The heavy rains which fell on July 12th are set to continue for the next several days and the India Meteorological Department has issued a Severe Rainfall Alert. Authorities have told tourists to avoid Himachal Pradesh due to the present situation.
Dharamsala is the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government-in-exile. Many Tibetan refugees live there and it is the site of many Tibetan Buddhist nunneries and monasteries.
Dramatic videos after a cloudburst in McLeod Ganj, upper Dharamsala, show several cars being swept away as muddy water rushed through the hillside town. The rains also damaged many buildings. The local airport in Gaggal cancelled all incoming flights.
The Nuns’ Media Team at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have helped capture the situation through video and photographs. Here’s a video of the rains at Dolma Ling. (Can’t see the video? Click here.)
Dolma Ling Water Supply Damaged
The monsoon damaged the water channels and lines that provide 80% of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute’s water. As the rains abated on July 13th, the nuns, staff, and teachers from Dolma Ling worked all day with local people on repairs. Without these channels the nunnery could face an acute water shortage. By the end of the day, the supply lines were fixed and the nunnery was able to access the water that they needed. Here’s another video. (Can’t see it, click here.)
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!
His Holiness the Dalai Lama speaking during the long life offering by the nuns on March 1 2018. Photo by Tenzin Choejor, OHHDL
“I am indeed happy that this offering is being made together by nuns of all five sects of Tibetan Buddhism. It is indeed applaudable,” said His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
The first-ever tenshug to Tibetan spiritual leader took place at the main temple (Tsuglagkhang) in Mcleodganj, above Dharamsala, and across from the home of the Dalai Lama.
Nuns wait for His Holiness the Dalai Lama to depart from the Main Tibetan Temple at the conclusion of the Long Life Offering organized by nuns of the major schools of Tibetan Buddhism in Dharamsala, HP, India on March 1 2018. Photo by Tenzin Choejor, OHHDL.
Looking out on the vast crowd of nuns, His Holiness the Dalai Lama commended the Tibetan Buddhist nuns who had earned their Geshema degrees, (Geshe for males), the highest level of scholarship-previously regarded only for monks.
“I am very proud of your achievement and encourage all of you to pursue the highest scholarship in Buddhist study. This is the 21st century and we need to understand the Buddha’s teachings in the light of reason,” said His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Continue reading →
We are delighted to report that the new tofu-making machine is now in use at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India, home to almost 250 nuns.
Thanks to some very special donors, in particular Norman Steinberg and another private donor from Canada, this spring the nuns were able to fulfill their long-term dream of purchasing a new tofu machine and establishing it in a purpose-built facility. In April we shared a blog post with a video made in 2012 by the nuns of the old tofu-making process at the nunnery.
The nuns at Dolma Ling make tofu every Saturday. The new tofu machine allows the nuns to produce more tofu more efficiently. It takes the nuns much less time to make tofu for the nunnery and for other customers.
The nuns at Dolma Ling follow a vegetarian diet so tofu is an important source of nourishment and protein for them. The tofu is supplied regularly each week to the nunnery kitchen for consumption by the nuns and 2kg is bought every week by the nunnery café.
At the moment the nunnery is also getting regular orders for tofu from Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala and sometimes from a few local Tibetan restaurants in the nearby refugee settlement of McLeod Ganj, located above Dharamsala. Both the monastery and the restaurants order as per their needs.
There are six nuns at Dolma Ling who know how to make tofu. Each Saturday a team of three of those nuns makes the tofu, with the nuns taking turns to do the work. They start working at 6am and finish normally by 2pm. However, on occasions when they have large orders, their work ends at 10pm.
The market value for tofu is 150 Indian rupees per kg (about US$2.36) while the nuns sell it for Rs.130 per kg or approximately US$2.05.
The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to Norman Steinberg and the other donors from around the world who made the new tofu-making facility possible.
If you would like to learn more about how the nuns are moving towards greater self-sufficiency, or to help fund these efforts, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or donate at https://tnp.org/youcanhelp/donate/.
All photos are courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdron.
Through our online survey many people from around the world have shared their stories about how they learned about the Tibetan Nuns Project. They’ve also told us why the nuns and the Tibetan Nuns Project are important in their lives.
We are so grateful to everyone who have shared their thoughts and ideas with us. Many of you have given us permission to share your words with a wider audience.
So today, in honor of US Thanksgiving, we give thanks to all our supporters around the world and share a small selection of their stories and words of kindness.
Sue in Alaska wrote: “My husband and I have been very pleased with the Tibetan Nuns Project as an organization over the years… We were fortunate to be able to travel to Dharamsala in 2006 with the Tibetan Nuns Project. It was an extraordinary trip and being able to meet the nun we had been sponsoring for over 8 years was an awesome experience. She showed us her room at the old Shugsep Nunnery and we shared photos from our home in Alaska with her. We really appreciated the work that TNP did to make the trip possible. In December 2010, we returned to Dharamsala for the inauguration of the new Shugsep Nunnery, presided over by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It was for us a once-in-a-life time experience. I support the Tibetan Nuns Project because my husband and I have seen the incredible work that TNP has done to benefit the nuns and the larger Tibetan refugee community of India. With a modest number of staff, TNP has accomplished so much, including the beautiful new nunneries of Dolma Ling and Shugsep.” Continue reading →
Venerable Delek Wangmo’s journey to the Geshema exams has been a long, arduous and sometimes dusty one.
She is one of the first batch of Tibetan nuns who are sitting the 4-part exams for the Geshema degree, equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. The culmination of 17 years of rigorous study, this is a level of scholarship and Buddhist training that was previously almost exclusively available to men.
Here is her story.
Venerable Delek Wangmo in her room at Dolma Ling Nunnery. This photo and the photograph below are both courtesy of Brian Harris.
On October 31, 2013 nine nuns from 7 different nunneries formally completed one and a half month’s of nursing training at the Tibetan Delek Hospital in Dharamsala, India and were honoured at a special closing ceremony at the hospital.
The participants with health secretary Sonam Choephel Shosur and Mr Dawa Phunkyi, member of parliament and chief administrator of Tibetan Delek Hospital.
The training was organised by the hospital as part of its programme to improve public health. The nine nuns taking part in the training came from Dolma Ling, Gaden Choeling, Jamyang Choeling and four other nunneries.
The chief guest at the closing ceremony was Health Secretary Sonam Choephel Shosur. Speaking at the event, Mr Shosur said that this training was an innovative way of empowering Tibetan women, in line with the 14th Kashag’s three principles of unity, innovation and self-reliance. Continue reading →
On October 4th, 208 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from 8 nunneries in India and Nepal gathered at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala, India for the start of the month-long Jang Gonchoe debate session.
The nuns have just sent the following photographs showing the start of the event.
The nuns have come from the following nunneries:
Khachoe Gakyi Ling Nunnery in Nepal
Thukje Choling Nunnery in Nepal
Nangchoe Teney Nunnery in Kinnaur, northern India
Dhongyue Gatseling in Tashi Jong, India
Jamyang Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India
Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod, south India
Geden Choeling Nunnery in McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India and
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, near Dharamsala, which is the host nunnery for this year’s annual Jang Gonchoe debate session.
This brings the number of nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery to over 450 for this very special month-long event.
The chief guest for the Jang Gonchoe is Mr. Pema Chonjor, Kalon (Minister) of the Department of Religion for the Tibetan Government.
Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, the nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning with the motivation of ending suffering for all sentient beings.
The Jang Gonchoe debate session provides a tremendous opportunity for the nuns to practice this ancient form of learning and for many, it an essential component of working towards their Geshema degree, equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism.
As you can see from the photos, the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling nunnery is a wonderful space where the nuns can debate year-round, regardless of the weather and the season. The photos clearly show the new metal roof that will protect the nuns from the hot Indian sun, the torrential monsoon rains and the other extreme weather in the region.
The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to all our supporters who have helped make this event possible through the funding of scholarships to enable nuns to attend, the funding of the creation of the debate courtyard space and also the funders for the debate courtyard roof.
The former soft-cover roof for the courtyard was destroyed in extreme weather. In order to have a new roof in place in time for the start of this event, the Tibetan Nuns Project took out a loan and rushed to create a permanent metal roof for the courtyard.
As with all the construction projects at Dolma Ling Nunnery, such as the retreat huts and the roof of the debate courtyard, the nuns themselves work tirelessly. This is one of many photos showing the nuns working to get the new permanent roof ready for the start of the Jang Gonchoe debate session on October 4th.
We are still seeking support for both scholarships and the roof fund.
Call our office in Seattle at (206) 652-8901 10 am to 4 pm, PST weekdays
Mail a check to 815 Seattle Boulevard South #216, Seattle, WA 98134 USA
A Tibetan Buddhist nun helps build roof for debate courtyard at Dolma Ling Nunnery. To complete the project in time for the annual debate event, the Tibetan Nuns Project had to take a loan. We are seeking donations to help with our roof fund.
Background: The Tibetan Nuns Project was established over 2 decades ago to support a tremendous influx of nuns escaping from Tibet in search of religious and educational freedom. Ranging in age from early teens to mid-80s, they come from all parts of Tibet and from many different backgrounds. Many nuns suffered severely from their long, arduous and often dangerous escape to India. In most cases, the nuns have arrived without money or possessions to a community already struggling to support itself. These women wish nothing more than to live, study, practice, and teach in accordance with their spiritual beliefs.