New Research Program for Geshemas

Five Geshemas have received scholarships to participate in a Tibetan Buddhist philosophy research program that is the first of its kind.

The historic research project is organized by the Geluk International Foundation which recently announced seats for 30 Geshes and 5 Geshemas to do three-year research projects on five topics of Buddhist philosophy.

The Geshema degree for nuns (called the Geshe degree for monks) is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. To date, 44 nuns have earned this degree.

Tibetan Buddhist geshema

A Tibetan Buddhist nun holds the yellow hat that is worn by Geshemas or Geshes. Photo by Oliver Adam.

This research program grew out of the Conference of Religious Heads held in 2012. At that conference, His Holiness the Dalai Lama asked the research program to focus on various fields. Now, the Geluk International Foundation, chaired by Gaden Tripa, has made His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s vision a reality by starting the research program with formal rules and regulations.

The new research wing is headed by Shartse Khensur Ven. Jangchup Choeden who is the director. The committee members include other eminent Geshe Lharamphas from major monasteries.

The individual participants will work on their subjects and will submit quarterly reports under the guidance of their advisors. At the end of three years, each will submit a final thesis.

The Tibetan Nuns Project formally announced the program and contacted the five nunneries that regularly participate in the annual Jang Gonchoe month-long debate session and have Geshema graduates – Dolma Ling, Geden Choeling, Jamyang Choeling (all three in the Dharmasala area), Jangchup Choeling in South India, and Kopan in Nepal. The selection of research topics by the Geshemas was done on a first-come-first-serve basis.

In order to qualify for the program, the Geshemas had to have obtained 60% in their final Geshema exams, as well as to meet other criteria and supply formal documents. The Tibetan Nuns Project helped to coordinate the application process by the Geshemas.

Geshema Tenzin Palmo

Geshema Tenzin Palmo of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is one of the 5 Geshemas who, along with 30 Geshes, have been chosen to undertake three-year research projects in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Here are the five Geshemas who received scholarships and their chosen research subjects:

  1. Geshema Namdol Phuntsok (a.k.a. Passang Lama), Kopan Nunnery. Subject: Dulwa / Vinaya
  2. Geshema Tenzin Tseyang (a.k.a. Tashi Lhamo), Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Subject: Pharchin / Prajna Paramita
  3. Geshema Tenzin Palmo, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Subject: Ngonpa Zoe/ Abhidharma
  4. Geshema Tenzin Dolkar, Jangchup Choeling Nunnery. Subject: Uma / Madhyamika
  5. Geshema Phuntsok Dolkar, Jangchup Choeling Nunnery. Subject: Tse-ma / Pramana

The research program was initially planned to start on April 1, 2020, but due to the strict lockdown all over India and Nepal, the Geluk International Foundation altered the start of the three-year project to June 1st, 2020.

The scholarship funding has been arranged by Geluk International Foundation under the sponsorship of a trust/foundation based in New York and The Dalai Lama Trust.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is very happy that these five Geshemas have this valuable opportunity to increase their learning and skills and to fulfil the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. May all concerned sponsors and supporters of the Geshemas be proud and happy for their valuable contributions in helping the Geshemas!

Life at Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries During COVID-19 Pandemic

Here’s our monthly update on life at some Tibetan Buddhist nunneries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tibetan Nuns Project supports seven nunneries in northern India.

This month, India reported a surge in COVID-19 cases even as the nationwide lockdown eased. India now has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. Hospitals are swamped in the worst-hit cities of Mumbai, New Delhi, and Chennai. Experts predict that the infection rate in India will continue to rise through July. On June 19, a new lockdown will go into effect for the 15 million people in Chennai.

This is worrying news for the tens of thousands of Tibetans refugees who live in India. The Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala has issued special guidelines for nunneries and monasteries.

The nuns are doing their best to adhere to physical distancing, the use of face masks in public spaces, hand and respiratory hygiene, and environmental sanitation.

Health checks for Tibetan Buddhist nuns during coronavirus pandemic

Tibetan Buddhist nuns get their temperatures checked during health checks at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

Geshema Exams Postponed

Each year, the nuns sitting various levels of the four-year Geshema examinations gather together for one month of final exam preparations and then for about 12 days of exams.

The Geshema exams, normally held each August, are being tentatively postponed to October 1. This year’s venue for the Geshema exams will be Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala.

Nuns often travel long distances to take the exams, such as from Nepal and South India. With the number of COVID-19 cases in India rising and with stricter travel rules from Nepal, the committee decided to postpone the exams to lessen the risk of infection. Last year, all 50 nuns took who took Geshema exams passed.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

The nunnery is closed until the end of June. The nuns are still not getting together in groups so there are no classes, pujas etc. In lieu of face-to-face classes, some philosophy teachers are recording their lessons using an mp3 player and sharing the files with their students.

Each year, during the holy month of Saga Dawa, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha.

Saga Dawa Tibetan Buddhist nuns reading Kangyur 2020

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling maintain physical distance while reading the Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. Photos courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

After finishing the reading the Kangyur texts, the nuns had a two-day break with free time to themselves.

COVID-life Dolma Ling, Two Tibetan Buddhist nuns wearing masks

COVID life at Dolma Ling. Thank you for helping to support the nuns during this difficult period.

Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

The nuns at Shugsep have been organizing a few classes each day and have now decided to follow their normal schedule. They are once again performing pujas or prayers, so if you have a puja request you can make it here.

The Shugsep Khenpo and the senior nuns who were in Bylakupee, South India, have returned safely to the nunnery and are currently in two weeks of quarantine.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

According to the latest news, all the nuns at Sherab Choeling nunnery are safe and well. To mark Saga Dawa, the nuns read special puja texts including:

– Yum Puthi Chunyi (a full reading of all the 12 volumes of the Perfection of Wisdom in the Kangyur, the 108-volume set of the words of the Buddha)
– Dolma (the Tara puja)
Dukkar Tsezung for all sentient beings (This a long-life ritual focused on Sitapatrā, Goddess with the White Umbrella, who appears from the Buddha’s uṣṇīṣa.)
– Reading pages from each Kangyur book (Called shal chad, this is the “opening and partial reading of the entire canon. To read it all would take too long so each volume is opened and a bit of it read.)

Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Saga Dawa

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery marked the holy month of Saga Dawa with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows.

During the holy month of Saga Dawa, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well being. The nuns also offered Menla, the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch. On the 15th of the holy month, they took Thekchen Sojung, the eight Mahāyāna vows.

Earlier Updates on Life at Tibetan Nunneries During the Pandemic

Since March, we’ve been providing regular updates on life at some Tibetan nunneries in India during the coronavirus pandemic. Each update has photos and news from some or all of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. Here’s a list of earlier updates:

The Four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism

We are sometimes asked, “What are the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and which nuns do you support?”

The four schools of Tibetan Buddhism are Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug or Gelugpa.

  • Nyingma (founded in 8th century)
  • Kagyu (founded in the early 11th century)
  • Sakya (founded in 1073)
  • Gelug (founded in 1409)

The Tibetan Nuns Project supports nuns from all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. See more details below.

four schools of Tibetan Buddhism photo by Brian Harris

Photo of Tibetan Buddhist nuns courtesy of Brian Harris

The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Nyingma or “ancient” tradition is the oldest of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Often referred to as “the ancient translation school”, it was founded in the eighth century following the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit to Tibetan.

Around 760, the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen invited two Buddhist masters from the Indian subcontinent, Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita, to the “Land of Snows” to bring Buddhism to the Tibetan people. Thus began a massive translation project of all Buddhist texts into the newly created Tibetan language.

The legendary Vajrayana master Padmasambhava, who Tibetans call Guru Rinpoche, is considered the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. He supervised the translation of the tantras (the esoteric teachings of the Buddha) while Shantarakshita, abbot of the great Buddhist Nalanda University, supervised the translation of the sutras (oral teachings of the Buddha).

Tibetan block printed prayers by Olivier Adam

Tibetan block-printed prayers. Photo by Olivier Adam.

Together they founded the first monastery in Tibet, Samye, which became the main center for Buddhist teaching in Tibet for around three centuries.

The Nyingma tradition classifies the Buddhist teachings into nine yanas or vehicles. The first three vehicles are common to all schools of Buddhism, the next three are common to all schools of Tantric Buddhism, and the last three are exclusive to the Nyingma tradition. The highest is known as Dzogchen or the Great Perfection.

Unlike the other schools, the Nyingma traditionally had no centralized authority or a single head of the lineage. However, since the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the Nyingma school has had representatives.

Here is a list of the 8 representatives of the Nyingma school since this practice began in the 1960s:

  1. Dudjom Rinpoche (c. 1904–1987), served from the 1960s until his death.
  2. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (c. 1910–1991), served from 1987 until his death.
  3. Penor (Pema Norbu) Rinpoche (1932–2009) served from 1991 until retirement in 2003.
  4. Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche (c. 1930–2008), served from 2003 until his death.
  5. Trulshik Rinpoche (1923–2011), selected after Chatral Rinpoche declined the position.
  6. Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche (1926-2015), appointed head in 2012 and passed away in Bodhgaya in 2015
  7. Kathok Getse Rinpoche (1954-2018), passed away ten months after being named to a three-year term as the supreme head of the Nyingma school.
  8. Dzogchen Rinpoche Jigme Losel Wangpo was selected in January 2019 as the eighth head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism by the heads of the principal monasteries of the Nyingma tradition.

The Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism gets its name from the Tibetan བཀའ་བརྒྱུད། meaning “oral lineage” or “whispered transmission”. While it traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni, the most important source for the specific practices of the Kagyu order is the great Indian yogi Tilopa (988-1069).

The practices were passed orally from teacher to disciple through a series of great masters. The transmission lineage of the “Five Founding Masters” of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism is as follows:

  1. Tilopa (988-1069), the Indian yogi who experienced the original transmission of the Mahamudra
  2. Naropa (1016–1100), the Indian scholar-yogi who perfected the methods of accelerated enlightenment described in his Six Yogas of Naropa
  3. Marpa (1012–1097), the first Tibetan in the lineage, known as the great translator for his work translating the Vajrayana and Mahamudra texts into Old Tibetan
  4. Milarepa (1052–1135), the poet and greatest yogi of Tibet who overcame Marpa’s reluctance to teach and attained enlightenment in a single lifetime
  5. Gampopa (1079–1153), Milarepa’s most important student, who integrated Atisha’s Kadam teachings and Tilopa’s Mahamudra teaching to establish the Kagyu lineage.
Complete Kangyur words of the Buddha read at Saga Dawa

The Kangyur, the words of the Buddha. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team

The Kagyu lineage practices have a special focus on the tantric teachings of the Vajrayana and Mahamudra teachings. Some of the most distinguished works of the Kagyu Tibetan masters are the works of Marpa, the Vajra Songs of Milarepa, the Collected Works of Gampopa, of the Karmapas, of Drikhung Kyöppa Jigten Sumgön, and of Drukpa Kunkhyen Pema Karpo.

In the Kagyu school, there are a large number of independent sub-schools and lineages.

The Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism dates to the 11th century. The name comes from the Tibetan ས་སྐྱ་ meaning “pale earth” describing the grey landscape near Shigatse, Tibet where the Sakya Monastery – the first monastery of this tradition and the seat of the Sakya School – was built in 1073.

The Sakya tradition developed during the second period of translation of Buddhist scripture from Sanskrit into Tibetan and was founded by Drogmi, a famous scholar and translator who had studied who studied under Naropa and other great Indian masters.

The heart of the Sakya lineage teaching and practice is Lamdre, The Path and Its Fruit, a comprehensive and structured meditation path in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.

The head of Sakya School is the “Sakya Trizin” (“the holder of the Sakya throne”), who is always drawn from the male line of the Khön family. It was previously a lifetime position that rotated between the two branches of that lineage, the Phuntsok Potrang and the Dolma Potrang. The previous head of the Sakya School, His Holiness Ngawang Kunga Thekchen Palbar Samphel Ganggi Gyalpo, was born in 1945 in Tsedong, Tibet and served as Sakya Trizin from 1958 to 2017. It has now become a three-year position that rotates between the next generation of trained male offspring of those two families.

The Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Gelug or Gelugpa (དགེ་ལུགས་པ་) school is the newest and largest school of Tibetan Buddhism. Its story begins with Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), one of the period’s foremost authorities of Tibetan Buddhism who studied under Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma masters.

Tsongkhapa, the most renowned teacher of his time, founded Ganden Monastery in 1409 and, though he emphasized a strong monastic sangha, he did not announce a new monastic order. Following his death, his followers established the Gelug (“the virtuous tradition”) school. The Gelug school was also called “New Kadam” for its revival of the Kadam school founded by Atisha.

The Throne-Holder of Ganden (Ganden Tripa) is the official head of the Gelug school, a position that rotates between the heads of the two Gelug tantric colleges. Its most influential figure is the Dalai Lama, who is a monk of the Gelug tradition, but as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet for over fifty years has always represented all Tibetans.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Olivier Adam

Portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Olivier Adam

The Dalai Lamas are considered manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have chosen to be continuously reborn to end the suffering of sentient beings.

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th reincarnation. He was born in 1935, two years after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama encourages non-sectarianism.

The central teachings of the Gelug School are the lamrim (stages of the path to enlightenment) teachings of Tsongkhapa, based on the teachings of the 11th-century Indian master Atisha.

Nunneries Supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project

The Tibetan Nuns Project began in 1987 in the Dharamsala area, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a large number of Tibetan refugees.

We initially reached out to assist the nearby nunneries, Geden Choeling and Tilokpur. In response to a large influx of refugee nuns escaping from Tibet, the Tibetan Nuns Project built two new nunneries, Dolma Ling and Shugsep.

Currently, the Tibetan Nuns Project supports these 7 nunneries in northern India:

  1. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, non-sectarian,
  2. Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, Nyingma
  3. Geden Choeling Nunnery, Gelugpa
  4. Tilokpur Nunnery, Kagyu
  5. Sherab Choeling Nunnery, non-sectarian
  6. Sakya College for Nuns, Sakya
  7. Dorjee Zong Nunnery, Gelugpa

Map of Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries supported by Tibetan Nuns Project

 

Thinking of You!!

Nangsa Chodron Tibetan Nuns Project

Nangsa Chodron, Director, Tibetan Nuns Project, Dharamsala, India

Dear Sponsors and Friends of the Tibetan Nuns Project,

Greetings from Dharamsala.

We hope that you and your entire family members have stayed safe and well during this deadly pandemic COVID-19.

We all know the dreadful outbreak of coronavirus infection did not spare anyone, threatening the lives of all races, religion, color, age, status etc. across nations. Hundreds have lost their loved ones to the virus, and many are still fighting it in hospitals, in quarantine and isolation in their homes.

India is a developing country with the second-highest population out of the 7 billion total world population. As such, it is unimaginable and too scary to think about its effect on the Indian population and also, in this era of globalization and technology, on other countries as well, if the spread of COVID-19 could not be stopped in India!

However, as the virus started infecting India, the Government of India took timely and strong safety measures and declared complete a lockdown from March 25. This great action not only saved the lives of its own people but largely controlled spreading infection to other countries as well, something that all governments and people appreciated.

health check, coronavirus pandemic, COVID-19, Tibetan Buddhist nun

Health check at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute during the coronavirus pandemic. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team

In this critical global situation, with everything closed down to save lives through control and social distancing, a large section of the Indian population suffered heavily, especially daily wage earners. But the government and society have come together to extend their support to them as much as possible and continue to do so.

We feel lucky and blessed to inform all our sponsors and long-time friends that the nuns did not face such acute problems, mainly due to your kind support through our sponsorship programs and projects mainly coordinated by the TNP USA office and in Europe. All our nuns stay and practice in various nunneries in India and have been doing well despite the anguish and fear of the pandemic. Although under the currently enforced guidelines they do not have their normal routine, they are maintaining themselves with their day-to-day self-studies, caring for their physical and mental health, and performing spiritual practices individually.

Through this most unfortunate feeling of sadness, fear, and insecurity globally we feel fortunate and inspired by your unconditional love, care, and support for the nuns for all these years. At the same time, we are also very concerned about your health and well-being during this time of crisis.

As our spiritual leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama always believes in the concept of global responsibility and oneness of humanity at large, we see practically how COVID-19 affected and disturbed our lives, but has also taught us a lesson on interdependence. Your kind support and friendship have affirmed the principles of kindness, love, and compassion His Holiness the Dalai Lama has always emphasized in his selfless life!

Therefore, the undersigned on behalf of all the nuns and staff of TNP-Dharamsala, here would like to send our love and regards and genuinely thank you all for your much-needed support for our cause.

We send you all our good wishes for your safe and sound health at this critical juncture.

Yours sincerely,

Nangsa Chodon
Director
Tibetan Nuns Project

About Nangsa Chodon

Nangsa Chodon was born in Tibet and grew up in the exile community in India. She received a B.A. from Punjab University and then served the exile Tibetan community for 40 years in a variety of positions, initially in the Tibetan Settlements in Himachal Pradesh, and then from 1972 in the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharmsala. Working mainly in the Department of Education, she also served as Secretary of the Public Service Commission, and for three years was the Representative of H.H. the Dalai Lama, Office of Tibet, in South Africa. Her final position was as Secretary of the Department of Education, from which she retired in 2017. The Tibetan Nuns Project was very fortunate to have her join us as Director in late 2018 upon the retirement of our Founding Director and now Special Advisor, Rinchen Khando Choegyal.

 

The Meaning of Om Mani Padme Hum

His Holiness the Dalai Lama explains the meaning of Om mani padme hum. 

om mani padme hum, mantra, Tibetan mantra, meaning of om mani padme hum

The mantra Om mani padme hum. The six syllables are Om ཨོཾ mani མ་ཎི padme པ་དྨེ hum ཧཱུྃ.

A Talk On Om Mani Padme Hum By H.H. the Dalai Lama

It is very good to recite the mantra Om mani padme hum, but while you are doing it, you should be thinking on its meaning, for the meaning of the six syllables is great and vast.

Om

The first, Om is composed of three letters. A, U, and M. These symbolize the practitioner’s impure body, speech, and mind; they also symbolize the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha.

Can impure body, speech, and mind be transformed into pure body, speech, and mind, or are they entirely separate?

All Buddhas are cases of beings who were like ourselves and then in dependence on the path became enlightened; Buddhism does not assert that there is anyone who from the beginning is free from faults and possesses all good qualities. The development of pure body, speech, and mind comes from gradually leaving the impure states and their being transformed into the pure.

How is this done?

The path is indicated by the next four syllables.

Mani

Mani, meaning jewel, symbolizes the factors of method—the altruistic intention to become enlightened, compassion, and love.

Just as a jewel is capable of removing poverty, so the altruistic mind of enlightenment is capable of removing the poverty, or difficulties, of cyclic existence and of solitary peace.

Similarly, just as a jewel fulfills the wishes of sentient beings, so the altruistic intention to become enlightened fulfills the wishes of sentient beings.

mani stones, om mani padme hum, the meaning of om mani padme hum

Mani stones outside the Tsuglagkhang Complex, near the home of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, McLeod Ganj, Dharamshala, India. Photo by Liz Highleyman, Creative Commons, https://bit.ly/3fuozRB

Padme

The two syllables, padme, meaning lotus, symbolize wisdom. Just as a lotus grows forth from mud but is not sullied by the faults of mud, so wisdom is capable of putting you in a situation of non-contradiction whereas there would be contradiction if you did not have wisdom.

There is wisdom realizing impermanence, wisdom realizing that persons are empty of being self-sufficient or substantially existent, wisdom that realizes the emptiness of duality—that is to say, of difference of entity between subject and object—and wisdom that realizes the emptiness of inherent existence.

Though there are many different types of wisdom, the main of all these is the wisdom realizing emptiness.

Hum

Purity must be achieved by an indivisible unity of method and wisdom, symbolized by the final syllable hum, which indicates indivisibility. According to the sutra system, this indivisibility of method and wisdom refers to wisdom affected by method and method affected by wisdom.

In the mantra, or tantric, vehicle, it refers to one consciousness in which there is the full form of both wisdom and method as one undifferentiable entity.

In terms of the seed syllables of the five Conqueror Buddhas, hum is the seed syllable of Akshobhya—the immovable, the unfluctuating, that which cannot be disturbed by anything.

The six syllables: Om Mani Padme Hum

Thus the six syllables, om mani padme hum, mean that in dependence on the practice of a path which is an indivisible union of method and wisdom, you can transform your impure body, speech, and mind into the pure exalted body, speech, and mind of a Buddha.

It is said that you should not seek for Buddhahood outside of yourself; the substances for the achievement of Buddhahood are within.

As Maitreya says in his Sublime Continuum of the Great Vehicle (Uttaratantra), all beings naturally have the Buddha nature in their own continuum. We have within us the seed of purity, the essence of a One Gone Thus (Tathagatagarbha), that is to be transformed and fully developed into Buddhahood.

First published in Kindness, Clarity, and Insight by The Fourteenth Dalai Lama His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, translated and edited by Jeffrey Hopkins, co-edited by Elizabeth Napper. Snow Lion Publications, 1984. Reprinted here by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boulder, CO. www.shambhala.com

Video on the meaning of Om Mani Padme Hum

Here’s a video from 2013 of His Holiness the Dalai Lama answering a question about the meaning of the mantra Om mani padme hum.

Latest News on Coronavirus Lockdown and Tibetan Nunneries

Here is the latest news on the coronavirus lockdown at the Tibetan nunneries and how the nuns in India are coping.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns distribute food during coronavirus pandemic, coronavirus lockdown, Dolma Ling nuns, food relief

Compassion in action. Tibetan Buddhist nuns from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute share their rations with 100 of the poorest village families near the nunnery. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

New Statement from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on May 3rd

On Sunday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama issued a new statement calling on people to come together and give a “coordinated, global response” to the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. His Holiness the Dalai Lama said we must focus on what unites us as members of one human family and reach out to each other with compassion.

His Holiness said, “Our human capacity to reason and to see things realistically gives us the ability to transform hardship into opportunity. This crisis and its consequences serve as a warning that only by coming together in a coordinated, global response, will we meet the unprecedented magnitude of the challenges we face. I pray we all heed ‘The Call to Unite’.”

Tibetan Administration Extends Coronavirus Lockdown

On May 1st, the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala called for an additional 30 days of lockdown for nunneries, monasteries, Tibetan settlements, old age homes, and schools.

The Indian lockdown was set to expire on May 3rd and on Friday it was extended for another two weeks to May 18th. However, the Central Tibetan Administration has called for a full 80 days of lockdown for Tibetan communities scheduled to end on June 5th, coinciding with the full moon day of Saga Dawa.

Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay said the curve in India is rising daily and that the risk of transmission will be greater than ever, given India’s densely packed population. He advised Tibetans in settlements to avoid coronavirus hotspots and not to come to Dharamshala, for the safety of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration. He praised the relief efforts of various monastic institutions and others and asked those distributing food to the poor to maintain social distancing.

Tibetan nuns, Dolma Ling, coronavirus lockdown, food distribution

Sharing is caring. The nuns at Dolma Ling gather rice, flour, sugar, cooking oil, and tea from their rations to share with their poorest neighbours. These Indian families are day laborers unable to work and afford food during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

Update on Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

At Dorjee Zong Nunnery, a 700-year-old Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in Zanskar, the younger nuns from nearby villages have temporarily left the nunnery to stay with their families. These young nuns cannot stay at Dorjee Zong during the lockdown because there is not enough space to house them in separate quarters or to follow safe social distancing measures. Their elder siblings who have returned home are helping the younger children with their studies.

Seven elder nuns remain at the nunnery and spend most of their time reciting mantras and following their daily rituals. Two senior nuns are taking care of the nunnery complex and the two cows. Since they have the time, they are growing barley and vegetables.

To cope with the severe winters at this remote, high-altitude nunnery, each September the nuns stock up on rations, vegetables, and other essentials, storing enough to get them through May of each year. Soon the roads will open and in June the nuns will once again have access to fresh supplies.

Last year, Dorjee Zong Nunnery began an exciting expansion project. The plan is to build new housing blocks, a prayer hall, kitchen, dining hall, and storeroom. Good progress was made in 2019 during the short construction season.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery, Zanskar, Tibetan Buddhist nunnery

Down the hill from ancient Dorjee Zong Nunnery, a number of new buildings are being constructed. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown mean that further construction will likely be delayed.

Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there may be a problem with construction this year. Since most of the labor force comes from Nepal, they may not be able to work due to the strict guidelines imposed by every Indian state. We will continue to report back as we get fresh news.

Life in the Nunneries Under Lockdown

All the nuns and staff are fine, at the time of writing this post.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling social distance and pray, coronavirus lockdown

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery practice social distancing while praying. The nunnery is home to about 240 nuns. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

The nuns are reciting prayers and mantras in their rooms and when they go for kora, circumambulating the nunnery complex. The nuns are spending a lot of time studying on their own.

At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, the nuns shared their food rations with 100 poor village families. The local village administration asked the nunnery for help because many people cannot work and are suffering. This is a very stressful time for people who depend on work to eat, so the nuns were happy to share their food with them.

coronavirus lockdown, life under lockdown, Tibetan Buddhist nun, Dolma Ling

Outside the gates of Dolma Ling, a Tibetan Buddhist nun sanitizes vegetables during the coronavirus lockdown. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team

The nuns have also made sure that the two single women employed by Dolma Ling are still being paid even though they are unable to work since the lockdown. These women were also given extra food rations.

The nunneries remain shut. The nuns are being vigilant and guard the gates, making sure no one comes in without good reason and taking sanitization precautions. Shopping for essentials is proceeding smoothly for all the nunneries.

coronavirus lockdown, Dolma Ling, Tibetan Buddhist nuns chores

Even under lockdown, chores continue. The nuns at Dolma Ling work together to clean the large drinking water reservoir. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

In Himachal Pradesh, home to five of the nunneries, the curfew situation has eased slightly.  People are allowed out for morning walks from 5:30 am to 7 am. From 8 am to 12 pm, people may go out to buy essentials and motor vehicles can travel without government passes. The government has allowed many shops to stay open during these hours.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns wearing masks, doing chores at Dolma Ling

Life under lockdown at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute include chores, prayers, and studying on one’s own. Photos courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is very grateful to Charles-Antoine Janssen for his generous gift of over 3,500 masks for the nuns at various nunneries.

donated face masks, Charles-Antoine Janssen

In April, Mr. Charles-Antoine Janssen, Founder and Managing Partner at Kois Invest in Mumbai, donated more than 3,500 masks to the Tibetan Nuns Project for the nuns at various nunneries.

The Tibetan Nuns Project office gave 500 masks to the Nuns’ Committee at Dolma Ling for distribution to nuns and staff and has contacted the other nunneries so that the masks can be quickly collected. The Dolma Ling nuns offered a puja gift for Charles-Antoine Janssen, his wife, and two sons.

Update on the Sherab Choeling Nuns

As we reported in April, in mid-February 44 of the nuns from Sherab Choeling travelled to the town of Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes.

Then the coronavirus lockdown happened and all classes were suspended. After lots of hard work, the nuns were able to arrange for two buses to take them and their two teachers back to Sherab Choeling. To maintain social distancing, the nuns had to sit apart, requiring more bus space that would be needed under normal circumstances.

Sherab Choeling Nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, social distancing

Sherab Choeling nuns stand apart in circles at a checkpoint en route back to the nunnery. To get back home to Sherab Choeling Nunnery during the coronavirus lockdown, the nuns had to rent two big buses and sit apart from each other.

April Update: Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries During COVID-19

On Tuesday, India extended the COVID-19 lockdown for 19 days to May 3rd. Here’s an update on the situation at some of the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

So far we’ve received updates from 4 of the 7 nunneries we support. Earlier this month we reported on Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries. We’ll continue to update this blog post as new information arrives.

Tibetan Buddhist nunnery under coronavirus lockdown, COVID-19

Nuns wear face masks at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. On Tuesday, the Indian Prime Minister extended the initial 21-day COVID-19 lockdown for 19 days to May 4. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Sakya College for Nuns

The nuns wanted to send this special message to donors and sponsors. Venerable Dechen Wangmo wrote, “I hope all our kind sponsors are well and keeping themselves safe. We pray for all in the world and our dear sponsors and supporters. Our deep prayers to all!”

The nuns began taking precautionary measures well before coronavirus cases were found in India. From January onwards, the nuns cancelled outings from the nunneries. Nuns left only to consult physicians or for urgent personal reasons. Otherwise, a select group of nuns is assigned to purchase essentials such as vegetables, cooking gas cylinders, other rations and gas for the generators.

The nuns who do these tasks are very cautious when they go out. They wear face masks and use sanitizer. When they return to the nunnery, instead of going to their rooms, they go straight to the washroom to change their clothes and soak their clothing in detergent mixed with Dettol.

The nuns have been refraining from getting together in large numbers. They have cancelled assembly, pujas, debating practice, and all classes except for philosophy.

The Sakya nuns manage their philosophy class in a special way. Each day, one student from each class is allowed to go to class and record everything said by the teacher. This recording is then shared with the other nuns who listen to it in their rooms.

Tibetan Buddhist nun at Sakya College for Nuns 2017 low res

The nuns are studying are on their own in their rooms. Each day they get a recording of the philosophy class. Photo of a Sakya nun studying in her room from 2017.

