Over the past 12 days, 38 Tibetan nuns have sat examinations which will allow them to progress towards a Geshema degree, a high-level monastic certification similar to a doctorate.
Taking four years to complete, the Geshema examination has been held each May only since 2013—until 2011, the Geshe title was awarded only to monks. The degree requires about 18 years of study, and is the highest form of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
The first woman ever to receive the Geshema title, in 2011, was German nun Kelsang Wangmo, after 21 years in India, where she was ordained in the early 1990s. Venerable Kunphen, spiritual program coordinator at Tushita Meditation Centre in Dharamsala, told Mandala magazine in 2012: “It has been a great pleasure to see that Ven. Kelsang Wangmo has been awarded with the Geshe degree and I hope that many nuns, some having finished their study for years already, will follow very soon. It’s quite a big step, which will heighten the esteem and value nuns are given considerably.”
Four years later, 38 nuns are successfully moving towards the completion of their degrees. Eleven are in their first year, six are in their second, and twenty-one nuns are in their third year of study.
The examinations this year were held from 1–12 May at Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod, southern India. The next round will be held in 2016 at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh.
The examinations include written tests on important Buddhist texts, as well as debate. Optional subjects include Tibetan language, Tibetan history, and modern science. If the nuns pass in these subjects, their additional marks are added to the total score.