The story of the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute is one of perseverance, dedication, and hope.
Forty-nine Shugsep nuns have now attained the Lopon degree, equivalent to a Master’s degree. This is one of the highest degrees the nuns can achieve in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Nyingma (Tibetan རྙིང་མ་) or “school of the ancients” traces its origins to Guru Padmasambhava who came to Tibet in 817 CE.
Until very recently, Tibetan Buddhist nuns had little opportunity to receive training in Buddhist practice and knowledge. Nuns were considered to be second rank. It is a historic achievement for nuns to reach this high academic level and to become teachers, leaders, and role models. Their success is even more remarkable given the many obstacles on their path.
“In a way 30 years is a long time, but when it’s creating history it is not very long,” said Rinchen Khando Choegyal, TNP’s Founding Director and Special Advisor. This photo was taken in 1991 by Susan Lirakis. The nuns arrived from Tibet with nothing, 99% not knowing how to read and write, traumatized in the prisons, beaten by the prison guards, and with all kinds of health problems.
Educating women and girls is a powerful way to change the world. It is only through education that women will rise and attain equal footing. For Tibetans, struggling to preserve their culture and religion in exile, it is even more critical.
These senior nuns are now qualified to teach. Nine of the Lopons have taken on regular teaching responsibilities at Shugsep. They also teach yearly at Tashi Choling Nunnery in Arunachal Pradesh on a rotation basis.
The Lopons teach philosophy to the nuns at Shugsep, as well as teaching the youngest nuns reading, writing, basic Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, rituals, and the basics of debate. This gives them the groundwork they need before they merge into the mainstream Nyingma education which takes nine years to complete and receive the degree.
Historic Graduation Ceremony
On October 28 2022, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute held a historic graduation ceremony in which Pharchin, Uma and Lopon nuns were given their graduation certificates.
At a historic graduation ceremony on October 28, 2022, twelve senior nuns were present to receive their Lopon degrees from Khenchen Pema Sherab. These senior nuns had completed their Lopon degrees from 2010 to 2022, but this was their chance to finally receive their official degree certificates.
Many dignitaries attended the graduation event including Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the Tibetan Nuns Project’s Founding Director and Special Advisor, representatives from the Religious Department and Health Department of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Head of Mentseekhang, and representatives from various monasteries and nunneries.
Helping Shugsep Nunnery and Institute
Shugsep Nunnery is now home to about 100 nuns. Shugsep was re-established in India and officially inaugurated in December 2010. It is one of two nunneries built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.
In April a generous donor gave $5,000 as a matching gift to help finish the circumambulatory path which the nuns want to complete before the summer monsoon. So if you donate now your gift will be doubled.
A path inside the nunnery grounds will provide all the nuns with safe, regular exercise and allow them to practice kora, the act of walking around a sacred place which is a form of pilgrimage and meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.
The retreat center is a bigger project. To become fully qualified teachers, the senior nuns at Shugsep need a place where they can go on retreat and consolidate their learning. Because there are no retreat facilities at the nunnery, many nuns have been forced to go to Nepal or to the caves at Tso Pema to do retreats. They would like to be able to practice retreat together within Shugsep Nunnery where they will have access to the effective guidance of a proper teacher as well as good basic amenities.
The Shugsep nuns have made huge strides, but there is still more to be done to empower them and preserve their rich wisdom tradition. Thank you for caring about them!
When many nuns from Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet escaped to India they lived in an old, mouldy rented house and had classes outside on the roof. Now they are making history, graduating with high academic degrees and becoming teachers. Thank you for supporting these brave, dedicated women!
To support Tibetan Buddhist nuns, here are our major projects for 2022. Please help us make them a reality.
Urgent Water Project
An urgent water project is needed for the nuns and teachers at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Right now, they don’t have enough water and what little they have is often polluted.
