Tibetan Nuns Project Make History with 132 Nuns Taking Geshema Examinations

The Buddhist Channel, August 7, 2023

Dharamsala, India -- A groundbreaking moment in the world of Tibetan Buddhism unfolds as a record-breaking 132 Tibetan Buddhist nuns embark on this year's Geshema examinations, the highest academic degree in the Gelugpa tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism. Hosted by the esteemed Jamyang Choling Institute in Dharamsala, the four-year exams commenced on July 21.

<< Nuns debating as part of their Geshema exams. Four senior Geshe Lharampa from the great Tibetan Buddhist learning centers in South India are the examiners for the nuns’ oral debate examinations. Photo by the Dolma Ling Media Nuns.

In an announcement by the Tibetan Nuns Project (TNP), it was revealed that this year's Geshema examinations have attracted an impressive 38 more nuns than the previous record of 94 participants last year. The Geshema degree, akin to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist studies, was once an exclusive realm for male monastics but has recently been made accessible to Buddhist nuns.

For the 54 nuns who have already earned the coveted Geshema degree, it signifies far more than an academic achievement. According to the TNP, the Geshema degree opens doors for these women to become teachers, leaders, and role models within their monastic and lay communities, breaking through traditional gender barriers and offering women the opportunity to assume leadership positions previously reserved for male degree holders.

The road to becoming a Geshema is arduous, requiring candidates to undergo rigorous written and oral examinations over a span of four years. These examinations cover the entire 17-year course of study, encompassing the five major canonical texts on Abhidharma (higher knowledge), Prajnaparamita (the perfection of wisdom), Madhyamaka (Middle Way), Pramana (logic), and the Vinaya (moral and ethical conduct). To be eligible for the Geshema examinations, candidates must score at least 75% in their previous studies.

The exams involve both written tests and the revered traditional Tibetan Buddhist debate, adding an additional layer of complexity and depth to the assessment process.

The first-ever Geshema degree was awarded in 2011 to a German nun named Kelsang Wangmo, who dedicated an impressive 21 years of training and study in India to achieve this milestone.

This year's participants hail from five institutes in India and two in Nepal, highlighting the international significance of this historic event. The Indian institutes include Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala, Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute near Dharamsala, Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod, Karnataka, Jangsemling Nunnery in Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh, and Jamyang Choling Institute in Dharamsala. Meanwhile, the participating nunneries from Nepal are Kopan Nunnery or Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery near Kathmandu and Keydong Thukche Choeling in Kathmandu.

The Tibetan Nuns Project, an organization dedicated to providing education and humanitarian aid to refugee nuns from Tibet and the Himalayan regions of India, has demonstrated its commitment by covering the cost of the exams under its Geshema Endowment Fund.

With this year's record-breaking number of Geshema candidates, Tibetan Buddhism takes a significant stride toward gender equality and empowering women to assume leadership roles within their communities, setting an inspiring example for future generations of nuns and practitioners worldwide.
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