Tag Archives: education

Visit Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar Through Beautiful Photos

Dorjee Zong Nunnery

Dorjee Zong Nunnery is an ancient Tibetan Buddhist nunnery located in the remote area and high-altitude area of Zanskar in northern India, near Ladakh.

The nunnery is one of the oldest centers in pursuit of monastic education in Zanskar. Founded in the 14th century, it has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization and attainment.

remote Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar by Olivier Adam low res

Currently, there are about 25 nuns at the nunnery. The eldest are in their 80s, while the youngest is about six. In the past, the nuns at Dorjee Zong did not have the opportunity to engage in rigorous philosophical studies, but their education program is improving. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

The nunnery was founded about 700 years ago by Master Sherab Zangpo, renowned as the Bodhisattva from the upper region of Tibet. He was one of the chief disciples of Je Tsongkhapa (1357-1419) founder of the Gelug school of Tibetan Buddhism.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar by Olivier Adam

Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar by Olivier Adam

There have been a number of highly accomplished practitioners who devoted their entire life to dharma at this nunnery. Khandroma Yeshi Lhamo, popularly known as Jomo Shelama, was one of those highly realized practitioners from the nunnery.

Young nuns study at Dorjee Zong Nunnery Photo by Olivier Adam

Young nuns study at Dorjee Zong Nunnery. The girls and women from this area have traditionally been given far less education than boys and men. The nunnery gives them a chance for an education that they would not have otherwise. Though the young girls live and dress and nuns, they do not take vows until they are old enough to understand. Photo by Olivier Adam

At present, the nunnery is very small and basic and seeks to provide education and guide the nuns in community service. The nunnery was accepted into the Tibetan Nuns Project’s sponsorship program in 2009. Currently, about 19 of the nuns are sponsored thanks to Tibetan Nuns Project donors.

Nuns at Dorjee Zong Nunnery photo by Olivier Adam

Nuns at Dorjee Zong Nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

School Bus Project

One of our urgent projects this summer is to purchase a school bus for Dorjee Zong Nunnery so that the young nuns can continue their education. Without it, nuns aged 13-15 will have to stop going to school. 

The nuns need the bus to make the 12-mile round-trip journey to the government school where they will study as day students. Currently, there are 9 teenage girls who have completed Grade 5 and who need the school bus so that they can continue their education. At the government school, they can study up to Grade 10. In the future, there will be more girls who will need the school bus which can seat 20 students.

Only $4,041 is needed to fully fund the school bus.

Our wish is to complete the funding before August 25th. The nunnery needs to buy the bus from Leh, Ladakh and get it to the nunnery before winter snows block the roads.

Young girls studying at Dorjee Zong Nunnery.

Young girls studying at Dorjee Zong Nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The girls began primary school at the nunnery. There they can study from Class 1 to Class 5, but the nunnery is unable to provide higher studies. Girls from the Himalayan regions of India traditionally have had little access to education. Nunneries like Dorjee Zong provide them with opportunity. More families are sending their girls to the nunnery to get an education.

young nuns at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar

The young nuns at Dorjee Zong Nunnery need a school bus to make the 12-mile round trip journey to the local school to continue their education past Grade 5. When they joined Dorjee Zong at ages 6 or 7, the girls began primary school at the nunnery. There they can study from Class 1 to Class 5, but the nunnery is unable to provide higher studies. Photo of Dorjee Zong Nunnery courtesy of the Venerable Delek Yangdron

The school bus and the access to further education it will provide education are the keys to empowerment. The young girls dress as nuns but have not taken vows. Once they are old enough to decide for themselves, they can choose to take nuns vows and begin their monastic education.

To help purchase the school bus you can:

  1. Make a gift online at tnp.org
  2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to: The Tibetan Nuns Project (for school bus)
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216, Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Give a gift of securities
Tibetan Buddhist nun Zanskar Olivier Adam

An elderly Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dorjee Zong Nunnery in Zanskar. Note the rugged terrain in the background. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Future Photos from Dorjee Zong Nunnery

This blog post features some of the many stunning photographs by our supporter, Olivier Adam.

We’re delighted to tell you that, thanks to the donors to our Media Equipment Project in 2018, the nuns at Dorjee Zong now have a camera and can document life and important milestones at the nunnery (like the school bus, we hope).

One of the nuns from Dorjee Zong traveled this summer to our headquarters in India at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute to get the camera and receive training, as well as for other nunnery business. She said she very happy to receive the camera because she would now be able to share with Tibetan Nuns Project supporters pictures and videos of the nuns.  She was never able to do so in the past.

young students at Dorjee Zong Nunnery by Olivier Adam

Some of the young girls studying at Dorjee Zong Nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

 

Rejuvenating Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

Looking after a nunnery is a big job.

Like a university campus, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute has dormitories, classrooms, a library, dining halls, a kitchen, offices, meeting rooms, gardens, a temple, and more.

There are also systems that support daily life there such as power, water, sewage treatment, and so on. The heavy monsoon rains and the harsh environment of northern India are hard on the nunnery complex.

Shugsep Nunnery, nunnery life

Handwritten essay by a Tibetan Buddhist nun at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute about her second home. Photo by Dustin Kujawski

We’re happy to report that, thanks to generous donors, two major projects at the nunnery were just completed: the replacement of the temple floor and the repair and painting of the metal roof.

Here’s a thank you video about the temple floor with “before” and “after” photos.

Here’s a list of projects that we’re working on funding. Some are urgent because of the imminent arrival of the monsoon.

  1. Painting of the nuns’ dormitories
  2. Solar panel roof repair
  3. Water tank repair
  4. Mold removal and prevention
  5. Security system for the nunnery and grounds to avoid break-ins

The total cost for all of these projects is $21,650.

To help rejuvenate Shugsep, you can donate here.

Shugsep is an ancient Nyingma nunnery that traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. It is one of two nunneries built and fully supported by Tibetan Nuns Project donors.

The 85 nuns who live and study at Shugsep work hard to keep their nunnery strong and healthy, but, unfortunately, there are many jobs that are beyond their ability. They need outside help. Thank you!

Why we sponsor Tibetan Buddhist nuns

We receive so many inspiring and beautiful messages about why people sponsor Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

In this blog post, we want to introduce you to Nancy, Judith, Beth and others and share their stories. We hope their words will inspire more people to sponsor a Tibetan Buddhist nun. Many nuns in India still need sponsors. The cost is just $1 a day; the return is priceless.

Today, January 8 2019, we’re launching a campaign to get sponsors for 60 nuns in the 60-day countdown to International Women’s Day, March 8th. Please join us by sponsoring a nun and spreading the word about our sponsorship program. March 2019 is also significant because it is the 60th anniversary of both the Tibetan Uprising Day (March 10th) and the Tibetan Women’s Uprising (March 12).

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“I support the Tibetan Nuns Project because I believe women should have the same rights as men in learning the Buddhist teachings. This program gives Tibetan nuns the opportunity to embrace their spiritual path and embark on a life as a nun who can then share their knowledge and understanding of the teachings with others.” Photo of nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery courtesy of Olivier Adam

Empowering and Educating Women

Ninety-one per cent of Tibetan Nuns Project supporters surveyed say that they give because they “value equality of access to education for women and believe that nuns should have the same opportunities as monks.”

Chris says, “The UN has multiple reports showing how the status of a country or culture is only as strong as the support of their women, and supporting the Tibetan Nuns Project helps not just the individual women, but the Tibetan community overall. Having female role models in any profession will encourage the children of Tibet to see the worth in all beings, not just men.”

Geshema, Geshema graduation ceremony,

TNP board member Judyth Weaver congratulates the nuns who received their Geshema degrees at a historic graduation ceremony in December 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Alice writes, “As a female Buddhist, I’m acutely aware that it’s women who carry the majority of lay communities, but there are so few examples for us to look up to in the sangha. It’s important to me that female sangha receive the support they need to flourish.”

Karen said, “I feel that it is very important for women to become teachers of this wisdom. Tibetan Buddhism can teach the world many things… love, compassion, patience, forgiveness, responsibility, and the list goes on. This wisdom must be extended to all who are interested in it, not just monks. I have found that women have a great ability to share and take care that comes very naturally, so women will help expand this wisdom.”

“I care about Tibetan refugee issues”

Preserving Tibet’s unique religion and culture is a big motivator for sponsors and other donors.

Beth writes, “I am deeply impressed with the spirit, faith, and strength of the people of Tibet, and I want to do anything I can to help them. Supporting a nun with her basic needs and education is a small thing that I can do.”

Maria said, “I am appalled by the atrocities that the people of Tibet have gone through! This support is the least that my family can do.”

Diverse Voices

While it is traditional for Buddhists to practice dana (generosity), the first of the ten perfections, and to support monks and nuns, a great many of our sponsors are not Buddhist. Here are some stories from our diverse global family.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Nancy writes, “Although I am not a Buddhist, I have learned so many valuable life lessons from the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. It feels right to give something back, and I enjoy the personal connection I have with a nun. Participating in the Tibetan Nuns Project is a good antidote to feelings of helplessness or despair when faced with all the injustices in the world.”

“I am Cherokee (American Indian) and I totally understand how important it is to support people who have lost their lands and may be in danger of losing their language and ancient traditions.” Naniwea

“As a Black American (historic ethnicity – U.S. slavery descendant), I feel very connected to what is happening to the Tibetan people in their own country. As a woman of color, I am especially interested in learning more about the lives and concerns of the women of Tibet, and especially the Buddhist nuns.” Marian

Judith wrote, “I am a Christian (Episcopalian) feminist for whom Buddhism provides enrichment and much that appeals to my overworked mind in terms of clarifying what matters. I believe in freedom, education, and equality for women and for men. I am very disturbed by the ongoing destruction of Tibet and its magnificent culture and religion and believe strongly in the goals and purpose of the Tibetan Nuns Project.”

“Although not a Buddhist, I have always been drawn to the plight of the people of Tibet. The last 20 years of my life I have often been touched by the words of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and I consider him a hero and wonderful humanitarian. When I saw this organization and the wonderful work they were doing with the female refugees, I was quite touched and knew I had to be involved, even in a small way. I would love to visit the project some day, but for now, I love getting the lovely letters from India. I’m so proud to see how much the project has grown in the last couple years and so proud of the nuns and their educational and spiritual progress.” Julia

sponsor a Tibetan Buddhist nun.

You can sponsor a nun for US$360 a year and pay monthly, quarterly, or annually. Photo of nuns lining up for food courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Click here to learn about sponsoring a nun.

2018 Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate at Kopan Nunnery

Around 600 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal have gathered at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal for 2018 Jang Gonchoe, the annual inter-nunnery debate.

Running from October 3 to November 4 2018, this special event brings together nuns and teachers for intensive training in Tibetan Buddhist debate.

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Sheltered under tarps, about 600 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal gather at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal to practice Tibetan Buddhist debate for one month. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

Training in Tibetan Buddhist debate is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition. Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practice Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that joins logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

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A photograph of nuns at the opening ceremony of the 2018 inter-nunnery debate at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery.

The annual debate session for nuns has been an integral part of the nuns reaching their current level of excellence in their studies. It is critical to fostering the nuns’ ability to pursue higher degrees, such as the Geshema degree, which is roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism. Since 2016, 36 nuns have passed the rigorous written and debate exams to become Geshemas – a historic milestone for Tibet. This achievement would not have been possible without the intensive training that the inter-nunnery debate helps provide.

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Taking part in the annual inter-nunnery debate allows nuns to gain knowledge and build confidence. By debating with nuns from other nunneries, they can “up their game” and prepare for higher degrees. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

Dr. Elizabeth Napper, Co-Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, said, “Opening up education to the women, particularly in conjunction with training in debate, has been transformative for the nuns. Not only have they been given access to the full intellectual richness of their Buddhist tradition, but also, through debate, they have been trained to actively engage with it in a way that gives them confidence in their knowledge. Their body language changes from the traditional meekness of nuns to that of women who occupy space with confidence in their right to do so.”

If you wish to see many more photos of this year’s event and video footage of the nuns debating, visit the Kopan Nunnery Facebook page. 

The Importance of Tibetan Buddhist Debate and the Jang Gonchoe

Although Tibetan monks for centuries have held the Jang Gonchoe, prior to 1995, this form and level of learning was not open to nuns.

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About 600 nuns gather for the start of the 2018 Jang Gonchoe at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery.

In 1995, the Jang Gonchoe for nuns was started. Since 1997, it has been fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. We are extremely grateful to the supporters of this year’s event and of our Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund.

The inter-nunnery debate is a unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to help ensure that a centuries-old tradition continues and expands to include the nuns, and fosters the dharma for future generations. The Jang Gonchoe also helps empower Tibetan nuns to become great teachers and examples for their nunnery communities. The host nunneries also gain the experience of putting on a large and complex event. In 2017, the Jang Gonchoe was held at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been very supportive of the education of the nuns and has praised their debating skills. His Holiness has said, “Nowadays, the Nalanda tradition of approaching the Buddha’s teachings with logic and reason is only found amongst Tibetans. It’s something precious we can be proud of and should strive to preserve.

2018 Inter-Nunnery Debate, Jang Gonchoe, Kopan Nunnery, Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Buddhist debate, inter-nunnery debate, Buddhist nunnery

At the Jang Gonchoe, nuns have the opportunity to debate with nuns from other nunneries. This build confidence and skill. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

The Importance of the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund

The Tibetan Nuns Project, with the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has played a critical role in opening up this learning opportunity to women. Although all Tibetan nuns and nunneries are welcome to take part, the main obstacle to wider participation has always been lack of funding. There are more nuns who wish to attend than there is funding to support them with their travel costs and for food during the month-long event.

An average of 7 nunneries takes part each year:

  • Dolma Ling Nunnery & Institute – participant since 1995
  • Jangchup Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Jamyang Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Geden Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Khacho Ghakil Ling, Nepal – yearly participant
  • Thugjee Choeling Nunnery, Nepal – yearly participant
  • Buddhist Education Centre, Kinnaur – yearly participant
  • Drikung Nunnery – participant once
  • Dongyu Gyatseling Nunnery – occasional participant
  • Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • Yangchen Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • Jampa Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • (The nuns from the latter three nunneries now hold their own inter-nunnery debate session each year in Spiti.)

In 2014, the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a special Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund to support the Jang Gonchoe so that this vital educational opportunity may continue for years to come. Gifts to the Endowment Fund help to preserve Tibet’s culture and religion, and also open up a centuries-old tradition to the nuns, empowering them to become great teachers in their own right. The benefit of this is inestimable and will be an enduring legacy for generations to come.

To support the Debate Endowment Fund 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 Debate Endowment)
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216
    Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Donate securities
  5. Leave a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project

Give to Debate Endowment

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The main costs associated with the Jang Gonchoe are food for the nuns for a month and their travel costs to and from the event.

 

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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Sharing your good luck messages for the Geshema candidates

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.

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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.
Geshema, Geshema exams, Tibetan Buddhist nun, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Nuns Project

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

We are still seeking $2,035 to complete the funding for the 2018 Geshema exams. You can learn more and donate here.

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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

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.
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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.

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

Tibetan calligraphy and the Tibetan language

Tibet has its own language, including a unique alphabet and various written forms. Tibetan calligraphy is beautiful and there are numerous Tibetan writing styles. This blog post showcases some of them.

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery in India take part in the annual Tibetan calligraphy competition. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

The Tibetan alphabet has 30 characters or letters and four vowels.  Like English, it is written from left to right in horizontal lines. The origins of Tibetan as a written language date back to the 7th century AD and the reign of King Songtsen Gampo. One of the king’s ministers, Thonmi Sambhota, is credited with creating the Tibetan alphabet. He and other scholars were sent by the king to India to study the art of writing with the aim of making the Buddhist teachings available to Tibetans.

Buddhism plays a central role in Tibetan culture. This is true for Tibetan writing as well. Many examples of Tibetan calligraphy come from religious texts. Most Tibetan scribes or experts in Tibetan calligraphy come from monastic backgrounds.

Here is a video of Tibetan Buddhist nuns practicing Tibetan calligraphy. Can’t see the video? Click here.

Traditionally, Tibetan nuns did not have access to the same level of education as monks. Now Tibetan nuns, such as those studying at the nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, have the opportunity to learn their own written language and various forms of Tibetan calligraphy. This is groundbreaking because many of the nuns who escaped from Tibet and arrived in exile in India were completely illiterate on their arrival. Most of them couldn’t even write their names.

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns writing on a chalkboard. The form of Tibetan script they are using is called Tsukring. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Tibetan Calligraphy

Tibetan writing may be broadly divided into two types, “headed” called Uchen and “headless” called Umeh. These two forms of Tibetan script correspond roughly to printed and cursive writing.

Uchen (U-chen)

The most common script for Tibetan writing and the one used in printed books because of its clarity is called Uchen (དབུ་ཅན།). Uchen means “with head” and this form of Tibetan writing is basically printing.

The Uchen form of Tibetan writing has heavy horizontal lines (heads) and tapering vertical lines. For Tibetan students of all ages this is the the most basic form of both handwriting and calligraphy. Students, including the Tibetan Buddhist nuns, must master this form of writing before moving on to other styles.

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A Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute writes a calligraphy exam. She is using Uchen (དབུ་ཅན།), the headed writing which is the same style of Tibetan script used in printed books for its clarity. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Unlike English, there is not a distinction in the Tibetan alphabet between capital letters and lowercase letters. There is only the one letter form in the printed form Uchen which is more like block printing. In fact, the Uchen form of Tibetan writing is used for wood block prints and on Tibetan prayer flags.

Umeh (Umê)

Another form of Tibetan writing is called Umeh (དབུ་མེད།) or “headless” form and this encompasses a range of different styles. Umeh is essentially cursive writing in various forms that may be used for inscriptions, formal letters, and correspondence. It looks quite different to Uchen because of the lack of the horizontal lines (heads) on top of the letters.

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Nuns are taught and examined on Tibetan language and Tibetan calligraphy. In this exam paper, a Tibetan Buddhist nun demonstrates her skill and knowledge of Drutsa, a form of “headless” cursive writing that is used for formal purposes. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

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Here are the words “Free Tibet” written in 4 styles of Tibetan calligraphy. The top is in Uchen, the printed form, followed by Tsukring, Paytsik, and Drutsa. At the bottom is the artist’s signature in Chuyig style. Photo and calligraphy by Tashi Mannox, Wikicommons.

There are many forms of Umeh writing, including:

  • Drutsa འབྲུ་ཚ། An artistic form of Tibetan calligraphy that is used for official documents and titles. With its long, tapered descending lines, Drutsa is both formal and more “flamboyant” that some other scripts.
  • Chuyig འཁྱུག་ཡིག། (also spelled Kyug’yig or Gyuk yig) means “fast letters” or “flowing script”. This form of cursive writing is used in day-to-day life for things such as informal handwritten notes and personal letters.
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This example of Tibetan calligraphy was pinned to a classroom bulletin board at Shugsep Nunnery. It was written by a nun in the Drutsa style of Tibetan writing. It says, “Even if one is not highly learned, if your handwriting is elegant like the shape of a fish, others will think you are highly learned, and therefore it is easy to write what you think and feel!”

What do Tibetan Buddhist nuns study?

We are often asked what the Tibetan Buddhist nuns study.

In addition to providing basic educational requirements, the Tibetan Nuns Project seeks to elevate the educational standards and the position of women within the monastic community. To prepare the nuns for positions of leadership and moral authority in a culture that is going through a very challenging transition, it is essential to combine traditional religious studies with aspects of a modern education.

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Nuns at Shugsep Nunnery learning geography. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

A primary goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to assist nuns in reaching the same level of education as the monks. Each of the four traditions schools of Tibetan Buddhism has its own specific curriculum and degrees attained, but much is shared. All are based on the teachings of the Buddha and the Indian commentaries that developed to explicate them.

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Nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley at an outdoor classroom. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

Exactly which commentaries the nuns most closely rely on varies between traditions as do the number of years of study, but there is uniformity as to the basic topics. Thus, all the nuns study:

  • Logic and Epistemology, which provide the basic tools for advanced philosophical study;
  • Perfection of Wisdom for understanding of the Buddhist path;
  • Middle Way for understanding of Buddhist philosophy; and
  • Tantra for the final level of teachings.

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Tibetan nuns Geshema Graduation Ceremony December 2016

This blog post is our special record of the historic milestone, the Geshema graduation ceremony, and is a permanent placeholder for the video of the event.

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

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the 20 Geshema graduates at the degree ceremony in Mundgod, December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of OHHDL.

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. The rigorous exam process for the Geshema degree takes a total of four years to complete. Each May  the nuns  took 12 days of exams to test their knowledge gained in a 17-year course of study.

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Nuns attending the first Geshema convocation at Drepung Lachi in Mundgod, Karnataka, India on December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

At the graduation ceremony, His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke about the important of education for women and girls. “Through the power of education, women have been able to rise up to prominent roles including leadership in various societies. Education has played a big role in the advancement of gender equality and material development,” His Holiness said.

Tibetan political leader Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay was also in attendance, offering congratulations for the nuns’ hard work and dedication.

As doctors of philosophy, the nuns will now be expected to teach, a role reserved only for men until this point.

Video of the Geshema Graduation Ceremony

The full graduation ceremony can be seen here:

Watch the Tibetan language version of the ceremony.

On the day following the ceremony, the Tibetan Nuns Project shared many messages of congratulation that came from around the world for the nuns.

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A joyous occasion. Some of the 20 nuns react to a comment by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The ceremony took place in the courtyard of Drepung Lachi Monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka, India on December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.