Tag Archives: Dolma Ling Nunnery

About Tibetan butter sculptures

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

Tibetan nuns making butter sculptures for Losar

Tibetan nuns decorate a traditional offering box for Tibetan New Year or Losar with colorful butter sculptures. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

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

flower Tibetan butter sculpture

A nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India makes an elaborate colored flower out of butter. Photo by Nuns’ Media Team

It is the practice in Buddhism to offer flowers as a tribute to Buddha statues on altars. However, in winter when no fresh flowers can be found, flowers sculpted from butter are made as an offering. Other popular designs for Tibetan butter sculptures include the eight Auspicious Symbols in Tibetan Buddhism, the four harmonious friends – elephant, monkey, rabbit, and bird – and the sun and the moon.

Tibetan butter sculptures on Losar altar

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

Butter has always been highly valued in Tibetan culture. Its availability and its malleable quality in the cold climate of the Tibetan plateau and the Himalayas made it an ideal material for sculpting. Inside Tibet, the sacred Tibetan butter sculptures would be made from the butter of dri which are female yaks.

an elaborate Tibetan butter sculpture

A Tibetan Buddhist nun creates an elaborate Tibetan butter sculpture of a ram for Tibetan New Year. She is learning the ancient art of making Tibetan butter sculptures at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

Preserving the art of Tibetan butter sculptures

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

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

Tibetan nuns at Dolma Ling learning how to make Tibetan butter sculptures

Tibetan nuns at Dolma Ling learning how to make butter sculpture. Photos by the Nuns’ Media Team

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

Tibetan butter sculptures, making butter sculptures,

Mounds of colored butter ready for the nuns at Dolma Ling to make Tibetan butter sculptures for Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

The Butter Sculpture Workshop at Dolma Ling

Creating butter sculptures in the hot climate of India is, as you can imagine, problematic. Several years ago, generous donors funded our project to create a special butter sculpture workshop at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, a non-sectarian nunnery that is home to about 250 nuns.

Tibetan butter sculptures made by the nuns at Dolma Ling for Losar, Tibetan New Year.

Tibetan butter sculptures made by the nuns at Dolma Ling for Losar, Tibetan New Year. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

Prior to that time, the nuns at Dolma Ling had been using a makeshift space at the nunnery that got very hot. They were only able to make sculptures during the very coldest months. Now a suitable space has been designated in the nunnery. The.room is cooler and has access to cold water in which to lay the butter and cool the nuns’ fingers.

materials for Tibetan butter sculptures

Rounds of butter, dyes, and other tools for making butter sculpture are laid out in preparation for making butter sculptures for Tibetan New Year at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

2018 Geshema exam results: 10 new Geshemas

The 2018 Geshema exam results are in. All 10 nuns who took their fourth and final exams in August have passed.

This means that, in early November, after a formal debate process and graduation ceremony, there will be 10 more Tibetan Buddhist nuns who have achieved the Geshema degree (called the Geshe degree for monks), which is the highest degree in their tradition and is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism.

Geshema, Geshema exams, 2018 Geshema exam results, Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project

Nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute cluster around the nunnery noticeboard to read this year’s Geshema exam results. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

2018 Geshema Exam Results

The Geshema results were announced this week and are as follows:

  • Fourth and final year: all 10 nuns passed
  • Third year exams: all 8 nuns passed
  • Second year: 11 of 14 nuns passed
  • First year: 8 of 12 nuns passed

The nuns who didn’t pass can re-sit their exams next year if they wish.

The graduation in 2018 of 10 more Geshemas will bring the total number of nuns with this degree to 37, including the German-born nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who was the first-ever Geshema.

2018 is the third year in a row in which a group of nuns completed the challenging four-year exam process. In 2016, Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history when 20 nuns received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony in South India. Last year, another 6 nuns graduated at a ceremony at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

The Geshema graduates from 2016 and 2017 are currently enrolled in groundbreaking, two-year Buddhist tantric studies program that was started in November 2017 that is funded by generous donors to the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Geshema, Geshema exams, 2018 Geshema exam results, Dolma Ling Nunnery

Exciting news. Nuns and staff gather round the bulletin board at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute to read the 2018 Geshema exam results. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team

About the Geshema Degree

The Geshema degree is comparable to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Geshes (monks who hold the degree) and Geshemas (nuns who hold the degree) are the most educated monastics, carrying much of the responsibility for preserving the Tibet’s precious religious wisdom and culture. The Geshema exam process is very rigorous and is the culmination of a 17-year course of study. Each year, for four years, the candidates must take both written and oral (debate) exams for an 11-day period.

Until recently, the degree was only open to men. The opening up of this opportunity for nuns would not have been possible without the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan government in exile, and high lamas and teachers.

Once they obtain their Geshema degrees, besides being in possession of a treasure of knowledge, the nuns will be eligible to assume various leadership roles in the monastic and lay communities, bringing them one step closer to standing as equals.

Subjects for the 2018 Geshema Exams

From August 15 to 26, 2018, 44 nuns from four nunneries (Geden Choeling, Jangchup Choeling, Kachod Gyakhil Ling, and Dolma Ling) sat for the Geshema exams at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Initially the number was supposed to be 46, but two nuns, one in first year and one in second, were unable to attend their exams.

Geshema exams, Geshema exam results, 2018 Geshema exams, Tibetan Buddhist debate

Nuns debate as part of their Geshema exams. In 2018, the nuns were examined on debating by four Geshes, one each from Sera Jey, Sera Mey, Ganden Shartse, and Ganden Shangtse monasteries, all located in South India.

Each morning, nuns from two of the four levels completed written papers from 9 a.m. to noon, while nuns from the other two levels underwent debate exams. In the afternoons, from 2 to 6 p.m., the examinees gathered for their debate sessions in front of the examiners.

Tibetan Buddhist philosophy is one of the major subjects for the Geshema candidates, but they were examined on other subjects as well. In philosophy, nuns taking their first- and second-year exams were tested on Perfection of Wisdom (Pharchin) and Middle Way (Madhyamika), while third- and fourth-year examinees were tested on Monastic Discipline (Vinaya) and Treasury of Knowledge (Abhidharma). All exams were followed by debate sessions.

In addition to their other exams, nuns in years 1-3, were tested on Tibetan grammar and science. Nuns taking their final year exams were tested on science and history. Each of the final-year candidates also had to write, in advance, a 50-page thesis and they were examined on their thesis papers during the Geshema exams.

Geshema, Geshema exams, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan nuns, Buddhist nuns, Geshema degree 2018, Geshema exams 2018, Buddhist women, women in Buddhism

Nuns cluster around the notice board at Dolma Ling Nunnery to read the messages of good luck sent to the Geshema candidates. The good wishes were felt by all the nuns. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

 

 

Send messages of support to Geshema candidates

When you’re facing big challenges, it feels great to know that people are wishing you good luck. You can send a message of support to the Geshema candidates by writing a comment on this blog.

From August 15-26 2018, 45 Tibetan Buddhist nuns will sit various levels of their Geshema exams. To attain the Geshema degree, the nuns must take four years of exams. (Earlier we reported that there were 46 nuns, but one of the nuns taking first-year exams had to postpone and return home to care for her ailing mother.) The Geshema exams take place over 4 years and are the culmination of a rigorous 17-year course of study.

Geshema, Tibetan Buddhism, Geshe, Tibetan Nuns Project, Geshema candidates, Buddhism, nuns, nunnery, Buddhist nuns, Buddhist women, Geshema exams, messages of support Geshema candidates

Nuns reading messages of good luck and support from other nuns prior to the 2016 Geshema candidates. We’re collecting messages from support from you and will send them to the nuns taking their exams in August 2018.

The Geshema degree (or Geshe degree for monks) is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. Until recently, this degree was only open to men. In the last two years, 26 Tibetan Buddhist nuns have made history and earned this degree. Geshes and Geshemas are the most educated monastics, carrying much of the responsibility for preserving the Tibetan religion and culture.

Here’s a little video about the 2018 Geshema exams. [Can’t see the video? Click here.]

The nuns taking their exams this year gathered at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute on July 15th to make their final preparations and studies.

In August 2018 there will be:

  • 12 nuns taking their first-year exams
  • 15 nuns doing their 2nd year
  • 8 nuns doing their 3rd year
  • 10 Geshema candidates doing their fourth and final year of exams. All being well, there will be 10 new Geshema graduates this fall.
Geshema, geshema exams, 2018 Geshema exams, Geshema candidates, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Nuns Project

A Tibetan Buddhist nun takes her Geshema exams in 2017. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree will make them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.

We are seeking donations to help to cover the costs of travel for the Geshema candidates to and from Dolma Ling Nunnery and for their food during their 6-week study and exam period. You can donate here.

In November 2017, another 6 nuns graduated with their Geshema degrees. They received their degrees in a special ceremony on November 5th. The six new Geshemas had the opportunity to join the Geshemas who received their degrees in December 2016 in a groundbreaking new Buddhist tantric studies program. This two-year program at Dolma Ling Nunnery started in November 2017 and is funded by generous supporters through the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Geshema, geshema exams, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Geshema candidates, Buddhist nuns, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Nuns Project

Tibetan Buddhist nuns had in their exam papers during the Geshema exams in 2017. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

We need your help

We have a kind of stinky problem. It’s also an urgent one.

The septic systems are failing at two Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in India, Shugsep  Nunnery and Dolma Ling Nunnery. This poses a health risk to the nuns and their neighbors. The nuns need your help before the situation gets even worse.

The repairs to both septic systems must be made before the arrival of monsoon rains at the end of June.

septic repairs, Buddhist nunneries, septic system

Properly functioning septic systems are vital for the health and well-being of the nunneries and their neighbors.

Unfortunately, both nunneries are entirely dependent on their septic systems to treat both sewage and greywater. There are no main sewer lines or sewage treatment systems nearby that they can tap into.

We need $6,500 to repair the septic system at Shugsep Nunnery and $6,200 to repair the septic system at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Can you help?

Donate here.

This is not just a smelly problem for the nuns and the surrounding community. Without urgent repairs, there is the very real danger of outbreaks of disease such as dysentery, cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis. Learn about all our Current Needs here.

Winter at the nunneries

In northern India, where all the nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project are located, the winter can be harsh and long.

This is particularly true for the two remotest nunneries we support, Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti and Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar, both high in the Indian Himalayas.

Sherab Choeling, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, winter in the nunneries, Spiti Valley

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.

winter in the nunneries, Spiti Valley,Sherab Choeling Nunnery, nuns in winter, Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

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.

Tibetan Buddhist nun in snowfall at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

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.

Tibetan Buddhist nun working in kitchen

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.”

Wild Plum-headed parakeets come to Dolma Ling Nunnery for food during the cold months

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.

Dolma Ling Nunnery, snow mountains, Dhauladhar range, Indian Himalayas, winter in the nunneries

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.

Video Interview of a Geshema Nun: Determination and Dedication on the Path

Here is a video interview of a Geshema – Tenzin Kunsel.

On December 22, 2016, twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history when they graduated with their Geshema degrees. They received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

As you will hear from her story, her long journey to becoming a Geshema was not an easy one.

With gentle humor, she tells her story of overcoming many obstacles on the path to becoming a senior nun and teacher. Geshema Tenzin Kunsel’s extraordinary determination and dedication shine through.

The video was made in October 2017 at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Our thanks to Tibetan Nuns Project Co-Director, Venerable Lobsang Dechen, for providing the English translation and to volunteer film-makers Evan Kezsbom, Jalene Szuba, and Dustin Kujawski.

The Geshema degree is equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. It could previously only be earned by monks and is called the Geshe degree.

