Taking you on a tour of the flowers of Dolma Ling Nunnery

In the foothills of the Himalayas, the 240 nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery cultivate beautiful flowers in pots and gardens to make the nunnery beautiful.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is a unique center of higher learning for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India. The nuns themselves took part in the construction of the nunnery, laboring to carry bricks and mortar, to dig the foundations, and to landscape and create the lush flower gardens that are a refuge for birds and insects.

flower competition, Tibetan nunnery, Buddhist nuns, Dolma Ling Nunnery, flowers of Dolma Ling

Some of the Dolma Ling nuns during the 2016 flower competition.

The nunnery is set in a serene area of the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh and is surrounded by green terraced wheat and rice fields, with beautiful views up towards the snowy mountain peaks of the nearby Dhauladhar range. The town of Dharamsala, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration, is about 20-minutes drive from Dolma Ling.

This video by Brian Harris takes you through parts of the nunnery to see the flowers and hear the birds.

Construction of Dolma Ling began in 1993 and the nunnery was officially inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on December 8, 2005. The red and white buildings of the nunnery are constructed around a central courtyard that is the main hub of the nunnery.

Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan nuns, Buddhist nuns, nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project

Dolma Ling is fully funded by the Tibetan Nuns Project and was one of the first institutions dedicated specifically to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions. Panorama of the nunnery by Brian Harris.

Each year, the nuns take part in a flower contest that is part of the celebrations around His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Continue reading

Another Historic Achievement: Geshemas to Receive Higher Education in Tantric Studies

For the first time in the history of Tibet, nuns will be given the opportunity to receive higher education in tantric studies. Although there have been accomplished female practitioners in Tibet’s history, women have never before been given an opportunity to formally study tantric Buddhism.

Geshema, Geshema nuns, Tantric Buddhism, Tibetan Nuns Project

18 of the 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns who received their Geshema degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in December 2016. The Geshema graduates now have the opportunity to study tantric Buddhism.

Traditionally, monks who have attained their Geshe degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism, must also study tantric treatises in order to become fully qualified masters capable of teaching their complete tradition. Monks have always been able to receive these teachings at one of the great tantric colleges.

After the first-ever Tibetan Geshemas graduated in December 2016, a committee of representatives from six nunneries approached His Holiness the Dalai Lama for advice on starting a tantric studies program for the nuns. He kindly gave detailed instructions about the curriculum and the treatises to be used. He recommended that the Geshema nuns study as a group at Dolma Ling Nunnery, one of the nunneries founded and supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, since it has a quiet and peaceful atmosphere, conducive to intense study.

Olivier Adam, Geshema nuns, Geshema graduation, tantric studies for women, nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project

Joy among the 20 Geshema nuns who received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in December 2016 at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The committee then asked the Tibetan Nuns Project to provide funding for this groundbreaking program. On August 30th, the program was fully funded.

The two-year program starts in the first week of October. Two teachers are being hired and the Geshema nuns will receive training in tantric theory, rituals, and mind-training techniques used by those engaged in advanced meditation.

How Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Live: Housing Then and Now

The Tibetan Nuns Project was created in response to a huge influx of nuns who arrived in India after escaping from Tibet. Finding shelter and creating long-term housing for the nuns was an urgent task.

Unlike monks who escaped and who had the option of joining established monasteries in India, there were no nunneries to go to for the nuns arriving in India. The two nunneries (Geden Choeling and Tilokpur) that were in and around Dharamsala, the home in exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the destination of choice for most Tibetan refugees, were both crowded and struggling.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, housing, nuns living in tents, Dharamsala

This archival photo shows one of the many exiled Tibetan nuns living in tents in India.

Housing for nuns in the early days

“We had a huge influx of nuns from Tibet after 1987 – nuns who had been to prison and tortured,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal, founder and director of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

“Many had had to leave their nunneries in Tibet because they had been on demonstrations. Because of that, they were imprisoned and not allowed to go back to their nunneries. The only option for them was to escape and come to India via Nepal. This was one of the very pressing reasons for the Tibetan Nuns Project to come into existence – so that we could shelter and look after these nuns, and so they could have an education.”

housing, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, rented house for nuns

Nuns studying inside one of the rented houses before the Tibetan Nuns Project built two new nunneries.

“All these nuns arrived from Tibet with nothing, in bad health, 99% not knowing how to read and write, traumatized in the prisons, beaten by the prison guards, with damaged kidneys and all kinds of health problems. And here we were trying to set up nunneries and a system of education for them… It was amazing how our international friends came forward to help us financially,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal.

In the early days, four houses were rented in Dharamsala by the Tibetan Nuns Project to accommodate the newly arrived nuns.

Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Napper, co-director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, describes the housing situation in the late 1980s and 1990s:

“The Dolma Ling nuns were housed in a very dark, rented house with bunk beds three high – 18 in a room. They cooked outside in an outer cooking area with a canopy over it.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, housing, outdoor kitchen

In the early days, before the Tibetan Nuns Project built Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries, the nuns cooked outdoors in temporary structures.

“The situation for the Shugsep nuns wasn’t much better. We were able to move the Dolma Ling nuns down to a rented house and give the Shugsep nuns the small house that they had been in. It, too, was way too small. Every available space was filled by a bed; even under the stairs there were beds.”

“The structure was poorly built and rain would run down the walls during the monsoon. It was damp and moldy in there. It was awful.”

“Bit by bit we built things, like a bathroom toilet block. Every bit of it was a struggle. But more nuns kept coming. Every time we thought we had the space OK, more nuns would come, so it would get overcrowded again. That was why we had to build a whole new nunnery. Both nunneries –Dolma Ling and Shugsep – started out in really overcrowded, substandard housing.”

Construction of the new Shugsep Nunnery in India began in January 2006. The nuns lived for ten years in damp, crowded conditions while the nunnery was being built.

housing for nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project archive, Tibetan Buddhist Nuns building

While they were living in rented housing, the nuns helped build the new nunneries. This archival photo shows nuns working to build Dolma Ling Nunnery. The nunnery took 12 years to build and was officially inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on December 8, 2005. It is now home to over 230 nuns.

Housing Now

Betsy Napper describes the housing situation now for Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries.

“The housing is still simple and basic. The standard configuration is two nuns to a room. Each nun has a bed, a table, a bench, a little storage area where she can put her books for study and practice, and a little area where she can set up an altar. Only nuns who are very senior or who have special responsibilities get single rooms.”

Dolma Ling Nunnery, nun's room, housing, Tibetan Nuns Project

Inside a nun’s room at Dolma Ling Nunnery. The accommodation is still very simple, with basic furniture, shared rooms, and no heat. In the winter, the temperature will drop to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

“Of course there’s no way at all to afford heating. Heating is impossible. None of the nunneries are heated. In the winter, the nuns will try to sit outside in the sun because the buildings are cold.”

“Hot water has always been a struggle. We were able to put in solar hot water and make bath houses for both Dolma Ling Nunnery and Shugsep Nunnery so that the nuns have an option of bathing with hot water. We also got hot water into the kitchens, using solar panels at both nunneries.”

Thank you for sponsoring the nuns

The over 700 nuns in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project could not be given shelter without your support. We hope that this blog post helps to show the impact of your sponsorship gifts.

There are always nuns who wish to join the nunneries. One of the biggest obstacles is finding enough sponsors. If you would like to learn more about how to sponsor a nun and to see a video about the impact of sponsorship gifts, please visit our sponsorship page.

housing for nuns, Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project

Making a dream come true. Thanks to supporters around the world, the Tibetan Nuns Project was able to build two large nunneries and also support 5 more. This archival photo shows a holding a model of Dolma Ling Nunnery in front of the construction site in the early days of its 12-year construction.

Tibetan Buddhist prayers or pujas by the nuns

Prayers have power. Buddhists believe that prayers can help relieve suffering and overcome obstacles. It is a belief that is shared by many of the world’s religions.

Tibetans recite mantras and prayers to purify the mind, to deal with negative emotions, to increase merit, and to invite help from the Buddha and various enlightened beings or deities.

Buddhist nuns saying prayers

Offering butter lamps is deeply ingrained in the Tibetan tradition and sometimes as many as 10,000 are offered. Butter lamps may be offered for many occasions, such as when someone is starting a new venture, to celebrate a birthday, anniversary or graduation, to say thank you, or when you or someone you know is in trouble. This photo shows nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery offering 1,000 butter lamps and saying prayers as part of a sponsored puja for someone who was ill. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns pray daily. They also perform pujas, which are special ceremonies in which prayers are offered to the Buddha and other deities to request help, to receive blessings, and to purify obstacles due to past karma or actions.

butter lamps, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dolma Ling, Dharamsala

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery prepare hundreds of butter lamps for a special puja.

How to request a Puja or Prayers

You can ask the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India to perform prayers and pujas on your behalf.

People around the world are able to sponsor pujas or prayers through our Tibetan Nuns Project website. You can sponsor prayers in honor of loved ones, friends, family members, or even pets who may be suffering from obstacles, ill health, or who have passed away.

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to request prayers by the Tibetan nuns.

torma, Tibetan Buddhism, Dolma Ling

Tibetan Buddhist nuns prepare tormas for a puja. Tormas are figures made mostly of flour and butter used in tantric rituals or as offerings. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

There are many different types of prayers or pujas to choose from, depending on your wishes and the problems that you wish to overcome. Full descriptions of each puja and its use are available on our website in the Prayers and Pujas section of our online store.

