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14August2018

Print Media

Category: Print Media

The High Life

Diya Banerjee, Times News Network (Times of India), download article in PDF format - Dotted with gompas, lakes and astounding views, the Buddhist town of Leh is a dream destination for the maverick and the curious traveller alike

By the looks of it, Jigme Khyentse Dawa is like any other 15-year-old boy who swears by Harry Potter and Star Wars. But to the monks and high priests of the Drukpa lineage, he is a 'gifted' boy. He is believed to be the ninth reincarnate of the great master Yongdzin Rinpoche, a crucial figure in the Drukpa strand of Buddhist philosophy. Dawa's crowning holds great promise for the spiritual clan that is over 800 years old and has four million followers. It is said the search for His Eminence Yongdzin Rinpoche was so daunting that even His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa at one point gave up all hope. It was a combination of luck and celestial blessings that brought this young boy face-to-face with His Holiness. And it was decided that Jigme Khyentse Dawa would be crowned the rightful spiritual heir as His Eminence Yongdzin Rinpoche at the Hemis festival this year.

CROWNING GLORY

The enthronement ceremony began in the inner sanctums of the monastery sharp at nine in the morning and lasted over two hours. A few monks chanted ancient scripts in a sonorous decorum, while others played musical instruments - gongs, cymbals and trumpets - in rehearsed tandem. Complex as the entire ritual seemed, the seriousness and devotion with which the rites were performed could have instilled conviction even in the most stubborn cynic.

The boy sitting on the raised dais beside His Holiness sat unsmiling through his spiritual baptism as cameras and video recorders edged near him to capture every pensive moment. The solemnisation was followed by a celebration at the monastery's sprawling courtyard. 'Colourful' is the one word that aptly encapsulates the Hemis festival, observed on the birth anniversary of Lord Padmasambhava (Guru Rinpoche). Masked and exquisitely-attired monks glided out of the inner wings of the monastery and performed a spellbinding dance-drama in the courtyard as tourists and locals sat patiently, battling the harsh mountain sun, cheering occasionally.

Anticipating a great rush of tourists at the festival, street shops and hawkers had parked themselves on all the meandering mountain pathways. Trinkets, prayer-wheels, thankas, and even Hemis T-shirts and souvenirs sold at a hefty price. Ladakhis are an enterprising lot. They can sell anything convincingly - from the most obscure item to the most precious. With juley, a jubilant salutation, they win your heart instantly.

WINTER WOES

Tucked in the Himalayan range and explored ardently by motorbike junkies, there is no place in Leh that wouldn't urge you to stop and soak in the breathtaking scenery. It is a canvas on which god has applied lush strokes of all shades. But, for our taxi driver Norpa, who drove recklessly on hairpin bends despite signboards warning 'be soft on my curves', it was simply any other town. Perhaps for the locals the harshness of the impending winter spoils the alluring romance of clear skies during the summer months. Wang Chuk, our hotel owner, who shuttles between his Gurgaon residence and Leh, says, "Business is good in summer but once the November chill kicks in I head to Delhi." Noticing a commotion at a nearby café, Chuk lowers his voice and adds, "Israelis! They tend to flock Leh every year around this time and hang about all day at cafes and pubs."

While a few years ago Leh didn't have that kind of mass appeal, today it is a honeymooning destination for robust Punjabis, a solemn pilgrimage for die-hard adventurers and a curious passage for those in transit. The city, too, has changed dramatically, welcoming the influx of tourists. With a bustling town centre now, the city has undergone massive commercialisation. But it's the virginal outskirts that hold much promise.

SIGHTS AND SOUNDS

Shanti Stupa, which is barely a five-minute drive from the main town, is one such stop. A stupa is a symbol of Buddha's teachings where relics, dharma books and Buddha statues are engraved in the interior walls. Construction of this Stupa started in 1983 by Bhikshu Gyomo Nakamura from Japan. This white-domed structure situated atop a gradual hill offers panoramic views of Leh, providing many picture-perfect moments. The marble-tiled floor of the monument, spotless and clean, lends cold comfort to tired and parched feet. Two other spots that are located within the town's periphery are the Magnetic Hill and the Indus-Zanskar sangam. Vehicles apparently propel themselves forward without the engine being turned on at the hill; some believe it is an optical illusion. The site is very popular amongst tourists, who can't stop squealing at the sight, as if a magician has pulled a rabbit out of his hat.