The cost to the nuns is $29,680 and includes the catchment, storage, chlorination, and piping of the water for 400 residents of Dolma Ling. The new water system will serve the entire campus, including the nuns’ housing blocks, the teachers’ housing, the medical clinic, and the guesthouse.
Nuns cleaning the water reservoir at Dolma Ling. Please help the nuns have a safe, reliable supply of water!
The new water system will be half funded by the local government and will also benefit 800 residents of the village below the nunnery.
The nuns had been asking for a reliable, safe supply of water for years. The current situation is very difficult to manage and it also strains the relationship of the nunnery with the local people.
The 62 nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery need a vehicle to transport people and supplies. The vehicle will also transport nuns for medical care.
The nuns at Sherab Choeling, a remote nunnery high in the Himalayas, need a vehicle. Photo by Olivier Adam.
Their existing vehicle is very old and it is hard to get parts for repairs. Sherab Choeling is a remote nunnery in the Spiti Valley, high in the Indian Himalayas. The area’s roads are infamous for their landslides, rocks, and bad conditions.
The total cost of the 10-seat, multi-purpose vehicle is $29,500. This includes taxes, registration, insurance, and warranty for repairs.
Every day the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute practice monastic debate. The nuns have asked for help to expand the covered area of the debate courtyard.
Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to learn and practice Tibetan Buddhist debate. Now they have opportunity, but lack the protected space.
The debate courtyard lacks enough covered and protected space to accommodate all the nuns. To practice debate, pairs of nuns must spread out. Due to a lack of space, many of the nuns must practice on the lawn under the hot sun and open to the elements.
Monsoon clouds loom over the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling. The nuns need your help to increase the protected covered space. Photo courtesy of Mati Bernabei.
Summers are becoming hotter and the monsoon rains stronger. When it rains, the nuns must move to the main hall and the corridors for their daily debate sessions, but these areas are very crowded and restricted.
Monastic debate helps nuns improve their logical thinking and expand their understanding of the texts. Improving the debate facilities at Dolma Ling is also important for the annual month-long debate training session when nuns from multiple nunneries come together to compete in debate.
The nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute need a 10-seat vehicle for all their tasks transporting nuns and supplies. The vehicle will also be used to take nuns for medical care.
The current vehicle at Shugsep Nunnery is old and falling apart. The model was discontinued five years ago so parts are hard to find and expensive.
The nuns currently use a 13-year-old Chevrolet Tavera that is falling apart. The model was discontinued in 2017 and there are growing problems with repairs and maintenance. The nuns have done their best to keep their old vehicle running, but parts are very hard to find and extremely expensive.
The total cost of the new multi-purpose vehicle is $29,500. This includes taxes, registration, insurance, and warranty for repairs.
The heavy rains which fell on July 12th are set to continue for the next several days and the India Meteorological Department has issued a Severe Rainfall Alert. Authorities have told tourists to avoid Himachal Pradesh due to the present situation.
Dharamsala is the home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the seat of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan government-in-exile. Many Tibetan refugees live there and it is the site of many Tibetan Buddhist nunneries and monasteries.
Dramatic videos after a cloudburst in McLeod Ganj, upper Dharamsala, show several cars being swept away as muddy water rushed through the hillside town. The rains also damaged many buildings. The local airport in Gaggal cancelled all incoming flights.
The Nuns’ Media Team at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have helped capture the situation through video and photographs. Here’s a video of the rains at Dolma Ling. (Can’t see the video? Click here.)
Dolma Ling Water Supply Damaged
The monsoon damaged the water channels and lines that provide 80% of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute’s water. As the rains abated on July 13th, the nuns, staff, and teachers from Dolma Ling worked all day with local people on repairs. Without these channels the nunnery could face an acute water shortage. By the end of the day, the supply lines were fixed and the nunnery was able to access the water that they needed. Here’s another video. (Can’t see it, click here.)
In February 2021, the Tibetan Nuns Project asked for help to fund solar lights at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute. You responded magnificently and the project was fully funded by the end of the month.
