Happy Nuns in the Dolma Ling Kitchen

Cooking for about 250 nuns a day is a challenge, especially during the pandemic. This spring, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute asked for your help to buy an electric rice cooker, a dough-making machine, a refrigerator, and two new gas burners.

The kitchen equipment has arrived now and the nuns are happy because their daily tasks are safer and easier.

Helping the Nuns Cook Rice Safely

new electric rice cooker at Dolma Ling Nunnery

“We are very happy with the new rice cooker. Now we just have to wash the rice, put it in the rice cooker, add water, close the lid, and press the cook button. So easy and safe! We don’t have to worry about the hot rice water,” said one nun. It also saves on fuel costs and produces better, more nutritious rice.

Venerable Samten Dolma, the nun in charge of the kitchen this year, said, “Before, I had to check regularly to see if the rice was cooked perfectly or not. Now, with the new rice cooker, I don’t have to worry about rice being undercooked or soggy.”

Tibetan Buddhist nun cooking rice at Dolma Ling

“The rice is so delicious now and every time it is evenly cooked.” The new rice cooker can cook up to 77 pounds of rice safely and efficiently. The nuns eat rice every day, so it’s a huge help to them.

“Every day five nuns have to prepare a day’s meal,” said a nun on kitchen duty. “In the morning while preparing lunch, we used to have two nuns in charge of the rice and three nuns to cut and prepare the lunchtime vegetables. But now, with the rice cooker, it is so much easier. All five nuns can cut and prepare vegetables for lunch. While we eat our lunch, we can use the dough machine to prepare the dough for the evening. Now we have more time on our hands.”

Tibetan Buddhist nun cooking rice

With the old way of cooking rice, the nuns were always in danger of being scalded by the boiling water and steam. Detail of photo by Brian Harris.

Before the nuns got the rice cooker, it took a long  time to cook rice in a huge caldron over one of the two large gas burners. When the rice was half cooked, the excess water had to be poured off – a very risky operation. It took two strong nuns to pick up the pot and carry it across the kitchen to the drain. This operation had to be done quickly and carefully to avoid scalding from the boiling water and losing the steam.

Having the new electric rice cooker means that the rice cooks more evenly and keeps more of its nutritional qualities so it is better for the nuns’ health. 

The New Dough Maker

Each day the nuns on kitchen duty prepare traditional Tibetan bread and steamed buns for hundreds of nuns. Until now, the nuns had to mix the dough by hand which was very labor intensive and less hygienic than using a machine.

before and after, Tibetan Buddhist nuns using new dough machine

“The dough machine saves us a lot of time and energy! I never knew it was this easy to knead dough.” The nuns bought a 55-lb (25 kg) capacity dough maker. Before photos by Brian Harris; after photos by Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

On special occasions, the nuns make paratha (fried flatbreads) and khapse which are fried Tibetan biscuits. At Losar, Tibetan New Year, every member of the nunnery gets a large bag of khapse to celebrate Tibetan New Year so preparing large quantities is a great deal of work.

making dough, Dolma Ling Nunnery, inside the kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Before, as in this photo, the nuns had to knead dough by hand. Now mixing dough by machine takes only 15 to 20 minutes, so it is much easier to prepare multiple batches for bread, buns, and noodles. Normally the nuns up to 20 kg (44 pounds) of flour at a time.

New Refrigerator Saves Costs and Prevents Waste

Dolma Ling’s refrigerator was very old and broke down in the spring. Thanks to our supporters, the nuns were able to buy a new fridge in time to store food during the summer heat.

A nun shows the new refrigerator at Dolma Ling

When the old refrigerator broke down, you kindly helped the nuns buy a new one, just in time to keep food from spoiling during the intense summer heat. The temperature in the kitchen regularly reached 97 degrees.

The nuns follow a vegetarian diet. Without a fridge, vegetables, fruits, milk, butter, and tofu quickly rot. It is not possible for the nuns to get fresh supplies of everything daily so they need to buy for more than one day. They are happy to have the fridge to safely store perishable vegetables and fruit to avoid wastage and save money.

Without the fridge, they would be restricted in what they could buy and their diet would have been more monotonous. Especially during the pandemic, everyone looks forward to lunchtime. Now, the nuns can use different vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach which need to be kept chilled. With the new fridge, the nuns and staff are healthier and happier!

Thank you for your support!

