Tag Archives: Buddhist education

First Geshemas complete Buddhist Tantric studies program

On February 1 2019, a special ceremony was held in Dharamsala, India to celebrate the completion of the new course in Buddhist Tantric studies by nuns who have previously earned their Geshema degrees.

Kalon Venerable Karma Gelek Yuthok of the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration attended the event which was held at Gyuto Tantric Monastery.

At the ceremony, the first 23 of the 36 Geshemas received certificates for completing the groundbreaking course in Tantric studies.

Geshemas, Tantric studies, Tantric Buddhism, studying tantric buddhism, women's empowerment

Following a special ceremony, the first Geshemas with their certificates in Tantric studies. They received their certificates from Kalon Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok of the Department of Religion and Culture. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Phende/CTA

Other honored guests at the ceremony included Khenpo Thupten Tenzin; Senior Abbot Tsering Topgyal of Gyutoe Monastery; Gaden Choeling Khenpo; Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nuns Project; and Nangsa Choedon, the Director of Tibetan Nuns Project in India.

The program in Tantric Buddhism for nuns who had attained their Geshema degrees was started in 2017. This groundbreaking new program provides these dedicated senior nuns training in tantric theory, rituals, and mind-training techniques used by those engaged in advanced meditation. This level of training is an essential part of studies for Geshes and is a required step enabling them to be fully qualified for advanced leadership roles, such as being an abbot of a monastery.

Kalon Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok congratulated the Geshemas on achieving such a milestone and applauded the hard work of the various institutions behind this success. He thanked all the previous kalons (ministers) and staff who worked to make this historic achievement possible.

Geshema, Tantric studies, Kalon Ven Karma Gelek Yuthok conferring certificate to a Geshema Tenzin Phende CTA

Kalon Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok of the Department of Religion and Culture confers a certificate to one of the Geshemas who completed the program in Tantric studies. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Phende/CTA

Kalon Ven. Karma Gelek Yuthok stressed the need to combine traditional and modern education to acquire in-depth knowledge.

“The number of monks and nuns in exile is decreasing. Even those in Tibet are being topped by the Chinese Government. So we must look into the necessity as per requirement to further develop our infrastructure. It is in the best interest to have better quality than to have quantity. So we must start improving the qualities of those existing to enhance further,” he said.

Rinchen Khando Choegyal reflected on more than 30 years of efforts of the Tibetan Nuns Project. She urged the Geshemas to serve the community, saying, “It is the highest level of women’s empowerment entrusted on Tibetan women.”

Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Geshemas,

Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the Tibetan Nuns Project’s Founding Director and Special Advisor, embraces one of the Geshemas who completed her Tantric studies. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

Khenpo Thupten Tenzin said, ”The conferment of Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was a longstanding aspiration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and reflects a historic milestone. Now you have obtained both Sutras and Tantric teaching.” He also spoke about the need to preserve Tibet’s rich culture and traditions.

Gadhen Choeling Khenpo and head of Board of Geshema Degree Examination gave a vote of thanks.

The Geshemas who completed their Tantric studies received an special audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 31 January 2019.

Tibetan nun exams, Tibetan Buddhism. geshema

On 28 January 2019, the Geshemas took both written and debate (oral) exams. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team

The historic decision to confer the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was announced in 2012 by the Department of Religion and Culture following a meeting of representatives from six major nunneries, the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and the Tibetan Nuns Project.

The Geshema degree for nuns or Geshe degree for monks is comparable to a doctorate in philosophy. The degree is conferred after at least 21 years of rigorous study of the five main Buddhist texts and a four-year exam process involving both written and oral (debate) exams and a thesis.

This post uses some photos, quotations, and other information from Tenzin Phende’s news story “Chorig Kalon attends completion of one year Tantric course for Geshemas” published on February 1 2019 by the Central Tibetan Administration.

Tibetan Buddhist debate and the 2017 Jang Gonchoe

The annual inter-nunnery debate, called the Jang Gonchoe, was held at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute from October 3 to November 2, 2017.

The nuns debated every day from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. and again in the evening from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m. or midnight. A total of 376 nuns from 8 nunneries in India and Nepal took part this year.

Here’s a 3-minute video of the 2017 Jang Gonchoe:

The participating nuns were from:

  1. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, the host nunnery (207 nuns took part)
  2. Geden Choling (27)
  3. Jamyang Choeling (27)
  4. Thukjee Choling, Nepal (27)
  5. Kopan Nunnery (Khachoe Gakyil Ling), Nepal (27)
  6. Jangchub Choling, Mundgod (27)
  7. Jangsem Ling, Kinnaur (19) New participant nunnery this year.
  8. Jampa Choling, Kinnaur (13) New participant nunnery this year.
  9. Nuns’ Committee members (2)

Here’s a gallery of images taken by the Nuns Media Team at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Continue reading

Tibetan Butter Sculpture

The art of making sculptures out of butter has been practiced for over 400 years by monks in the monasteries in Tibet. This highly revered artistic tradition is now being preserved by monks and nuns in living in India as refugees.

Tibetan nuns making butter sculptures for Losar

Tibetan nuns decorate a traditional offering box for Tibetan New Year or Losar with colorful butter sculptures.

Butter sculptures can be huge and impressive or tiny and intricate. They are used as offerings or as part of elaborate rituals and celebrations, particularly during Losar, Tibetan New Year.

Tibetan butter sculpture

A nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India makes an elaborate colored flower out of butter.

It is the practice in Buddhism to offer flowers as a tribute to Buddha statues on altars. However, in winter when no fresh flowers can be found, flowers sculpted from butter are made as an offering.

butter sculptures, Tibetan New Year, Losar, chemar bo

Elaborate and colorful butter sculptures of flowers and Buddhist sacred symbols decorate an offering table for Losar or Tibetan New Year. These sculptures were made by the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India. In the lower left, you can see a sheep or ram made of butter.

Butter has always been highly valued in Tibetan culture. Its availability and its malleable quality in the cold climate of the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas made it an ideal material for sculpting.

Tibetan butter sculpture sheep or ram

A Tibetan Buddhist nun creates a sheep out of butter as she learns the ancient art of making Tibetan butter sculptures.

Making butter sculptures requires painstaking skill, learned from an excellent teacher and through years of practice. Like the famous Tibetan sand mandalas, butter sculptures are a unique Tibetan sacred art that is handed down from teacher to student.

The increasing shortage of well-trained and skilled butter sculptors in Tibet means that it is crucial that in India the nuns learn this religious art as part of their course of studies in order to keep it from dying out.

Tibetan nuns at Dolma Ling learning how to make butter sculpture

Tibetan nuns at Dolma Ling learning how to make butter sculpture

At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India, nuns have been learning how to make butter sculptures from their excellent teacher Gen. Karma-la. He carefully takes them through all the steps and the significance of each butter sculpture technique. He says the nuns make excellent students, with their keen sense of color and design, their nimble fingers, and their endless patience.

The Need for a Butter Sculpture Workshop

Creating butter sculptures in the hot climate of India is, as you can imagine, problematic. The workshop room must be cool and have access to cold water in which to lay the butter and cool the nuns’ fingers.

Until now, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery have been using a makeshift space at the nunnery that gets very hot. They are only able to make sculptures during the very coldest months. Now a suitable space has been located in the nunnery that, with renovations, will be ideal.

materials for Tibetan butter sculpture

Rounds of butter, dyes, and other tools for making butter sculpture are laid out in preparation for making butter sculptures for Tibetan New Year at Dolma Ling Nunnery.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is raising funds to help create a butter sculpture workshop at Dolma Ling Nunnery. The total cost of the project is US $2,500, but at the time of posting this blog $500 dollars had been raised, so only $2,000 is needed to fully fund the workshop.

