Category Archives: News and Updates

The Textbooks for Nuns Have Arrived!

Thank you to everyone who donated to purchase textbooks for the Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India. Four of the seven nunneries in northern India have already received them and the nuns are delighted with their new books on English, math, science, and general knowledge. Here are photos of the nuns receiving and using the textbooks.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns with new textbooks

Thank you for purchasing new textbooks for the nuns! As you can see, they are delighted. Photo taken in May 2024 by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

At Dolma Ling, home now to 270 nuns, the nuns have received 274 new textbooks. The teachers there needed higher grade books which were not previously available and grammar and composition books.

new textbooks for Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Photos from May 2024 taken by Robin Groth showing some of the new textbooks in use at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

At Geden Choeling, the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala, the 200 nuns and their teachers are excited to have good sets of books. Geden Choeling’s abbot wants the nuns to learn math, but the nunnery didn’t have any math textbooks until now. Thanks to the generous support of Tibetan Nuns Project donors the  Geden Choeling nuns now have these 362 textbooks.

Nuns at Geden Choeling nunnery carefully protect their new textbooks

Nuns at Geden Choeling nunnery carefully protect their new textbooks. Tibetans have a deep respect for books. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Eight boxes containing 369 textbooks were delivered in May to Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, home to about 100 nuns. The Shugsep nuns needed math, science, and English grammar and composition books. The English teacher also asked for help to improve the stock of English textbooks so the students could complete coursework up to Grade 8. The nunnery’s last big purchase of books was many years ago and those books were so well-loved and used that they were falling apart.

new textbooks for Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Nuns at Dolma Ling using some of the new textbooks. A single book can transform hundreds of lives over the years and we are very grateful to the donors who funded the textbooks. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The textbook order for Tilokpur Nunnery has been placed and includes a series of books called Cherry Blossoms for the new class of 15 young nuns who joined the nunnery this spring. Tilokpur nunnery has one English teacher who teaches all eight classes so she is pretty busy but most appreciative of the books.

education of Tibetan Buddhist nuns

The mission of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to educate and empower nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as teachers and leaders; and to establish, strengthen, and support educational institutions to preserve the Tibetan religion and culture. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The books for Sakya College for Nuns are being purchased soon. The textbooks for Dorjee Zong Nunnery in the remote area of Zanskar will be purchased this summer and brought there. We’ll report on these in the fall.

boxes of new textbooks for Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

Boxes of new textbooks for Tibetan Buddhist nunneries.

Meanwhile, the Tibetan Nuns Project will continue to work with all seven of the nunneries to establish good library practices and to have library time for informal reading of fiction and non-fiction books. Dolma Ling library is functioning well and the nuns regularly borrow books and read them. The teachers at Shugsep Nunnery will bring their classes to the library and display a range of books so the students can look through them easily and choose what they would like to read.

Textbooks needed for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India

Nuns at Tilokpur. Traditionally Tibetan Buddhist nuns have not had equal access to education. The textbooks will help educate and empower the nuns to become teachers and leaders.

Geshemas Visioning Their Future

TNP Holds Geshemas Strategic Visioning Workshop

From April 8-12, 2024, the Tibetan Nuns Project organized a Geshemas Strategic Visioning Workshop at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in Dharamsala in conjunction with the Women’s Empowerment Desk of the Central Tibetan Administration.

The workshop was held with eight Geshemas from Dolma Ling and four Tibetan Buddhist nuns who are currently studying for their Geshema exams. The workshop aims to empower Geshemas in shaping the future of their role within Tibetan Buddhism.

collage Geshema Visioning Workshop

The 5-day workshop aimed to explore the future vision of the Geshemas (holders of the highest academic degree in Tibetan Buddhism) and support their participation in the larger social realm. The goal is to empower the Geshema to contribute back to the community through various leadership roles.

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. The Geshema degree is the same as a Geshe degree but is called a Geshema degree because it is awarded to women.

The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. Sixty nuns currently hold the Geshema degree and many nuns will take various levels of the four-year Geshema exams this summer. The degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Geshema Visioning Workshop Dolma Ling Timeline

As part of the workshop, the nuns used a big graphic illustration of Dolma Ling’s timeline called HERstory (rather than history) to help set the stage for the subsequent days. Hearing about their journeys from Tibet to the present was fascinating and awe-inspiring for everyone.

As part of the workshop, the nuns shared their stories. Several nuns started learning the Tibetan alphabet in their 20s and many only after they came to Dolma Ling. Many nuns had no schooling in Tibet or they were sent to Chinese schools with no opportunity to learn Tibetan. Here are some photos from the first days of the workshop.

The Workshop Organizers

The five-day workshop was conducted and facilitated at Dolma Ling by TNP board member, Dechen Tsering, with the help of TNP board members Tseten Phanucharas and Robin Groth.

