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The Tibetan Nuns Project is a non-profit organization founded in 1987 dedicated to educating and supporting female Buddhist monastics in India from all Tibetan Buddhist lineages.It supports nuns interested in study and higher ordination. The mission of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to educate and empower nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as teachers and leaders; and to establish, strengthen, and support educational institutions to preserve the Tibetan religion and culture. The organization supports seven nunneries and over 700 nuns in India.
Gompas (Buddhist convents) have historically been well established in Tibet, certainly from the twelfth century and with traditions reaching back as far as the eighth century. Before the Chinese invasion in 1949, there were at least 818 nunneries and nearly 28,000 nuns living in Tibet. Traditional education in the nunneries included reading, writing, and lessons in ancient scriptures and prayers taught by the senior nuns or lamas from monasteries. Traditional activities for the nuns included performance of rituals requested by the lay community and crafts such as embroidery and sewing. Administrative and maintenance tasks were rotated so that all nuns gained experience in running the nunnery.
In recent years, due to the repressive conditions in Tibet, an influx of nuns have arrived to join the refugee communities in India and Nepal. Ranging in age from pre-teen to mid-eighties, these nuns come from all parts of Tibet and from many different backgrounds. Upon arrival in India, many nuns are suffering severely from the stresses of their long, arduous and often dangerous journeys of escape. Some have faced torture and imprisonment at the hands of the Chinese authorities in Tibet and are enduring immense physical and emotional pain. In most cases, the nuns arrive without money or possessions.
In the mid 80s, under the auspices of the Department of Religion and Culture of the 14th Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Women's Association, the Tibetan Nuns Project (TNP) was established to assist the refugee nuns from Tibet as well as to improve the overall status and level of ordained Tibetan women. The main objectives of the project are to provide basic care for these women, and educate them in traditional values and philosophy, as well as the essential skills and knowledge needed to function in the modern world. The Tibetan Nuns Project also works to establish a role for ordained women as teachers and leaders comparable to that of monks.
The Tibetan Nuns Project works to:
Rinchen Khandro Choegyal coordinates the Tibetan Nuns Project. In 1996, the Tibetan Nuns Project was responsible for around 400 nuns in Dharamsala, their numbers are steadily increasing, with more nuns coming from Tibet, Ladakh, and other parts of India..
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, was the first institute dedicated specifically to higher education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns. It is open to nuns from all traditions. Upon graduation from a nineteen-year program, the nuns will be thoroughly trained in their Buddhist tradition and will be eligible to receive a Geshe degree (Geshema for women), equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism.
Shugsep Nunnery, a Nyingma nunnery, was re-established in India and is fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. The nunnery traces its lineage back to some of the greatest female teachers in Tibetan Buddhism. Upon completion of a nine-year academic program, nuns receive a lopon degree (equivalent to a M.A.) and may then do research towards obtaining a khenpo degree (equivalent to a Ph.D.). These nuns will then be able to give the full Nyingma teachings to other monastics.
Gaden Choeling Nunnery, a Gelug institution, is the oldest Dharamsala nunnery.
Karma Drubgyu Thargay Ling or Tilokpur Nunnery, a Kagyu institution, provides scriptural and ritual training and has a basic study program.
Sherap Choling in the Spiti Valley has 45 resident nuns who have begun a rigorous course of study, the first of its kind for women of that region.
Sakya Nuns Institute in Mundawala near Dehradun will offer the full course of studies followed by the monks of Sakya College.
The Project is primarily funded by generous donations from individuals and organizations. Institutional funding has come from the Heinrich Böll Foundation of Germany, the Norwegian Tibet Committee Women's Group and the Norwegian organizations Fokus and Norad, the Swedish foundation Soir-IM, the American Himalayan Foundation, Rigpa Foundation of London, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Hershey Family Foundation, and the Betsy Gordon Foundation.
The sponsorship program is funded by individuals world-wide through monthly or yearly contributions. The sponsorships provide food, shelter, medical care, and education to the nuns. Sponsors receive a photo and biography and contact information for the nun(s) that they sponsor.
Additional funding is provided by the sale of handmade traditional Buddhist items such as malas, prayer flags, kataks, and a printed calendar with photographs.
Tibetan Buddhism is the form of Buddhism practiced in Tibet and Bhutan, where it is the dominant religion. It also has adherents in the regions surrounding the Himalayas, in much of Central Asia, in the Southern Siberian regions such as Tuva, and in Mongolia.
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