Barely a kilometre or two ahead of the hill is the sangam or the confluence of the Indus and Zanskar rivers. Many feel the view is nothing compared to the iridescent Pangong Lake, which is a five-hour drive from the main city and located at an altitude of 13,900 ft. With only one-fourth of the lake in India and the rest in China, Pangong Lake is heavily patrolled by army men throughout the year. The diaphanous water body changes its hues with every ray of sunlight almost chimerically. Ideal as a camping site, a visit to the lake is incomplete without witnessing the mesmerising sunset and sunrise. For those who aren't satiated by Pangong, the Tsomoriri Lake lies even higher, at 15,075 ft, and demands at least a two-day halt. Rare breeds of birds such as black-necked cranes, gulls and ferruginous pochard are found at the lake. It is worthwhile to carry a pair of binoculars to have a closer peek at the birds and rare species of animals.

TRAIL TALK

Leh is a mecca for adrenaline addicts. The towering, slanted mountains offer not only magnificent views but also a cruel terrain that requires great skill to scale. Each year, with most of the trekkers coming in on ponies, the grasslands of the region have been severely depleted and afforestation attempts have suffered a huge setback. Khenrab, the director of the Youth Association for Conservation and Development, Hemis National Park (YAFCAD HNP) took note and came up with an ingenious plan.

"We tried to convince the locals to let trekkers stay at their homes. They were hesitant initially, as they felt that their houses were very basic. What we did then, is provide them with basic amenities - good bedding, clean interiors and safe, filtered water," says Khenrab. He, thus, not only showed the locals a way to set up a small-scale business, but is also helping preserve the region's green patches. Today, at a nominal price of Rs 350 per day that includes meals, one can stay with a local family and get a taste of authentic Ladakhi culture and cuisine.

What is heartening is that throughout the Leh-Ladakh region, locals try very hard to keep their natural surroundings safe and untouched. For instance, at the Drukpa White Lotus School, biodiversity is given a lot of importance and students are responsible for the upkeep of their school and its vicinity. But, of late, with tourists flocking here in huge numbers, keeping the surroundings clean and unspoilt has turned out to be a challenge.

While Leh's sylvan environs are intoxicatingly stunning, it is not a destination for those who desire pampering and indulgence. But for the footloose and fancy-free, its snow-clad mountains and serpentine roads offer much to explore and experience.

Category: Print Media

A melting pot of many cultures

by Tenzin Namgyal at Second Annual Drukpa Council, 25 April, 2010 - Besides, being a forum for exchanging religious views and teachings, the annual drukpa council (ADC) held in Kathmandu, Nepal, was also an opportunity for more than 10,000 pilgrims from 65 countries to learn and exchange their diverse cultures.

For a Bhutanese volunteer, HRH Ashi Kesang CT Wangchuck, despite the difficulty in organising the world largest gathering of drukpa masters and devotees, it was an enriching experience for her to learn and understand people of diverse cultures and backgrounds bound by a common religion.

"No matter how different we are, there's spiritual connection and karmic relation, that gathered us at the very important occasion," said Ashi.

She said she learnt to be patient, compassionate and dedicated to the dharma, while also understanding more about different peoples' culture and tradition.

Malaysian devotee Laimeiling always had the impression of Bhutanese being gentle, friendly and presentable. Interacting with them proved it true.

A resigned charter accountant is already mesmerised by Bhutanese etiquette and intends to visit Bhutan for all its uniqueness she has heard about.

A series of cultural programmes, dramas and live programmes by Asian, European and the western groups were performed, which further enlivened the pilgrimage.

It was a good opportunity to watch different cultures, said a western nun, bhikshuni Lobzang Trinlae. "I've noticed that the event wasn't only enjoyed by the Buddhist devotees and practitioners, but even children and non-Buddhists," she said.

Chairman of ADC Khamtrul rinpoche said the council was a very good way of exchanging cultures, apart from religious activities.

"All problems in the world arise from misunderstandings that lead to disharmony," he said. "Such gatherings open opportunities to showcase respective countries' cultures, helping realise we all belong to humanity."

He explained that culture and religion were interdependent, which made Buddhist practice easier.

"Many Himalayan nations, including Bhutan, have a merged culture and religion," he said.

