India seeking freedom and education.
The inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery on December 7, 2010.
Shugsep Nunnery was re-established in northern India on the outskirts of Dharamsala and is now home to 76 Tibetan nuns. Many of those nuns risked their lives fleeing their homeland to seek sanctuary in India. These nuns wish nothing more than to live, study, practice, and teach in accordance with their spiritual beliefs.
A Tibetan Buddhist nun studies in a damp, moldy room before Shugsep Nunnery was re-established in exile.
Prior to the construction of the new nunnery, the nuns lived in an overcrowded building that was falling apart. The rooms were damp and filled with mold and one nun lived under the stairs because of lack of space. There was no road to the building and everything had to be carried more than a kilometer.
A Tibetan Buddhist nun carries a load of bricks to the building site of the new Shugsep Nunnery. There was no road to the building and everything had to be carried more than a kilometer.
In May 2008, 58 Shugsep nuns moved into the nunnery that was still under construction. On December 7, 2010, His Holiness the Dalai Lama officially inaugurated the nunnery. Shugsep is one of two nunneries built and completely supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.
A Nyingma nunnery, Shugsep traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. In the previous century, Shugsep Nunnery was home to one of the most famous teachers of her time, Shugsep Jetsunma.
Here’s our monthly update on life at some Tibetan Buddhist nunneries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tibetan Nuns Project supports seven nunneries in northern India.
This month, India reported a surge in COVID-19 cases even as the nationwide lockdown eased. India now has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. Hospitals are swamped in the worst-hit cities of Mumbai, New Delhi, and Chennai. Experts predict that the infection rate in India will continue to rise through July. On June 19, a new lockdown will go into effect for the 15 million people in Chennai.
This is worrying news for the tens of thousands of Tibetans refugees who live in India. The Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala has issued special guidelines for nunneries and monasteries.
The nuns are doing their best to adhere to physical distancing, the use of face masks in public spaces, hand and respiratory hygiene, and environmental sanitation.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns get their temperatures checked during health checks at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team
Geshema Exams Postponed
Each year, the nuns sitting various levels of the four-year Geshema examinations gather together for one month of final exam preparations and then for about 12 days of exams.
The Geshema exams, normally held each August, are being tentatively postponed to October 1. This year’s venue for the Geshema exams will be Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala.
Nuns often travel long distances to take the exams, such as from Nepal and South India. With the number of COVID-19 cases in India rising and with stricter travel rules from Nepal, the committee decided to postpone the exams to lessen the risk of infection. Last year, all 50 nuns took who took Geshema exams passed.
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute
The nunnery is closed until the end of June. The nuns are still not getting together in groups so there are no classes, pujas etc. In lieu of face-to-face classes, some philosophy teachers are recording their lessons using an mp3 player and sharing the files with their students.
The Shugsep Khenpo and the senior nuns who were in Bylakupee, South India, have returned safely to the nunnery and are currently in two weeks of quarantine.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery
According to the latest news, all the nuns at Sherab Choeling nunnery are safe and well. To mark Saga Dawa, the nuns read special puja texts including:
– Yum Puthi Chunyi (a full reading of all the 12 volumes of the Perfection of Wisdom in the Kangyur, the 108-volume set of the words of the Buddha) – Dolma (the Tara puja)
– Dukkar Tsezung for all sentient beings (This a long-life ritual focused on Sitapatrā, Goddess with the White Umbrella, who appears from the Buddha’s uṣṇīṣa.)
– Reading pages from each Kangyur book (Called shal chad, this is the “opening and partial reading of the entire canon. To read it all would take too long so each volume is opened and a bit of it read.)
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery marked the holy month of Saga Dawa with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows.
During the holy month of Saga Dawa, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well being. The nuns also offered Menla, the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch. On the 15th of the holy month, they took Thekchen Sojung, the eight Mahāyāna vows.
Earlier Updates on Life at Tibetan Nunneries During the Pandemic
Since March, we’ve been providing regular updates on life at some Tibetan nunneries in India during the coronavirus pandemic. Each update has photos and news from some or all of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. Here’s a list of earlier updates:
Here’s the latest news and photos from some Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown. Last week we posted this update from India and about the Seattle office.
Unfortunately, now we only have detailed reports from two of the seven nunneries supported by Tibetan Nuns Project donors, Dolma Ling and Shugsep. We will do our best to give you updates via our blog and Facebook page as other news comes in.
Some good news during the crisis. The nuns were delighted with this beautiful addition to Dolma Ling’s small herd of dairy cows. The day-old female calf brought joy and we hope it sparks joy for you too.
Update from Dolma Ling
The nunnery has been closed to visitors since the first week of February when the nuns shut the gates and monitored anyone who came in or out.
Since the all-India lockdown began on March 25, the nunnery closure has been even stricter. The nuns at the front gate are armed with a spray can of disinfectant which they spray on people and goods entering the nunnery grounds.
A late evening view of the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling. A few nuns were out memorizing texts. Some nuns were doing kora (walking and circumambulating the nunnery) while many prefer to stay in their rooms or walk up and down the housing block verandas.
A photo of the tofu-making facility taken in 2013 by Brian Harris. The nuns are making tofu weekly and that is helping the nunnery to be more self-sufficient during the Covid-19 lockdown in India.
In theory, people are allowed to go shopping between 8 and 11 in the morning, but the nuns and staff are barred from leaving, so the traffic in and out of the nunnery is extremely limited, with the result that they all feel relatively safe.
After the first few days, the nuns made an arrangement for a jeep to supply vegetables and other goods and to offload them outside the gate where they were sprayed and then left for some time in the sun before the nuns carried them in.
The nuns were also able to get special permission to take the Dolma Ling jeep to get the essentials such as cylinders of cooking gas and vegetables. They also went to the Tibetan settlement of Bir to buy tsampa (roasted barley flour), which is a staple food for the nuns.
This photo, taken in 2017, shows part of the vegetable storage area constructed to keep animals out and hold a lot of supplies. It takes a lot of vegetables to feed over 240 nuns! With the Covid-19 pandemic, the nuns are trying to purchase vegetables with a long shelf-life.
The nuns serve the food from the veranda and everyone goes to their own spot to eat it. After their meal, the nuns walk around a bit as usual before returning to their rooms.
Communal meals in the dining hall are a thing of the past. The nuns use their own dishes to collect food from the courtyard and they eat on their own.
Tofu making is in full swing and there is the milk from the dairy cows and greens from the kitchen garden. Water and electricity are in quite good supply these days and the air is wonderfully fresh without the normal traffic pollution!
A Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute practices social distancing from the 240 other nuns, eating her meal alone.
On bright sunny days, nuns take the opportunity to wash their laundry and to clean their rooms. They are also cleaning the nunnery and gardening.
At Dolma Ling, all group activities such as classes, pujas, and eating together are being avoided. The nuns are doing their best to practice social distancing.
Some good news during the crisis is that this week a beautiful calf was born to one of the Dolma Ling dairy cows. The mother is highly protective of her beautiful female baby calf.
At the time of writing, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the location of five of the seven nunneries we support, there were 3 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Tsering wrote, “In fact, we have no great alarms in this area at present with only 3 confirmed cases. It’s hard to know if this is a huge underestimate. Next week should show the truth of the situation. So the nuns and staff are all being careful!”
Update from Shugsep
At Shugsep, the nuns have been able to speak to suppliers and convince then to deliver vegetables, other rations, and cylinders of cooking gas to the nunnery instead of having to venture out during the curfew.
Between 50 to 60 nuns are in the nunnery right now. The Khenpo and around 25 senior nuns are in South India where they went prior to the lockdown to receive teachings.
The Shugsep nuns are not gathering together for pujas or meals. However, they are still going to classes which they feel is more practical because no one is coming into the nunnery from outside and everyone is staying in the nunnery.
The nuns have about three classes a day as well as Tibetan handwriting in the afternoon and ritual practice in the evening.
Tibetan butter lamps flicker through the night at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute as part of prayers to end Covid-19 and the suffering of all sentient beings.
The Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan government in exile has asked all of the monasteries and nunneries to say special prayers over the next ten days and then continuing onwards on a weekly basis to help alleviate this pandemic.
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.
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.
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.
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.