|BEIJING, May 24, 2016 -- Thirteen Tibetan monks have become the first followers of the Bonpo branch of Tibetan Buddhism to graduate from a Tibetan Buddhism doctorate program in Beijing.
China Tibetan Buddhism College vice president Liu Peng called their graduation "remarkable" as it meant that all six lineages of Tibetan Buddhism had benefited from the country's modern Tibetan Buddhism education.
Since the college was established in 1987, doctorates, or "Tho Ram Pa" (the highest degree), have been awarded to 135 monks across the Bonpo, Gelug, Nyingma, Sakya, Kagyu and Jonang branches.
Most of the graduates returned to their monasteries to become teachers.
Over the past ten days, the students were appraised by an academic committee led by Drukhang Thubten Khedrup, vice president of the Tibetan Chapter of China's Buddhist Association.
To graduate students must undertake a traditional debating test, which set them against 55 outstanding debaters on the subject of Buddhist scriptures in the presence of the academic committee.
The students also had to defend their dissertations and sit exams on subjects such as history and law.
Instead of voting by a show of hands, all members of the committee cast secret ballots for the first time this year. A turn-out rate of no less than four-fifths of the committee members and a two-third majority voting for the candidate are the compulsory requirements for a candidate to get the degree.
Drukhang Thubten Khedrup said the tighter-than-ever requirements follow a regulation introduced last July on the operation of state-run Buddhism colleges.
Unlike traditional monastic schools where monks of the same sect study together, state-run Buddhism colleges bring together Buddhist students from all six lineages. There is also more focus given to writing skills as they author a lot of papers in both Tibetan and Mandarin.
According to the regulation, the "Chi Ram Pa" diploma (master's degree) will be administered by provincial-level Buddhist colleges that already offer "Chin Ram Pa," the equivalent of a bachelor's degree.
Along with the doctorate graduates, 22 students of the Nyingma lineage graduated from the Beijing Buddhism College's master's degree program, bringing the college's total number of Chi Ram Pa graduates to 134.