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Record 132 Tibetan Buddhist nuns taking this year’s Geshema degree exams

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(TibetanReview.net, Aug05’23) – A record 132 Tibetan Buddhist nuns are taking part in this year’s Geshema examinations, the highest academic degree in the Gelugpa tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism, as Tibetan Buddhism is called. The four-year exams for this year are being hosted by the Jamyang Choling Institute in Dharamsala and began on Jul 21.

“This year, a record number of Tibetan Buddhist nuns are taking the rigorous written and oral examinations—38 more nuns than last year’s record 94,” buddhistdoor.net Aug 4 quoted the Tibetan Nuns Project (TNP) as saying in an announcement.

The Geshema degree is the highest academic degree in Gelugpa tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism and was only recently made available to Buddhist nuns.

Like the Geshe degree for male monastics, it is considered to be roughly equivalent to a PhD in Tibetan Buddhist studies. The rigorous exams take four years to complete, with one set held each year. To date, 54 Buddhist nuns have earned this degree, the report said.

“The Geshema degree enables Tibetan Buddhist nuns to become teachers, leaders, and role models,” the TNP has noted. “It makes these dedicated women eligible to assume various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and hence previously not open to women.”

Geshema candidates are examined on the entirety of their 17-year course of study of the five major canonical texts covering the Abhidharma (higher knowledge), Prajnaparamita (the perfection of wisdom), Madhyamaka (Middle Way), Pramana (logic), and the Vinaya (moral and ethical conduct). Candidates must score at least 75% to be considered eligible to sit for the Geshema examinations.

The exams include written tests and oral examinations in the form of traditional Tibetan Buddhist debate.

The first Geshema degree was awarded in 2011 to a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years in India training and studying toward the degree, the report noted.

The 132 Buddhist nuns undertaking this year’s examinations are from five institutes in India and two in Nepal. These 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. From Nepal, the participating nunneries are Kopan Nunnery or Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery, near Kathmandu; and Keydong Thukche Choeling, in Kathmandu.

The Tibetan Nuns Project, which provides education and humanitarian aid to refugee nuns from Tibet and Himalayan regions of India, is covering the cost of the exams under its Geshema Endowment Fund.


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