Tag Archives: Geshema degree

Video Interview of a Geshema Nun: Determination and Dedication on the Path

Here is a video interview of a Geshema – Tenzin Kunsel.

On December 22, 2016, twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history when they graduated with their Geshema degrees. They received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

As you will hear from her story, her long journey to becoming a Geshema was not an easy one.

With gentle humor, she tells her story of overcoming many obstacles on the path to becoming a senior nun and teacher. Geshema Tenzin Kunsel’s extraordinary determination and dedication shine through.

The video was made in October 2017 at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Our thanks to Tibetan Nuns Project Co-Director, Venerable Lobsang Dechen, for providing the English translation and to volunteer film-makers Evan Kezsbom, Jalene Szuba, and Dustin Kujawski.

The Geshema degree is equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. It could previously only be earned by monks and is called the Geshe degree.

This historic milestone for the 20 nuns was the culmination of decades of study and dedication. In addition to the 17-years of study required, there is a rigorous four-year examination process.

Now Geshema Tenzin Kunsel and the 25 other recent Geshemas who graduated in 2016 and 2017 are starting a brand-new and historic two-year course in Buddhist tantric studies. Although there have been accomplished female practitioners in Tibet’s history, women have never before been given an opportunity to formally study tantric Buddhism.

Traditionally, monks who have attained their Geshe degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism, must also study tantric treatises in order to become fully qualified masters capable of teaching their complete tradition. Monks have always been able to receive these teachings at one of the great tantric colleges.

Geshema, Tenzin Kunsel,

Another Historic Achievement: Geshemas to Receive Higher Education in Tantric Studies

For the first time in the history of Tibet, nuns will be given the opportunity to receive higher education in tantric studies. Although there have been accomplished female practitioners in Tibet’s history, women have never before been given an opportunity to formally study tantric Buddhism.

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18 of the 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns who received their Geshema degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in December 2016. The Geshema graduates now have the opportunity to study tantric Buddhism.

Traditionally, monks who have attained their Geshe degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism, must also study tantric treatises in order to become fully qualified masters capable of teaching their complete tradition. Monks have always been able to receive these teachings at one of the great tantric colleges.

After the first-ever Tibetan Geshemas graduated in December 2016, a committee of representatives from six nunneries approached His Holiness the Dalai Lama for advice on starting a tantric studies program for the nuns. He kindly gave detailed instructions about the curriculum and the treatises to be used. He recommended that the Geshema nuns study as a group at Dolma Ling Nunnery, one of the nunneries founded and supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, since it has a quiet and peaceful atmosphere, conducive to intense study.

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Joy among the 20 Geshema nuns who received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama in December 2016 at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, India. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The committee then asked the Tibetan Nuns Project to provide funding for this groundbreaking program. On August 30th, the program was fully funded.

The two-year program starts in the first week of October. Two teachers are being hired and the Geshema nuns will receive training in tantric theory, rituals, and mind-training techniques used by those engaged in advanced meditation.

Tibetan nuns Geshema Graduation Ceremony December 2016

This blog post is our special record of the historic milestone, the Geshema graduation ceremony, and is a permanent placeholder for the video of the event.

On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a ceremony at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.

Geshema graduation ceremony

His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the 20 Geshema graduates at the degree ceremony in Mundgod, December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of OHHDL.

The Geshema degree is equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. It could previously only be earned by monks and is called the Geshe degree.

This historic milestone for the 20 nuns was the culmination of decades of study and dedication. The rigorous exam process for the Geshema degree takes a total of four years to complete. Each May  the nuns  took 12 days of exams to test their knowledge gained in a 17-year course of study.

nuns watching Geshema graduation ceremony

Nuns attending the first Geshema convocation at Drepung Lachi in Mundgod, Karnataka, India on December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

At the graduation ceremony, His Holiness the Dalai Lama spoke about the important of education for women and girls. “Through the power of education, women have been able to rise up to prominent roles including leadership in various societies. Education has played a big role in the advancement of gender equality and material development,” His Holiness said.

Tibetan political leader Sikyong Dr Lobsang Sangay was also in attendance, offering congratulations for the nuns’ hard work and dedication.

As doctors of philosophy, the nuns will now be expected to teach, a role reserved only for men until this point.

Video of the Geshema Graduation Ceremony

The full graduation ceremony can be seen here:

Watch the Tibetan language version of the ceremony.

On the day following the ceremony, the Tibetan Nuns Project shared many messages of congratulation that came from around the world for the nuns.

Geshema nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

A joyous occasion. Some of the 20 nuns react to a comment by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The ceremony took place in the courtyard of Drepung Lachi Monastery in Mundgod, Karnataka, India on December 22, 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Geshemas graduates celebrated at Dolma Ling Nunnery

On February 16, 2017, the nuns and staff at Dolma Ling Nunnery in northern India held a special celebration in honor of the six Geshema graduates from the nunnery.

The six nuns returned to the nunnery for the ceremony, which included the offering of white katak (or khata), the ceremonial scarves that are offered as a sign of respectful greeting.

Tibetan Buddhist nun, Geshema, khatas, ceremonial scarves

A smiling Geshema nun is almost submerged under a huge pile of katak. As part of the ceremony in their honor, the six Geshema graduates sat and received hundreds of white kataks (or khatas) from the nuns, teachers, and staff of Dolma Ling. These ceremonial scarves are offered as a sign of respect and they symbolize purity and compassion.

Also a part of the event was special debate session, called a Dam-cha, in which all of the nuns of the nunnery had a chance to challenge the Geshema’s with debates on difficult philosophical points.

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The six Geshema graduates from Dolma Ling are seated during the special debate session.

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Traditional Tibetan Buddhist debate is a integral part of monastic education. The nuns of Dolma Ling take turns debating with the six Geshema graduates.

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Interview with a Geshema nun: Tenzin Kunsel

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.

portrait of Tibetan Buddhist nun Tenzin Kunsel

Venerable Tenzin Kunsel who will become one of the first Geshemas in the history of Tibet

Background

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. Continue reading

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 nearly 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.

Learn about our Endowment Fund in support of the Geshema exams.

First batch of Geshema candidates sit their final round of exams

This month twenty Tibetan Buddhist nuns are making history as they take their fourth and final round of examinations for the Geshema degree. Those who pass will receive their degrees in December 2016 from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a special ceremony in India.

The Geshe degree (Geshema for women) is equivalent to a Doctorate in Buddhist Philosophy and is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.

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

Once only open to men, the opportunity to get the Geshe degree was opened to women in 2012. The Geshema examinations represent a huge milestone for Tibetan Buddhist nuns and this batch of 20 nuns will be the first Tibetan women with this highest degree in the history of Tibet.

This year’s Geshema examinations are being held at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, India from May 1 to 12th 2016.  Continue reading

Breaking News: Third Round Geshema Exam Results Are In

The much-anticipated Geshema Exam results have just arrived. The results have been sent to the respective nunneries and have been announced to all the nuns.

The third round of Geshema Examinations took place from May 1-12, 2015 at Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod in southern India. 37 Tibetan nuns took part in this round of examinations split as: Continue reading

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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Tibetan Nuns in India Close to Earning Highest Buddhist Degrees

A group of Tibetan nuns have passed the halfway mark toward a historic milestone: winning the equivalent of a Buddhist doctorate degree, until recently almost exclusively reserved only for men.

In May, 22 nuns passed through the second stage of examinations for a “Geshema” degree, the female equivalent of a Geshe degree. The examination process began in May, 2013.

Three senior nuns awaiting their turns to debate during the 2014 Geshema examinations

Three senior nuns awaiting their turns to debate during the 2014 Geshema examinations

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