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Dalai Lama Holds a Special Audience with Geshemas in Dharamsala 


His Holiness the Dalai Lama granted a special audience at his residence in Dharamsala on 17 May for a group of Tibetan Buddhist nuns—all geshemas from three Tibetan nunneries in India: Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, Geden Choeling Nunnery, and Jangchub Choeling Nunnery. 

During the auspicious meeting, His Holiness, who has long been an advocate for the education and empowerment of female Buddhist monastics, urged the nuns to use their learning as Buddhist scholars to become teachers, emphasizing to the geshemas that they should focus on living and practicing with a mind and heart of sincere compassion for the benefit of all beings.

“Also attending the event were Nangsa Chodon, director of the Tibetan Nuns Project in India and assistant director Tsering Diki,” the Tibetan Nuns Project (TNP), a US-registered charity based in Seattle and in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh, India, said in an announcement shared with BDG.

The geshema degree is the highest academic degree in Gelugpa tradition and was only recently made available to Buddhist nuns.* Like the geshe degree for male monastics, it is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist studies. The rigorous exams take four years to complete, with one set held each year. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the geshema exams were cancelled in 2020 and 2021.


The following translation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teaching for the nuns, was prepared by Dechen Tsering, a board member of the Tibetan Nuns Project, and is presented here courtesy of the TNP:

Now you all must keep studying the Buddhist script well. In order to achieve gelongma (female gelong) one must usually have the linage of Gelongma. Nevertheless, [the] Buddha has granted access to his teachings to all—it is not limited to just male monks—so take the opportunity to study the scriptures well and achieve geshema. Study the scriptures hard and benefit the world [with your knowledge and insight]. There are many people in parts of the world who previously had no idea of Buddhism who are now showing a lot of interest in the Buddha’s teachings. Therefore, by becoming geshemas, it would be most beneficial if you now become teachers. So, do your best! Stay with peace of mind.

Remember that we Tibetans originally descend from the linage of the Avalokiteshvara, so visualize that on the top of your head sits Avalokiteshvara and move through the world to be kindhearted and think only of benefiting others—never hurting others. If you do that then the blessings of Avalokiteshvara will follow you for lifetime after lifetime. I’m like the messenger of Avalokiteshvara. So we from the people of the land of snow mountains [Tibet] are dedicated followers of Avalokiteshvara and have a special relationship with Avalokiteshvara. So develop the Buddha’s compassionate heart and do your best to benefit others and make some contribution for the benefit of others. These days, many people are showing an interest in Buddhism, so if you do your best to help them i will be very beneficial. So do your best!

Inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2005, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute of Buddhist Dialectics is located in Kangra Valley near Dharamsala in northern India. The nunnery was the first institute dedicated to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions, and is fully funded by the TNP.

Geden Choeling, located in McLeod Ganj, is the largest and oldest Buddhist nunnery in India. Since 1975, the center has offered a safe haven to a steady stream of refugee Tibetan nuns There are currently 175 nuns in residence, including a number of elderly nuns who are cared for by their younger colleagues. The nunnery was founded by a group of nuns who fled the destruction of Nechung Ri Nunnery in Tibet. In collaboration with nuns from elsewhere in Tibet, they established Geden Choeling, which means “home of the virtuous ones who devote their lives to the Buddhadharma.” (Tibetan Nuns Project)

Jangchub Choeling Nunnery was founded in Mundgod, in the southwestern Indian state of Karnataka, in 1987, under he Dalai Lama’s vision of preserving Tibetan culture and heritage, as an educational institution for women of all ages to study the Buddhist scriptures of the Nalanda tradition. The first resident nuns attended the Central School for Tibetans to study secular subjects during the day, and practiced the Dharma during evenings. In 1989, two geshes, Geshe Konchok Tsering and Geshe Khenrap Dhargay from Gaden Shartse monastery, began teaching Buddhist philosophy to the resident nuns twice a week.

“Fifty-three nuns hold the geshema degree as of November 2022,” The TNP explained. “The geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.”

The title geshe was first bestowed upon esteemed masters of the Kadampa tradition, such as Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1102–76). The degree is the highest form of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. The first female monastic to qualify for the geshema title was German nun Kelsang Wangmo, who was ordained in India in the early 1990s.

The Tibetan Nuns Project provides education and humanitarian aid to refugee nuns from Tibet and 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 nunneries. Many of the nuns are refugees from Tibet, but the organization also reaches out to the Himalayan border areas of India, where women and girls have little access to education and religious training.

For information on ways to support the work of the Tibetan Nuns Project, click here

* The Central Tibetan Administration reached this unanimous and historic decision on 19 May 2012 after a two-day meeting in Dharamsala attended by high lamas, representatives of nuns from six nunneries, and members of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

See more

Tibetan Nuns Project
Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute (Tibetan Nuns Project)
Geden Choeling (Tibetan Nuns Project)
Jangchub Choeling Nunnery

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