Tibetan Geshemas take part in visioning workshop 2024

The Geshema degree stands as the pinnacle of educational attainment within the Gelugpa tradition. The workshop was aimed at enhancing leadership skills and awareness among Geshemas, empowering them to navigate life more effectively and cultivate their leadership qualities.

We are very grateful to our partner co-facilitators from CTA’s Women’s Empowerment Desk who helped prepare the workshop charts and banners and did the Tibetan-language translations. The team from the Women Empowerment Desk included Tsering Kyi (Lead Facilitator), Tenzin Tseten (co-facilitator), and Tenzin Dolkar (Tibetan language translator). They also offered a workshop on Gender and Leadership on April 10th.

Geshema Strategic Visioning Workshop April 2024

Geshemas at Dolma Ling offer prayers as part of the visioning workshop. The Geshema degree (called a Geshe degree for monks) was only formally opened to women in 2012. As of November 2023, 60 nuns hold this highest degree roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is also very grateful to our thought partners, Beckie Masaki and Nancy Wan from Bay Area’s Gathering Strength Coalition for working with Dechen Tsering in co-conceptualizing the workshop agenda and creating the HERstory timeline chart used to illustrate major milestones – past and future – by the workshop participants.

A Range of Workshop Activities

Over the five days, the participants took part in many group and individual activities including written vision statements about where they saw themselves in five years in 2029. Many of the nuns pictured themselves returning to their hometowns in Tibet or Spiti as principals of new schools they would start. Two nuns envisioned themselves as bilingual online Buddhist teachers. Four of the nuns already speak quite good English and want to improve so they can teach. One nun envisioned herself as director of TNP-paid staff at Dolma Ling. One nun saw herself in solitary retreat for five years to prepare for the next life.

Geshema Visioning Workshop 2024

Throughout the five days, attendees engaged in discussions on a range of topics, including effective communication, problem-solving, active listening, gender and leadership, leadership qualities and styles, team-building exercises, and visualization exercises.

Dechen Tsering wrote, “The Geshemas (and four future Geshemas) who took part were extremely enthusiastic, energetic, engaged, and participated fully throughout the five days! Together, we shared, we learned, we meditated, we played, and we laughed all week. We had fun!”

Rinchen Khando Choegyal speaks at Geshema workshop

Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nuns Project gave an inspirational talk. She emphasised the evolution and significance of the Geshema degree, highlighting how the Geshema’s contributions to the Tibetan community and Buddhist philosophy play a pivotal role in shaping history.

Board member, Robin Groth, created this slideshow of the workshop.

Making Headlines

The workshop made the news. On April 10th, a media team from VOA Tibetan came to Dolma Ling and did a 20-minute feature video story and interview in Tibetan with lead organizer, Dechen Tsering. Within two days the story had been viewed by over 2,600 people.

On April 13th, the Voice of Tibet did this interview and feature story entitled “Conversation on building a strategic vision and challenges for Geshemas.” The video is in Tibetan and shows many of the activities in the workshop. Can’t see the video? Click here.

Helping Geshemas on the Path

Please help build 16 rooms at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute for nuns who hold their Geshema degree so that they can get the education they need to become fully qualified teachers of their tradition.

The Geshema degree (called a Geshe degree for men) is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012.

Geshema, Geshema degree, Geshema Endowment Fund

A Geshema holds the yellow hat that signifies her degree. Detail of photo by Olivier Adam.

Housing for Geshemas

There is a housing shortage for Geshemas who want to do Tantric studies. To solve this problem, we would like to construct 16 rooms plus bathrooms, kitchen and dining facilities, and a study hall. These 16 rooms and facilities will be on the third floor of the Yangchen Lophel Center at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Geshemas from nunneries all over India and Nepal will be able to stay here so that they can take the final year of advanced education at the nearby Gyuto Tantric University.

Geshemas studying Tantric Buddhism

Part of the first group of 23 Geshema nuns who had the opportunity to do Buddhist Tantric Studies. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The 16 rooms can either be single-bed study rooms or, as the groups of Geshema graduates become larger, accommodate two nuns per room. Now that this degree is open to women, more nuns from India and Nepal are studying to be Geshemas. It is difficult to predict how many graduates there will be each year, so the facility must be as flexible as possible. We also hope that the Geshema Organizing Committee’s office can be moved into this facility to free up the room they are now using in Dolma Ling Nunnery.