The nuns are being given hot black tea, honey-ginger-lemon tea, and warm water to keep themselves well hydrated.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Sherab Choeling is a remote nunnery in the Spiti Valley, an arid mountain valley located high in the Himalaya mountains in the north-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh. All 62 nuns are doing fine as of April 13th.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns from Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Of the 62 Sherab Choeling nuns, around 18 nuns remained at the nunnery in Spiti, while 44 nuns travelled to Hamirpur in mid-February so that they could continue their philosophy classes. The 18 nuns are the young ones getting primary education plus some senior nuns.

As we reported in the 2019 Newsletter, the nuns are grateful for their two philosophy teachers. One has been teaching them for 14 years, enduring the extreme weather of the Spiti Valley far from his monastery in south India.

This year the teachers were told to return to their monasteries unless they had a permit to stay. The head nun asked the government office in Kinnaur for permits, but no permits are being issued now because of the coronavirus scare.

She discussed the situation with the committee and the philosophy teachers and decided they would move to Hamirpur so that the nuns could continue with classes. In mid-February, 44 nuns and their 2 philosophy teachers moved to Hamirpur, about three hours drive from Dharamsala. They are staying in a three-story Spiti Hostel building. The nuns were able to continue their classes through March 2nd, but since then they have been cancelled to comply with health regulations.

COVID-19 lockdown, Spiti

In mid-February, 44 nuns and their 2 philosophy teachers moved to the Spiti Hostel in Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes. Unfortunately, from March 2nd, due to the coronavirus lockdown and health precautions, the nuns can no longer assemble in groups.

Other than the problems with permits and classes, staying outside Spiti has not been difficult. The nuns were able to stock up on rations before the lockdown. They are also able to get vegetables whenever they need. Back at Sherab Choeling, around 18 nuns remain, some senior nuns and the young nuns receiving primary education.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Like other nunneries, Dolma Ling took many precautions for the COVID-19 early on. As we reported earlier, since the first week of February, the nunnery has been closed to visitors. Before the nationwide coronavirus lockdown, Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries bought a month’s worth of rations.

fields and Dhauladhar range above Dolma Ling Nunnery

Wheatfields and the Dhauladhar range above Dolma Ling Nunnery. As air pollution levels in India have dropped during the COVID-19 lockdown, many people are seeing these mountains for the first time in 30 years. The name Dhauladhar means “the white range”.

Since the India lockdown began on March 2nd, entry to the nunnery is even stricter. Under the lockdown, the use of vehicles has stopped. However,  both Dolma Ling and Shugsep received special government permits allowing the nuns to use the truck to get supplies. Once the nuns return with rations such as vegetables and cooking fuel, people and goods are disinfected as much as possible before they enter the nunnery grounds.

Tibetan Buddhist nun coronavirus lockdown update, COVID-19 lockdown

The nuns are doing their best to practice social distancing. Nuns continue to study on their own in their rooms or at safe distances outdoors. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

At Dolma Ling, classes, pujas, and other group activities are cancelled to lessen the risk of infection. The nuns study on their own and do chores such as cleaning, laundry, caring for the cows, and making tofu.

social distancing coronavirus Tibetan Buddhist nun

A Tibetan Buddhist nun sits alone on the verandah to eat. The nuns no longer gather in the dining hall but bring their dishes to the courtyard to collect food and then sit apart to eat it. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns do laundry

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling do laundry in the spring that flows in channels through the top of the nunnery grounds. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Sponsors Needed

Sadly, some sponsors of nuns have had to stop their sponsorships because of the economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

This means that quite a few nuns need sponsors.

It costs just $1 a day to sponsor a nun and help provide the basic necessities such as food, clothing, shelter, and education. If you can sponsor a nun, please click here.

Sponsor a Tibetan Buddhist nun in Inda

Latest news and photos from the Tibetan nunneries

Here’s the latest news and photos from some Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India during the nationwide COVID-19 lockdown. Last week we posted this update from India and about the Seattle office.

update on Tibetan nunneries Covid-19

Unfortunately, now we only have detailed reports from two of the seven nunneries supported by Tibetan Nuns Project donors, Dolma Ling and Shugsep. We will do our best to give you updates via our blog and Facebook page as other news comes in.

new calf born at Dolma Ling Nunnery April 2020

Some good news during the crisis. The nuns were delighted with this beautiful addition to Dolma Ling’s small herd of dairy cows. The day-old female calf brought joy and we hope it sparks joy for you too.

Update from Dolma Ling

The nunnery has been closed to visitors since the first week of February when the nuns shut the gates and monitored anyone who came in or out.

Since the all-India lockdown began on March 25, the nunnery closure has been even stricter. The nuns at the front gate are armed with a spray can of disinfectant which they spray on people and goods entering the nunnery grounds.

update from Tibetan nunneries covid-19 debate courtyard

A late evening view of the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling. A few nuns were out memorizing texts. Some nuns were doing kora (walking and circumambulating the nunnery) while many prefer to stay in their rooms or walk up and down the housing block verandas.

Things are running pretty smoothly at the nunnery. The projects funded by donors, such as the tofu-making facility, the expanded kitchen and storeroom, and the new cowshed are helping the nuns to cope during this crisis.

Tibetan Buddhist nun making tofu

A photo of the tofu-making facility taken in 2013 by Brian Harris. The nuns are making tofu weekly and that is helping the nunnery to be more self-sufficient during the Covid-19 lockdown in India.

In theory, people are allowed to go shopping between 8 and 11 in the morning, but the nuns and staff are barred from leaving, so the traffic in and out of the nunnery is extremely limited, with the result that they all feel relatively safe.

After the first few days, the nuns made an arrangement for a jeep to supply vegetables and other goods and to offload them outside the gate where they were sprayed and then left for some time in the sun before the nuns carried them in.

The nuns were also able to get special permission to take the Dolma Ling jeep to get the essentials such as cylinders of cooking gas and vegetables. They also went to the Tibetan settlement of Bir to buy tsampa (roasted barley flour), which is a staple food for the nuns.

vegetarian diet at nunnery, food for thought, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project

This photo, taken in 2017, shows part of the vegetable storage area constructed to keep animals out and hold a lot of supplies. It takes a lot of vegetables to feed over 240 nuns! With the Covid-19 pandemic, the nuns are trying to purchase vegetables with a long shelf-life.

