What do the nuns do every day? The nuns do much more than study and pray.
The seven nunneries in India that the Tibetan Nuns Project supports through our sponsorship program are complex institutions that require a lot of work to run smoothly. The largest of them, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, functions like a non-sectarian monastic university and is home to almost 250 nuns plus staff. Just feeding that many people each day is a challenge.
This blog post is a photo essay showing some of the many tasks that the nuns at the various nunneries do in addition to their studies and their Buddhist practice.
The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have been keeping cows for the past 20 years. The nuns have 7 milking cows, as well as five calves and two older cows. The cows provide milk to meet Dolma Ling’s daily needs. Many of the nuns grew up as nomads in Tibet, so daily milking presents no problem.
At Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley, the nuns work hard during the summer months to grow food for the long, harsh winter. Several years ago, people from the nearby village donated a piece of land to the nuns where they now grow spinach, beans, and potatoes. The nuns have three greenhouses where they mostly grow spinach. The head nun has also donated her share of a field to the nunnery so the nuns have also been able to grow peas and wheat.
Nuns from Shugsep Nunnery prepare tsampa by roasting barley and then grinding it into flour. Tsampa is a staple of the Tibetan diet and is mixed with butter tea. There’s a tradition of throwing pinches of tsampa in the air during many Tibetan Buddhist rituals.
Tilokpur Nunnery is the oldest Kagyu nunnery outside of Tibet. It provides housing and education to over 60 nuns and overlooks a small town in the lush foothills of the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh in northern India. Here, in the Tilokpur kitchen, a nun and local helpers shell peas. As you can imagine, preparing peas for about 60 people takes a bit of time.
At Dolma Ling Nunnery you have to get up very early to prepare breakfast for 230 nuns. Nuns on kitchen duty start preparing breakfast at 3 in the morning. All the food is vegetarian and is prepared by the nuns themselves.
Dolma Ling nuns use colored butter to make elaborate sculptures to decorate a traditional chemar bo, an open, decorated box used at Losar or Tibetan New Year. The art of making sculptures out of yak butter has been practiced in Tibet for over 400 years. At Dolma Ling the nuns have been learning how to make butter sculptures from their excellent teacher Gen. Karma-la. He finds that the nuns, with their nimble fingers, their keen sense of color and design, and their endless patience, make excellent students.
One of the many tasks of the nuns is to keep the nunnery grounds neat and tidy. Here, nuns at Shugsep Nunnery, work to keep the grass cut and the garden looking its best.
A number of the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery have received training in both still photography and video production, as well as in interview techniques, and in cutting and editing footage to make videos. The nuns have produced a series of videos on life at Dolma Ling, the work of the Tibetan Nuns Project, and on Shugsep Nunnery. Each year the nuns at different nunneries supply photos for the annual Tibetan Nuns Project wall calendar that is sold through our online store to raise funds to support our work.
The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery clean the dining room floor with many buckets of water and lots of vigorous sweeping. Brian Harris, the photographer, took a series of photos of the nuns at work. He wrote, “Today is Saturday at Dolma Ling and it’s cleaning day. Just about all the nuns are out cleaning, gardening, washing, and polishing. I was totally captivated by the washing of the dining hall floor. Here are the sights of that playful and wet event…”
We have also created a second blog post, Daily Life of Tibetan Buddhist Nuns: Part 2, with more photos and news of the many tasks that the nuns perform.