To help the Geshemas on their path you can:

  1. Make a gift online
  2. Call our office in Seattle, U.S. at 1-206-652-8901
  3. Mail a check to The Tibetan Nuns Project, 815 Seattle Boulevard South #418, Seattle, WA 98134 U.S. (note that it is for Housing for Geshemas)
  4. Donate securities

Background

December 22, 2016, marked an important day in the history of Tibet as 20 nuns became the first Tibetan women to receive their Geshema degrees, equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Geshema, Geshema nuns, Tibetan nuns, His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Tibetan Buddhist nuns make history. Collage of photos from the Geshema graduation event on December 22, 2016. Photos courtesy of Olivier Adam and OHHDL.

The Geshema degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. Now Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Geshema, online Buddhist teaching, Geshema Delek Wangmo

Geshema Delek Wangmo has completed her Tantric Studies and now teaches at Dolma Ling Nunnery. In May 2023, she and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel gave an online Buddhist teaching and taught other Geshemas how to do this.

Their success fulfils a longstanding wish of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and marks a new chapter in the development of education for ordained Buddhist women and is a major accomplishment for Tibetan women. It is also a milestone for the Tibetan Nuns Project, which was founded in 1987 to provide education and humanitarian aid to Tibetan Buddhist nuns living in India.

Tantric Studies

After monks attain their Geshe degree (the male equivalent of the Geshema degree) they must study the Tantric treatises to become fully qualified masters capable of teaching their complete tradition. The monks normally join one of the two main Tantric Colleges to do this.

The Tibetan Nuns Project set up a Tantric Studies program out of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute for all the recent Geshema grads from India and Nepal. In 2018, 23 of the 26 nuns in the first two groups of Geshema graduates started Tantric studies. The nuns attended classes at nearby Gyuto Tantric University to receive the necessary empowerments and transmissions from the senior monks. The Tantric Studies Program generally takes around 12 months to complete.

The Need for Housing for Geshemas

After monks attain their Geshe degree (the male equivalent of the Geshema degree) they must study the Tantric treatises to become fully qualified masters capable of teaching their complete tradition. To do this, the monks normally join one of the two main Tantric Colleges.

The Tibetan Nuns Project has set up a Tantric Studies program out of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute for all the recent Geshema grads from India and Nepal. In 2018, 23 of the 26 nuns in the first two groups of Geshema graduates started Tantric studies. The nuns attended classes at nearby Gyuto Tantric University to receive the necessary empowerments and transmissions from the senior monks. The Tantric Studies Program generally takes around 12 months to complete.

The Current Problem

Since 2018, the Geshemas have been housed and fed at Dolma Ling, traveling daily by jeep to Gyuto Tantric University for their studies. These arrangements are currently funded by the Tibetan Nuns Project under the Geshema Endowment Fund.

Tantric studies, Tibetan nuns, Tibetan Buddhism, Dolma Ling

For the first time in the history of Tibet, Buddhist nuns have the opportunity to formally study Tantric Buddhism and become teachers. But they need your help to provide accommodation and food. Photo courtesy of the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Although there are many advantages for the Geshemas with this arrangement, it is placing a big strain on Dolma Ling to accommodate them. It also restricts the number of new nuns who can be admitted to Dolma Ling. Space must be available for young nuns to join Dolma Ling to give the nunnery fresh input each year.

Rinchen Khando Choegyal with Geshemas at Dolma Ling 2017

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Urgently Need Textbooks

The new academic year begins shortly after February 10th and the Tibetan Buddhist nuns urgently need new math, science, and English textbooks. Can you help?

textbooks for nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns,

So far three nunneries, home to 650 nuns have sent their wish lists of textbooks. The total cost for the 1,005 textbooks comes to $5,563 or about $5 per book. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Three nunneries have already sent their lists of books they’d like to purchase from Collins India. We’re waiting to get the textbook requirements from the remaining four nunneries we support and also the list of storybooks needed for Shugsep Nunnery.

So far, the nunneries have asked for 1,005 textbooks in English for their 550 nuns. The cost of these orders is $5,563. The average cost of one textbook is between $5 and $6, so even if you can help purchase one textbook, that would be wonderful.

Tibetan Buddhist nun reading an English textbook.

Teaching and learning is a complex process. Studies show that illustrated textbooks help students learn more effectively. The nuns need textbooks for math, science, and English. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

At Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, home to about 100 nuns, the nuns would love math, science, and English grammar and composition books. The English teacher would like to improve the stock of English textbooks so the students can complete coursework up to Grade 8. The nunnery’s last big purchase of books was years ago and the books have been so well-loved that they are now falling apart. Shugsep Nunnery needs 369 textbooks. Cost: $2,019.

At Geden Choeling, the oldest nunnery in Dharamsala, the 200 nuns and their teachers are excited at the prospect of having good sets of books. Geden Choeling’s abbot is keen for the nuns to learn math, but the nunnery doesn’t have any math textbooks. They have asked for help to purchase textbooks so the teacher can use them for ideas and exercises in their classes. Geden Choeling would like 362 textbooks Cost: US $1,864. 

