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

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan Nuns Project

Our 30th anniversary is an opportunity to thank our supporters and to take stock of the many historic milestones made possible through their compassion for the nuns. The support of our donors will be remembered in the history of Tibet and for future Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

Here are just some of the accomplishments:

  • Creating a ground-breaking educational program for nuns;
  • Feeding, clothing, housing, and educating almost 800 Tibetans nuns thanks to our sponsors;
  • Building and establishing of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, a non-sectarian nunnery;
  • Constructing and re-establishing Shugsep Nunnery in India;
  • Establishing the annual inter-nunnery debate, the Jang Gonchoe;
  • Laying the groundwork for higher degrees for nuns; and
  • Awarding of the Geshema degree for the first time in the history of Tibet.
Losar, tsampa, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan New Year, New Year celebrations

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India throw tsampa (roasted barley flour) in the air as part of the traditional celebrations of Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

In the coming months, we will be sharing more news about ways in which you and our wonderful global family can connect, such as through house parties and through online sharing of news, photos, and videos to commemorate this milestone.

We will be holding a gathering at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India and Institute in India on October 3rd 2017. For information, please contact us at info@tnp.org

How to hang and dispose of Tibetan prayer flags respectfully

Every so often we receive messages about how to hang and dispose of Tibetan prayer flags respectfully.

Tibetan prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be spread by the wind and bring good will and compassion to benefit all beings.

prayer flags, how to dispose of Tibetan prayer flags,

Tibetan nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India remove and burn old prayer flags and set up new ones to mark Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Prayer flags are made of block-printed fabric using traditional printing techniques going back hundreds of years. The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India have been making prayer flags for many years. We sell these  specially blessed objects through our online store and the revenue helps provide food, health care, shelter, and education for the over 230 nuns who live at the nunnery, as well as to help support around 500 nuns at six other nunneries in India.

Some people have asked whether it is appropriate for non-Buddhists to display Tibetan prayer flags. Yes, it is fine for non-Buddhists to display Tibetan prayer flags.

When raising prayer flags it is important to have a good motivation. One should not have selfish or limiting thoughts. When hanging prayer flags one should wish that all beings everywhere will benefit and find happiness.

prayer flags, burning prayer flags, Tibetan Nuns Project, how to dispose of old prayer flags

Being careful not to let the old prayer flags touch the ground, a Tibetan Buddhist nun burns the flags while wishing to end the suffering of all sentient beings. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Tibetan tradition considers prayer flags to be holy. The flags contain sacred texts and symbols and should be treated respectfully. They should not be placed on the ground or put in the trash.

When disposing of old prayer flags one should burn them so that the smoke may carry their blessings to the heavens. Do not let prayer flags touch the ground as they are burned. Continue reading

Geshemas graduates celebrated at Dolma Ling Nunnery

On February 16, 2017, the nuns and staff at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India held a special celebration in honor of the six Geshema graduates from the nunnery.

The six nuns returned to the nunnery for the ceremony, which included the offering of white katak (or khata), the ceremonial scarves that are offered as a sign of respectful greeting.

Tibetan Buddhist nun, Geshema, khatas, ceremonial scarves

A smiling Geshema nun is almost submerged under a huge pile of katak. As part of the ceremony in their honor, the six Geshema graduates sat and received hundreds of white kataks (or khatas) from the nuns, teachers, and staff of Dolma Ling. These ceremonial scarves are offered as a sign of respect and they symbolize purity and compassion.

Also a part of the event was special debate session, called a Dam-cha, in which all of the nuns of the nunnery had a chance to challenge the Geshema’s with debates on difficult philosophical points.

Geshema nuns debating, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

The six Geshema graduates from Dolma Ling are seated during the special debate session.

Geshema nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Buddhist debate

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist debate is a integral part of monastic education. The nuns of Dolma Ling take turns debating with the six Geshema graduates.

Continue reading

How you are helping accomplish great things at Dolma Ling Nunnery

In the spring of 2016, we launched a campaign called “Sustaining Dolma Ling Nunnery” that outlined six projects that the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery asked for help with.

projects at Dolma Ling NunneryDolma Ling is a non-sectarian nunnery in northern India near Dharamsala that is home to almost 250 Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

Although the nunnery has a number of income-generating initiatives like the nuns café and the nunnery shop, like other religious communities around the world, the nuns rely on the generosity of a caring community.

Today we’d like to report back to you on progress on all six of the Sustaining Dolma Ling projects. We’re happy to report that three of the six are fully funded and another two are nearly funded.

We really hope that all six can been fully funded and completed by the end of March 2017.

1. Butter Sculpture Workshop

Tibetan butter sculpture, Tibetan Nuns Project, butter sculptureONLY $167 NEEDED TO COMPLETE THE PROJECT
We are almost there! Only $167 is needed to complete the funding to create a workshop room where the nuns can learn how to make butter sculptures, a sacred Tibetan art that has been practiced in Tibet for over 400 years. Like so much of Tibetan culture, the practice of making butter sculptures is under threat. The nuns at Dolma Ling have an excellent teacher, but they’ve been using a makeshift space. Please help us complete this project.
Make a Donation

2. New Cow Shed

PROJECT FULLY FUNDED – THANK YOU!
The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have kept cows for the past 20 years and currently have 14 cows in their small herd. The cows provide the nunnery with milk and also manure for the gardens. Prior to the completion of this project, there wasn’t enough space for all the cows to be protected when the weather was too harsh for them to be out grazing, such as during the torrential monsoon rains. Thanks to five generous donors – Alix, Anna, Bob, Cindy, and Stuart – the cow shed is now complete. See the full report and more photos here.

3. Clean Water Project

clean water project, Tibetan nuns, Dolma LingPROJECT FULLY FUNDED – THANK YOU!
Twenty-one generous donors came forward to support this project to increase the amount of clean drinking water at the nunnery. Thanks to our global family of supporters, the nuns have now been able to purchase and install three additional water filtering machines at different parts of the nunnery to provide safe, clean drinking water for over 280 nuns and staff residing at the nunnery, as well to build a simple shed to provide hot boiled water. The nuns have made a short video showing the new water boiler in action.

4. Painting Dolma Ling Nunnery

Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project$7,150 NEED TO COMPLETE THE PROJECT
This is a huge project that the nuns really need help with. This year they need to paint the main prayer hall, one of the nuns’ housing wings and the staff quarters. Dolma Ling Nunnery is a large complex of buildings, like a monastic university, that needs repainting every five years. The harsh climate in this part of northern India take its toll on the nunnery buildings and it is essential to regularly repaint and maintain the buildings to avoid more costly repairs in the future.
Make a Donation

5. Tables and Stools

tables, Dolma Ling NunneryPROJECT FULLY FUNDED – THANK YOU!
Thanks to seven generous donors, we have fully funded the project to provide 15 tables and 2 stools for the nuns’ rooms at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India. View more photos and our full report here.

6. Furnishing and Equipping the Kitchen

$1,668 NEEDED TO COMPLETE THIS PROJECT

Last year a new kitchen was constructed at the nunnery because the nunnery population had more than tripled since the nunnery kitchen was built and the nuns had outgrown the space. Now the nuns need help to equip and furnish the new space including these items:

  • An enclosed vegetable storage and chopping area to keep birds and animals out.
  • Environmentally responsible sorting bins for recyclables, compost, waste food suitable to feed to the cows and trash.
  • A large pot rack for heavy pots, steamers and utensils
  • A heavy-duty and hygienic wall drainer for washing up
  • A wall-mounted utensil rack, and
  • Large metal storage containers for grains such as rice and flour.

If you can help support the completion of the kitchen, we would be very grateful.

Make a Donation

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

Sharing your words with the Geshema nuns

Last spring, we asked our global community of supporters if they would like to share messages of congratulations to the 20 nuns who were receiving their Geshema degree on December 22nd. The Geshema degree, known as Geshe when awarded to male monks, is conferred after at least 21 years of rigorous study of the five main Buddhist texts, combined with a regular session of prayers and recitations.

Lisa Farmer, Tibetan Nuns Project, Geshema nuns, congratulations messages

Lisa Farmer, Executive Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, showing the messages of congratulations to the Geshema nuns. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

We included brightly colored cards with our spring 2016 letter and many of our donors mailed back lovely messages for the nuns. You can see and read some of the messages in our earlier blog post.

Today’s blog post is a special one to report back to everyone who sent a message to the nuns.

On December 23, 2016 in Mundgod, South India, the Executive Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, Lisa Farmer, sat down with the nuns after a special luncheon and read the congratulations messages to them.

“The nuns were really moved,” said Farmer. “They were amazed that people from all over the world had been following their progress and had taken the time and trouble to send warm words of congratulations and best wishes for their futures.”

Geshema nuns, Buddhist nuns, Tibetan nuns. Tibetan Nuns Project

Lisa Farmer reading congratulations messages sent from Tibetan Nuns Project supporters around the world to the nuns who graduated with their Geshema degree. Photo courtesy of Delek Yangdon.

messages to Geshema nuns

The conferment of the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was a longstanding wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and reflects a historic milestone, as the degree was only awarded in the past to monks.

Geshema, Geshema nuns, Tibetan nuns, His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Collage of photos from the Geshema graduation event on December 22, 2016. Photos courtesy of Olivier Adam and OHHDL.

At the graduation ceremony on December 22nd 2016, the Tibetan political leader, Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay, welcomed the conferment of the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns as a step towards gender equality in education. “I heartily congratulate the twenty nuns who are receiving the Geshema degree. This is a result of your hard work and dedication,” he said.

He also expressed his gratitude to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for envisioning this step. “His Holiness the Dalai Lama is instrumental in making possible the historic conferment of the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns. We owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Rinchen Khandro Choegyal, Geshema, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project

Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the founder and director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, congratulates the Geshema nuns at a special luncheon in their honor on December 23 2016 in Mundgod. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam