Tag Archives: Tibetan Buddhism

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays 2019

This is an illustrated list of some of the major Tibetan Buddhist holidays in 2019, as well as some other important dates in the Tibetan calendar.

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Front and back of the 2019 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar available through our online store.

Each year, the Tibetan Nuns Project publishes a calendar with the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and other important ritual dates, plus the phases of the moon, inspirational quotes, and major US and Canadian holidays. This beautiful 2019 calendar is available from our online store. Know that, by buying this calendar, you are helping to provide education, food, shelter, and health care for over 700 Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in northern India.

February 5 2019: Losar (Tibetan New Year)

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute celebrate Losar. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Losar, the Tibetan New Year, is a very special time of year. This year, February 5th is the first day of the Earth Pig Year of 2146 according to the Tibetan calendar. Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, the nuns, like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home or room from top to bottom. After that, the Losar or “new year” is welcomed with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives. Special food is prepared such as such as khapse and a  noodle soup called guthuk. See this recipe for vegetarian guthuk.

March 10 and March 12: Tibetan Uprising Day

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Nuns, monks, and lay people hold Tibetan flags and banners as they take part in a demonstration in Dharamsala, India to mark March 10th, Tibetan Uprising Day. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

While not a Tibetan Buddhist holiday, March 10th is a very important date in the Tibetan calendar. This year marks the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan National Uprising. Around the world, Tibetans and their supporters remember and pay tribute to all those who have sacrificed their lives for Tibet’s struggle. An estimated one million Tibetans have perished and 98% of monasteries and nunneries were destroyed under the Chinese occupation.

March 12th 2019 marks the 60th anniversary of the Tibetan Women’s Uprising. Sixty years ago, following the National Uprising Day on March 10th, thousands of Tibetan women gathered  in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa to demonstrate for Tibetan independence.

June 17 2019: Saga Dawa Düchen

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Every year, during the month of Saga Dawa, over a period of several days, the nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery read the entire Tibetan Buddhist canon or Kangyur, the 108 volumes of the spoken words of the Buddha. Photo courtesy of the Nuns’ Media Team.

The most important month in the Tibetan lunar calendar is Saga Dawa, the 4th month which runs from June 4th to July 2nd 2019. The 15th day of this lunar month, the full moon day, is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Tibetan Buddhists. In 2019, Saga Dawa Düchen falls on June 17th. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and parinirvana of Buddha Shakyamuni. In other Buddhist traditions this occasion is known as Vesak or is sometimes called Buddha Day.

Saga Dawa is known as the month of merits. Tibetan Buddhists make extra efforts to practice more generosity, virtue, and compassion in order to accumulate greater merit. Tibetans believe that during this month, the merits of ones actions are multiplied. On the 15th day of the month the merits of one’s actions are hugely increased.

July 6: His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Birthday

His Holiness the Dalai LamaAround the world, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6th will be celebrated with happiness and prayers for his good health and long life. This year His Holiness the Dalai Lama turns 84. The nuns will pray and make special offerings of tsok, khataks (prayer scarves), and sangsol (incense offering) to His Holiness. It’s a day of celebration with special food, such as Tibetan momos, the steamed savory dumplings that are much loved by Tibetans around the world and that are often made on Tibetan Buddhist holidays.

July 16: Universal Prayer Day

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns hang new prayer flags on Universal Prayer Day. Photo courtesy of Nuns Media Team.

Universal Prayer Day or Dzam Ling Chi Sang falls on the 15th day of the 5th month of the Tibetan Lunar calendar, so in June or July. It is a time for spiritual cleansing. Tibetans hang prayer flags and burn juniper twigs.

August 4 2019: Buddha’s First Teaching

Called Chokhor Düchen, this important day falls on the fourth day of the sixth lunar month. This day is the third “great occasion” (düchen) in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. It celebrates the first teaching by the historical Buddha, named Siddhartha at birth and commonly known as Shakyamuni Buddha. On this day, over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha gave the teaching of the Four Noble Truths in Sarnath, shortly after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. This event is known as the “turning of the wheel of dharma”. In Theravada traditions, this event is remembered on Dhamma Day, also known as Asalha Puja, and is generally marked on the full moon of the eighth lunar month. To celebrate Chokhor Düchen, Tibetan Buddhists make pilgrimages to holy places, offer incense, and hang prayer flags.​​

November 19 2019: Buddha’s Descent from Heaven

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns praying. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Another “great occasion” or düchen in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar is Lhabab Düchen. This date commemorates the Buddha’s descent from the heavenly realm following his visit there to teach his deceased mother. Lhabab Düchen occurs on the 22nd day of the ninth lunar month, according to Tibetan calendar. On this day, the karmic effects of our actions are multiplied millions of times. In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, people engage in virtuous activities and prayer to gain merit and to mark this special occasion.

February 24 2020: Losar (Tibetan New Year)

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Butter sculptures and offering made by the Tibetan nuns for Losar, Tibetan New Year.

Losar in 2020 falls on February 24th, 2020 and is the Year of the Iron Mouse 2147 in the Tibetan calendar.

Tibetan Buddhist Holidays in 2019 and the Tibetan Nuns Project Calendar

It is still possible to order copies of our 2019 Tibetan Nuns Project calendar. It’s a great way to keep track of the Tibetan Buddhist holidays and all the special events throughout the year.

 

Mudras: Meaning of Sacred Hand Gestures

Mudras are sacred hand gestures or positions that used to evoke a state of mind. The Sanskrit word “mudra” means “seal”, “mark”, or “gesture”. In Tibetan the word is ཕྱག་རྒྱ་ or “chakgya”. Each of these sacred hand gestures has a specific meaning. Many of them symbolize major moments or events in the Buddha’s life.

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In this beautiful photo by Olivier Adam, an elderly nun in Zanskar shows a novice nun how to make the Mandala Offering Mudra.

8 Mudras and their Meaning

Sacred hand gestures or mudras are often depicted in Buddhist art. In this blog we’d like to share descriptions and images of some common mudras. The list here is not exhaustive.

The Earth Witness Mudra

When Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, was meditating under the Bodhi tree, he was assailed by the demon Mara, who tried to disturb his mind. Mara represents the passions that trap and delude us. Siddhartha refused to be tempted from the path to enlightenment and he called on the earth to witness his worthiness to become enlightened, saying, “The earth shall be my witness, I will not let myself be seduced.” In the Earth Witness Mudra, (also known as the Bhumisparsa Mudra or Gesture of Witness), the historical Buddha is seated in the meditation posture and touches the earth with the fingertips of his right hand, palm facing inwards. The left hand is placed in the lap with the palm facing upwards.

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In this detail from a thangka print, the historical Buddha is depicted seated in meditation and calling the earth as his witness.

The Mudra of Meditation

The Mudra of Meditation (dhyana) is made by placing both hands on the lap, right hand on the left, with the palms facing upwards, the tips of the thumbs touching, and the fingers fully stretched. This mudra helps to calm the mind for meditation and is used for deep contemplation and reflection. The mudra of meditation is a characteristic gesture of the Buddha Shakyamuni.

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This ancient stone sculpture shows the Buddha with his hands in the Mudra of Meditation

The Namaskara or Anjali Mudra

This mudra, while not found in representations of the Buddha or other deities, is commonly used by nuns, monks, and lay people to symbolize devotion, prayer, and admiration. Called the Namaskara Mudra or the Anjali Mudra, it is used as a common form of greeting in most Asian countries. Anjali is a Sanskrit word which means “salutation” or “to offer” and Namaskar is Hindi for “good day”. To make this mudra, you bring your palms together in front of your heart space, fingers pointing upwards, and thumbs close to the chest, to symbolize honor, respect, and devotion.

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His Holiness the Dalai Lama holds his hands together in greeting and in offering respect to others. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Mudra of Holding the Jewel or Manidhara Mudra

The Mudra of Holding the Jewel looks very similar to the Namaskara Mudra or the Anjali Mudra shown above. Also called the Manidhara Mudra, it is made by holding one’s hands together in front but with the palms and fingers slightly arched, holding the precious, wish-fulfilling jewel. This jewel or gem is also depicted in Tibetan prayer flags, carried upon the back of the Lung Ta  or wind horse. This sacred hand gesture of holding the jewel is a mudra of Avalokiteshvara, a bodhisattva who embodies the compassion of all Buddhas. The Tibetan word for Avalokiteshvara is Chenrezig (སྤྱན་རས་གཟིགས་). The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Chenrezig,

Tibetan Buddhist nun, mudras, sacred hand gesture, Zanskar, Tibetan Nuns Project

An elderly nun in Zanskar places her palms together in devotion, holding the wish-fulfilling jewel, a mudra associated with Avalokiteshvara (Tibetan: Chenrezig). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

The Mandala Offering Mudra

The Mandala Offering Mudra is a complex and sacred hand gesture that acts as a symbolic offering of the entire universe for the benefit of all sentient beings. Performing the Mandala Offering Mudra helps to reduce one’s attachment and to purify the clinging mind. Although this mudra is usually made together with prayers and Buddhist chants, non-Buddhists can also perform it to receive its spiritual benefits.