At Dolma Ling, home to 250 nuns, the teachers have asked for the higher grade books which were not previously available and for grammar and composition books. Dolma Ling has so far requested 274 textbooks. Cost: $1,680.

To help buy textbooks for nuns you can:

    1. Make a gift online here.
    2. Call our office in Seattle, US at 1-206-652-8901
    3. Mail a check to: The Tibetan Nuns Project (note for textbooks) 815 Seattle Boulevard South #418, Seattle, WA 98134 USA

The Power of Textbooks

A single book can transform hundreds of lives.

Textbooks provide organized units of work with each lesson carefully spelled out. Because they are illustrated, students can picture and visualize concepts.

Books for Tibetan Buddhist nuns

There’s a growing body of research showing that high-quality textbooks are important for students’ comprehension and success. Please help provide math, science, and English textbooks for the nuns. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

A textbook gives all the plans and lessons needed to cover a topic in some detail. They save time and energy when searching for information and provide a reliable point of reference. The textbooks will be ordered from Collins India.

Although we now have a science-learning program in the nunneries for one month per year, if the teachers had each level of science and general knowledge textbooks in their classrooms it enliven their classes and help to explain science topics.

Textbooks needed for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India

Traditionally Tibetan Buddhist nuns have not had equal access to education. The textbooks will help educate and empower the nuns to become teachers and leaders.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is also raising funds for teachers’ salaries for the 2024 academic year.

Creative Ways to Help Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

In this blog, we want to showcase some of the creative ways our supporters are helping Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

Since we are a small charity, it is hard for us to manage volunteers and events. So we appreciate our supporters doing things that they love, independent of our help, and then donating a portion of the proceeds to help the nuns.

Wool-Aid: Knitting for Nuns

Wool-Aid, knitted sweaters for Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Our deepest thanks to Terry Yokota and all the volunteer knitters with Wool-Aid for their latest shipment of sweaters, hats, and mittens for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India.

Since 2016, a group of volunteer knitters called Wool-Aid have knit hats, sweaters, and mittens for nuns at nunneries in northern India. The knitters thoughtfully choose colors in keeping with the nuns’ robes and also cover any shipping and receiving costs.

In December, the nuns at Dolma Ling received three boxes of knitwear from Wool-Aid. At this time, the Wool-Aid volunteers are fulfilling the needs of the various nunneries we support and there is no need for other knitters to send things.

Wool-Aid sweaters, hats and mittens, knitwear for Tibetan Buddhist nuns, ways to help

The Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute are delighted with their new sweaters, hats, and mittens from Wool-Aid.

The Etsy Shop Daughters of Buddha

Our long-time supporter, Olivier Adam, created an Etsy site called “Daughters of Buddha” in 2014 dedicated to supporting the Tibetan Nuns Project. Olivier sells fine art prints and postcards featuring his stunning photographs and kindly donates 50% of the sales to help the nuns.

Daughters of Buddha Etsy site banner

Banner image for Olivier Adam’s Etsy site where he sells fine art prints and cards with 50% of the proceeds donated to the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Since 2008 Olivier has travelled at his own expense to document the lives of nuns in India and Nepal. He shares his images with the Tibetan Nuns Project and we also sell greeting cards with his photos here. There are three packs to choose from and they are a great value. Each pack costs US $20 and contains 10 blank cards and envelopes with beautiful photos donated by Olivier Adam and Brian Harris.

ways to help, blank greeting cards, Tibetan greeting cards, cards by Olivier Adam

Greeting cards with photos by Olivier Adam are available through the Tibetan Nuns Project online store.

Brian Harris’s Creative Legacy Campaign

You may be familiar with Brian Harris’s iconic photo of laughing nuns. Brian and his wife Paula have left gifts in their wills to the Tibetan Nuns Project and they wanted to encourage others to do the same. Brian has donated 8×10 prints of his “Laughing Nuns” to be given to anyone who confirms that they are leaving a legacy to the Tibetan Nuns Project. You can read the story behind the famous Laughing Nuns photo here.

laughing nuns by Brian Harris, legacy gift, free gift

Do What You Love and Benefit the Nuns

Once or twice a year for the past 12 years, the Tibetan Nuns Project has received a check from the Oxford University Press for royalties from the sale of a Buddhist book after the authors kindly donated their royalties to help the nuns.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns holding a thank-you sign

We are so grateful to everyone who pays it forward to help the nuns!

If you have something that you love doing, like baking bread, growing flowers, or making art, why not consider donating a portion of the proceeds to help educate and empower Tibetan Buddhist nuns?

