Category Archives: Tibetan culture

Tibetan Monastic Robes

Monastic robes date back to the time of the Buddha over 2,600 years ago. The robes are a mark of identity, clearly distinguishing members of a monastic community from lay people. The disciplinary texts for monks and nuns contain many guidelines on robes.

Originally, the robe was just one rectangular piece of cloth carefully wrapped. Over time, each Buddhist tradition has developed its own set of rules and robes and settled on a color.

Tibetan monastic robes, monastic robes,

A young Tibetan Buddhist nun learns how to wear monastic robes. Photo by Olivier Adam

The Different Colors of Monastic Robes

The original rules about monastic robes are recorded in the Vinaya Pitaka of the Pali Canon and these include rules about color. The Pali Canon says the robes of fully ordained monks, may be dyed “tinting them red using the bark of the bāla tree, or using saffron, madder, vermillion, āmalakī, ocher, orpiment, realgar, or bandujīva flowers.” It is also said that the robes should be made using a dye that was readily available, not something expensive or special.

These natural dyes, created from various plants, minerals, and spices such as saffron gave the cloth used in southeast Asia a yellow-orange color. Hence the term “saffron robes”. The Theravada monks of southeast Asia still wear these spice-color robes today, in bright orange as well as shades of curry, cumin, and paprika.

The colors of Buddhist monastic robes vary depending on the tradition and on what was readily available. Also, the color of female monastics robes sometimes differs from that of male monastics, even in a shared tradition.

In Thailand, monks wear orange and saffron robes and nuns wear white robes. In Japan, monks’ and nuns’ robes are traditionally black, grey, or blue. In Korea, robes are black, brown, or gray. In Tibet and in the Tibetan diaspora, both monks and nuns wear maroon or burgundy red robes.

Tibetan monk and nun dolls showing Tibetan monastic robes

These charming monk and nun dolls are handmade by the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The dolls’ robes are made from recycled nuns’ robes. Each doll has its own mini mala, a set of prayer beads. We sell them in our online store to help the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries.

Of the various Buddhist traditions, Tibetan Buddhism has perhaps one of the more complex variety of robes. Although the main color of Tibetan robes is burgundy, the historical yellow of monastic robes is still present in both nuns’ and monks’ robes.

Cloth for Monastic Robes

The cloth and sewing pattern of monastic robes has ancient symbolism. Like the wandering holy men at the time of the Buddha, the first monastics wore a robe stitched together from rags.

The Buddha instructed the first monks and nuns to make their robes of “pure” cloth, meaning cloth that no one wanted. They scavenged in rubbish heaps and cremation grounds for discarded cloth and cut away any unusable bits before stitching the pieces together to form three rectangular sections of cloth. The humble nature of the cloth itself represented detachment from the physical world in pursuit of enlightenment.

monastic robes, Tibetan robes, Tilokpur

Vinaya texts insist that robes should be clean at all times and should be dried in the open air. This, of course, is a challenge during the monsoon. Photo from Tilokpur Nunnery courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Tibetan Monastic Robes

Geography and climate have shaped the evolution of monastic robes. The Buddha is usually depicted wearing a simple robe draped over his body, often leaving his right shoulder bare. This style of robes is still found in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. Early Buddhist robes were meant for hot climates and were not warm enough for Tibet’s cold, high-altitude conditions. Hence, an upper and an outer garment are part of monastic robes in Tibetan Buddhism.

monastic robes,

Early Buddhist robes were meant for hot climates and were not warm enough for Tibet’s cold, high-altitude conditions. An elderly nun saying the Tara Puja at Geden Choeling Nunnery, Dharamsala. Photo by Olivier Adam

The Tibetan word for robes is ཆོས་གོས་ [pronounced: chos gö], meaning “religious clothing,”. A basic set of robes for a Tibetan Buddhist monastic consists of these parts:

The dhonka, a shirt with cap sleeves. This shirt was added to Tibetan monastic robes in the 14th century, at the time of Tsong Khapa. Because of the cold Tibetan climate, it was felt that the monks needed an upper robe. The dhonka is maroon or maroon and yellow with blue piping. The blue piping has historic symbolism, remembering a period in Tibetan history when Buddhism was almost wiped out. There were not enough monks remaining to bestow ordination, but with the help of two Chinese monks, who always wore some blue garments, they were able to do so. In memory of that help, the blue sleeve edging was made a part of the upper garment.

The shemdap is a maroon skirt made with patched cloth and a varying number of pleats. This is the transformation of the original  monastic robe of the Theravada tradition. Monks and nuns no longer wear discarded cloth, but wear robes made from cloth that is donated or purchased. And nowadays the lower robe of Tibetan monastics is simply sewn to look patched.

The chogyu is yellow and worn for certain ceremonies and teachings. Similar to the Theravada robe, it is made of many pieces.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama photo by Olivier Adam

Tibetan lineages wear a maroon color upper robe ordinarily, but generally wear a yellow robe during confession ceremonies and teachings. Photo of His Holiness the Dalai Lama courtesy of Olivier Adam

A maroon zen is similar to the chogyu and is for ordinary day-to-day wear.

The namjar is larger than the chogyu, with more patches, and it is yellow and often made of silk. It is for formal ceremonial occasions and is worn leaving the right arm bare.

A donga is a heavy woollen cape that monastics wrap around themselves when sitting for long periods of time doing meditation or ritual during cold weather.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Buddhist nuns, Tibetan nuns making prayer flags

The tailoring program at Dolma Ling Nunnery had a modest start with a plan to make nuns robes so that the nuns wouldn’t have to go to the market and pay for the service. Now the tailoring program has expanded greatly and is quite successful. In addition to making robes, the nuns make item for sale in our online store including prayer flags, nun and monk dolls, bags, and Tibetan door curtains.

Losar or Tibetan New Year 2022

Losar or Tibetan New Year is a very special time of year. In 2022, Tibetan New Year or Losar falls on March 3rd. According to the Tibetan lunar calendar it is the start of year of the Water Tiger, 2149.

Tibetan New Year Losar butter sculpture decorations

Each year the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling make butter sculptures for Losar.

In the traditional Tibetan calendar, each year is associated with an animal, an element, and a number. The year of the Water Tiger ends on February 20, 2023 and the year of  the Water Hare, 2150, begins the following day.

Tibetan New Year Activities

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, 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 from top to bottom. After that, the “new year” Losar (ལོ་གསར་) is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives.

Here is a snapshot of Losar activities at a large Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in India, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The video was made several years ago, prior to the pandemic. All the  photos were taken by the nuns themselves. If you can’t see the video, click here.

Before Losar

On the 29th day of the outgoing year, called nyi-shu-gu in Tibetan, Tibetans do something like a big spring clean. By cleaning, Tibetans purify their homes and bodies of obstacles, negativity, sickness, and anything unclean.

cleaning before Losar Tibetan New Year

In the days leading up to Losar, cleaning is an important part of New Year’s preparations. The nuns clean their room as well as the nunnery complex. Photo from our archives by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Losar Food

On the night of the 29th, Tibetans eat a special kind of noodle soup called guthuk. This dish, eaten once a year two days before Losar, is part of a ritual to dispel any misfortunes of the past year and to clear the way for a peaceful and auspicious new year. If you want to make it at home, here’s a vegetarian recipe for guthuk.

Vegetarian guthuk from YoWangdu copy

Guthuk is a special noodle soup eaten once a year on the 29th day of the last month of the Tibetan calendar. For a recipe for guthuk and other Tibetan food, visit YoWangdu.com. Photo courtesy of YoWangdu.

Guthuk has at least nine ingredients and contains large dough balls, one for each person eating the soup. Hidden inside each dough ball is an object (or its symbol) such as chilies, salt, wool, rice, and coal. These objects are supposed to represent the nature of the person who receives that particular dough ball. For instance, if one gets a lump of rock salt in a dough ball (or a piece of paper with the Tibetan word for salt on it) this implies that one is a lazy person. If a person finds chilies in their dough, it means they are talkative.

Also on the 29th day, special tormas (ritual figures of flour and butter) are made. After supper, the tormas and the guthuk offered by the nuns are taken outside and and away from the nunnery. The nuns say “dhong sho ma” to mean “Go away. Leave the house” to get rid of all bad omens.

Losar Preparations

Other Losar preparations include making special Tibetan New Year foods such as momos and khapse, Tibetan cookies or biscuits. The khapse are made a few days before Losar and are distributed among the nuns and staff.

making khapse for Losar Tibetan New Year

A Tibetan nun fries khapse at Dolma Ling. Khapse are deep fried biscuits that are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations. The most common shape is the small twisted rectangular pieces which are served to guests. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The next day is called Namkhang which is the day when houses are decorated. Special ritual offerings are also prepared for the day and these are said in the prayer hall.

