The other day we published Part 1 of Daily Life of Tibetan Buddhist Nuns.
Since we had so many great photos, we decided to do Part 2 to give you a better idea of the many tasks that the nuns do in addition to their studies and practice.
As we said in Part 1, nunneries are complex institutions requiring a lot of hands-on work by the nuns to function smoothly. As you will see from the photos below, the nuns take an active role in running the nunneries. For instance, at Dolma Ling Nunnery, the largest of the 7 nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project and home to almost 250 nuns, there is a nuns’ committee that oversees the various aspects of nunnery life.
These leadership roles include kitchen managers who do the purchasing for the kitchen and are often directly involved in cooking; treasurers who are responsible for nunnery finances, running the nunnery store, and making purchases for the nunnery; and the keeper of the temple who makes the daily water offerings, lights the butter lamps, escorts visitors, and keeps the temple clean.
One of our goals at the Tibetan Nuns Project is to help the nuns achieve more self-sufficiency through skill building and income-generating projects. The nuns at Dolma Ling make a range of handicrafts such as prayer flags and malas for sale in the nunnery shop and through our online store. In spite of the various self-sufficiency projects, the nunneries still need outside support. The nuns are not in their own country. They are refugees and do not have access to major sources of revenue within India.
At Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote region of Spiti in the Indian Himalayas, the nuns must often shovel the snow in winter. This photo shows them shovelling the nunnery roof. During the winter of 2014/15, the weather was so severe that the nunnery ran out of cooking gas. For over two months the nuns had to rely solely on firewood to cook. The heavy snowfalls in the area meant that the nuns were unable to get supplies and all the local villages were cut off. In order to fetch water from the nearby village, the nuns had to clear a path through waist-deep snow.
Washing clothes is done by hand and with a minimum amount of water. Nuns’ robes are hung to dry over a line, balcony railings, or sometimes fences or large boulders. Several of the nunneries supported through our sponsorship program are located in Himachal Pradesh which experiences extremely high rainfall during monsoon season. This makes drying anything a challenge.
The harsh sun and the torrential monsoon rains near Dharamsala in northern India take their toll on the wooden window frames at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Each year the nuns must carefully clean, sand, and refinish the wooden window frames in order to preserve them.
Based in Mcleod Ganj, Geden Choeling is the oldest nunnery in the Dharamsala area and is home to about 140 nuns. The nunnery follows the Gelugpa tradition and runs its own administration with the help of a Khenpo. They have a well-established education system and an office run by the nuns’ committee. The nunnery is also home to a number of elderly nuns, many of whom, became nuns later in life and who are taken care of in the nunnery by the younger nuns.
Last year, a number of generous donors enabled the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery to purchase a small, multi-purpose truck. With over 230 nuns at the nunnery, the nuns must travel often to buy vegetables, rice, oil, and other food, as well as supplies for the their small shop, the nunnery’s tailoring section, for the tofu-making facility, and for the paper-recycling section. Here’s a video made by the nuns showing a group setting off a 4 a.m. on a shopping expedition to the fruit and vegetable market.
The nuns at Dolma Ling make tofu every Saturday. Tofu is an important source of nourishment and protein for the nuns because they follow a vegetarian diet. The tofu is supplied regularly each week to the nunnery kitchen for consumption by the nuns and 2kg is bought every week by the nunnery café.
At Shugsep Nunnery, the nuns learn the flute and practice with their teacher. One of our donors, Sara in Virginia, wrote and told us, “I feel that Tibetan culture is unique and under threat, and that the political situation in Tibet itself is precarious, to say the least. I want to see all Tibetans find ways to live in the modern world, without losing what is valuable about their traditional Buddhist culture. The Tibetan Nuns Project is helping to meet these twin goals, of modernization and of preservation.”