Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Make History: Congratulations Geshema Nuns!

Twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns have just made history, becoming the first Tibetan women to successfully pass all the exams for the Geshema degree, equivalent to a Doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. Exam results were announced by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration. All 20 candidates for the degree passed.

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

Their success fulfills 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.

The Geshema degree (a Geshe degree when awarded to men) is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. These women pioneers have accomplished a level of scholarship and Buddhist training that, until recently, was only open to men.

The Geshema examination process is an extremely rigorous one that takes four years in total, with one round per year each May. During the 12-day exam period, the nuns must take both oral (debate) and written exams. They are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts. In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first female to receive the Geshema title.

The new Geshema nuns will formally receive their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod in southern India.

Geshema exam nuns

Good luck! Nuns departing from Dolma Ling Nunnery to take their Geshema exams in the spring of 2016 receive wishes of good luck from the other nuns. Photo courtesy of Venerable Delek Yangdon

This occasion 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. A number of the Geshema candidates were illiterate when they escaped from Tibet. To reach this historic milestone, the Tibetan Nuns Project had to build an educational system from the ground up.

“Educating women is powerful,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founder and Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project. “It’s not just about books. It is also about helping nuns acquire the skills they need to run their own institutions and create models for future success and expansion. 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.”

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

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

The Tibetan Nuns Project supports 7 nunneries in India as well as many nuns living on their own for a total of over 800 nuns. Many are refugees from Tibet, but the organization also reaches out to the Himalayan border areas of India where women and girls have had little access to education and religious training.

35 thoughts on “Tibetan Buddhist Nuns Make History: Congratulations Geshema Nuns!

  1. Mary Macgregor

    I am grateful and happy about the success of the nuns who took the examinations Mary Mac Gregor

    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Our deepest thanks, Mary, for your lovely message and for your support and kind sponsorship of Venerable Pasang D.

  2. Sonam Angmo

    Many congratulations on this great achievement. Buddhist nuns must have had to overcome many difficulties to be awarded the ” Geshe degree ” as patriarchy also is common in the monastic order.
    Many nuns and lay women alike would feel greatly empowered after learning of this feat. It welcomes a progressive culture where all the sexes have equal abilities to strive for nirvana. Buddhism’ s ameliorating effect and gender neutrality is slowly cementing in such developments.

  3. Mary Fernald Redick

    I am overcome with gratitude for the steadfast nuns who studied so hard and so long for the good of all of us.

    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Thank you for your beautiful words, Mary, and your wonderful support for so many years! We are deeply grateful to you for your sponsorship of Venerable Delek T. and your past sponsorship of Venerable Tenzin Y. You are the heart of our work. Thank you ever so much.

  4. Ani Gilda Paldrön Taylor

    This great achievement of the Geshemas nuns is another chapter in the sustainability of the traditions and philosophy of the Tibetan culture. It is my hope they will be able to bring to the West not only their knowledge, but their very presence. Thank you for your achievement.

    1. Tibetan Nuns Project Post author

      Dearest Ani Gilda, thank you for your lovely words and your support over so many years. You’ve been with us since at least 1999 and we know you will have seen so many accomplishments over that time. We’re happy to celebrate this milestone with you!

  5. Ani Tashi Dolma

    M happy & congratulate all for what they have achieved so far. Learning is what empower us totally no matter whether we are nun or not. great effort from our dedicated nuns. Keep on!!

    1. aneita

      Ani Tashi Dolma, you are right about learning as what empowers people. As important as learning is sharing and teaching the lessons. If you are from Sarnath, then you taught me important lessons when I studied there, which has empowered my life.
      Best wishes to everyone who spends their life learning and teaching.

  6. Norma Lewis

    …..congratulations to all Geshimas, you have all worked harder than I can imagine. And I wish you a very successful future for the benefit of all sentient beings.

  7. Peter Waller

    There is no wealth but dharma , it’s great gift you have bestowed upon a suffering world, how can the great Bodhisattva’s fail in their great noble quest with your compassionate wisdom in tow.

    No bird fly’s so high, as she who fly’s alone,( with others ).

  8. Susan Branch

    Many congratulations dear Geshemas – thank you for all your hard work to benefit all sentient beings.

  9. Zahira Granger

    Thank you soo much for your tenacity and discipline and patience… Inspiring… Buddhism was the first spiritual practice that really spoke to my heart but I wandered away from it when I learned about its views and treatment of women… Much respect for being the change rather than just seeing the change needed and walking away…Inspirational…

  10. Anita Donahue

    Congratulations to each and every one of the Geshemas! Your great achievement is an inspiration to me, and lifts up all women.

  11. Yangdol Dongtse-Tsokhim

    I have a long therm relationship with Gaden Choeling Dharamsala.དབྱངས་སྒྲོལ་འགྲོང་རྩེ་ཚོགས་ཁྱིམས་་ནས་འཚམས་འདྲིས་བཀྲིས་བདེ་ལེགས་མང་པོ་ཡོད།།

  12. Paul

    Congratulations to all the nuns who were successful in passing these exams. This is very inspiring indeed !

  13. Shimon de Valencia

    A wonderful achievement, and an inspiration to all. May their dharma activity burn like the rays of the Sun. Congratulations to all.

  14. E Bollin

    This news of such accomplishment brings tears of joy to my eyes! Many many blessing to the nuns and all sentient beings and may peace, love and compassion resonate throughout the world. With much love congratulations to the nuns and everyone involved!

  15. Ani Thubten Chodron (ruby cubano)

    Congratulations to you all! Great accomplishment wonderful Geshemas! Triumphant over obstacles, a great example to us all! May all your aspirations for beings be completely fulfilled! Long life to each and every one of you, Geshemas. Om Mani Padme Hung Hri.


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