Tibetan Butter Lamps

It is good to offer Tibetan butter lamps whenever you feel there is a need for more light and hope in the world.

Offering butter lamps is deeply ingrained in the Tibetan tradition. Part of daily Tibetan practice, people light butter lamps for many occasions. It is common to offer butter lamps for those who have passed away or for those who are sick. Butter lamps are also lit for happy occasions like birthdays, marriages, and for one’s wishes to come true. Tibetans light butter lamps on sacred days in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar, such as the 10th, 15th and 25th day of each lunar month, as well as during the holy month of Saga Dawa.

Tibetan butter lamps, offering butter lamps, lighting butter lamps

Tibetan Buddhist nuns lighting butter lamps. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Tibetan butter lamps are a common feature of Tibetan Buddhist temples and monasteries throughout the Himalayas. Traditionally, Tibetans used clarified butter from dri (female yaks), but in exile they use ghee.

offering Tibetan butter lamps

Tibetan Buddhist nuns add ghee and cotton wicks to hundreds of Tibetan butter lamps in preparation for a puja for someone who is sick. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Usually during morning prayers, Tibetan families offer a butter lamp and water bowls as part of their household shrine or altar. Part of the symbolism of lighting butter lamps is to dispel darkness and ignorance. Buddhist teachings consider ignorance as the source of suffering in the world.

Offering Tibetan Butter Lamps

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to sponsor butter lamps or prayers by the Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

If you, someone you love or even strangers are suffering, you can pay for butter lamps to be lit or prayers to be said for them via the Tibetan Nuns Project. The cost to light 100 butter lamps is $10. There are many types of pujas which you can request from the nuns.

When requesting a puja or prayers from the Tibetan Nuns Project, please provide information about the purpose of the prayer and who they are for.

Tibetan butter lamps

Tibetan nuns inside the butter lamp house at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The building in set apart from the rest of the nunnery to prevent fires. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Lighting butter lamps is a spiritual practice. The entire process is carried out in a meditative and devout manner. When you sponsor the lighting of butter lamps, you also earn merit for your generosity and compassion.

Geshema Endowment Fund Launched

The Tibetan Nuns Project has created a Geshema Endowment Fund to help ensure the long-term sustainability of the Geshema program.

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is comparable to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. This degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. To date, 44 nuns hold the Geshema degree.

Geshema Endowment Fund, Geshema Exams

Given the spike in coronavirus cases in India and Nepal, the Geshema Committee has decided to postpone this year’s exams from August 1st to October 1st. Photo of the 2019 Geshema exams courtesy of the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

This degree enables Tibetan Buddhist nuns to become teachers, leaders, and role models. It makes these dedicated women eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

At the conclusion of their 17-year course of study, the nuns must successfully complete a 4-year series of examinations in order to attain the Geshema degree. The examinations, held each year in late summer, take place over a one-month period.

The Geshema Endowment Fund will help cover the costs involved in training and qualifying more Geshemas. This includes the costs of travel, food, and accommodation for the Geshema candidates to attend the exams. The fund will also cover the cost of administration and materials for the exams, including hosting meetings, couriering exam materials, and providing each new Geshema with a set of nuns’ robes and yellow hat that signifies the holding of the degree.

Our fundraising goal this year is $100,000, but we hope to raise $200,000 for the final fund.

Please help enable more Tibetan Buddhist nuns to become Geshemas!

  1. Make a gift online at tnp.org
  2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to The Tibetan Nuns Project (for the Geshema Endowment Fund)
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216, Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Give a gift of securities
  5. Leave a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project
Geshema, Geshema degree, Geshema Endowment Fund

A Geshema holds the yellow hat that signifies her degree. Detail of photo by Olivier Adam.

Help Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Continue to Progress

With the goal in mind of educating and empowering nuns to become teachers and leaders, the Tibetan Nuns Project has fundraised for a number of years to endow the inter-nunnery debate session called the Jang Gonchoe. This annual event now brings together 400 to 600 nuns from 6 to 9 nunneries in India and Nepal for one month of intensive training in philosophical debate. The nuns debate key concepts from the philosophical texts they study as they progress towards the Geshema degree, the highest degree of their Tibetan Buddhist tradition. We have now been able to fully fund the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund, thereby ensuring that the annual inter-nunnery debate can continue for many years.

As the next step in helping the nuns reach the level of education they need to stand as equals with monks, we have created the Geshema Endowment Fund to ensure the future of the Geshema program.

