Category Archives: Inter-Nunnery Debate Jang Gonchoe

Another great debate!

Thank you for making the annual inter-nunnery debate a big success.

The 25th annual inter-nunnery debate, called the Jang Gonchoe, took place from October 25-November 30th 2019.

At the month-long event, 422 nuns received intensive training in Tibetan Buddhist debate.

Jang Gonchoe Inter Nunnery debate 2019 in Bodh Gaya

Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating in pairs at the Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate held at the Kagyu Monlam Pavilion in Bodh Gaya, India. Over 400 nuns took part in the 25th annual event.

The historic event was held at the huge Kagyu Monlam Pavilion in Bodh Gaya, India. The nuns also debated outdoors in front of the Mahabodhi Temple, the “Great Awakening Temple” marking the location where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Tibetan Buddhist debate is a unique method of learning that, until very recently, was not open to women. This form of learning has helped to produce many renowned Tibetan scholars over the centuries. With the steady religious and cultural persecution inside Tibet, these important Tibetan Buddhist practices can only survive in exile.

Here’s a video about the 2019 Jang Gonchoe:

The nuns came from the following nine nunneries in India and Nepal:
1.     Geden Choeling Nunnery, Dharamsala: 60 nuns attended
2.     Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, Sidhpur: 70 nuns attended
3.     Jamyang Choeling Nunnery, Dharamsala: 48 nuns attended
4.     Jangchub Choeling Nunnery, Mundgod: 74 nuns attended
5.     Jangsemling Nunnery, Kinnaur: 23 nuns attended
6.     Jampa Choeling Nunnery, Kinnaur: 16 nuns attended
7.     Yangchen Choeling Nunnery, Spiti: 16 nuns attended
8.     Khachoe Gakhiling Nunnery, Kopan, Nepal: 60 nuns attended
9.     Thugke Choeling Nunnery, Nepal: 55 nuns attended

The vast Kagyu Monlam Pavilion provided an excellent space for the nuns to debate all under one roof. The Kagyu Monlam Committee kindly provided the complex free of cost for the nuns’ Jang Gonchoe, only requesting a small thank-you donation for water and electricity consumption. We are extremely grateful for their support.

At the conclusion of the event, the 7 nuns who passed their fourth and final year of Geshema exams in August took part in a formal damcha debate with the assembled nuns.

Following the damcha, there was a Geshema graduation ceremony to conclude the Jang Gonchoe. The graduation of 7 more Geshemas brings the total number of Geshemas to 44.

Geshemas debate at 2019 Jang Gochoe for Tibetan Buddhist nuns

The 7 nuns who earned their Geshema degree, the highest degree in their tradition, debate with other nuns in a formal session called a damcha at the conclusion of the 2019 Jang Gochoe. With their graduation in November, this brings the total number of women with this highest degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism, to 44.

We are extremely grateful to everyone who helped support this amazing educational opportunity by donating to our 2019 Jang Gonchoe fund and to the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund.

The practice of debate combines logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy and is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition. To grasp the importance of Buddhist debate, one might compare it to the significance of essay writing in secondary and post-secondary education. Both methods of learning develop skills in critical thinking, demonstrate knowledge and understanding of the topic, involve structuring and organizing an argument, referencing texts, and gaining different points of view.

25th nuns Jang Gonchoe 2019 Bodh Gaya

During the 2019 Jang Gonchoe, the nuns also debated outdoors in front of the Mahabodhi Temple. The “Great Awakening Temple” marks the location where the Buddha attained enlightenment.

Until the 1990s, Tibetan Buddhist nuns were excluded from this form and level of education. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked hard to open up this opportunity for the nuns and make debate a core part of their education.

Establishing a comparable debate session for nuns has been an integral part of the nuns reaching the level of excellence in their studies that they have.

It is only by attending the Jang Gonchoe and getting intensive debating practice that the nuns can advance their knowledge and gain the necessary confidence and experience to pursue higher degrees such as the Geshema degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism.

