Tag Archives: Geshema degree

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.

Tibetan nun, Buddhism, Geshema, Gesha, Tibetan Nuns Project, Geden Choeling, Dharamsala, Tibetan Buddhism

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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Breaking news: Geshema exam results are in

Geshema exam papers Tibetan Buddhist nuns 2014

Geshema Exams Part Two

Exam results are in for 29 Tibetan Buddhist nuns who made history this year as they work towards their Geshema degree.

  • 22 of the 23 nuns who sat Part 2 passed.
  • 4 of the 6 nuns who sat Part 1 passed.
  • Those who did not pass have the opportunity to re-sit next year.

About the Geshema Degree

The Geshema degree is comparable to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Geshes, and soon also Geshemas, are the most educated monastics, carrying much of the responsibility for preserving the Tibetan religion and culture. The Geshema exams take place over 4 years and are the culmination of a rigorous 17-year course of study.

This is historic because the degree was previously only open to men.

The nuns’ achievements are all the more remarkable because some of the women sitting the doctoral exams were totally illiterate when they escaped from Tibet.

Background

The opening up of this opportunity for nuns would not have been possible without the support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan government in exile, and high lamas and teachers.

In many ways, their immense leap in capacity has been made possible through the programs that you have helped support through the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Your support has also helped us work tirelessly for the opportunity for ordained Buddhist women to get the Geshema degree.

Once they obtain their Geshema degrees, besides being in possession of a treasure of knowledge, the nuns will be eligible to assume various leadership roles in the monastic and lay communities, bringing them one step closer to standing as equals.

Once they obtain their Geshema degrees, besides being in possession of a treasure of knowledge, the nuns will be eligible to assume various leadership roles in the monastic and lay communities, bringing them one step closer to standing as equals.

2013 Milestone: Geshema Exams for the Tibetan Nuns

May 2013 marked the beginning of the first ever Geshema examinations. After years of rigorous study, 27 nuns from 5 nunneries – 6 from Jangchub Choeling, 7 from Jamyang Choeling, 2 from Geden Choeling, 2 from Khacho Gakyiling (Kopan) and 10 from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute – gathered at Jamyang Choeling near Dharamsala, India, to complete the first round of a four-year examination process.

The nuns were tested on a variety of areas of study, including the Perfection of Wisdom, the Middle Way, and other subjects such as Tibetan grammar and science through both written examination and demonstration of their debating skills.

Tibetan nuns debate Geshema exams May 2013


In July, just in time for the celebrations of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday, the examination results for the first round of examinations were released with the very good news that 25 of the 27 candidates successfully passed the first round. If these nuns can continue to successfully demonstrate their knowledge over the next three years, they will be awarded the prestigious Geshema degree.

The Geshema degree will be the highest degree in Buddhist philosophy for nuns. A basic requirement for the nuns to take the exams is to have completed the full 17-year course of study with average marks of 75% or higher.

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The opportunity to take the examinations to earn this degree has been made available especially by the continuous support of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the dedication of the nuns, and the Department of Religion and Culture of the Kasur Rinchen Khando la meeting with the nuns Central Tibetan Administration. The Tibetan Nuns Project and its supporters have also played a significant role in making this landmark achievement possible, working over the past 25 years to increase the educational level of the nuns.

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Rinchen Khando Choegyal, the founder of the Tibetan Nuns Project, addresses the nuns at the Geshema exams.

The higher-level educational opportunities that nuns have today were not always available, creating a gap between the education of monks and nuns. The Tibetan Nuns Project has worked to close this gap and prepare the nuns to demonstrate their skills and learning. The debating practice that nuns undertake daily, as well as at the annual Jang Gönchoe inter-nunnery debate, have been highly beneficial to the nuns, expanding their understanding of the Buddhist philosophical texts and allowing them to develop the debating skills that are tested during the Geshema exams.

Congratulations to all the nuns who have successfully completed the first round of exams!

low res Yangdron_Delek_2013_05_GeshemeExam_20 copyEstablished in 1987, the Tibetan Nuns Project provides education and support to more than 700 nuns in northern India.

 

 

Tibetan Nuns Granted the Opportunity for Geshema Degree

After years of deliberation, Tibetan Buddhist nuns are finally set to receive Geshema degrees, or the equivalent of a PhD in Buddhist Philosophy.

The Central Tibetan Administration reached this unanimous and historic decision on May 19th 2012 after a two-day meeting in Dharamsala attended by high lamas, representatives of nuns from six different nunneries, and members from the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Previously, Geshe degrees were open only to Tibetan monks. Now nuns will be allowed to appear for the doctorate exams. Continue reading