Tara Puja

Every Wednesday morning, over 200 nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala, India rise before dawn for the Tara puja. This is a special ceremony to help end the suffering all sentient beings and to aid the nuns on their own spiritual path.

Starting at 5:30 a.m. and continuing for an hour and a half, the nuns chant special Buddhist prayers to Tara, the female Buddha who embodies the wisdom and the compassion of all enlightened beings.

Tara Puja

The Tara puja is a very beautiful prayer that includes many verses of offering and the famous 21 Praises to Tara, which are recited many times throughout the puja.

Called the drolchok puja (Tara puja) it is done on a Wednesday because this is considered an auspicious day of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The elaborate offering involves creating ritual cakes (torma) and the use of musical instruments.

torma, Tibetan Buddhism, Dolma Ling, Tara puja, Tibetan Nuns Project

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

Here is a sound recording made by Olivier Adam in 2013 of the nuns chanting the Tara Puja.

Continue reading

Over 875 nuns offer Long Life Prayers to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

An historic event took place on March 1 2018, when over 875 Tibetan Buddhist nuns offered long life prayers for His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Buddhist nuns came from over 40 nunneries across India, Nepal, and Bhutan and represented all five Tibetan schools of Buddhism including Bön.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama was “elated and buoyant”, according to a report by the Central Tibetan Administration.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during the long life offering by the nuns on March 1 2018. Photo by Tenzin Choejor, OHHDL

“I am indeed happy that this offering is being made together by nuns of all five sects of Tibetan Buddhism. It is indeed applaudable,” said His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The first-ever tenshug to Tibetan spiritual leader took place at the main temple (Tsuglagkhang) in Mcleodganj, above Dharamsala, and across from the home of the Dalai Lama.

nuns at Long Life Offering to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Nuns wait for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to depart from the Main Tibetan Temple at the conclusion of the Long Life Offering organized by nuns of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism in Dharamsala, HP, India on March 1 2018. Photo by Tenzin Choejor, OHHDL.

Looking out on the vast crowd of nuns, His Holiness the Dalai Lama commended the Tibetan Buddhist nuns who had earned their Geshema degrees, (Geshe for males), the highest level of scholarship-previously regarded only for monks.

“I am very proud of your achievement and encourage all of you to pursue the highest scholarship in Buddhist study. This is the 21st century and we need to understand the Buddha’s teachings in the light of reason,” said His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Continue reading

What do Tibetan Buddhist nuns study?

We are often asked what the Tibetan Buddhist nuns study.

In addition to providing basic educational requirements, the Tibetan Nuns Project seeks to elevate the educational standards and the position of women within the monastic community. To prepare the nuns for positions of leadership and moral authority in a culture that is going through a very challenging transition, it is essential to combine traditional religious studies with aspects of a modern education.

Tibetan Nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan education, Tibetan culture, what Tibetan Buddhist nuns learn

Nuns at Shugsep Nunnery learning geography. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

A primary goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to assist nuns in reaching the same level of education as the monks. Each of the four traditions schools of Tibetan Buddhism has its own specific curriculum and degrees attained, but much is shared. All are based on the teachings of the Buddha and the Indian commentaries that developed to explicate them.

Tibetan Nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan education, Tibetan culture, what Tibetan Buddhist nuns learn, Sherab Choeling, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley at an outdoor classroom. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Exactly which commentaries the nuns most closely rely on varies between traditions as do the number of years of study, but there is uniformity as to the basic topics. Thus, all the nuns study:

  • Logic and Epistemology, which provide the basic tools for advanced philosophical study;
  • Perfection of Wisdom for understanding of the Buddhist path;
  • Middle Way for understanding of Buddhist philosophy; and
  • Tantra for the final level of teachings.

Continue reading

Tibetan Buddhist nuns offer long life prayers to His Holiness the Dalai Lama

On March 1 2018, Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all five Tibetan schools of Buddhism including Bön will offer long life prayers to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The special ceremony will take place at the Main Temple in McLeod Ganj above Dharamsala. The event will be graced by His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, long life prayers,

Photo of His Holiness the Dalai Lama courtesy of Olivier Adam.

The long life prayers are being offered as a mark of gratitude to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his continued care and support offered to the Buddhist nuns.

As the Tibetan Journal reported, the historic ceremony also aims to fulfill His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s compassionate vision for the welfare of all sentient beings.

We look forward to sharing more news and photos of this special event.

Recipe for Tibetan Hot Sauce

Tibetan hot sauce, called sepen in Tibetan, is a popular accompaniment to Tibetan momos and other dishes.

recipe for Tibetan hot sauce, sepen

Our thanks to Lobsang and Yolanda at YoWangdu Experience Tibet (www.yowangdu.com) for sharing their recipe for Tibetan Hot Sauce or tsepen.

While the nuns hand chop all their ingredients, this recipe can be made with a food processor or blender. Add this spicy sauce to anything you like, but be careful, this sepen is extremely hot! You can adjust the heat of the sauce by reducing the amount of red pepper.

Ingredients for Tibetan Hot Sauce

  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 medium tomatoes (Roma tomatoes work well)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro
  • chopped 2 stalks of green onion
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup dried red peppers (see the note below)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil for cooking

NOTE: You can adjust the spiciness of this recipe by using less red pepper and/or more of the other ingredients. Continue reading

Winter at the nunneries

In northern India, where all the nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project are located, the winter can be harsh and long.

This is particularly true for the two remotest nunneries we support, Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti and Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar, both high in the Indian Himalayas.

Sherab Choeling, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, winter in the nunneries, Spiti Valley

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Spiti Valley shovel deep snow to clear a path around the nunnery.

Although the nuns at Sherab Choeling nunnery are used to long, hard winters and having to shovel a lot of snow and stock up on supplies, some winters pose extra challenges for them.

For example, during the winter of 2014-2015, the weather in the remote Spiti Valley was so severe that the nuns at Sherab Choeling out of cooking gas. For over two months they had to rely solely on firewood to cook.

winter in the nunneries, Spiti Valley,Sherab Choeling Nunnery, nuns in winter, Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

Nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley of northern India clear snow from the roof of the nunnery.

The heavy snowfalls in the area that winter 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. Thankfully the nuns had enough stores of vegetables and tsampa (roasted barley flour) to last them through the winter months.

Tibetan Buddhist nun in snowfall at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Snowfall at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Indian Himalayas.

The nuns at Sherab Choeling work hard to prepare for winter, when the region is cut off from neighboring villages. They stock up their daily supplies well before the onset of cold weather. During the summer months, the nuns grow food to store for the winter months. The people in a nearby village have given the nuns a plot of land where they now 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.

During the coldest months, the nuns hold their classes, prayers, and meetings in the kitchen because it is warmer and helps to save wood.

Tibetan Buddhist nun working in kitchen

The simple kitchen at Sherab Choeling Nunnery.

Of course none of the nunneries are heated, not even the large ones like Dolma Ling and Shugsep. There is simply no way to afford heating. In the winter, the nuns will try to sit outside in the sun because the buildings are cold. Tasks such as washing their robes in the stream and drying them outdoors become even more challenging during the cold months.

Although the nuns have difficult living conditions, the quality of their food, housing, and shelter has vastly improved in the past 30 years since the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded. In 2016, generous donors helped with a water project at Dolma Ling Nunnery, part of which was to build a hot-water boiler. The boiler is conveniently located adjacent to the dining hall where nuns are able to fill their thermoses and take them to their rooms.

“Hot water has always been a struggle,” says Co-Director Dr. Betsy Napper. “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.”

Wild Plum-headed parakeets come to Dolma Ling Nunnery for food during the cold months

Compassion in action. During the cold winter months, the nuns at Dolma Ling will sometimes feed the wild plum-headed parakeets. This photo was taken by one of the nuns and was featured in our 2015 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar.

Winter months are a quieter time in the nunneries because some nuns travel to see their families or attend teachings elsewhere, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings in south India last winter or his teachings in Bodhgaya this winter. After Losar (Tibetan New Year), all the nuns return and resume their studies.

Dolma Ling Nunnery, snow mountains, Dhauladhar range, Indian Himalayas, winter in the nunneries

The snow mountains above Dolma Ling Nunnery. The nunnery is located on the foothills of the Dhauladhar range (literally the White Range) of the Indian Himalayas.

We send a warm “Tashi Delek” and express our heartfelt thanks to all our sponsors and donors – new and old – for your kindness and generosity. You are the truly the heart of our work. To learn how you can sponsor a nun, visit our sponsorship page.

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays 2018

This is an illustrated list of some of the major Tibetan Buddhist holidays in 2018, as well as some other important dates in the Tibetan calendar.

Each year, the Tibetan Nuns Project publishes a Tibetan calendar with the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and other important ritual dates, plus phases of the moon, inspirational quotes, and major US and Canadian holidays. This beautiful 2018 calendar is still available from our online store and proceeds from it’s sale help to provide education, food, shelter, and health care for over 700 Buddhist nuns living in northern India.

February 16 2018: Losar (Tibetan New Year)

Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Buddhist holidays, tsampa, throwing tsampa, Olivier Adam

Tibetan nuns throw tsampa (roasted barley flour) into the air to mark Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is a very special time of year. This year February 16th is the first day of the Earth Dog Year of 2145 by the Tibetan calendar. Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, the nuns, like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home from top to bottom. After that, the Losar or “new year” is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives. Special food is prepared such as such as khapse and a  noodle soup called guthuk. See this recipe for vegetarian guthuk. Continue reading

Tibetan Cultural Geography

Since its inception in 1987, The Tibetan Nuns Project has set out to assist nuns from all parts of Tibet and from all the different Tibetan Buddhist lineages without preference or distinction.

