NEWS

Twenty Tibetan Nuns Make History by Passing Geshema Degree

By Craig Lewis
Buddhistdoor Global | 2016-07-18 |
A candidate during the first day of this year's Geshema examinations held at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala. From tnp.orgA candidate during the first day of this year's Geshema examinations held at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala. From tnp.org

Twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns in Dharamsala, in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, have achieved the remarkable by becoming the first Tibetan women to graduate with Geshema degrees, equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy, the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration has announced.

Geshe (feminine: Geshema) is a Tibetan Buddhist academic degree for monastics. 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.

“Educating women is powerful,” said Rinchen Khando Choegyal, founder and director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, which supports seven Buddhist nunneries in India. “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.

The 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 examination process is extremely rigorous, taking four years in total. The nuns must undergo oral and written examinations, during which they are tested on the entirety of their 17-year course of study. The success this year of the 20 nuns therefore marks a new chapter in the development of education for female monastics and for Tibetan women. The newly qualified nuns will formally receive their degrees from the Dalai Lama at a ceremony to be held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, southern India.
 
Nuns must undergo oral and written exams as part of the rigorous four-year examination process. From tnp.orgNuns must undergo oral and written exams as part of the rigorous four-year examination process. From tnp.org

His Holiness the Dalai Lama and His Holiness the Karmapa had advocated for many years that a Geshema program be established. 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.

See more

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Make History: Congratulations Geshema Nuns! (Tibetan Nuns Project)
Annual Geshema Examinations Held in Dharamsala (Buddhistdoor Global)

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