Tibetan New Year Losar Chemar box barley and tsampa Tibetan Nuns Project

A chemar box for Tibetan New Year made by the nuns. This ornately carved box contains roasted barley and tsampa (roasted barley flour). It is decorated with butter sculptures made by the nuns. The chemar is an auspicious offering to make at the Losar shrine to bring prosperity in the new year.

Also, as part of the Losar or Tibetan New Year preparations, the nuns make butter sculptures to help decorate the Losar altar.

Tibetan butter sculptures for Losar Tibetan New Year

Elaborate and colorful butter sculptures of flowers and Buddhist sacred symbols decorate the offering table for Losar or Tibetan New Year. These sculptures were made by the nuns at Dolma Ling.

Losar Day

On the day of Losar itself, Tibetans get up early in the morning and wish each other “Tashi Delek” or Happy New Year and then go to the prayer hall for prayers. Part of the prayer ceremony includes tsok, the offering of blessed food including khapse biscuits and fruit.

Here’s an audio recording of the nuns’ Losar prayers courtesy of Olivier Adam.

At the end of the puja or prayer ceremony, all the nuns line up to pay hommage at the throne of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to the nunnery’s leaders. They offer white kataks, ceremonial Tibetan prayers scarves.

Young Tibetan Buddhist nuns holding Losar khapse

Young nuns hold large deep-fried Losar pastries called bhungue amcho or khugo. This particular type of khapse are known as Donkey Ears because of their shape and size. These large, elongated, hollow tubes of crispy pastry are stacked up on the Losar altar and are given as food offerings. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Visiting others is a special part of Losar. Normally, people visit each to wish each other a happy new year and to drink cups of traditional Tibetan salty butter tea. However, due to the pandemic, all Tibetans living in India have been advised to take special care this year and moderate their Losar activities to keep people safe from COVID.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns offering at Losar Tibetan New Year

Two nuns carry a chemar bo, an open, decorated box with one half filled with chemar, made of roasted barley flour or tsampa and the other half filled with roasted barley. People are invited to take a pinch of the chemar and then offer a blessing with three waves of the hand in the air, then taking a nibble. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Hanging Prayer Flags at Losar

It is customary to hang new sets of prayer flags at Losar. Old prayer flags from the previous year are taken down and burned with bunches of fragrant pine and juniper. New prayer flags are hung. If you need new prayer flags you can order them from the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. The prayer flags are made and blessed by the nuns at Dolma Ling.

burning old Tibetan prayer flags

At Losar, old prayer flags are removed and burned and new ones are hung at the nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

On the third day of Tibetan New Year, a special incense burning offering called sang-sol is held. Prior to the pandemic, many nuns would travel to visit their family members at Losar, while some nuns would remain at the nunnery and take part in this special event.

The nuns gather in a line or circle and each nun takes some tsampa (roasted barley flour) in her right hand as an offering. The nuns raise their arms simultaneously twice and then, on the third time, they throw the tsampa high into the air shouting “Losar Tashi Delek”.

Happy Losar Tibetan New Year 2022

 

P.S. It’s not too late to purchase the 2022 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar with stunning images of the lives of the Tibetan nuns, ritual dates, and the Tibetan lunar calendar.

Tibetan Windhorse Prayer Flags

About Tibetan Buddhist Prayer Flags

Tibetan prayer flags are used to promote peace, wisdom, and compassion. The bright cloth flags are printed with auspicious symbols, invocations, prayers, and mantras. Tibetans believe that the prayers will be spread by the wind, bringing goodwill and auspiciousness to all beings.

Tibetan prayer flagsThe hanging of prayer flags is a tradition dating back thousands of years to ancient Buddhist India and to the Bon tradition of pre-Buddhist Tibet. Tibetans hang prayer flags at mountain passes and at temples, stupas, and other sacred structures so their prayers can be released.

Sadly, Chinese authorities have recently ordered the destruction of prayer flags in many areas of Tibet in what has been called “one of China’s most direct assaults to date on visible symbols of Tibetan culture and religious belief”.

Meaning of the Tibetan Prayer Flag Colors

Tibetan prayer flags are rich in symbolic meaning. The flags come in sets of five and are hung left to right in this specific order: blue, white, red, green, and yellow. Each of the colors represents an element. Blue symbolizes the sky and space, white symbolizes the air and wind, red symbolizes fire, green symbolizes water, and yellow symbolizes earth.

windhorse prayer flags, A Tibetan Buddhist nun hangs windhorse prayer flags at the nunnery

A Tibetan Buddhist nun hangs windhorse prayer flags at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to hang prayer flags, but they should be handled with respect. As you hang them, you should have good motivation, keeping in mind the flags’ ultimate purpose to spread positivity far and wide.