We’re delighted to report back on the completed solar light project and to share photos with you. The nuns and the head of the nunnery, Khenpo Namgyal, are very grateful to all those who supported this project. We’ll report back on other parts of the Shugsep project such as the dough machine as soon as possible.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep dig a hole to install some of the new solar lights at the nunnery.
Solar Lights for Safety and Education
Earlier this year, the nuns and staff at Shugsep Nunnery asked for a number of solar-powered lights. They needed this lighting both for security and to enable the nuns to study outside their rooms in the evenings.
The lights arrived at the nunnery this spring. The nuns and staff helped to install them so there was no need to bring outside workers into the nunnery. This was especially important because it helped to keep the nuns safe from COVID-19.
The balconies outside the nuns’ rooms needed two solar lights each. The nuns also installed lights in each of the two garden areas in front of the main temple. The road to the nunnery gate was very dark. Now the the solar lights on the road brighten the path, keeping the nuns safe and allowing them to study at night.
A Nyingma nunnery, Shugsep traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. In the previous century, Shugsep Nunnery was home to one of the most famous teachers of her time, Shugsep Jetsunma.
The majority of the nuns studying in Shugsep Nunnery near Dharamsala came from the original Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet. Their nunnery was destroyed following the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the nuns were forced to leave. Although in the 1980s the nuns partially rebuilt the original Shugsep, they faced frequent harassment by Chinese authorities and many escaped to India.
Now nuns have the opportunity to participate in a nine-year academic program of Buddhist philosophy, debate, Tibetan language, and English.
Since late 2019, the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute wanted to proceed with two big repair projects, but both had to be put on hold because of the pandemic.
In February 2021, as the number of coronavirus cases in the area dropped, the nuns were finally able to undertake two projects with a significant impact on their daily lives. The nuns are so grateful to the donors that made this work possible.
What a Relief! New Security Wall for the Nunnery
The nuns are finally safe from prying eyes and dangerous intruders.
When Shugsep Nunnery was first built, it was in a small village at the end of a tiny road. However, over time, several new buildings have come up around the nunnery including a large private school with its entrance immediately behind the nunnery grounds.
Fortunately, in designing the nunnery, the plans left a 20-metre distance between the upper housing wing and the back boundary wall. This area is mostly covered in old mango trees. The trees form a buffer between the nuns’ living quarters and the activity of the nearby private school.
Privacy and security have been restored at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute thanks to this new wall funded by Tibetan Nuns Project supporters. The nuns are extremely grateful.
However, because the level of the road behind the nunnery grounds was raised by the school, the perimeter wall which was once an 8-foot-high wall and topped with barbed wire was reduced to just 4 feet above road level. This meant that the nuns lost their privacy and schoolchildren, bus drivers, and passers-by could clearly see over the wall into the nunnery.
Although the nuns tried to be tolerant of being stared at, they were reluctant to sit on their verandas to study and they felt inhibited about using the bathrooms at the end of the building. The situation also became dangerous. There were some frightening intrusions into the nunnery by youths who broke down the barbed wire and climbed over the wall. It was clear that the wall had to be improved as soon as possible.
However, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nuns could not raise the height of the wall in 2020. Fortunately, the adjacent private school was closed for the whole year.
The nuns were able to start the work in February 2021, adding another 4 feet in height along the length of the wall in front of the school. Now that the neighboring school has reopened, the view into the nunnery is blocked and the nuns feel very relieved.
The nuns have tidied the area behind the newly repaired wall. They can now use this secluded, shady area under the mango trees as a place to practice Tibetan Buddhist debate.
It is gratifying to see how the nuns’ relief has translated into their efforts to make the area pleasant. The nuns have worked hard clearing and levelling the area under the trees so they will be able to use it as a shady debate yard.
The nuns are extremely grateful to have their security and privacy restored.
Project approved to start: 10/12/19. Start delayed due to the pandemic.