Let’s Make the Inter-Nunnery Debate Sustainable

The Jang Gonchoe for nuns was started in 1995. Since 1997, the Tibetan Nuns Project has been fully supporting it.

The obstacle to wider attendance at the Jang Gonchoe has always been funding. Sadly, more nuns wish to attend than there is funding available to support them.

We would like to make the nuns’ Jang Gonchoe sustainable. To that end, we have created a Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund so that revenue from the endowment can cover the annual costs.

Our goal is to have $600,000 in the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund.

A generous donor has offered to match every gift to the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund up to a total of $30,000 so you can double the power of your gift here.

The individual costs for each nun are very low. For instance, the food allowance for each nun is 100 rupees a day, equivalent to US$1.46. However, with hundreds of nuns attending for one month, these small costs add up. It now costs about $30,000 a year to fund the event each year.

Geshema graduates 2019

Congratulations to the 7 new Geshema graduates. At the end of the Jang Gonchoe, they took part in a formal debate and graduation ceremony. The graduation of 7 more Geshemas brings the total number of Geshemas to 44.

By donating to the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund, you would be opening up a centuries-old tradition to the nuns and enabling and empowering them to become great teachers in their own right. The benefit of this is inestimable and will be an enduring legacy for generations to come.

By helping nuns attend the annual Jang Gonchoe, you will also be helping to preserve the Tibetan religion, culture, and language — all of which are under severe threat inside Tibet.

This is a unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to foster the dharma for future generations, and to ensure that this unique tradition continues and grows. Donations to the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund can be made here. Thank you for helping the nuns!

Rejoicing the 2018 Jang Gonchoe and Geshema Graduation

October and November was an extraordinary time. Over 600 nuns came together for the 24th annual Jang Gonchoe inter-nunnery debate. At the conclusion of this month-long educational event, ten nuns more nuns graduated with their Geshema degrees. This blog post shares news and videos of these two special events.

The 2018 Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate

The annual, inter-nunnery debate called the Jang Gonchoe was held at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal from 3 October to 4 November 2018. More than 600 nuns from nine nunneries in India and Nepal attended this powerful educational opportunity.

Monastic debate is the traditional mode of study of the profound texts of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Through debate, the nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning. For many nuns, taking part in the Jang Gonchoe is an essential component of working towards higher academic degrees, such as the Geshema degree, which is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Here’s a video by Tizi Sonam showing the inter-nunnery debate.

Prior to 1995, there was no Jang Gonchoe for nuns, although Tibetan monks have held their Jang Gonchoe for centuries. The chance to have nuns from many nunneries gather and intensively debate with each other is a relatively new opportunity for ordained Buddhist women. The Tibetan Nuns Project has been fully supporting the Jang Gonchoe for nuns since 1997. Next year will be its 25th year.

In 2014, the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund so that this vital educational opportunity may continue for years to come. Unfortunately, we’re still a long way from reaching our goal for the fund. You can learn more here. 

The fact that so many nuns wanted to attend this year’s event is a testament to both its incredible value as a learning opportunity and the nuns’ growing confidence. In the early years of the Jang Gonchoe, it was difficult to find nuns to participate because they lacked confidence and felt uncomfortable to join in. Now the nuns are eager to take part. They know what an important chance it is for them to gain skills in debating and to help them with their studies.

In past years, the number of nuns who participated in the Jang Gonchoe was also limited by the ability of the host nunnery to accommodate and feed visiting nuns from other nunneries. However, Kopan Nunnery is a large nunnery and had the facilities and capacity to house many nuns, so many more nuns were able to attend this year. We are extremely grateful to our supporters, including the Pema Chödrön Foundation and the Rowell Fund for Tibet/ICT, whose generosity enabled so many nuns to take part by helping with their food and travel costs.

The 9 nunneries that took part this year were:

  1. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, near Dharamsala, India (min. 35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  2. Geden Choeling Nunnery,Dharamsala, India (min. 35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  3. Jamyang Choeling Nunnery, Dharamsala, India (35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  4. Thujee Choeling Nunnery, South India (35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  5. Kopan Nunnery, host nunnery, Nepal
  6. Jangchup Choeling, Nepal (35 nuns and 2 teachers)
  7. Jangsemling Nunnery, Kinnaur, India (24 nuns and 1 teacher)
  8. Jampa Choeling Nunnery, Kinnaur, India (16 nuns and 1 teacher)
  9. Yangchen Choeling Nunnery, Spiti, India (14 nuns and 1 teacher)

The Geshema Exams and Graduation

From August 15-26 2018, 44 Tibetan Buddhist nuns sat various levels of their four-year Geshema exams. These rigorous written and oral (debate) exams were held at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

Here are the results of the exams:
Fourth and final year exams: All 10 nuns passed
Third year exams: All 8 nuns passed
Second year: 11 of 14 nuns passed
First year: 8 of 12 nuns passed
The nuns who did not pass will have the option to re-sit their exams next year if they wish.

At the conclusion of this year’s Jang Gonchoe, held at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal, the ten nuns who passed their fourth and final Geshema exams in August took part in a formal debate process called damcha.

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Nuns line up to debate with the Geshemas in the damcha. This joyous and inspiring event was held for two days on November 3rd and 4th and was the final formal step in the Geshema graduation process. Photo courtesy of Tizi Sonam

The 2018 Geshema Graduation Ceremony was held on November 5th at Kopan Nunnery with teachers and about 600 nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal in attendance.

Here’s a video made by Tizi Sonam of the 2018 Geshema graduation ceremony at Kopan Nunnery. 

The graduation this year of ten more Geshemas brings the total number of nuns with this degree to 37, including the German-born nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who was the first-ever Geshema.

This is the third year in a row in which a group of nuns completed the challenging four-year exam process. In 2016, Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history when 20 nuns received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony in South India. Last year, another 6 nuns graduated at a ceremony at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree will make them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

The Impact of Your Support of the Nuns

The impact of your support goes far beyond providing funding to cover food and travel so the nuns could take their exams and attend the inter-nunnery debate. We are deeply grateful to all our donors for helping nuns receive the same opportunities for deep study and practice as monks have always had and for supporting these devoted women to become teachers and to contribute to their communities.

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Ten new Geshemas surrounded by Tibetan Buddhist nuns on the steps of Kopan Nunnery in Nepal, following the Geshema graduation ceremony on November 5 2018. Photo courtesy of Tizi Sonam

By furthering the education of hundreds of Tibetan Buddhist nuns, you are also helping to foster the dharma for future generations and to preserve Tibet’s rich religion and culture at a time when it is seriously under threat.

By helping to further educational opportunities like the inter-nunnery debate, you are encouraging more intense study and practice, increasing the nuns’ knowledge and confidence, and empowering these dedicated women to become great teachers in their own right. Thank you!

2018 Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate at Kopan Nunnery

Around 600 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal have gathered at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal for 2018 Jang Gonchoe, the annual inter-nunnery debate.

Running from October 3 to November 4 2018, this special event brings together nuns and teachers for intensive training in Tibetan Buddhist debate.

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Sheltered under tarps, about 600 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from at least 9 nunneries in India and Nepal gather at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal to practice Tibetan Buddhist debate for one month. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

Training in Tibetan Buddhist debate is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition. Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practice Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that joins logical thinking with a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy.

Jang Gonchoe, Kopan Nunnery, Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Buddhist debate, inter-nunnery debate, Buddhist nunnery

A photograph of nuns at the opening ceremony of the 2018 inter-nunnery debate at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery.

The annual debate session for nuns has been an integral part of the nuns reaching their current level of excellence in their studies. It is critical to fostering the nuns’ ability to pursue higher degrees, such as the Geshema degree, which is roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism. Since 2016, 36 nuns have passed the rigorous written and debate exams to become Geshemas – a historic milestone for Tibet. This achievement would not have been possible without the intensive training that the inter-nunnery debate helps provide.

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Taking part in the annual inter-nunnery debate allows nuns to gain knowledge and build confidence. By debating with nuns from other nunneries, they can “up their game” and prepare for higher degrees. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

Dr. Elizabeth Napper, Co-Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, said, “Opening up education to the women, particularly in conjunction with training in debate, has been transformative for the nuns. Not only have they been given access to the full intellectual richness of their Buddhist tradition, but also, through debate, they have been trained to actively engage with it in a way that gives them confidence in their knowledge. Their body language changes from the traditional meekness of nuns to that of women who occupy space with confidence in their right to do so.”

If you wish to see many more photos of this year’s event and video footage of the nuns debating, visit the Kopan Nunnery Facebook page. 

The Importance of Tibetan Buddhist Debate and the Jang Gonchoe

Although Tibetan monks for centuries have held the Jang Gonchoe, prior to 1995, this form and level of learning was not open to nuns.

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About 600 nuns gather for the start of the 2018 Jang Gonchoe at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery.

In 1995, the Jang Gonchoe for nuns was started. Since 1997, it has been fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. We are extremely grateful to the supporters of this year’s event and of our Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund.

The inter-nunnery debate is a unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to help ensure that a centuries-old tradition continues and expands to include the nuns, and fosters the dharma for future generations. The Jang Gonchoe also helps empower Tibetan nuns to become great teachers and examples for their nunnery communities. The host nunneries also gain the experience of putting on a large and complex event. In 2017, the Jang Gonchoe was held at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been very supportive of the education of the nuns and has praised their debating skills. His Holiness has said, “Nowadays, the Nalanda tradition of approaching the Buddha’s teachings with logic and reason is only found amongst Tibetans. It’s something precious we can be proud of and should strive to preserve.

2018 Inter-Nunnery Debate, Jang Gonchoe, Kopan Nunnery, Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Buddhist debate, inter-nunnery debate, Buddhist nunnery

At the Jang Gonchoe, nuns have the opportunity to debate with nuns from other nunneries. This build confidence and skill. Photo courtesy of Kopan Nunnery

The Importance of the Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund

The Tibetan Nuns Project, with the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, has played a critical role in opening up this learning opportunity to women. Although all Tibetan nuns and nunneries are welcome to take part, the main obstacle to wider participation has always been lack of funding. There are more nuns who wish to attend than there is funding to support them with their travel costs and for food during the month-long event.

An average of 7 nunneries takes part each year:

  • Dolma Ling Nunnery & Institute – participant since 1995
  • Jangchup Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Jamyang Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Geden Choeling Nunnery – participant since 1995
  • Khacho Ghakil Ling, Nepal – yearly participant
  • Thugjee Choeling Nunnery, Nepal – yearly participant
  • Buddhist Education Centre, Kinnaur – yearly participant
  • Drikung Nunnery – participant once
  • Dongyu Gyatseling Nunnery – occasional participant
  • Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • Yangchen Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • Jampa Choeling Nunnery, Spiti – occasional participant
  • (The nuns from the latter three nunneries now hold their own inter-nunnery debate session each year in Spiti.)

In 2014, the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a special Jang Gonchoe Endowment Fund to support the Jang Gonchoe so that this vital educational opportunity may continue for years to come. Gifts to the Endowment Fund help to preserve Tibet’s culture and religion, and also open up a centuries-old tradition to the nuns, empowering them to become great teachers in their own right. The benefit of this is inestimable and will be an enduring legacy for generations to come.

To support the Debate Endowment Fund you can:

  1. Make a gift online – see below.
  2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to:
    The Tibetan Nuns Project
    (for Debate Endowment)
    815 Seattle Boulevard South #216
    Seattle, WA 98134 USA
  4. Donate securities
  5. Leave a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project

Give to Debate Endowment

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The main costs associated with the Jang Gonchoe are food for the nuns for a month and their travel costs to and from the event.