The Tibetan Nuns Project (TNP), a US-registered charity based in Seattle and the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, India, has announced that an ambitious initiative to expand and improve the yard debate for Buddhist nuns of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute of Buddhist Dialectics is over.*
According to a TNP report, the expanded courtyard provides 60 percent more covered area, or 2 square feet (500 square meters), providing shade and shelter for the nuns during their daily practice of monastic debate.
“The nuns already use the courtyard for their daily debates. Monastic debate is of crucial importance in the traditional learning of Tibetan Buddhism. Through debate, the nuns test and consolidate their learning in class. Without debating training and practice, they are unable to obtain higher academic degrees such as the Geshema degree,” * the TNP said in an announcement shared with BDG. “This great project was graciously funded by the donors of the Tibetan Nuns Project. We are extremely grateful to the donors and the entire team for their hard work and dedication, which resulted in this elegant structure, which is completely consistent with the original design.
Inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2005, the Dolma Ling Convent and Institute of Buddhist Dialectics is located in the Kangra Valley near Dharamsala in northern India. The nunnery was the first institute dedicated to Buddhist higher education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns of all traditions, and is fully funded by the TNP.
Some 260 nuns are fully engaged in study, practice and convent work at Dolma Ling, as well as organizing self-sufficiency projects, such as tofu making and handicraft production. In 2013, 10 of Dolma Ling's nuns made history by participating in the first year Geshema exams.
“Over the years, the number of nuns in this large, non-sectarian convent has grown to over 260 nuns,” the TNP said. “The existing debating yard was too small and at least two-thirds of the paved area was open to the elements, so many nuns were forced to debate outdoors in the scorching sun. When it rained, as it does throughout the summer monsoon season, the unprotected space was unusable.
Work to improve the courtyard began in January 2022, with expansion and construction taking place in two phases. The completed project now includes steel roofing and enclosed spaces to protect the upper courtyard from rain, as well as sliding windows for ventilation in hot weather. Additional stone seats were also added. The second phase saw the addition of an extended roof over the expanded debate area.
"Dolma Ling is unique because it offers a 17-year program of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate, as well as modern courses in Tibetan language, English, basic math, science and computer science," explained the NPT. “Training in Buddhist debate, the widely practiced method of examining philosophical, moral and doctrinal issues, is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition. Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practice Tibetan Buddhist debating, a process that uses logical inquiry to deepen understanding of Buddhist philosophy. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked hard to provide this opportunity for nuns by including debate at the heart of their education, allowing them to expand their use of logic and deepen their understanding of the arguments asserted in the texts that they study.
The Tibetan Nuns Project provides education and humanitarian aid to refugee nuns from Tibet and the Himalayan regions of India. Established under the auspices of the Tibetan Women's Association and the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration, the TNP supports hundreds of nuns from all Tibetan Buddhist lineages and seven convents. Many of the nuns are refugees from Tibet, but the organization also extends to the Himalayan border regions of India, where women and girls have little access to education and religious training.
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* The Geshema degree is the highest academic degree in the Gelugpa tradition. As the geshe degree for male monks, it is roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist studies. The rigorous examinations last four years, with a series held each year.