The square-shaped, horizontally strung prayer flags are the most common, but there are also vertical prayer flags mounted on poles.

Windhorse Prayer Flags

The wind horse or lungta is the most prevalent symbol used on Tibetan prayer flags. These are the most popular prayer flags sold in our online store. All the prayer flags sold by the Tibetan Nuns Project are handmade and blessed by the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India. Proceeds from the sales help fund education, food, shelter, clothing and health care for over 700 nuns at seven nunneries in India.

In the center of the windhorse prayer flag is the image of a powerful horse called a lungta or རླུང་རྟ in Tibetan. On its back, the horse bears three flaming jewels which are the cornerstones of Tibetan philosophical tradition. These jewels represent the Buddha, the dharma (the Buddhist teachings), and the sangha (the Buddhist community). The horse (ta orརྟ in Tibetan) is a symbol of speed and the transformation of bad fortune to good fortune.

red windhorse Tibetan prayer flag showing symbols and prayers

Surrounding the windhorse or lungta are mantras or prayers written in Tibetan. Clockwise starting from the top left corner of the prayer flags are images of four powerful animals, also known as the Four Dignities: the garuda, the dragon, the snow lion, and the tiger.

Together the Four Dignities represent the attitudes and sacred qualities that Bodhisattvas develop on the path to enlightenment – qualities such as fearlessness (garuda), gentle power (dragon), clear awareness (snow lion), and confidence (tiger).

On both sides of the prayer flag are the eight auspicious symbols of Buddhism which represent the offerings made to the Buddha when he attained enlightenment:

  • The Precious Parasol
  • The Vase of Great Treasures
  • The White Conch Shell
  • The Victory Banner
  • The Two Golden Fish
  • The Lotus Flower
  • The Eternal Knot
  • The Eight Spoked Wheel

Windhorse prayer flags made by the nuns are available in three sizes. You can buy Windhorse Prayer flags here.

Hanging prayer flags at your home or business brings a feeling of harmony and calls to mind the teachings of the Buddha. Proper motivation is important when raising prayer flags. You should hang them with the wish that all beings everywhere will find happiness and be free from suffering.

Tibetan Butter Lamps

It is good to offer Tibetan butter lamps whenever you feel there is a need for more light and hope in the world.

Offering butter lamps is deeply ingrained in the Tibetan tradition. Part of daily Tibetan practice, people light butter lamps for many occasions. It is common to offer butter lamps for those who have passed away or for those who are sick. Butter lamps are also lit for happy occasions like birthdays, marriages, and for one’s wishes to come true. Tibetans light butter lamps on sacred days in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar, such as the 10th, 15th and 25th day of each lunar month, as well as during the holy month of Saga Dawa.

Tibetan butter lamps, offering butter lamps, lighting butter lamps

Tibetan Buddhist nuns lighting butter lamps. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Tibetan butter lamps are a common feature of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries throughout the Himalayas. Traditionally, Tibetans used clarified butter from dri (female yaks), but in exile they use ghee.

offering Tibetan butter lamps

Tibetan Buddhist nuns add ghee and cotton wicks to hundreds of Tibetan butter lamps in preparation for a puja for someone who is sick. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Usually during morning prayers, Tibetan families offer a butter lamp and water bowls as part of their household shrine or altar. Part of the symbolism of lighting butter lamps is to dispel darkness and ignorance. Buddhist teachings consider ignorance as the source of suffering in the world.

Offering Tibetan Butter Lamps

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to sponsor butter lamps or prayers by the Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

If you, someone you love or even strangers are suffering, you can pay for butter lamps to be lit or prayers to be said for them via the Tibetan Nuns Project. The cost to light 100 butter lamps is $10. There are many types of pujas which you can request from the nuns.

When requesting a puja or prayers from the Tibetan Nuns Project, please provide information about the purpose of the prayer and who they are for.

Tibetan butter lamps

Tibetan nuns inside the butter lamp house at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The building in set apart from the rest of the nunnery to prevent fires. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Lighting butter lamps is a spiritual practice. The entire process is carried out in a meditative and devout manner. When you sponsor the lighting of butter lamps, you also earn merit for your generosity and compassion.

Learning and Practicing the Sacred Arts of Tibet

Tibetan Ritual or Sacred Arts

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.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan butter sculpture, sacred arts of Tibet

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.