More Nuns Earn Highest Degree

2023 Geshema Graduation and Annual Debate Event

On November 27th, seven Tibetan Buddhist nuns graduated with their Geshema degrees at a special convocation ceremony in the holy city of Bodh Gaya, India.

Geshema graduation 2023, Geshema

The seven Tibetan Buddhist nuns who earned their Geshema degrees in 2023 at the graduation ceremony in Bodh Gaya. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The degree is the female equivalent of the Geshe degree for monks and is the highest academic degree available in the Gelug tradition, roughly equivalent to a PhD.

This was the sixth cohort of Geshemas since the degree was opened to women in 2012. The first 20 nuns graduated in 2016.

At the ceremony, Nangsa Choedon, the director of the Tibetan Nuns Project in India, spoke about the work to ensure a strong future for Tibetan nuns.

Geshema graduation 2023, Nangsa Choedon

Nanga Choedon of the Tibetan Nuns Project presents the Geshema graduates with robes and the yellow hats that signifies the holding of this highest degree. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Other special guests who attended the graduation included Kunga Gyaltsen, the additional secretary of Religion and Cultural Affairs for the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) who offered congratulations to the new Geshemas on behalf of the CTA. He encouraged the nuns to educate their local communities on core Buddhist teachings and also urged them to encourage participation in projects aimed at bringing insights from modern science to monastics.

2023 Geshema graduation

Tibetan Buddhist nuns line up to offer congratulations and ceremonial white katak scarves to the Geshema graduates. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The Geshema degree enables these dedicated women to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Geshemas, 2023 inter-nunnery debate

At the 2023 Jang Gonchoe inter-nunnery debate event, there were five Geshemas from previous years who acted as teachers during the month of intensive training in monastic debate. Two were from Jangchup Choeling, one from Kopan Nunnery, one from Jangyang Choeling, and one from Dolma Ling.

The Geshema exams took place in the summer and a record 132 nuns took various levels of the four-year exams. This is 38 more than the 94 nuns who took exams in 2022. Here’s a video  made by the nuns about the 2023 exams.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Geshema exams in 2023

In 2022, 94 nuns sat Geshema exams. This year, a record 132 nuns are taking various levels of the four-year exams. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Momentum is building and an increasing number of nuns wish to attain this highest academic standing. Many young and new nuns who join the nunneries we support in northern India are saying in their introductory interviews that they want to pursue the rigorous 17-year training that precedes the Geshema exam process.

They look to examples of Geshemas as teachers and leaders and they are inspired to follow in their footsteps. As of the end of 2023, there are 60 Geshemas in this tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

2023 Jang Gonchoe Inter-Nunnery Debate

The graduation was the culmination of the nuns’ annual inter-nunnery debate event called the Jang Gonchoe which took place from October 25th to November 28th.

inter-nunnery debate,2023 Jang Gonchoe

In 2023, over 500 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from India and Nepal took part in the month-long inter-nunnery debate event called the jang Gonchoe.

This year around 520 nuns from 10 nunneries from India and Nepal gathered at the Kagyu Monlam in Bodh Gaya to take part in the month-long intensive training in monastic debate.

Nuns practicing debate daily at Dolma Ling Nunnery.

Nuns practicing debate daily at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Throughout the year nuns practice debate daily at their nunneries. But, the Jang Gonchoe debate event provides the training and practice that is essential for nuns who wish to pursue higher degrees.

Long-Term Stability

Both the Geshema exams and the inter-nunnery debate are funded by endowments through the Tibetan Nuns Project and are self-sustaining. We are grateful to all those who supported these two funds.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Some of 510 nuns who took part in the 2023 inter-nunnery debate. Their food and travel costs were covered by the Debate Fund. Now we want to more more of our core programs on a sustainable footing with TNP’s Long-Term Stability Fund.

Now our wish is to put more of the Tibetan Nuns Project’s core programs on a sustainable footing. To that end, we launched the Long-Term Stability Fund. You can learn more about this vision and donate here

2023 Geshema Exams

The 2023 Geshema examinations began in Dharamsala, India on July 21st with 132 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from seven different educational institutes in India and Nepal taking part.

This year a record number of Tibetan Buddhist nuns are taking the rigorous written and oral examinations – 38 more nuns than last year’s record 94.

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. It is the same as the Geshe degree for monks but the ending “ma” marks it as referring to a woman.

Geshema, nun Tibetan Buddhism, 2023 Geshema exams

A nun taking her Geshema exams in 2023. TNP’s Founding Director and Special Advisor Rinchen Khando Choegyal has said, “Educating women is powerful… 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.” Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Until recently, this degree was only open to men; it was only formally opened to women in 2012.

The Geshema degree enables Tibetan Buddhist nuns to become teachers, leaders, and role models. It makes these dedicated women eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

The exams take four years to complete, with one set held each year over two weeks. Candidates are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts. They must achieve a score of at least 75 per cent during their studies to be eligible to sit the exams.

Here’s a video by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns of this year’s exams. Can’t see the video? Click here.

The exams began on Chokhor Düchen, one of the holiest days in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar which celebrates the first teaching by Shakyamuni Buddha. On this auspicious day, over 2,500 years ago, the Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths in Sarnath shortly after attaining enlightenment in Bodhgaya. This event is known as the “turning of the wheel of dharma”.

The exams are being hosted this year by Jamyang Choling Institute in Dharamsala. The costs are covered by the Tibetan Nuns Project’s Geshema Endowment Fund. Twenty-one dedicated volunteer nuns are helping with food, shelter, and other tasks relating to holding the exams.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Geshema exams in 2023

In 2022, 94 nuns sat Geshema exams. This year, a record 132 nuns are taking various levels of the four-year exams. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The candidates in 2023 come from these 7 Tibetan Buddhist nuns’ educational institutes:

1. Geden Choeling Nunnery (Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India)
2. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute (near Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India)
3. Jangchub Choeling Nunnery (Mundgod, Karnataka, India)
4. Kopan Nunnery or Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery (Nepal)
5. Keydong Thukche Choeling (Kathmandu, Nepal)
6. Jangsemling Nunnery (Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, India)
7. Jamyang Choling Institute (Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India)

Here is a second video made by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The main organizers are the Board of Geshema Degree Examination Committee which is made up of three dedicated executive officers and two helpers. The Geshema exams are under the auspices of the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration and the Tibetan Nuns Project in Dharamsala.

monastic debate, 2023 Geshema exams, Geshema degree, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Nuns debating as part of their Geshema exams. Four senior Geshe Lharampa from the great Tibetan Buddhist learning centers in South India are the examiners for the nuns’ oral debate examinations. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The Geshema exams are rigorous and take four years to complete, with one set of exams each year. Here is the breakdown of this year’s 132 examination participants:
1st-year exams: 51
2nd year: 55
3rd year: 17
4th and final year: 9

Geshema exams, Geshema degree, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan nuns

At the start of 2023, 53 women now hold this highest degree. This year, 9 nuns are taking their final year of exams and, if successful, will graduate in November. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The Number of Geshema Graduates

In 2022, ten nuns graduated with their Geshema degrees bringing the total number of Geshemas in the world to 53.

Geshema graduation ceremony

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the 20 Geshema graduates at the degree ceremony in Mundgod in 2016. Photo courtesy of OHHDL.

Here’s a list of the Geshema graduations so far since the formal approval in 2012:

We are extremely grateful to the 159 donors to the Geshema Endowment, including the Pema Chodron Foundation, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Frederick Family Foundation, and the Donaldson Charitable Trust. We are also very grateful to all those who sponsor nuns and help them on their path. More sponsors are always needed. You can learn more about sponsoring a nun here.

Tibetan Nuns Celebrate the Dalai Lama’s 88th Birthday

On July 6th, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 88th birthday was celebrated by Tibetans worldwide with prayers for his good health and long life.

At Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, home to about 250 Tibetan Buddhist nuns, His Holiness’s birthday is always a day of big celebrations. This year the nuns marked the occasion with prayers, offerings, games, and cake. The Dolma Ling Media Nuns captured the fun with this series of photos and a short video.

Dalai Lama's birthday, Dalai Lama, 88th birthday Dalai Lama,

Nuns offering white prayer scarves or kataks to the portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

The day started early with the nuns, teachers and all the staff seated in the Dolma Ling prayer hall for prayers, tsok, and offerings of Tibetan prayer scarves to His Holiness the Dalai Lama whose portrait sits at the front.

tsampa offering, throwing tsampa, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's birthday, Dolma Ling Nunnery

A circle of nuns from Dolma Ling Nunnery prepare to throw tsampa, roasted barley flour, in the air as an offering for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

On July 6th, His Holiness the Dalai Lama attended birthday celebrations at the main temple in Dharamsala. He said, “Today, you are celebrating my 88th birthday, but when I look in the mirror, I feel I look as if I’m still in my 50s. My face doesn’t look old, it isn’t wrinkled with age. What’s more I still have all my teeth so there’s nothing I can’t eat or chew.

“I was born in Tibet and I bear this name Dalai Lama, but in addition to working for the cause of Tibet, I’ve been working for the welfare of all sentient beings. I’ve done whatever I could without losing hope or allowing my determination to flag.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, birthday cake for Dalai Lama,

Part of this year’s festivities included a birthday cake in honor of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

His Holiness the Dalai Lama also said, “I believe there is knowledge within Tibetan culture and religion that can benefit the world at large. However, I also respect all other religious traditions because they encourage their followers to cultivate love and compassion.”

“According to indications in my own dreams and other predictions, I expect to live to be more than 100 years old. I’ve served others until now and I’m determined to continue to do so. Please pray for my long life on that basis.”

Happy birthday messages from Tibetan nuns to the Dalai Lama

The bulletin board at Dolma Ling Nunnery displays birthday wishes and poems from the nuns to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Everyone enjoyed playing games such as a relay race and the bursting of a balloon tied to another person’s ankle. The nuns even played a game of basketball in the courtyard.

Tibetan Nuns Celebrate the Dalai Lama's 88th Birthday

There was lots of laughter as the nuns tried to grab pears with their mouths. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the Patron of the Tibetan Nuns Project. He has always been very supportive of nuns’ education and opening up opportunities for higher degrees. The first conferment of Geshema degrees to Tibetan Buddhist nuns in 2016 fulfilled a longstanding aspiration of His Holiness.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns celebrate Dalai Lama's birthday, Dolma Ling Nunnery

The courtyard of Dolma Ling Nunnery was filled with laughter as nuns watched the games and festivities marking His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s 88th birthday on July 6th. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

Shortly after his birthday, His Holiness the Dalai Lama travelled to Ladakh where he will give teachings from July 21-23 on Gyalsey Thokme Sangpo’s 37 Practices of a Bodhisattva. 

Dalai Lama birthday, Dolma Ling Nunnery

The nuns played a variety of games to celebrate the occasion, including this water bucket challenge. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

The Dolma Ling Media Nuns also created this little video. Can’t see it? Click here.

At this time of year, Dolma Ling Nunnery holds an annual flower competition. The old debate courtyard at the nunnery fills with beautiful potted flowers placed in front of portraits of His Holiness. Scoring for the competition is done by the teachers.

annual flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery

The annual flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

flower contest at Dolma Ling Nunnery 2023

The nuns make posters, cards and banners, and grow flowers in celebration of His Holiness the Dalai Lama birthday. During the annual flower contest, the old debate courtyard is full of beautiful potted plants.

Thank you so much for supporting the nuns through the Tibetan Nuns Project!

Geshemas Have Audience With His Holiness the Dalai Lama

On May 17, 2023 Geshemas had a special audience with His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The Geshemas from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, Geden Choeling Nunnery, and Jangchub Choeling Nunnery met His Holiness the Dalai Lama at his residence in Dharamsala.

Here is the video courtesy of Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Can’t see the video? Click here.

His Holiness spoke in Tibetan. Here’s a translation from courtesy of Dechen Tsering, a Tibetan Nuns Project board member.

“Now you all must keep studying the Buddhist script well. In order to achieve Gelongma (female Gelong) one must usually have the linage of Gelongma. Nevertheless, Buddha has granted access to his teachings to all – it is not limited to just male monks – so take the opportunity to study the scriptures well and achieve Geshema. Study the scriptures hard and benefit the world [with your knowledge and insight]. There are many people in parts of the world who previously had no idea of Buddhism who are now showing a lot of interest in the Buddha’s teachings. Therefore, by becoming Geshemas, it would be most beneficial if you now become teachers. So, do your best! Stay with peace of mind.”

“Remember that we Tibetans originally descend from the linage of the Avalokiteshvara so visualize that on the top of your head sits the Avalokiteshvara and move through the world to be kind-hearted and think only of benefiting others – never hurting others. If you do that then the blessings of Avalokiteshvara will follow you for lifetime after lifetime. I’m like the messenger of Avalokiteshvara. So, we from the people of the land of snow mountains (Tibet) are dedicated followers of Avalokiteshvara and have a special relationship with Avalokiteshvara. So, develop the Buddha’s compassion heart and do your best to benefit others and make some contribution for the benefit of others. These days there are many people showing interest in Buddhism – so if you do your best to help them. It will be very beneficial. So do your best!”

Also attending the event were Nangsa Chodon, Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project in India and Tsering Diki, Assistant Director.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is deeply grateful to our supporters for helping to educate and empower nuns of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition as teachers and leaders.

About the Geshema Degree

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism.

The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. The Geshema degree is the same as a Geshe degree but is called a Geshema degree because it is awarded to women.

Fifty-three nuns hold the Geshema degree as of November 2022. The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Geshema, geshema graduates

The 10 Geshema graduates from 2022. As of the start of 2023, there are 53 nuns who hold the Geshema degree.