Project started: 15th January 2021
Project completed: 22nd February 2021
Total cost: Rs. 1,17,715 which is roughly US $1,620
Scope of work:
A. Raised wall height with dressed stone, sand, bajari, and cement. Rs. 1,01,715 ($1,400)
B. Provided and fixed poles Rs. 11,000 ($151)
C. Removed old fence wire and re-fixed wire Rs. 5,000. ($69)
No More Leaks: Water Tank Repair
Shugsep Nunnery depends on the large double-story concrete water tank on the slope behind the nuns’ housing wing. The municipal water lines do not provide enough water to cover the needs of the nunnery and the tank is fitted so that it can be supplied by pumping from the bore well. After 12 years, the tank itself was in a very dilapidated condition and was seriously leaking.
After researching the best way to repair the tank, the nuns hired a local contractor to re-seal the inside of the tank with marble chips and to re-plaster and paint the outside. They also needed to repair and replace the plumbing lines.
The nuns had to purchase the marble chip material as a truckload from Rajasthan. The plan was to use the same material to seal the Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute water catchment. The order for both nunneries was placed in October 2019 and, when the materials arrived, they were stored at Dolma Ling because their water project repairs had to be done first. The Dolma Ling work was completed in December 2019.
The newly repaired and painted water tanks at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute. The work was delayed for a year due to the pandemic and the nuns are very grateful that the work was able to be completed.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the work of repairing the Shugsep water tank was put off until the end of 2020 when, with the reduced virus caseload, the nuns felt secure enough to agree to allow workmen into the back of the nunnery compound. The work was done in stages, fixing one tank and then the other so that the nuns always had some water supply.
The new water tanks look very clean and professionally repaired. The nuns are very happy that the water tanks are working well and no longer leak. The nuns are very grateful to the Tibetan Nuns Project donors for making this improvement to their facilities possible.
Project approved to start 10/10/19. Start delayed due to pandemic.
Project started: 15th December 2020
Completed: 1st February 2021
Cost of contract: Rs.169,720 (approximately $2,335)
Scope of work:
A. Provided and laid marble chips including chipping off and cleaning the old plaster and flooring. Rs. 1,36,720 ($1,881)
B. Removed and replaced water lines and fittings, gate valves unions, etc. Rs. 19,000 ($261)
C. Painted external areas of tanks, pillars etc. using waterproof paint: Rs. 14,000 ($193)
We’ve launched a fundraising campaign to raise $8,450 and supporters can donate here.
Solar Lights So the Nuns Can Study
The nuns and staff at Shugsep Nunnery have asked for solar-powered lights, both for security and so they can study outside their rooms in the evening. The balconies outside the nuns’ rooms need two solar lights each and we’d also like to install lights in each of the two garden areas in front of the main temple. The road to the nunnery gate is very dark, so two solar lights on the road would brighten the path and also help the students study at night.
A nun at Dolma Ling studies at night by lamplight. The nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute have requested solar-powered lights so that the nuns can study and also for security. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.
Kitchen Equipment Needed
Shugsep Nunnery and Institute is home to 76 nuns plus staff. To make bread and dumplings twice a day for close to 100 people is a challenge. The nuns need a dough-making machine to lighten the considerable workload in preparing dough for bread and Tibetan dumplings.
The nuns have requested a dough-making machine and a fridge-freezer for the kitchen at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, home to 76 Tibetan Buddhist nuns. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.
To reduce food waste and save costs by making food last longer, the nuns need a fridge/freezer so that they can purchase more food in bulk at a time since, during the pandemic, it is not always possible to go shopping. The nuns also need two steel shelf units for their pantry to help organize their food supplies.
In addition, the plastic chairs purchased for the dining hall 15 years ago are falling apart and it is time to replace them. The nuns want to avoid plastic and are happy to use wooden benches. The ceiling fans in the dining hall have also worn out and need replacing.
