Venerable Delek Wangmo’s journey to the Geshema exams has been a long, arduous and sometimes dusty one.
She is one of the first batch of Tibetan nuns who are sitting the 4-part exams for the Geshema degree, equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. The culmination of 17 years of rigorous study, this is a level of scholarship and Buddhist training that was previously almost exclusively available to men.
Here is her story.
Born into a semi-nomadic family in Lithang province in Eastern Tibet, she did not go to school but spent her time tending the family’s sheep, yaks, goats and horses. At age 15, she became a nun and a few years later, set out on a very long pilgrimage to Lhasa with her Lama.
“The pilgrimage was hard, as we had to cover the distance from Lithang to Lhasa by prostrations [a distance of almost 1000 miles, 1500 km]. We would do prostrations in the rain and our clothes got wet and dirty and we could not wash them out everyday.
“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.”
The pilgrimage did not turn out as planned when authorities refused the nuns permission to visit Lhasa. In the end, she and a large group of other nuns escaped from Tibet via Nepal and arrived in Dharamsala in December 1990.
“I joined Dolma Ling Nunnery in 1990. We first lived in rented accommodation below McLeod Ganj. In mid-1992, we moved to a location near the site for the planned 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.”
Twenty years later, Delek Wangmo is now teaching at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Her commitment has never wavered. Venerable Delek Wangmo feels that If she could make it through an arduous journey to India and years of difficult study, she can face any that arise throughout her whole life.
For Delek Wangmo having the opportunity to receive a Geshema degree 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.”