Tag Archives: Rinchen Khando Choegyal

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week

The first full week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States, so we’re taking this opportunity to celebrate the teachers at Tibetan Buddhist nunneries. Springtime is also the start of a new academic year at the nunneries in India so it’s a fitting time to honor the teachers who educate the nuns.

“Educating women is powerful,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nuns Project.

“It’s not just about books. It is also about helping nuns acquire the skills they need to run their own institutions and create models for future success and expansion. It’s about enabling the nuns to be teachers in their own right and to take on leadership roles at a critical time in our nation’s history.”

teacher appreciation, Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project, education of women, Tibetan nuns

A monk teaches Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. As more nuns take the highest degrees in their traditions, such as the Geshema degree, they will be qualified to teach. 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.

Because historically nuns have not had access to formal education, very few nuns are qualified to teach. The good news is that the situation is now changing. More nuns are receiving the highest degrees in their traditions.

Who Teaches the Nuns

One of our ongoing tasks is the recruitment of qualified teachers for the various nunneries that we support.

The teachers we employ in the seven nunneries we support are both monastic and lay. Monks (often Geshes and Khenpos) from the large monasteries and training institutes of the various Buddhist traditions teach Buddhist philosophy and debate.

March 2019 marked a big milestone. Two nuns with Geshema degrees were hired to teach Tibetan Buddhist philosophy at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. For the first time, nuns are being taught these topics by other nuns, rather than by monks. This achievement would not have been possible without the global family of supporters of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

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Photo of Delek Wangmo and other senior nuns in 2013 by Brian Harris. When she escaped from Tibet she could barely read. Now she is one of two Geshemas hired in March 2019 to teach at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

English is taught in the nunneries by lay women and men educated in the Indian university system. For the Tibetan language, we employ mostly young women and men who have come from Tibet in recent years. Recent refugees often have stronger Tibetan-language skills than their Indian-raised counterparts. Once they have completed a teacher-training course at nearby Sarah Institute, a branch of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, we and many other institutions in the exile community hire them to teach Tibetan language, literature, and grammar.

teacher appreciation, Geden Choeling Nunnery, education of women, Tibetan nuns

Teaching a Tibetan class at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Supporting the Nuns’ Teachers

The ultimate goal is to empower the nuns to become teachers and leaders in their own right and to help preserve Tibet’s unique culture and religion.

In addition to funding the salaries for teachers at the seven nunneries directly supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, each year we fund the salaries at a number of small nunneries in remote regions.

The annual cost of one teacher’s salary ranges from $1,500 to $5,000, depending on the location of the nunnery and the skills of the teacher, so the total annual budget for this program is approximately $40,000. We are very grateful to all those people who support our Teachers’ Salaries Fund.

What Do the Nuns Study

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.

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

At most nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, courses are also offered in Tibetan language, English, and computer skills, as well as in ritual arts such as sand mandalas and butter sculpture. The smaller nunneries in more remote areas are at earlier stages in the educational process.

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A lay teacher at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute teaches geography to the nuns. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

The Power of Educating the Nuns

Before the Chinese takeover of Tibet, there were at least 818 nunneries and nearly 28,000 nuns living in Tibet.

In an attempt to eliminate Buddhism in Tibet, more than 6,000 nunneries and monasteries were destroyed between 1959 and 1980. Monks and nuns in great numbers were imprisoned, tortured, and forced to give up the ordained way of life. Teaching, study, and prayer were strictly prohibited, and religious texts and objects were demolished.

Before the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, there wasn’t much education for Tibetan nuns, either in exile or inside Tibet. “Even when Tibet was free, nuns didn’t have much of an education,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal. “Of course, we had wonderful nunneries in Tibet, beautiful ones where the nuns were supported by their family members and treated very well, but mostly what the nuns did was spend their time in praying and meditating.”

“I must say that some nuns were very highly realized meditators, but in the sense of education that you and I know of today, they had none,” she said. “Which is why we are so happy that we have been able to make it possible in exile.”

Tibetan, Tibetan language, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

A Tibetan Buddhist nun reads and writes in Tibetan. Most nuns arriving in India had been denied basic educational opportunities in Tibet, including education in their own Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhist religious heritage. The majority of nuns arrived in India illiterate and unable to write their own names. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

“The protection of Tibetan language and its culture is not only about Tibetans in Tibet,” says Karma Tenzin, a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. “A proper access to the rich and profound Buddhist philosophy and epistemology is possible only through Tibetan language.”

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.

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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.” Continue reading

Geshemas graduates celebrated at Dolma Ling Nunnery

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

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

Tibetan Buddhist nun, Geshema, khatas, ceremonial scarves

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

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

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

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

Continue reading

Sharing your words with the Geshema nuns

Last spring, we asked our global community of supporters if they would like to share messages of congratulations to the 20 nuns who were receiving their Geshema degree on December 22, 2016.

The Geshema degree, known as Geshe when awarded to male monks, is conferred after at least 17 years of rigorous study of the five main Buddhist texts, combined with a regular session of prayers and recitations.

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Lisa Farmer, Executive Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, showing the messages of congratulations to the Geshema nuns. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

We included brightly colored cards with our spring 2016 letter and many of our donors mailed back lovely messages for the nuns. You can see and read some of the messages in our earlier blog post.

Today’s blog post is a special one to report back to everyone who sent a message to the nuns.

On December 23, 2016 in Mundgod, South India, the Executive Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, Lisa Farmer, sat down with the nuns after a special luncheon and read the congratulations messages to them.

“The nuns were really moved,” said Farmer. “They were amazed that people from all over the world had been following their progress and had taken the time and trouble to send warm words of congratulations and best wishes for their futures.”

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Lisa Farmer reading congratulations messages sent from Tibetan Nuns Project supporters around the world to the nuns who graduated with their Geshema degree. Photo courtesy of Delek Yangdon.

messages to Geshema nuns

The conferment of the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was a longstanding wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and reflects a historic milestone, as the degree was only awarded in the past to monks.

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Collage of photos from the Geshema graduation event on December 22, 2016. Photos courtesy of Olivier Adam and OHHDL.

At the graduation ceremony on December 22nd, 2016, the Tibetan political leader, Sikyong Dr. Lobsang Sangay, welcomed the conferment of the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns as a step towards gender equality in education. “I heartily congratulate the twenty nuns who are receiving the Geshema degree. This is a result of your hard work and dedication,” he said.

He also expressed his gratitude to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for envisioning this step. “His Holiness the Dalai Lama is instrumental in making possible the historic conferment of the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns. We owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Rinchen Khandro Choegyal, Geshema, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project

Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the founder and director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, congratulates the Geshema nuns at a special luncheon in their honor on December 23 2016 in Mundgod. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

 

Our visit to Dorjee Zong Nunnery by Rinchen Khando Choegyal

This is a special report from Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founder and Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project and Tsering Diki, Project Co-Ordinator. The beautiful photos are all by media nun, Delek Yangdron, who accompanied us on the trip.

Dorjee Zong Nunnery low resIn August 2015, we travelled for three days over rough, bumpy roads from Leh in Ladakh to Zanskar, a remote area in northern India. Located in this majestic, arid landscape is Dorjee Zong Nunnery, home to 19 nuns.

It was good to see the nuns and the nunnery once again. Since 2010 the Tibetan Nuns Project has been helping this small nunnery with sponsorship and a teacher’s salary, and it was wonderful to see the assistance we have been providing used to the fullest extent. The nuns are very happy to be receiving support and care from us and their sponsors.
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During our short visit, the Director gave a warm and personal talk to all of the nuns and we could see how inspired they were and how cared for they felt. This was encouraging and inspiring for those of us who are trying to work for them.nuns, Buddhist nuns, Dorje Zong Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project, sponsor a nun
There are 12 young nuns and 7 elder nuns. The younger nuns looked very bright and happy to be where they are, and we felt energized to help them even more. Our focus will be mainly on education, health care, and overall development, including setting up infrastructure for an education system and facilitating a good educational programme. Continue reading

2013 Milestone: Geshema Exams for the Tibetan Nuns

May 2013 marked the beginning of the first ever Geshema examinations. After years of rigorous study, 27 nuns from 5 nunneries – 6 from Jangchub Choeling, 7 from Jamyang Choeling, 2 from Geden Choeling, 2 from Khacho Gakyiling (Kopan) and 10 from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute – gathered at Jamyang Choeling near Dharamsala, India, to complete the first round of a four-year examination process.

The nuns were tested on a variety of areas of study, including the Perfection of Wisdom, the Middle Way, and other subjects such as Tibetan grammar and science through both written examination and demonstration of their debating skills.

