For many people, Tibet conjures up the image of saffron-robed monks chanting and giving benedictions. What is not well known is that there are several categories of religion in Tibet. There are also nuns in Tibet i.e. women who have dedicated their life to serving religion and preserving Tibetan traditions.
When Buddhism arrived in Tibet, there were traditional religions practiced by the Tibetan people in different ways. Unlike other religions that erase the traditional religious practices, Buddhism integrated the traditions in place. This merger gave rise to several categories of religion. One of these categories is the Bon dharma or Bon chos, Iha chos or the divine dharma, this is the dharma that is practiced by the common folk.
The Bon tradition combines shamanistic and animistic practices. The religious ceremonies of the Bon tradition are performed by the gshen or bon po priests. The Tibetan people believe that Olmo Lungring holds the origin of this religion. One of the tenets of the Bon tradition is showing respect towards nature and the use of natural resources for both physical and spiritual troubles.
The Bon Po performed religious ceremonies for the royalty and also appeased spirits to assist the souls of the departed pass peacefully to the afterlife. The Bon Po nuns were part of this religious body. The 1959 invasion of Tibet by China forced the exile of the Bon Po nuns.
The Jamma foundation was formed with the aim of preserving Tibetan knowledge including knowledge of the indigenous religions like the Bon traditions. These efforts include training new Bon Po nuns to preserve the knowledge of the old religions.
The Jamma foundation supports the running of nunneries with the aim of teaching Geshe studies to a new generation of young people. The studies taught include Tibetan history, religious beliefs, rituals, healing practices and other aspects of Tibetan traditions and religion. It is expected that there will be Geshe nuns graduating in 2023.
Among the Bon Po nunneries supported are Menri Monastery, the Yungdrung Bon Monastic Center and the Redna Menling Nunnery.
The Jamma foundation also supports learning of Tibetan culture for non-Tibetans. This includes preserving texts on the Tibetan traditions and religions. The foundation supports learning of the Tibetan language so that learners can read Tibetan texts easier. Learning the Lhasa dialect of the Tibetan people also exposes the learner to a wider body of knowledge past the texts.
The Jamma foundation remains committed to providing learners with the necessary support in preserving the Tibetan traditions and religions.