Prayer Hall Tables
The nuns at Shugsep have asked for 15 low tables for the prayer hall and 2 higher tables for the presiding masters or teachers. The office also requires a new large wooden storage unit for keeping the files.
Shugsep traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. Tables are needed in the prayer hall for the nuns and their teachers. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.
Our goal is to raise $8,450 to fund all the items requested by the nuns.
You can help the nuns at Shugsep with this essential equipment and furniture.
As 2020 draws to a close, we wanted to update you with slideshows and news from all the nunneries and institutions in India that we support. if you sponsor a nun, scroll down to her nunnery and find the associated slideshow.
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DOLMA LING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
COVID-life Dolma Ling
Due to the pandemic, the nunnery was put on lockdown from March 2020. Many of the nuns’ classes were put on hold until July, but the nuns continued to study on their own and also do prayers for all sentient beings during this difficult time. For safety, the nuns no longer gathered together for morning assembly, meals, or pujas. The nunnery has been closed throughout for outsiders, and staff and teachers were only allowed to go out of the nunnery complex once a week if necessary.
The main gate of the nunnery remains closed and notices have been posted to ensure that no one enters without permission. The nuns created a makeshift gatekeeper room and every day. two nuns wearing masks take turns to guard the gate, with an electronic thermometer, hand sanitizer, and materials to sanitize things such as food and fuel canisters ready to hand. Essentials such as vegetables, rice, flour, and fuel are kept at the gate under the sun for hours and sanitized properly before being brought into the nunnery.
During the holy month of Saga Dawa which this year ran from May 23 to June 21, the nuns once again read the Kangyur, the spoken words of the Buddha, and Tengyur, the Tibetan collection of commentaries to the Buddhist teachings. Together, the 108-volume Kangyur and the 225-volume Tengyur form the basis of the Tibetan Buddhist canon. The texts were divided among the nuns. The nuns maintained physical distancing while reciting the texts in their rooms, on the verandahs, in the dining hall, and in the prayer hall. It took about three days for the nuns to complete the reading of the whole set. The nuns also marked Saga Dawa with the burning of juniper branches.
On August 24, the nuns held their annual academic award ceremony, an event that usually takes place in late March or early April. It was the first time since the pandemic began that the nuns assembled in such a big group. Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nun’s Project, was the guest of honor and other special guests were Mrs. Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project and Mr. Norman Steinberg. The nuns received awards for academic achievement in their classes, the inter-house quiz competition, the handwriting competition, and memorization exams.
Since good nutrition is crucial for health, particularly in times when the immune system might need to fight back. the nuns are regularly making tofu for meals. Fruits and vegetables and juices are given to the nuns. Meals are eaten in the nuns’ respective rooms or apart in the courtyard.
Shugsep Nunnery and Institute
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHUGSEP. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
When the first lockdown of the year was announced, the senior nuns were in Bylakuppee, South India to where they were attending a special teaching from Khenchen Namdrol Rinpoche. With the travel restrictions, the senior nuns had to remain in south India for a couple of months. Eventually, the senior nuns were able to return to Shugsep they quarantined for the required period. After the quarantine, they took COVID-19 tests and all tested negative.
To prevent the disease from spreading inside the nunnery, we shut the gate to visitors and all the transactions for prayers were done online. We had the basic necessities delivered to our gate so that we could stay isolated. We also barred the staff and students from leaving the nunnery grounds until and unless it was urgent. Weekend outings for the students were cancelled and the staff were strictly instructed not to leave the premises without permission.
In mid-June, the results of the annual exams for 2019-20 were announced and classes for 2020 officially began in July. At the beginning of August, the summer retreat started and lasted for 45 days from August 4 to September 17. During that period, we organized a lot of debates, essay competitions, and public speaking for the students.
Recently, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute had a drawing competition among the younger students and we are glad that all of them participated and showed their talents. Classes stopped on December 14th for the annual examinations with a study holiday of one week after every test. The examinations begin on December 24th and the last tests will be on January 25th.