Tibetan nuns debate Geshema exams May 2013


In July, just in time for the celebrations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday, the examination results for the first round of examinations were released with the very good news that 25 of the 27 candidates successfully passed the first round. If these nuns can continue to successfully demonstrate their knowledge over the next three years, they will be awarded the prestigious Geshema degree.

The Geshema degree will be the highest degree in Buddhist philosophy for nuns. A basic requirement for the nuns to take the exams is to have completed the full 17-year course of study with average marks of 75% or higher.

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The opportunity to take the examinations to earn this degree has been made available especially by the continuous support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the dedication of the nuns, and the Department of Religion and Culture of the Kasur Rinchen Khando la meeting with the nuns Central Tibetan Administration. The Tibetan Nuns Project and its supporters have also played a significant role in making this landmark achievement possible, working over the past 25 years to increase the educational level of the nuns.

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Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the founder of the Tibetan Nuns Project, addresses the nuns at the Geshema exams.

The higher-level educational opportunities that nuns have today were not always available, creating a gap between the education of monks and nuns. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked to close this gap and prepare the nuns to demonstrate their skills and learning. The debating practice that nuns undertake daily, as well as at the annual Jang Gönchoe inter-nunnery debate, have been highly beneficial to the nuns, expanding their understanding of the Buddhist philosophical texts and allowing them to develop the debating skills that are tested during the Geshema exams.

Congratulations to all the nuns who have successfully completed the first round of exams!

low res Yangdron_Delek_2013_05_GeshemeExam_20 copyEstablished in 1987, the Tibetan Nuns Project provides education and support to more than 700 nuns in northern India.

 

 

A Message from the Directors of the Tibetan Nuns Project

5 Tibetan Buddhist nuns hold a thank you sign in Tibetan and EnglishThank you for being a supporter of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

You are part of a community of compassionate people who care deeply about providing equal access to education for ordained Buddhist women, about the Dharma, and about preserving Tibet’s unique culture.

We wanted to share with you some of our achievements this year that you’ve helped make possible:

  • 23 nuns reached an historic milestone when they sat the first part of the Geshema exam in May, like a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism;
  • 8 retreat huts at Dolma Ling Nunnery have been built and furnished. Now, for the first time, the nuns of Dolma Ling can go on retreat;
  • Over 400 nuns from 8 nunneries in India and Nepal have participated in the month-long Jang Gonchoe debate session in October, a special step in their learning;
  • Over 700 nuns living in exile have been provided with food, shelter, education and health care.

We still need your help urgently.

Within Tibet the situation is truly dire. There is no real freedom for the nuns there to practice their religion. They, like their sisters in India, wish nothing more than to live, study, practice, and teach in accordance with their spiritual beliefs. With your help we can ensure the survival of Tibet’s religion and culture and we can offer refuge to those who have escaped and help heal their trauma.

Inflation and rising food prices in India are stressing all of the nunneries. With hundreds of mouths to feed each day, you can imagine the effect of skyrocketing food and fuel prices. Sponsorship dollars were only meeting about 2/3rd of the daily needs of the nuns so we did a big sponsorship push this summer. We are incredibly grateful to everyone who signed up as a sponsor, who renewed a past sponsorship, or who generously agreed to increase their sponsorship contribution.

HERE ARE 7 WAYS YOU CAN HELP THE NUNS:

1. SPONSOR A NUN
For $1 a day you can sponsor a nun and help provide her with food, shelter, education and health care. 100% of the funds go directly to India and you will receive updates about the impact of your gifts.

2. MAKE A SINGLE DONATION
We have a number of current projects where you can direct your gifts or you can make an undesignated gift and we will direct the funds where they are needed most.

3. LEAVE A LEGACY OF COMPASSION
By including a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project, you will be leaving a legacy of compassion that will have a ripple effect for generations to come.

4. GIVE A GIFT IN HONOR OF SOMEONE
Celebrate a loved one this holiday season, thank a spiritual teacher, or honor the memory of someone with a gift. When you make a tribute gift, we can send a beautiful card to the person being honored.

5. BUY TNP PRODUCTS
We always have a range of products available through our online shop or by calling the office. Our products include the 2014 Calendar, malas, prayer flags, TNP sweatshirts, and much more. Many of the products are made by the nuns to generate income for the nunneries.

