The following is an interview from May 2014 with Venerable Tenzin Kunsel who, at the time, had just completed her second round of examinations for the Geshema Degree, a degree equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism. Since this interview was made, Venerable Tenzin Kunsel has successfully completed all four rounds of her examinations. In July 2016 it was announced that she and 19 other nuns will formally receive their Geshema degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony at Drepung Monastery in South India on December 22nd 2016. Venerable Tenzin Kunsel is one of the first Geshemas (female Geshes) in the history of Tibet.
I was born to a simple family near Lhasa and I came to exile in 1991. When I was in Tibet, we were not given a Buddhist education; instead we had to do prayers for the people who made offerings at the nunnery. It was really disappointing as well as sad that we were not given the education we needed. I strongly felt that the best way to become educated in Buddhist studies was to come to India. Along with 75 other newly arrived nuns, I came to Dolma Ling Nunnery. Today I am here for the 2nd round of the historic Geshema examinations.
Q: How has being at the nunnery made a difference in your life?
A: When I first reached Dolma Ling Nunnery, its facilities weren’t as good as now. But I never lost hope. Many times, my family pressured me to go to school rather than the nunnery. But I never wanted to go to school because I thought I would not get a proper Buddhist education.
After being admitted to the nunnery, I started my studies from the basic education. It gave me special comfort and peace of mind, making me strongly feel that I had not made the wrong decision to join the nunnery in India.
Q: If you could speak directly to the sponsor who is helping you get education, food and health care at the nunnery, what would you say to that person?
A: I always feel grateful and fortunate to have sponsors who are truly kind. We are from totally different worlds with no blood relation, yet they still extend financial as well as moral support. It is partly because of the sponsor that I am one of those lucky nuns able to grab the rare opportunity to obtain the Geshema qualification.
I also feel that the sponsors are much more generous than my own parents. Parents are bound with the universal responsibility for looking after their own child, but our sponsors are never bound with the responsibility to look after me and take care of me like their own child. I always pray for their happiness and success in their lives.
Q: What do you think is special about this moment in history of Tibetan nuns of your nunnery and why?
A: His Holiness the Dalai Lama, at this stage of his life, has facilitated the nuns with such an extraordinary opportunity that I think I shouldn’t go in vain and that should be grasped without any hesitation. I strongly think that such an opportunity will never come in the future if we do not make the best out of it.
Everyday I feel extremely fortunate and lucky to be the part of such a historic event. I believe that our area of study is mainly to bring peace of mind in our own lives. The more you learn and get connected, the more inner peace of mind you gain.
Q: How would you like to use the education that you are receiving at the nunnery?
A: When I first came to sit the exams, I had a strong feeling that I was daydreaming. Is it happening for real? And then I realized that it is indeed happening in the history of the nuns. Such kind of opportunity never happened in the past decades.
I would like to continue to serve our own community, which I am doing now. But looking at my bigger ambition, I definitely would like to go back to Tibet and help the nuns there who are not getting proper religious education. I am quite familiar with two of the nunneries in Tibet where nuns do prayers but are not even provided with the basic education. I am so eager to go back and work at the nunnery inside occupied Tibet.
Q: What is one thing you’d like Tibetan Nuns Project supporters to know about your life at the nunnery?
A: I always wished to say something for our supporters about my experience and the people who work to support the nuns. Many of the staff working at the nunnery are lay people. I would like to thank the staff working at the nunnery who give premier importance to nuns like us and to our education.
I consider that the life in nunnery is the happiest and that only lucky people will get admitted to the nunnery. I have also been to school and helped with business. People who are into business never think about the future circumstances and give so much importance to the current life. But as nuns, we sacrifice our present lives and think much more deeply about our next life. In that way we obtain true peace and happiness.
Q: What has been the happiest day of your life?
A: Since my childhood, I really like helping needy people. This habit is still alive within me, so whenever I get the chance to help poor and needy people, the day turns out to be really meaningful and happy. If I talk about the future, the day I start working as a teacher after receiving the Geshema Degree will be the happiest day in my life. I really hope that my wish will come true.
Q: What are the benefits you get from the education and being in the nunnery?
A: I feel strongly that being in nunnery is like being in a completely different world. After all, we never have to worry or think about how we will manage our basic needs. With the help of our sponsors and supporters, our basic needs are fulfilled without any obstacles. The only thing is we have to do is to study sincerely. Because of the proper education I received, I was able to pass the first round of the Geshema exams and am eligible to sit for the second round of Geshema exams.
Q: What are the difficulties you face during your course of study?
A: Generally speaking, Buddhist studies and philosophy are extremely vast and difficult. One need strong commitment, extreme hard work and dedication once you decide to sit for the Geshema exams. So I consider it a golden opportunity for which we struggled hard to attain.
I have not faced any particular difficulty as such. But yes, sometimes while studying alone, I tend to get bored and lose my concentration. This is quite disturbing which I feel as a small obstacle.
Venerable Tenzin Kunsel joined Domla Ling Nunnery in 1991 and studied Buddhism and the 6 Perfections. In 2004, she travelled to Jamchup Choeling Nunnery in southern India to learn Uma (Madhyamika) and Zod (Abhidharma) for 7 years. After completing those two subjects, she returned to Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India to learn Dulwa (Vinaya) and Ngak (Tantric) for a year each. Following these studies, the Tibetan Nuns Project sent her and four other nuns to the British Council in Delhi for a 4-month course in advanced English.
Following a request from Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery to the Tibetan Nuns Project for a senior teacher, Venerable Tenzin Kunsel began teaching the nuns there in February 2012. In 2013, when the opportunity arose to take the Geshema exams, Ven. Tenzin Kunsel prepared for the exams while simultaneously teaching the nuns at Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery. In 2016 she successfully finished her final year of Geshema exams and will receiver her degree from His Holiness the Dalai Lama on December 22nd in the presence of hundreds of monks in South India.