The Tibetan nunneries and monasteries were already closed to visitors before the national lockdown and the nuns were taking precautions. Photo of Dolma Ling courtyard taken in 2013 by Brian Harris.
We don’t have news from all the nunneries, but here’s what we know about the health and safety of the nuns to date.
In Himachal Pradesh, the India state where five of the seven nunneries we support are, there is a curfew as well as the lockdown. On Thursday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama wrote to the Chief Minister to express support for his efforts to control the coronavirus.
In Kangra district, home to Dolma Ling, Shugsep, Tilokpur, and Geden Choeling nunneries, people were allowed out to buy essentials from 7 to 11 am. But the local vegetable shops near Dolma Ling were completely closed. When the Tibetan Nuns Project staff called a local vegetable vendor, he told them to stay indoors and not to risk breaking the curfew.
The good news is that Dolma Ling and Shugsep nunneries had already prepared and bought rations to last a month.
Happier days, unloading vegetables at Dolma Ling in 2017. The nuns are vegetarian and their vegetable supplies won’t last as the weather warms.
The nunneries may need to get a special permit from the government to use their jeeps for shopping. Under the lockdown, the use of vehicles is completely stopped.
On Sunday, the nuns at Dolma Ling sprayed chlorine in all nunnery buildings to sanitize the area.
Classes, morning assemblies, and pujas are all stopped. The nuns no longer eat together in the dining halls. Instead, nuns and staff bring their dishes down to collect food and then eat their meals in their rooms.
Prayers and Mantras
For their safety, nuns are no longer gathering to perform pujas and prayers. Photo of Shugsep nuns by Brian Harris taken in 2013.
Unfortunately, to stay safe and to comply with government recommendations, the nuns can no longer perform group pujas or prayers.
The nuns have sent mantras. You might find them helpful.
The first is the Tāra mantra: OṂ TARE TUTTĀRE TURE SVĀHĀ
The nuns have a special connection to Tara, the female Buddha who embodies the wisdom and the compassion of all enlightened beings. The Tibetan for Tara is “Dolma” and Dolma Ling means “Place of Tara”.
We’ll update this page with more mantras over time.
Update from the Seattle Office
Although the physical Seattle office is closed, we are working remotely. You can contact us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 206-652-8901.
It is still possible to order products, but not to order Pujas (prayers). We will ship product orders as soon as possible, but we cannot give you an exact date.
The first day of Tibetan New Year or Losar is February 24, 2020. According to the Tibetan lunar calendar it is the beginning of the Iron Mouse Year 2147.
A chemar box for Tibetan New Year made by the nuns. This ornately carved box contains roasted barley and tsampa (roasted barley flour). It is decorated with butter sculptures made by the nuns. The chemar is an auspicious offering to make at the Losar shrine to bring prosperity in the new year.
Tibetan New Year Activities
Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, Tibetans say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home from top to bottom. After that, the “new year” Losar (ལོ་གསར་) is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives.
Here is a snapshot of Losar activities at a large Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in India, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. The video was made several years ago with photos taken by the nuns themselves. If you can’t see the video, click here.
On the 29th day of the outgoing year, called nyi-shu-gu in Tibetan, Tibetans do something like a big spring clean. By cleaning, Tibetans purify their homes and bodies of obstacles, negativity, sickness, and anything unclean.
In the days leading up to Losar, cleaning is an important part of New Year’s preparations. The nuns clean their room as well as the nunnery complex. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.
On the night of the 29th, Tibetans eat a special kind of noodle soup called guthuk. This dish, eaten once a year two days before Losar, is part of a ritual to dispel any misfortunes of the past year and to clear the way for a peaceful and auspicious new year. If you want to make it at home, here’s a vegetarian recipe for guthuk.
Guthuk is a special noodle soup eaten once a year on the 29th day of the last month of the Tibetan calendar. For a recipe for guthuk and other Tibetan food, visit YoWangdu.com. Photo courtesy of YoWangdu.
Guthuk has at least nine ingredients and contains large dough balls, one for each person eating the soup. Hidden inside each dough ball is an object (or its symbol) such as chilies, salt, wool, rice, and coal. These objects are supposed to represent the nature of the person who receives that particular dough ball. For instance, if one gets a lump of rock salt in a dough ball (or a piece of paper with the Tibetan word for salt on it) this implies that one is a lazy person. If a person finds chilies in their dough, it means they are talkative.
Also on the 29th day, special tormas (ritual figures of flour and butter) are made. After supper, the tormas and the guthuk offered by the nuns are taken outside and and away from the nunnery. The nuns say “dhong sho ma” to mean “Go away. Leave the house” to get rid of all bad omens.
Other Losar preparations include making special Tibetan New Year foods such as momos and khapse, Tibetan cookies or biscuits. The khapse are made a few days before Losar and are distributed among the nuns and staff.
A Tibetan nun fries khapse at Dolma Ling. Khapse are deep fried biscuits that are a staple of Tibetan New Year’s celebrations. The most common shape is the small twisted rectangular pieces which are served to guests.
The next day is called Namkhang which is the day when houses are decorated. Special ritual offerings are also prepared for the day and these are said in the prayer hall.
Also, as part of the Losar or Tibetan New Year preparations, the nuns make butter sculptures to help decorate the Losar altar.
Elaborate and colorful butter sculptures of flowers and Buddhist sacred symbols decorate the offering table for Losar or Tibetan New Year. These sculptures were made by the nuns at Dolma Ling.
On the day of Losar itself, Tibetans get up early in the morning and wish each other “Tashi Delek” or Happy New Year and then go to the prayer hall for prayers. Part of the prayer ceremony includes tsok, the offering of blessed food including khapse biscuits and fruit.
Here’s an audio recording of the nuns’ Losar prayers courtesy of Olivier Adam.
At the end of the puja or prayer ceremony, all the nuns line up to pay hommage at the throne of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and to the nunnery’s leaders. They offer white kataks, ceremonial Tibetan prayers scarves.
Young nuns hold large deep-fried Losar pastries called bhungue amcho or khugo. This particular type of khapse are known as Donkey Ears because of their shape and size. These large, elongated, hollow tubes of crispy pastry are stacked up on the Losar altar and are given as food offerings. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.
Visiting others is a special part of Losar. The nuns and staff at the nunnery visit each other’s rooms to wish each other a happy new year and to drink cups of traditional Tibetan salty butter tea.
Two nuns carry a chemar bo, an open, decorated box with one half filled with chemar, made of roasted barley flour or tsampa and the other half filled with roasted barley. People are invited to take a pinch of the chemar then offer a blessing with three waves of the hand in the air, then taking a nibble. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.
Hanging Prayer Flags at Losar
It is customary to hang new sets of prayer flags at Losar. Old prayer flags from the previous year are taken down and burned with bunches of fragrant pine and juniper. New prayer flags are hung. If you need new prayer flags you can order them from the Tibetan Nuns Project online store. The prayer flags are made and blessed by the nuns at Dolma Ling.
At Losar, old prayer flags are removed and burned and new ones are hung at the nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.
On the third day of Tibetan New Year, a special incense burning offering called sang-sol is held. While many nuns travel home to visit their families at Losar, some nuns remain at the nunnery and take part in this special event.
The nuns gather in a line or circle and each takes some tsampa (roasted barley flour) in her right hand as an offering. The nuns raise their arms simultaneously twice and then, on the third time, they throw the tsampa high into the air shouting “Losar Tashi Delek”.
Today we’re taking you behind the scenes to some of the Tibetan Buddhist nunneries supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project. You’ll see what the Tibetan Buddhist nuns eat and how they prepare their food.
Scroll down for four recipes for delicious vegetarian food that you can cook at home.
A collage of food photos from the Tibetan Buddhist nuns, including vegetarian Tibetan momos, top right. The photo on the left is courtesy of Dustin Kujawski. The photo of Tibetan momos in the top right is courtesy of YoWangdu.
The nunneries in India follow a simple vegetarian diet. The nuns’ diet is influenced by Indian food and local ingredients. With your support, their nutrition has greatly improved over the years.
A nun on kitchen duty checks rice. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris
At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, a typical breakfast might be a piece of flatbread, some cooked mixed vegetables, and tea. Lunch is the main meal of the day and is often rice, two kinds of vegetables, dal, and sometimes fruit. Dinner is often a noodle soup and maybe a steamed bun.
The nuns on kitchen duty at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute rise just past 3 a.m. to start preparing breakfast for the over 280 nuns and staff at the nunnery. In this photo by Brian Harris, a nun is making Indian-style flatbreads on a griddle.
It takes a lot of vegetables to feed about 250 nuns. A few years ago, the kitchen at Dolma Ling was expanded and this new storage room was built. It is designed to keep birds and animals out and has a special chopping area.
For 2,500 years, since the time of the Buddha, it has been considered an act of merit to give food to monks and nuns. As Milarepa, the great Tibetan yogi and poet, said, “The practitioner and benefactor offering food create the cause to achieve enlightenment together.”
In the seven nunneries in northern India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, the nuns work together to prepare food for the entire nunnery. While the nunneries do their best to be self-sufficient, all of them are still heavily reliant for food support through our sponsorship program and through general donations.
Young nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti sit in the warm sun and eat. The nunnery is located in the remote, high-altitude region of Spiti in northern India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam
Good health and nutrition are essential for the nuns to be able to study. The majority of nuns came to India as refugees from Tibet and most arrived destitute, malnourished, and ill. As refugees without their families and traditional communities to support them, they rely more than ever on the compassion and generosity of others. Providing the nuns with a steady supply of nutritious food makes a dramatic difference in the energy they are able to devote to their studies.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute roast barley to make tsampa, the staple food of the Tibetan people. Once roasted, the barley is ground into flour and mixed with Tibetan tea for a high-energy meal.
Food at Remote Nunneries
The nuns in remote nunneries, such as Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti and Dorjee Zong in Zanskar, have difficult living conditions. These two nunneries are located in high-altitude, arid regions where the growing season is short. The nuns face long, harsh winters and must stock up on supplies of food and cooking fuel well before the onset of cold weather.
The simple kitchen at Sherab Choeling Nunnery is one of the warmest parts of the nunnery in winter. During the coldest months, the nuns hold their classes, prayers, and meetings in the kitchen because it is warmer and helps to save wood.
At Sherab Choeling Nunnery, the nuns work hard during the summer months to grow food for the long winter. During the summer, the nuns grow spinach, beans, peas, and wheat.
The nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Indian Himalayas have three greenhouses where they mostly grow spinach. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.
Tibetan noodle soup, thenthuk. This comfort food is a common noodle soup in Tibetan cuisine, especially in Amdo, Tibet.
Here are some recipes from past blog posts for typical dishes that the nuns eat.
Last month we reached out to our global family of supporters to let you know about nuns working hard to become Geshemas. So many of you wrote to share beautiful good luck messages for the Geshema candidates.
We compiled all your good luck messages and they were posted on the noticeboard at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Our wonderful Nuns’ Media Team documented the nuns reading the messages and also the start of the 2018 Geshema exams.
We’d like to share some of the photos and some of your good wishes here, taking you on an armchair trip to the heart of Dolma Ling Nunnery.
Nuns gather at the Dolma Ling Nunnery bulletin board to read the many messages of good luck sent to the Geshema candidates. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.
In August 2018, 44 Tibetan Buddhist nuns are sitting various levels of the rigorous four-year Geshema 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, and one of the second-year nuns also had to miss exams this year) The written and oral (debate) exams run from August 15-26, 2018.
12 nuns taking their first round of examinations
14 nuns doing their second-year exams
8 nuns doing their third-year exams and
10 nuns doing their fourth and final year.
A smiling Tibetan Buddhist nun enters her Geshema exams equipped with ruler and pens. The written and oral exams last two weeks and are based on 17 years of study. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.
The Geshema degree (or Geshe degree for monks) is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. This highest degree was, until recently, only open to men. Now Tibetan Buddhist nuns are making history. In the last two years, 26 Tibetan Buddhist nuns have earned this degree.
Supporters from around the world sent heartfelt messages of good luck to the nuns taking this year’s Geshema exams. The messages were posted on the bulletin board at Dolma Ling Nunnery for all the nuns to see. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.
Here are some of the messages:
“Congratulations to all the Geshema candidates at all levels for achieving so much knowledge, previously not made available to the women. May it all be reflected in your exam results, and may you carry on to be blessings to every being you encounter, in whatever role and relationship.” Poke
“Your dedication to your studies and to your Tibetan culture is simply awesome. Thank you for your contributions to your branch of Buddhism and to our world. All best wishes for your soon forthcoming exams. I will be holding you in my prayers.” Carolyn
“Blessings to all the nuns! Homage to your vows, compassion and desire to be of benefit to all of us stuck in ignorance. May the Bodhisattvas guide and assist you in your studies and exams.” Stephen
Introductory remarks and good wishes before the 46 nuns start taking their two weeks of Geshema exams. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.
In the spring of 2018, we launched a special fund for the 2018 Geshema Exams. We are extremely grateful to all the donors who made gifts to this fund which is being used to cover the costs of travel for the nuns to and from their exams and for the food during their month-long stay at Dolma Ling.
We’d like to say a special thank you to Vita Wells who made a major gift to this fund in memory of her late partner, Michelle Bertho. We would also like to send a special thank you to Dechen Tsering for launching a birthday campaign for this fund and to her many friends and family who made gifts in her honor.
Each year, the two weeks of Geshema exams involve both written exams and oral (debate) exams. Nuns must complete 4 years of exams to earn their Geshema degree, equivalent to the Geshe degree for monks. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.
All prepared and entering the exam hall. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.
Here’s a few more good luck messages for the Geshema candidates:
“Hello to you from Canada! I wish all of you taking exams the very best of luck, but even more, the heartfelt wish for you to shine. It is very important for you, and for people around the world, that you are able to preserve and protect the precious teachings you have studied. May you all excel, and blessings radiate for all. Much metta to you.” Michelle
“To All the Geshema Candidates, You are an inspiration. Beings have already benefited from your study.and dedication. Thank you for your efforts. You help insure the survival of the Dharma. May you all successfully complete your exams. May the benefits of your accomplishments be universal.” Carole
“Sending best wishes to you all from the UK. You are an inspiration to all women who seek a better future, and the Buddha”s teaching is safe in your hands.” Julia
“As a PhD in science and a long-time supporter of TNP, I am delighted by the news and admire the perseverance of the nuns. May Buddhism long live!” Nathan
Nuns cluster around the noticeboard at Dolma Ling Nunnery to read the good luck messages for the Geshema candidates. The good wishes were felt by all the nuns. 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.
The 26 Geshemas who graduated in 2016 and 2017 are now taking part 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.
A nun debates as part of her Geshema exams. Providing opportunities for the nuns to debate has been a critical part of their education to reach this highest degree. The next major event for the nuns is the annual inter-nunnery debate, called the Jang Gonchoe, which will take place this year at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal.
The most important month in the Tibetan lunar calendar is Saga Dawa, the 4th month. This year Saga Dawa starts on May 26th 2017 and runs until June 24.
The 15th day of this lunar month, the full moon day, is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Buddhists. This year, Saga Dawa Düchen falls on June 9, 2017. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni. In other Buddhist traditions it is known as Vesak or is sometimes called Buddha Day.
A young Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery reads scriptures to mark Saga Dawa. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo. Continue reading →
Saga Dawa is a very important month in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. This year, Saga Dawa, the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, started on May 7th and runs until June 5th 2016.
The 15th day of the lunar month, the full moon day, is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Buddhists. This year Saga Dawa Düchen falls on May 21 2016. In other Buddhist traditions it is known as Vesak or is sometimes as Buddha Day. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death (parinirvana) of Buddha Shakyamuni.
A young Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery reads scriptures to mark Saga Dawa. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo.
Since 1999, the United Nations has marked this sacred Buddhist day each year with a special message from the UN Secretary General. The UN Vesak page states, “Vesak, the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world. It was on the Day of Vesak two and a half millennia ago, in the year 623 B.C., that the Buddha was born. It was also on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha attained enlightenment, and it was on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha in his eightieth year passed away.”
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.
TNP is committed to ensuring the health and well being of the nuns, our staff and our supporters.
We thank you for your patience and understanding as we experience delays due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Dismiss