His Holiness the Dalai Lama will bestow Geshema degrees on 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Drepung Loseling Monastery in Mundgod, in the southern Indian state of Karnataka, on 22 December, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) announced on its website yesterday. The certificates will be awarded by His Holiness during the 600th founding anniversary celebrations for the original Drepung Monastery—one of the three largest Gelug monasteries in Tibet.
Geshe (feminine: Geshema) is an academic degree for monastics equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. The qualification is emphasized primarily by the Gelugpa lineage of Vajrayana Buddhism, but is also awarded in the Sakyapa school. The annual Geshema examination has been held only since 2013—until 2011, the Geshe title was awarded only to monks. Nuns who successfully pass the Geshema degree are qualified to take on leadership roles in monastic and lay communities that were previously reserved for males.
“The conferment of the Geshema degree is a historic development as it marks a new chapter in [the] empowerment and education of Tibetan woman, particularly in the spiritual sphere,” said Venerable Karma Gelek Yuthok, who heads the CTA’s Department of Religion and Culture. “The degree will open avenues of employment and opportunity to the nuns, as it makes them equally eligible as monks to assume various leadership roles in the monastic and lay communities.”
The Geshema exams were carried out under the supervision of the Board of Geshema Examination, which is comprised of representatives from the Department of Religion and Culture, non-profit organization the Tibetan Nuns Project, the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala, and six nunneries in India and Nepal. The historic graduation ceremony will be livestreamed via the website of the Tibet Nuns Project, and on TTV, the CTA’s official website for online video content.
“Educating women is powerful,” Rinchen Khando Choegyal, founder and director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, which supports seven Buddhist nunneries in India, said in July, when the 20 nuns successfully passed their degrees.* “It’s not just about books. It is also about helping nuns acquire the skills they need to run their own institutions and create models for future success and expansion. It’s about enabling the nuns to be teachers in their own right and to take on leadership roles at a critical time in our nation’s history.” (Tibetan Nuns Project)
The Tibetan Nuns Project, established under the auspices of the Tibetan Women’s Association and the Department of Religion and Culture, supports almost 800 nuns from all Tibetan Buddhist lineages living in nunneries and elsewhere in India. 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 had little access to education and religious training.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Holiness the Karmapa had advocated the establishment of a Geshema program for many years. After seeing nuns participate in traditional monastic debates during a festival in March 2012, the Dalai Lama expressed satisfaction with their level of knowledge and recommended that it was time to allow nuns to study for the advanced qualification.
The title Geshe was first bestowed upon masters of the Kadampa tradition, such as Geshe Chekawa Yeshe Dorje (1102–76). The degree represents 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 and spent 21 years in training before becoming the first female to receive the Geshema title in 2011.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Award Historic Geshema Degree to 20 Tibetan Buddhist Nuns(Central Tibetan Administration)
Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Make History: Congratulations Geshema Nuns! (Tibetan Nuns Project)
Tibetan Nuns Project