Geshema degree, Geshema graduation,

On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

“Educating women is powerful,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor to the Tibetan Nuns Project. “It’s not just about books. It is also about helping nuns acquire the skills they need to run their own institutions and create models for future success and expansion. It’s about enabling the nuns to be teachers in their own right and to take on leadership roles at a critical time in our nation’s history.”

“Humanity needs this gender equity if we are to navigate perilous times ahead,” says Steve Wilhelm, a Tibetan Nuns Project board member. “The fact that growing numbers of women are achieving equality with men in the highest levels of Buddhist monasticism, by earning the equivalent of doctorate degrees, is joyous and of enormous importance to the world.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns are making history and you can help them on this path. Following further study and exams in Buddhist Tantric Studies, the Geshemas are becoming fully qualified as teachers. In 2019, two of the Geshemas who graduated in 2016 were hired as teachers at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

The Geshemas are also beginning to take on leadership roles in their communities once held only by men. In 2020, a Geshema made history when she was appointed to be an election commissioner for the Tibetan government-in-exile elections.

Thank you for supporting the Geshema Endowment Fund and enabling more nuns to attain this high level of education.

Some Facts About the Geshema Degree

  • The Geshema degree is comparable to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
  • It is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
  • The Geshema degree is the same as the Geshe degree for monks. The ending “ma” marks it as referring to a woman.
  • Until recently, this highest degree could only be earned by monks.
  • In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first female to receive the Geshema title.
  • The historic decision to confer the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was announced in 2012 by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan Administration, following a meeting of representatives from six major nunneries, Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and the Tibetan Nuns Project.
  • Candidates for the Geshema degree are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts.
  • To qualify to begin the Geshema process, nuns must score 75% or above in their studies to be eligible to sit for the Geshema exams.
  • On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.

Torrential monsoon rains and flash floods hit Dharamsala area

Torrential monsoon rains hit Dharamsala in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh causing flash floods and devastation. Four of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project are in the area but the nuns and nunneries are safe: Geden Choeling Nunnery, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute and Tilokpur Nunnery.

The heavy rains which fell on July 12th are set to continue for the next several days and the India Meteorological Department has issued a Severe Rainfall Alert. Authorities have told tourists to avoid Himachal Pradesh due to the present situation.

Torrential monsoon rains and flash floods hit Dharamsala area

Dharamsala is the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government-in-exile. Many Tibetan refugees live there and it is the site of many Tibetan Buddhist nunneries and monasteries.

Dramatic videos after a cloudburst in McLeod Ganj, upper Dharamsala, show several cars being swept away as muddy water rushed through the hillside town. The rains also damaged many buildings. The local airport in Gaggal cancelled all incoming flights.

The Nuns’ Media Team at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have helped capture the situation through video and photographs. Here’s a video of the rains at Dolma Ling. (Can’t see the video? Click here.)

Dolma Ling Water Supply Damaged

The monsoon damaged the water channels and lines that provide 80% of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute’s water.  As the rains abated on July 13th, the nuns, staff, and teachers from Dolma Ling worked all day with local people on repairs. Without these channels the nunnery could face an acute water shortage. By the end of the day, the supply lines were fixed and the nunnery was able to access the water that they needed. Here’s another video. (Can’t see it, click here.)

We are extremely thankful to the late MN Ashish Ganju, architect of Dolma Ling, for his careful design of terraces and water channels. Our gratitude goes out to those who helped fund projects over the past five years aimed at preventing flooding and providing safe drinking water for both Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries. Without your support, the situation for both nunneries would be severe.

At present, the nuns are not in need of additional assistance, but if needed we will post projects on the Current Needs page of our website.

The nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute are safe but the nunnery has had a power outage. The power went out on July 12th to the local area and may not be restored for a few days.

In Dharamsala, efforts are underway to clear up the blocked roadways and clogged streets after the mud gushed down the mountainsides.

The following news video shows flash floods and damage caused by the unusually heavy monsoon rains. (Can’t see the video? Click here.)

Inspirational quotes from His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Here are inspirational quotes from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to brighten your day.

His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama is the patron of the Tibetan Nuns Project. We are extremely grateful to him for his unwavering support.

May these words of wisdom from His Holiness the Dalai Lama give you happiness, hope, and strength.

Dalai Lama inspirational quote, inspirational quotes from the Dalai Lama, Every day think as you wake up

On Happiness

“There are two kinds of happiness – the temporary pleasure derived primarily from material comfort alone and another more enduring comfort that results from the thorough transformation and development of the mind.”
 