For instance, he explained, the philosophy of prostration was to humble oneself, which was same, whether a person was a Bhutanese, an Indian or Nepalese.

"But how you prostrate depends on your culture," he said. "Different countries have different cultures, which traditionally are crucial to maintain Buddhism."

Category: Print Media

Gyalwang Drukpa receives Bharat Jyoti award

GANGTOK, MAY 27, 2010 (Sikkim Express), click here to see original news in PDF format: Gyalwang Drukpa, head of the Drukpa Lineage (proponent of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy) was conferred with Bharat Jyoti Award presented by India International Friendship Society in New Delhi on May 24.

Read more: Gyalwang Drukpa receives Bharat Jyoti award

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The kung-fu nuns of Nepal

Ruchira Hoon, Hindustan Times - Kathmandu: NUNS AT THE TOP. 200 nuns at a hilltop monastery in Kathmandu give a new twist to holistic well-being. And their regimen is the result of a happy accident. (Download article in PDF format or read story from online source.)

Every morning at 3 am, 17-year-old Lama Rupa wakes up for prayers at her nunnery in Kathmandu. Despite only five hours of sleep, she's full of energy and what she really looks forward to is a session of kung-fu two hours later. This, she believes, is what makes her agile, focused and much more confident than what she was at 15.

Like Rupa, 200 nuns from the Druk Gawa Khilwa Nunnery practise this ancient Chinese martial art every morning (and sometimes in the evening) atop the Druk Amitabha mountain in the capital of Nepal. At level six of the basic 16 in kung-fu, these nuns not only know how to protect themselves from the big bad world but are also perfectly capable of sitting straight-backed for six hours at a stretch for meditation.

"I used to slouch a lot before I learnt kung-fu but now I sit straight like a stick at any given time," says 17-year-old Lama Zesaid, who is originally from Himachal Pradesh.

"It's taught us to channel our energy and be positive about every thing we attempt in our daily lives."

Foo fighters

It was by pure coincidence that kung-fu became such an integral part of the Khilwa nunnery.

On a visit to a nunnery in Vietnam, His Holiness the Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the Drukpa lineage, watched some of the nuns practice kung-fu one evening. He was told that it helped the nuns concentrate better and made them self-reliant as well.

He also remembered how some of the nuns at the Khilwa nunnery were always fearful of travelling down the mountain because people would sometimes throw stones at them and even tease them.

"We had cases of drivers troubling the nuns and were afraid that they might get kidnapped, or harmed," says Lin Chiang who's incharge of public communication.

"So when His Holiness realised that kung-fu may even be learnt as a self-defense art, he asked some of the Vietnamese nuns to come and teach nuns in Kathmandu."

Mind, body and soul

Dressed in their dark brown outfits, the kung-fu nuns are a welcoming sight for visitors. Their coordinated movements and swift response time are a joy to watch.

And at Khilwa, only the nuns under 25 years are taught this martial art. This, their teacher Lama Chantwona says is because they are flexible to learn something as strenuous as kung-fu.

"The only problem we've faced so far is the language. Otherwise everyone is very keen to learn this art and have been practicing regularly for the last two years."

With only a month to go for the nuns to learn the other 10 basic levels, His Holiness says he can see a drastic difference in them. "kung-fu has made my nuns feel happier and healthier in mind and in spirit," he says.

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The kung-fu nun of Kathmandu

by Tenzin Namgyel, Kuensel, Druk Amitabha Mountain, 9 May, 2010 - She appears sheepish and timid as she makes her way up to the concrete roof of the giant four-storied assembly hall from the courtyard.

Once on the roof, 12-year old Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo is anything but gentle and compassionate.

Changing into loose maroon cotton pants and a long sleeved shirt, belted around the waist, Jigme throws quick jabs and punches and kicks higher than an average person. She is among 400 other nuns of the Druk Amitabha nunnery in Kathmandu, Nepal, who reminds visitors of a scene from a Shaolin kung-fu flick.

Everyday, the nuns wake up at 4 am and begin reciting and memorising Buddhist texts for about an hour, following which they engage in an hour-long practice of the martial art. The devote another hour towards the evening.

Jigme from Nganglam Dechenling in Pemagatshel is the most energetic and enthusiastic of the group.

She enrolled in the nunnery last year, after completing class five from Lungtenphu primary school in Thimphu.

Although she was among the top ten position holders in her class at Thimphu, Jigme said her faith in dharma and interest to become a nun caused her to discontinue studies.

"It's my sixth month running here at the nunnery," she said. Within that short span of time, Jigme can fluently speak Nepali, Hindi, Tibetan and Ladhaki languages, which are widely spoken at the nunnery.

Her Vietnamese master said that, although kung-fu was new to her, Jigme was able to attained the sixth of the 16 basic levels of the art.

"When I practise, I visualise I'm in a real combat," Jigme said.

Besides learning to defend themselves from a handful of troublemakers in the vicinity of the monastery, kung-fu, Jigme said, made one capable of sitting straight-backed for many hours during meditations, ceremonies and teachings.

"It keeps me physically fit, mentally sound and helps me focus better," she said.

The idea and the story resonates with those of the Shaolin monks in China, who learnt the martial art to defend themselves from passing bandits, besides the real concept of introducing it for health reasons by an Indian Buddhist priest named Bodhidharma (Tamo in Chinese), who visited a Shaolin temple.

Tamo, who joined the Chinese monks, observed that they were not in good physical condition. They spent hours each day hunched over tables where they transcribed handwritten texts.

The Shaolin monks lacked physical and mental stamina needed to perform even the most basic of Buddhist meditation practices. Tamo countered this weakness by teaching them moving exercises, modified from Indian yoga, which were based on the movements of the 18 main animals in Indo-Chinese iconography like tiger, leopard, snake and dragon, to name but a few.

He did not, however, introduce kung-fu, which existed in China much before his arrival. The ancient martial art is popular even in big Mahayana Buddhist monasteries. They believe that sound mind comes from sound body.

"Even Buddha Shakyamuni had said that, if you are sick, take medicine, even if a medicine is fish. Otherwise without body, practice is impossible," His Eminence Khamtrul rinpoche said.

Jigme said the art taught the nuns to channel their energy and be positive about everything they attempted to do in their daily lives.

The founder of the nunnery, H.H the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of the Drukpa Lineage introduced kung-fu class two years ago after watching nuns practising kung-fu in Vietnam.

He was told that it helped the nuns concentrate better and made them self-reliant.

His Holiness said that was true because, ever since kung-fu was introduced in the nunnery, nuns rarely fell ill, which was a frequent occurrence otherwise.

On the contradiction of Buddhist principles of non-violence against learning martial arts, rinpoche explained that it all depended on motivation.

"If you are aggressive out of good motivation, you are an angry bodhisattva," he said. Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo, an English lady, who became a nun more than 30 years ago, said if one knows how to defend oneself, one can stop an opponent without necessarily doing tremendous amount of damage.

"You'll know which part of a body to disarm without hurting," she said.

Apart from training the mind, keeping fit and improving concentration, kung-fu, she added, gave them a sense of confidence to protect themselves.

"When young men in our locality know the nuns practise kung-fu, they keep away," Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo said.

Meanwhile, Jigme Wangchuk Lhamo hopes to, one day, introduce the ancient martial art in Bhutan. "My dream is to become the first Bhutanese kung-fu master, even if I can't master Buddhist scripts," she said.

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10-day meet ends with Dorji Puen ceremony

by Tenzin Namgyal at Second Annual Drukpa Council, 18 April, 2010 - At a time when the world is driven with conflict, afflicted with hatred and widening detachment, more than 5,000 Buddhist masters and their followers from 65 nations are showing the way to harmony.

The overwhelming number of Buddhist practitioners. who participated at the 10-day second annual drukpa council (ADC) at Kathmandu, Nepal, ended this week with the Dorji Puen ceremony (uniting Vajra bothers and sisters) ceremony.

Since there were more than five thousand people gathered at the ceremony, the Dorji Puen had to be organised among 13 people, instead of the standard seven-member team.

The ADC chairman, Khamtrul rimpoche, explained that thirteen people in Vajayana represented the symbolic dependent origination of attaining the 13th Bhumi (13th state of Vajradhara) or the ultimate enlightenment.

Hundreds of Bhutanese monks and masters, who were at the council, found new dharma friends from across the world. They exchanged khadar (scarf), gifts and wishes before departing for their respective countries.

"We want harmony, but if we don't work towards it, the chances of our dharma's survival for long seems slim," Khamtruel rimpoche said. "If we don't preserve our Drukpa lineage, our future generation won't understand the lineage, leading to its extinction."

The practice of Dorji Puen-sing is believed to have first started during the time of Drogon Tsangpa Gyare, founder of the Drukpa lineage.

It is said that, when Tsangpa Gyare was meditating under a tree in Tibet, seven-Buddhas (Sangay Rabduen) appeared and revealed to him the sacred Tendril Rabduen or the seven auspicious teachings on 'dependent origination'.

Thus began the tradition of concluding every important religious teaching with a Dorji Puen-sing ceremony.

In this kind of ceremony, seven individuals of the same guru and mandala (Khilkhor), are united as spiritual brothers and sisters through the blessings of the guru.

Khamtrul Rimpoche, explained that, in Vajrayana (Sanag), the guru represented the father and mandala the mother and receiving teachings and empowerment from guru in the presence of the mandala symbolises one's rebirth as a spiritual practitioner.

"Keeping samaya or pledge is a successful spiritual practice for maintaining one's samaya, that not only boosts spiritual development but also promotes harmony within the sangha, (the Buddhist community)."

The practice of Dorji Puen-sing, he said, could also be seen as a method of promoting harmony and spiritual growth through keeping samaya.

It is believed that, once people attended the ceremony, it bound the relationship even in the next life.

Khamtrul rimpoche said the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa's aim was to bring different drukpa masters from different parts of the world to share their knowledge and understanding of the religion, both among themselves and the common people.

A Bhutanese civil servant, Norbu Chogyal, said he understood the deeper meaning of love and compassion and its indispensable inter-dependence to attain enlightenment.

A Bhutanese monk, Namgyay Wangchuk, from the central monastic body, described the council as a lifetime opportunity.

He felt empowered after receiving the oral transmission of Sengey Tsewa or the revelry with lion-like mahamudra from H. H the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, which he had not received in Bhutan.

Sengey Tsewa is a practice to develop contemplation, an immutable knot of attachment and all negative forces, such as ego, pride and ignorance, will be cut of naturally and effortlessly.

The benefits of Sengey Tsewa practice, Khamtrul rimpoche said, was the ability to develop one's conceptual thoughts, liberate from mental distraction and attain full realisation of complete omniscience.

Category: Print Media

Devotion and compassion

The Statesman's Nirendra Dev attended the 2nd Annual Drukpa Council and provided this article (download article in PDF format)- The Drukpa lineage claims to have at least 4 million followers. Nirendra Dev attends the second annual Druk Council of the Buddhist monastery in Nepal

Kalenjoj (10) is the third member in his family to turn a Lama besides his elder brother; his 6-year-old sister has become a nun. A simple boy from a tiny hamlet in Nepal, Kalenjoj knows little about the tough metaphysical aspects of Buddhism. For him, Buddha is best known throughout the universe for his teachings of love and com-passion. "Woh pyar sikhanchcho (he teaches love)", he says in Nepali adding that he finds Buddha's feet "very attractive".

In this little known place called Bajurai, for children like Kalen-joj getting inducted into lamahood is also tinged with sadness. "My father is dead," he said with moist eyes and added that he wept a lot when his mother agreed to let him join the monastery. His 15-year-old brother Sher Bahadur had gone home about two years back and sought his mother's permission to allow Kalenjoj to be dedicated to the service of the Lord and humanity. "I know it was a difficult decision for mother. But she is a devoted believer and hence allowed me," the 10-year-old said.

For the past two years, he is among the 1500 plus lamas of young aspiring monks and nuns in the mo-nastery at the Druk Amtibha Mountain of the Drukpa sect of Buddhists.

The Drukpa lineage is one of the main Buddhist schools of thought in the Himalayan ranges beginning from 1206 and spreads across Bhutan, Tibet, China, Nepal and India. It claims to have at least 4 million followers.

Druk Amitabha Mountain is located in Sitapaila, within the provincial district of Bagmati. It is within walking distance from Kathmandu's famous Swayambhunath Stupa.

The mountain has now become the main training centre and administrative headquarters of the nunneries of the Druk lineage. About 800 nuns from across the globe, especially from the Himalayan range, and 200 young lamas and about 15000 participants had gathered at the monastery for the group's second annual Druk Council. The daily life of the participants and the nuns during the 8-day long festival primarily consisted of morning prayer, education, learning some martial arts and also education in religious rites and practices.