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT GEDEN CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
At the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, all the major routine activities of the nuns such as in-person classes, debating practice, group religious activities, and other social and cultural gatherings were stopped. However, the ten nuns preparing for the Geshema exams continued to attend regular classes taught by the three Buddhist philosophy teachers. All the other nuns have been learning through online classes run by their respective teachers who also provide notes and homework. The nuns memorize texts and are doing well in their studies in their rooms and are always in touch with their teachers.
In terms of health care and emotional matters, all the nuns are in good health. They received frequent talks and advice from Geden Choeling Nunnery’s Abbot, office administrator, teachers, and Gekoe (Disciplinarian) to keep them mentally strong without any fear and anxiety during this pandemic period.
All the nuns and staff members are restricted from visiting outside places and the market area since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. No visitors are allowed in the institute, except for prayer offerings by the well-wisher. The nuns maintain daily hygiene and sanitation using sanitizing spray for COVID-19.
Finally, the nuns hold regular prayer sessions twice a day from 6-7:30 a.m. and from 3:30 to 4:30 pm.
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT TILOKPUR. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
Here’s an update on the current condition of Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling at Tilokpur and the nuns’ activities and initiatives over the last couple of months during this pandemic. In general, so far, the 87 nuns are mentally and physically healthy and doing well. To cope with this pandemic, they are strictly following all the basic instructions provided by the government and their medical assistant, such as hand sanitizing, wearing masks, and maintaining physical distancing. The nuns are still not allowed to leave the nunnery except for the kitchen runner. No visitors are allowed to enter the nunnery grounds.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Tilokpur Nunnery receiving handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteers at Wool-Aid
In December, the nuns received two large boxes of handknitted sweaters, hats, and mittens donated by the volunteer knitters at Wool-Aid.
In terms of education and other activities, the nuns are continuing with their philosophy classes, monastic debate practice, and computer learning in person, with only English classes being taught online. The younger nuns are also learning painting and drawing. The nunnery holds two prayer sessions each day, in the morning and evening, to pray for all sentient beings and for the betterment of this world.
The nuns wrote, “We are making our best attempt not to get caught with any virus in the community so everyone remains safe and healthy. We hope that this pandemic will finish soon and that everyone can enjoy normal living.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SHERAB CHOELING. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
When the pandemic hit in mid-February 2020, 44 of the nuns from Sherab Choeling were away from the nunnery in the town of Hamirpur so that they could continue their philosophy classes with their philosophy teachers who were there. Shortly after, the coronavirus lockdown in India happened and all classes were suspended. Eventually, the nuns were able to arrange for two buses to take them and their two teachers back to Sherab Choeling.
The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote Spiti Valley marked the holy month of Saga Dawa as always with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows. During the holy month, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well-being. The nuns also offered the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch.
Dorjee Zong Nunnery
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT DORJEE ZONG. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
DZyoung nuns 2
elder nuns working 1
Dorjee Zong Nunnery is one of the oldest centres of monastic education in Zanskar and has a long tradition of meditating nuns, some of who are famed for having reached high levels of realization. This remote 700-year-old nunnery now provides much-needed educational opportunities for young girls and women.
In 2019, Dorjee Zong began a major expansion project and good progress was made last year. The housing block and the structure of a multi-purpose two-story building were completed before extreme weather shut down construction in October. The two-story building contains the kitchen, dining hall, storeroom on the ground floor and, on the upper floor, the prayer hall and a conference hall.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit India in the spring, we feared that no construction would be possible because most of the labor force comes from Nepal and strict restrictions would prevent their travel. However, in July and August, the nunnery was able to move forward gradually with the building process.
As life after the nationwide lockdown in the spring began slowly getting back on track, the nuns’ committee decided to move forward to complete the interiors of the multi-purpose building with work such as plastering of the floors, electrical work fittings etc. They have also undertaken the construction of the bathroom and toilet block needed to go with the housing block. Around six to seven local village workers were hired for this job because outside laborers were stopped from coming to Zanskar. All labor work this summer was done by local village people under the guidance of the working committee.