While our initial concept was to help refugees from Tibet access their educational tradition, over the years we have received increasing numbers of requests for religious education from nuns from the Himalayan regions on the border between Tibet and India: Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti, Lahoul, and Kinnaur.

Spiti Valley, Olivier Adam, Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Olivier Adam, Tibetan Buddhist debate, nunnery, Indian Himalayas, Tibetan Cultural Geography

Photo from the remote Spiti Valley in northern India courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Historically, geographically, and economically these northern mountainous regions of India were linked so tightly to Tibet, one might argue as to which country they belonged. Tibet was a vibrant spiritual and cultural hub for China to the east, Mongolia to the north, and India to the south.

Monks would follow the trade routes into Tibet to join monasteries and study with great masters, bringing back inspiration and news from Tibet to the remote mountain valley communities.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Olivier Adam, Tibetan Buddhist debate, nunnery, Indian Himalayas, Tibetan Cultural Geography

Nuns practice Tibetan Buddhist debate at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Indian Himalayas. The nunnery is one of seven nunneries in northern India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

In 1959 the Chinese seized control of Tibet, severing the age-old connection between the Indian and Tibetan Himalayan regions. Cross-border interchange ceased and, just as Tibetans lost their monasteries and Buddhist culture was assailed, so also the Indian border areas lost their access to higher studies and connection with their Buddhist neighbor.

Where conditions for monks and monasteries are depressed, then those for nuns and nunneries are worse. Young women from the border region who are interested in religion, and who, through the spirit of the 21st century, are motivated to study and reach out at this
time when the Tibetans in exile in India are establishing a firm base of monastic education, turn their feet in this direction and seek admission in the established Tibetan nunneries in the communities in exile.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Olivier Adam, Tibetan Buddhist debate, nunnery, Indian Himalayas, Tibetan Cultural Geography

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Spiti Valley, northern India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

According to the nuns who come to the Tibetan Nuns Project from these regions, there are few and poor nunneries for them to join and even fewer opportunities for them to study. A nun from Zanskar explains how it is nearly impossible to be a nun in that region because nuns have to struggle so hard for mere survival. Usually they remain in their family homes and receive no education.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Olivier Adam, Tibetan Buddhist debate, nunnery, Indian Himalayas, Tibetan Cultural Geography

Young nuns studying at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti, northern India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

This is why so many are prepared to take up the great challenge of learning Tibetan in order to join the nunneries in India and study Buddhist philosophy. They will in time become the first women teachers to return to these remote regions to introduce Buddhist learning for women.

During his teachings in Bodhgaya in January 2017, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, “We also have here many people from the Himalayan region and there are many monks and nuns from their communities in our monasteries and nunneries. They have made up the numbers since the flow of monks and nuns out of Tibet has declined, something we can be mutually grateful for.”

Video Interview of a Geshema Nun: Determination and Dedication on the Path

A year ago, on December 22 2016, twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history when they graduated with their Geshema degrees.

Today we’d like to share a video interview of one of those Geshemas – Tenzin Kunsel. As you will hear from her story, her long journey to becoming a Geshema was not an easy one. Her extraordinary determination and dedication shines through. With gentle humor she tells her story of overcoming many obstacles on the path to becoming a senior nun and teacher.

Watch the video. Continue reading

A Guided Tour of Shugsep Nunnery

We want to take you on a guided tour of Shugsep Nunnery. It is one of the two Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Shugsep Nunnery is home to about 85 Tibetan Buddhist nuns.  The nunnery was re-established  in exile in India and was officially inaugurated in December 2010.

Here’s a special video we created in October 2017, with thanks to volunteer film-makers Evan Kezsbom, Jalene Szuba, and Dustin Kujawski.

A Nyingma nunnery, Shugsep traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. In the previous century, Shugsep Nunnery was home to one of the most famous teachers of her time, Shugsep Jetsunma.

The original Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet was completely destroyed in the Cultural Revolution and the nuns were forced to leave. Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet was partially rebuilt in the 1980s by the nuns themselves, but the nuns faced frequent harassment by Chinese authorities.

The majority of the nuns studying in Shugsep Nunnery near Dharamsala in India come from the original Shugsep in Tibet. Here, in exile, the nuns have a safe, peaceful place to study. They have the opportunity to be educated and to participate in a nine-year academic program of Buddhist philosophy, debate, Tibetan language, and English.

letter from Shgusep nun, Shugsep Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project

This English essay by a nun at Shugsep describes her joy and love for her nunnery, her “second home”, and her gratitude for the donors and sponsors who support the nunnery. Photo courtesy of Dustin Kujawski.