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In Historic First, Two Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Hired to Teach Buddhist Philosophy

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with new Geshemas. From
His Holiness the Dalai Lama with new Geshemas. From

Two nuns with geshema degrees—the equivalent of a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy—have been hired to teach Buddhist philosophy at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India. The announcement comes from the Tibetan Nuns Project, founded by Rinchen Khando Choegya and headquartered in Dharamsala. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute was inaugurated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on 8 December 2005, and has historically only had male teachers.

The instititue, located outside of Dharamsala, offers a full 17-year curriculum in Buddhist philosophy and debate, as well as broader subjects such as creating sand mandalas and butter sculptures. In 2011, the Institute for Buddhist Dialectical Studies (IBD) in Dharamsala conferred the degree of geshe on Venerable Kelsang Wangmo, a German nun, making her the world’s first female geshe (or geshema). The first group of Tibetan nuns graduated with geshema degrees in 2016. There are approximately 250 nuns studying at the institute. Last year, the Tibetan Nuns Project celebrated 26 nuns earning geshema degrees, a milestone in the history of Tibetan Buddhism.

The two geshemas hired this spring as teachers are Geshema Tenzin Kunsel  and Geshema Delek Wangmo.

Geshema Tenzin Kunsel. From
Geshema Tenzin Kunsel. From
Geshema Delek Wangmo. From
Geshema Delek Wangmo. From

According to an online report from the Tibetan Nuns Project, the two geshema teachers endured a great deal to reach their historic status. Geshema Tenzin Kunsel had to leave school in Tibet at age 12, and Geshema Delek Wangmo was illiterate when she arrived in India after fleeing Tibet. Like others from Tibet, they had to risk their lives to escape to India in order to freely practice their religion.

“The education I get here at Dolma Ling is much better than I ever dreamed I would have. I really never thought I would have a chance to learn English or debate or have so many classes in Buddhist philosophy. I can’t believe how lucky I have been.” said Geshema Tenzin Kunsel. “My sister, who is a nun in Tibet, has no classes. Her nunnery has gotten smaller because some of the nuns have escaped, some have been put in jail, and some have died. They have only prayer and no classes and no studying. . . . It does not seem fair for her to have so little as a nun and for me to have so much. After all, we are both nuns.” (Tibetan Nuns Project)

Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not had the same access to education as monks. Since the 1980s, however, His Holiness the Dalai Lama has advocated for the advancement of women, telling nuns “You will become geshema,” during his regular visits to Mundgod Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Karnataka, southern India, which he inaugurated in 1987.*

Founded in 1987, the Tibetan Nuns Project has worked to elevate the educational standards and the overall position of women. Their work is aimed at both preserving Tibetan culture and empowering nuns to flourish and act as leaders in the modern world.

Norman Steinberg, a retired Canadian who now spends nine months each year volunteering for the Tibetan Nuns Project in Dharamsala, told Buddhistdoor Global: “It has been my experience on my 50-year journey on the Buddhist path, that women have a greater empathy with the Buddha’s teaching. They have easier access to their Buddha-nature and a much easier time teaching the core values of Buddhism. They teach from their experiential and not from their conceptual understanding. When you combine that innate ability with the formal training the geshemas receive, the Dharma is taught with the greatest purity and compassion. And that is what humanity needs now in the face of the issues that are emerging across the planet.”

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Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute (Tibetan Nuns Project)
Historic accomplishment as Geshemas hired to teach nuns (Tibetan Nuns Project)

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