When requesting a puja or prayers from the Tibetan Nuns Project please provide information about who the prayers are to be directed to and for what purpose. The funds given to the nuns to sponsor pujas are used to purchase supplies and also help to support the nunnery as a whole.

A gift of prayer is something very special. As soon as we receive your request for a puja or for the offering of butter lamps, we will send you a thank you message by email. As soon as possible after that, the nuns will send a confirmation note to you from India to let you know that the puja has been performed. Continue reading

Tibetan photographer with a compassionate eye: Delek Yangdron

Venerable Delek Yangdron is one of the most senior nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India. She arrived in India the winter of 1990 as part of the first group to join the newly founded nunnery. Almost illiterate on arrival, she began her education in Buddhist studies and is now the leader of the nuns’ Media Team and is a skilled photographer and videographer.

Her determination and story of academic and professional success are inspiring.

Delek Yangdron Tibetan Buddhist nun

Venerable Delek Yangdron’s path to academic and professional success has been long and difficult. She now heads the Media Team of nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India.

Delek Yangdron was born in Lithang in the eastern Tibetan province of Kham, surrounded by open grasslands and snow-capped mountains. Born into a nomad family, she helped care for the family’s animals, moving the livestock in search of better pastures. Sadly, her father passed away when she was just seven and her mother died in 2000. During her time at home in Tibet, Delek Yangdron never had the opportunity to go to school or to study.

In the late 1980s, a lama from Kham, Yonten Phuntsok Rinpoche, decided to organize a special pilgrimage from Parlhakang in Kham all the way to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Delek Yangdron joined the group of over 150 pilgrims. Continue reading

Food for Thought: What Buddhist Nuns Eat

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.

Chopping vegetables for about 280 people is a big job at Dolma Ling. The nuns take turns on kitchen duty. This photo and the above kitchen photo are courtesy of Brian Harris.

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.”

It’s long before dawn when the nuns assemble in the kitchen to start preparing breakfast. Meals are prepared collectively in the nunnery kitchens. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

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. Continue reading

Delek Palmo’s Story and the Impact of Sponsoring a Nun

We’d like to tell you the story of one nun, Delek Palmo, so that you can understand and appreciate the enormous impact that sponsorship gifts have on the lives of the nuns in India.

Delek Palmo, shown in this archival photo courtesy of Susan Lirakis, was one of the first batch of nuns helped by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Delek Palmo, refugee nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, escape from Tibet

This archival photo courtesy of
Susan Lirakis, shows Delek Palmo sitting on one of the beds donated to the nuns after their escape from Tibet.

Her journey to India and freedom was nothing short of epic.

Delek Palmo was born in Lithang, Tibet in 1970 and became a nun at 19. She took her ordination vows with her lama, Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, who years later, in 2002, was arrested by Chinese authorities and became a prominent political prisoner. Human Rights Watch concluded that the case against him was the culmination of a decade-long effort by Chinese authorities to curb his efforts to foster Tibetan Buddhism. He died in prison in 2015.

In 1989, Delek Palmo joined a large group of pilgrims whose aim was to travel from Lithang to Lhasa, a distance of 1,200 miles.

“The pilgrimage to Lhasa took two years to complete because we did prostrations all along the way,” says Delek Palmo. “We would do prostrations in the rain and our clothes got wet and dirty and we could not wash them out every day.”

“When we got close to Lhasa, the Chinese police refused to let us enter the city as there was a meeting of some kind going on and they did not want us attracting attention. We had traveled for nearly two years and now we were prevented from reaching our goal.” Instead, the police loaded them into trucks and interrogated them for hours at a police holding center.

Denied access to the holy sites in Lhasa and fearful of the police, Delek Palmo and the pilgrims changed course to Mount Kailash. From there, she and most of the group decided to escape to freedom in India.

It was winter and the pilgrims were ill equipped. They had no winter clothing, no proper shoes, or even enough food to eat for such an expedition. The journey on foot over the Himalayas to Nepal took 27 days.

“We walked at night as our group was very large and the Chinese police would catch us if they found out that we were leaving to India,” she reported.

escape from Tibet, Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project

Handing out supplies to newly arrived nuns in Dharamsala. The nuns escaped from Tibet and arrived in a refugee community already struggling to survive.

Delek Palmo and 41 other nuns from the group arrived in Dharamsala seeking sanctuary and a nunnery in which to study and practice. It was their arrival that was one of the catalysts for the creation of our sponsorship program which now supports over 700 nuns in India.

They arrived in a refugee community that was struggling to survive. Delek Palmo, like her sister nuns, needed the basic necessities of life—a roof over her head, a bed to sleep in, nun’s robes, simple food, education, and a safe place to practice her religion.

Delek Palmo is nun #35 and was one of the first nuns to be sponsored. In December 2016, she received her Geshema degree from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, equivalent to a doctorate in
Tibetan Buddhism. She is now a senior nun, a teacher, and a leader in her community.

