Tag Archives: Buddhist chanting

Life at a remote Tibetan Buddhist Nunnery in Spiti [with photos and audio of chanting]

This is a special post on Sherab Choeling Nunnery and Institute, one of the 7 nunneries in northern India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. It features photos and an audio recording of the nuns chanting by French photographer, Olivier Adam, who visited the nunnery in the summer of 2015.

This remote nunnery was built in 1995 by 20 nuns and their teacher in the Spiti Valley, an arid mountain valley located high in the Himalaya mountains in the north-eastern part of the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Spiti, Tibetan Nuns Project, Olivier Adam, Tibetan nuns, Buddhist nuns

The nunnery was built to address the problem of inadequate education for women and girls in the region. The vision is to educate Himalayan Buddhist nuns who would otherwise have no opportunity to receive any formal schooling or spiritual education. It is a non-sectarian nunnery that recognizes the beauty and value in all Buddhist traditions.

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Typically, women and girls who live in remote areas like Spiti and who are interested in studying or practicing their religion have very few options. The Tibetan Nuns Project was approached by the nunnery in 2006 to help them develop their institution and we accepted them into our sponsorship program.

Sherab Choeling Nunnery

The nunnery is very secluded and lies in the village of Morang (between Manali and Tabor) at 4,000-feet altitude. The nunnery was consecrated in 1995 by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who encouraged the nuns to study. There is a main building, a prayer hall, a classroom, an office, a kitchen and a storeroom.spiti_2015_0854 copy

Although the area of Lahaul-Spiti is part of India, ethnically, the people are descended from Tibetans and the majority are devout Buddhists. They have preserved an ancient Tibetan culture, speaking an old dialect of the Tibetan language, as written in Tibetan scriptures.Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Sherab Choeling Nunnery and Institute was the first religious educational project for Spiti women. Traditionally women in this region have suffered from many social and educational disadvantages. Many have been deprived of any kind of education, and this institute is the first in Spiti to provide women with the opportunity to overcome these disadvantages.
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The nuns at Sherab Choeling follow a 17-year study program. The curriculum is designed to educate the nuns in Buddhist philosophy, meditation, Tibetan language and literature, in addition to a basic education in English, Hindi and math. The broad education is intended to provide the nuns with necessary skills to educate future generations of nuns and the communities from which they come.spiti_2015_0776 spiti_2015_4112

There are currently 55 nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery, the youngest being only 5 years old.  At the time of posting this blog, there are 17 new nuns at the nunnery who are eagerly awaiting sponsorship so that they can pursue their studies. To sponsor a nun, visit https://tnp.org/youcanhelp/sponsor/
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Summer is the most important and busy season at the nunnery. The nuns must work hard in the fields and store firewood for the winter in addition to concentrating on their studies. This summer the nuns are experimenting with growing cabbage outdoors on a small plot of land. Tomatoes, cabbage, and spinach grow well in the greenhouse that is well maintained by the nuns.
spiti_2015_3247 copyThe nuns have difficult living conditions. They often face long harsh winters and heavy snowfalls. During winter the region is cut off from neighboring villages so the nuns must stock up their daily supplies well before the onset of cold weather. During the coldest months, the nuns hold their classes, prayers and meetings in the kitchen because it is warmer and helps to save wood.spiti_2015_2159

This past winter the Spiti Valley experienced an extremely heavy snowfall and all the local villages were cut off. Unable to get supplies, the nuns ran out of cooking gas and for over two months had to rely solely on firewood to cook. In order to fetch water from the nearby village, the nuns had to clear a path that was waist-deep in snow. Thankfully they had enough stores of vegetables and tsampa (roasted barley flour) to last them through the winter months.

The nuns are very positive about their future and someday want to be able to serve as teachers back in their villages. Here is an audio recording of the nuns reciting the Lama Chopa or Guru Puja.

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Buddhist Prayers to Tara

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

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

Here is a recording of the Tara puja made by Olivier Adam, a French photographer and supporter of the Tibetan Nuns Project, when he visited Dolma Ling Nunnery.

Called the drolchok puja or Tara prayer it is done on Wednesdays because this day is considered auspicious day for His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Tara, also called Dolma by Tibetans, is believed to be a Bodhisattva of compassion and a protector who relieves physical, emotional, and spiritual suffering.

Tara has 21 major forms, each of which has a different color and spiritual attribute.

Two of Tara’s 21 forms are particularly revered by Tibetans — White Tara, who is associated with compassion and long life, and Green Tara, who is associated with enlightened activity and abundance.

About the Tara Puja

The Tara puja is a very beautiful prayer that includes many verses of offering and the famous Praises to the 21 Taras, which are recited many times throughout the puja. The elaborate offering involves creating ritual cakes (tormas) and the use of musical instruments.

Reciting the Praises to the 21 Taras with devotion at any time of the day or night protects you from fear and dangers, and fulfils all your wishes, especially wishes on the spiritual path. Meditation on Tara brings life on your spiritual path and feeds you with endless energy to continue on the path.

Here’s a link to an English translation of the Praises to the 21 Taras which is one part of the whole Tara puja: http://www.nic.fi/~laan/praise.htm

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Painting of Green Tara from Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

How to request a Puja or Prayers

You don’t have to be a Buddhist to request prayers by the Tibetan nuns.

You can ask the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India to perform prayers and pujas on your behalf.

People around the world are able to sponsor pujas or prayers through our Tibetan Nuns Project website. You can sponsor prayers in honor of loved ones, friends, family members, or even pets who may be suffering from obstacles, ill health, or who have passed away.

There are many different types of prayers or pujas to choose from, depending on your wishes and the problems that you wish to overcome. Full descriptions of each puja and its use are available on our website in the Prayers and Pujas section of our online store.

When requesting a puja or prayers from the Tibetan Nuns Project, please provide information about who the prayers are to be directed to and for what purpose. The funds given to the nuns to sponsor pujas are used to purchase supplies and also help to support the nunnery as a whole.