Category Archives: Nuns education

2024 Geshema Exams: Send a Good Luck Message!

This summer, 147 Tibetan Buddhist nuns are taking various levels of their Geshema exams. You can send the nuns a good luck message by commenting on this blog. We’ll collect the messages and send them to the exam location.

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. The degree, until recently reserved for men, was only formally opened to women in 2012.

Tibetan Buddhist nun holding Geshema hat

Photo of a Geshema holding the yellow hat that signifies her degree. Detail of photo by Olivier Adam.

This year’s exams are being held in Mundgod, South India at Jangchub Choeling Nunnery because Dolma Ling could not provide enough space. One of our current projects is to build 16 more double-bed rooms at Dolma Ling for Geshema graduates who wish to do the advanced Tantric studies required to become fully qualified teachers of their tradition.

The 2024 Geshema exams will take place from July 21st to August 15th. Each year, the candidates gather in advance for a one-month study period before the roughly two weeks of written and oral (debate) exams start.

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 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.”

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.

Geshemas teaching Tibetan children Feb 2022

Each winter, Geshemas at Dolma Ling help Tibetan refugee children learn Tibetan.

Geshes and Geshemas are the most educated monastics, carrying much of the responsibility for preserving the Tibetan religion and culture.

Once again, there is a record-breaking number of nuns taking various levels of the rigorous four-year exams. The nuns are from seven nunneries in India and Nepal. Here is the breakdown:
1st year exams: 45 nuns
2nd year: 37 nuns
3rd year: 52 nuns
4th and final year: 13 nuns

There are 15 more nuns than last year’s record 132 and 53 more nuns than in 2022. No exams were held in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID. All being well, there will be 13 more Geshemas formally graduating this fall.

chart showing number of nuns taking Geshema exams over the years

There’s a dramatic increase in nuns taking their Geshema exams. The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps and the momentum is building. Not long ago, this increased status of nuns was almost unimaginable and we are so grateful for your support to educate and empower these dedicated women!

As of June 2024, 60 nuns hold the Geshema degree. Here’s a list of the Geshema graduations since the formal approval in 2012:

Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling depart for south India to take their Geshema exams.

Nuns from Dolma Ling departing on June 21st for their Geshema exams in Mundgod, South India. The nuns who took the photos wrote, “Courage, determination, and faith accompany our nuns on their exam journey.”

Here’s a video by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns of the 2023 Geshema exams. Can’t see the video? Click here.

We are extremely grateful to the 159 donors to the Geshema Endowment which funds the annual exams 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 everyone who sponsors a nun and helps them on their path.

Geshemas teaching Tibetan children Feb 2022

When you’re facing big challenges, it’s great to know that people are sending you support. Nuns at Dolma Ling reading good luck messages in 2016. Share a message for 2024 by commenting on the blog.

The Geshema Exam Process

To be eligible to take their Geshema exams, the nuns must first complete at least 17 years of study.

The Geshema examination process is rigorous. It involves four years of written and debate exams as well as the completion and defence of a thesis. 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.

“The fact that growing numbers of women are achieving equality with men in the highest levels of Buddhist monasticism, by earning the equivalent of doctorate degrees, is joyous and of enormous importance to the world,” says Steve Wilhelm, a Tibetan Nuns Project board member. “This means that women monastics will be leading more monastic institutions, and will be teaching other women and men. Humanity needs this gender equity if we are to navigate perilous times ahead.”

Tibetan Buddhist nuns read good luck messages Geshema exams

Nuns cluster around the bulletin board at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute to read good luck messages sent from around the world to nuns taking their exams in 2018. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Please send a good luck message to the nuns by commenting below on this blog!

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.

A Geshema’s Journey: The Remarkable Story of Delek Wangmo

Geshema Delek Wangmo’s journey to become a Geshema, a teacher, and a role model has been long and arduous. Her remarkable life story exemplifies resilience, determination, and a deep commitment to spiritual growth, inspiring others on their paths to enlightenment.

Here is her story.

Portrait of Geshema Delek Wangmo taken at Dolma Ling Nunnery in 2022 by Olivier Adam

Portrait of Geshema Delek Wangmo now a senior nun and teacher at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo by Olivier Adam, 2022. She did not go to school in Tibet but spent her time tending the family’s sheep, yaks, goats, and horses.

Delek Wangmo was born in 1970 into a semi-nomadic family in Detsa in Lithang province in Eastern Tibet. “My family includes my parents, one elder sister, and three younger sisters,” she said. “One of my sisters is a nun staying with me at Dolma Ling. I became a nun at the age of 15 when I received my nun’s vows from Lama Tenzin Delek of Detsa Monastery. Since our village didn’t have any schools and education opportunities I did not go to school and spent my time in Tibet tending our animals.”

A 950-Mile Pilgrimage With Prostrations

In 1989, Geshe Delek Wangmo embarked on a challenging spiritual journey with her Lama and other nuns. They made their way from Lithang to Lhasa by prostrating themselves, covering about 950 miles on a mountain road. This journey took one and a half years, reflecting her unwavering determination and dedication to her spiritual life.

Lithang nun pilgrims after escaping to India

Lithang nun pilgrims after escaping to India in 1990. Delek Wangmo was illiterate until she was 19. “I started my education on the pilgrimage. Along the way our Lama gave us teachings and I learned the Tibetan alphabet for the first time.”

“The pilgrimage was hard, as we had to cover the distance from Lithang to Lhasa by prostrations. We would do prostrations in the rain and our clothes got wet and dirty and we could not wash them out every day.”

“In spite of the hardship, I learned much from my time on the pilgrimage. I started my education on the pilgrimage. Along the way our Lama gave us teachings and I learned the Tibetan alphabet.”

“It was difficult because we had to study at night and often did not have enough light to study by. But once I learned the alphabet, the rest of my studying got much easier for me. I started memorizing prayers once I had learned to read.”

Portrait-of-Geshema-Delek-Wangmo-by-Olivier-Adam.

Geshema Delek Wangmo teaching at Dolma Ling in 2022. She said, “Looking back to where I started and what I have achieved now is something very special in my life. I feel satisfied and relieved now. When I fled Tibet I never expected such things in life or that I would have these kinds of opportunities in such a good place.” Photo by Olivier Adam

The pilgrimage did not turn out as planned when authorities refused the nuns permission to visit the holy city of Lhasa. “When we got near Lhasa our Rinpoche tried very hard to get passes for all of us to go into the city of Lhasa but in vain. We were told that we could not go into the city because of some big meeting there. I was very upset and angry because of all the effort our Lama had made and now it did not matter. Then we left for Shigatse, another holy city in the south, to visit Tashi Lunpo Monastery.”

Geshema Delek Wangmo teaching at Dolma Ling 2019

Delek Wangmo earned her Geshema degree in 2017 and was hired as a teacher at Dolma Ling in 2019. She says, “I would like to thank the many people who have supported me in completing my education.”

“Very soon after that the Rinpoche said that we would be going to India and that it would probably be possible to meet His Holiness the Dalai Lama. That made me happy again and excited. My spirits lifted and I was ready to do whatever was necessary. The journey to Nepal and eventually to India took us about a month.”

Escape to India

In the end, in 1990 she and a large group of other nuns escaped from Tibet via Nepal. In Varanasi, she saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama and realized a dream by receiving teachings and an audience.

At the time there was a large number of nuns coming from Tibet and the few existing Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in exile were overcrowded and unable to accept many new nuns. The Tibetan Nuns Project, under the direction of Rinchen Khandro Choegyal, rented houses for the nuns to stay in and began the long process of building two new nunneries, Dolma Ling and Shugsep.

For about three years, Geshe Delek Wangmo and other nuns lived in a rental house, studying in the early morning and late evening while actively participating in the construction of their new nunnery, Dolma Ling.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns studying outdoors no classrooms

This photo from our archives shows the early days before the nuns had classrooms. They studied in the open air or tents and helped with the construction of Dolma Ling Nunnery.

“The living conditions were not so good in the beginning. We lived in overcrowded rooms and the study program wasn’t so well organized because, during that time, the number of new nuns coming from Tibet increased every month. Slowly things improved. The construction of the present Dolma Ling Nunnery began in 1993 and we moved into our new housing block in October 1994.”

Life and Accomplishments at Dolma Ling

At last, thanks to the generosity of Tibetan Nuns Project donors and the hard work of the nuns themselves, the nuns had proper housing, a kitchen, and a prayer hall. With the establishment of the new facility, they could follow a structured education curriculum, leading to higher degrees.

In 2012, the Geshema degree was only formally opened to women. Comparable to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, it is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. The Geshema degree is the same as the Geshe degree for monks. The ending “ma” marks it as referring to a woman. Delek Wangmo earned her Geshema degree in 2017.

Geshema Delek Wangmo teaching TCV students about monastic debate Sept 2023

Geshema Delek Wangmo teaching Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) students about monastic debate in September 2023. She is a role model for other nuns and the Tibetan community.

Geshema Delek Wangmo’s educational journey in India has spanned 23 years including 18 years of dedicated study and four years of rigorous examinations to attain the prestigious Geshema degree and an additional one-year Tantric studies program at Gyuto Tantric University.

Geshema Delek Wangmo and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel teaching Gurukul program June 2023

In June 2023, Geshema Delek Wangmo and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel spoke to Indian students during the 27th annual Gurukul program which seeks to revive the centuries-old relationship of exchange of ideas between Indians and Tibetans.

Since 2019, Geshe Delek Wangmo has been sharing her profound wisdom and teachings at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Her life story exemplifies resilience, determination, and a deep commitment to spiritual growth, inspiring others on their paths to enlightenment.

Geshema Delek Wangmo sworn in as election commissioner copy

Geshema Delek Wangmo made history in 2020 when she was appointed as an election commissioner by the members of the Standing Committee of the 16th Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile to ensure free and fair elections. Photo by Tenzin Phende/CTA

Reflections on the Geshema Path

The main reason Geshe Delek Wangmo escaped from Tibet was the inability to receive a proper spiritual education. Her commitment has never wavered. Having the opportunity to receive an education and become a Geshema is a dream come true for her and her sister nuns.

“Getting this degree after years of intense study of philosophical texts has given the nuns new energy to study even harder, as well as encouraged us to uphold the academic values His Holiness the Dalai Lama always emphasizes. It is the path that will lead us to work independently and become recognized as philosophy teachers within as well as outside the community.”

Geshema Delek Wangmo teaching May 2023

Geshema Delek Wangmo teaching on the Four Noble Truths in May 2023.

“When I told my parents that I completed the study they were very happy and cried. They wanted me to come to meet them,” she said. “I applied for a visa but I didn’t get one. I wish to go back to Tibet and meet my parents before they pass away.”

Geshema Delek Wangmo’s list of accomplishments keeps growing. During COVID, she gave online teachings in Tibetan on keeping a peaceful mind as part of a series of talks organized by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration.

On behalf of all the nuns, thank you for educating and empowering these brave and dedicated women like Geshema Delek Wangmo.

As one of the first Buddhist women wrote over 2,000 years ago:
A real hero
walks the Path
to its end.
Then shows others the way.

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.

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.

Educating and Empowering Tibetan Buddhist Nuns

Education is the Key

The Tibetan Nuns Project believes that education is the key to empowerment. We seek to give Tibetan Buddhist nuns the resources to carve out independent, creative identities for themselves. In this blog post, we’ll explain what and how the nuns study and give an outline of their degrees and curriculum.

Through all its work, the Tibetan Nuns Project is strengthening Tibet’s unique religion and culture — both under great threat due to the occupation of Tibet — by educating and empowering women. These dedicated women were previously denied equal access to education and the opportunity in Tibet to freely and safely practice their faith. The nuns are an integral part of the spiritual roots of the society and are teachers and leaders of the future.

Starting from Scratch

When the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987 in response to many nuns escaping from Tibet to India, most of the newly arrived nuns had no education in their language. Many were illiterate and were unable even to write their names. While in Tibet they had also been denied education in their religious heritage.

outside classroom, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, educating Tibetan Buddhist nuns

An outside classroom in the early days of the Tibetan Nuns Project. TNP had to create an education program for the nuns from the ground up.

The Tibetan Nuns Project has created a groundbreaking education system aimed at both preserving Tibetan culture and equipping and empowering these women to live and become leaders in the modern world.

The Tibetan Nuns Project aims:
– To combine traditional religious studies with the best of a modern education
– To preserve Tibet’s rich culture and religion through giving ordained Buddhist women educational opportunities
– To elevate the educational standards and the position of women within the monastic community.
– To prepare the nuns for positions of leadership and moral authority in a culture that is going through a very challenging transition
– To support a number of nuns who opt to live in meditative retreat rather than in a nunnery.

The Tibetan Nuns Project also serves women from the remote and impoverished border areas of India such as Ladakh, Zanskar, Spiti, and Arunachal Pradesh. The women and girls from these areas have traditionally been given far less education than the men and boys and were often removed from school as early as Grade 4 if they were sent to school at all. Our programs give them a chance for education that they would not have otherwise.

educating girls, educating women, empowering women and girls, Zanskar, Spiti

Photos by Olivier Adam showing girls receiving education at nunneries supported by TNP in the remote Spiti Valley (top) and Zanskar (bottom). Girls and women in these regions lack equal access to education.

Since the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, many nuns have been educated and have assumed leadership roles in their community, such as teachers in Tibetan schools, instructors for other nuns, health care providers and other roles serving the Tibetan-exile community. Thanks in part to consistent effort from the Tibetan Nuns Project, for the first time in Tibetan history, nuns are now receiving educational opportunities previously available only to monks.

educating and empowering women, educating women, Geshema teaching, Geshemas, Dolma Ling

In May 2023, Geshema Delek Wangmo (shown) and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel gave online teaching via Facebook Live with help from two Dolma Ling media nuns. Geshemas from other nunneries also attended to learn how to deliver such basic philosophical knowledge to the lay community. Photo courtesy of the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

Another goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to empower nuns to teach Buddhist philosophy in nunneries and schools. To do this, the nuns must achieve equal academic standing with the monks, proving their qualifications by earning the highest degrees. For monks, depending on their tradition, these degrees are called the Geshe or Khenpo degrees; for nuns, the equivalents are the Geshema or Khenmo degrees.

Geshemas teaching Tibetan children, compassion in action, Tibetan education, Dolma Ling

Wisdom and compassion. The Geshemas at Dolma Ling teach Tibetan refugee children during the children’s school holidays. Photos by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

The Curriculum

The education program varies by nunnery but the nuns have been introduced to a systematic form of education in their respective nunneries. Though their core subject is Buddhist philosophy they have also been equally educated in Tibetan and English languages since the very beginning. The nuns have built up a strong foundation in Tibetan language over the years.

The curriculum at the nunneries is divided into two parts: (1) secular subjects such as the Tibetan language, Tibetan history, English, social sciences, mathematics, and science and (2) monastic education. The nuns have quizzes and exams and are now able to proceed through a degree-granting program. If the nuns are very young as may be the case in the very remote nunneries, they do not receive teaching in philosophy, but rather a basic education in subjects like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Once that is established a more robust curriculum is used.

education and empowering Tibetan Buddhist nuns, educating women, classroom Dolma Ling Nunnery

Geshema Tenzin Kunsel teaching Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo by Olivier Adam

Most courses take place in classrooms, much as in a school, except for the practice of monastic debate, which takes place in the open air.  As part of their monastic education the nuns are also instructed in the performance of ritual music, the creation of butter sculptures, and other Tibetan Buddhist ritual arts.

The curriculum of the nunneries varies depending on which of the four main schools of Tibetan Buddhism the nunnery follows:
– Nyingma (founded in the 8th century)
– Kagyu (founded in the early 11th century)
– Sakya (founded in 1073)
– Gelug (founded in 1409)
The Tibetan Nuns Project supports nuns from all four traditions.

Tibetan debate, monastic debate, Dolma Ling Nunnery

Tibetan Buddhist nuns practice monastic debate each day at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Through debate, nuns and monks test and consolidate their classroom learning and gain a thorough understanding of the Buddhist teachings. Photo by Olivier Adam.

The Gelukpa monastic curriculum in Dolma Ling for example is as follows:
Preliminary studies: 4 years
Perfection of Wisdom: 7 years
Middle Path: 3 years
Phenomenology or “meta-doctrine”: 3 years
Monastic discipline: 1 year

After about ten years, the nuns receive a first diploma called Parchin which is equivalent to a BA and allows the students who so desire to continue to higher studies. 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 thanks to the work of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Khenmo enthronement, Sakya College for Nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Buddhist women teachers

In 2022, Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history as the first group of Khenmos were enthroned at Sakya College for Nuns. The Khenmo degree for nuns, like the Khenpo degree for males, is roughly equivalent to a PhD. In the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya traditions, the title is awarded usually after 13 years of intensive post-secondary study. The comparable title in the Gelug and Bon lineages is Geshe or, for nuns, Geshema.

In the Nyingma, Kagyu, and Sakya traditions, the Khenmo degree for nuns, like the Khenpo degree for males, is roughly equivalent to a PhD. This title is awarded usually after 13 years of intensive post-secondary study. A nun who holds the title Khenmo is recognized as a female Buddhist teacher/scholar who can give official and high-level teachings to nuns.

Reacing the highest degrees in the monastic curriculum takes between 20 and 25 years. Our goal is to support nuns’ education and to enable them to progress to higher degrees such as the Geshema and Khenmo degrees if they so wish.

Thank you for supporting the Tibetan Nuns Project and educating and empowering Tibetan Buddhist nuns!

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!

Debate Courtyard Expansion Completed!

We are very pleased to report that the debate courtyard expansion at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is now complete. The improved courtyard provides an additional 2,500 square feet of covered area. With 60% more covered area than the old debate courtyard, all the nuns can have shelter as they practice daily monastic debate.

This big project was kindly funded by Tibetan Nuns Project donors. We are extremely grateful to the donors and the entire team for their hard work and dedication which has resulted in this elegant structure, totally in keeping with the original design.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Before the debate courtyard was expanded there was not enough sheltered space for the nuns to debate. The improved courtyard has an additional 2,500 square feet of covered space along with other improvements such as sliding windows on the back and sides of the courtyard to prevent rain coming in.

The nuns are already using the courtyard for their daily debates. Monastic debate is of critical importance in traditional Tibetan Buddhist learning. Through debate, nuns test and consolidate their classroom learning. Without training and practice in debate they are unable to attain higher academic degrees such as the Geshema degree.

The Impact of the Improved Debate Courtyard

In the spring of 2022 the Tibetan Nuns Project launched a fundraising campaign to expand and improve the debate courtyard at Dolma Ling.

Over the years, the number of nuns at this large non-sectarian nunnery increased to over 260 nuns. The existing debate courtyard was too small and at least two-thirds of the paved area was open to the elements, so many nuns were forced to debate in the open under the hot sun. When it rained, as it does throughout the summer monsoon season, the unprotected space was unusable.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns practicing monastic debate under tarp at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

In an attempt to create more shelter the nuns have been stringing up tarps for years as they practice monastic debate. The area near Dharamsala experiences one of the heaviest monsoons in India and the sun is also fierce.

During their debate sessions, pairs of nuns spread out across the courtyards and even onto the adjoining grassy areas and steps. Some distance is required between the pairs or groups of challengers and responders. The aim of the project was to provide enough covered space to shelter the nuns as they do their daily practice of Tibetan monastic debate.

Work on the courtyard began in January 2022. The first phase involved protecting the upper courtyard from rain by enclosing the back and sides with sliding windows that can open to allow ventilation during the hot season.

Debate Courtyard Expansion project at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute

Work on Phase 1 to improve the debate facilities at Dolma Ling. This part of the project involved enclosing the back and sides of the existing debate courtyard to prevent rain coming in.

The steel roofing over the upper section was also extended on all four sides to prevent rain from blowing in. Finally, an additional row of stone seating was added at the back and sides of the courtyard in front of the windows.

Olivier Adam photo of Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Nuns debating in front of the new windows at the back of the debate courtyard. Because of its reputation for providing excellent teachers and the best facilities for nuns to study, the number of nuns applying to join Dolma Ling has increased substantially. In 2022, 32 nuns joined the nunnery. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

In the early autumn of 2022, the Tibetan Nuns Project office in India signed a contract with the contractors for Phase 2 of the expansion project. On September 29th, the architect for the project came to assist the contractor with the positioning of the 8 new pillars for the extension roof.

debate courtyard at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Phase 2 of the debate courtyard expansion began in October 2022 and involved excavating and building 8 more columns and extending the roof.

The nuns were very involved in the design of the new space and in discussions with the architect and engineers. Building specifications for this high-risk seismic zone were made and the extension complies with current building standards. In addition to the eight new columns, there had to be tie beams and two additional below-ground-level columns because they are building in previously filled land.

The Important of Tibetan Buddhist Debate

Dolma Ling is unique because it offers a 17-year curriculum of traditional Buddhist philosophy and debate, as well as modern courses in Tibetan language, English, basic mathematics, science and computer skills. Training in Buddhist debate, the extensively practised method for examining philosophical, moral and doctrinal issues, is an essential part of monastic education in the Tibetan tradition.

Until recently, Tibetan nuns did not have the opportunity to fully study and practise Tibetan Buddhist debate, a process that uses logical enquiry to build a deeper understanding of Buddhist philosophy. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked hard to make this opportunity available to nuns by including debate as a core part of their education, which enables them to extend their use of logic and deepen their understanding of the arguments asserted in the texts they are studying.

monastic debate, Tibetan Buddhist nuns debating, Buddhist debate

Before: Tibetan nuns practice debate on the grass under a makeshift shelter of netting. Since the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, nuns are training in debate for the first time in the history of Tibet.

“Opening up education to the women, particularly in conjunction with training in debate, has been transformative for the nuns,” says Dr. Elizabeth Napper, US Founder and Board Chair of the Tibetan Nuns Project. “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.”