Currently, the housing block is being used as living quarters on the ground floor for the young nuns, while the top-floor rooms are being used for multiple purposes including as temporary classrooms, office, and a meeting room.
During the lockdown, the younger nuns from nearby villages temporarily left the nunnery to stay with their families. These young nuns were not able to stay at Dorjee Zong because there is not enough space to house them in separate quarters or to follow safe physical distancing measures. Their elder siblings who have returned home are helping the younger children with their studies.
In 2019, generous donors funded the purchase of a school bus to enable the young nuns at Dorjee Zong to continue their education. The nuns needed a school bus to make the 12-mile round-trip journey to the government school to continue their education beyond Grade 5. The bus has arrived in Zanskar and is ready for use. Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus pandemic, the schools in India are currently closed. We will keep you updated.
Sakya College for Nuns
HERE’S A SLIDESHOW OF LIFE AT SAKYA COLLEGE FOR NUNS. Can’t see it? Click HERE.
Like many other nunneries and monasteries, Sakya College for Nuns has been strictly observing lockdown since March this year. Although the lockdown has been lifted in many parts of India, the nuns consider to observe it with great care and caution. The College’s gates remain locked 24/7.
Since the start of the new academic session in July 2020, the nuns’ regular classes are proceeding as usual. Inside the campus, everything looks so normal, just as it used to be during the pre-COVID-19 times, that is with morning prayers, classes, debates, self-study and so on.
The only thing that is missing is the monthly outing that nuns enjoy every month. Because the nuns used to visit the market only about once a month, in that sense the pandemic and the lockdown has not greatly affected the nuns at Sakya College.
Even so, as part of measures to provide emotional health care, a Vipassana meditation master and a yoga expert were invited to give workshops. The College invited Associate Professor Ramesh Chandra Negi from the Central University of Tibetan Studies and an expert in Vipassana meditation in the Theravada tradition to give a workshop for the nuns. The professor gave a 10-day course in Vipassana mediation and advised the nuns to continue the practice.
Some of the nuns claim the course has been of immense help in terms of maintaining tranquillity and peace of mind. They have continued to practice individually since the workshop. As meditation is all about dealing with the mind, the main purpose of the workshop was to help the nuns keep their minds in peace and stress-free throughout the lockdown period.
The College had previously invited Tibetan yoga trainer Tsering Yangzom and, on two different occasions, she conducted a 10-day yoga workshop. This greatly motivated the nuns in keeping their bodies in proper health and shape in order to lead healthy, happy lives.
In the special update in mid-December 2020, the College wrote, “We believe that with the introduction of yoga and Vipassana mediation we ensure that our nuns are relatively more relaxed, healthier, and stronger physically and mentally. This, apart from the daily academic activities and curriculums, always keeps their body and mind busy and active.”
The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to all those who sponsor nuns and to all our supporters. Thank you for your compassion and generosity!
December 7, 2020 is the tenth anniversary of the inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery and Institute by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is also a celebration of the bravery, determination, and dedication of the Shugsep nuns, many of whom were imprisoned and tortured in Tibet and who escaped to India seeking freedom and education.
The inauguration of Shugsep Nunnery on December 7, 2010.
Shugsep Nunnery was re-established in northern India on the outskirts of Dharamsala and is now home to 76 Tibetan nuns. Many of those nuns risked their lives fleeing their homeland to seek sanctuary in India. These nuns wish nothing more than to live, study, practice, and teach in accordance with their spiritual beliefs.
A Tibetan Buddhist nun studies in a damp, moldy room before Shugsep Nunnery was re-established in exile.
Prior to the construction of the new nunnery, the nuns lived in an overcrowded building that was falling apart. The rooms were damp and filled with mold and one nun lived under the stairs because of lack of space. There was no road to the building and everything had to be carried more than a kilometer.
