First batch of Geshema candidates sit their final round of exams

This month twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns are making history as they take their fourth and final round of examinations for the Geshema degree. Those who pass will receive their degrees in December 2016 from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony in India.

The Geshe degree (Geshema for women) is equivalent to a Doctorate in Buddhist Philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

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A Geshema candidate on day 1 of the Geshema examinations being held this year at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India. Photo courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdron.

Once only open to men, the opportunity to get the Geshe degree was opened to women in 2012. The Geshema examinations represent a huge milestone for Tibetan Buddhist nuns and this batch of 20 nuns will be the first Tibetan women with this highest degree in the history of Tibet.

This year’s Geshema examinations are being held at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India from May 1 to 12th 2016. 

The exams are supervised by a special Board of Geshema Examination comprised of representatives from the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Tibetan Nuns Project, the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala, and six concerned nunneries located in India and Nepal.

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News media interview a Tibetan nun at the start of this year’s historic Geshema examinations. Photo courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdron

The Minister (Kalon) of the Department of Religion and Culture, Mr. Pema Chhinjor, attended the first day of the examinations as a part of the Geshema Examination Board and to witness the beginning of this historic occasion.

Kalon Pema Chhinjor told the media, “The historic decision to award Geshema degrees to qualified nuns was reached in 2012 after a two-day meeting between high lamas, representative of nuns, and members of the Tibetan Nun Project. Nuns who complete 17 years of studies with aggregate of 65 percent can sit for the Geshema examination.”

Geshema examinations May 2016 debate

Geshema candidates must take both written and oral exams. The evaluation of the debate test is done by four Geshe Lharamapas specially invited from Sera Jhe, Drepung Losel Ling, Gaden Jangtse and Drepung Gomang monasteries.

The Geshema examination process is an extremely rigorous one that takes four years in total, with one round per year each May.

This year total of 44 nuns from five nunneries in India and Nepal — Dolma Ling, Geden Choeling, Jamyang Choeling, Kopan, and Jangchup Choeling Nunneries — are taking various levels of the examinations.

During the 12-day exam period, the nuns must take both oral (debate) and written exams. They are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts.

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Nuns must take both written and oral (debate) exams each year as part of the rigorous 4-year Geshema examination process. Photo courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdron

One of the final-year Geshema candidates, Venerable Tenzin Kunsel of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, said, “There were many hardships while studying the vast subject. However, I feel fortunate and joyous to appear for the examination, which makes the hardship negligible.”

In October 2016 successful Geshema candidates who have passed all four years of their examinations will formally receive their Geshema degrees, fulfilling a longstanding wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and marking a new chapter in the development of the nuns’ education.

Supporting education has been a primary goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project, which was founded in 1987 to provide education and humanitarian aid to Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in India.

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Some of the 20 nuns who are taking their fourth and final set of exams this May for their Geshema degrees. Photo courtesy of Delek Yangdron

A number of the Geshema candidates were illiterate when they escaped from Tibet. To reach this historic milestone, the Tibetan Nuns Project had to build an educational system from the ground up. The Tibetan Nuns Project started with the very basics of educational organization — things like setting up classes, building a curriculum, regular attendance, and taking tests — putting all the components of an educational system in place.

Earning the Geshema degrees will be a turning point for the nuns. This degree will make them eligible to assume various leadership roles in the monastic and lay communities, previously reserved for men.

The Tibetan Nuns Project has created a special endowment fund to support future years of the Geshema examinations. This fund will help ensure that more nuns can become leaders and teachers at a time when their wisdom is so needed.

11 thoughts on “First batch of Geshema candidates sit their final round of exams

  1. Lisa Brandt

    It would be very wonderful if TPN would make it possible for supporters to send congratulations to the successful nuns, and perhaps donation to their monasteries to celebrate and acknowledge their efforts and achievements.

    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dear Lisa, We’re so happy that you shared this comment. We’ve just mailed a spring letter from Dr. Elizabeth (Betsy) Napper to everyone on our mailing list. The letter has news from India and also a card with it where people can write their message of congratulations for the Geshema nuns and we’ll create a special way to share all those messages. You should get it in the mail very shortly.

  2. dgordon243

    Please convey my best wishes for successful completion for all participants. I am looking forward to hearing the results of this year’s examination. All their hard work, some learning to read & write, to reach this stage is amazing to me. The dedication, hard work & constant studying is impressive. I will keep all of them in my thoughts & prayers.

  3. Dwight david

    They create peace for the world and in the Kali Yuga there is no more important work that their realization and liberation of all beings

  4. MariaLuís Costa

    Very happy for the nuns who are finally given this opportunity.I am sure the exams will be a success and a new and happy path for them and the ones who follow .I am with you,girls!Love and support from Maria (Portugal).

  5. Karen Dorton

    One of the nuns I sponsor from Geden Choeling is sitting her final exams and my prayers are with her as always. She is so special, as are all the nuns. I know she will do well and I will be bursting with pride to call her Geshema when I see her in September

  6. Margaret Loyon

    Thank you to these strong and utterly persevering nuns-in-exile. What they are achieving for women all over the world is amazing and greatly encouraging. I’m actually moved to tears by reading about them.

    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dear Chiara, The exams results are not out yet but we are eagerly awaiting them this month and will share them as soon as we can.


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