Geshema Exams 2018

Thanks to generous donors the fund for the 2018 Geshema Exams has been fully funded!

In August 2018, 45 Tibetan Buddhist nuns sat various levels of their rigorous four-year Geshema exams.

  • 12 nuns took their first round of examinations
  • 15 nuns did their second-year exams
  • 8 nuns wrote their third-year exams, and
  • 10 nuns did their fourth and final year.

The generous donors who contributed to this fund helped make it possible for the nuns to take their exams, by covering the costs of travel for the nuns to and from Dolma Ling Nunnery and for their food during their 6-week study and exam period.

You can read the inspiring story of one of the nuns here.

Here’s a video we made in July 2018 to support the 2018 Geshema Exams. (Note that in the video and earlier reports we said that 46 nuns were taking their exams in 2018. However, one nun scheduled to take her first-year exams had to postpone and return home to care for her ailing mother.)

The Geshema exams were held at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute from August 15-26. All the nuns taking exams gathered at Dolma Ling on July 15, a month in advance, to study together and make their final exam preparations. The 45 Geshema candidates came from four nunneries: Geden Choeling, Jangchup Choeling, Kachod Gyakhil Ling, and Dolma Ling.

About the Geshema Degree

The Geshema degree (or Geshe degree for monks) is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. This highest degree was, until recently, only open to men. Now Tibetan Buddhist nuns are making history. In the last two years, 26 Tibetan Buddhist nuns have earned this degree.

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

Just before the exams started, the candidates received messages of good luck from around the world.

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Nuns cluster around the notice board at Dolma Ling Nunnery to read the messages of good luck sent to the Geshema candidates. The good wishes were felt by all the nuns. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

The 2018 Geshema Exams: Subjects and Examiners

Each morning, nuns from two of the four levels completed written papers from 9 a.m. to noon, while nuns from the other two levels underwent debate exams. In the afternoons, from 2 to 6 p.m., the examinees gathered for their debate sessions in front of the examiners.

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A nun debates as part of her Geshema exams. Providing opportunities for the nuns to debate has been a critical part of their education to reach this highest degree. The next major event for the nuns is the annual inter-nunnery debate, called the Jang Gonchoe, which will take place this year at Kopan Nunnery in Nepal.

Tibetan Buddhist philosophy is one of the major subjects for the Geshema candidates, but the nuns were examined on other subjects as well. In philosophy, nuns taking their first- and second-year exams were tested on Perfection of Wisdom (Pharchin) and Middle Way (Madhyamika), while third-and fourth-year examinees were tested on Vinaya (Dhua) and Treasury of Knowledge (Abhidharma). All exams were followed by debate sessions. In addition to their other exams, nuns in years 1-3, were tested on Tibetan grammar and science. Nuns taking their final year exams were tested on science and history. Each of the final-year candidates also had to write, in advance, a 50-page thesis and they were examined on their thesis papers during the Geshema exams.

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Each year, the two weeks of Geshema exams involve both written exams and oral (debate) exams. Nuns must complete 4 years of exams to earn their Geshema degree, equivalent to the Geshe degree for monks.

This year, the philosophy exam questions were prepared by Geshes from Drepung Loseling and Gomang monasteries in South India. The science question papers were prepared by staff at the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives. The Tibetan and history exam questions were written and marked by the College for Higher Tibetan Studies at Sarah. All of the question papers were sealed and only opened  when the nuns were seated in the exam hall. Completed answer sheets were collected and sent back to the various examiner centers. The secured  answer sheets on philosophy were checked first at one monastery and  then sent to the next to be rechecked.

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Nun debating in front of the examiners as part of her Geshema exams, August 2018. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

The nuns were examined on debating by four Geshes, one each from Sera Je, Sera Mey, Ganden Shartsey, and Gaden Shangtsey monasteries, all located in South India. There are different examiners each year.

Wishing all the nuns the very best! We will share the summary results as soon as possible.

Thank you for helping the nuns earn their Geshema Degrees!

Learn about the nuns’ Current Needs here.

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Entering the exam hall. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

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