Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India is a special place.
Here are the latest photographs from Dolma Ling’s media nuns. We hope they bring you joy and help convey the impact of your support.
Dolma Ling is the first institute dedicated to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions.
Dolma Ling was established by the Tibetan Nuns Project to educate and empower nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as teachers and leaders, and to sustain Tibetan religion and culture. It is now home to about 250 nuns. Most nuns have sponsors, but new sponsors are always needed.
The nunnery is unique because it offers a 17-year curriculum of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate, as well as modern courses in Tibetan language, English, basic mathematics, and computer skills. The nuns also receive training in the ritual arts such as sand mandalas and butter sculpture.
In early autumn, the nuns learned and practiced drawing, including the sacred symbols of Tibetan Buddhism.
The nuns helped to build the nunnery and they work hard to maintain it. The large campus is near Dharamsala at the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, one of the wettest areas in India. In the summer of 2023, the monsoon rains were very intense.
In September, after torrential monsoon rains all summer, the nuns had to move large rocks affecting water lines.
The academic year begins in early spring after Losar, the Tibetan New Year. Throughout the year, the nuns have exams and quizzes as they pursue their degrees. The Tibetan Nuns Project aims to elevate the educational standards and the position of women within the monastic community.
Exam time at Dolma Ling! Photos by the media nuns of the July written exams. When the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, most of the nuns escaping from Tibet were illiterate.
The ultimate goal is to empower the nuns to become teachers and leaders in their own right and to help preserve Tibet’s unique culture and religion.
On September 13th, Science for Monks and Nuns held a one-day exhibition on “Secrets of Particles” for the Dolma Ling nuns and staff. Over 100 nuns from different classes attended.
In September, Sikyong Penpa Tsering, the political leader of the Central Tibetan Administration, visited three nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project: Dolma Ling, Shugsep, and Geden Choeling Nunnery. His visits were part of his assessment tour of the Tibetan refugee community in India.
Sikyong Penpa Tsering visited Dolma Ling in September and met with Rinchen Khando Choegyal, TNP’s Founding Director and Special Advisor (center upper right) and Nangsa Chodon, Director of TNP in India (right).
The curriculum is divided into two parts: (1) secular subjects such as Tibetan language, Tibetan history, English, social sciences, mathematics, and science and (2) monastic education. The nuns have quizzes and exams and are now able to proceed through a degree-granting program.
Ancient and modern. The nuns learn sacred arts, such as making tormas, as well as computing, science, and mathematics.
In September, students from Upper TCV school (the Tibetan Children’s Village) visited Dolma Ling and learned about monastic debate from the nuns. These photos show the growing role of nuns as teachers and leaders in the Tibetan exile community.
Geshema Delek Wangmo (top photos) teaches Tibetan students from Upper TCV school about traditional Tibetan monastic debate and the importance of critical thinking and logic.
Debating is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition and combines logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy.
In late October, dozens of nuns set off for the holy city of Bodh Gaya to attend the annual Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery debate. In Bodh Gaya, they will join hundreds of nuns from nunneries in India and Nepal. The costs are funded by our Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund. We are now fundraising for our Long-Term Stability Fund.
Nuns from Dolma Ling departing in late October to attend one month of intensive training in monastic debate. Before 1995, there was no Jang Gonchoe for nuns. Only monks had the opportunity for intensive debate training.
Thanks to your support, the Tibetan Nuns Project has created a ground-breaking education system to preserve Tibetan culture and equip and empower these dedicated women to become leaders in the modern world.
“The Buddhist philosophy of tolerance and compassion has something very important to offer in a world full of intolerance and hatred… As a Tibetan, I feel it is very important that an organization like the Tibetan Nuns Project makes it possible for nuns to study and practice their religion and thus contribute to the preservation of Buddhism and the unique Tibetan culture,” said Tseten Phanucharas, TNP Board Member. Thank you for your support!
Shugsep Nunnery and Institute in northern India was built and is fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. It is now home to about 100 Tibetan Buddhist nuns.
For many years, the nuns have wanted a path where they can practice kora, traditional Tibetan walking meditation. Kora (བསྐོར་བ།) or circumambulation is the act of walking around a sacred place or object such as a temple. Walking around a sacred space generates religious merit and cultivates bodhicitta, the awakened or enlightened mind.
In 2023, the nuns asked for help to build a kora path. Now, thanks to the generosity of 65 Tibetan Nuns Project supporters, the path is finished.
The nuns tell us with big smiles how much they love their new kora path. Each morning, the younger nuns follow the Khenpo five times around the nunnery for exercise!
Here’s a video tour for you. (Can’t see the video? Click here.)
Work on the circumambulatory path began in early 2023 and was completed in October. The sloping terrain and harsh monsoon posed challenges for construction, but the workers did an excellent job and the nuns helped to prepare the land. Railings and steps are important features of the path. The stone steps have been made with iron front edges to ensure that they do not chip and crumble. The new boundary wall at the top of the nunnery provides the nuns with excellent privacy.
The kora path is good for the nuns’ physical and mental health. There was no safe area near the nunnery where the nuns could walk. The main road has no sidewalks and it is not safe for girls and women to be walking in these areas because crimes against women are common.
Our deepest thanks to all those who supported this huge project and made the nuns’ dream a reality!
Here’s a slideshow of the path being built. (Can’t see the slideshow? Click here.)
Work began on the path in the summer of 2023
The steep terrain poses challenges for the path
Nangsa Chodron, director of the Tibetan Nuns Project office in India inspects the path
Looking down on some of the nunnery buildings
Good progress was made in spite of the heavy monsoon.
TNP Board Chair, Dr. Elizabeth Napper, checks progress on the path in late September 2023
Railings are added for safety
Work in progress... The steep slope of the nunnery grounds will provide good exercise for the nuns
The path has a mixture of flat stretches and steps
About Shugsep Nunnery and Institute
A Nyingma nunnery, Shugsep traces its rituals and practices to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. In the previous century, Shugsep Nunnery was home to one of the most famous teachers of her time, Shugsep Jetsunma.
Following the Cultural Revolution in 1959, Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet was destroyed. Although the nunnery was partially rebuilt in the 1980s by the nuns themselves, the nuns there faced frequent harassment by Chinese authorities.
Here is a video made in 2006 telling the story of Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet and how it was re-established in India by the Tibetan Nuns Project.
Many of the nuns at Shugsep in India came from the original Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet. The Chinese authorities expelled them for their political activities and they escaped from Tibet over the Himalayas to freely practice their religion in India.
In the late 1980s and 1990s many Tibetan Buddhist nuns escaped from Tibet including a large number of nuns from the original Shugsep Nunnery. They lived for many years in cramped conditions before the Tibetan Nuns Project re-established Shugsep Nunnery. It was inaugurated in 2010. Photo from 1991 by Susan Lirakis
On July 6th, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 88th birthday was celebrated by Tibetans worldwide with prayers for his good health and long life.
At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, home to about 250 Tibetan Buddhist nuns, His Holiness’s birthday is always a day of big celebrations. This year the nuns marked the occasion with prayers, offerings, games, and cake. The Dolma Ling Media Nuns captured the fun with this series of photos and a short video.
Nuns offering white prayer scarves or kataks to the portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns
The day started early with the nuns, teachers and all the staff seated in the Dolma Ling prayer hall for prayers, tsok, and offerings of Tibetan prayer scarvesto His Holiness the Dalai Lama whose portrait sits at the front.
A circle of nuns from Dolma Ling Nunnery prepare to throw tsampa, roasted barley flour, in the air as an offering for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns
On July 6th, His Holiness the Dalai Lama attended birthday celebrations at the main temple in Dharamsala. He said, “Today, you are celebrating my 88th birthday, but when I look in the mirror, I feel I look as if I’m still in my 50s. My face doesn’t look old, it isn’t wrinkled with age. What’s more I still have all my teeth so there’s nothing I can’t eat or chew.
“I was born in Tibet and I bear this name Dalai Lama, but in addition to working for the cause of Tibet, I’ve been working for the welfare of all sentient beings. I’ve done whatever I could without losing hope or allowing my determination to flag.”
Part of this year’s festivities included a birthday cake in honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns
His Holiness the Dalai Lama also said, “I believe there is knowledge within Tibetan culture and religion that can benefit the world at large. However, I also respect all other religious traditions because they encourage their followers to cultivate love and compassion.”
“According to indications in my own dreams and other predictions, I expect to live to be more than 100 years old. I’ve served others until now and I’m determined to continue to do so. Please pray for my long life on that basis.”
The bulletin board at Dolma Ling Nunnery displays birthday wishes and poems from the nuns to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Everyone enjoyed playing games such as a relay race and the bursting of a balloon tied to another person’s ankle. The nuns even played a game of basketball in the courtyard.
There was lots of laughter as the nuns tried to grab pears with their mouths. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the Patron of the Tibetan Nuns Project. He has always been very supportive of nuns’ education and opening up opportunities for higher degrees. The first conferment of Geshema degrees to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in 2016 fulfilled a longstanding aspiration of His Holiness.
The courtyard of Dolma Ling Nunnery was filled with laughter as nuns watched the games and festivities marking His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 88th birthday on July 6th. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns
The nuns played a variety of games to celebrate the occasion, including this water bucket challenge. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns
The Dolma Ling Media Nuns also created this little video. Can’t see it? Click here.
At this time of year, Dolma Ling Nunnery holds an annual flower competition. The old debate courtyard at the nunnery fills with beautiful potted flowers placed in front of portraits of His Holiness. Scoring for the competition is done by the teachers.
The annual flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.
The nuns make posters, cards and banners, and grow flowers in celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama birthday. During the annual flower contest, the old debate courtyard is full of beautiful potted plants.
Thank you so much for supporting the nuns through the Tibetan Nuns Project!
We are very pleased to report that the debate courtyard expansion at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is now complete. The improved courtyard provides an additional 2,500 square feet of covered area. With 60% more covered area than the old debate courtyard, all the nuns can have shelter as they practice daily monastic debate.
This big project was kindly funded by Tibetan Nuns Project donors. We are extremely grateful to the donors and the entire team for their hard work and dedication which has resulted in this elegant structure, totally in keeping with the original design.
Before the debate courtyard was expanded there was not enough sheltered space for the nuns to debate. The improved courtyard has an additional 2,500 square feet of covered space along with other improvements such as sliding windows on the back and sides of the courtyard to prevent rain coming in.
The nuns are already using the courtyard for their daily debates. Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning. Without training and practice in debate they are unable to attain higher academic degrees such as the Geshema degree.
The Impact of the Improved Debate Courtyard
In the spring of 2022 the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a fundraising campaign to expand and improve the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling.
Over the years, the number of nuns at this large non-sectarian nunnery increased to over 260 nuns. The existing debate courtyard was too small and at least two-thirds of the paved area was open to the elements, so many nuns were forced to debate in the open under the hot sun. When it rained, as it does throughout the summer monsoon season, the unprotected space was unusable.
In an attempt to create more shelter the nuns have been stringing up tarps for years as they practice monastic debate. The area near Dharamsala experiences one of the heaviest monsoons in India and the sun is also fierce.
During their debate sessions, pairs of nuns spread out across the courtyards and even onto the adjoining grassy areas and steps. Some distance is required between the pairs or groups of challengers and responders. The aim of the project was to provide enough covered space to shelter the nuns as they do their daily practice of Tibetan monastic debate.
Work on the courtyard began in January 2022. The first phase involved protecting the upper courtyard from rain by enclosing the back and sides with sliding windows that can open to allow ventilation during the hot season.
Work on Phase 1 to improve the debate facilities at Dolma Ling. This part of the project involved enclosing the back and sides of the existing debate courtyard to prevent rain coming in.
The steel roofing over the upper section was also extended on all four sides to prevent rain from blowing in. Finally, an additional row of stone seating was added at the back and sides of the courtyard in front of the windows.
Nuns debating in front of the new windows at the back of the debate courtyard. Because of its reputation for providing excellent teachers and the best facilities for nuns to study, the number of nuns applying to join Dolma Ling has increased substantially. In 2022, 32 nuns joined the nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam
In the early autumn of 2022, the Tibetan Nuns Project office in India signed a contract with the contractors for Phase 2 of the expansion project. On September 29th, the architect for the project came to assist the contractor with the positioning of the 8 new pillars for the extension roof.
Phase 2 of the debate courtyard expansion began in October 2022 and involved excavating and building 8 more columns and extending the roof.
The nuns were very involved in the design of the new space and in discussions with the architect and engineers. Building specifications for this high-risk seismic zone were made and the extension complies with current building standards. In addition to the eight new columns, there had to be tie beams and two additional below-ground-level columns because they are building in previously filled land.
The Important of Tibetan Buddhist Debate
Dolma Ling is unique because it offers a 17-year curriculum of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate, as well as modern courses in Tibetan language, English, basic mathematics, science and computer skills. Training in Buddhist debate, the extensively practised method for examining philosophical, moral and doctrinal issues, is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition.
Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practise Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that uses logical enquiry to build a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked hard to make this opportunity available to nuns by including debate as a core part of their education, which enables them to extend their use of logic and deepen their understanding of the arguments asserted in the texts they are studying.
Before: Tibetan nuns practice debate on the grass under a makeshift shelter of netting. Since the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, nuns are training in debate for the first time in the history of Tibet.
“Opening up education to the women, particularly in conjunction with training in debate, has been transformative for the nuns,” says Dr. Elizabeth Napper, US Founder and Board Chair of the Tibetan Nuns Project. “Not only have they been given access to the full intellectual richness of their Buddhist tradition but also, through debate, they have been trained to actively engage with it in a way that gives them confidence in their knowledge. Their body language changes from the traditional meekness of nuns to that of women who occupy space with confidence in their right to do so.”
The practice of debate takes many years to master fully and is critical to the nuns’ ability to assume roles as fully qualified teachers of their tradition.
We are very grateful to everyone who has contributed to providing this unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to help ensure that a centuries-old tradition of learning continues to expand to include more nuns, and to foster the dharma for future generations.
Today is the first day of spring, but is it really goodbye winter at Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in northern India?
Visit two nunneries with videos and photos to see the life of the nuns in winter.
Winter at Sherab Choeling Nunnery
Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote, high-altitude Spiti Valley is one of seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. It was founded just over 25 years ago to educate Himalayan Buddhist nuns who would otherwise have no opportunity to receive any formal schooling or spiritual education.
Sign for Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Indian Himalayas. The nunnery is very secluded and is at almost 4,000 feet or 1,200 meters altitude.
Winters are tough at Sherab Choeling and this year was no exception. In February it was snowy and cold with temperatures dropping down to -8°F or -22°C.
The 62 nuns at the nunnery have many winter chores such as carrying water, washing dishes at an outdoor pump, and shovelling snow. There is very little heat in the nunnery, aside from the stoves for cooking.
The nuns wash their dishes at an outside pump and fetch water for the nunnery.
With the rise of the highly transmissable omicron variant in the early part of 2022, the nuns did more activities outside. Despite the cold weather, they studied and ate their meals outdoors as much as possible.
Every winter, the Tibetan children who live near the nunnery have a long winter break. This year, the Geshema nuns at Dolma Ling wanted to help the children improve their Tibetan reading and writing skills. These nuns hold the highest degree in their tradition, roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
Here’s a slideshow of the Geshemas teaching the children. Can’t see it? Click here.
Despite the pandemic, the nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery have all been well and the academic year has gone smoothly. They recently send these photos and an update on life there. Thank you to everyone who has sponsored a nun at Sherab Choeling! We hope you enjoy this post about daily life at this remote nunnery.
Fresh snow on the mountains above Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti. The nuns took this photo on October 21st, 2021 and it also shows the newly paved road leading up to the nunnery. The road enhancement was done by government.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Spiti Valley of northern India is one of the seven Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. It is a non-sectarian nunnery that recognizes the beauty and value in all Buddhist traditions.
The nuns’ daily routine is to have prayer sessions in the morning, followed by regular classes and internal debate sessions. Nunnery kitchen and cleaning duties are shuffled amongst the nuns.
Currently 62 nuns live there. The youngest nun at the nunnery is around 13 while the eldest nuns are in their 60s.
The nuns practice debating in the sun-filled corridor of the nunnery. Learning traditional monastic debate is an essential component of working towards higher academic degrees, such as the Geshema degree, equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
The nunnery is very secluded and lies in the village of Morang at 4,000 meters altitude. It was built in 1995 by 20 nuns and their teacher to address the problem of the inadequate education of women in the region.
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.
One of the nuns on kitchen duty cooks flatbreads on the stove that also serves to help heat the room. The nuns have a simple vegetarian diet.
Many young girls seek admission to Sherab Choeling, but due to lack of facilities and sponsors, it is not possible for all to gain entrance. The Tibetan Nuns Project helps by raising awareness, finding sponsors for the nuns, and helping them to fundraise for the further development of the institute.
The nuns at follow a 17-year study program. The curriculum is designed to educate the nuns in Buddhist philosophy, meditation, Tibetan language and literature, plus 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.
A Tibetan Buddhist nuns makes what looks like tea and tsampa (roasted barley flour) using an improvised whisk made of thin sticks.
The senior most nuns are in Uma class. The nunnery’s two philosophy teachers have been very encouraging to the nuns and and have been telling them to prepare themselves mentally to achieve the Geshema degree.
The nuns have a simple vegetarian diet and grow some of their own food. The nuns have three female cows which are cared for by the nuns. They now have three greenhouses and had a good crop this year of radishes and spinach. Since the greenhouses are so successful, two nuns each from Pin Nunnery and Khowang Nunnery came to Sherab Choling to learn how to grow vegetables and take care of the greenhouse.
Also this year, the nuns set up an underground water tank to irrigate their fields. In 2019 there were reports of a water crisis in the Spiti Valley from inadequate snowfall and retreating glaciers. Lakes, ponds, and streams that once helped irrigate fields are drying up.
Nuns lining up for a simple meal at Sherab Choeling Nunnery.
Morning prayers by the light of solar lamps at Sherab Choeling Nunnery. The nuns are making the Mandala Offering Mudra, a complex sacred hand gesture that is a symbolic offering of the entire universe for the benefit of all sentient beings.
The nuns are very grateful to Shaptung Rinpoche who sponsored the cost of making a seven-foot Lord Buddha statue for Sherab Choeling. It was from Tso Pema and the nuns were able to get it moved to the nunnery in October 2021. The statue is now in the big hall which is being painted and will be used in future as a simple community prayer hall.
First snowfall this season at Sherab Choeling Nunnery. The photo was taken by the nuns in the early morning on October 21st, 2021.
The nuns share chores. Spiti is a cold desert mountain valley located high in the Himalayas in north-eastern part of Himachal Pradesh in northern India. The name “Spiti” means “the middle land”, that is the land between Tibet and India.
Cooking for about 250 nuns a day is a challenge, especially during the pandemic. This spring, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute asked for your help to buy an electric rice cooker, a dough-making machine, a refrigerator, and two new gas burners.
The kitchen equipment has arrived now and the nuns are happy because their daily tasks are safer and easier.
Helping the Nuns Cook Rice Safely
“We are very happy with the new rice cooker. Now we just have to wash the rice, put it in the rice cooker, add water, close the lid, and press the cook button. So easy and safe! We don’t have to worry about the hot rice water,” said one nun. It also saves on fuel costs and produces better, more nutritious rice.
Venerable Samten Dolma, the nun in charge of the kitchen this year, said, “Before, I had to check regularly to see if the rice was cooked perfectly or not. Now, with the new rice cooker, I don’t have to worry about rice being undercooked or soggy.”
“The rice is so delicious now and every time it is evenly cooked.” The new rice cooker can cook up to 77 pounds of rice safely and efficiently. The nuns eat rice every day, so it’s a huge help to them.
“Every day five nuns have to prepare a day’s meal,” said a nun on kitchen duty. “In the morning while preparing lunch, we used to have two nuns in charge of the rice and three nuns to cut and prepare the lunchtime vegetables. But now, with the rice cooker, it is so much easier. All five nuns can cut and prepare vegetables for lunch. While we eat our lunch, we can use the dough machine to prepare the dough for the evening. Now we have more time on our hands.”
With the old way of cooking rice, the nuns were always in danger of being scalded by the boiling water and steam. Detail of photo by Brian Harris.
Before the nuns got the rice cooker, it took a long time to cook rice in a huge caldron over one of the two large gas burners. When the rice was half cooked, the excess water had to be poured off – a very risky operation. It took two strong nuns to pick up the pot and carry it across the kitchen to the drain. This operation had to be done quickly and carefully to avoid scalding from the boiling water and losing the steam.
Having the new electric rice cooker means that the rice cooks more evenly and keeps more of its nutritional qualities so it is better for the nuns’ health.
The New Dough Maker
Each day the nuns on kitchen duty prepare traditional Tibetan bread and steamed buns for hundreds of nuns. Until now, the nuns had to mix the dough by hand which was very labor intensive and less hygienic than using a machine.
“The dough machine saves us a lot of time and energy! I never knew it was this easy to knead dough.” The nuns bought a 55-lb (25 kg) capacity dough maker. Before photos by Brian Harris; after photos by Dolma Ling Media Nuns.
On special occasions, the nuns make paratha (fried flatbreads) and khapse which are fried Tibetan biscuits. At Losar, Tibetan New Year, every member of the nunnery gets a large bag of khapse to celebrate Tibetan New Year so preparing large quantities is a great deal of work.
Before, as in this photo, the nuns had to knead dough by hand. Now mixing dough by machine takes only 15 to 20 minutes, so it is much easier to prepare multiple batches for bread, buns, and noodles. Normally the nuns up to 20 kg (44 pounds) of flour at a time.
New Refrigerator Saves Costs and Prevents Waste
Dolma Ling’s refrigerator was very old and broke down in the spring. Thanks to our supporters, the nuns were able to buy a new fridge in time to store food during the summer heat.
When the old refrigerator broke down, you kindly helped the nuns buy a new one, just in time to keep food from spoiling during the intense summer heat. The temperature in the kitchen regularly reached 97 degrees.
The nuns follow a vegetarian diet. Without a fridge, vegetables, fruits, milk, butter, and tofu quickly rot. It is not possible for the nuns to get fresh supplies of everything daily so they need to buy for more than one day. They are happy to have the fridge to safely store perishable vegetables and fruit to avoid wastage and save money.
Without the fridge, they would be restricted in what they could buy and their diet would have been more monotonous. Especially during the pandemic, everyone looks forward to lunchtime. Now, the nuns can use different vegetables such as tomatoes, mushrooms, broccoli, and spinach which need to be kept chilled. With the new fridge, the nuns and staff are healthier and happier!
As 2020 draws to a close, we wanted to update you with slideshows and news from all the nunneries and institutions in India that we support. if you sponsor a nun, scroll down to her nunnery and find the associated slideshow.
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DOLMA LING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
COVID-life Dolma Ling
Due to the pandemic, the nunnery was put on lockdown from March 2020. Many of the nuns’ classes were put on hold until July, but the nuns continued to study on their own and also do prayers for all sentient beings during this difficult time. For safety, the nuns no longer gathered together for morning assembly, meals, or pujas. The nunnery has been closed throughout for outsiders, and staff and teachers were only allowed to go out of the nunnery complex once a week if necessary.
The main gate of the nunnery remains closed and notices have been posted to ensure that no one enters without permission. The nuns created a makeshift gatekeeper room and every day. two nuns wearing masks take turns to guard the gate, with an electronic thermometer, hand sanitizer, and materials to sanitize things such as food and fuel canisters ready to hand. Essentials such as vegetables, rice, flour, and fuel are kept at the gate under the sun for hours and sanitized properly before being brought into the nunnery.
During the holy month of Saga Dawa which this year ran from May 23 to June 21, the nuns once again read the Kangyur, the spoken words of the Buddha, and Tengyur, the Tibetan collection of commentaries to the Buddhist teachings. Together, the 108-volume Kangyur and the 225-volume Tengyur form the basis of the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The texts were divided among the nuns. The nuns maintained physical distancing while reciting the texts in their rooms, on the verandahs, in the dining hall, and in the prayer hall. It took about three days for the nuns to complete the reading of the whole set. The nuns also marked Saga Dawa with the burning of juniper branches.
On August 24, the nuns held their annual academic award ceremony, an event that usually takes place in late March or early April. It was the first time since the pandemic began that the nuns assembled in such a big group. Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nun’s Project, was the guest of honor and other special guests were Mrs. Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project and Mr. Norman Steinberg. The nuns received awards for academic achievement in their classes, the inter-house quiz competition, the handwriting competition, and memorization exams.
Since good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. the nuns are regularly making tofu for meals. Fruits and vegetables and juices are given to the nuns. Meals are eaten in the nuns’ respective rooms or apart in the courtyard.
Shugsep Nunnery and Institute
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHUGSEP. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
When the first lockdown of the year was announced, the senior nuns were in Bylakuppee, South India to where they were attending a special teaching from Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche. With the travel restrictions, the senior nuns had to remain in south India for a couple of months. Eventually, the senior nuns were able to return to Shugsep they quarantined for the required period. After the quarantine, they took COVID-19 tests and all tested negative.
To prevent the disease from spreading inside the nunnery, we shut the gate to visitors and all the transactions for prayers were done online. We had the basic necessities delivered to our gate so that we could stay isolated. We also barred the staff and students from leaving the nunnery grounds until and unless it was urgent. Weekend outings for the students were cancelled and the staff were strictly instructed not to leave the premises without permission.
In mid-June, the results of the annual exams for 2019-20 were announced and classes for 2020 officially began in July. At the beginning of August, the summer retreat started and lasted for 45 days from August 4 to September 17. During that period, we organized a lot of debates, essay competitions, and public speaking for the students.
Recently, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute had a drawing competition among the younger students and we are glad that all of them participated and showed their talents. Classes stopped on December 14th for the annual examinations with a study holiday of one week after every test. The examinations begin on December 24th and the last tests will be on January 25th.
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT GEDEN CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the major routine activities of the nuns such as in-person classes, debating practice, group religious activities, and other social and cultural gatherings were stopped. However, the ten nuns preparing for the Geshema exams continued to attend regular classes taught by the three Buddhist philosophy teachers. All the other nuns have been learning through online classes run by their respective teachers who also provide notes and homework. The nuns memorize texts and are doing well in their studies in their rooms and are always in touch with their teachers.
In terms of health care and emotional matters, all the nuns are in good health. They received frequent talks and advice from Geden Choeling Nunnery’s Abbot, office administrator, teachers, and Gekoe (Disciplinarian) to keep them mentally strong without any fear and anxiety during this pandemic period.
All the nuns and staff members are restricted from visiting outside places and the market area since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. No visitors are allowed in the institute, except for prayer offerings by the well-wisher. The nuns maintain daily hygiene and sanitation using sanitizing spray for COVID-19.
Finally, the nuns hold regular prayer sessions twice a day from 6-7:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 4:30 pm.
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT TILOKPUR. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
Here’s an update on the current condition of Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling at Tilokpur and the nuns’ activities and initiatives over the last couple of months during this pandemic. In general, so far, the 87 nuns are mentally and physically healthy and doing well. To cope with this pandemic, they are strictly following all the basic instructions provided by the government and their medical assistant, such as hand sanitizing, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distancing. The nuns are still not allowed to leave the nunnery except for the kitchen runner. No visitors are allowed to enter the nunnery grounds.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Tilokpur Nunnery receiving handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteers at Wool-Aid
In December, the nuns received two large boxes of handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteer knitters at Wool-Aid.
In terms of education and other activities, the nuns are continuing with their philosophy classes, monastic debate practice, and computer learning in person, with only English classes being taught online. The younger nuns are also learning painting and drawing. The nunnery holds two prayer sessions each day, in the morning and evening, to pray for all sentient beings and for the betterment of this world.
The nuns wrote, “We are making our best attempt not to get caught with any virus in the community so everyone remains safe and healthy. We hope that this pandemic will finish soon and that everyone can enjoy normal living.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHERAB CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
When the pandemic hit in mid-February 2020, 44 of the nuns from Sherab Choeling were away from the nunnery in the town of Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes with their philosophy teachers who were there. Shortly after, the coronavirus lockdown in India happened and all classes were suspended. Eventually, the nuns were able to arrange for two buses to take them and their two teachers back to Sherab Choeling.
The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley marked the holy month of Saga Dawa as always with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows. During the holy month, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well-being. The nuns also offered the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch.
Dorjee Zong Nunnery
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DORJEE ZONG. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
DZyoung nuns 2
elder nuns working 1
Dorjee Zong Nunnery is one of the oldest centres of monastic education in Zanskar and has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization. This remote 700-year-old nunnery now provides much-needed educational opportunities for young girls and women.
In 2019, Dorjee Zong began a major expansion project and good progress was made last year. The housing block and the structure of a multi-purpose two-story building were completed before extreme weather shut down construction in October. The two-story building contains the kitchen, dining hall, storeroom on the ground floor and, on the upper floor, the prayer hall and a conference hall.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit India in the spring, we feared that no construction would be possible because most of the labor force comes from Nepal and strict restrictions would prevent their travel. However, in July and August, the nunnery was able to move forward gradually with the building process.
As life after the nationwide lockdown in the spring began slowly getting back on track, the nuns’ committee decided to move forward to complete the interiors of the multi-purpose building with work such as plastering of the floors, electrical work fittings etc. They have also undertaken the construction of the bathroom and toilet block needed to go with the housing block. Around six to seven local village workers were hired for this job because outside laborers were stopped from coming to Zanskar. All labor work this summer was done by local village people under the guidance of the working committee.
Currently, the housing block is being used as living quarters on the ground floor for the young nuns, while the top-floor rooms are being used for multiple purposes including as temporary classrooms, office, and a meeting room.
During the lockdown, the younger nuns from nearby villages temporarily left the nunnery to stay with their families. These young nuns were not able to stay at Dorjee Zong because there is not enough space to house them in separate quarters or to follow safe physical distancing measures. Their elder siblings who have returned home are helping the younger children with their studies.
In 2019, generous donors funded the purchase of a school bus to enable the young nuns at Dorjee Zong to continue their education. The nuns needed a school bus to make the 12-mile round-trip journey to the government school to continue their education beyond Grade 5. The bus has arrived in Zanskar and is ready for use. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the schools in India are currently closed. We will keep you updated.
Sakya College for Nuns
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SAKYA COLLEGE FOR NUNS. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
Like many other nunneries and monasteries, Sakya College for Nuns has been strictly observing lockdown since March this year. Although the lockdown has been lifted in many parts of India, the nuns consider to observe it with great care and caution. The College’s gates remain locked 24/7.
Since the start of the new academic session in July 2020, the nuns’ regular classes are proceeding as usual. Inside the campus, everything looks so normal, just as it used to be during the pre-COVID-19 times, that is with morning prayers, classes, debates, self-study and so on.
The only thing that is missing is the monthly outing that nuns enjoy every month. Because the nuns used to visit the market only about once a month, in that sense the pandemic and the lockdown has not greatly affected the nuns at Sakya College.
Even so, as part of measures to provide emotional health care, a Vipassana meditation master and a yoga expert were invited to give workshops. The College invited Associate Professor Ramesh Chandra Negi from the Central University of Tibetan Studies and an expert in Vipassana meditation in the Theravada tradition to give a workshop for the nuns. The professor gave a 10-day course in Vipassana mediation and advised the nuns to continue the practice.
Some of the nuns claim the course has been of immense help in terms of maintaining tranquillity and peace of mind. They have continued to practice individually since the workshop. As meditation is all about dealing with the mind, the main purpose of the workshop was to help the nuns keep their minds in peace and stress-free throughout the lockdown period.
The College had previously invited Tibetan yoga trainer Tsering Yangzom and, on two different occasions, she conducted a 10-day yoga workshop. This greatly motivated the nuns in keeping their bodies in proper health and shape in order to lead healthy, happy lives.
In the special update in mid-December 2020, the College wrote, “We believe that with the introduction of yoga and Vipassana mediation we ensure that our nuns are relatively more relaxed, healthier, and stronger physically and mentally. This, apart from the daily academic activities and curriculums, always keeps their body and mind busy and active.”
The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to all those who sponsor nuns and to all our supporters. Thank you for your compassion and generosity!
In the remote Spiti Valley of Himachal Pradesh in northern India, lies Sherab Choeling Nunnery, currently home to about 65 Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Many of the nuns are sponsored by Tibetan Nuns Project donors.
Many young girls seek admission to Sherab Choeling, but due to lack of facilities and sponsors, it is not possible for all to gain entrance. The Tibetan Nuns Project helps by raising awareness, finding sponsors for the nuns, and helping them to fundraise for the further development of the institute.
We just received lots of photos showing daily life at Sherab Choeling Nunnery that we wanted to share with the sponsors of the nuns and with Tibetan Nuns Project donors worldwide.
The nuns after their annual result ceremony. Many of the nuns are holding sweaters, vests, and hats knitted and donated by Wool-Aid.
The nunnery was founded in 1995 with the goal 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.
The nunnery is very secluded and lies in the village of Morang (between Manali and Tabor) at 4,000 meters altitude. The nuns have difficult living conditions. They often face long harsh winters and heavy snowfalls.
The nunnery was built in 1995 by 20 nuns and their teacher and was consecrated that year by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. There is the main building, a prayer hall, a classroom, an office, a kitchen, and a storeroom.
Traditionally women and girls in this region have suffered from many social and educational disadvantages. Many have been deprived of any kind of education. Sherab Choeling Nunnery was the first religious educational project for Spiti women, providing women and girls with the opportunity to overcome these obstacles.
Typically, women 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 the nunnery was accepted into our sponsorship program.
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 basic education in English, Hindi, and math. The broad education is intended to provide the nuns with the necessary skills to educate future generations of nuns and the communities from which they come.
The nuns practice Tibetan Buddhist debate. Training in Tibetan Buddhist debate is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition. Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practice Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that joins logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy.
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.
During the coldest months, the nuns hold their classes, prayers, and meetings in the kitchen because it is warmer and helps to save wood.
The 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.
The frozen reservoir. Washing clothes and dishes in freezing-cold water is a challenge.
With the help of volunteers, the nuns have been able to set up three greenhouses where they mostly grow spinach. Before winter, the nuns must stock up rations of food and fuel.
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.
The nuns are very positive about their future and someday want to be able to serve as teachers back in their villages.
A Tibetan Buddhist nun at Sherab Choeling Nunnery holding gifts from her sponsor. We’d like to thank all our sponsors of nuns at Sherab Choeling for their support. We are always looking for more sponsors for nuns at the seven nunneries we support in northern India.
We’d like to thank all our sponsors of nuns at Sherab Choeling for their support. We still need more sponsors. To sponsor a nun please visit https://tnp.org/youcanhelp/sponsor/
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Spiti Valley shovel deep snow to clear a path around the nunnery.
Although the nuns at Sherab Choeling nunnery are used to long, hard winters and having to shovel a lot of snow and stock up on supplies, some winters pose extra challenges for them.
For example, during the winter of 2014-2015, the weather in the remote Spiti Valley was so severe that the nuns at Sherab Choeling out of cooking gas. For over two months they had to rely solely on firewood to cook.
Nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley of northern India clear snow from the roof of the nunnery.
The heavy snowfalls in the area that winter meant that the nuns were unable to get supplies and all the local villages were cut off. In order to fetch water from the nearby village, the nuns had to clear a path through waist-deep snow. Thankfully the nuns had enough stores of vegetables and tsampa (roasted barley flour) to last them through the winter months.
Snowfall at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Indian Himalayas.
The nuns at Sherab Choeling work hard to prepare for winter, when the region is cut off from neighboring villages. They stock up their daily supplies well before the onset of cold weather. During the summer months, the nuns grow food to store for the winter months. The people in a nearby village have given the nuns a plot of land where they now grow spinach, beans, and potatoes. The head nun also donated her share of a field to the nunnery, so the nuns are able to grow peas and wheat.
During the coldest months, the nuns hold their classes, prayers, and meetings in the kitchen because it is warmer and helps to save wood.
The simple kitchen at Sherab Choeling Nunnery.
Of course none of the nunneries are heated, not even the large ones like Dolma Ling and Shugsep. There is simply no way to afford heating. In the winter, the nuns will try to sit outside in the sun because the buildings are cold. Tasks such as washing their robes in the stream and drying them outdoors become even more challenging during the cold months.
Although the nuns have difficult living conditions, the quality of their food, housing, and shelter has vastly improved in the past 30 years since the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded. In 2016, generous donors helped with a water project at Dolma Ling Nunnery, part of which was to build a hot-water boiler. The boiler is conveniently located adjacent to the dining hall where nuns are able to fill their thermoses and take them to their rooms.
“Hot water has always been a struggle,” says Co-Director Dr. Betsy Napper. “We were able to put in solar hot water and make bath houses for both Dolma Ling Nunnery and Shugsep Nunnery so that the nuns have an option of bathing with hot water. We also got hot water into the kitchens, using solar panels at both nunneries.”
Compassion in action. During the cold winter months, the nuns at Dolma Ling will sometimes feed the wild plum-headed parakeets. This photo was taken by one of the nuns and was featured in our 2015 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar.
Winter months are a quieter time in the nunneries because some nuns travel to see their families or attend teachings elsewhere, such as His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teachings in south India last winter or his teachings in Bodhgaya this winter. After Losar (Tibetan New Year), all the nuns return and resume their studies.
The snow mountains above Dolma Ling Nunnery. The nunnery is located on the foothills of the Dhauladhar range (literally the White Range) of the Indian Himalayas.
We send a warm “Tashi Delek” and express our heartfelt thanks to all our sponsors and donors – new and old – for your kindness and generosity. You are the truly the heart of our work. To learn how you can sponsor a nun, visit our sponsorship page.
Order by December 13th for the best chance for gifts to arrive by Christmas. Dismiss