Tag Archives: Gelugpa

New Research Program for Geshemas

Five Geshemas have received scholarships to participate in a Tibetan Buddhist philosophy research program that is the first of its kind.

The historic research project is organized by the Geluk International Foundation which recently announced seats for 30 Geshes and 5 Geshemas to do three-year research projects on five topics of Buddhist philosophy.

The Geshema degree for nuns (called the Geshe degree for monks) is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. The degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. To date, 44 nuns have earned this degree.

Tibetan Buddhist geshema

A Tibetan Buddhist nun holds the yellow hat that is worn by Geshemas or Geshes. Photo by Oliver Adam.

This research program grew out of the Conference of Religious Heads held in 2012. At that conference, His Holiness the Dalai Lama asked the research program to focus on various fields. Now, the Geluk International Foundation, chaired by Gaden Tripa, has made His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s vision a reality by starting the research program with formal rules and regulations.

The new research wing is headed by Shartse Khensur Ven. Jangchup Choeden who is the director. The committee members include other eminent Geshe Lharamphas from major monasteries.

The individual participants will work on their subjects and will submit quarterly reports under the guidance of their advisors. At the end of three years, each will submit a final thesis.

The Tibetan Nuns Project formally announced the program and contacted the five nunneries that regularly participate in the annual Jang Gonchoe month-long debate session and have Geshema graduates – Dolma Ling, Geden Choeling, Jamyang Choeling (all three in the Dharmasala area), Jangchup Choeling in South India, and Kopan in Nepal. The selection of research topics by the Geshemas was done on a first-come-first-serve basis.

In order to qualify for the program, the Geshemas had to have obtained 60% in their final Geshema exams, as well as to meet other criteria and supply formal documents. The Tibetan Nuns Project helped to coordinate the application process by the Geshemas.

Geshema Tenzin Palmo

Geshema Tenzin Palmo of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute is one of the 5 Geshemas who, along with 30 Geshes, have been chosen to undertake three-year research projects in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Here are the five Geshemas who received scholarships and their chosen research subjects:

  1. Geshema Namdol Phuntsok (a.k.a. Passang Lama), Kopan Nunnery. Subject: Dulwa / Vinaya
  2. Geshema Tenzin Tseyang (a.k.a. Tashi Lhamo), Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Subject: Pharchin / Prajna Paramita
  3. Geshema Tenzin Palmo, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Subject: Ngonpa Zoe/ Abhidharma
  4. Geshema Tenzin Dolkar, Jangchup Choeling Nunnery. Subject: Uma / Madhyamika
  5. Geshema Phuntsok Dolkar, Jangchup Choeling Nunnery. Subject: Tse-ma / Pramana

The research program was initially planned to start on April 1, 2020, but due to the strict lockdown all over India and Nepal, the Geluk International Foundation altered the start of the three-year project to June 1st, 2020.

The scholarship funding has been arranged by Geluk International Foundation under the sponsorship of a trust/foundation based in New York and The Dalai Lama Trust.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is very happy that these five Geshemas have this valuable opportunity to increase their learning and skills and to fulfil the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. May all concerned sponsors and supporters of the Geshemas be proud and happy for their valuable contributions in helping the Geshemas!

The Four Schools of Tibetan Buddhism

We are sometimes asked, “What are the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and which nuns do you support?”

The four schools of Tibetan Buddhism are Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelug or Gelugpa.

  • Nyingma (founded in 8th century)
  • Kagyu (founded in the early 11th century)
  • Sakya (founded in 1073)
  • Gelug (founded in 1409)

The Tibetan Nuns Project supports nuns from all four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. See more details below.

four schools of Tibetan Buddhism photo by Brian Harris

Photo of Tibetan Buddhist nuns courtesy of Brian Harris

The Nyingma School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Nyingma or “ancient” tradition is the oldest of the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism. Often referred to as “the ancient translation school”, it was founded in the eighth century following the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit to Tibetan.

Around 760, the Tibetan king Trisong Detsen invited two Buddhist masters from the Indian subcontinent, Padmasambhava and Shantarakshita, to the “Land of Snows” to bring Buddhism to the Tibetan people. Thus began a massive translation project of all Buddhist texts into the newly created Tibetan language.