This historic milestone for the 20 nuns was the culmination of decades of study and dedication. In addition to the 17-years of study required, there is a rigorous four-year examination process.

Now Geshema Tenzin Kunsel and the 25 other recent Geshemas who graduated in 2016 and 2017 are starting a brand-new and historic two-year course in Buddhist 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.

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.

Geshema, Tenzin Kunsel,

The nuns’ cows at Dolma Ling Nunnery

The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India have been keeping cows for the past 20 years.  At present, the nuns have a herd of 12 cows – five milking cows, five young females, and two retired cows.

cows, Tibetan Nuns Project, nunnery, Dolma Ling, cow barn project

The 12 dairy cows at Dolma Ling Nunnery grass on the nunnery grass near nuns washing their robes in the stream.

The cows are an important part of the nunnery’s income-generating efforts. The small herd provides milk for the nunnery kitchen which feeds over 250 nuns and staff each day, as well as some extra milk that can be sold for income for the nunnery. In addition, the manure from the cows is excellent for the nunnery’s flourishing vegetable and flower gardens.

In 2016, five donors responded to our request to help build a new cow shed at Dolma Ling. We wanted to share more images of the cow shed and tell you about a new project we’re working on.

The new shed was completed in 2016 and provides an excellent outdoor covered space for the cows to be tethered and fed when it’s too hot or when the monsoon rains are too heavy for the cows to be out grazing on the land.

Now the 240 nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery have requested help with another project – repairing the cow barn floor where the 12 cows sleep at night.

Current Project: New Cow Barn Floor

Lying down shouldn’t be painful. But unfortunately, the cow barn floor at Dolma Ling Nunnery is damaged and broken and is now causing pain and injury to the cows.

The cows are very heavy and, as they move around in their barn, the floor has become broken and uneven. This creates a huge problem for the cows. They get scratches from the sharp broken areas of the floor and they are unable to sleep comfortably. Moreover, the uneven surface is difficult to clean properly.

cow, dairy herd.

One of the 12 friendly dairy cows at Dolma Ling who needs a comfortable floor to sleep on.

It is essential that we repair the floor of the cow barn. Our wish is to refurbish the floor with dressed, well-fitting stone that will be stronger and much more durable than either the river stones or concrete that have been used over the past two decades. The new floor will also be easy to clean and safe so that the cows don’t slip.

If you can help to replace the cow barn we’d be very grateful.

To help you can:

  1. Make a gift online – see below.
  2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to:
    The Tibetan Nuns Project
    (for cow barn floor)
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216
    Seattle, WA 98134 USA

Make a Donation

 

Tibetan Buddhist debate and the 2017 Jang Gonchoe

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

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

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

The participating nuns were from:

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

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

Taking part in the inter-nunnery debate helps the nuns to pursue higher degrees, to become teachers, and to preserve the rich Tibetan Buddhist culture and religion. We are extremely grateful to those who support this event, and to our scholarship donors and supporters of the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund. A total of 168 nuns from nunneries other than Dolma Ling were supported with travel expenses.

Jang Gonchoe scholarships

Nuns taking part in the 2017 Jang Gonchoe line up for meals at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo courtesy of the Nuns Media Team

Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Debate is the traditional mode of study of the profound texts of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Opening up this opportunity to Tibetan Buddhist nuns has allowed them to progress in their education and has prepared them for higher degrees, such as the Geshema degree.

The debate tradition for nuns is still very new. While for centuries, monks have participated in an annual inter-monastery debate session, called the Jang Gonchoe, this opportunity was only opened to nuns in 1995. It is an invaluable addition to their studies as they interact with peers from a wide variety of nunneries in India and Nepal. Through debate, the nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning.

For some nuns debate is an exhilarating way to fund tune philosophical points. For some it encourages more intense study and practice. For some it helps improve grammar and linguistic skills. For others it sparks a deeper understanding of particular philosophical texts. For all nuns, it helps increase their knowledge and confidence.