A Tibetan Buddhist nun carries a load of bricks to the building site of the new Shugsep Nunnery. There was no road to the building and everything had to be carried more than a kilometer.
In May 2008, 58 Shugsep nuns moved into the nunnery that was still under construction. On December 7, 2010, His Holiness the Dalai Lama officially inaugurated the nunnery. Shugsep is one of two nunneries built and completely supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.
A Nyingma nunnery, Shugsep traces its rituals and practice to some of the most illustrious female practitioners in Tibetan history. In the previous century, Shugsep Nunnery was home to one of the most famous teachers of her time, Shugsep Jetsunma.
Here’s our monthly update on life at some Tibetan Buddhist nunneries during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Tibetan Nuns Project supports seven nunneries in northern India.
This month, India reported a surge in COVID-19 cases even as the nationwide lockdown eased. India now has the fourth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world. Hospitals are swamped in the worst-hit cities of Mumbai, New Delhi, and Chennai. Experts predict that the infection rate in India will continue to rise through July. On June 19, a new lockdown will go into effect for the 15 million people in Chennai.
This is worrying news for the tens of thousands of Tibetans refugees who live in India. The Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala has issued special guidelines for nunneries and monasteries.
The nuns are doing their best to adhere to physical distancing, the use of face masks in public spaces, hand and respiratory hygiene, and environmental sanitation.
Tibetan Buddhist nuns get their temperatures checked during health checks at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team
Geshema Exams Postponed
Each year, the nuns sitting various levels of the four-year Geshema examinations gather together for one month of final exam preparations and then for about 12 days of exams.
The Geshema exams, normally held each August, are being tentatively postponed to October 1. This year’s venue for the Geshema exams will be Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala.
Nuns often travel long distances to take the exams, such as from Nepal and South India. With the number of COVID-19 cases in India rising and with stricter travel rules from Nepal, the committee decided to postpone the exams to lessen the risk of infection. Last year, all 50 nuns took who took Geshema exams passed.
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute
The nunnery is closed until the end of June. The nuns are still not getting together in groups so there are no classes, pujas etc. In lieu of face-to-face classes, some philosophy teachers are recording their lessons using an mp3 player and sharing the files with their students.
The Shugsep Khenpo and the senior nuns who were in Bylakupee, South India, have returned safely to the nunnery and are currently in two weeks of quarantine.
Sherab Choeling Nunnery
According to the latest news, all the nuns at Sherab Choeling nunnery are safe and well. To mark Saga Dawa, the nuns read special puja texts including:
– Yum Puthi Chunyi (a full reading of all the 12 volumes of the Perfection of Wisdom in the Kangyur, the 108-volume set of the words of the Buddha) – Dolma (the Tara puja)
– Dukkar Tsezung for all sentient beings (This a long-life ritual focused on Sitapatrā, Goddess with the White Umbrella, who appears from the Buddha’s uṣṇīṣa.)
– Reading pages from each Kangyur book (Called shal chad, this is the “opening and partial reading of the entire canon. To read it all would take too long so each volume is opened and a bit of it read.)
Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Sherab Choeling Nunnery marked the holy month of Saga Dawa with prayers, the lighting of butter lamps, fasting, and vows.
During the holy month of Saga Dawa, the nuns also received puja requests from villagers for their late family members and for their own well being. The nuns also offered Menla, the Medicine Buddha ritual as requested by many people. Most of the nuns fasted during the entire month, taking no meals after lunch. On the 15th of the holy month, they took Thekchen Sojung, the eight Mahāyāna vows.
Earlier Updates on Life at Tibetan Nunneries During the Pandemic
Since March, we’ve been providing regular updates on life at some Tibetan nunneries in India during the coronavirus pandemic. Each update has photos and news from some or all of the seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. Here’s a list of earlier updates:
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 to the bottom of this post for delicious Tibetan vegetarian recipes.
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.