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

 

Witness history in the making: Geshema Graduation Ceremony

In one week’s time, twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns will receive their Geshema degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special Geshema Graduation Ceremony in Mundgod, South India.

Geshema nuns

This historic event will be attended by hundreds of monks and nuns.

Here’s the formal schedule of events:

schedule for Geshema Graduation event

The event will be livestreamed from India and can be viewed on the home page of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Please note the time difference for your region. The event starts at 8 am on December 22 Indian time which is equivalent to 6:30 pm on December 21st Pacific Standard Time.

livestream of the Geshema Graduation Ceremony

Photo courtesy of Tenzin Choejor, OHHDL

If you are unable to watch the livestream of the event, check back to the Tibetan Nuns Project homepage sometime from December 28th onwards and where we’ll have the video embedded.

Congratulations messages to Geshema graduates

During May 2016, as twenty nuns were taking their fourth and final round of the Geshema exams, the Tibetan Nuns Project put out a call for people around the world to share their messages of congratulations to the Geshema nuns.

Here are some of the many messages of congratulations that have been sent via mail, email, and social media.

“Thank you for studying and learning the dharma. In doing this you become a treasure for all beings.” Rebecca

messages to Geshema nuns

“Please convey my best wishes for successful completion for all participants. I am looking forward to hearing the results of this year’s examination. All their hard work, some learning to read and write, to reach this stage is amazing to me. The dedication, hard work & constant studying is impressive. I will keep all of them in my thoughts and prayers.” dgordon243

“Congratulations to all whose generosity makes learning and living possible for Tibetan nuns! Congratulation to the 20 nuns who have taken advanced exams! Congratulations to their teachers, too! We are so proud of each one you and your hard work. Thank you for your efforts and sacrifices to continue lifelong learning! With much love and encouragement,” Joy R., Northern California, USA

Geshema, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan nuns, Buddhist women, Tibetan Nuns Project,

“Very happy for the nuns who are finally given this opportunity. I am sure the exams will be a success and a new and happy path for them and the ones who follow. I am with you, girls! Love and support from Maria (Portugal).” MariaLuís

geshema, Buddhist nuns, Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Nuns Project, Buddhist women, nuns education

Two of the many messages of congratulations to the Geshema nuns that we have received from supporters worldwide.

“One of the nuns I sponsor from Geden Choeling is sitting her final exams and my prayers are with her as always. She is so special, as are all the nuns. I know she will do well and I will be bursting with pride to call her Geshema when I see her in September.” Karen D. Continue reading

Interview with a Geshema nun: Tenzin Kunsel

The following is an interview from May 2014 with Venerable Tenzin Kunsel who, at the time, had just completed her second round of examinations for the Geshema Degree, a degree equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism. Since this interview was made, Venerable Tenzin Kunsel has successfully completed all four rounds of her examinations. In July 2016 it was announced that she and 19 other nuns will formally receive their Geshema degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony at Drepung Monastery in South India on December 22nd 2016. Venerable Tenzin Kunsel is one of the first Geshemas (female Geshes) in the history of Tibet.

portrait of Tibetan Buddhist nun Tenzin Kunsel

Venerable Tenzin Kunsel who will become one of the first Geshemas in the history of Tibet

Background

I was born to a simple family near Lhasa and I came to exile in 1991. When I was in Tibet, we were not given a Buddhist education; instead we had to do prayers for the people who made offerings at the nunnery. It was really disappointing as well as sad that we were not given the education we needed. I strongly felt that the best way to become educated in Buddhist studies was to come to India. Along with 75 other newly arrived nuns, I came to Dolma Ling Nunnery. Today I am here for the 2nd round of the historic Geshema examinations.

Q: How has being at the nunnery made a difference in your life?
A: When I first reached Dolma Ling Nunnery, its facilities weren’t as good as now. But I never lost hope. Many times, my family pressured me to go to school rather than the nunnery. But I never wanted to go to school because I thought I would not get a proper Buddhist education.

After being admitted to the nunnery, I started my studies from the basic education. It gave me special comfort and peace of mind, making me strongly feel that I had not made the wrong decision to join the nunnery in India.

Q: If you could speak directly to the sponsor who is helping you get education, food and health care at the nunnery, what would you say to that person?
A: I always feel grateful and fortunate to have sponsors who are truly kind. We are from totally different worlds with no blood relation, yet they still extend financial as well as moral support. It is partly because of the sponsor that I am one of those lucky nuns able to grab the rare opportunity to obtain the Geshema qualification.

I also feel that the sponsors are much more generous than my own parents. Parents are bound with the universal responsibility for looking after their own child, but our sponsors are never bound with the responsibility to look after me and take care of me like their own child. I always pray for their happiness and success in their lives. Continue reading

Clean water project completed at Dolma Ling Nunnery

In the spring of 2016, the 223 nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India asked for help with a project to provide more clean drinking water at the nunnery.

Twenty-one generous donors came forward to support this $2,750 project. Today we’re delighted to report back to you on it and to share photos of the water filters and the water boiler in action.

nuns using water filter, clean water

Nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery using one of the three new water filters purchased and installed thanks to our generous community of supporters.

When Dolma Ling Nunnery was built a water filter was installed. However, that single filter was no longer sufficient because the number of nuns has so greatly increased. Thanks to the support of our 21 project donors, the nuns have been able to purchase and install three additional water filtering machines that will be enough for over 280 nuns and staff residing at the nunnery.

water filter Dolma Ling Nunnery, clean water

Here’s another photo of one of the three new water filters in action at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Experts say that unsafe drinking water and lack of sanitation cause 80% of all the sickness and disease in the world.

The filters are located in three different places in the nunnery so that the nuns can more easily access safe drinking water — one in the nuns’ dining hall, one in the staff mess, and one in the cafeteria where most of the nuns come for refreshment. Continue reading

Happy Cows at Dolma Ling Nunnery

We love reporting back on completed projects made possible by your generosity.

In the spring of 2016, we asked for your support to help the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery with their request for a cow shed for their small herd of milk cows.

You responded and now we’re happy to share a video, photos, and news of the completed cow shed. On behalf of all the nuns at the nunnery and their happier (and drier) cows, we’d like to say a huge thank you to Alix, Anna, Bob, Cindy, and Stuart for making this dream a reality.

This video was made by the nuns.

cow house at Dolma Ling Nunnery

The new cow house at Dolma Ling has been built adjacent to the existing cow sheds and provides shelter to 5 cows. This is very important because without shelter from the harsh sun and torrential monsoon rains the cows would suffer.

The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have been keeping cows for the past 20 years. The nuns now have a herd of 14 cows, made up of 7 milking cows, five calves, and two older cows.

The cows are an important aspect of the nunnery’s income-generating efforts and provide the main kitchen with sufficient milk for the nuns’ daily needs. They also provide manure for the nunnery’s flourishing vegetable and flower gardens. Continue reading

Tilokpur Nunnery and the Great Yogi Tilopa

Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling is situated at Tilokpur in Himachal Pradesh, northern India. Their lineage comes from the great Indian Yogi Tilopa (988-1069 CE) and was passed on to Naropa, Marpa, Milarepa, and to His Holiness the Seventeenth Karmapa.

The nunnery is built near the cave of Tilopa, who meditated there for 12 years and attained enlightenment. The cave is located above a river and is a place of pilgrimage for Tibetan Buddhists.

Tibetan nuns puja opposite cave of Tilopa

The nuns perform a puja on the riverbank opposite the cave of Tilopa.

Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling is the oldest Kagyu nunnery outside of Tibet. It provides housing and education to over 110 nuns and overlooks a small town in the lush foothills of the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh in northern India. The nunnery is about 40 kilometers from Dharamsala and is near the highway from Mandi to Pathankot.

young Tibetan Buddhist nun performs a puja at Tilokpur

A young Tibetan Buddhist nun takes part in a puja at the nunnery. The nuns have been practicing new pujas as well as the damaru (drum) and bells as they work to improve their ritual skills such as chanting and the use of different musical instruments.

There are two branches of Tilokpur Nunnery. The older compound, called Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling, is now home to about 20 senior nuns who engage in intensive meditation practices and perform daily prayers. It is also home to 11 of the nunnery’s youngest nuns who are being given a basic education in Tibetan, English, and math. The newer branch of the nunnery, called Drubten Pemo Gaype Gatsal, is located down the hill and accommodates nuns engaged in intensive studies. There the nuns have classes in Tibetan, English, Buddhist philosophy, debate, and computing.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating outside the nunnery

Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating outside the nunnery

The nuns at Tilokpur range in age from 9 to 88 and many are from very poor families. Most are Tibetan, but there are also nuns from the Indian Himalayan regions of Kinnaur, Arunachal Pradesh, Ladakh, Sikkim, and from the Mustang region of Nepal.

Tilokpur Nunnery was founded in the early 1960s by Mrs. Freda Bedi to assist nuns arriving in India after escaping from the Chinese occupation of Tibet. Freda Bedi (1911–1977) was a British nun ordained by the Karmapa. As Sister Palmo she became famous as the first Western woman to take ordination in Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetan nuns debate at Tilokpur

The nuns debate at the nunnery. Debate is a vital part of Tibetan monastic education. For the last two years, the nuns have participated in the Kagyu nuns’ debate session held every winter.

Establishing the nunnery was fraught with difficulties. According to a biography of Sister Palmo, Lady of Realisation, the nuns and Sister Palmo lived in grass huts as the nunnery was being built. The huts were accidentally destroyed by fire and, though Sister Palmo survived, she lost many precious Tibetan Buddhist texts that she was translating into English.

Sister Palmo wrote: “Our gonpa… the nunnery… building is something of an odyssey. We are clearing bricks and mud from the floor of the ruined fort on the top of the hill. Seems like a mountain. Tibetan and India labour with the nuns of all sizes, including me, carrying stones for an hour a day. Our little nuns carry pebbles.”

Tibetan Buddhist nun and her teacher

A nun studies with her teacher. The new academic year started in March and subjects include Buddhist philosophy, Tibetan, English, and math.

Tilokpur remains a relatively small nunnery and, in the past, the nuns there had been hampered in their abilities to develop and sustain themselves by the general lack of education.

The Tibetan Nuns Project began supporting the nunnery in 1992 and has helped Tilokpur Nunnery start regular classes in Tibetan, Buddhist philosophy, and English. The Tibetan Nuns Project has also helped the Tilokpur nuns purchase new books, including Buddhist philosophy and math textbooks.

The nunnery office is now also better equipped technically with a new computer, fax, and printer and two nuns have completed a month-long computer-training course. The nuns have also formed a management committee that is administering the internal activities of the nunnery. Currently 70 nuns at Tilokpur are being sponsored through the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Buddhist nuns worship near cave of Tilopa

The nuns worship by the river near the cave of Tilopa.

Tilopa gave his most famous student Naropa a teaching called the “Six Words of Advice”, the text of which survives only in its Tibetan translation. This profound teaching has been translated into English in both a short and longer form and goes as follows:

Don’t recall – Let go of what has passed
Don’t imagine – Let go of what may come
Don’t think – Let go of what is happening now
Don’t examine – Don’t try to figure anything out
Don’t control – Don’t try to make anything happen
Rest – Relax, right now, and rest