The practice of debate takes many years to master fully and is critical to the nuns’ ability to assume roles as fully qualified teachers of their tradition.

We are very grateful to everyone who has contributed to providing this unique opportunity to build capacity and equality for the nuns, to help ensure that a centuries-old tradition of learning continues to expand to include more nuns, and to foster the dharma for future generations.

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns holding thank you signs

Five More Illustrated Stories by the Nuns

In January, we shared four stories by Tibetan Buddhist nuns created as part of an English assignment. The stories got a wonderful response, so here are five more for you!

Pat said, “Oh, I loved reading those handwritten and illustrated stories! I hope to see more in future blogs.” Suzanne wrote, “I love reading these stories! The words are wise and the illustrations are beautiful.”

English class at Dolma Ling Nunnery

Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is dedicated to higher Buddhist education for Tibetan Buddhist nuns from all traditions. These stories are part of a book project assigned by the English teacher at Dolma Ling, Mr. Tenzin Norgyal.

Traditionally Tibetan Buddhist nuns have had few opportunities for education. Most of the Tibetan refugee nuns were illiterate on their arrival in India. Now the nuns are at last able to study for higher degrees such as the Geshema degree, roughly equivalent to a PhD.

Thank you for educating and empowering these dedicated women. We hope you enjoy these stories written by nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. This nunnery was built and is fully supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project

Five Illustrated Stories by the Nuns

Click here to view.

This first story, The Arrogant Rose, teaches not to judge by appearances.

Thearrogantrose_Page_01
Thearrogantrose_Page_02
Thearrogantrose_Page_03
Thearrogantrose_Page_04
Thearrogantrose_Page_05
Thearrogantrose_Page_06
Thearrogantrose_Page_07
Thearrogantrose_Page_08
Thearrogantrose_Page_09
Thearrogantrose_Page_10
Thearrogantrose_Page_11
Thearrogantrose_Page_12
Thearrogantrose_Page_13
Thearrogantrose_Page_14
Thearrogantrose_Page_15
Thearrogantrose_Page_16
Thearrogantrose_Page_17
Thearrogantrose_Page_18
Thearrogantrose_Page_19
previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow

In A Group of Clouds

AgroupofClouds_Page_01
AgroupofClouds_Page_02
AgroupofClouds_Page_03
AgroupofClouds_Page_04
AgroupofClouds_Page_05
AgroupofClouds_Page_06
AgroupofClouds_Page_07
AgroupofClouds_Page_08
AgroupofClouds_Page_09
AgroupofClouds_Page_10
AgroupofClouds_Page_11
AgroupofClouds_Page_12
AgroupofClouds_Page_13
AgroupofClouds_Page_14
AgroupofClouds_Page_15
AgroupofClouds_Page_16
AgroupofClouds_Page_17
AgroupofClouds_Page_18
AgroupofClouds_Page_19
AgroupofClouds_Page_20
AgroupofClouds_Page_21
previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow

The third story, Act of Kindness, illustrates how a small act of kindness can make a big difference.

actofkindness_Page_01
actofkindness_Page_02
actofkindness_Page_03
actofkindness_Page_04
actofkindness_Page_05
actofkindness_Page_06
actofkindness_Page_07
actofkindness_Page_08
actofkindness_Page_09
actofkindness_Page_10
actofkindness_Page_11
actofkindness_Page_12
actofkindness_Page_13
actofkindness_Page_14
actofkindness_Page_15
actofkindness_Page_16
actofkindness_Page_17
previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow

Here’s a cautionary tale called Naughty Meat with a cliff

naughtymeat_Page_01
naughtymeat_Page_02
naughtymeat_Page_13
naughtymeat_Page_04
naughtymeat_Page_05
naughtymeat_Page_06
naughtymeat_Page_07
naughtymeat_Page_08
naughtymeat_Page_09
naughtymeat_Page_10
naughtymeat_Page_11
naughtymeat_Page_12
naughtymeat_Page_13
naughtymeat_Page_14
naughtymeat_Page_15
previous arrow
next arrow
Shadow

Finally, we have Venerable Sonam’s story The Destiny of Tenzin. We were unable to put this story in a slideshow without cutting off part of the text, but you can download the PDF here.

The Tibetan Nuns Project believes that education is the key to empowerment. We work to give nuns the resources to carve out independent, creative identities for themselves.

Thank you for helping the nuns on their path!

Here’s the link to the other four stories by Tibetan Buddhist nuns.

If you would like to donate to help fund Teachers’ Salaries, click here.