The nuns serve the food from the veranda and everyone goes to their own spot to eat it. After their meal, the nuns walk around a bit as usual before returning to their rooms.

Dolma Ling Nunnery mealtime during Covid-19

Communal meals in the dining hall are a thing of the past. The nuns use their own dishes to collect food from the courtyard and they eat on their own.

Tofu making is in full swing and there is the milk from the dairy cows and greens from the kitchen garden. Water and electricity are in quite good supply these days and the air is wonderfully fresh without the normal traffic pollution!

Tibetan Buddhist nun social distancing Covid-19

A Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute practices social distancing from the 240 other nuns, eating her meal alone.

nuns washing at Dolma Ling Nunnery

On bright sunny days, nuns take the opportunity to wash their laundry and to clean their rooms. They are also cleaning the nunnery and gardening.

At Dolma Ling, all group activities such as classes, pujas, and eating together are being avoided. The nuns are doing their best to practice social distancing.

dairy cow and calf Dolma Ling Life under Covid-19

Some good news during the crisis is that this week a beautiful calf was born to one of the Dolma Ling dairy cows. The mother is highly protective of her beautiful female baby calf.

At the time of writing, the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the location of five of the seven nunneries we support, there were 3 confirmed cases of Covid-19. Tsering wrote, “In fact, we have no great alarms in this area at present with only 3 confirmed cases. It’s hard to know if this is a huge underestimate. Next week should show the truth of the situation. So the nuns and staff are all being careful!”

Update from Shugsep

At Shugsep, the nuns have been able to speak to suppliers and convince then to deliver vegetables, other rations, and cylinders of cooking gas to the nunnery instead of having to venture out during the curfew.

Between 50 to 60 nuns are in the nunnery right now. The Khenpo and around 25 senior nuns are in South India where they went prior to the lockdown to receive teachings.

The Shugsep nuns are not gathering together for pujas or meals. However, they are still going to classes which they feel is more practical because no one is coming into the nunnery from outside and everyone is staying in the nunnery.

The nuns have about three classes a day as well as Tibetan handwriting in the afternoon and ritual practice in the evening.

Tibetan Butter lamps and prayers Covid-19 April 2020

Tibetan butter lamps flicker through the night at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute as part of prayers to end Covid-19 and the suffering of all sentient beings.

The Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan government in exile has asked all of the monasteries and nunneries to say special prayers over the next ten days and then continuing onwards on a weekly basis to help alleviate this pandemic.

COVID-19 Update from India and Seattle

Shantideva prayer with Tibetan prayer flags prayer for covid19

On March 25th, the Indian Prime Minister ordered 1.3 billion people to stay home in a 21-day lockdown to fight COVID-19.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama shared a special message regarding the coronavirus pandemic on March 30th.

Update on the Health and Safety of the Nuns

Dolma Ling Nunnery, Covid-19

The Tibetan nunneries and monasteries were already closed to visitors before the national lockdown and the nuns were taking precautions. Photo of Dolma Ling courtyard taken in 2013 by Brian Harris.

We don’t have news from all the nunneries, but here’s what we know about the health and safety of the nuns to date.

In Himachal Pradesh, the India state where five of the seven nunneries we support are, there is a curfew as well as the lockdown. On Thursday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote to the Chief Minister to express support for his efforts to control the coronavirus.

In Kangra district, home to Dolma Ling, Shugsep, Tilokpur, and Geden Choeling nunneries, people were allowed out to buy essentials from 7 to 11 am. But the local vegetable shops near Dolma Ling were completely closed. When the Tibetan Nuns Project staff called a local vegetable vendor, he told them to stay indoors and not to risk breaking the curfew.

The good news is that Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries had already prepared and bought rations to last a month.

unloading vegetable Dolma Ling Nunnery 2017, covid-19 situation

Happier days, unloading vegetables at Dolma Ling in 2017. The nuns are vegetarian and their vegetable supplies won’t last as the weather warms.

The nunneries may need to get a special permit from the government to use their jeeps for shopping. Under the lockdown, the use of vehicles is completely stopped.

The nuns are more prepared for the pandemic thanks to many past projects you’ve helped us complete. These include the tofu-making facility, the food storage lockers, the cowshed, and the trucks for both Dolma Ling and Shugsep. Thank you!

On Sunday, the nuns at Dolma Ling sprayed chlorine in all nunnery buildings to sanitize the area.

Classes, morning assemblies, and pujas are all stopped. The nuns no longer eat together in the dining halls. Instead, nuns and staff bring their dishes down to collect food and then eat their meals in their rooms.

Prayers and Mantras

Tibetan Buddhist nun at Shugsep Nunnery praying

For their safety, nuns are no longer gathering to perform pujas and prayers. Photo of Shugsep nuns by Brian Harris taken in 2013.

Unfortunately, to stay safe and to comply with government recommendations, the nuns can no longer perform group pujas or prayers.

The nuns have sent mantras. You might find them helpful.

The first is the Tāra mantra: OṂ TARE TUTTĀRE TURE SVĀHĀ

The nuns have a special connection to Tara, the female Buddha who embodies the wisdom and the compassion of all enlightened beings. The Tibetan for Tara is “Dolma” and Dolma Ling means “Place of Tara”.

We’ll update this page with more mantras over time.

Update from the Seattle Office

Although the physical Seattle office is closed, we are working remotely. You can contact us by email at info@tnp.org or by phone at 206-652-8901.

It is still possible to order products, but not to order Pujas (prayers). We will ship product orders as soon as possible, but we cannot give you an exact date.

On March 12, we announced the safety precautions the Tibetan Nuns Project is taking with orders. These included disinfecting the entire office and using gloves when packaging products.

We thank you so much for your continued support of the Tibetan Nuns Project during these challenging times.

We wish you all good health.

May all beings be free from suffering, prayer

Photo by Brian Harris, 2013.

Why are Tibetans in exile?

On today’s anniversary of the Tibetan Women’s Uprising, we remember the thousands of brave Tibetan women who gathered on March 12th, 1959 to demand Tibetan independence. It’s also a suitable time to explain why there are Tibetans in exile.

