As you will hear from her story, her long journey to becoming a Geshema was not an easy one.
With gentle humor, she tells her story of overcoming many obstacles on the path to becoming a senior nun and teacher. Geshema Tenzin Kunsel’s extraordinary determination and dedication shine through.
The video was made in October 2017 at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Our thanks to Tibetan Nuns Project Co-Director, Venerable Lobsang Dechen, for providing the English translation and to volunteer film-makers Evan Kezsbom, Jalene Szuba, and Dustin Kujawski.
The Geshema degree is equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. It could previously only be earned by monks and is called the Geshe degree.
This historic milestone for the 20 nuns was the culmination of decades of study and dedication. In addition to the 17-years of study required, there is a rigorous four-year examination process.
Now Geshema Tenzin Kunsel and the 25 other recent Geshemas who graduated in 2016 and 2017 are starting a brand-new and historic two-year course in Buddhist tantric studies. Although there have been accomplished female practitioners in Tibet’s history, women have never before been given an opportunity to formally study tantric Buddhism.
Traditionally, monks who have attained their Geshe degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism, must also study tantric treatises in order to become fully qualified masters capable of teaching their complete tradition. Monks have always been able to receive these teachings at one of the great tantric colleges.
In the foothills of the Himalayas, the 240 nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery cultivate beautiful flowers in pots and gardens to make the nunnery beautiful.
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is a unique center of higher learning for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India. The nuns themselves took part in the construction of the nunnery, laboring to carry bricks and mortar, to dig the foundations, and to landscape and create the lush flower gardens that are a refuge for birds and insects.
Some of the Dolma Ling nuns during the 2016 flower competition.
The nunnery is set in a serene area of the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh and is surrounded by green terraced wheat and rice fields, with beautiful views up towards the snowy mountain peaks of the nearby Dhauladhar range. The town of Dharamsala, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration, is about 20-minutes drive from Dolma Ling.
This video by Brian Harris takes you through parts of the nunnery to see the flowers and hear the birds.
Construction of Dolma Ling began in 1993 and the nunnery was officially inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on December 8, 2005. The red and white buildings of the nunnery are constructed around a central courtyard that is the main hub of the nunnery.
Dolma Ling is fully funded by the Tibetan Nuns Project and was one of the first institutions dedicated specifically to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions. Panorama of the nunnery by Brian Harris.
Each year, the nuns take part in a flower contest that is part of the celebrations around His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Continue reading →
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is a unique center of higher learning for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.
On December 8, 2015 we celebrate the 10th anniversary of the inauguration of Dolma Ling by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We also celebrate the powerful vision and mission behind this special institution, the many supporters who made it possible, and the nuns themselves for their bravery and dedication.
Dolma Ling Nunnery was started in 1991 to meet the needs of the many nuns who fled Tibet in search of the freedom to study and practice their religion.
Newly arrived nuns in India. The Tibetan Nuns Project and Dolma Ling Nunnery were created in response to a huge influx of nuns who arrived in India after escaping from Tibet. These nuns had made the arduous journey by foot over the Himalayas, and were ill and exhausted. Existing nunneries were already overcrowded.
Dolma Ling is fully funded by the Tibetan Nuns Project and was one of the first institutions dedicated specifically to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions. Currently about 250 nuns live and study at Dolma Ling.
The Story of Dolma Ling Nunnery
Dolma Ling is set in a serene area of the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh at the foothills of the Himalayas. The nunnery is surrounded by green terraced wheat and rice fields and has beautiful views up towards the snowy mountain peaks of the nearby Dhauladhar range. The town of Dharamsala, home to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Central Tibetan Administration is about 20-minutes drive from Dolma Ling.
The nuns themselves took part in the construction of the nunnery, laboring to carry bricks and mortar, to dig the foundations, and to landscape and create the lush flower gardens that are a refuge for birds and insects. Photo courtesy of Jessica Tampas
Nuns working in the temporary kitchen during the construction of Dolma Ling Nunnery. As the nunnery was being built, the nuns lived first in tents and then in a rented house. Many of their activities, such as their studies, took place outdoors.
Construction of Dolma Ling began in 1993 and took nearly 13 years to fully complete. The nuns moved into the first buildings in 1994. His Holiness the Dalai Lama first visited in 1995 and encouraged the nuns in their studies. Upon its completion, he returned to Dolma Ling to officially inaugurate it on December 8, 2005.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama on his first visit to Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in 1995
The red and white buildings of the nunnery are constructed around a central courtyard that is the main hub of the nunnery. The focal building is the temple, which contains the prayer hall and library. Six two-story buildings linked by verandas and courtyards serve as housing and classrooms, in addition to an infirmary, kitchen, dining hall, and solar bath house.
Nuns gather in the courtyard each morning for prayers, announcements and the singing of the Tibetan national anthem. For a sense of life at Dolma Ling, see our video “A Day in the Life at Dolma Ling Nunnery”.
Education at Dolma Ling
Dolma Ling Institute and Nunnery is unique in that it offers a 19-year curriculum of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate along with modern courses in Tibetan language, English, mathematics, and computer skills.
Dolma Ling is open to those from all schools of Tibetan Buddhism and is the first of its kind to offer this sort of education to Tibetan women. The nunnery is officially non-sectarian and has teachers from different traditions.
A panorama of part of Dolma Ling Nunnery taken by Brian Harris
Upon graduation from the 19-year program, the nuns will be thoroughly trained in their Buddhist tradition and will be eligible to receive a Geshema degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. The first Tibetan Geshemas are due to graduate in 2016 after a rigorous 4-year examination process.
In addition to traditional and modern education, the nuns are also provided with skills training so that they can become more self-sufficient and generate income for the nunnery, reducing the need for outside support. The nunnery has various income generating projects such as our annual calendar with photos by the nuns, the nuns’ café which opened in 2015, the tailoring section that makes prayer flags and handmade dolls, and the tofu kitchen which provides fresh tofu for the Dolma Ling nuns.
Educating women is powerful. It’s not just about books. As we’ve shown at Dolma Ling Nunnery and the other six nunneries we support, 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 their nation’s history.
Major New Project Coming Soon to Dolma Ling
The Tibetan Nuns Project is working to develop plans for a major new project at Dolma Ling Nunnery, a study center that will focus particularly on laywomen, Tibetan and non-Tibetan, who wish to seriously study Buddhism.
In the past many have expressed interest in studying the philosophical texts just as the nuns do, but could not be readily accommodated in the nunneries. We seek to establish a center at Dolma Ling so that laywomen can have a safe environment within the nunnery grounds in which to live, study and practice. The study center will also provide accommodation and facilities for visiting nuns during the annual inter-nunnery debate session and during the Geshema exams. We will share more information about this exciting new project in 2016 as plans are finalized!
Thank you to our supporters worldwide who have helped turn a big idea into reality.
The situation in Tibet remains very alarming. The religion and culture is under tremendous threat. Nunneries are under surveillance and, in one case this year, many nuns were expelled and their nunnery was destroyed.
The nuns and the nunneries that you are supporting with your donations to the Tibetan Nuns Project are a beacon of hope for the future.
With the power of an idea, together we have created something that once seemed almost impossible—institutions and educational systems for Buddhist women that have the potential to transform generations to come.
If you ask someone to name their favorite Tibetan food there’s a good chance they’ll say Tibetan momos. Momos are steamed savoury dumplings that are much loved by Tibetans around the world and that are often made on traditional holidays.
Photo of vegetarian Tibetan momos and chili sauce courtesy of YoWangdu Tibetan Culture.
Momos are a bit of a delicacy because of the work involved in making them. They can be stuffed with a variety of fillings such as beef, yak meat, cheese, potatoes or vegetables.
The nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala in northern India (one of the seven nunneries in India supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project) follow a vegetarian diet and make momos on special occasions such as Tibetan New Year and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday.
Here’s a lovely video that the nuns made in 2012 ago showing them preparing momos to celebrate His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday on July 6th. As you will see from the video, it’s no small task to make enough momos to serve over 230 nuns!