Tibetan Butter sculpture, Tibetan sacred arts, Tibetan ritual arts

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.

Tibetan butter sculpture, Tibetan sacred arts, Tibetan ritual arts, nuns making butter sculpture

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.

Losar, Losar altar, Tibetan New Year, Tibetan butter sculptures, Tibetan sacred arts, Tibetan ritual arts

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.

Tormas

Tibetan tormas, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, tormas, Tibetan ritual arts

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.

tormas, Tibetan tormas, Tibetan sacred arts, Tibetan ritual arts

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 music, Tibetan instruments. Tibetan sacred arts. Tibetan sacred music

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.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns playing a Tibetan musical instrument called the gyaling

Two nuns from Shugsep Nunnery and Institute playing the gyaling, a Tibetan wind instrument somewhat like an oboe. Photo by the Media Nuns.

Two Tibetan Buddhist nuns play the dungchen, Tibetan long horns

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.

The Tibetan Calendar

Each year, the Tibetan Nuns Project sells a wall calendar through our online store. Our 2022 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar is available for order now.

The Tibetan Calendar vs. the Gregorian Calendar

The Tibetan calendar is thousands of years old. It differs from the Gregorian calendar, which is the international standard used almost everywhere in the world for civil purposes. The Gregorian calendar modified the earlier Julian calendar, reducing the average year from 365.25 days to 365.2425 days and spacing leap years.

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 has 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.

2022 calendar, Tibetan Nuns Project calendar, Tibetan calendar

Our 2022 calendar is available through our online store and all proceeds help provide education, food, shelter, clothing, and healthcare to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

In the traditional Tibetan calendar, each year is associated with an animal, an element, and a number. The year of the Water Tiger, 2149, begins on March 3, 2022.

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

2022 calendar, Tibetan Nuns Project calendar, charity calendar, 2022 charity calendar

One of the photos from the 2022 calendar from the Tibetan Nuns Project. All photos were taken by the nuns themselves and sales help to support the nunneries and nuns.

Tibetan New Year vs. Chinese New Year

Next year, starting at Tibetan New Year or Losar on March 3, 2022, it will be the year of the Water Tiger, 2149.

The Tibetan calendar follows three systems: solar day for a day, lunar day for a month, and zodiacal day for a year. The Chinese system of calendar follows the solar day system.

The dates for a new year in the Tibetan astrological system are cast according to the lunar calendar system, which has 371 days in a year, By contrast, the solar calendar system has 365 days in a year.

These few extra days in a lunar system accumulate to an extra month in a period of three years and it is thus balanced as a Da-Shol in the Tibetan astrological calendar system.

The Story of the Tibetan Nuns Project Calendar

The Tibetan Nuns Project calendar was started over 20 years ago as a fundraising and friend-raising tool to help support hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns at 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.

The astrologers at the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Institute in Dharamsala (also known as Men-Tsee-Khang) supply us with the dates for the year’s Tibetan Buddhist holidays and holy days. It should be noted that the timings of the solstices and equinoxes in the calendar are based on north-eastern India where the nuns live so they may be slightly different from where you are.

The Tibetan Nuns Project calendar uses photographs taken by the nuns themselves. These photographs provide an intimate insight into the daily lives and religious and cultural practices of the nuns.

photo of Tibetan Buddhist nuns doing yoga from 2022 charity calendar

Photo of Tibetan Buddhist nuns doing yoga from the 2022 calendar.

Each summer, the nunneries that we support send a selection of photos for possible inclusion in the upcoming 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.

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

“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.

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. The calendar cost $12 plus shipping and is 6.5″ x 7″.

Thank you for buying our 2022 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar and helping the nuns!

Tibetan incense handmade by Buddhist nuns

Tibetan incense is an important part of Tibetan culture and is used as an offering and for purification, meditation, healing, and relaxation.

Tibetan incense being made by hand by nuns. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop

The nuns at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal make traditional, Tibetan-style stick incense. Income from the sales helps support the nunnery and, when purchased through the Tibetan Nuns Project, also helps support seven Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop.

The pleasing aroma of burning incense helps to calm one’s restless mind and helps meditators to focus on the breath.

Tibetan incense, inspiration incense

Our newest type of Tibetan incense available in the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. Inspiration incense is made by nuns at Kopan Nunnery and combines lemongrass, white sandalwood, and traditional Tibetan medicinal and aromatic ingredients.

Authentic Tibetan incense originates either from a traditional monastery or from a Tibetan medical institution. The formulations or recipes for incense may be many centuries old and follow a particular lineage which can be traced back to the originator.

