The German nun Kelsang Wangmo made history in 2011 by becoming the very first woman to obtain the title of “geshe,” the equivalent of a PhD from the Tibetan Monastic universities in India.
A person can only become a geshe after decades of intense study in one of the great monastic universities within Tibetan Buddhism. Because of the difficulty of the subject matter and having to be fluent in Tibetan, very few non-Tibetans have ever become geshes, and because the institutions are almost wholly male very, very few woman have succeeded and, until Geshe Wangmo, no other non-Tibetan female. Gaining her geshe degree in 2011 signalled a new era in scholastic achievement for women in Tibetan Buddhism.
Her journey is a remarkable one: from a very normal life in Germany to her ordination as a nun in 1991 and her decision to tackle the seemingly impossible goal of learning Tibetan well enough to study in it, followed by two decades as a student at Institute of Buddhist Dialectics in Dharamsala in northern India.
Geshe-ma, as she is called, has said, “Although this [degree] was slightly controversial, a number of Tibetans have told me that it was instrumental in paving the way for nunneries to be able to establish the Geshe degree for nuns. [Now], nuns from the Gelug nunneries in India and Nepal who have completed their study program will have the opportunity to take exams… and upon successful completion, those nuns will become geshes.”
Since 2004 she has been giving Buddhist philosophy classes in India and recently she has started touring the world, teaching Buddhism. Her incredible knowledge and great insight, together with her impeccable English and unique vantage of having a Western upbringing, make her an inspiring and sought-after teacher.
Read an in-depth article about her here.
She visited us in November 2014 and gave a truly inspiring talk entitled ‘How Things Exist: the Buddhist view of Reality’. Listen here