Tibetan Buddhist debate is very demanding and requires daily practice. The questioner stands and chooses a point of philosophical interest from a given text. Another nun sits to await the question and to respond. If the answer is satisfactory, the questioner moves on to ask a new question. But if the questioner is not fully satisfied, the debate begins in earnest. The nuns take turns making points until the question comes to a resolution. The last resort is to consult the text, in the event that neither nun is clearly more correct.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has spoken often about debate and the importance of the Tibetan philosophical tradition. Speaking to an audience to mark the Tibetan Nuns Project’s 30th anniversary, he took time to praise the nuns for their skills at debate. Looking at the Geshema nuns seated in front of him, His Holiness said warmly, “I remember visiting the Bhandara settlement several years ago and because I was impressed by the schoolchildren’s debate performance I asked who had taught them. I was pleased to learn it was this nun here, who told me she trained at Dolma Ling Nunnery,” pointing at one of the Geshema nuns in front of him.

Tibetan Nuns Project Celebrates 30th Anniversary

On October 2nd 2017, the Tibetan Nuns Project celebrated 30 years of work to educate, empower, and improve the status of ordained Tibetan women.

It was a chance to reflect on how far we have come together and how much more is still needed.

Rinchen Khando Choegyal,

Tibetan Nuns Project Founder and Director, Rinchen Khando Choegyal and Chief Guest Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay arrive at the event to mark the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan Nuns Project. Photo by Nuns Media Team.

A special event was held at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India. The non-sectarian nunnery is the largest of the two nunneries built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project and is now home to over 230 nuns. In October, the nunnery also hosted the month-long annual inter-nunnery debate event, the Jang Gonchoe, bringing up to 450 nuns from about 7 nunneries in India and Nepal.

The timing of the 30th anniversary event was also ideal because the 20 nuns who graduated with their Geshema degree in December 2016 had just gathered at Dolma Ling. In November, they will begin a brand new and historic two-year program in Buddhist tantric studies.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project, 30th anniversary, Dolma Ling Nunnery

Hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns and special guests gathered at the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling Nunnery for the formal celebration of the 30th anniversary of the Tibetan Nuns Project on October 2nd, 2017. Photo by Nuns Media Team.

Speaking to the crowds and honored guests at the event, Rinchen Khando Choegyal, founder and director of the Tibetan Nuns Project said, “Our early days were very hard. A huge influx of nuns arrived in India from Tibet with nothing. The nuns were in bad health, 99% couldn’t read or write, and they were traumatized from being imprisoned and beaten. We supported the nuns with their immediate needs and turned our attention to the future – building two nunneries and establishing a system of education for them.”

“Our 30th anniversary is an opportunity to thank our supporters and to take stock of the many historic milestones that would not have been possible without your compassion for the nuns. You and your support will be remembered in the history of Tibet and for future Tibetan Buddhist nuns,” the director said.

Tibetan Nuns Project, Elizabeth (Betsy) Napper, Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Venerable Lobsang Dechen, Betsy Napper

The Tibetan Nuns Project leadership. Left to right: Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Napper, Co-Director; Mr. Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founder and Director; and Venerable Lobsang Dechen, Co-Director. Photo by Nuns Media Team.

With the vision and unwavering support of our patron, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and with the compassion and generosity of our global family of supporters, the Tibetan Nuns Project has been able to accomplish many things including:

  • Creating a ground-breaking educational program for nuns;
  • Feeding, clothing, housing, and educating almost 800 Tibetans nuns;
  • Building two nunneries, Dolma Ling and Shugsep;
  • Establishing the annual inter-nunnery debate, the Jang Gonchoe;
  • Laying the groundwork for higher degrees for nuns;
  • Awarding of the Geshema degrees for the first time in the history of Tibet; and
  • Providing studies in Buddhist tantra for the Geshemas for the first time ever.

“It is very sad that we have lost our country,” said Rinchen Khando. “But at the same time, we belong to a strong refugee community with a vision. Through the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the vision is to preserve our culture and religion, and to go back to Tibet.”

The chief guest at the 30th anniversary event, the Tibetan government’s highest official, Prime Minister (Sikyong) Dr. Lobsang Sangay, spoke about the historic achievement of awarding the highest degrees to nuns.

Sikyong, Tibet, Tibetan Nuns Project, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, Buddhist nuns

Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay speaking at Tibetan Nuns Project 30th anniversary event Oct 2 2017

“Accomplishments of the Tibetan Nuns Project over the years including the re-establishment of one of the most illustrious Tibetan Nunneries in Tibet and laying of the groundwork for highest Buddhist education for Tibetan nuns have made significant contributions to the revival of Tibetan Buddhism in exile.”

He expressed his gratitude to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for inspiring the successful revival of Tibetan culture and resilience of the people in the most challenging times.

“This achievement is part of His Holiness’s bigger vision. Primarily the goal of the Chinese Communist Government was to destroy – to make Tibet into China, Tibetans into Chinese people. The primary objective or strategy was to destroy monasteries and nunneries… 98% of monasteries and nunneries were destroyed in Tibet. 99.999% of monks and nuns were distraught. They were sent to prison. Many died of starvation,” said the Sikyong.

He added that the Chinese leadership may have thought that they had won because the foundation of Tibetan civilization which is Buddhism is gone. But then, in exile, the Tibetan culture and religion is being preserved. “Brick by brick, stone by stone”, he said, the major monastic institutions are being rebuilt.

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

Helping to prepare for the 30th anniversary event at Dolma Ling.

“All this started very small… You all worked to empower women and have nuns on an equal footing with monks.”

Also gracing the occasion were the Education Kalon, Ngodup Tsering, Members of the standing committee of the Tibetan parliament, Joint Secretary of the Department of Religion and Culture, other representatives and also the first ever batch of Tibetan Geshema holders and 15 Tibetan nun lopons.

Audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama

On October 4th, a special group audience for the Tibetan Nuns Project was given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The group included staff, board members, donors and nearly all the 20 nuns who became Geshemas last winter.

Tibetan Nuns Project, Dalai Lama, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, donors

Tibetan Nuns Project donors and supporters with His Holiness the Dalai Lama on October 4 2017

Speaking in Tibetan, His Holiness the Dalai Lama praised the assembled nuns holding the highest degrees in their traditions (the Geshemas and the Loponmas).

“Since the Buddha ordained his stepmother, Mahaprajapati Gotami and conceded that nuns’ aptitude for study and practice was equal to that of monks,” His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, “I felt it was appropriate to give nuns the opportunity also to study on an equal footing.”

Geshema, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dalai Lama,

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Geshemas

His Holiness the Dalai Lama praised the nuns for their debating skills. “I remember visiting the Bhandara settlement several years ago and because I was impressed by the schoolchildren’s debate performance I asked who had taught them. I was pleased to learn it was this nun here [pointing to a Geshema nun in the front row who wiped her eyes with deep emotion] , who told me she trained at Dolma Ling Nunnery.”

He told the assembled group that the Buddha’s teachings flourished in India at such great seats of learning as Takshashila, Nalanda and Vikramashila. It was not a tradition merely based on faith, but was rooted in the use of reason and logic and included instructions for transforming the mind.

Lopon, Shugsep, nunnery, Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Shugsep Lopons

He concluded by saying, “What you have all achieved is something for the Tibetan people as a whole to be proud of.”

Without the support and dedication of many people – His Holiness the Dalai Lama, our three devoted directors, board members in India and the US, our monastic and lay teachers, staff, sponsors, donors, and kind friends around the world, the Tibetan Nuns Project and the nuns would not be where we are today.

message of congratulations, Tibetan Nuns Project

One of the many messages of congratulations to the Tibetan Nuns Project from nuns at various nunneries and posted on the bulletin board at 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.

flower competition, Tibetan nunnery, Buddhist nuns, Dolma Ling Nunnery, flowers of Dolma Ling

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