“We need to be clear which emotions are harmful and which are helpful; then cultivate those that are conducive to peace of mind.” 
 
“We experience happiness on a sensory level that is relatively short-lived. But lasting happiness is related to our state of mind.”
 
“Everyone wants to lead a happy life. However, real happiness is not about having money or power, it’s about achieving inner peace. If you have peace of mind, you’ll be happy by night and day.”
 
The ultimate source of happiness for self and others is compassion, concern for others and being of service to them.”
 
“We believe money is the ultimate source of happiness. But if I value inner happiness, even if I am poor, I may be happier than a billionaire. The attitude of our whole society is to place too much emphasis on the value of material things, and not to pay sufficient attention to inner values. I think that’s a mistake. It’s helpful to discuss these things to create a broader understanding of human happiness.”

On Hope

Dalai Lama inspirational quote if a problem is fixable, inspirational quotes from the Dalai Lama
“How you perceive life as a whole plays a role in your attitude to suffering. If you see suffering as negative and to be avoided at all costs and in some sense as a sign of failure, this will add a sense of anxiety and intolerance when you encounter difficult circumstances, a feeling of being overwhelmed. But if you accept that suffering is a natural part of existence, this will help you withstand life’s adversities.”

“We should never give up or tell ourselves there’s no hope. If we set ourselves positive goals and we’re well-motivated to seek the well-being of others, no matter what difficulties we face, we should keep up our strength and remain determined.”

“Our lives depend on hope. If you have hope, you’ll be able to overcome problems you face. But if you’re without hope, your difficulties will increase. Hope is linked to compassion and loving kindness. In my own experience. I’ve faced all sorts of difficulties in my life, but I never gave up hope. Also, being truthful and honest is a basis for hope and self-confidence.”

“Where material development is concerned, there are always limits, so in that context it’s better to practise contentment. With mental development, there’s no limit, so it’s better not to be contented about that. Instead try to develop further. Usually we do just the opposite. Nobody pays much attention to mental development. But on the material side, we place all our hopes in seeing if we can get past the limit.”

inspirational quote, Dalai Lama, patience, inspirational quotes from the Dalai Lama, The practice of patience guards us against losing our presence of mind. It enables us to remain undisturbed, even when the situation is really difficult

On the Power of Women

“My mother first gave me the gift of a woman’s compassion. Now, the next generation of women must bring this compassion into positions of power.”

“I call on the next generation of young women to be the mothers of the Compassionate Revolution that this century so desperately needs. You have a special role to play in creating a better world. It is often thought that women are more empathic and sensitive, and more receptive to the feelings of others. These are qualities that are embodied by mothers. In this sense, women are models of humanity.”

“Thinking of women as of somehow less value or as inferior must change. In order to achieve a more peaceful world, women must be able to play their part.”

“I believe that women are more empathetic and sensitive to the feelings of others, qualities I first learned from my loving mother. There is also scientific evidence that when it comes to compassion, women are more sensitive to others’ pain. Therefore, I feel that if more of our leaders were women, the world would be a more peaceful and understanding place.”

“Since the Buddha ordained his stepmother, Mahaprajapati Gotami and conceded that nuns’ aptitude for study and practice was equal to that of monks, I felt it was appropriate to give nuns the opportunity also to study on an equal footing.”

“I have a dream that women will govern more of the 200 nations of the world one day. There will be less war, violence and economic and social injustice.”

compassion is the radicalism of our time Dalai Lama photo by Robin Groth

Tibetan Nun to Study Science at Emory University

A senior Tibetan Buddhist nun from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute has been selected for the Emory Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars program. She is one of 7 monastics chosen to study science for two years at Emory University in Atlanta starting in September 2021.

6th cohort Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars Program

A senior nun from Dolma Ling, Venerable Kelsang Lhamo (bottom right), has been selected as one of 3 nuns and four monks to study for two years at Emory University as part of the 6th cohort Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars Program. She and the other 6 monastics are to start at Emory University in September 2021 following a preparation course in South India. Photo from Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars Program.

Venerable Kelsang Lhamo was one of three nuns from Dolma Ling who applied for the program and sat qualifying exams. She has finished her studies at the nunnery and opted not to pursue a Geshema degree.

