The geshema degree, equivalent to a doctorate, represents the highest level of training in the Gelugpa school of Tibetan Buddhism. It was previously only awarded to men. Photos by Olivier Adam; story by Dominique Butet.
Early in the morning, on the 22nd of December, in Mundgod, India, many monks, nuns, geshes and lay people gathered in profound silence at Drepung Monastery for a historic event. Twenty nuns from the Gelugpa school of Buddhism, from five different nunneries in India and Nepal, received their geshema degrees from the hands of the Dalai Lama himself.
In Tibetan Buddhism, the geshema degree is the equivalent of a PhD in Buddhist philosophy, confirming seventeen years of arduous studies and four years of examinations. Until this ceremony, only monks could receive a geshema degree.
The joy and emotion were palpable on stage and in the audience. The challenge of achieving a geshema degree is huge. As doctors of philosophy, the nuns will now be expected to teach, a role reserved only for men until this point.
The nuns arrived shyly on stage holding their yellow geshema hats tight against their hearts. Namdol Phuntsok, who graduated at the top of the class, paid homage to the Dalai Lama for “his vision and his aspiration that have made it possible to reach such a degree of studies.”
His Holiness exhorted the geshemas to continue their studies so they can share their knowledge with those who need it, ensuring the diffusion and understanding of precious Buddhist teachings. He also explained how his forty-year support for the nuns’ cause goes beyond concern for teachings: “With access to education, women can now become leaders. Today’s world needs love and compassion. That is why I call women who are naturally connected to the power of maternal love to play a more active role in the world. And if they are educated, they will be even more able to do so.”
Meet some of the geshemas
After their degrees, all of the geshemas are thinking of ways to make their degrees meaningful. They told me that they need time to make the right decision. Here are the plans some of them are considering: