Category Archives: Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays 2019

This is an illustrated list of some of the major Tibetan Buddhist holidays in 2019, as well as some other important dates in the Tibetan calendar.

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Front and back of the 2019 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar available through our online store.

Each year, the Tibetan Nuns Project publishes a calendar with the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and other important ritual dates, plus the phases of the moon, inspirational quotes, and major US and Canadian holidays. This beautiful 2019 calendar is available from our online store. Know that, by buying this calendar, you are helping to provide education, food, shelter, and health care for over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in northern India.

February 5 2019: Losar (Tibetan New Year)

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute celebrate Losar. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is a very special time of year. This year, February 5th is the first day of the Earth Pig Year of 2146 according to the Tibetan calendar. Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, the nuns, like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home or room from top to bottom. After that, the Losar or “new year” is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives. Special food is prepared such as such as khapse and a  noodle soup called guthuk. See this recipe for vegetarian guthuk.

March 10 and March 12: Tibetan Uprising Day

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Nuns, monks, and lay people hold Tibetan flags and banners as they take part in a demonstration in Dharamsala, India to mark March 10th, Tibetan Uprising Day. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

While not a Tibetan Buddhist holiday, March 10th is a very important date in the Tibetan calendar. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. Around the world, Tibetans and their supporters remember and pay tribute to all those who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet’s struggle. An estimated one million Tibetans have perished and 98% of monasteries and nunneries were destroyed under the Chinese occupation.

March 12th 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan Women’s Uprising. Sixty years ago, following the National Uprising Day on March 10th, thousands of Tibetan women gathered  in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa to demonstrate for Tibetan independence.

June 17 2019: Saga Dawa Düchen

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Every year, during the month of Saga Dawa, over a period of several days, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

The most important month in the Tibetan lunar calendar is Saga Dawa, the 4th month which runs from June 4th to July 2nd 2019. The 15th day of this lunar month, the full moon day, is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Tibetan Buddhists. In 2019, Saga Dawa Düchen falls on June 17th. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni. In other Buddhist traditions this occasion is known as Vesak or is sometimes called Buddha Day.

Saga Dawa is known as the month of merits. Tibetan Buddhists make extra efforts to practice more generosity, virtue, and compassion in order to accumulate greater merit. Tibetans believe that during this month, the merits of ones actions are multiplied. On the 15th day of the month the merits of one’s actions are hugely increased.

July 6: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Birthday

His Holiness the Dalai LamaAround the world, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6th will be celebrated with happiness and prayers for his good health and long life. This year His Holiness the Dalai Lama turns 84. The nuns will pray and make special offerings of tsok, khataks (prayer scarves), and sangsol (incense offering) to His Holiness. It’s a day of celebration with special food, such as Tibetan momos, the steamed savory dumplings that are much loved by Tibetans around the world and that are often made on Tibetan Buddhist holidays.

July 16: Universal Prayer Day

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns hang new prayer flags on Universal Prayer Day. Photo courtesy of Nuns Media Team.

Universal Prayer Day or Dzam Ling Chi Sang falls on the 15th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar, so in June or July. It is a time for spiritual cleansing. Tibetans hang prayer flags and burn juniper twigs.

August 4 2019: Buddha’s First Teaching

Called Chokhor Düchen, this important day falls on the fourth day of the sixth lunar month. This day is the third “great occasion” (düchen) in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. It celebrates the first teaching by the historical Buddha, named Siddhartha at birth and commonly known as Shakyamuni Buddha. On this day, over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha gave the teaching of the Four Noble Truths in Sarnath, shortly after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. This event is known as the “turning of the wheel of dharma”. In Theravada traditions, this event is remembered on Dhamma Day, also known as Asalha Puja, and is generally marked on the full moon of the eighth lunar month. To celebrate Chokhor Düchen, Tibetan Buddhists make pilgrimages to holy places, offer incense, and hang prayer flags.​​

November 19 2019: Buddha’s Descent from Heaven

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns praying. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Another “great occasion” or düchen in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar is Lhabab Düchen. This date commemorates the Buddha’s descent from the heavenly realm following his visit there to teach his deceased mother. Lhabab Düchen occurs on the 22nd day of the ninth lunar month, according to Tibetan calendar. On this day, the karmic effects of our actions are multiplied millions of times. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, people engage in virtuous activities and prayer to gain merit and to mark this special occasion.

February 24 2020: Losar (Tibetan New Year)

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Butter sculptures and offering made by the Tibetan nuns for Losar, Tibetan New Year.

Losar in 2020 falls on February 24th, 2020 and is the Year of the Iron Mouse 2147 in the Tibetan calendar.

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays in 2019 and the Tibetan Nuns Project Calendar

It is still possible to order copies of our 2019 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar. It’s a great way to keep track of the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and all the special events throughout the year.

 

Rejoicing the 2018 Jang Gonchoe and Geshema Graduation

October and November was an extraordinary time. Over 600 nuns came together for the 24th annual Jang Gonchoe inter-nunnery debate. At the conclusion of this month-long educational event, ten nuns more nuns graduated with their Geshema degrees. This blog post shares news and videos of these two special events.

The 2018 Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate

The annual, inter-nunnery debate called the Jang Gonchoe was held at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal from 3 October to 4 November 2018. More than 600 nuns from nine nunneries in India and Nepal attended this powerful educational opportunity.

Monastic debate is the traditional mode of study of the profound texts of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Through debate, the nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning. For many nuns, taking part in the Jang Gonchoe is an essential component of working towards higher academic degrees, such as the Geshema degree, which is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Here’s a video by Tizi Sonam showing the inter-nunnery debate.

Prior to 1995, there was no Jang Gonchoe for nuns, although Tibetan monks have held their Jang Gonchoe for centuries. The chance to have nuns from many nunneries gather and intensively debate with each other is a relatively new opportunity for ordained Buddhist women. The Tibetan Nuns Project has been fully supporting the Jang Gonchoe for nuns since 1997. Next year will be its 25th year.

In 2014, the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund so that this vital educational opportunity may continue for years to come. Unfortunately, we’re still a long way from reaching our goal for the fund. You can learn more here. 

The fact that so many nuns wanted to attend this year’s event is a testament to both its incredible value as a learning opportunity and the nuns’ growing confidence. In the early years of the Jang Gonchoe, it was difficult to find nuns to participate because they lacked confidence and felt uncomfortable to join in. Now the nuns are eager to take part. They know what an important chance it is for them to gain skills in debating and to help them with their studies.

In past years, the number of nuns who participated in the Jang Gonchoe was also limited by the ability of the host nunnery to accommodate and feed visiting nuns from other nunneries. However, Kopan Nunnery is a large nunnery and had the facilities and capacity to house many nuns, so many more nuns were able to attend this year. We are extremely grateful to our supporters, including the Pema Chödrön Foundation and the Rowell Fund for Tibet/ICT, whose generosity enabled so many nuns to take part by helping with their food and travel costs.

The 9 nunneries that took part this year were:

  1. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, near Dharamsala, India (min. 35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  2. Geden Choeling Nunnery,Dharamsala, India (min. 35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  3. Jamyang Choeling Nunnery, Dharamsala, India (35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  4. Thujee Choeling Nunnery, South India (35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  5. Kopan Nunnery, host nunnery, Nepal
  6. Jangchup Choeling, Nepal (35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  7. Jangsemling Nunnery, Kinnaur, India (24 nuns and 1 teacher)
  8. Jampa Choeling Nunnery, Kinnaur, India (16 nuns and 1 teacher)
  9. Yangchen Choeling Nunnery, Spiti, India (14 nuns and 1 teacher)

The Geshema Exams and Graduation

From August 15-26 2018, 44 Tibetan Buddhist nuns sat various levels of their four-year Geshema exams. These rigorous written and oral (debate) exams were held at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

Here are the results of the exams:
Fourth and final year exams: All 10 nuns passed
Third year exams: All 8 nuns passed
Second year: 11 of 14 nuns passed
First year: 8 of 12 nuns passed
The nuns who did not pass will have the option to re-sit their exams next year if they wish.

At the conclusion of this year’s Jang Gonchoe, held at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal, the ten nuns who passed their fourth and final Geshema exams in August took part in a formal debate process called damcha.

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Nuns line up to debate with the Geshemas in the damcha. This joyous and inspiring event was held for two days on November 3rd and 4th and was the final formal step in the Geshema graduation process. Photo courtesy of Tizi Sonam

The 2018 Geshema Graduation Ceremony was held on November 5th at Kopan Nunnery with teachers and about 600 nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal in attendance.

Here’s a video made by Tizi Sonam of the 2018 Geshema graduation ceremony at Kopan Nunnery. 

The graduation this year of ten more Geshemas brings the total number of nuns with this degree to 37, including the German-born nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who was the first-ever Geshema.

This is the third year in a row in which a group of nuns completed the challenging four-year exam process. In 2016, Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history when 20 nuns received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony in South India. Last year, another 6 nuns graduated at a ceremony at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree will make them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

The Impact of Your Support of the Nuns

The impact of your support goes far beyond providing funding to cover food and travel so the nuns could take their exams and attend the inter-nunnery debate. We are deeply grateful to all our donors for helping nuns receive the same opportunities for deep study and practice as monks have always had and for supporting these devoted women to become teachers and to contribute to their communities.