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A Tibetan Buddhist nun performs the Mandala Mudra with her mala (Buddhist prayer beads). Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

To make this complex mudra, sit in meditation pose with your back straight. Calm your breathing and visualize offering the mandala – the universe – to the Buddha, bodhisattvas, and all holy beings, giving with great joy and with purity of heart. Place your hands palms up and intertwine your fingers. With the tips of your thumbs, press down on the tips of the opposite little finger. Then, with the bent tips of your index fingers, press down on the tip of the opposite middle finger. Finally, take your ring fingers, unclasp them, and put them back to back, pressing the backs together and with both fingers going straight up through the center. Together the ring fingers symbolize Mt. Meru, the sacred mountain, and the four continents described in Buddhist cosmology.

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A Tibetan Buddhist nun in Zanskar performs the mandala offering mudra. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Vitarka Mudra or Teaching Mudra

The Vitarka Mudra (the Mudra of Teaching or Discussion) is a common mudra representing the discussion and transmission of Buddhist teachings. It is formed by joining the tips of the thumb and index finger together to form a circle, keeping the other three fingers pointing straight up. The circle formed by the joined fingers symbolizes perfection with no beginning or end.

This mudra is usually made with one hand, most often the right one, with the hand held upward close to the chest and the palm facing outward. However, the mudra may also be made with both hands held in front of the chest, with each index finger and thumb joined in a circle. When two hands are used, the left palm faces inward and the right palm is turned outward. The Teaching Mudra represents the Buddha’s first teaching after becoming enlightened. It also symbolizes the “Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma” or Dharmachakra. There are a great number of variations of this mudra in Mahayana Buddhism. In Tibetan Buddhism, it is the mystic gesture of Taras and bodhisattvas.

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This sculpture shows the mudra of teaching or the Vitarka Mudra, with the tips of the thumb and index finger joined to form a circle.

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In this detail from a thangka print, White Tara is holding an utpala flower in her raised left hand. The tips of her thumb and fourth or ring finger are touching. This is a gesture of good fortune and shows that, by relying upon her, one may accomplish complete purity of mind and body.

Generosity Mudra or Varada Mudra

The Varada Mudra is the gesture of generosity, charity, and compassion. It is commonly found in representations of the Green and White Tara. This sacred hand gesture represents the granting of blessings, wishes, or even pardon. It also symbolizes the “gift of truth” – the precious gift of the dharma or Buddhist teachings. In the Varada Mudra, the palm faces out and hangs down, usually touching the right leg. This mudra is often used in conjunction with another mudra. The five fingers represent the five perfections: generosity, morality, patience, diligence, and meditation.

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Detail of a thangka print depicting White Tara and showing the outward facing palm and downward hand of the Varada Mudra or Mudra of Generosity.

Mudra of Fearlessness or Abhaya Mudra

Abhaya in Sanskrit means fearlessness. The Mudra of Fearlessness or the Abhaya Mudra symbolizes the dispelling of fear. It can look to Westerners like the common hand gesture for “stop”. The mudra is made by raising the right hand to shoulder height, with the arm bent and the palm facing outward. This mudra is more commonly depicted in standing images.

This very ancient hand gesture is also a sign of peace and friendship. Placing one’s hand up and open in this way indicates that one is free of weapons and comes in peace. In Buddhism, the mudra shows the fearlessness and therefore the spiritual power of the Buddha or bodhisattva who makes it.

It is said that the historical Buddha made this sacred hand gesture immediately after gaining enlightenment. At a later time, the Buddha was about to be attacked by a mad elephant. The poor animal had been fed alcohol and tortured by one who hoped to use the elephant as a weapon against the Buddha. The elephant, enraged and in pain, charged at the Buddha and his followers. While others ran away, the Buddha stood calmly, raising his hand in the gesture of fearlessness. He felt great love and compassion for the stricken elephant. In response, the elephant stopped in its charge, became calm, and then approached the Buddha and bowed its head.

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A giant Buddha statue in Hong Kong shows the seated Buddha with the mudra of fearlessness or the Abhaya Mudra

A note about the images of mudras: The thangka prints shown in this blog post were donated to the Tibetan Nuns Project by a generous donor. A range of thangka prints are available through our online store, with all proceeds from sales going to help the nuns. We are very grateful to Olivier Adam for sharing his beautiful photos. Many of his photos are available as cards through our online store. Prints of Olivier Adam’s photographs are available through his Etsy shop, Daughters of Buddha.

The Tibetan Buddhist holy month of Saga Dawa

Saga Dawa is a very important month in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar. This year, Saga Dawa, the fourth month of the Tibetan lunar calendar, started on May 7th and runs until June 5th 2016.

The 15th day of the lunar month, the full moon day, is called Saga Dawa Düchen. Düchen means “great occasion” and this day is the single most holy day of the year for Buddhists. This year Saga Dawa Düchen falls on May 21 2016. In other Buddhist traditions it is known as Vesak or is sometimes as Buddha Day. Saga Dawa Düchen commemorates the birth, enlightenment, and death (parinirvana) of Buddha Shakyamuni.

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A young Tibetan Buddhist nun at Dolma Ling Nunnery reads scriptures to mark Saga Dawa. Photo courtesy of Tenzin Sangmo.

Since 1999, the United Nations has marked this sacred Buddhist day each year with a special message from the UN Secretary General. The UN Vesak page states, “Vesak, the Day of the Full Moon in the month of May, is the most sacred day to millions of Buddhists around the world. It was on the Day of Vesak two and a half millennia ago, in the year 623 B.C., that the Buddha was born. It was also on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha attained enlightenment, and it was on the Day of Vesak that the Buddha in his eightieth year passed away.”

This year’s message from the UN Secretary General highlights the primary role that women can play in promoting peace, justice, and human rights. Continue reading

Tibetan malas made and blessed by Buddhist nuns

Some of our most popular items in the Tibetan Nuns Project online store are our malas or Buddhist prayer beads. The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala, India make our long malas and bless both the long and wrist malas.

hanging Tibetan malas or prayer beads

A selection of the Tibetan malas made and blessed by Buddhist nuns and available through our online store.

Mala is a Sanskrit word meaning “garland”; in Tibetan, a mala is called threngwa. Malas are used to keep track while one recites, chants, or mentally repeats a mantra or the name or names of a deity. Malas are similar to other forms of prayer beads used in various world religions and they are sometimes called the Buddhist rosary. They are employed to focus one’s awareness and concentration during spiritual practice.

Mantras are spiritual syllables or prayers and are usually repeated many times. In Tibetan Buddhism, one mala constitutes 100 recitations of a mantra. There are 8 additional recitations done to ensure proper concentration. One holds the mala with the left hand and begins to recite from the guru bead, clockwise around the mala.

In Tibetan Buddhism, people traditionally use malas with 108 counting beads and a formal, special, three-holed, finishing bead called a “guru” bead or “Buddha” bead. Often the 108-bead malas have additional marker beads that may or may not be counted and that divide the mala into quadrants, constituting a sum of 108 counting beads. Continue reading

Video of Losar at a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery

The Tibetan New Year – Losar – is a very special time of year. This year, 2014, the first day of fell on March 2nd which, by the Tibetan calendar, is the first day of the Wood Horse Year of 2141.

Losar-related rituals fall into two distinct parts. First, the nuns like all Tibetans, say goodbye to the old year and let go of all its negative or bad aspects. Part of this involves cleaning one’s home from top to bottom. After that, the “new year” or Losar is welcomed, with prayers and by inviting all good, auspicious things into our homes and our lives.

Here’s a video of Losar preparations and celebrations at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala, northern India with photos taken by the nuns themselves. The nunnery is home to over 230 nuns. Enjoy and Happy Losar!

 

Celebrating Losar at a Buddhist Nunnery

Losar, or Tibetan New Year, falls this year on March 2nd 2014 and is the start of the Wood Horse Year, which is year 2141 in the Tibetan lunar calendar.

Happy Losar card - nuns hanging prayer flags by Olivier Adam

Photo of nuns hanging prayer flags courtesy of Olivier Adam

This year will be the first time in many years that Losar celebrations will take place at Tibetan exile communities and at Dolma Ling Nunnery near Dharamsala, India and other nunneries.

Since 2008 and the unrest in Tibet, many of the Tibetan settlements, monasteries and nunneries in India have not been celebrating Losar. With many Tibetans self-immolating for the cause in Tibet, Tibetans in exile have joined together in prayers, but have not followed traditional Losar celebrations.

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