The Institution of Feminine Enlightenment in Tibet's First Khenmo Program

Document Type


Publication Date





This article documents the history and social effects of the khenmo (mkhan mo) program at Larung Gar (Bla rung sgar), the first institution in Tibet to systematically grant nuns advanced Buddhist degrees. We argue that Jigme Phuntsok (’Jigs med phun tshogs, 1933-2004), Larung’s founder, started the program in hopes of challenging the public perception of women as incapable of advanced learning. Legitimating nuns as a field of merit for donors represented an important step in his larger project of changing the status of nuns and women in Tibetan society more generally. We begin with a brief history of Larung, demonstrating how Jigme Phuntsok’s singular vision of gender equality in Buddhist education and practice led to the arrival of thousands of nuns to his small encampment. We proceed to give an overview of the khenmo program, including its curriculum and degree requirements. We conclude with an examination of the social effects of the khenmo movement, exploring how the presence of educated nuns is changing both women’s self-understandings of their own practice and lay attitudes toward women’s religious capacities.


The Journal of Buddhist Ethics