A convocation ceremony was held in Bodh Gaya, India, on Monday for the sixth cohort of geshemas. The group consisted of seven Tibetan Buddhist nuns, each earning the highest academic degree available in the Gelug tradition, said to be equivalent to a PhD. Kunga Gyaltsen, the additional secretary of religion and cultural affairs for the Central Tibetan Association (CTA), was in attendance.
At the ceremony, Nangsa Choedon, the director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, spoke about the work to ensure a strong future for Tibetan nuns. Ngawang Tenzin, the principal of Dolma Ling Nunnery, near Dharamsala, explained the geshema degree. After this, the certificates were distributed.
The geshema degree, an equivalent of the male geshe degree, was only opened to women in 2012. Like the geshe degree, it takes years of study to complete.
The Tibetan Nuns Project stated in its newsletter:
Prior to the first graduation ceremony in 2016, there were many people who doubted women’s ability to earn this degree on an equal footing with men. At the end of 2022, there were 53 Geshemas in the world. There’s a growing recognition and influence of the Geshemas in their nunneries and in the Tibetan exile community.(Tibetan Nuns Project)
Kunga Gyatsen offered congratulations to the new geshemas on behalf of the CTA. In his speech, he encouraged them to educate their local communities on core Buddhist teachings. He also urged the new geshemas to work within and beyond their monastic institutions to encourage participation in projects aimed at bringing insights from modern science to monastics.
The geshema exams began over the summer, with a record 132 nuns in attendance. This is 38 more than last year’s 94 nuns, itself a record level of attendance. Since the 2016 graduating class, interest in the program has grown significantly.
• The Geshema degree is comparable to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
• It is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
• The Geshema degree is the same as the Geshe degree for monks. The ending “ma” marks it as referring to a woman.
• Until recently, this highest degree could only be earned by monks.
• The historic decision to confer the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was announced in 2012 by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan Administration, following a meeting of representatives from six major nunneries, Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and the Tibetan Nuns Project.
• Candidates for the Geshema degree are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts.
• To qualify to begin the Geshema process, nuns must score 75% or above in their studies to be eligible to sit for the Geshema exams.
• On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.
• In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first woman to receive the Geshe degree. This was before the Geshema degree process was approved in 2012.(Tibetan Nuns Project)
Additional Secretary of Religion and Culture Attends Convocation of 6th Batch of Geshema in Bodh Gaya (Central Tibetan Administration)
Tibetan Nuns Project Fall 2023 Newsletter (Tibetan Nuns Project)
2023 Geshema Exams (Tibetan Nuns Project)
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