Tag Archives: Delek Wangmo

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.”


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.

Historic accomplishment as Geshemas hired to teach nuns

Two nuns with Geshema degrees have been hired to teach Tibetan Buddhist philosophy at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

Tenzin Kunsel, Dolma Ling nunnery, nun from Tibet, Geshema, 2019 Message

You’re making dreams come true! Geshema Tenzin Kunsel always dreamed of getting an education and
becoming a teacher. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

This is an important milestone for the nuns. For the first time, Tibetan Buddhist nuns are being taught these topics by other nuns, rather than by monks.

Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not had the same access to education as monks.

One of the goals of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to elevate the educational standards and the position of women. To this end, the project created a groundbreaking education system aimed at both preserving Tibetan culture and equipping and empowering the nuns to live and become leaders in the modern world.

The two Geshemas hired this spring as teachers are Geshema Tenzin Kunsel (right) and Geshema Delek Wangmo.

The Geshema degree, which is equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy, is the culmination of at least 17 years of study.

The Geshema degree was only opened up to the nuns in 2012. Now there are 37 Geshemas and these dedicated women are a beacon of inspiration to all the other nuns.

The two Geshema teachers endured a lot to reach this historic status. Geshema Tenzin Kunsel had to leave school in Tibet at age 12. (She tells her story in a video interview.) Geshema Delek Wangmo (below) was illiterate when she arrived in India after escaping from Tibet.

Delek Wangmo, Geshema, Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project

Your support in action. Delek Wangmo could barely read when she escaped from Tibet. Now she holds the Geshema degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Like the other nuns from Tibet, they risked their lives to escape to India for the chance to freely practice their religion.

After graduating as Geshemas, both nuns completed further studies in Tantric Buddhism. This groundbreaking program launched in 2017 for the nuns has enabled the graduates to become fully qualified teachers of their complete tradition.

Until now, Tibetan nuns never had the opportunity to be educated at this high level.

We thank His Holiness the Dalai Lama for his support. We are also very grateful to our global family of supporters for helping to educate, feed, clothe, and house the nuns.

Here is a list of projects we’re working on now and that need funding.

One of the first Geshema nuns: The Story of Venerable Delek Wangmo

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.

Venerable Delek Wangmo smiling

Venerable Delek Wangmo in her room at Dolma Ling Nunnery. This photo and the photograph below are both courtesy of Brian Harris.

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