The legendary Vajrayana master Padmasambhava, who Tibetans call Guru Rinpoche, is considered the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. He supervised the translation of the tantras (the esoteric teachings of the Buddha) while Shantarakshita, abbot of the great Buddhist Nalanda University, supervised the translation of the sutras (oral teachings of the Buddha).

Tibetan block printed prayers by Olivier Adam

Tibetan block-printed prayers. Photo by Olivier Adam.

Together they founded the first monastery in Tibet, Samye, which became the main center for Buddhist teaching in Tibet for around three centuries.

The Nyingma tradition classifies the Buddhist teachings into nine yanas or vehicles. The first three vehicles are common to all schools of Buddhism, the next three are common to all schools of Tantric Buddhism, and the last three are exclusive to the Nyingma tradition. The highest is known as Dzogchen or the Great Perfection.

Unlike the other schools, the Nyingma traditionally had no centralized authority or a single head of the lineage. However, since the Chinese invasion of Tibet, the Nyingma school has had representatives.

Here is a list of the 8 representatives of the Nyingma school since this practice began in the 1960s:

  1. Dudjom Rinpoche (c. 1904–1987), served from the 1960s until his death.
  2. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche (c. 1910–1991), served from 1987 until his death.
  3. Penor (Pema Norbu) Rinpoche (1932–2009) served from 1991 until retirement in 2003.
  4. Mindrolling Trichen Rinpoche (c. 1930–2008), served from 2003 until his death.
  5. Trulshik Rinpoche (1923–2011), selected after Chatral Rinpoche declined the position.
  6. Taklung Tsetrul Rinpoche (1926-2015), appointed head in 2012 and passed away in Bodhgaya in 2015
  7. Kathok Getse Rinpoche (1954-2018), passed away ten months after being named to a three-year term as the supreme head of the Nyingma school.
  8. Dzogchen Rinpoche Jigme Losel Wangpo was selected in January 2019 as the eighth head of the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism by the heads of the principal monasteries of the Nyingma tradition.

The Kagyu School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism gets its name from the Tibetan བཀའ་བརྒྱུད། meaning “oral lineage” or “whispered transmission”. While it traces its origin back to Buddha Shakyamuni, the most important source for the specific practices of the Kagyu order is the great Indian yogi Tilopa (988-1069).

The practices were passed orally from teacher to disciple through a series of great masters. The transmission lineage of the “Five Founding Masters” of the Kagyu school of Tibetan Buddhism is as follows:

  1. Tilopa (988-1069), the Indian yogi who experienced the original transmission of the Mahamudra
  2. Naropa (1016–1100), the Indian scholar-yogi who perfected the methods of accelerated enlightenment described in his Six Yogas of Naropa
  3. Marpa (1012–1097), the first Tibetan in the lineage, known as the great translator for his work translating the Vajrayana and Mahamudra texts into Old Tibetan
  4. Milarepa (1052–1135), the poet and greatest yogi of Tibet who overcame Marpa’s reluctance to teach and attained enlightenment in a single lifetime
  5. Gampopa (1079–1153), Milarepa’s most important student, who integrated Atisha’s Kadam teachings and Tilopa’s Mahamudra teaching to establish the Kagyu lineage.
Complete Kangyur words of the Buddha read at Saga Dawa

The Kangyur, the words of the Buddha. Photo by the Dolma Ling Nuns’ Media Team

The Kagyu lineage practices have a special focus on the tantric teachings of the Vajrayana and Mahamudra teachings. Some of the most distinguished works of the Kagyu Tibetan masters are the works of Marpa, the Vajra Songs of Milarepa, the Collected Works of Gampopa, of the Karmapas, of Drikhung Kyöppa Jigten Sumgön, and of Drukpa Kunkhyen Pema Karpo.

In the Kagyu school, there are a large number of independent sub-schools and lineages.

The Sakya School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism dates to the 11th century. The name comes from the Tibetan ས་སྐྱ་ meaning “pale earth” describing the grey landscape near Shigatse, Tibet where the Sakya Monastery – the first monastery of this tradition and the seat of the Sakya School – was built in 1073.

The Sakya tradition developed during the second period of translation of Buddhist scripture from Sanskrit into Tibetan and was founded by Drogmi, a famous scholar and translator who had studied who studied under Naropa and other great Indian masters.

The heart of the Sakya lineage teaching and practice is Lamdre, The Path and Its Fruit, a comprehensive and structured meditation path in Tibetan Vajrayana Buddhism.

The head of Sakya School is the “Sakya Trizin” (“the holder of the Sakya throne”), who is always drawn from the male line of the Khön family. It was previously a lifetime position that rotated between the two branches of that lineage, the Phuntsok Potrang and the Dolma Potrang. The previous head of the Sakya School, His Holiness Ngawang Kunga Thekchen Palbar Samphel Ganggi Gyalpo, was born in 1945 in Tsedong, Tibet and served as Sakya Trizin from 1958 to 2017. It has now become a three-year position that rotates between the next generation of trained male offspring of those two families.

The Gelugpa School of Tibetan Buddhism

The Gelug or Gelugpa (དགེ་ལུགས་པ་) school is the newest and largest school of Tibetan Buddhism. Its story begins with Je Tsongkhapa (1357–1419), one of the period’s foremost authorities of Tibetan Buddhism who studied under Sakya, Kagyu, and Nyingma masters.

Tsongkhapa, the most renowned teacher of his time, founded Ganden Monastery in 1409 and, though he emphasized a strong monastic sangha, he did not announce a new monastic order. Following his death, his followers established the Gelug (“the virtuous tradition”) school. The Gelug school was also called “New Kadam” for its revival of the Kadam school founded by Atisha.

The Throne-Holder of Ganden (Ganden Tripa) is the official head of the Gelug school, a position that rotates between the heads of the two Gelug tantric colleges. Its most influential figure is the Dalai Lama, who is a monk of the Gelug tradition, but as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet for over fifty years has always represented all Tibetans.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Olivier Adam

Portrait of His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Olivier Adam

The Dalai Lamas are considered manifestations of Avalokiteshvara or Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of Compassion and the patron saint of Tibet. Bodhisattvas are enlightened beings who have chosen to be continuously reborn to end the suffering of sentient beings.

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, is the 14th reincarnation. He was born in 1935, two years after the death of the 13th Dalai Lama. His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama encourages non-sectarianism.

The central teachings of the Gelug School are the lamrim (stages of the path to enlightenment) teachings of Tsongkhapa, based on the teachings of the 11th-century Indian master Atisha.

Nunneries Supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project

The Tibetan Nuns Project began in 1987 in the Dharamsala area, home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a large number of Tibetan refugees.

We initially reached out to assist the nearby nunneries, Geden Choeling and Tilokpur. In response to a large influx of refugee nuns escaping from Tibet, the Tibetan Nuns Project built two new nunneries, Dolma Ling and Shugsep.

Currently, the Tibetan Nuns Project supports these 7 nunneries in northern India:

  1. Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, non-sectarian,
  2. Shugsep Nunnery and Institute, Nyingma
  3. Geden Choeling Nunnery, Gelugpa
  4. Tilokpur Nunnery, Kagyu
  5. Sherab Choeling Nunnery, non-sectarian
  6. Sakya College for Nuns, Sakya
  7. Dorjee Zong Nunnery, Gelugpa

Map of Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries supported by Tibetan Nuns Project

 

Third Round of Geshema Examinations

The third round of Geshema Examinations is taking place from May 1-12 2015 at Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod in southern India.

This year there are 38 Tibetan nuns taking part in this round of examinations and they are split as:

  • 11 in the first year,
  • 6 nuns in the second year of examinations,
  • and 21 in the third year.
nun debating Geshema examinations

One of the 38 Tibetan nuns taking the Geshema Examinations

The Geshema examination process is a rigorous one that takes four years in total, with one round per year each May. The fourth round of examinations will be held in 2016 at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh, northern India. Continue reading