Tag Archives: Geshema

Congratulations to 10 New Geshemas!

Geshema Graduation 2022

Ten Tibetan Buddhist nuns formally received their Geshema degrees at a special ceremony in the holy city of Bodh Gaya on November 18, 2022. Now the world has a total of 54 Geshemas!

Geshema graduation 2022

10 Tibetan Buddhist nuns receiving their Geshema degrees at the Geshema graduation 2022 in Bodh Gaya. Photo courtesy of DRC.

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition and is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism.

The ceremony was attended by:

  • 41st Sakya Trizin Kyabgon Gongma Trichen Rinpoche as the event’s chief guest
  • Secretary Chime Tseyang from the Department of Religion and Culture
  • The Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, Nangsa Chodon
  • The president of Geshema Examination Committee
  • Tutors and participants of the Winter Session of Discussion on Pramana.

Of the ten recipients of this year’s Geshema’s Degree, four nuns are from Jangchub Choeling Nunnery, four are from Kopan Monastery, and two are from Geden Choeling Nunnery.

Geshema Graduation 2022 Secretary Chime Tseyang giving presents to Gesgemas

Secretary Chime Tseyang from the Department of Religion and Culture giving presents to the Geshemas. She thanked the lamas who for helping to fulfill His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s vision of empowering Tibetan Buddhist nuns through educating Buddhist scriptures traditionally studied by monks only. She also encouraged the Geshemas to serve all sentient beings. Photo from DRC.

About the Geshema Degree and the Geshema Exams

The Geshema degree was only formally opened to women in 2012. It is the same as a Geshe degree but is called a Geshema degree because it is awarded to women.

Tibetan Buddhist nun holding Geshema hat

Photo of a Geshema holding the yellow hat that signifies her degree. Detail of photo by Olivier Adam.

The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Olivier Adam, Geshema nuns, Geshema graduation, tantric studies for women, nuns, Tibetan Nuns Project

Joy among the 20 Geshema nuns who received their degrees from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the historic Geshema graduation ceremony in December 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The 2022 Geshema exams were held at Geden Choeling Nunnery with 94 nuns taking various levels of the four-year exams as follows:

  • 1st year: 59 nuns took exams, 56 passed
  • 2nd year: 14 nuns took exams, 14 passed
  • 3rd year: 10 nuns took exams, 7 passed
  • 4th year: 11 nuns took exams, 10 passed

Thank you to everyone who sent good luck messages to the nuns!

Facts About the Geshema Degree

    • The Geshema degree is 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.
    • Until recently, this highest degree could only be earned by monks.
    • In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first female to receive the Geshema title.
    • The historic decision to confer the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was announced in 2012 by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan Administration, following a meeting of representatives from six major nunneries, Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and the Tibetan Nuns Project.
    • Candidates for the Geshema degree are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts.
    • To qualify to begin the Geshema process, nuns must score 75% or above in their studies to be eligible to sit for the Geshema exams.
    • On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.
Photo of 10 new Geshemas 2022, Geshema graduation 2022

The 10 Geshemas who graduated on November 18th took part in a formal debate (damja) with hundreds of other nuns on November 16 and 17. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

The Geshema Exam Process

To be eligible to take their Geshema exams, the nuns must first complete at least 17 years of study.

The Geshema examination process is rigorous. It involves four years of written and debate exams as well as the completion and defense of a thesis.

Each year, the nuns preparing to sit various levels of the examinations gather together for one month of final exam preparations and then about 12 days of exams. In 2022, the exams were held at Geden Choeling Nunnery. The 2020 and 2021 Geshema exams were cancelled because of the pandemic.

Geshema, Geshema exams 2022, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Collage of nuns taking written and oral (debate) exams as part of the 2022 Geshema exams. Photos by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

“The fact that growing numbers of women are achieving equality with men in the highest levels of Buddhist monasticism, by earning the equivalent of doctorate degrees, is joyous and of enormous importance to the world,” says Steve Wilhelm, a Tibetan Nuns Project board member. “This means that women monastics will be leading more monastic institutions, and will be teaching other women and men. Humanity needs this gender equity if we are to navigate perilous times ahead.”

The Geshema degree will make the nuns eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

The Number of Geshema Graduates

The first Geshema degree was conferred in 2011 to a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo.

In 2012, a historic decision was made to allow Tibetan Buddhist nuns the opportunity to take Geshema examinations.

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.

In November 2022, another ten nuns graduated with their Geshema degree. This brings the total number of Geshemas to 54.

Here’s a list of the Geshema graduations since the formal approval in 2012:

Geshema Endowment

We are extremely grateful to the 159 donors to the Geshema Endowment, including the Pema Chodron Foundation, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Frederick Family Foundation, and the Donaldson Charitable Trust. We are also very grateful to all those who sponsor nuns and help them on their path.

The Geshema Endowment, launched by the Tibetan Nuns Project in 2021, ensures the long-term sustainability of the Geshema program. It cover the costs involved in training and qualifying more Geshemas including the costs of travel, food, and accommodation for the Geshema candidates to attend the exams. The fund also covers the cost of administration and materials for the exams and provides each new Geshema with a set of nuns’ robes and yellow hat that signifies the holding of the degree.

“As a Tibetan Nuns Project board member,” said Vicki Robinson, “I am so very proud of the achievements of the nuns who are working on the Geshema degree. It has been such a pleasure to watch these nuns assume leadership positions in the nunneries and to go where no women have gone before.”

Geshemas in formal debate preceeding Geshema graduation 2022

The 10 Geshemas took part in two days of formal debate their convocation. Hundreds of nuns were in Bodh Gaya for the Jang Gonchoe inter-nunnery debate.

Robin Groth, another board member, wrote, “I am thrilled by this news! This is what the work of the Tibetan Nuns Project and its donors is about — giving opportunity where it has not been before and then see lives change, dreams fulfilled, and leaders emerge. What an honor to witness this evolution.”

What do Geshemas and Geshes Study

To graduate with a Geshema or Geshe degree, one studies the five essential Buddhist texts over about 20 years. The method of study involves logical analysis and debate, combined with regular sessions of prayer and recitation.

Each of the final-year candidates has to write, in advance, a 50-page thesis. Examiners test the candidates on their thesis papers during the exams and the nuns must give an oral defence.  Learn more about what Geshemas study here.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns are making history. Following further study and exams in Buddhist Tantric Studies, the Geshemas are becoming fully qualified as teachers. In 2019, two of the Geshemas who graduated in 2016 were hired as teachers at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

At Long Last the 2022 Geshema Exams Begin

Many Tibetan Buddhist nuns have been studying for decades and waiting for this opportunity. The long wait is over and the 2022 Geshema exams started on August 7th at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala.

Thank you to everyone who sent good luck messages to the nuns! We’ve compiled all your messages and posted them at Geden Choeling for the nuns to see.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Geshema exams

Two nuns studying in the final days before the Geshema exams start. David said in his good luck message: “I am very glad to see that the Geshema examinations will take place in 2022, and look forward to supporting the spread of female teachers in these especially treacherous times!”

The Geshema degree (known as the Geshe degree for monks) is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. Until recently, this degree was only open to men.

Geshema, Geshema exams 2022, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

Photos by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns of the 2022 Geshema exams. To earn the Geshema degree, nuns must take both written and debate exams. The rigorous examination process involves two weeks of examinations each year for four years.

The rigorous exams take four years to complete, with one set held each year. Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, the Geshema exams were cancelled in 2020 and 2021.

2022 geshema exams, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

A group of nuns study during the final month of exam preparations for the 2022 Geshema exams which began on August 7th. To earn the Geshema degree, nuns must successfully complete four years of written and debate exams as well as write and defend a thesis.

Candidates are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts. They must achieve a score at least 75 per cent during their studies to be eligible to sit for the Geshema exams.

Geshema Tenzin Kunsel teaching at Dolma Ling Nunnery 2022

Geshema Tenzin Kunsel is one of two Geshemas now teaching at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, a large non-sectarian nunnery that is home to about 250 nuns. Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not had the same access to education as monks. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam

The Geshema degree was only formally opened to women in 2012 and nuns began taking Geshema exams in 2013. In 2016, 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history when they became the first Tibetan women to earn Geshema degrees.

Geshema exams 2022

Behind the scenes at the 2022 Geshema exams captured by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns. The new Geshema Endowment at the Tibetan Nuns Project funds all costs associated with the exams including food, travel, exam materials, and graduation robes.

To date, 44 Tibetan Buddhist nuns have earned this degree. The world needs their wisdom and compassion.

Here’s a list of the Geshema graduations since the formal approval in 2012:

In his good luck, Robert said, “Dear Geshema candidates, I have thought of you many times since I became aware of your studies and intent to earn your Geshema degree. You have accomplished an extraordinary amount to have come this far. I wish you all peace of mind and good health as you take your exams. You are trailblazers already, and I would be incredibly honored to learn from you, whether or not you achieve the Geshema degree. That said, may you all find great success in achieving the degree so that more people may have the opportunity to learn from you. Congratulations on all your achievements so far in being ready to sit the exams — all of you inspire me so much and motivate me to practice harder. Thank you!”

Tibetan Buddhist Nuns studying for 2022 Geshema exams

The candidates assembled on July 6th for a month of final exam preparations. Photo courtesy of the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

Some Facts About the Geshema Degree

  • The Geshema Degree is roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. For males, it is called the Geshe degree.
  • It is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Until recently, this highest degree could only be earned by monks.
  • In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first female to receive the Geshema title.
  • To qualify to begin the Geshema process, nuns must score 75% or above in their studies to be eligible to sit for the Geshema exams.
  • On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.
Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan nuns, geshema exams

Joy at the opportunity to take the Geshema exams. Thank you for your messages of good luck! Photos courtesy of the Dolma Ling Media Nuns

 

Good Luck Messages for 2022 Geshema Exams

Thank you to everyone who sent good luck messages to the nuns taking their Geshema exams this summer! We’ve compiled all the messages and will share them with the nuns before the exams begin on August 7th.

The Geshema degree  (or Geshe degree for monks) is roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhism. Until recently, this degree was only open to men.

Due to the pandemic, the Geshema exams were cancelled in 2020 and 2021. The nuns have been waiting for a long time for this educational opportunity. The candidates are gathering on July 6th at Geden Choeling Nunnery for a month of final exam preparations.

Geshema, Geshema exams, Tibetan Buddhist nun, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Nuns Project

A smiling Tibetan Buddhist nun enters her Geshema exams equipped with ruler and pens. The written and oral exams last two weeks and are based on 17 years of study. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Here’s a little video about the 2018 Geshema exams. [Can’t see the video? Click here.]

Geshes and Geshemas are the most educated monastics, carrying much of the responsibility for preserving the Tibetan religion and culture.

The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns read good luck messages Geshema exams

Nuns cluster around the bulletin board at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute to read good luck messages sent from around the world to nuns taking their exams in 2018. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Some Short Facts About the Geshema Degree

  • The Geshema Degree is roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. For males, it is called the Geshe degree.
  • It is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Until recently, this highest degree could only be earned by monks.
  • In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first female to receive the Geshema title.
  • The historic decision to confer the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was announced in 2012 by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan Administration, following a meeting of representatives from six major nunneries, Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and the Tibetan Nuns Project.
  • Candidates for the Geshema degree are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts.
  • To qualify to begin the Geshema process, nuns must score 75% or above in their studies to be eligible to sit for the Geshema exams.
  • On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.

Great News About the Geshema Program

We have joyful news! Thanks to wonderful supporters like you, the Geshema Endowment is funded. It is the next step in helping nuns reach the level of education they need to stand as equals with monks.

We are extremely grateful to the 159 donors to the Geshema Endowment, including the Pema Chodron Foundation, the Pierre and Pamela Omidyar Fund of the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, the Frederick Family Foundation, and the Donaldson Charitable Trust.

The Endowment will cover the costs involved in training and qualifying more Geshemas. This includes travel, food, and accommodation for the candidates to attend the exams. It will also cover the cost of administration and materials for the exams. Each new Geshema is also given a set of robes and the yellow hat signifying the holding of the degree.

Geshema Endowment Funded

Joy after the first Geshema graduation ceremony in December 2016. Photo courtesy of Olivier Adam.

Geshema Exams Starting August 7th

In 2020 and 2021, the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Geshema exams. We’re happy to tell you that the exams are scheduled to take place this summer at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala.

In April, the Geshema Exam Committee sent a letter to all the relevant Tibetan Buddhist nunneries. Nuns must submit their completed forms by May 10th for consideration in this round of exams. Before the exams, the nuns will meet for one month for additional studying. They are to report to Geden Choeling by July 6, 2022, His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s birthday.

We don’t know yet how many nuns will take the exams on August 7th. Eleven nuns passed their 3rd set of exams in 2019 and became eligible to take their final round of exams. Unfortunately, they’ve had to wait two years to take their final set. All being well, this fall the world may have 55 Geshemas!

Geshemas

Last winter, Geshemas at Dolma Ling taught children Tibetan reading and writing during the children’s break. It’s one of the many ways the Geshemas are serving the community.

What is the Geshema Degree?

Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not had the same access to education as monks. One of our goals is to elevate the educational standards and the position of women.

The Geshema degree is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa tradition, equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhism.

The Geshema degree was only formally opened to women in 2012 and nuns began taking Geshema exams in 2013. In 2016, 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns made history when they became the first Tibetan women to earn Geshema degrees.

There are now 44 Geshemas. The world needs their wisdom and compassion.

Geshema Tenzin Kunsel, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dolma Ling

For the first time in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, nuns are assuming various teaching and leadership roles previously not open to women. Geshema Tenzin Kunsel is one of two Geshemas hired in 2019 to teach at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

The Geshema degree is the same as a Geshe degree; the “ma” indicates that it is awarded to women. To be eligible to take their Geshema exams, nuns must first complete at least 17 years of study.

The rigorous examination process takes four years to complete. Each year, over two weeks, candidates must complete written and debate exams and, in their fourth year, write and defend a thesis.

The Geshemas as Role Models, Leaders, and Teachers

For the first time in the history of Tibetan Buddhism, nuns can assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence not previously open to women.

Here is a snapshot of some of the special roles that Geshemas are taking on, particularly at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

Geshemas teaching Tibetan children Feb 2022

Every winter the local children near Dolma Ling Nunnery have a long holiday. This year the Geshemas wanted to help them improve their Tibetan reading and writing.

Teachers

Until recently, there were no nuns fully qualified to teach Buddhist philosophy. Following further study and exams in Buddhist Tantric Studies, the Geshemas are becoming fully qualified as teachers. In March 2019, two Geshemas made history when they were hired to teach Tibetan Buddhist philosophy at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. For the first time, nuns are being taught these topics by other nuns, rather than by monks. This achievement would not have been possible without the supporters of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

Geshema Delek Wangmo, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dolma Ling

In 2019, two Geshemas made history when they were hired to teach Buddhist philosophy to nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Photo of GesheDelek Wangmo teaching taken by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

“It has been such a pleasure to watch these nuns assume leadership positions in the nunneries and to go where no women have gone before,” said Vicki Robinson, a Tibetan Nuns Project Board member.

Role Models

The Geshemas are also beginning to take on other leadership roles once reserved for men. In 2020, Geshema Delek Wangmo was appointed as an election commissioner for the Tibetan government-in-exile during new parliamentary elections. This was a historic accomplishment for Geshema Delek Wangmo and Tibetan Buddhist nuns in general. Geshema Delek Wangmo graduated with her Geshema degree in 2017 and was one of the first Tibetan Buddhist nuns to pursue higher studies in Tantric Buddhism.

Geshema Delek Wangmo , Geshema

Geshema Delek Wangmo takes the oath of office at the swearing-in ceremony as a election commissioner for the parliamentary elections. Photo: Tenzin Phende/CTA

“Educating women is powerful,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor to 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.”

Spiritual Advisors

During the pandemic, Geshemas were asked to provide spiritual advice to Tibetans. In 2020,  the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration arranged video teachings by Tibetan Buddhist scholars to help Tibetans cope.

Geshema Delek Wangmo gave a video talk in Tibetan on “keeping a peaceful mind during a crisis through the practice of Tibetan Buddhism”. Geshema Tenzin Kunsel gave a video teaching on the Buddhist way to face the pandemic crisis.  Geshema, Geshema nuns, spiritual advice during pandemic

A screenshot from the Central Tibetan Administration website showing videos by Geshema Delek Wangmo and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel who were asked to give spiritual advice to Tibetans during the pandemic.

Scholars

In 2020, five Geshemas received scholarships to participate in a new Tibetan Buddhist philosophy research program organized by the Geluk International Foundation. Thirty Geshes and 5 Geshemas are working on three-year research projects on the five primary topics of Buddhist philosophy studied to earn the Geshe degree.

Geshema receive Tantric studies certificates Feb 1 2019

Geshemas holding their certificates in Buddhist Tantric Studies, February 2019. This groundbreaking program began in 2017 and provides these dedicated senior nuns training in tantric theory, rituals, and mind-training techniques used by those engaged in advanced meditation. This level of training is an essential part of studies for Geshes and is a required step enabling them to be fully qualified for advanced leadership roles, such as being an abbot of a monastery.

A Remarkable Achievement

The success of the Geshema program is a testament to the dedication of the nuns. Most of the nuns who arrived as refugees from Tibet in the late 1980s and early 1990s had no education in Tibetan, nor had they been allowed education in their religious heritage. Many were illiterate on arrival and could not even write their names.

“Humanity needs this gender equity if we are to navigate perilous times ahead,” says Steve Wilhelm, a Tibetan Nuns Project board member. “The fact that growing numbers of women are achieving equality with men in the highest levels of Buddhist monasticism, by earning the equivalent of doctorate degrees, is joyous and of enormous importance to the world.”

Thank you for supporting the nuns!

Tibetan Buddhist nun holding Geshema hat

Photo of a Geshema holding the yellow hat that signifies her degree. Detail of photo by Olivier Adam.

P.S. If you don’t mind sharing, post a comment below and tell us why you care about the Geshema degree program. We’d love to share your stories to inspire others to support the nuns.

Goodbye Winter? Photos from Tibetan Buddhist Nunneries

Today is the first day of spring, but is it really goodbye winter at Tibetan Buddhist nunneries in northern India?

Visit two nunneries with videos and photos to see the life of the nuns in winter.

Winter at Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the remote, high-altitude Spiti Valley is one of seven nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project. It was founded just over 25 years ago to educate Himalayan Buddhist nuns who would otherwise have no opportunity to receive any formal schooling or spiritual education.

sign for Sherab Choeling Nunnery

Sign for Sherab Choeling Nunnery in the Indian Himalayas. The nunnery is very secluded and is at almost 4,000 feet or 1,200 meters altitude.

Winters are tough at Sherab Choeling and this year was no exception. In February it was snowy and cold with temperatures dropping down to -8°F or -22°C.

The 62 nuns at the nunnery have many winter chores such as carrying water, washing dishes at an outdoor pump, and shovelling snow. There is very little heat in the nunnery, aside from the stoves for cooking.

fetching water at Sherab Choeling Nunnery, winter photos Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

The nuns wash their dishes at an outside pump and fetch water for the nunnery.

Last week, an avalanche blocked one of the main roads into Spiti, the Manali-Leh highway, stranding vehicles while another avalanche blocked a major road through the Spiti Valley. Winter may not be over yet.

Tibetan nuns shovelling snow, Sherab Choeling Nunnery, Spiti, winter at Tibetan Buddhist nunneries

The nuns gather in the sunshine to shovel snow and sweep the steps of the nunnery.

Here’s a video of winter at Sherab Choeling with clips made by the nuns. Can’t see the video? Click here.

Life in Winter at Dolma Ling

The wonderful Media Nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute have documented daily life at the nunnery in January and February.

With the rise of the highly transmissable omicron variant in the early part of 2022, the nuns did more activities outside. Despite the cold weather, they studied and ate their meals outdoors as much as possible.

Here’s a slideshow. Can’t see it? Click here.

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Geshemas Teach Children on Their Winter Break

Every winter, the Tibetan children who live near the nunnery have a long winter break. This year, the Geshema nuns at Dolma Ling wanted to help the children improve their Tibetan reading and writing skills. These nuns hold the highest degree in their tradition, roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Here’s a slideshow of the Geshemas teaching the children. Can’t see it? Click here.

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Geshema Delek Wangmo Sworn in as Election Commissioner

Geshema Delek Wangmo, a teacher at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute, has been appointed as an Election Commissioner for the Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile.

Geshema Delek Wangmo , Geshema

Geshema Delek Wangmo takes the oath of office at the swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Tenzin Phende/CTA

She and Mr Sonam Gyaltsen, former Tibetan Parliamentarian and the incumbent senior Professor of the College for Higher Tibetan Studies (Sarah), were unanimously elected as Additional Election Commissioners of the Chief Election Commission by the members of the Standing Committee of the 16th Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile. They were sworn in on August 3, 2020. The oath ceremony was attended by the top leadership of the exile Tibetan government. As commissioners, they will serve until the results of the final election are declared.

Geshema Delek Wangmo, Geshema

Mr Sonam Gyaltsen, former Tibetan Parliamentarian and Geshema Delek Wangmo, teacher of Dolma Ling Nunnery sworn in as new Additional Election Commissioners. Photo: Tenzin Phende/CTA

This is yet another historic accomplishment for Geshema Delek Wangmo and for Tibetan Buddhist nuns in general. Geshema Delek Wangmo graduated with her Geshema degree in 2017. She became one of the first Tibetan Buddhist nuns to pursue higher studies in Tantric Buddhism. Last year, she and Geshema Tenzin Kunsel made history when they were hired as teachers at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. Earlier this spring, the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, India, asked Geshema Delek Wangmo to give a teaching on keeping a peaceful mind during a crisis through the practice of Tibetan Buddhism.

The Tibetan Nuns Project congratulates Geshema Delek Wangmo on her many accomplishments. She and the other Geshemas are opening up new opportunities for Tibetan Buddhist nuns as teachers, leaders, and role models.

Brief Bio of Geshema Delek Wangmo

Geshema Delek Wangmo was born on 6 July 1961 in Lithang, Kham, Tibet. She became a nun at a very young age and received her monastic vows from Tulku Tenzin Delek Rinpoche. In 1988, Geshema Delek Wangmo along with some 100 Tibetan people set off on a pilgrimage to Lhasa from Lithang doing prostrations. On reaching Lhasa, the pilgrims were forbidden by the Chinese government to visit monasteries and their sacred destination – the Jokhang Temple containing the famous Jhoho statue of the Buddha. So the large group set off to the holy mountain of Mount Kailash. From there, in 1990 they escaped over the Himalayas to Nepal and then to India.

As per the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and under the care of Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director of the Tibetan Nuns Project, Geshema Delek Wangmo managed in a room rented from a local Indian until the construction of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute was sufficiently far along for the refugee nuns to move in. She completed studies in five major Buddhist texts from Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.  In 2017, she received her Geshema Degree which is equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist studies.

Geshema Delek Wangmo has always excelled in her studies. While doing her education, she has taken a leadership role at the nunnery holding various responsibilities and participating in numerous scholarly debates. In 2018, she was one of the first group of Tibetan Buddhist nuns who, having attained the Geshema degree, did a year of higher studies in Tantric Buddhism at Gyutoe Monastery. Geshema Delek Wangmo is currently working as a teacher in Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

Geshema Delek Wangmo,

Heads of the three pillars of the Tibetan democratic system, Kalons and CTA functionaries at the swearing-in ceremony. Photo: Tenzin Phende/CTA

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!

Special Convocation Ceremony at Sakya College for Nuns

A very special event was held at the Sakya College for Nuns in November 2019. The event was attended by Geshemas and nuns from throughout India and the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism.

At a convocation ceremony, seven Sakya nuns received the Kachupa degree, the culmination of eight years of study. The Kachupa degrees were conferred by His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche.

Seven Sakya nuns received their Kachupa Degree

Seven Sakya nuns received their Kachupa Degrees from His Holiness Sakya Trizin Rinpoche at a special convocation ceremony in November 2019.

In addition to the convocation event, the nuns held the opening ceremony of the first-ever Three-Day Nuns Seminar on the First Chapter of Pramanavartikka by Acharya Dharma Kirti. The seminar ran from November 13th to 15th, 2019. Thirty nuns from eight different nunneries and an additional 50 nuns from the Sakya College itself participated in the three-day seminar.

Sakya College for Nuns event Nov 2019

Eighty nuns took part in the first-ever Three Day Nuns Seminar on the First Chapter of Pramanavartikka by Acharya Dharma Kirti held at the Sakya College for Nuns.

Three leaders of the Tibetan Nuns Project were invited to the convocation: Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor; Nangsa Chodon, the Director of Tibetan Nuns Project in India; and Dr. Elizabeth Napper, U.S. Founder and Board Chair.

Rinchen Khando Choegyal speaking at Sakya College for Nuns

Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for the Tibetan Nuns Project, speaking at the special Sakya College for Nuns event in November 2019.

The event included a grand reception for His Holiness the 42nd Sakya Trizin, Ratna Vajra Rinpoche. The Sakya Trinzin (meaning “Throne-Holder”) is the traditional title of the head of the Sakya school of Tibetan Buddhism.

There were prayers and a mandala offering (mandal tensum) to His Holiness by H.E. Dungse Asanga Rinpoche and Khenchen Sonam Gyatso, the Director of the Sakya College for Nuns.

special convocation Sakya College for Nuns 2019

Participants with various observer invitees at the special convocation and seminar at Sakya College for Nuns in November 2019.

Speeches included an address by Choepa Dechen Wangmo Acharya, the Principal of the Sakya College for Nuns; a lecture on the “Evolution of Epistemology” by the Venerable Khentrul Khorchag Rinpoche; and speeches by Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Nangsa Choedon, and Dr. Kurt J. Schwalbe.

Nangsa Choedon Director of Tibetan Nuns Project in India

Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project in India, speaking at the Sakya College for Nuns.

Following the presentation of the Kachupa Degrees to the graduating students by His Holiness the 42nd Sakya Trizin Ratna Vajra Rinpoche, there was a speech by His Holiness and concluding prayers.

congratulating graduate Sakya College for Nuns Nov 2019

Nangsa Choedon, Director of Tibetan Nuns Project in India, congratulates one of the seven graduates who earned her Kachupa Degree at the Sakya College for Nuns.

Sakya College for Nuns in the Media

On December 3, 2019, VOA Tibetan did this 15-minute video interview and story in Tibetan about the convocation at the Sakya College for Nuns. Can’t see the video? Click here.

About the Sakya College for Nuns

The Sakya College for Nuns was established to train nuns in higher Buddhist philosophical studies. It is the only Sakya nunnery outside Tibet.

Surrounded by forests, the Sakya College for Nuns is located in Manduwala, about 12 miles from Dehradun and a few kilometers from the Palace of His Holiness the Sakya Trizin.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns studying at the Sakya College for Nuns

Tibetan Buddhist nuns studying at the Sakya College for Nuns

In 1993, a first small group of nuns arrived from Tibet and were housed near the monastery. This group quickly grew and the need for a permanent nunnery become a pressing issue.

Khen Rinpoche Gyatso believed it was essential to provide equal educational opportunity to nuns as well as monks. His Holiness the Sakya Trizin completely supported this idea and wished for a nunnery to be built for the Sakyapa nuns.

The Sakya nunnery was officially established in 1998 with His Holiness’ blessings and the Sakya College for Nuns was inaugurated on September 26, 2009. It has ushered in a new era for Sakya nuns. It is now home to 59 nuns who are supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project sponsorship program.

Tibetan Buddhist Nun at Sakya College for Nuns holding card from her sponsor

Tibetan Buddhist Nun at Sakya College for Nuns holding card from her sponsor. The Sakya College for Nuns is one of seven Tibetan nunneries in India supported through the Tibetan Nuns Project sponsorship program. People can sponsor a nun for $1 a day and help provide all the nuns with food, education, shelter, clothing, and medical care.

Some nuns come from Nepal, Bhutan, and the neighboring Himalayan regions. Most nuns, however, come from Tibet and have left behind their families and friends. To escape into exile, many Tibetan nuns faced a dangerous journey through difficult mountain passes on foot. Now the Sakya College for Nuns is their home and it is almost impossible for them to return, or even visit Tibet.

Now, for the first time, the Sakya nuns can engage in higher Buddhist studies at a dedicated facility and earn the highest degrees in the Sakya tradition. It provides a welcoming and nurturing environment where nuns can study and practice the core of Buddhist teachings.

Education at Sakya College for Nuns

The curriculum at the Sakya College for Nuns is based on the 18 classical texts which are traditionally studied at the Sakya monastic colleges.

The curriculum of the Buddhist Institute offers 6 main areas of Buddhist studies, which encompass both the Buddhist philosophical view and the stages on the path. They are 1. Logic 2. Abhidharma 3. Vinaya 4. Prajnaparamita 5. Madhyamika 6. Three Sets of Vows. Providing an opportunity for nuns to study these subjects is important for them to be able to teach others and for their own practice.

As the nuns advance through their studies, for the first time in the history of Tibet they are able to earn the following series of degrees:

Kachupa Degree: after 8 years of study
Lopon Degree: after 10 years of study
Rabjampa Degree: Those who complete 12 years of study, including an examination and the composition and defense of an original thesis, will be awarded the Rabjampa degree.
Ngagrampa Degree: After 14 years of study, including two years of tantra
Khachodma or Machigma Degree: In the 15th year of study, the nuns go on retreat to attain this degree.
Geshema Degree: Finally, after at least 15 years of study and four years of exams, the nuns are able to receive the highest degree, the Geshema Degree, equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.

Send good luck messages to nuns taking Geshema exams 2019

You can send good luck messages to the nuns taking Geshema exams in August 2019. To send a message of support to the Geshema candidates, post a comment below on this blog. We’ll compile all the messages and share them with the nuns before their exams.

The Geshema degree  (or Geshe degree for monks) is roughly equivalent to a Ph.D. in Tibetan Buddhism. Until recently, this degree was only open to men.

The rigorous examination process takes four years and are the culmination of a rigorous 17-year course of study.

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When you’re facing big challenges, it’s great to know that people are sending you support. Here’s a photo of nuns reading messages of good luck sent by other nuns prior to the 2016 Geshema exams. We’re collecting good luck messages for nuns taking their exams in August.

From August 1-12, 2019, 51 Tibetan Buddhist nuns will sit various levels of their Geshema exams. The nuns taking their exams this year come from four different nunneries: Dolma Ling, Geden Choeling, Jangchup Choeling, and Kopan Nunnery.

The examinees have already gathered at  Jangchup Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod for their special one-month pre-exam study time.

Here’s a little video about the 2018 Geshema exams. [Can’t see the video? Click here.]

In August 2019, there will be:

  • 24 nuns taking their first-year exams
  • 9 nuns doing their 2nd year
  • 11 nuns doing their 3rd year
  • 7 Geshema candidates doing their fourth and final year of exams (The initial number was 8, but one nun dropped out at the end of July.)

All being well, there will be 8 new Geshema graduates this fall. The graduation ceremony will be held at the end of the 2019 Jang Gonchoe Inter-nunnery debate in November.

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A Tibetan Buddhist nun takes her Geshema exams in 2017. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

Geshes and Geshemas are the most educated monastics, carrying much of the responsibility for preserving the Tibetan religion and culture.

The Geshemas are paving the way for other nuns to follow in their footsteps. This degree makes them eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women. Recently, two Geshemas were hired as teachers at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

We are still seeking $1,276 to complete the funding for the 2019 Geshema exams.

Donations are needed to cover the costs of the nuns’ travel to and from the exams and for their food during the exams and for the one-month study session before the exams. You can learn more and donate here.

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Tibetan Buddhist nuns hand in their exam papers during the Geshema exams in 2017. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team

Some Short Facts About the Geshema Degree

  • The Geshema Degree is roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. For males, it is called the Geshe degree.
  • It is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
  • Until recently, this highest degree could only be earned by monks.
  • In 2011, a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years training in India, became the first female to receive the Geshema title.
  • The historic decision to confer the Geshema degree to Tibetan Buddhist nuns was announced in 2012 by the Department of Religion and Culture of the Tibetan Administration, following a meeting of representatives from six major nunneries, Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, and the Tibetan Nuns Project.
  • Candidates for the Geshema degree are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the Five Great Canonical Texts.
  • To qualify to begin the Geshema process, nuns must score 75% or above in their studies to be eligible to sit for the Geshema exams.
  • On December 22, 2016, His Holiness the Dalai Lama awarded 20 Tibetan Buddhist nuns with Geshema degrees at a special graduation ceremony held at Drepung Monastery in Mundgod, South India.
Geshema, Geshema exams, Tibetan Buddhist nun, Tibetan Buddhism, Tibetan Nuns Project

A smiling Tibetan Buddhist nun enters her Geshema exams equipped with ruler and pens. The written and oral exams last two weeks and are based on 17 years of study. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns read good luck messages Geshema exams

Nuns cluster around the bulletin board at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute to read good luck messages sent from around the world to nuns taking their exams in 2018. Photo by the Nuns’ Media Team.

It’s Teacher Appreciation Week

The first full week of May is Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States, so we’re taking this opportunity to celebrate the teachers at Tibetan Buddhist nunneries. Springtime is also the start of a new academic year at the nunneries in India so it’s a fitting time to honor the teachers who educate the nuns.

“Educating women is powerful,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal, Founding Director and Special Advisor for 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.”

teacher appreciation, Dolma Ling Nunnery, Tibetan Nuns Project, education of women, Tibetan nuns

A monk teaches Tibetan Buddhist nuns at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. As more nuns take the highest degrees in their traditions, such as the Geshema degree, they will be qualified to teach. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

A primary goal of the Tibetan Nuns Project is to assist nuns in reaching the same level of education as the monks.

Because historically nuns have not had access to formal education, very few nuns are qualified to teach. The good news is that the situation is now changing. More nuns are receiving the highest degrees in their traditions.

Who Teaches the Nuns

One of our ongoing tasks is the recruitment of qualified teachers for the various nunneries that we support.

The teachers we employ in the seven nunneries we support are both monastic and lay. Monks (often Geshes and Khenpos) from the large monasteries and training institutes of the various Buddhist traditions teach Buddhist philosophy and debate.

March 2019 marked a big milestone. Two nuns with Geshema degrees were hired to teach Tibetan Buddhist philosophy at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute. For the first time, nuns are being taught these topics by other nuns, rather than by monks. This achievement would not have been possible without the global family of supporters of the Tibetan Nuns Project.

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Photo of Delek Wangmo and other senior nuns in 2013 by Brian Harris. When she escaped from Tibet she could barely read. Now she is one of two Geshemas hired in March 2019 to teach at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute.

English is taught in the nunneries by lay women and men educated in the Indian university system. For the Tibetan language, we employ mostly young women and men who have come from Tibet in recent years. Recent refugees often have stronger Tibetan-language skills than their Indian-raised counterparts. Once they have completed a teacher-training course at nearby Sarah Institute, a branch of the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics, we and many other institutions in the exile community hire them to teach Tibetan language, literature, and grammar.

teacher appreciation, Geden Choeling Nunnery, education of women, Tibetan nuns

Teaching a Tibetan class at Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

Supporting the Nuns’ Teachers

The ultimate goal is to empower the nuns to become teachers and leaders in their own right and to help preserve Tibet’s unique culture and religion.

In addition to funding the salaries for teachers at the seven nunneries directly supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, each year we fund the salaries at a number of small nunneries in remote regions.

The annual cost of one teacher’s salary ranges from $1,500 to $5,000, depending on the location of the nunnery and the skills of the teacher, so the total annual budget for this program is approximately $40,000. We are very grateful to all those people who support our Teachers’ Salaries Fund.

What Do the Nuns Study

Each of the four traditions schools of Tibetan Buddhism has its own specific curriculum and degrees attained, but much is shared. All are based on the teachings of the Buddha and the Indian commentaries that developed to explicate them.

Exactly which commentaries the nuns most closely rely on varies between traditions as do the number of years of study, but there is uniformity of the basic topics. All the nuns study:

  • Logic and Epistemology, which provide the basic tools for advanced philosophical study;
  • Perfection of Wisdom for understanding of the Buddhist path;
  • Middle Way for understanding of Buddhist philosophy; and
  • Tantra for the final level of teachings.

At most nunneries supported by the Tibetan Nuns Project, courses are also offered in Tibetan language, English, and computer skills, as well as in ritual arts such as sand mandalas and butter sculpture. The smaller nunneries in more remote areas are at earlier stages in the educational process.

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A lay teacher at Shugsep Nunnery and Institute teaches geography to the nuns. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris

The Power of Educating the Nuns

Before the Chinese takeover of Tibet, there were at least 818 nunneries and nearly 28,000 nuns living in Tibet.

In an attempt to eliminate Buddhism in Tibet, more than 6,000 nunneries and monasteries were destroyed between 1959 and 1980. Monks and nuns in great numbers were imprisoned, tortured, and forced to give up the ordained way of life. Teaching, study, and prayer were strictly prohibited, and religious texts and objects were demolished.

Before the Tibetan Nuns Project was founded in 1987, there wasn’t much education for Tibetan nuns, either in exile or inside Tibet. “Even when Tibet was free, nuns didn’t have much of an education,” says Rinchen Khando Choegyal. “Of course, we had wonderful nunneries in Tibet, beautiful ones where the nuns were supported by their family members and treated very well, but mostly what the nuns did was spend their time in praying and meditating.”

“I must say that some nuns were very highly realized meditators, but in the sense of education that you and I know of today, they had none,” she said. “Which is why we are so happy that we have been able to make it possible in exile.”

Tibetan, Tibetan language, Tibetan Nuns Project, Tibetan Buddhist nuns

A Tibetan Buddhist nun reads and writes in Tibetan. Most nuns arriving in India had been denied basic educational opportunities in Tibet, including education in their own Tibetan language and Tibetan Buddhist religious heritage. The majority of nuns arrived in India illiterate and unable to write their own names. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

“The protection of Tibetan language and its culture is not only about Tibetans in Tibet,” says Karma Tenzin, a research fellow at the Tibet Policy Institute. “A proper access to the rich and profound Buddhist philosophy and epistemology is possible only through Tibetan language.”