Tag Archives: Dolma Ling Nunnery

Taking you on a tour of the flowers of Dolma Ling Nunnery

In the foothills of the Himalayas, the 240 nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery cultivate beautiful flowers in pots and gardens to make the nunnery beautiful.

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is a unique center of higher learning for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India. The nuns themselves took part in the construction of the nunnery, laboring to carry bricks and mortar, to dig the foundations, and to landscape and create the lush flower gardens that are a refuge for birds and insects.

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Some of the Dolma Ling nuns during the 2016 flower competition.

The nunnery is set in a serene area of the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh and is surrounded by green terraced wheat and rice fields, with beautiful views up towards the snowy mountain peaks of the nearby Dhauladhar range. The town of Dharamsala, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration, is about 20-minutes drive from Dolma Ling.

This video by Brian Harris takes you through parts of the nunnery to see the flowers and hear the birds.

Construction of Dolma Ling began in 1993 and the nunnery was officially inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on December 8, 2005. The red and white buildings of the nunnery are constructed around a central courtyard that is the main hub of the nunnery.

Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan nuns, Buddhist nuns, nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project

Dolma Ling is fully funded by the Tibetan Nuns Project and was one of the first institutions dedicated specifically to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions. Panorama of the nunnery by Brian Harris.

Each year, the nuns take part in a flower contest that is part of the celebrations around His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Continue reading

Another Historic Achievement: Geshemas to Receive Higher Education in Tantric Studies

For the first time in the history of Tibet, nuns will be given the opportunity to receive higher education in tantric studies. Although there have been accomplished female practitioners in Tibet’s history, women have never before been given an opportunity to formally study tantric Buddhism.

Geshema, Geshema nuns, Tantric Buddhism, Tibetan Nuns Project

18 of the 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns who received their Geshema degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in December 2016. The Geshema graduates now have the opportunity to study tantric Buddhism.

Traditionally, monks who have attained their Geshe degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism, must also study tantric treatises in order to become fully qualified masters capable of teaching their complete tradition. Monks have always been able to receive these teachings at one of the great tantric colleges.

After the first-ever Tibetan Geshemas graduated in December 2016, a committee of representatives from six nunneries approached His Holiness the Dalai Lama for advice on starting a tantric studies program for the nuns. He kindly gave detailed instructions about the curriculum and the treatises to be used. He recommended that the Geshema nuns study as a group at Dolma Ling Nunnery, one of the nunneries founded and supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, since it has a quiet and peaceful atmosphere, conducive to intense study.

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Joy among the 20 Geshema nuns who received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in December 2016 at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The committee then asked the Tibetan Nuns Project to provide funding for this groundbreaking program. On August 30th, the program was fully funded.

The two-year program starts in the first week of October. Two teachers are being hired and the Geshema nuns will receive training in tantric theory, rituals, and mind-training techniques used by those engaged in advanced meditation.

How Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Live: Housing Then and Now

The Tibetan Nuns Project was created in response to a huge influx of nuns who arrived in India after escaping from Tibet. Finding shelter and creating long-term housing for the nuns was an urgent task.

Unlike monks who escaped and who had the option of joining established monasteries in India, there were no nunneries to go to for the nuns arriving in India. The two nunneries (Geden Choeling and Tilokpur) that were in and around Dharamsala, the home in exile of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the destination of choice for most Tibetan refugees, were both crowded and struggling.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, housing, nuns living in tents, Dharamsala

This archival photo shows one of the many exiled Tibetan nuns living in tents in India.

Housing for nuns in the early days

“We had a huge influx of nuns from Tibet after 1987 – nuns who had been to prison and tortured,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal, founder and director of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

“Many had had to leave their nunneries in Tibet because they had been on demonstrations. Because of that, they were imprisoned and not allowed to go back to their nunneries. The only option for them was to escape and come to India via Nepal. This was one of the very pressing reasons for the Tibetan Nuns Project to come into existence – so that we could shelter and look after these nuns, and so they could have an education.”

housing, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, rented house for nuns

Nuns studying inside one of the rented houses before the Tibetan Nuns Project built two new nunneries.

“All these nuns arrived from Tibet with nothing, in bad health, 99% not knowing how to read and write, traumatized in the prisons, beaten by the prison guards, with damaged kidneys and all kinds of health problems. And here we were trying to set up nunneries and a system of education for them… It was amazing how our international friends came forward to help us financially,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal.

In the early days, four houses were rented in Dharamsala by the Tibetan Nuns Project to accommodate the newly arrived nuns.

Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Napper, co-director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, describes the housing situation in the late 1980s and 1990s:

“The Dolma Ling nuns were housed in a very dark, rented house with bunk beds three high – 18 in a room. They cooked outside in an outer cooking area with a canopy over it.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, housing, outdoor kitchen

In the early days, before the Tibetan Nuns Project built Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries, the nuns cooked outdoors in temporary structures.

“The situation for the Shugsep nuns wasn’t much better. We were able to move the Dolma Ling nuns down to a rented house and give the Shugsep nuns the small house that they had been in. It, too, was way too small. Every available space was filled by a bed; even under the stairs there were beds.”

“The structure was poorly built and rain would run down the walls during the monsoon. It was damp and moldy in there. It was awful.”

“Bit by bit we built things, like a bathroom toilet block. Every bit of it was a struggle. But more nuns kept coming. Every time we thought we had the space OK, more nuns would come, so it would get overcrowded again. That was why we had to build a whole new nunnery. Both nunneries –Dolma Ling and Shugsep – started out in really overcrowded, substandard housing.”

Construction of the new Shugsep Nunnery in India began in January 2006. The nuns lived for ten years in damp, crowded conditions while the nunnery was being built.

housing for nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project archive, Tibetan Buddhist Nuns building

While they were living in rented housing, the nuns helped build the new nunneries. This archival photo shows nuns working to build Dolma Ling Nunnery. The nunnery took 12 years to build and was officially inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on December 8, 2005. It is now home to over 230 nuns.

Housing Now

Betsy Napper describes the housing situation now for Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries.

“The housing is still simple and basic. The standard configuration is two nuns to a room. Each nun has a bed, a table, a bench, a little storage area where she can put her books for study and practice, and a little area where she can set up an altar. Only nuns who are very senior or who have special responsibilities get single rooms.”

Dolma Ling Nunnery, nun's room, housing, Tibetan Nuns Project

Inside a nun’s room at Dolma Ling Nunnery. The accommodation is still very simple, with basic furniture, shared rooms, and no heat. In the winter, the temperature will drop to 50 degrees Fahrenheit or 10 degrees Celsius. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

“Of course there’s no way at all to afford heating. Heating is impossible. None of the nunneries are heated. In the winter, the nuns will try to sit outside in the sun because the buildings are cold.”

“Hot water has always been a struggle. 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.”

Thank you for sponsoring the nuns

The over 700 nuns in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project could not be given shelter without your support. We hope that this blog post helps to show the impact of your sponsorship gifts.

There are always nuns who wish to join the nunneries. One of the biggest obstacles is finding enough sponsors. If you would like to learn more about how to sponsor a nun and to see a video about the impact of sponsorship gifts, please visit our sponsorship page.

housing for nuns, Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project

Making a dream come true. Thanks to supporters around the world, the Tibetan Nuns Project was able to build two large nunneries and also support 5 more. This archival photo shows a holding a model of Dolma Ling Nunnery in front of the construction site in the early days of its 12-year construction.

Tibetan photographer with a compassionate eye: Delek Yangdron

Venerable Delek Yangdron is one of the most senior nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India. She arrived in India the winter of 1990 as part of the first group to join the newly founded nunnery. Almost illiterate on arrival, she began her education in Buddhist studies and is now the leader of the nuns’ Media Team and is a skilled photographer and videographer.

Her determination and story of academic and professional success are inspiring.

Delek Yangdron Tibetan Buddhist nun

Venerable Delek Yangdron’s path to academic and professional success has been long and difficult. She now heads the Media Team of nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India.

Delek Yangdron was born in Lithang in the eastern Tibetan province of Kham, surrounded by open grasslands and snow-capped mountains. Born into a nomad family, she helped care for the family’s animals, moving the livestock in search of better pastures. Sadly, her father passed away when she was just seven and her mother died in 2000. During her time at home in Tibet, Delek Yangdron never had the opportunity to go to school or to study.

In the late 1980s, a lama from Kham, Yonten Phuntsok Rinpoche, decided to organize a special pilgrimage from Parlhakang in Kham all the way to the Tibetan capital of Lhasa. Delek Yangdron joined the group of over 150 pilgrims. Continue reading

Food for Thought: What Buddhist Nuns Eat

It’s just past 3 a.m. and the nuns on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India are already hard at work boiling water and heating up griddles to prepare breakfast for about 280 nuns and staff.

In the shelter of the cowshed, the nunnery’s small herd of dairy cows are still asleep. The nuns will milk them around 6:30 a.m. and carry their sweet, fresh milk in pails to the kitchen, where it will be used to make both traditional Tibetan butter tea and Indian-style sweet tea.

In this blog post we’d like to take you behind the scenes at some of the seven nunneries in northern India supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project. We offer profound thanks to our sponsors of nuns whose generosity feeds over 700 nuns every day.

Chopping vegetables for about 280 people is a big job at Dolma Ling. The nuns take turns on kitchen duty. This photo and the above kitchen photo are courtesy of Brian Harris.

For 2,500 years, since the time of the Buddha, nuns and monks have relied on the generous support of the lay community for their daily food. The practice of generosity (dana) is the first of the perfections or paramitas in both Mahayana and Theravada Buddhism. Offering food to monastics is a meritorious act. As Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and poet, said, “The practitioner and benefactor offering food create the cause to achieve enlightenment together.”

It’s long before dawn when the nuns assemble in the kitchen to start preparing breakfast. Meals are prepared collectively in the nunnery kitchens. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

In countries like Thailand, where Theravada Buddhism is practiced, monks and nuns go on daily alms rounds, carrying their alms bowls and accepting offerings of food from the local community. Continue reading

Celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan Nuns Project

Our 30th anniversary is an opportunity to thank our supporters and to take stock of the many historic milestones made possible through their compassion for the nuns. The support of our donors will be remembered in the history of Tibet and for future Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

Here are just some of the accomplishments:

  • Creating a ground-breaking educational program for nuns;
  • Feeding, clothing, housing, and educating almost 800 Tibetans nuns thanks to our sponsors;
  • Building and establishing of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, a non-sectarian nunnery;
  • Constructing and re-establishing Shugsep Nunnery in India;
  • Establishing the annual inter-nunnery debate, the Jang Gonchoe;
  • Laying the groundwork for higher degrees for nuns; and
  • Awarding of the Geshema degree for the first time in the history of Tibet.
Losar, tsampa, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan New Year, New Year celebrations

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India throw tsampa (roasted barley flour) in the air as part of the traditional celebrations of Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

In the coming months, we will be sharing more news about ways in which you and our wonderful global family can connect, such as through house parties and through online sharing of news, photos, and videos to commemorate this milestone.

We will be holding a gathering at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India and Institute in India on October 2nd 2017. For information, please contact us at info@tnp.org

How to hang and dispose of Tibetan prayer flags respectfully

Every so often we receive messages about how to hang and dispose of Tibetan prayer flags respectfully.

Tibetan prayer flags are used to promote peace, compassion, strength, and wisdom. Tibetans believe the prayers and mantras will be spread by the wind and bring good will and compassion to benefit all beings.

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Tibetan nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India remove and burn old prayer flags and set up new ones to mark Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Prayer flags are made of block-printed fabric using traditional printing techniques going back hundreds of years. The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India have been making prayer flags for many years. We sell these  specially blessed objects through our online store and the revenue helps provide food, health care, shelter, and education for the over 230 nuns who live at the nunnery, as well as to help support around 500 nuns at six other nunneries in India.

Some people have asked whether it is appropriate for non-Buddhists to display Tibetan prayer flags. Yes, it is fine for non-Buddhists to display Tibetan prayer flags.

When raising prayer flags it is important to have a good motivation. One should not have selfish or limiting thoughts. When hanging prayer flags one should wish that all beings everywhere will benefit and find happiness.

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Being careful not to let the old prayer flags touch the ground, a Tibetan Buddhist nun burns the flags while wishing to end the suffering of all sentient beings. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Tibetan tradition considers prayer flags to be holy. The flags contain sacred texts and symbols and should be treated respectfully. They should not be placed on the ground or put in the trash.

When disposing of old prayer flags one should burn them so that the smoke may carry their blessings to the heavens. Do not let prayer flags touch the ground as they are burned. Continue reading

Geshemas graduates celebrated at Dolma Ling Nunnery

On February 16, 2017, the nuns and staff at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India held a special celebration in honor of the six Geshema graduates from the nunnery.

The six nuns returned to the nunnery for the ceremony, which included the offering of white katak (or khata), the ceremonial scarves that are offered as a sign of respectful greeting.

Tibetan Buddhist nun, Geshema, khatas, ceremonial scarves

A smiling Geshema nun is almost submerged under a huge pile of katak. As part of the ceremony in their honor, the six Geshema graduates sat and received hundreds of white kataks (or khatas) from the nuns, teachers, and staff of Dolma Ling. These ceremonial scarves are offered as a sign of respect and they symbolize purity and compassion.

Also a part of the event was special debate session, called a Dam-cha, in which all of the nuns of the nunnery had a chance to challenge the Geshema’s with debates on difficult philosophical points.

Geshema nuns debating, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

The six Geshema graduates from Dolma Ling are seated during the special debate session.

Geshema nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Buddhist debate

Traditional Tibetan Buddhist debate is a integral part of monastic education. The nuns of Dolma Ling take turns debating with the six Geshema graduates.

Continue reading

How you are helping accomplish great things at Dolma Ling Nunnery

In the spring of 2016, we launched a campaign called “Sustaining Dolma Ling Nunnery” that outlined six projects that the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery asked for help with.

projects at Dolma Ling NunneryDolma Ling is a non-sectarian nunnery in northern India near Dharamsala that is home to almost 250 Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

Although the nunnery has a number of income-generating initiatives like the nuns café and the nunnery shop, like other religious communities around the world, the nuns rely on the generosity of a caring community.

Today we’d like to report back to you on progress on all six of the Sustaining Dolma Ling projects. We’re happy to report that three of the six are fully funded and another two are nearly funded.

We really hope that all six can been fully funded and completed by the end of March 2017.

1. Butter Sculpture Workshop

Tibetan butter sculpture, Tibetan Nuns Project, butter sculptureONLY $167 NEEDED TO COMPLETE THE PROJECT
We are almost there! Only $167 is needed to complete the funding to create a workshop room where the nuns can learn how to make butter sculptures, a sacred Tibetan art that has been practiced in Tibet for over 400 years. Like so much of Tibetan culture, the practice of making butter sculptures is under threat. The nuns at Dolma Ling have an excellent teacher, but they’ve been using a makeshift space. Please help us complete this project.
Make a Donation

2. New Cow Shed

PROJECT FULLY FUNDED – THANK YOU!
The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have kept cows for the past 20 years and currently have 14 cows in their small herd. The cows provide the nunnery with milk and also manure for the gardens. Prior to the completion of this project, there wasn’t enough space for all the cows to be protected when the weather was too harsh for them to be out grazing, such as during the torrential monsoon rains. Thanks to five generous donors – Alix, Anna, Bob, Cindy, and Stuart – the cow shed is now complete. See the full report and more photos here.

3. Clean Water Project

clean water project, Tibetan nuns, Dolma LingPROJECT FULLY FUNDED – THANK YOU!
Twenty-one generous donors came forward to support this project to increase the amount of clean drinking water at the nunnery. Thanks to our global family of supporters, the nuns have now been able to purchase and install three additional water filtering machines at different parts of the nunnery to provide safe, clean drinking water for over 280 nuns and staff residing at the nunnery, as well to build a simple shed to provide hot boiled water. The nuns have made a short video showing the new water boiler in action.

4. Painting Dolma Ling Nunnery

Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project$7,150 NEED TO COMPLETE THE PROJECT
This is a huge project that the nuns really need help with. This year they need to paint the main prayer hall, one of the nuns’ housing wings and the staff quarters. Dolma Ling Nunnery is a large complex of buildings, like a monastic university, that needs repainting every five years. The harsh climate in this part of northern India take its toll on the nunnery buildings and it is essential to regularly repaint and maintain the buildings to avoid more costly repairs in the future.
Make a Donation

5. Tables and Stools

tables, Dolma Ling NunneryPROJECT FULLY FUNDED – THANK YOU!
Thanks to seven generous donors, we have fully funded the project to provide 15 tables and 2 stools for the nuns’ rooms at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India. View more photos and our full report here.

6. Furnishing and Equipping the Kitchen

$1,668 NEEDED TO COMPLETE THIS PROJECT

Last year a new kitchen was constructed at the nunnery because the nunnery population had more than tripled since the nunnery kitchen was built and the nuns had outgrown the space. Now the nuns need help to equip and furnish the new space including these items:

  • An enclosed vegetable storage and chopping area to keep birds and animals out.
  • Environmentally responsible sorting bins for recyclables, compost, waste food suitable to feed to the cows and trash.
  • A large pot rack for heavy pots, steamers and utensils
  • A heavy-duty and hygienic wall drainer for washing up
  • A wall-mounted utensil rack, and
  • Large metal storage containers for grains such as rice and flour.

If you can help support the completion of the kitchen, we would be very grateful.

Make a Donation

THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR SUPPORT!

Interview with a Geshema nun: Tenzin Kunsel

The following is an interview from May 2014 with Venerable Tenzin Kunsel who, at the time, had just completed her second round of examinations for the Geshema Degree, a degree equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism. Since this interview was made, Venerable Tenzin Kunsel has successfully completed all four rounds of her examinations. In July 2016 it was announced that she and 19 other nuns will formally receive their Geshema degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony at Drepung Monastery in South India on December 22nd 2016. Venerable Tenzin Kunsel is one of the first Geshemas (female Geshes) in the history of Tibet.

portrait of Tibetan Buddhist nun Tenzin Kunsel

Venerable Tenzin Kunsel who will become one of the first Geshemas in the history of Tibet

Background

I was born to a simple family near Lhasa and I came to exile in 1991. When I was in Tibet, we were not given a Buddhist education; instead we had to do prayers for the people who made offerings at the nunnery. It was really disappointing as well as sad that we were not given the education we needed. I strongly felt that the best way to become educated in Buddhist studies was to come to India. Along with 75 other newly arrived nuns, I came to Dolma Ling Nunnery. Today I am here for the 2nd round of the historic Geshema examinations.

Q: How has being at the nunnery made a difference in your life?
A: When I first reached Dolma Ling Nunnery, its facilities weren’t as good as now. But I never lost hope. Many times, my family pressured me to go to school rather than the nunnery. But I never wanted to go to school because I thought I would not get a proper Buddhist education.

After being admitted to the nunnery, I started my studies from the basic education. It gave me special comfort and peace of mind, making me strongly feel that I had not made the wrong decision to join the nunnery in India.

Q: If you could speak directly to the sponsor who is helping you get education, food and health care at the nunnery, what would you say to that person?
A: I always feel grateful and fortunate to have sponsors who are truly kind. We are from totally different worlds with no blood relation, yet they still extend financial as well as moral support. It is partly because of the sponsor that I am one of those lucky nuns able to grab the rare opportunity to obtain the Geshema qualification.

I also feel that the sponsors are much more generous than my own parents. Parents are bound with the universal responsibility for looking after their own child, but our sponsors are never bound with the responsibility to look after me and take care of me like their own child. I always pray for their happiness and success in their lives. Continue reading