In the 50 plus years since Tibetan Buddhism has spread beyond Tibet, women from around the world have been ordaining in this tradition. Here, we profile a selection of the more well known senior nuns along with introducing some of the younger generation of nuns, showcasing the varied and valuable work they are engaged in.
We welcome your input – if there are nuns you would like to see profiled here, please contact us.
Of all the Buddha’s great disciples, male or female, Mahapajapati Gotami, the Buddha’s maternal aunt and stepmother, is the only one whom legend describes as a counterpart to the Tathagatha himself.
As an elderly woman she became a zealous follower, attained enlightenment after hearing just a brief discourse on Dharma and the Vinaya, and founded the first order of Buddhist nuns.
She was the sister of his biological mother Maya and both of them were married to King Suddhodhana, the Buddha’s father. It has been later said that once Maya died a few days later after giving birth to the Buddha– known in that life as Siddhartha, Mahapajapati took the role of being a mother. Gotami became the Buddha’s care giver, devoting all of her time and affection making sure he would grow up with everything he needed from a mother.
Despite obstacles prior to ordination, to demonstrate her perseverance, she decided to take on a journey of enlightenment. She shaved her head bald like that of a monk, wore robes, and walked several miles to the Buddha’s next destination. What was unusual was that she had a large crowd of women who followed her, this symbolizes her natural leadership qualities. Not to mention that her name means “leader of a great assembly”.
Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery, India
Jetsunma was raised in London within a Spiritualist household. From early childhood she believed that we were inherently perfect and that it was our purposes was to connect with that innate perfection.
Whilst in her teens she became a Buddhist. In 1964, at the age of twenty, she decided to go to India to pursue her spiritual path. Read more.
Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo
Venerable Karma Lekshe Tsomo already had a religion when growing up in Malibu: surfing. But being constantly teased by her classmates about her family name, Zenn, (“Are you Buddhist or what?”), she borrowed a book about Buddhism to find out what this was all about and instantly knew that this was it. Read more.
Sravasti Abbey, USA
In 1975, she attended a meditation course given by Lama Yeshe and Kyabje Lama Zopa Rinpoche, and subsequently went to Kopan, their Monastery in Nepal, to continue to study and practice Buddha’s teachings. In 1977, she received sramanerika (novice) ordination from Kyabje Ling Rinpoche, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read more.
Born in Australia and brought raised as a Catholic. Moving to London in 1967, where she lived for four years, she became actively involved in the radical left, working mainly with a London-based support group for black and Chicano prisoners, continuing to move through political activism in search of answers. Read more.
University of Hamburg, Germany
Carola Roloff is a German Buddhist nun. Her monastic name is Bhiksuni Jampa Tsedroen. An active teacher, translator, author, and speaker, she is instrumental in campaigning for equal rights for Buddhist nuns. monastic life with us as well. Monastic life in the 21st century is viewed as a compassion college here, with training in study, practice and service. Read more.
Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, India
Born and raised in Germany, and after finishing high school and before enrolling in university I decided to take some time off and travel. It was a very confusing time. I did not know what to study, and, even more importantly, what to do with my life. Read more.
Thosamling Nunnery, India
In October 2000, Venerable Tenzin Sangmo began putting the pieces together to build what would eventually become Thosamling. Thanks to generous donors from around the world, land was purchased in 2002 and construction began on 4 January, 2003. Thosamling Nunnery exists today because of the dedication, perseverance and hard work of its founding director, Venerable Tenzin Sangmo. Read more.
Vajra Dakini Nunnery, USA
Khenmo Drolma is the abbess of Vajra Dakini Nunnery in Maine, USA. After her novice ordination by Drikung Kyabgon in 1997, she received the empowerment rituals of the Drikung lineage, completed many retreats and studied with Drikung Masters especially HH Drikung Chetsang Rinpoche. Read more.