The Nuns Offer Two Rituals: Dolkar and the Five Tseringma

The Nuns Offer Two Rituals: Dolkar and the Five Tseringma

Tergar Monastery Shrine Room • 10-11 February, 2019

As part of the annual schedule, in the final days of the gathering, the Arya Kshema nuns offer the rituals of White Tara (Dolkar) and the Five Tseringma. Both of these are long-life rituals.

This year, two morning sessions were dedicated to the practice of Dolkar, and two afternoon sessions to the practice of Tseringma.

The main shrine room at Tergar had been prepared specially for both rituals. Great loops of fresh marigold garlands hung from the balconies below the thangkas of the Kagyu forefathers and Karmapa lineage. On the left of the stage stood an altar with a statue of White Tara beneath a parasol. Covered in pure white cloth also hung with fresh marigolds, the altar displayed offerings and a large white torma. Each morning, the nuns recited the Dolkar sadhana twice. The Dolkar ritual was dedicated for the well-being and long life of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama and His Holiness the 17th Gyalwang Karmapa.

To the right of the stage, a second altar had been prepared, covered in a dark red cloth, edged in blue ribbon. On the top tier, sat an image of Jetsun Milarepa, the other tiers held tormas and offering bowls for the Five Long-Life Sisters, protectors of the Kagyu teachings.

Above the altar a thangka displayed the central figure of Tashi Tseringma, riding a white snow lion, and accompanied by her four sisters, Tingyi Zhalzangma [Beautiful Blue-Faced Lady], Miyo Lobzangma [Immovable Noble-minded Lady] yellow in colour, Tekar Drozangma [Noble Acting White Sorceress], green in colour, and Chopen Drinzangma [Crowned, Fair-necked Lady] red in colour.

According to the hagiography, these five were initially healing spirits, living in the mountains on the Nepal-Tibet border, until subjugated by Guru Padmasambhava and commanded to protect the Buddhist teachings. They became protectors especially of all the Kagyu through their relationship with Jetsun Milarepa. First, they tested Milarepa by trying to distract him from meditation, but he resisted them, and, having recognised that he was a true yogi Dharma practitioner, they received teachings from him, thus forging their link as protectors of the Kagyu teachings.

During the 3rd Arya Kshema, the Karmapa elaborated on the origins of the special relationship between the Kagyu lineage and the Five Tseringma and the reason that Tseringma was appointed.

When Shakyamuni Buddha was near the end of his life, there was a dilemma over the best way to preserve his teachings. To entrust them solely to humans was problematic because humans are short-lived and the teachings needed to endure for a long time. Conversely, to entrust the gods with the teachings might also be unsatisfactory. Though the gods were long-lived, they might be unable to uphold the teachings because of their distraction by sense pleasures. As a compromise, Shakyamuni Buddha entrusted the teachings to a human, the great regent Kashyapa, and to the Four Great Kings of the higher realms. The Karmapa explained that Milarepa was following this precedent when he appointed the human Gampopa and the goddess Tseringma to uphold his teachings. “In the human realm, my teachings are held by the Teacher from Central Tibet (Gampopa). In the non-human realm, they are held by Tseringma,” declared Milarepa.

During the 3rd Arya Kshema, the Karmapa expressed the hope that in the future when the teachings spread, there would be great female beings who would look after the teachings.

“My hope, my aspiration,” he said, “is that each of the five Tseringma sisters will send an emanation as a nun to support the teachings. Maybe I'm being too bold, but it might just be possible.”

At previous winter gatherings, the Karmapa has emphasised the importance of this practice, and so this year, led by Drupon Dechen Rinpoche, the nuns recited the Tseringma sadhana twice on each afternoon, fulfilling this commitment.


2019.02.10-11 The Nuns Offer Two Rituals: Dolkar and the Five Tseringma

A Day of Chöd Practice: A String of Jewels

A Day of Chöd Practice: A String of Jewels

Tergar Monastery, Bodh Gaya • 30th January, 2019 | This day of Chöd practice has become one of the central rituals of the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering. Chöd literally means "cutting through" The purpose of the practice is to cut through attachment and ignorance, particularly attachment to the body, and realise the nature of emptiness.

It is a practice especially associated with female practitioners, and this particular chöd practice was passed down from Machik Lapdrön, the enlightened female adept and originator of the Chöd tradition. The text that is used every year at the Arya Kshema is called Chöd: A String of Jewels, which was composed by Third Karmapa, Rangjung Dorje.

Inside the Tergar shrine room, rows of raised platforms were arranged facing inwards for the nuns, with special tables designed to hold their texts. Drupon Dechen Rinpoche sat at the head of the first row, next to Khenpo Karma Drodul, the head khenpo of Thrangu Tara Abbey shedra. Facing them sat the chant leaders, the umzes, from Gyaltsab Rinpoche’s nunnery in Sikkim.

Chöd is one of the most complex pujas: its beautiful, haunting melodies accompanied by the rhythmic beat of special hand-held drums and bells, and punctuated by the other-worldly wail of the thigh-bone trumpets and the powerful resonance of the great temple drums. Sat in their long rows, clad in yellow and maroon, the nuns turned their drums and rang their bells in unison while singing through the text.

The day was an impressive and moving tribute to the nuns’ ability to combine learning and practice, as advocated by Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche in his speech at the inaugural ceremony.


2019.01.30 A Day of Chöd Practice: A String of Jewels
Training Nuns as Animal First-Aiders—Kagyu Monlam Animal Medical Camp

Training Nuns as Animal First-Aiders—Kagyu Monlam Animal Medical Camp

Bodh Gaya • 29 January, 2019

Buddha Shakyamuni had compassion for all sentient beings equally, not more for one being over another, all were equal in his compassion. All sentient beings have a lot of suffering and sickness, so to help relieve the sickness brings great merit and is wonderful.

The purpose of the Kagyu Monlam is to alleviate the suffering of all beings. This is also the wish of His Holiness the Karmapa. So if we are able to alleviate the suffering of dogs, cats, cows and other animals through this animal camp, it is in accordance with the wishes of both His Holiness and the Kagyu Monlam in general.

— Gyaltsab Rinpoche’s words of advice to staff at the Animal Medical Camp

The 2019 programme includes a major training initiative:

  • one vet and one para-vet from Tibet Charity in Dharamsala will learn about street dog ABC-AR;
  • four para-vets from Jangsa Animal Saving Trust, Bhutan, will learn humane animal handling, street dog capture, small animal surgical nursing, kennel management and other aspects of animal shelter nursing;
  • twelve nuns from six different Kagyu Nunneries, who are attending Arya Kshema, will train in animal first aid, rabies control, treating skin wounds, giving injections, and dog handling. They will return to their nunneries and become the animal first aid officers for their area. On completion of their training, they will be given a big first- aid box full of medicines, bandaging materials and equipment they need for this important job. This initiative is especially according to the wishes of the Karmapa, who wanted the nuns to have equal opportunity with the monks in this training.

The training is being led by three vets, Dr Diki Palmo from Sikkim, Dr Catherine Schuetze from Australia and Dr Sonia Thakur from Dharamsala Animal Rescue.

It has been funded by the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, whose international programmes director, Bridget Auloy is currently visiting the project.

Australian vet, Dr Catherine Schuetze, discusses how to treat common problems that the nuns will encounter with the dogs and cats in their nunneries, such as eye infections, parasitic infestations, wounds, and maggot-infected wounds. The nuns learn how to clean and dress wounds and how to treat infections and infestations.


The nuns have to learn how to handle dogs so they must know how to interpret canine behaviour and how to recognise when dogs are dangerous. Dr Diki Palmo gives them a crash-course in canine body language.


All the nuns come from areas of the Indian sub-continent where rabies is endemic and are naturally wary of dogs, so the training starts with puppies in the morning.


The nuns learn how to approach the dogs and get a slip lead around their neck...


muzzle them with rope...


and pick them up


As their confidence grows, they progress to practising their skills on friendly monastery dogs.


Dr Palmo teaches the nuns how to use a stethoscope


Dr Thakur demonstrates how to give subcutaneous injections; all the nuns soon became confident in giving injections such as rabies vaccinations.


They also learn general nursing skills for sick animals and post-operative care.


A nun checks the heartbeat of a dog which has been anaesthetised. As part of the initial training, the nuns watched an operation in progress. Only one nun fainted at the sight, but she recovered quickly and has resumed her training.



Healthworker Training for Nuns in its Fourth Year

Healthworker Training for Nuns in its Fourth Year

Monlam Pavillion, Bodhgaya • January 27 2019 | The Healthworker Training Programme, begun during the Second Arya Kshema Winter Gathering, has continued this year. Nuns from six nunneries—Ralang and Tilokpur in India, Karma Leksheyling, Tara Abbey, Osel Karma Thekchöling and Samten Ling in Nepal— have spent eight days studying an advanced course in general healthcare and how to respond to medical emergencies.

This project, organised by Dr Jeffrey Chen, CEO of the Taiwanese NGO Taiwan Health Corps, is a joint venture with His Holiness the 17th Karmapa. The Taiwan Health Corps, whose motto is We do it for love, has worked previously with the Root Institute in Bodhgaya, a Buddhist monastery in Bangladesh, and has also run projects in Nepal, Turkestan and West Africa. Dr Chen was interested in developing a programme of rural health worker training in monasteries and nunneries, and the Karmapa wanted to find ways of improving both the health and healthcare of monks and nuns. From this collaboration was born the Taiwan Health Corps’ Himalayan Area Health Caretaker Training Programme. The monks receive their training separately. The Karmapa suggested that the best time and place to offer the nuns health training would be during the Arya Kshema in a safe environment where they felt comfortable and which did not require additional travel.

This year’s course, taught by a team of nine health professionals, contained more advanced material than in previous years and included more theory alongside practice. The central part of the course, however, remained very practical “hands-on” sessions, where the nuns revised human anatomy and basic first aid skills, practised resuscitation on life-sized models, and learned how to stop or reduce bleeding, use splints to immobilise broken bones, bandage wounds, tie slings and so forth.

The nuns found the session devoted to women’s health issues led by a gynaecologist particularly helpful.

Twenty-eight nuns completed the course and received course certificates in a special ceremony with His Eminence Goshir Gyaltsab Rinpoche.


2019.01.27 Healthworker Training for Nuns in its Fourth Year

Arya Kshema: Advancing the Education of the Nuns—Nuns’ Debates

Arya Kshema: Advancing the Education of the Nuns—Nuns’ Debates

January 25-29 and February 6-9, 2019 | 350 nuns representing six different nunneries are participating in the 5th Arya Kshema, the annual event organized for advancing nuns’ knowledge in philosophy and debate. This year nuns gather at scheduled times throughout the day for debate either in the Monlam Pavillion or in the sunny courtyard. As Khenpo Drukgyal from Tilokpur noted, “All the nuns debate with nuns from other nunneries. It is kind of an exchange of knowledge. The competition is still going on like the previous years, but the difference is only that they will not declare a winner. So, there is less pressure.” The five nunneries which have shedras will be participating in the debates. Nuns from Karma Thekchen Leysheyling, which doesn’t have a shedra, will participate in the other training activities and in the rituals.

The feeling is relaxed, but challenging. The nuns put each other to the test – the sound of tsa, tsa, tsa resonates if there is any contradiction. The nuns hone their skills three times a day, once in the morning and twice in the afternoon. The sound of the challengers’ hands clapping as they signify the end of their question posed to the defender is both fierce and at times playful. The nuns are supported by the Khenpos and teachers from their own nunneries. They circulate around the groups of debaters instructing the nuns’ as they hone and strengthen their technique. The nuns trade positions alternating between being the challenger or defender. The debates are broken up into two rounds – the first preceding the Mahakala Puja before Losar and the second and concluding sessions following Losar before the White Tara and Tsering Ma Pujas.

The nuns’ study is based on textbooks specially prepared by His Holiness the Karmapa and a team of scholars as part of his initiative to improve the curriculum and raise the level of monastic studies. Monks and nuns use the same textbooks although the nuns, having started later, are a few years behind the monks. At the moment all the nuns are studying and debating within the area of knowledge known as riglam. This is the foundational study for all Kagyu shedra courses and introduces students to the use of logic and reasoning, essential to debating. Within this area there are three topics and five different levels. Nuns are divided into debating groups across nunneries according to their level. The first topic they study is dudra [Collected Topics]: there are three levels and a separate textbook for each level. Dudra is followed by lorig [Mind and Awareness] and then by tarig [Reasoning]. Next year, the advanced level nuns will begin the second significant area of the shedra curriculum, pharchin [The Perfection of Wisdom].


2019.01.25-29 and 02.06-09 Arya Kshema: Advancing the Education of the Nuns—Nuns’ Debates