This is the power of your sponsorship gifts.

Delek Palmo, Tibetan nun, Tibetan Nuns Project, escape from Tibet, refugee nuns

Taken earlier this year, this photo shows Geshema Delek Palmo (back row, far right) together with the other Geshema nuns from Dolma Ling Nunnery and with some of the first nuns that arrived from Lithang, Tibet.

 

You are helping brave, dedicated and compassionate women on their path. Thank you!
Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, sponsor a nun

About Saga Dawa

The most important month in the Tibetan lunar calendar is Saga Dawa, the 4th month. This year Saga Dawa starts on May 26th 2017 and runs until June 24.

The 15th day of this lunar month, the full moon day, is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Buddhists. This year, Saga Dawa Düchen falls on June 9, 2017. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni. In other Buddhist traditions it is known as Vesak or is sometimes called Buddha Day.

Tibetan nun, Buddhist nun, Tibetan Nuns Project, nun reading scripture, Tibetan Buddhism, Saga Dawa, Dolma Ling Nunnery A young Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery reads scriptures to mark Saga Dawa. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo. Continue reading

Tibetan nuns Geshema Graduation Ceremony December 2016

This blog post is our special record of the historic milestone, the Geshema graduation ceremony, and is a permanent placeholder for the video of the event.

On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a ceremony at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.

Geshema graduation ceremony

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the 20 Geshema graduates at the degree ceremony in Mundgod, December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of OHHDL.

The Geshema degree is equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. It could previously only be earned by monks and is called the Geshe degree.

This historic milestone for the 20 nuns was the culmination of decades of study and dedication. The rigorous exam process for the Geshema degree takes a total of four years to complete. Each May  the nuns  took 12 days of exams to test their knowledge gained in a 17-year course of study.

nuns watching Geshema graduation ceremony

Nuns attending the first Geshema convocation at Drepung Lachi in Mundgod, Karnataka, India on December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

At the graduation ceremony, His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke about the important of education for women and girls. “Through the power of education, women have been able to rise up to prominent roles including leadership in various societies. Education has played a big role in the advancement of gender equality and material development,” His Holiness said.

Tibetan political leader Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay was also in attendance, offering congratulations for the nuns’ hard work and dedication.

As doctors of philosophy, the nuns will now be expected to teach, a role reserved only for men until this point.

Video of the Geshema Graduation Ceremony

The full graduation ceremony can be seen here:

Watch the Tibetan language version of the ceremony.

On the day following the ceremony, the Tibetan Nuns Project shared many messages of congratulation that came from around the world for the nuns.

Geshema nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

A joyous occasion. Some of the 20 nuns react to a comment by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The ceremony took place in the courtyard of Drepung Lachi Monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka, India on December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Tribute cards make great gifts for any occasion

Sometimes it’s hard to think of ideas for special gifts for people. If you’re searching for a meaningful gift in honor or in memory of a loved one, a friend, a colleague, or a teacher, then you may want to consider ordering a Tibetan Nuns Project tribute card.

tribute cards

This collage shows our five original tribute card designs. In May, we will be printing 5 new cards with photos by Olivier Adam

How tribute cards and gifts work

Choose one of our five different tribute card designs and we’ll mail the card to you or directly to the person you wish to honor with your gift. This is the perfect gift for any occasion. You can:

  • Celebrate a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary;
  • Give a gift for Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, or a special occasion such as graduation;
  • Send get well wishes;
  • Extend your condolences;
  • Pay tribute to your teacher or a colleague
  • Honor someone special or the memory of a loved one

Tribute cards are the perfect way to help the nuns in India while showing you care.

Tribute card gifts may be made online by Visa, MasterCard, American Express, cheque or cash. Minimum contribution: $15

Tribute card message

We have two options for messages in the tribute cards:

OPTION 1:  A handwritten gift note with the following text will be included with the card:

Dear _______,
A generous gift to the Tibetan Nuns Project has been made in your honor by _________. Warmest wishes and thank you on behalf of the nuns.
Lisa
Lisa Farmer
Executive Director
Tibetan Nuns Project

OPTION 2:  If you prefer to write a short personal note enter it into the “Alternative Card Text” box listed above before clicking “Give Now” to add it to your cart.

To make a tribute gift you can:

  1. Order a tribute card through our online store
  2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901 (Monday-Friday)
  3. Mail a check a note about your tribute gift to:
    The Tibetan Nuns Project
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216
    Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Pay tribute to someone by sponsoring a nun or by giving to a specific project or fund. If so, make your donation using this button and note the tribute in the “Comments” box.

Make a Donation

If you have questions, please contact us at our Seattle, WA office by calling 1-206-652-8901 or emailing us at info@tnp.org