Tag Archives: nunnery life

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

 

Life during the monsoon

In India, the monsoon starts in late June and lasts until September. While the torrential rains are vital for agriculture and bring relief from scorching summer heat, the monsoon can also be deadly, causing floods and landslides. Less disastrously, the monsoon brings daily obstacles to everyone. Here’s how the nuns cope with the challenges of life during the monsoon.

At times this summer, the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, was the rainiest place in India. In August, it was headline news when monsoon rains broke a 60-year record and 292.4 mm of rain (over 11.5 inches) fell in 24 hours in Dharamsala, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and location of Geden Choeling Nunnery. The nearby Tibetan Buddhist nunneries of Dolma Ling, Shugsep, and Tilokpur have also been hit by close-to-record rainfalls this summer.

The Challenges of Life During the Monsoon

Here’s a video taken in July 2018 by the Nuns’ Media Team showing the rains at Dolma Ling Nunnery. The deep drainage ditches that weave around and through the nunnery complex to prevent flooding were almost overflowing.

Tibetan Nuns Project, Buddhist nunneries, Tibetan nunneries, Tibetan nuns, Buddhism in India,

Five of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project are located in parts of northern India that receive some of the heaviest rains in the country. Only Sherab Choeling Nunnery in Spiti and Dorjee Zong in Zanskar are spared the monsoon deluges, but they face other problems such as water shortages.

You Need a Good Roof

To cope with the monsoon, you need a good, solid, and well-maintained roof. In the early days of the Tibetan Nuns Project, before new nunneries were built, the nuns who had escaped from Tibet had to camp by the side of the road. The nuns were eventually moved into tents and a series of houses rented by the Tibetan Nuns Project, but the roofs couldn’t always cope with the monsoon rains. Dr. Elizabeth Napper recalls the house used by the Shugsep nuns: “Every available space was filled by a bed; even under the stairs there were beds. The structure was poorly built and rain would run down the walls during the monsoon. It was damp and moldy in there. It was awful.”

Now, thank goodness, all the nuns we support have more solid roofs over their heads. Their dormitories, classrooms, dining halls, kitchens, and libraries can remain dry. However, to remain strong these roofs must be maintained.

In September, we are launching a big project to repair and paint all the metal roofs at Shugsep Nunnery. We need help from our global family of supporters to make this happen. Learn more about the Shugsep Roof Project here. The roof is already rusting in places and, unless the painting is done this fall, the roof will fail.

Wear Plastic Shoes

Puddle jumping is a daily activity during the summer monsoon. There’s no point wearing leather shoes, which will only be destroyed by the damp. To keep one’s feet healthy and as dry as possible, plastic shoes and sandals are essential footwear for the nuns.

shoes outside of classroom, life during the monsoon, Tibetan nuns footwear, plastic sandals, how to cope with the monsoon, life during the monsoon

Nuns shoes outside of a classroom at Dolma Ling Nunnery on a nice day in May. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

The Art of Drying Clothing

One of the biggest challenges of life during the monsoon is laundering and drying clothes. This is true for everyone in India, but the situation for Tibetan Buddhist nuns (and monks) can be even trickier. Nuns and monks are traditionally allowed only two sets of robes so washing and, above all, drying robes during the monsoon is hard. The nuns seize opportunities when the sun is out to hang their robes and other clothing on fences etc. and, during showers, under overhanging balconies. The humidity is so relentless that things just don’t dry.

life during the monsoon, nuns clothing, coping with the monsoon, life during the monsoon

Nuns’ clothing drying on the nunnery rooftop. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The Challenge of Staying Healthy

Frequent rains make people more vulnerable to illness, especially through exposure to dirty water and the increase in waterborne diseases. During the monsoon, a number of illnesses increase. We are so grateful to the donors who helped with the urgent septic system repairs at both Dolma Ling and Shugsep. The repairs were completed in June before the onset of the monsoon, so this made both nunneries much safer for the nuns. Even so, the nuns must very careful about washing their vegetables during monsoon season to avoid contamination.

Secondly, getting partially wet or totally soaked from the rain water destabilizes your body temperature and makes you vulnerable to sickness. Fungal infections caused by wearing damp clothes and shoes are also a risk.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, nunnery life, life during the monsoon

Nuns washing vegetables. The monsoon rains bring an increase in water-borne illnesses. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

Making Friends with Animals and Insects

Just like humans, animals want to get in out of the rain. The nuns sometimes find that they have visitors to their nunneries, such as snakes, spiders, centipedes, and scorpions. Also, all that standing water becomes a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes, which are vectors for many diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. Dengue fever is communicated through mosquito bites and the most common symptoms are sudden onset of fever, headache, muscle and joint pains, and skin rashes. Some patients also develop symptoms which include vomiting, diarrhoea and loss of appetite.

Previously malaria and dengue have not been a problem for the nuns, but the risk may increase as the climate warms up and the storms become more intense. On August 31 2018, the Hindustan Times reported that so far during this rainy season there have been over 1,500 cases of dengue in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, the location of five of the seven nunneries we support.

Drainage Ditches Are Essential

Without drainage ditches to channel the water away, the nunneries would be flooded. The nuns work hard year-round to keep these all-important drainage ditches clean and working. One of the projects we’re working on this fall is to improve the drainage in and around the 8 retreat huts at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Some of the Geshema nuns are staying in the retreat huts while taking their two-year course in Buddhist tantric studies. We need to add gutters and drainpipes to the hut roofs huts so that the rainwater does not damage the walls and we need to add drainage ditches all around to prevent flooding. You can learn more about the project here. 

Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, coping with the monsoon

The nuns of Dolma Ling Nunnery clean the nunnery paths and drainage ditches daily. Photo courtesy of Dustin Kujawski

A taste of life at Dolma Ling Nunnery – with dal recipe

We wanted to give you a taste of life at the nunneries by sharing details of the nuns’ meals and also send you a delicious recipe for dal, Tibetan style, that you can try at home.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns making breakfast at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Tibetan Nuns Project

You have to get up VERY early to prepare breakfast for 230 nuns. Canadian photographer Brian Harris arrived in the kitchen of Dolma Ling Nunnery at about 3 am and found the nuns already at work making hundreds of parathas, an Indian dish of potato-filled fried bread. A typical breakfast for the nuns might be a piece of flatbread, cooked mixed vegetables, and tea.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns in kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Tibetan Nuns Project

All the food is vegetarian and is prepared by the nuns themselves. The head cook is always busy and the kitchen is spotless. The nuns rotate in and out of kitchen duties so everyone participates.

Lunch is the day’s main meal and is often rice, two kinds of vegetables, dal, and sometimes fruit. According to Brian, there’s also a knock-out nunnery hot sauce. Dinner is often a noodle soup and maybe a steamed bun.

A high-pitched gong sounds 3 times a day to announce meals.The senior nuns enter the dining hall first as the younger nuns, holding their bowls, cups and spoons, wait their turn. The dining hall also doubles as a place for the nuns to memorize the scriptures.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns chopping onions at Dolma Ling Nunnery - Brian Harris copy

Due to rapid inflation, rising food and fuel prices in India are putting a lot of pressure on all of the nunneries. In the last month, the price of onions has doubled. The price of cooking fuel – which was already expensive – has increased 5-fold in a year. The Tibetan Nuns Project is seeking more sponsors and supporters as we struggle to keep up with rising costs.

In July we launched a campaign to increase both donations and the number of sponsors. Thank you and welcome to our 34 new sponsors! To help with this campaign, with either a single gift or as a sponsor, please visit https://tnp.org.

Now here’s a recipe from our friends at Yowangdu Tibetan Culture for how to cook dal (or dal bhat) Tibetan style.

Dal bhat is a traditional Nepali or Indian food consisting of lentil soup (dal) served with rice (bhat), which Tibetans began to cook after coming into exile. Traditionally Tibetans in Tibet don’t cook dal, but it is a very common dish of Tibetans who live outside our country, especially those who live in India and Nepal.

Dal Bhat Recipe

Preparation time: 40 minutes (2 People)

Ingredients

  • 1 cup red lentils (masoor dal) (other types of dal can take much longer to cook)
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • ingredients for dal1 small red onion, chopped small
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon ginger, minced
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric*
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seeds*
  • ½ teaspoon coriander powder*
  • 1 medium tomato, diced
  • ½ tablespoon butter or ghee (optional, but it gives a nice flavor)
  • 2 tablespoons cilantro and/or green onion, chopped, for garnish
  • water, to make soup
  • basmati rice (or any kind you wish)
  • Indian chutney or pickle (achar) of your choice. We love Patak’s lime pickle. You can also find Patak’s at many other large grocery stores.
  • Optional: add pepper of your choice, or red pepper flakes.
  • If you prefer, you can use Shan Dal Curry Mix, or garam masala instead of the turmeric, cumin and coriander.

Preparation

  • Wash the lentils and rinse a couple of times. Be careful to remove any stones. If you have time, soak the lentils in water as long as you can, up to overnight, before you cook. They get very soft and can cook faster.
  • Begin preparing the rice any way you like so it will be ready when you’re done cooking the dal.
  • Chop your onion, and mince the garlic and ginger and set aside.
  • Chop the tomato and set aside.
  • Wash your cilantro and or green onion. Chop for garnish and set aside.
  • Heat oil on high for a minute or two.
  • Add ginger, garlic and onion, and stir fry on high until the onion is a little brown on the edges, 1-2 minutes.
  • Stir in cumin seeds, salt, turmeric, mustard seed and coriander powder. Turn the heat down to medium (6 out of 10 on our stove), and cook for 2 minutes, stirring often.
  • Note: The stove’s temperature will remain at medium (6/10) for the rest of the cooking process, and you will stir occasionally.
  • Add tomatoes and butter. Stir, cover with lid and cook for 4 minutes.
  • After 4 minutes, stir in the lentils, cover and cook for 5 minutes.
  • After cooking for 5 minutes, add one cup of water, cover with lid and cook for 5 more minutes.
  • When the 5 minutes are up, stir in 2 more cups of water, as the water will begin to decrease as you cook.
  • Continue cooking on medium for 10 minutes.
  • Now your dal is ready. Turn off the stove and sprinkle the chopped cilantro and/or green onion on top.

cooked dal Tibetan Nuns Project recipe

Serve

Serve with rice. Many Tibetans like to serve the dal in a small soup bowl, beside a plate of rice. Some people like to ladle the dal over the rice and mix it up to eat. Indians and Nepalis often eat dal baht with their hands, as do some Tibetans, but many of us also use a spoon.

Add some Indian chutney or pickle (achar) or hot sauce. We can’t more highly recommend the Patak’s Lime Pickle or relish, which is just heavenly and is perfectly complementary with this dal bhat. You can get it medium or hot. Medium is more spicy in a flavorful way than a hot way The hot has some bite!

(This recipe has been slightly edited for length. To see the full recipe and photos, as well as recipes for other Tibetan dishes such as momos and thukpa, visit Yowangdu Tibetan Culture’s website.)

Enjoy!

The Tibetan Nuns Project could not do what it does without the generous support of a caring community. Thank you again for your support.

To learn how you can help nourish the nuns bodies and minds with a single gift or as a sponsor, please visit https://tnp.org.