During 1949 and 1950 Tibet, an independent nation the size of Western Europe was invaded by China. Since then, the Tibetan people have become marginalized in their own country, Tibetan culture has been severely restricted, and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have died as a result of the occupation, through torture, execution, suicides, and starvation.

From the late 1980s to the early 2000s, many Tibetans fled their homeland. Hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns were part of this exodus. Most escaped on foot over the Himalayas and made their way to Dharamsala, India, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile.

Tibet is ranked as the second least free country in the world, behind only Syria and worse than even North Korea.

Why are Tibetans in exile infographic

Torture and Imprisonment

For decades, nuns and monks have been at the forefront of calling for freedom in Tibet.

A wave of demonstrations against Chinese rule in 1987 was begun by monks and nuns. The protests were brutally put down but continued over the next few years.

Many nuns were imprisoned and tortured for taking part in demonstrations calling for basic human rights. In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the was a new flood of Tibetans escaping Tibet and seeking refuge in India, including many nuns. By around 2000, demonstrators were arrested almost immediately and Tibetans were given long prison terms so getting out to tell their stories did not happen like before.

Tibetan demonstrations 1987

In 1987, monks and nuns played a dominant role in demonstrations for freedom in Tibet. The crackdown by the Chinese was brutal and a new flood of Tibetans escaped Tibet seeking refuge in India, including many nuns. Photo by John Ackerly

One Nun’s Story

In 1989, I took part in a protest march against the Chinese occupation of my motherland. I was caught and they took us straight to Gutsa Prison. They tied my hands at the back of my neck with a chain. While in this position they kicked, boxed, and slapped me constantly. I stayed in isolation for 18 days and was constantly interrogated and beaten. I stayed in Gutsa Prison for two and a half years.

After my release, I went to my village and then stayed secretly at my nunnery in spite of the ban on the re-admission of ex-prisoners… I decided to leave for India… We walked for about 18 days to Kathmandu. It was a very hard journey.

When I reached India I was able to enter Dolma Ling Nunnery along with three other nuns who came with me.

Escape into Exile

The Tibetan Nuns Project was formed in 1987 and almost immediately had to respond to a large influx of nuns escaping from Tibet and arriving in India.

Tibetans in exile Buddhist nuns in India

Tibetan refugee nuns in India in their classroom tent. When large numbers of nuns began arriving in India in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the existing nunneries were already overcrowded. The Tibetan Nuns Project was formed under the auspices of this association and the Department of Religion and Culture of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to provide long-term care for the nuns.

The nuns arrived ill and exhausted. Most refugee nuns escaping to northern India had no education in their own language, nor were they given education in their religious heritage while in Tibet. Many nuns were illiterate on arrival and could not even write their names.

In addition to the trauma of their escape, many nuns were in poor health and had faced arrest, imprisonment, and torture in Tibet at the hands of the Chinese authorities in Tibet for their peaceful demands for basic human rights. When released from prison, the nuns were forbidden from rejoining their nunneries in Tibet.

The Decline in Tibetans Escaping

“Fleeing Tibet has always been perilous due to the harsh weather, the patrolling soldiers and the cost of people smugglers, but Tibetans have seen it as worth the risk in order to preserve their nation and to gain some form of relative freedom,” wrote the Byline Times.

These days it is extremely dangerous for Tibetans to escape from Tibet and the number of Tibetans arriving in exile has dropped from thousands per year before 2008 to just 18 in 2019.

Tibetan nun killed escaping Tibet

In 2006, mountaineers filmed Chinese border guards shooting Tibetan refugees and killing a Tibetan nun in her 20s, shown here surrounded by three soldiers. The group of 43 Tibetans, mainly women and children, were trying to cross a mountain pass into Nepal. The shocking footage made global headlines.

While the repression today is not as heavy-handed as periods in the past, Tibetans enjoy no more freedom than they did 30 years ago. Inside Tibet, the Chinese authorities continue to impose severe constraints on the religious practice of Tibetan Buddhists. Surveillance is pervasive in nunneries and monasteries. Nuns and monks are subjected to routine re-education campaigns.

This month, Human Rights Watch reported that China’s education policy in the Tibet Autonomous Region is significantly reducing the access of Tibetans to education in their mother tongue.

Tibet Today: An Orwellian Nightmare

“Tibetans are living in an Orwellian nightmare where they are constantly surveilled, imprisoned for exercising their human rights, discriminated against in the job market and legal system and forced to watch the Chinese Government wage war against their very culture and way of life,” said Bhuchung Tsering of the International Campaign for Tibet.

“Under Chinese rule, Tibetans cannot freely practise their religion, speak their language, or express their cultural identity in any meaningful way. Many Tibetans realize they have a better chance of maintaining their unique identity in exile, so they choose to flee.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns arrested by Chinese

From a video showing Tibetan nuns evicted from Larung Gar in Tibet being “re-educated.” Wearing military fatigues, the nuns are being forced to sing a Chinese Communist Party song, “Chinese and Tibetans, children of one mother”. The Tibetan Center for Human Rights and Democracy has reported that the Tibetan nuns held in China’s re-education camps have been gang-raped and sexually abused.

John Jones from the UK-group Free Tibet said China wants the border closed to avoid scrutiny.

Jones said, “The decline in numbers is certainly, in part, due to the increased security on the border with India. The numbers started to noticeably decrease after 2008 but really dropped after 2012 when authorities began to confiscate passports of Tibetans living in border areas and also imposed restrictions on travel to Lhasa. In addition, there has been increased surveillance and controls on the borders where the mountain passes are.

“Beijing has a strong interest in preventing Tibetans from escaping because they can provide first-hand information of the human rights abuses that they routinely are subjected to. They can also explode Beijing’s claims that Tibetans are happy, prosperous, and keen to be governed by China.

“Since 2008, China has significantly stepped up security across Tibet to ensure that there is no repeat of the mass, country-wide demonstrations there, which received global media attention. The heavy-handed response to the protests, involving live gunfire, beatings and mass arrests, was met by international criticism that was embarrassing for Beijing.”