6. DEDICATE PRAYERS
Through our online shop you can request that the nuns say prayers or perform special pujas for you or for someone dear to you who may need spiritual help.

7. DO YOUR OWN THING!
Explore your own creative idea for helping the nuns. Every little bit helps. Whether it’s hosting a house party using our kit or coming up with your own idea, like New York artist Miya Ando who created a series of glowing “Prayer Flag” paintings and auctioned them off raising over $4,000 to help with the nuns Media Center and Café at Dolma Ling.

We’re going to give the last word to one of our supporters who wrote to tell us why the Tibetan Nuns Project was important to her:

“Each aspect you are addressing is important not just to these women, but to women, refugees, Buddhists and non-Buddhist religious women EVERYWHERE. This is a model for the future for any group of displaced, religiously persecuted, and in-need-of-support-to-sustain-themselves group. I applaud the efforts of your organization very highly.”
Linda Anne, Idyllwild CA

With our deepest thanks for your compassion and generosity,

 

Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Director
Elizabeth Napper, Co-Director

Rinchen Khando Choegyal interviewed in Tricycle Magazine

Rinchen Khando ChoegyalThe Winter 2013 issue of Tricycle Magazine features an interview with Tibetan Nuns Project founder and co-director, Rinchen Khando Choegyal.

The article, entitled “Standing as Equals” is written by Barbara Gates.

In the sitting room at Kashmir Cottage, situated between the main town of Dharamsala and the area that is the seat of the exiled Tibetan government in India, I shared a pot of ginger tea with Rinchen Khando Choegyal, founder and director of the Tibetan Nuns Project and wife of the younger brother of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I enjoyed the resonant cadence of her voice as she described the history of the project and the work of women, lay and monastic, in keeping alive the teachings of the Buddha and the richness of Tibetan culture amid the hardships of exile.

Rinchen Khando was born in eastern Tibet; her parents, from a farming and business background, were, as she put it, “well-to-do, but very devout and simple people.” At the end of 1958, her family came to India for a pilgrimage to Bodh Gaya and Varanasi. The plan was to leave the young Rinchen in India to attend a boarding school run by Catholic nuns. But before her parents returned home, the Chinese invaded Tibet. Since then, her family has lived in India. “Because we were already in India in 1959,” said Rinchen Khando, “we were saved.” They’d left behind almost everything they had.

cover of Winter 2013 Tricycle magazineIn 1987, together with other activist women in the exile community, Rinchen Khando established the Tibetan Nuns Project (TNP). The project is committed to education, empowerment and improved status for ordained Tibetan women. It now supports over 700 Tibetan nuns living in North India. Continue reading

The nuns need your help

The following is a message from Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Director and Elizabeth Napper, Co-Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Due to rapid inflation in India, our sponsorship program is unable to keep up with the rising cost of living for the nuns. For instance, the cost of a tank of cooking gas has more than doubled in the past year, putting a huge strain on all the nunneries.

The Tibetan Nuns Project sponsorship program currently supports over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in 7 nunneries in northern India, as well as numerous nuns living on their own.

For less than $1 a day, you can help provide a nun’s basic necessities including shelter, food, education, and health care.

By becoming a sponsor you will also help:

  • Build self-sufficiency through skills training opportunities
  • Train nuns to take leadership and service roles within their communities
  • Improve the level and status of ordained Buddhist women 

100% of your sponsorship money goes directly to the nunneries in India. 

Your gifts will help nuns like Kelsang, age 78 from a village in Amdo, the eastern province of Tibet.

Here is Kelsang’s story:

My family belonged to a farming community. We grew barley, wheat, peas, buckwheat and different kinds of vegetables. We also kept yaks and sheep. Until the age of 20, I remained with my family helping them in the fields. This I guess was perhaps the best part of my life. Then the Chinese came. Continue reading

Tibetan Nuns Granted the Opportunity for Geshema Degree

After years of deliberation, Tibetan Buddhist nuns are finally set to receive Geshema degrees, or the equivalent of a PhD in Buddhist Philosophy.

The Central Tibetan Administration reached this unanimous and historic decision on May 19th 2012 after a two-day meeting in Dharamsala attended by high lamas, representatives of nuns from six different nunneries, and members from the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Previously, Geshe degrees were open only to Tibetan monks. Now nuns will be allowed to appear for the doctorate exams. Continue reading