To support the creation of the butter sculpture workshop you can:

  1. Make a gift online at https://tnp.org/butter-sculpture-workshop/
  2. Call our office at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to:
    The Tibetan Nuns Project
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216
    Seattle, WA 98134 USA

Thank you for your help in preserving this ancient art that, with the occupation of Tibet, is so under threat.

The importance of debate in Tibetan Buddhist monastic education

Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning.

The following video is a great primer on Tibetan Buddhist debate by nuns. It’s taken from a longer video made by the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India and it answers many of the frequently asked questions about monastic debate, such as the meaning of the hand movements.

In addition to their daily debate practice, each year in India, hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns from nunneries in India and Nepal gather for a special, month-long inter-nunnery debate called the Jang Gonchoe. This annual inter-nunnery debate takes place each autumn and is a critical part of the nuns’ education, allowing them to really “up their game” so to speak. Continue reading

First batch of Geshema candidates sit their final round of exams

This month twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns are making history as they take their fourth and final round of examinations for the Geshema degree. Those who pass will receive their degrees in December 2016 from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony in India.

The Geshe degree (Geshema for women) is equivalent to a Doctorate in Buddhist Philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Tibetan nun, Buddhism, Geshema, Gesha, Tibetan Nuns Project, Geden Choeling, Dharamsala, Tibetan Buddhism

A Geshema candidate on day 1 of the Geshema examinations being held this year at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India. Photo courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdron.

Once only open to men, the opportunity to get the Geshe degree was opened to women in 2012. The Geshema examinations represent a huge milestone for Tibetan Buddhist nuns and this batch of 20 nuns will be the first Tibetan women with this highest degree in the history of Tibet.

This year’s Geshema examinations are being held at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India from May 1 to 12th 2016.  Continue reading

Progress on our 2015 Wish List for the nuns

This spring we reached out to our supporters around the world with our Wish List of special projects that need funding in 2015.

We’ve had a wonderful response so far and we wanted to update you on our progress with the various projects and programs to help the nuns.

truck for Shugsep NunneryNew Truck for Shugsep Nunnery

Thanks to Andrea in Albuquerque, Lorena in Roanoke and about 20 other donors, we have raised all the funds needed to replace the nunnery’s old pick-up truck which had broken down. It was so old that there were no longer parts readily available and the brakes did not work. Shugsep Nunnery will now have a new, 4-seat pick-up truck with plenty of space to transport groceries and vegetables from the market, as well as other heavy materials. It will also be used to take nuns to hospital in case of medical emergencies.
FULLY FUNDED!

Tibetan Buddhist nuns cooking at Dolma Ling NunneryKitchen Extension for Dolma Ling Nunnery

Thanks to our generous supporters, especially Kent and Marsha in Charlottesville, the Saint Paul Foundation and Lisa in California, work is well underway for the new kitchen extension for Dolma Ling Nunnery. The number of nuns and staff that must be fed daily at the nunnery has more than tripled since the kitchen was first built in 1993. The extension will increase the size of the kitchen by 750 square feet and will also allow the nuns to move the solar panels and water tanks to its flat roof, thereby solving leaks and maintenance issues. We look forward to sharing more news and photos of the kitchen extension soon.
FULLY FUNDED!

Pulsar 180cc motorcycle needed by TNPBike for India Office

This is a new item on our 2015 Wish List. Our headquarters is located at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in the foothills of the Himalayas about 10 miles on hilly roads from the main town of Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. It’s a challenge to get from A to B and the office is facing transportation problems. We would very much appreciate donations to help us purchase a simple, low-cost Indian-made motorcycle that would enable the Tibetan Nuns Project staff to accomplish their many official tasks.
AMOUNT STILL NEEDED: US $1,420

Tibetan Buddhist nuns carrying boxesTruck for Dolma Ling

Dolma Ling Nunnery is home to over 230 nuns and the nunnery needs a small, multi-purpose pickup truck to manage their daily tasks. The nuns must travel often for supplies and hiring or renting private cars or taxis for these regular shopping errands is expensive and impractical. The nuns will use the pickup to get food and vegetables from the market, to transport supplies for their many self-sufficiency projects and for various heavy-load materials. This kind of vehicle is more useful and safer than a normal rented car. Without a proper pickup truck with ample space and weight in the back, the steep hills of the area are dangerous and difficult.
AMOUNT STILL NEEDED: US $10,500

teaching Tibetan Buddhist nunsFunds for Teachers’ Salaries

Each year the Tibetan Nuns Project seeks to  fund 15 teachers at different nunneries. The cost of one teacher’s salary ranges from $1500 to $5000 per year, depending on the location of the nunnery in India and the skills of the teacher. Our special thanks to Janice in Menlo Park for her support of teachers’ salaries.
AMOUNT STILL NEEDED: US $2,844

Donate to Teachers’ Salaries Fund

Dolma-Ling-nuns-paintingNunnery Maintenance and Renovations

Since the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, we have established two important nunneries in India, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute and Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, both of which will have major anniversaries this year — 10 years and 5 years respectively. Maintenance and upkeep of the nunneries is critical in the demanding climate of northern India. By keeping buildings in good condition we can help avoid costly repairs in future. Our maintenance fund will help pay for things such as painting which must be done every 3 to 5 years and roof repairs.
AMOUNT STILL NEEDED: $10,340
Donate to the Maintenance Fund

Inter-Nunnery Debate Scholarships

This September marks the 20th anniversary of the annual inter-nunnery debate, the Jang Gonchoe. Until 1995, the Jang Gonchoe was only open to monks. Now the inter-nunnery debate provides a very important learning opportunity for the nuns and helps them to prepare for higher degrees and leadership roles. 
AMOUNT STILL NEEDED: $14,190
Provide scholarships to the Jang Gonchoe

Jang Gonchoe Endowment

Last year we created a special endowment to support the annual inter-nunnery debate, the Jang Gonchoe, in perpetuity. We received an initial gift of $35,000 from a nun living in France. A gift to the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund will help to preserve the Tibetan culture and open up a centuries-old tradition to the nuns, enabling and empowering them to become great teachers in their own right. The benefit of this is inestimable and will be an enduring legacy for generations to come.
AMOUNT STILL NEEDED: $238,000
Donate to the Jang Gonchoe Endowment

Sponsors for Individual Nuns

Thank you to all our new and existing sponsors! Sponsorship remains the heart of our work. We still need many more sponsors. If you’re already a sponsor, perhaps you would consider increasing the amount you are giving or supporting an additional nun. If you are not yet a sponsor, would you consider becoming one today? The cost for sponsorship is US $30 a month. Another option is to gather a group of friends, family, colleagues or sangha members and sponsor a nun together. Click here for sponsorship. 

Monthly donor for Tibetan Nuns ProjectMonthly Donors

It is now possible to make recurring gifts through our website using your credit card or direct debit. Even a modest gift of $5 or $10 a month would help educate, feed, clothe and provide health care for the nuns in India.
Become a regular donor

Creating Legacies

A special way that you can help generations of future nuns is by including a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project. If enough of our committed supporters are able to make these very special gifts then the nuns and nunneries will be able to thrive and grow well into the future, even in the uncertain situation of living as refugees in a foreign land. As one donor has said, “A donation to this cause benefits beyond helping just the nuns… it benefits the Tibetan culture, it benefits refugees from Tibet, it benefits education for women, it benefits the Buddhist religion and community and all of this spreads like a ripple of compassion for others beyond that community. This is not charity; it is an investment in humanity.” To learn how you can leave a legacy of compassion please email info@tnp.org or call us at 206-652-8901.

Thank you for your kindness, compassion and dedication to the nuns!

Breaking News: Third Round Geshema Exam Results Are In

The much-anticipated Geshema Exam results have just arrived. The results have been sent to the respective nunneries and have been announced to all the nuns.

The third round of Geshema Examinations took place from May 1-12, 2015 at Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod in southern India. 37 Tibetan nuns took part in this round of examinations split as: Continue reading

Third Round of Geshema Examinations

The third round of Geshema Examinations is taking place from May 1-12 2015 at Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod in southern India.

This year there are 38 Tibetan nuns taking part in this round of examinations and they are split as:

  • 11 in the first year,
  • 6 nuns in the second year of examinations,
  • and 21 in the third year.
nun debating Geshema examinations

One of the 38 Tibetan nuns taking the Geshema Examinations

The Geshema examination process is a rigorous one that takes four years in total, with one round per year each May. The fourth round of examinations will be held in 2016 at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, northern India. Continue reading

Life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti

In the remote Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, lies Sherab Choeling Nunnery, currently home to 42 Tibetan Buddhist nuns, many of whom are sponsored by Tibetan Nuns Project supporters.waterfall in Spiti Valley

group of nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti

Sherab Choeling nuns in 2006

The nunnery is very secluded and lies in the village of Morang (between Manali and Tabor) at 4,000 meters altitude. It was built in 1995 by 20 nuns and their teacher with the intent of addressing the problem of the inadequate education of women in the region. 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. In 2006, Sherab Choeling Nunnery approached the Tibetan Nuns Project to help develop their institution and we accepted them into our sponsorship program.

Continue reading

2013 Milestone: Geshema Exams for the Tibetan Nuns

May 2013 marked the beginning of the first ever Geshema examinations. After years of rigorous study, 27 nuns from 5 nunneries – 6 from Jangchub Choeling, 7 from Jamyang Choeling, 2 from Geden Choeling, 2 from Khacho Gakyiling (Kopan) and 10 from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute – gathered at Jamyang Choeling near Dharamsala, India, to complete the first round of a four-year examination process.

The nuns were tested on a variety of areas of study, including the Perfection of Wisdom, the Middle Way, and other subjects such as Tibetan grammar and science through both written examination and demonstration of their debating skills.

Tibetan nuns debate Geshema exams May 2013


In July, just in time for the celebrations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday, the examination results for the first round of examinations were released with the very good news that 25 of the 27 candidates successfully passed the first round. If these nuns can continue to successfully demonstrate their knowledge over the next three years, they will be awarded the prestigious Geshema degree.

The Geshema degree will be the highest degree in Buddhist philosophy for nuns. A basic requirement for the nuns to take the exams is to have completed the full 17-year course of study with average marks of 75% or higher.

low res Yangdron_Delek_2013_05_GeshemeExam_24 copy

The opportunity to take the examinations to earn this degree has been made available especially by the continuous support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the dedication of the nuns, and the Department of Religion and Culture of the Kasur Rinchen Khando la meeting with the nuns Central Tibetan Administration. The Tibetan Nuns Project and its supporters have also played a significant role in making this landmark achievement possible, working over the past 25 years to increase the educational level of the nuns.

low res Yangdron_Delek_2013_05_GeshemeExam_19 copy

Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the founder of the Tibetan Nuns Project, addresses the nuns at the Geshema exams.

The higher-level educational opportunities that nuns have today were not always available, creating a gap between the education of monks and nuns. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked to close this gap and prepare the nuns to demonstrate their skills and learning. The debating practice that nuns undertake daily, as well as at the annual Jang Gönchoe inter-nunnery debate, have been highly beneficial to the nuns, expanding their understanding of the Buddhist philosophical texts and allowing them to develop the debating skills that are tested during the Geshema exams.

Congratulations to all the nuns who have successfully completed the first round of exams!

low res Yangdron_Delek_2013_05_GeshemeExam_20 copyEstablished in 1987, the Tibetan Nuns Project provides education and support to more than 700 nuns in northern India.