"Besides being involved in daily spiritual activities, the nuns also practice Kung Fu twice daily. We believe firmly in what our spiritual guru His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa says, that spiritual and physical well being are equallyimportant," said Jigme Rigzin Jhano, one of the nuns and office-bearers at the monastery. On a different plane, boys like Kalenjoj miss their childhood. There is another compatriot of his age, Rinche Tare, who addresses himself as "Jigmey"; a title he still struggles with. Their concept of Buddhism is basic but sound.

"Paap karne hunna" (mankind should give up all kinds of sin), said Tare and added that his daily prayer includes a modest slot for universal peace.

Tare's father stays in Malaysia, so for his mother it was but a natural choice to allow him to join lamahood as that would probably guarantee a salvation from worldly pathos. "Nepal mein shanti chayie," remarked Tare intelligently but his face betrayed the innocence of childhood. It is a similar story for the slightly older Jigme Rigzin Jhano, a 20-year-old officer at DAM. She said she fled her home in Ladakh against the wishes of her parents to join the monastery. "I wanted to serve people," she said. Zineet Amo and Zineet Sunam are also from Ladakh but their joining the monastery was voluntary and with the approval of their families. They participated in the 10-day-long special prayer session coinciding with the Council's annual conference and the coronation of the 4-year-old boy reincarnate of Sengdrak Rinpoche (1947-2005), Kyabje Sengdrak Rinpoche.

About 800 nuns participated in the special prayers with participants drawn from across the globe including, Bhutan, France, Brazil, England, Hong Kong and Germany. "Zineet (Jigme) means Nidar - we are fearless," said Zineet Amo.

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Kung Fu nuns put a kick into Buddhism

Neelam Raaj, Times of India (TOI) Crest - A nunnery is usually a place of serenity and quiet contemplation. But on a hillside just outside Kathmandu that's accessible only after a very bumpy 4x4 ride,a group of young Buddhist nuns are showing that karma can come with a kick.

At dawn every day, young women from the 800-year-old Drukpa Buddhist sect exchange their maroon robes for pyjamas and yellow sashes to learn how to chop,punch and roundhouse kick from their Vietnamese master. Lessons in the ancient martial art of kung fu - made famous in the West by the movies of Bruce Lee, Jet Li and Jackie Chan - started here just two years ago, but already the nuns have shown that fists of fury can coexist with meditational calm.

Karuna,a young nun from Ladakh,is one of the best kung fu disciples. "Kung fu improves my concentration and fitness." It's also a way of tackling wayward young men who dare to accost the nuns on their trips outside the nunnery. "Now, we are not scared of them."

It's unusual to see such confidence. Buddhism in this part of the world is a very male preserve with the women usually relegated to tasks like cooking and cleaning for the monks. But at the Drukpa nunnery on Amitabha mountain,the 400 females call the shots. From running the cafe, which serves up a mean cappuccino and banana cake, to running up to town in a four-wheel drive to fetch groceries, the shaved heads do everything they put their mind to Jigme Rigzin Lhamo, a nun from Ladakh, can read architectural blueprints as well as she can read the scriptures.Together, she and her team supervised the construction of the guesthouse that is rented out to tourists,the bio-gas plant and the water tank. "We don't just want to live on offerings that devotees make. Our aim is to be financially independent," says the 32-year-old who manages the accounts for the nunnery and is known to drive a hard bargain with local contractors.

MONKS IN A FUNK?

But how do the monks (a small number of them live in the nunnery) take to being bossed around? They are definitely not used to taking orders,admits Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo,who at 21 gave up her job as a librarian in London to take on maroon."But they seem to be taking it well.Gender equality is spilling over from the secular world to the spiritual world," says Jetsunma,who spent 12 years in isolation in a icy cave,a punishing retreat that earned her the popular appellation of 'cave nun'.

Today,she has her own nunnery in Lahaul,which she started because she herself had experienced the frustration of being excluded by the male monastic community."There are plenty of dedicated,intelligent women,but they haven't been given the opportunity," she says."It's the male voice that comes through even in books and teachings."

But there is hope.With nunneries teaching English and computer skills besides martial arts,the number of young women who are drawn to the monastic life has risen dramatically,says Jetsumna who is planning to introduce kung fu at her nunnery.