Born in 1988 in McLeod Ganj in upper Dharamsala, Venerable Kelsang Lhamo was studied at the Tibetan Children’s Village School in Choglamsar, Ladakh before becoming a nun at Dolma Ling.

The Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars Program is part of the Emory-Tibet Science initiative started in 2010 to support monastic science education. Over the past 10 years, 30 monastic scholars have completed the program and returned to serve their monastic institutions.

On March 16th, the newly selected science scholars began intensive training in math, science, English, and computer skills at Drepung Losel Ling Meditation and Science Center in South India. This course aims to prepare the scholars with the knowledge they need in advance of their two-year residency program at Emory University.

The three nuns and four monks will join the university in the fall of 2021 and focus on deepening their understanding of the basic sciences.

Training Monastic Science Leaders

The Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars Program is designed to develop and nurture Tibetan monastic science teachers by providing college-level science education at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

The aim is to ensure the long-term sustainability of science education within Tibetan monasteries and nunneries in India. The scholars program, named after His Holiness the Dalai Lama, is supported by the Dalai Lama Foundation and Emory University. The program is part of the wider Emory-Tibet Science Initiative.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns taking part in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative in 2019.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns taking part in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative in 2019. Photo from the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative Facebook page.

As The New York Times wrote in 2013, a big challenge in teaching science is the lack of a Tibetan lexicon for many scientific terms. “How does one create new words for concepts like photosynthesis and clones, which have no equivalent in the Tibetan language or culture? How does one begin to name thousands of molecules and chemical compounds? And what of words like process, which have several levels of meaning for Tibetans?” Over recent years, thousands of new scientific terms have been added to the Tibetan language.

The ultimate goal of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative is to build a bridge between two complementary systems of knowledge by educating future scientific collaborators who can contribute to new discoveries in the science of mind and body. The program is designed to give Tibetan monastics new tools for understanding the world, while also providing them with fresh perspectives on how to employ and adapt time-tested, Buddhist, contemplative methodologies for the relief of suffering in the contemporary world. Additionally, scientists and science educators are encouraged to learn more about the Buddhist science of mind and what it can contribute to the understanding of human emotions, the nature of consciousness, and integrative approaches to health and well-being.

The scholars are primarily selected from Tibetan monastic institutions participating in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative science education program. They represent all the major Tibetan Buddhist schools, including Tibet’s indigenous Bon religion.

Since the start of the program in 2010, five cohorts of 30 scholars have completed the program. The fifth group graduated from their 2-year residency program in May 2021.

Upon the completion, the monastics return to their institutions to take up leading roles in the science education programs such as teaching science classes, serving as liaisons between Emory and their home institutions, and coordinating logistics for the annual summer intensives science courses that are part of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative.

In addition, the scholars participate in Buddhism and science dialogues and seminars, collaborate on research projects with scientists, and give presentations on various scientific topics.

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns and Science

Since 2014, nuns from Dolma Ling have taken part in the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative, a four-week program held at Drepung Loseling Monastery in South India. During the course, Tibetan nuns and monks are taught the philosophy of science, physics, neuroscience, and biology. The course is presented by faculty members from Emory and other distinguished universities with assistance from the Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars.

Nuns presenting science posters at Dolma Ling science fair

Nuns presenting science posters at a Dolma Ling science fair in 2019.

The nuns and monks attend classes for six hours a day and are tested on the last day of each course. Classes consist of lectures, discussions, demonstrations, and hands-on experiments. In 2018, eight nuns from Dolma Ling attended.

In 2017, in collaboration with the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala and the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives, the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative initiated a 6-year science program for nuns from five major nunneries in India.

The first nuns selected as Tenzin Gyatso Science Scholars were two nuns from Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod, South India. They were part of the 4th cohort of scholars to study science at Emory University and they completed their residency there in 2019. Both served as translators for the summer program of the Emory-Tibet Science Initiative held at Drepung Loseling Monastery in 2019.

Many Nuns Get Vaccinated, Outbreak at Nunnery Over

Here’s the latest news from India about vaccinations and a COVID update from some of the nunneries.

Many Dolma Ling Nuns Get Vaccinated

As we reported on May 4th, the almost 250 nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute had started registering for vaccinations in April. However, as coronavirus cases in India surged, vaccines ran out. We’re happy to report that in May, many nuns at Dolma Ling, the largest nunnery we support, were able to be vaccinated.