Some Facts About the Geshema Degree

  1. The Geshema degree is comparable to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
    It is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
  2. The Geshema degree is the same as the Geshe degree for monks. The ending “ma” marks it as referring to a woman.
  3. Until recently, this highest degree could only be earned by monks.
  4. The historic decision to confer the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was announced in 2012 by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan Administration, following a meeting of representatives from six major nunneries, Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and the Tibetan Nuns Project.
  5. Candidates for the Geshema degree are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts.
  6. To qualify to begin the Geshema process, nuns must score 75% or above in their studies to be eligible to sit for the Geshema exams.
  7. On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.
  8. In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first woman to receive the Geshe degree. This was before the Geshema degree process was approved in 2012.

Making History: The Senior Nuns at Shugsep Nunnery

From Illiteracy to Academic Greatness

The story of the Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute is one of perseverance, dedication, and hope.

Forty-nine Shugsep nuns have now attained the Lopon degree, equivalent to a Master’s degree. This is one of the highest degrees the nuns can achieve in the Nyingma tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. Nyingma (Tibetan རྙིང་མ་) or “school of the ancients” traces its origins to Guru Padmasambhava who came to Tibet in 817 CE.

Until very recently, Tibetan Buddhist nuns had little opportunity to receive training in Buddhist practice and knowledge. Nuns were considered to be second rank. It is a historic achievement for nuns to reach this high academic level and to become teachers, leaders, and role models. Their success is even more remarkable given the many obstacles on their path.

Refugee Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Tibetan refugees, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dharamsala

“In a way 30 years is a long time, but when it’s creating history it is not very long,” said Rinchen Khando Choegyal, TNP’s Founding Director and Special Advisor. This photo was taken in 1991 by Susan Lirakis. The nuns arrived from Tibet with nothing, 99% not knowing how to read and write, traumatized in the prisons, beaten by the prison guards, and with all kinds of health problems.

Educating women and girls is a powerful way to change the world. It is only through education that women will rise and attain equal footing. For Tibetans, struggling to preserve their culture and religion in exile, it is even more critical.

These senior nuns are now qualified to teach. Nine of the Lopons have taken on regular teaching responsibilities at Shugsep. They also teach yearly at Tashi Choling Nunnery in Arunachal Pradesh on a rotation basis.

The Lopons teach philosophy to the nuns at Shugsep, as well as teaching the youngest nuns reading, writing, basic Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, rituals, and the basics of debate. This gives them the groundwork they need before they merge into the mainstream Nyingma education which takes nine years to complete and receive the degree.

Historic Graduation Ceremony

Shugsep Nunnery graduation ceremony 2022

On October 28 2022, Shugsep Nunnery and Institute held a historic graduation ceremony in which Pharchin, Uma and Lopon nuns were given their graduation certificates.

At a historic graduation ceremony on October 28, 2022, twelve senior nuns were present to receive their Lopon degrees from Khenchen Pema Sherab. These senior nuns had completed their Lopon degrees from 2010 to 2022, but this was their chance to finally receive their official degree certificates.

Many dignitaries attended the graduation event including Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the Tibetan Nuns Project’s Founding Director and Special Advisor, representatives from the Religious Department and Health Department of the Central Tibetan Administration, the Head of Mentseekhang, and representatives from various monasteries and nunneries.

Helping Shugsep Nunnery and Institute

Shugsep Nunnery is now home to about 100 nuns. Shugsep was re-established in India and officially inaugurated in December 2010. It is one of two nunneries built and fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project.

This year, we’re working on two major projects to help the Shugsep nuns. The first is to create a circumambulatory or kora path and the second is to build a retreat center for the senior nuns.

Shugsep Nunnery, Nyingma nunnery, kora path, circumambulation

In April a generous donor gave $5,000 as a matching gift to help finish the circumambulatory path which the nuns want to complete before the summer monsoon. So if you donate now your gift will be doubled.

A path inside the nunnery grounds will provide all the nuns with safe, regular exercise and allow them to practice kora, the act of walking around a sacred place which is a form of pilgrimage and meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

The retreat center is a bigger project. To become fully qualified teachers, the senior nuns at Shugsep need a place where they can go on retreat and consolidate their learning. Because there are no retreat facilities at the nunnery, many nuns have been forced to go to Nepal or to the caves at Tso Pema to do retreats. They would like to be able to practice retreat together within Shugsep Nunnery where they will have access to the effective guidance of a proper teacher as well as good basic amenities.

The good news is that the retreat center is now 85% funded. We need $42,000 to make this big dream a reality. You can learn more about the Shugsep Retreat Center project here.

The Shugsep nuns have made huge strides, but there is still more to be done to empower them and preserve their rich wisdom tradition. Thank you for caring about them!

Shugsep Nunnery history, Shugsep nuns, Shugsep nuns

When many nuns from Shugsep Nunnery in Tibet escaped to India they lived in an old, mouldy rented house and had classes outside on the roof. Now they are making history, graduating with high academic degrees and becoming teachers. Thank you for supporting these brave, dedicated women!