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Ten new Geshemas surrounded by Tibetan Buddhist nuns on the steps of Kopan Nunnery in Nepal, following the Geshema graduation ceremony on November 5 2018. Photo courtesy of Tizi Sonam

By furthering the education of hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, you are also helping to foster the dharma for future generations and to preserve Tibet’s rich religion and culture at a time when it is seriously under threat.

By helping to further educational opportunities like the inter-nunnery debate, you are encouraging more intense study and practice, increasing the nuns’ knowledge and confidence, and empowering these dedicated women to become great teachers in their own right. Thank you!

2018 Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate at Kopan Nunnery

Around 600 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal have gathered at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal for 2018 Jang Gonchoe, the annual inter-nunnery debate.

Running from October 3 to November 4 2018, this special event brings together nuns and teachers for intensive training in Tibetan Buddhist debate.

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Sheltered under tarps, about 600 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal gather at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal to practice Tibetan Buddhist debate for one month. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

Training in Tibetan Buddhist debate is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition. Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practice Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that joins logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

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A photograph of nuns at the opening ceremony of the 2018 inter-nunnery debate at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery.

The annual debate session for nuns has been an integral part of the nuns reaching their current level of excellence in their studies. It is critical to fostering the nuns’ ability to pursue higher degrees, such as the Geshema degree, which is roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism. Since 2016, 36 nuns have passed the rigorous written and debate exams to become Geshemas – a historic milestone for Tibet. This achievement would not have been possible without the intensive training that the inter-nunnery debate helps provide.

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Taking part in the annual inter-nunnery debate allows nuns to gain knowledge and build confidence. By debating with nuns from other nunneries, they can “up their game” and prepare for higher degrees. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

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

If you wish to see many more photos of this year’s event and video footage of the nuns debating, visit the Kopan Nunnery Facebook page. 

The Importance of Tibetan Buddhist Debate and the Jang Gonchoe

Although Tibetan monks for centuries have held the Jang Gonchoe, prior to 1995, this form and level of learning was not open to nuns.

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About 600 nuns gather for the start of the 2018 Jang Gonchoe at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery.

In 1995, the Jang Gonchoe for nuns was started. Since 1997, it has been fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. We are extremely grateful to the supporters of this year’s event and of our Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund.

The inter-nunnery debate is a unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to help ensure that a centuries-old tradition continues and expands to include the nuns, and fosters the dharma for future generations. The Jang Gonchoe also helps empower Tibetan nuns to become great teachers and examples for their nunnery communities. The host nunneries also gain the experience of putting on a large and complex event. In 2017, the Jang Gonchoe was held at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been very supportive of the education of the nuns and has praised their debating skills. His Holiness has said, “Nowadays, the Nalanda tradition of approaching the Buddha’s teachings with logic and reason is only found amongst Tibetans. It’s something precious we can be proud of and should strive to preserve.

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At the Jang Gonchoe, nuns have the opportunity to debate with nuns from other nunneries. This build confidence and skill. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

The Importance of the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund

The Tibetan Nuns Project, with the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has played a critical role in opening up this learning opportunity to women. Although all Tibetan nuns and nunneries are welcome to take part, the main obstacle to wider participation has always been lack of funding. There are more nuns who wish to attend than there is funding to support them with their travel costs and for food during the month-long event.

An average of 7 nunneries takes part each year:

  • Dolma Ling Nunnery & Institute – participant since 1995
  • Jangchup Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Jamyang Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Geden Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Khacho Ghakil Ling, Nepal – yearly participant
  • Thugjee Choeling Nunnery, Nepal – yearly participant
  • Buddhist Education Centre, Kinnaur – yearly participant
  • Drikung Nunnery – participant once
  • Dongyu Gyatseling Nunnery – occasional participant
  • Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • Yangchen Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • Jampa Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • (The nuns from the latter three nunneries now hold their own inter-nunnery debate session each year in Spiti.)

In 2014, the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a special Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund to support the Jang Gonchoe so that this vital educational opportunity may continue for years to come. Gifts to the Endowment Fund help to preserve Tibet’s culture and religion, and also open up a centuries-old tradition to the nuns, 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.

To support the Debate Endowment Fund you can:

  1. Make a gift online – see below.
  2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to:
    The Tibetan Nuns Project
    (for Debate Endowment)
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216
    Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Donate securities
  5. Leave a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project

Give to Debate Endowment

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The main costs associated with the Jang Gonchoe are food for the nuns for a month and their travel costs to and from the event.