A batch of 20 Buddhist nuns will become the first generation of women professors of the Tibetan tradition. They will be awarded doctorate degree which was reserved for monks until now.
The degree awarded to nuns, known as Geshma, is equivalent to a doctorate in Buddhist philosophy. It is the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism.
One has to study five Buddhist texts — all based on the teachings of the Buddha — over a period of 20 years to graduate with the degree. The study involves logical analysis and regular sessions of prayers and recitation.
The move comes after a historic decision was taken in 2012 – with the support from Dalai Lama, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) established the doctorate programme for nuns.
Before that decision some nuns had completed the 17-year program of study, but could not take the examinations to earn the Geshema degree.
CTA’s department of religion and culture joint secretary Thubten Tsering said:
“His Holiness was quite impressed at the level of knowledge the nuns showed at a prayer festival in Dharamsala in March 2012. He strongly recommended that the nuns should also be included in the Geshe process.”
It is like a dream come true for many nuns who have been studying so hard for years.
Delek Wangmo of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute scored 72.08 per cent marks in the first year examination. She says:
“Getting this degree after years of intense study of philosophical texts has given the nuns new energy to study even harder. It’s the path that will lead us to work independently.”
Thubten Chodron, a Tibetan Buddhist nun for 37 years, said that having a Geshema degree gives nuns public recognition of their educational achievements and knowledge of Buddhist teachings.
She added, “This inspires the public’s faith in them being qualified teachers and thus increases the nuns’ self-confidence. Younger nuns, seeing the achievements of the senior nuns, are thus inspired and encouraged to use their own potential to become excellent scholars and practitioners.”
In 2011, Kelsang Wangmo, a German national who spent 21 years training in India, became the first woman to receive the Geshema degree.
Historically, Tibetan nuns have not enjoyed same opportunities for study as that for monks.
Also, earlier nuns were not permitted to join the Great Prayer Festival of “Monlam”, and were expected to sit behind monks during prayers.
“The lower social standing of nuns as compared to monks can be attributed to a lack of educational opportunities,” said Lobsang Dechen, co-director of the Tibetan Nuns Project.
The global face of the Tibetan exile movement, Dalai Lama, has been advocating that if it is useful if his successor is a female.