The incense sold through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store is made in Nepal by the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Khachoe Ghakyil Nunnery. The nunnery, also known as Kopan Nunnery, is located in the Kathmandu Valley and is home to about 360 nuns.

The various types of incense sold by the Tibetan Nuns Project are of the highest quality, using only pure natural ingredients such as high-altitude plants and woods with proven healing properties.

Nuns at Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery in Nepal making incense. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop

Nuns at Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery in Nepal making Tibetan incense. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop.

Types of Tibetan Incense Sold in Support of Nuns

All Tibetan incense sold through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store is all-natural and handmade by Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Nepal. Your purchase help to support over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns at seven nunneries in India, as well as the nuns at Kopan Nunnery who make the incense.

nun making incense, Photo courtesy of DharmaShop

A Tibetan Buddhist nun at Kopan Nunnery extrudes incense into lengths or coils. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop.

Inspiration – Lemongrass and white sandalwood are combined with traditional Tibetan medicinal and aromatic ingredients including Dhupi, Kaulo, and Sil Timur. It comes in a sustainable lokta (daphne) paper box with a small terracotta incense burner and list of ingredients. The style of the incense burner may vary. Each box includes approximately 30 sticks of incense measuring about 5 inches long.

Rhododendron Forest – The ingredients for this very special incense come from trees and herbs in the high mountains of the Solu Khumbu area. The scent is uplifting and refreshing, like a breath of fresh air from the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas.

Tibetan Nuns Project Incense – Contains a very clean, slightly sweet sandalwood and jasmine, with a hint of nutmeg. A great choice if you are new to Tibetan incense. The scent is a mixture of high-altitude plants and woods with proven healing properties. It invokes the special powers of Medicine Buddha to bring healing of body and mind. (Temporarily out of stock due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

Lotus Blossom – The intensely fresh fragrance of this incense is freshly gathered juniper leaves and berries mixed with cedarwood and sandalwood. Its invigorating scent clears and uplifts the mind. (Temporarily out of stock due to the coronavirus pandemic.)

 Incense workshop at Kopan Nunnery. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop

The workroom at Kopan Nunnery where nuns make traditional Tibetan incense. Photo courtesy of DharmaShop.

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 in the Tibetan calendar are somewhat similar to those in the Chinese zodiac and are in the following order: Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, and Boar. The five elements are in this order: Wood, Fire, Earth, Iron, and Water.

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.

Eternal Knot Symbol

The eternal knot is one of the eight auspicious symbols in Tibetan Buddhism.

The eternal knot, sometimes called the “endless knot” or “the glorious knot” is called དཔལ་བེའུ། or palbeu in Tibetan. In Sanskrit, it is called shrivasta.

Tibetan eternal knot

Tibetan Eternal Knot

Because the knot has no beginning and no end, the eternal knot symbolizes the endless wisdom and compassion of the Buddha.

The eternal knot symbol has many other meanings.

It may symbolize the interconnectedness of wisdom and compassion; the eternal continuum of mind; samsara, the Buddhist concept of the endless cycle of suffering or birth, death, and rebirth; the union of wisdom and method; and the interdependence and interconnectedness of everything in the universe.

The remaining seven auspicious symbols in Buddhism are a white parasol, two golden fishes, a wish-fulfilling treasure vase, a lotus flower, a conch shell, a victorious banner, and a golden wheel.

In Buddhism, the eight auspicious symbols represent the offerings made to the Shakyamuni Buddha when he attained enlightenment.

eternal knot, Susan Lirakis, Tibetan refugee nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project

This lovely B&W portrait of a Tibetan refugee nun was taken in the 1990s by Susan Lirakis. Behind the nuns is part of a large eternal knot.

The eternal knot and the other symbols of good fortune are used in many ways, such as on khatas or kataks (ceremonial scarves), for door hangings, in greeting cards, in Tibetan handicrafts such as Tibetan carpets or seat mats, on prayer flags, as jewelry, and in art and printed books. Visit our online store to see many products that feature the Tibetan eternal knot design and which are sold to support the nunneries.

Tibetan handicrafts, eternal knot, Tibetan eternal knot, 8 Buddhist symbols

A selection of Tibetan handicrafts with the eternal knot symbol made by the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and available through our online store.

The endless knot is often used as a design on Tibetan buildings and tents.

eternal knot, endless knot, Buddhist auspicious symbols

Eternal knots as balcony designs at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala. Photo courtesy of Hillary Levin