By Tenzin Dharpo
DHARAMSHALA, Dec. 22: The convocation ceremony of the first ever batch of Geshema degree holders took place this morning at Drepung monastery in the Tibetan settlement of Mundgod in South India. A group of 20 nuns from various nunneries from India and Nepal received the highest academic degree in Buddhist studies (equivalent of a PHD in Buddhist Philosophy) from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a historic gathering.
The unprecedented passage for women in the spiritual sphere has long been an aspiration of the Dalai Lama who first spoke on the issue back in 1995. In May 2012, the historic decision to confer upon nuns the Geshema degree was unanimously taken at a meeting organized by the exile government’s Department of Religion and Culture, then headed by Minister for DOR, Pema Chinnjor. The high-level meeting was attended by six different nunneries and representatives from the Institute for Buddhist Dialectics and the Tibetan Nuns Project
A nun receiving the Geshema degree from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Drepung Monastery in South India. Dec. 22, 2016.Photo-Tibet.net
The Tibetan spiritual leader while congratulating the first batch this morning said that his decision to involve and usher women into the innermost sanctum of Buddhism is compounded by a vast observation that links womanhood of being capable of higher level of compassion and love. He said that the time has come for women to contribute in hitherto unavailable avenues such as spirituality through the Geshema project.
On the Dalai Lama’s instruction, nuns were allowed to study the Five Great Canonical Text’ (Shungchen) at par with any male aspirants for the Geshe degree.
“I recall being asked if my next reincarnation can be a woman by this reporter working for a women’s magazine in Paris. I told her that it is perfectly possible if by having a female Dalai Lama would be in a position to do more good. I still maintain that,” the 81 year old Tibetan leader also said.
The Tibetan PM who also attended the ceremony said that Geshema project is yet another aspect of the collective Tibetan exile government’s effort to fully realize the potential of Tibetan woman thereby empowering Tibetan women and its status further.
The Geshema degree is the highest attainable academic distinction in the Gelugpa sect of the Tibetan Buddhism conferred to nuns who distinguish themselves after more than 21 years of studying Buddhist philosophy. Similar spiritual grades can also be seen in other sects of Tibetan Buddhism such as the Loponma, Karamma and Dangsongma.
This historic event unprecedented in the last 2500 years of Buddhism will not only lead to nuns wearing the red and mustard robes but also usher in a level of equality in perhaps the most important aspect of life, which is education and participation in position of leadership in monastic and lay life.