Tibetan Nuns to Attain Geshema Degree

By Naushin Ahmed
Buddhistdoor Global | 2015-05-13 |
The dialectic debate examination. From Central Tibetan AdministrationThe dialectic debate examination. From Central Tibetan Administration
Kelsang Wangmo (right) with her mother and the Dalai Lama. From fpmt.orgKelsang Wangmo (right) with her mother and the Dalai Lama. From
Written exam. From tnp.orgWritten exam. From
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.
Four Geshe Lharamapas (Lharampa being the highest category of the Geshe degree, awarded according to ability) are invited from Sera Jhe, Sera Mey, Gaden Shartse, and Drepung Gomang monasteries to evaluate the debates, while invigilation of the written tests is conducted by one Geshe Lharampa from Gaden Jangtse monastery.
The initiative to allow nuns to complete the examinations and be awarded the coveted Geshema title was taken in 2012 by nine interested groups: The Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan Nuns Project, the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics-Dharamshala, and six nunneries in India and Nepal. These groups make up the Geshema Examination Board, which regularizes and oversees all the examinations for the nuns. 
Geshe Wangmo advises young female scholars: “One should not regard Buddhist study as being separate from spiritual practice, but as an integral part of it” (Mandala). 
Possession of the Geshema degree will enable the nuns to take up leadership roles in the monastic and lay communities that were previously reserved for males.
See more
Third round of Geshema Examinations (Tibetan Nuns Project)
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