It’s just past 3 a.m. and the nuns on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India are already hard at work boiling water and heating up griddles to prepare breakfast for about 280 nuns and staff.
In the shelter of the cowshed, the nunnery’s small herd of dairy cows are still asleep. The nuns will milk them around 6:30 a.m. and carry their sweet, fresh milk in pails to the kitchen, where it will be used to make both traditional Tibetan butter tea and Indian-style sweet tea.
In this blog post we’d like to take you behind the scenes at some of the seven nunneries in northern India supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project. We offer profound thanks to our sponsors of nuns whose generosity feeds over 700 nuns every day.
For 2,500 years, since the time of the Buddha, nuns and monks have relied on the generous support of the lay community for their daily food. The practice of generosity (dana) is the first of the perfections or paramitas in both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. Offering food to monastics is a meritorious act. As Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and poet, said, “The practitioner and benefactor offering food create the cause to achieve enlightenment together.”
In countries like Thailand, where Theravada Buddhism is practiced, monks and nuns go on daily alms rounds, carrying their alms bowls and accepting offerings of food from the local community.
In the nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, the Tibetan nuns work together to prepare food for the entire nunnery. While the nunneries do their best to be self-sufficient, all of them are still heavily reliant for food on the support they receive through our sponsorship program and through general donations to the Tibetan Nuns Project.
All the nunneries follow a simple vegetarian diet. Breakfast might be a piece of flat bread, cooked mixed vegetables, and tea. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is often rice, two kinds of vegetables, dal, and sometimes fruit. Dinner is often a noodle soup and maybe a steamed bun.
Good health and nutrition are essential for the nuns to be able to study; it is literally food for thought. The majority of nuns are refugees from Tibet and most arrived in India destitute, malnourished, and ill. As refugees without their families and traditional communities to support them, they rely more than ever on the compassion and generosity of others. Providing the nuns with a steady supply of food makes a dramatic difference in the energy they are able to devote to their studies. By giving food, you are also helping to preserve the dharma and maintain Tibet’s unique Tibetan culture and religion.
Food at Remote Nunneries
The nuns in remote nunneries in arid landscapes, such as Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti and Dorjee Zong in Ladakh, have difficult living conditions. They often face long, harsh winters and sometimes heavy snowfalls that cut off their access to neighboring villages. The nuns must stock up on supplies of food and cooking fuel well before the onset of cold weather.
At Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the high-altitude Spiti Valley, the nuns work hard during the summer months to grow food for the long winter. The people in a nearby village gave the nuns a plot of land where they can grow spinach, beans, and potatoes. The head nun also donated her share of a field to the nunnery, so the nuns are able to grow peas and wheat.
In past blog posts, we’ve shared recipes for some of the typical dishes that the nuns eat such as:
How you can help feed the nuns
The best way to donate food to the nuns at the seven nunneries we support is to sponsor a nun. For about $1 a day, you can help provide the nuns with food, education, shelter, clothing, and medical care. Learn more at https://tnp.org/youcanhelp/sponsor/
If you are unable to commit to a sponsoring a nun, please consider becoming a monthly donor at any amount you choose.
As Constance, one of our donors, wrote, “From a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, there is no greater virtuous effort than supporting those who dedicate themselves to studying and teaching the path to ‘awakening’.”