Geshema Kelsang Wangmo
Geshema Kelsang Wangmo is a German-born Buddhist nun, scholar, and teacher. She is the first woman to be awarded a Geshe title, considered equivalent to a Ph.D. in Buddhist philosophy.
She was raised in a Roman Catholic family in Lohmar, a small town between Cologne and Bonn in Germany. During her childhood, she attended church but grew uninterested in religion in her teens. After completing high school in 1989, she went on a backpacking trip. Travelling through Israel (where she stayed on a kibbutz), Turkey, Cyprus, Thailand, Indonesia, and Japan, she reached India. After visiting Kolkata, Varanasi, and Manali, she landed in Dharamshala. She had planned to stay for a couple of weeks before returning to start university, studying medicine. But eventually, she stayed on.
She joined an introduction to Buddhism course at Tushita Meditation Centre, at Dharamkot above McLeod Ganj in Himachal Pradesh. She went on to study Buddhism seriously. She took ordination as a nun in April 1991. She later enrolled in the traditional geshe curriculum (a 16-year course) at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics (IBD) in Dharamshala. In April 2011, the IBD conferred the degree of Geshe, a Tibetan Buddhist academic degree for monastics, on her, thus making her the world’s first female Geshe.
The degree is entitled Rime Geshe [i.e., Non-Sectarian Geshe] because the curriculum includes study with Nyingma, Sakya and Kagyu masters of their respective presentations of philosophy. In addition to the normal Geshe curriculum study of the Five Great Canonical Texts, Geshe Wangmo and her classmates studied tantra for two years at IBD. Those who receive the Rime Geshe have completed exhaustive annual examinations comparable to those now administered at the three great Geluk monastic universities in south India, and submitted Tibetan dissertations.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama authorized the IBD to award Rime Geshe degrees in 2009.
The first ceremony to confer the degree took place 27 April 2011 at The College for Higher Tibetan Studies (a newer branch college of IBD with a large campus located in Sarah village, Dharamsala township, Kangra Valley, Himachal Pradesh, India). Ven. Kelsang Wangmo and her classmates who completed the requirements for the degree in 2010, were the first to receive this Geshe degree.
Since 2004, Geshema Kelsang Wangmo has been teaching Buddhist philosophy classes in English in Dharamsala, following the curriculum of the IBD.
Watch the Yogini Project interview with Geshema Kelsang Wangmo in two parts: