The Tibetan Nuns Project (TNP), a US-registered charity based in Seattle and the Kangra district of Himachal Pradesh, India, announced that Geshema Examinations for 2023 began in Dharamsala, northern India, on July 21 with the participation of a record number of 132 Tibetan Buddhist nuns from seven educational institutions in India and Nepal.
“This year, a record number of Tibetan Buddhist nuns are passing the rigorous written and oral exams – 38 nuns more than last year's record 94,” the TNP said in an announcement shared with BDG.
Le Geshema is the highest academic degree in the Gelugpa tradition of Vajrayana Buddhism and has only recently been made available to Buddhist nuns. geshe degree for male monks, it is roughly equivalent to a doctorate in Tibetan Buddhist studies. The rigorous examinations last four years, with a series held each year. To date, 54 Buddhist nuns have obtained this degree. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Geshema exams were canceled in 2020 and 2021, and resumed in 2022.**
" The Geshema degree enables Tibetan Buddhist nuns to become teachers, leaders and role models,” the TNP noted. “This makes these dedicated women eligible to take on various leadership roles in their monastic and lay communities reserved for degree holders and therefore previously not open to women. »
Geshema candidates are examined on their entire 17 years of study of the five major canonical texts covering the Abhidharma (higher knowledge), Prajnaparamita (the perfection of wisdom), madhyamaka (middle lane), Pramana (logic), and the vinaya (moral and ethical conduct). During their studies, candidates must obtain a mark of at least 75% to be considered eligible to sit on the Geshema exams.
Exams began on Chokhor Düchen, one of the holiest days in the Tibetan Buddhist calendar, celebrating the first teaching of Buddha Shakyamuni more than 2 years ago at Sarnath. The Buddha's teaching on the four noble truths shortly after attaining enlightenment in Bodh Gaya is known as "turning the wheel of dharma".
“The exams are organized this year by the Jamyang Choling Institute in Dharamsala,” the TNP said. “The costs are covered by the Geshema Endowment Fund of the Tibetan Nuns Project. Twenty-one dedicated volunteer nuns help with food, lodging, and other exam-related duties. »
Nuns are required to take written tests and oral examinations in the form of a traditional Tibetan Buddhist debate. The debates last four hours in the morning (8 a.m. to 12 p.m.) and four hours in the afternoon (14 p.m. to 18 p.m.). The nuns draw slips of paper that list three subjects of a particular topic. Each nun must choose one of the three options and discuss it. The nuns have 15 minutes for each debate.
The first Geshema was awarded in 2011 to a German nun, Kelsang Wangmo, who spent 21 years in India training and studying for the degree.
The 132 Buddhist nuns undertaking this year's exams come from five institutes in India and two in Nepal.
From India: Geden Choeling Nunnery in Dharamsala; the convent and institute of Dolma Ling, near Dharamsala; Jangchub Choeling Nunnery in Mundgod, Karnataka; Jangsemling Nunnery, Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh; and the Jamyang Choling Institute in Dharamsala.
From Nepal: Kopan Nunnery or Khachoe Ghakyil Ling Nunnery, near Kathmandu; and Keydong Thukche Choeling, in Kathmandu.
The Tibetan Nuns Project provides education and humanitarian aid to refugee nuns from Tibet and the Himalayan regions of India. Established under the auspices of the Tibetan Women's Association and the Department of Religion and Culture of the Central Tibetan Administration, the TNP supports hundreds of nuns from all Tibetan Buddhist lineages and seven convents. Many of the nuns are refugees from Tibet, but the organization also extends to the Himalayan border regions of India, where women and girls have little access to education and religious training.
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* The Central Tibetan Administration took this unanimous and historic decision on May 19, 2012 after a two-day meeting in Dharamsala attended by high lamas, representatives of nuns from six nunneries and members of the Tibetan Nuns Project.
** The Tibetan Nuns Project announces 10 new Geshema graduates at a ceremony in Bodh Gaya (BDG)