Tibetan Buddhist nun gets vaccinated for coronavirus May 2021, vaccinations, COVID-19 vaccination

A nun from Dolma Ling receives her first vaccine in May. In May, 178 Dolma Ling nuns aged 18-44 from received first vaccinations. All nuns and staff over 45 have also received both dose of Covidsheild.

The vaccination roll out in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh was by age. The nuns and staff of Dolma Ling as well as the Tibetan Nuns Project India staff aged 45 and over have now received both shots of Covishield from the Tibetan Delek Hospital, the Zonal Hospital, and close by centers.

Himachal Pradesh opened up vaccinations for those aged 18-44 on May 17th. In the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, there are around 46 vaccination centers and 5 days in May for vaccinations: May 17th, 20th, 24th, 27th and 31st.

It was difficult in the beginning for the nuns to book appointments because the website kept crashing. Only a handful could book for vaccination. However, after downloading an alternative booking application, the nunnery slowly picked up the pace and around 70 nuns and staff were able to book and get their first dose of Covishield on May 27. A further 108 nuns were able to book for May 31st, the final day available for the vaccinations.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns get vaccinated for coronavirus

It was a Herculean task to get bookings for vaccines in May because the website kept crashing. The nuns persisted and many of the nuns at Dolma Ling aged 18-44 were able to get their first dose.

Tsering at the Tibetan Nuns Project office said, “I guess Tara has blessed us as we know others are facing a tough time getting themselves booked for vaccine.”

The Hindustan Times said booking a vaccination in Himachal Pradesh was a Herculean task. “If you are in the age group of 18-44 years and waiting to get vaccinated in Himachal, get ready for a long haul. Booking a vaccination slot in the state is no less than hitting a jackpot.

“Even those with high-speed internet and fastest fingers are at their wits’ end as there is no guarantee that they will get a spot,” the paper said. “Slots open for a fraction of second, one blink and they are gone.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns wait to be vaccinated, vaccinations

After overcoming obstacles of booking and transport, Tibetan Buddhist nuns from Dolma Ling wait to be vaccinated at one of the 46 vaccine centers set up in Kangra District in May 2021.

Booking vaccinations wasn’t the only problem the nuns faced. Safe transport was another major issue. None of the 46 vaccination centers was within walking distance of the nunnery. And since the state of Himachal Pradesh is still in lockdown, the nunnery had to organize safe transport for the nuns to and from the vaccination centers.

Vaccination centers were scattered throughout the region, ranging between 0.5 and 2.5 hour’s drive away. The nuns and staff successfully managed the complex logistics of safely transporting the 178 nuns to and from the various centers. Dolma Ling organized taxis for some nuns and the teachers and staff with cars or motorbikes also helped by taking as many nuns as possible. We are very grateful for their help.

Tibetan nuns at Dolma Ling leaving to get vaccinated

On May 31st, 108 nuns from Dolma Ling were vaccinated. Coordinating safe transport to the various clinics in the region was a big task and we are grateful to the teachers and staff at the nunnery for their help in transporting the nuns and in taking these pictures for this update.

COVID Outbreak at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala

In mid-May there was a small outbreak of COVID-19 at Geden Choeling Nunnery, the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala.

Nine nuns tested positive. Some had a fever and cough. The nuns were quarantined in a separate block of the nunnery and a committee of nuns were designated to care for them, providing meals and other needs. Medical staff from the Tibetan Delek Hospital visit regularly to check on them.

The Tibetan Delek Hospital in Dharamsala distributed Covid Health Safety and management Kits to Geden Choeling Nunnery and 15 other Tibetan institutions around Dharamsala. Items included PPE kits, a pulse oximeter, digital and infrared thermomters, disinfectants, N95 masks, surgical gowns and masks, disposable gloves, an oxygen flow meter with nasal prong, blood pressure machine, and hand sanitizer.

Nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery Practice Social distancing

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Geden Choeling Nunnery, the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala.

There have been no further outbreaks at the nunnery. One of the nuns who had tested positive had low oxygen level so she was taken to the Tibetan Reception Centre and kept under observation by Central Tibetan Administration Health Department. Fortunately, she is doing well and will return to the nunnery after she finishes 21 days in quarantine.

The other nuns who tested positive but showed no symptoms of COVID-19 will also be finishing quarantine soon.

Nunneries in India have largely avoided outbreaks. Sadly, in March, 156 monks at the Gyuto Monastery in Dharamsala tested positive. Then in late May, as coronavirus cases rose throughout India, there were serious outbreaks at Namgyal Monastery in McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh and at Rumtek Monastery in Sikkim.

We will continue to post news via our blog and social media.

A Tibetan Buddhist nun gets tested for COVID at Geden Choeling Nunnery

A Tibetan Buddhist nun gets tested for COVID at Geden Choeling Nunnery

Remembering Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju, architect of Dolma Ling

We are very saddened by the passing of Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju. He was the architect of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute and long-time friend of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

MN Ashish Ganju passed away on May 5, 2021 due to COVID-19. He was 78. He is survived by his wife, Neelima, and daughters Tara, Surya and Chandini. One obituary said, “True to his love for nature, his daughters’ names translate as Star, Sun, and Moonlight respectively.” The nuns and everyone at the Tibetan Nuns Project send our deepest condolences to his family, friends, and colleagues.

Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju, Dolma Ling architect

Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju, a long-time friend of the Tibetan Nuns Project and the architect of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute passed away from COVID-19 on May 9, 2021.

About Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju

Munishwar Nath Ashish Ganju trained at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and qualified in 1966. He returned to India in 1967 where he later taught at the School of Planning and Architecture and at the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi. MN Ashish Ganju was also a visiting professor at the UK’s University of East London and Italy’s Universita IUAV di Venezia.

He was highly respected and won many national and international design competitions. He was the founding Director of the TVB School of Habitat Studies in New Delhi and was a member of several Government of India committees.

Remembering MN Ashish Ganju, The Indian Express wrote, “For him, architecture was a deeply spiritual pursuit, where he combined his knowledge of Kashmiri Shaivism and Tibetan Buddhism.”

architectural model of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Tibetan children looking at the architectural model for Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo from the Tibetan Nuns Project archives.

“One never saw him as trying to be a legend or an architect, he just went about doing what he believed in,” said architect Henri Fanthome. “He had a refreshing spirit and an undying ability to go after what he believed in.”

“He brought an innovative perspective to design combining Eastern philosophy, local materials with a Western rigour,” said Sumita Singha, Director of Ecologic Architects. “In time, his body of elegant and masterful works included his own home, community centres, a Buddhist memorial and nunnery for the Dalai Lama and urban design projects.”

MN Ashish Ganju described his work as follows: “My architectural practice provided the ground for the exploration of architecture as a manifestation of ancient sacred principles, so much a part of our everyday existence. The practice made no distinction between architecture, interior, landscape, or urban design. The message from our cultural roots was very clear; our existence on Mother Earth was an interdependent process with all five elements of earth, water, fire, wind, and space manifest in the dynamic equilibrium of human activity and the physical environment, as found and as built.”

Dolma Ling Nunnery in the monsoon photo by Norman Steinberg, MN Ashish Ganju architect

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in the monsoon. The region experiences heavy monsoon rains and is the second rainiest place in India. The design has a series of courtyards and terraced gardens drained by a network of water channels. Photo courtesy of Norman Steinberg

Architect for Tibetan Projects

MN Ashish Ganju did many projects for Tibetan refugees. “I was asked by Tibet House (the cultural office of HH the Dalai Lama) to design a memorial in Buddha Jayanti Park in New Delhi. The memorial was to house a two and a half metre tall statue of Buddha which was presented by the Dalai Lama to the people of India as a symbol of gratitude by the Tibetan people who were given refuge in India… The iconography of the canopy was worked out in close consultation with Tibetan Lamas and scholars, while the tectonics were decided with the stone masons who belonged to a tribe practising this vocation since time immemorial by building temples in Central India as well as Rajasthan and the North Indian plains.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns helping to build Dolma Ling Nunnery

Tibetan Buddhist nuns helping to build Dolma Ling Nunnery. Architect MN Ashish Ganju said the design was “in keeping with Buddhist principles of harmonious interdependence of all living beings and objects.”

“This assignment led to my being asked to design a monastery for Tibetan refugee nuns in Dharamsala in the Kangra Valley. The project, sponsored by the Tibetan Nuns Project, was executed as an exercise in self-build by the user community. The design was worked out in close consultation with the users, and in keeping with Buddhist principles of harmonious interdependence of all living beings and objects. The construction, including materials and labour, was managed by the user community.”

Dolma Ling: Living with Nature

Here’s how MN Ashish Ganju described the Dolma Ling project:

The Tibetan Nuns Project has undertaken an extensive program to resettle many of the nuns fleeing their homeland in Tibet to escape persecution by the Chinese government.

The site for this Nunnery is piece of agricultural land, measuring about 6 acres, situated in the valley below Dharamsala where the Dalai Lama now lives. The requirement was to house 250 nuns along with teachers and support staff. The plan provides for 125 rooms and 12 classrooms, an assembly building containing a hall for religious assembly, a library, a large lecture room and a residential suite for the Dalai Lama; as well as common dining hall with kitchen, a workshop for craft activities, a health centre, an office, a guest house, and staff residences.

The site slopes to the south and was terraced for farming. This region experiences extremely heavy rainfall during the monsoon making it the second rainiest place in India. The design makes use of system of verandahs which distribute the built spaces around a series of courtyards and terraced gardens which are drained by a network of water channels lined with locally quarried stone.

Aerial view of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

An aerial view of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute taken in 2018. MN Ashish Ganju was the architect for this large campus.

The common facilities are placed on a central axis across the contours with the office at the bottom near the entrance, the dining hall in the center, and the assembly building at the top. The nuns’ rooms are placed along the contours overlooking south-side terraced gardens and connected by north-side verandahs to the common facilities and the central courtyards. These courtyards are flanked by the main verandahs to form a ceremonial route rising up the slope and culminating in the assembly building.

A water reservoir on the north-east corner of the site and a water channel running along the northern boundary act as a moat to protect the buildings from the flash floods which inundate the fields above during the monsoon. The construction is being done by local masons and carpenters supervised by volunteers of the Tibetan Nuns Project. The construction techniques are chosen to be easily managed by a somewhat inexpert building team. The main building materials are locally quarried stone and slate tiles, as well as local bricks.

Update on Sakya College for Nuns

Here is a brief update on Sakya College for Nuns and slideshow from May 2021.

We are glad to inform you that everyone at the College is safe and well. The nuns and staff are carrying on with their regular routine of morning prayers, classes, debates, and self-study.

Earlier this year, it seemed as if the whirlwind of the pandemic in India had finally subsided.  Many people began to return to their normal lives. But, the nuns and staff at the College stayed on guard and observed restrictions as usual.

By observing strict precautions, the nuns were able to follow their regular curriculum. The nuns completed their courses and held their annual examinations on April 29th.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns take examinations at Sakya College for Nuns

Last year, because of the pandemic, the nuns were unable to take their summer vacation and had to remain at the College. This year, the nuns had been looking forward to their vacation which started on May 1st and the chance to see their families. However, because of the surge in COVID cases in India, the nuns must once again remain at the College.

Here’s a slideshow update from Sakya College for Nuns.

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Since the pandemic began, the nuns and staff have been carefully following health guidelines and taking preventative measures to keep everyone safe. The nuns have stayed within the campus throughout the year except for one day. On 19 February, the 8th day of Losar or Tibetan New Year, the nuns went on a one-day pilgrimage to the sacred Buddhist Stupa at Chaneti, Haryana, about 60 miles (97 km) away. They left at around 8 am and returned to the college at around 5 pm.

So far, no member of the College has been infected with this deadly pandemic. The college has been in regular contact with the Tibetan Welfare Office in Dikiling about vaccinations for those 18 years old and older. The welfare office says that, once the vaccines are available and ready, the nuns will be informed and called for vaccination. At the moment, even the online registration is difficult. We hope that the nuns will soon be vaccinated.

This year, Lobpon Yeshe Tsering was appointed as the Khenpo (abbot) of Sakya College for Nuns. His enthronement ceremony was held on January 5, 2021 in the blessed presence of H.E. Asanga Vajra Rinpoche.

Felicitating Lobpon Yeshe Tsering on being enthroned as Khenpo copy

A nun offers a ceremonial white khata to the new Kenpo of Sayka College of Nuns, Lobpon Yeshe Tsering.

In 2020, the nuns learned Vipassana meditation and yoga. These practices have helped the nuns cope with the challenges of remaining on campus during these difficult times. Now the nuns are physically and mentally better equipped to manage without loneliness, depression, and so on. They continue to practice Vipassana and yoga on their own.

The nuns and everyone at Sakya College for Nuns and the Tibetan Nuns Project are extremely grateful for your support and for your kindness and compassion.

Thank you!

Here’s a slideshow from Sakya College for Nuns from December 2020.

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