Debate Courtyard Extension

Good news! We have fully fund the extension of the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Phase 1 is completed and Phase 2 is well under way with expected completion in mid-January 2023. We will continue to report back here as the work unfolds.

Interim Report on the Debate Courtyard Project

In the spring of 2022, we launched a campaign to improve the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, a large non-sectarian nunnery that is home to 261 nuns.

The aim is to provide sheltered covered space for the nuns as they do their daily practice in Tibetan monastic debate.

The existing debate courtyard lacks enough covered, protected space from the monsoon rains and the hot Indian sun. Our goal was to provide an additional 2,500 square feet covered area, adding 60% to the existing debate courtyard.

debate courtyard at Dolma Ling

Dark monsoon clouds loom over the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling in 2018. The nuns needed help to increase the covered space and protect them from rain and snow so they can practice debate daily. Photo courtesy of Mati Bernabei.

During their debate sessions, pairs of nuns spread out across the courtyards and even onto the adjoining grassy areas and steps. Some distance is required between the pairs or groups of challengers and responders. Since at least two-thirds of the paved area was open to the elements, many nuns have been forced to debate in the open under the hot sun. When it rains, this space is unusable.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns practicing monastic debate under tarp at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

The nuns have been stringing up tarps at Dolma Ling to try to provide some shelter as they practice monastic debate.

Phase 1 Completed

The first phase of the debate courtyard improvements has been completed. This involved protecting the upper courtyard from rain by enclosing the back and sides with sliding windows that can open to allow ventilation during the hot season.

Debate Courtyard Expansion project at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Work on Phase 1 to improve the debate facilities at Dolma Ling. This part of the project involved enclosing the back and sides of the existing debate courtyard to prevent rain coming in.

The steel roofing over the upper section was also extended on all four sides to prevent rain from blowing in. Finally, an additional row of stone seating has been added at the back and sides of the courtyard in front of the windows.

Olivier Adam photo of Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Nuns debating in May 2022 front of the new windows at the back of the debate courtyard. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Phase 2 of Debate Courtyard Project

Because of its reputation for providing excellent teachers and the best facilities for nuns to study, the number of nuns applying to join Dolma Ling has increased substantially. In 2022, 32 nuns joined the nunnery. They all wish to follow the intense 17-year course of studies leading to the Geshema degree. Practice in debate is an essential part of the nuns’ studies.

monastic debate, Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating, Buddhist debate

Tibetan nuns practice debate on the grass under a makeshift shelter of netting. There hasn’t been enough covered space in the debate courtyard to accommodate all the nuns so many have to debate in the open.

In the early autumn of 2022, the Tibetan Nuns Project office in India signed a contract with the contractors for Phase 2 of the expansion project. On September 29th, the architect for the project came to assist the contractor with the positioning of the 8 new pillars for the extension roof.

debate courtyard, dolma ling,

An architectural drawing of the Dolma Ling debate courtyard showing the plan to cover the entire middle section to provide an additional 2,500 square feet of covered area, adding 60% to the existing debate courtyard.

The nuns are very involved in the design of the new space and have been in discussions with the architect and engineers. Building specifications for this high-risk seismic zone have been revised and the extension must comply with current building standards. This means that, in addition to the new pillars, there must be tie beams and two additional below-ground-level columns because they are building in previously filled land.

Debate courtyard work at Dolma Ling Nunnery

In September 2022, work began to excavate the pits for 6 of the 8 new columns to support the extension of the debate courtyard.

The nuns asked that the side pillars and roof coverage be extended on the east and west sides so as to be able to extend the side walls out creating a larger platform to accommodate more nuns. With some careful adjustment, the architects provided a revised plan which the nuns have accepted. This will provide an additional 350 square feet of covered space on either side. The estimated time the project is mid-January 2023.
Debate courtyard extension Dolma Ling

About Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is a non-sectarian nunnery located in the Kangra Valley near Dharamsala, north India. The large campus is home to over 250 nuns. Officially inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on December 8, 2005, the nunnery was the first institute dedicated specifically to higher Buddhist education for ordained female Tibetan Buddhist practitioners.

Debate Courtyard expansion project at Dolma Ling

Tibetan Buddhist nuns crowded into the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling. The nuns need help  to expand the courtyard and shelter them  from monsoon and winter rains. This will enable growing community of nuns to practice debate under cover each day and also to host the annual inter-nunnery debate event called the Jang Gonchoe.

Dolma Ling is unique because it offers a 17-year curriculum of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate, as well as modern courses in Tibetan language, English, basic mathematics, science and computer skills. Training in Buddhist debate, the extensively practised method for examining philosophical, moral and doctrinal issues inherited from the great monastic universities of ancient India, is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition.

Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practise Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that uses logical enquiry to build a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked hard to make this opportunity available to nuns by including debate as a core part of their education, which enables them to extend their use of logic and deepen their understanding of the arguments asserted in the texts they are studying.

The practice of debate takes many years to master fully and is critical to the nuns’ ability to assume roles as fully qualified teachers of their tradition. In 2012, a purpose built debate courtyard was built at Dolma Ling where the nuns have been able to hold their daily debate sessions.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is committed to providing this unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to help ensure that a centuries-old tradition of learning continues to expand to include more nuns, and to foster the dharma for future generations. We sincerely request your help to enable us to carry out this important project for the expansion of the nuns Buddhist studies.

As His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said, “The best and most constructive way to uphold, preserve, and spread the scriptural and realized teachings, is through study and practice.”