Back at Amitabha mountain,the nuns from northern India,Tibet,Nepal and Bhutan are shaking the walls of tradition in many other ways."We now perform the cham or mask dance which was earlier the sole prerogative of monks and even the evening prayer ritual called Senge tsewa," says Jigme Mipham Zangmo,who doubles up as driver at the nunnery.

BUDDHA NO BAR

Behind these changes is the leader of the Drukpa spiritual sect,His Holiness The Gyalwang Drukpa,who personally taught the nuns the rituals."Buddha never said women are less important.They have incredible potential which is finally being recognised," says the Gyalwang Drukpa who is the 12th incarnation of the leader of the Drukpa - or dragon - sect of Buddhism.This lineage,a school of Mahayana Buddhism,has followers across Tibet,Bhutan,China,Nepal and India.Though established in 1206,it's only in the last few years that the sect is undergoing a makeover.Buddhist nuns have always spent their lives studying the inner world of the mind.Besides the ancient paths to enlightenment,they are now on the road to empowerment.

Category: Print Media

Steeped-in-legend Swayambhunath

by Tenzin Namgyal, at 2nd Annual Drukpa Council, 22nd April 2010 - More than proving their unwavering faith in the dharma, it was a test of the limits of a human heart and perseverance for the 10,000 pilgrims from across the world circumambulating the Swayambhunath chorten. With the main monument situated atop a hill, pilgrims were circumambulating at its base.

It is believed that the whole hill is a Rangjung (self-arisen) chorten.

Walking briskly takes an average person at least 30 minutes to complete a round, while old people take an hour.

The 15th century Swayambhu purana, a Buddhist scripture about the origin and development of Kathmandu valley, tells of a miraculous lotus the Buddha had planted, which blossomed from the lake covering Kathmandu valley.

The lotus mysteriously radiated a brilliant light, thus the place name, Swayambhu, means 'self-created or self-existent'.

Stone inscription evidence reveals that the chorten was already an important Buddhist pilgrimage destination since the 5th century AD, although its origins date back much before the arrival of Buddhism in the valley.

Saints, sages and divinities travelled to the lake to venerate this miraculous light for its power to grant enlightenment.

Bodhisatva Manjushri (Jampelyang), the god of wisdom, was one of the divinities, who made the trip. Meditating at the sacred mountain of Wu Tai Shan on the China-Tibet border, he saw a vision of the Swayambhu light. Manjushri immediately flew across the mountains of China and Tibet upon his blue lion to worship the lotus.

Impressed by the radiant light and the power of the lotus to cleanse sins, Manjushri drained out the lake to make Swayambhu accessible to human pilgrims.

With his great sword of wisdom, Manjushri cut a gorge on mountains surrounding the lake. The water drained out and Kathmandu valley was born. The lotus was transformed into a hill and the light became the Swayabhunath stupa, stone inscriptions say.

Swayambhunath stupa today is the most ancient and enigmatic of all holy shrines in Kathmandu valley in Nepal. It is believed that circumambulating the ridge 13 times a day will wash away all sins and bad merit accumulated so far, including left over from past lives.

His Holiness the late Dudjom rinpoche, Jigdrel Yeshe Dorje, the head of Nyingma school, had told his patrons that it was equal to prostrating 100,000 times.

He had also said that doing so would liberate sentient beings from lower realms and that any religious kora (circumambulation), for that matter, could cleanse sentient beings of bad karma and liberate from them from samsara.

Learned Buddhist masters explained that, while making kora, a person should engage the body in circumambulation, the speech in chanting prayers and the mind focused on Buddha dharma.

From the base of the hill are 365 steps, leading up to the monument guarded by two lions. On all four sides of the neck of the main monument are a pair of eyes of the Buddha. They convey the message of Buddha's omniscience.

Nepali numeral one sits between the eyes, which is interpreted in the Swayambhu purana as symbolising a single way to enlightenment, which is the Buddhist path.

Between the pair of eyes is a single one, signifying the wisdom to look within. No ears are drawn because it is said the Buddha is not interested in hearing prayers in praise of him.

The area surrounding the monument is filled with temples, painted images of deities and numerous other religious symbols. Many small shrines with statues of tantric and shamanistic deities and prayer wheels dot the monument.

Every morning, before dawn, hundreds of people from Nepal, Tibet and a few from Bhutan circumambulate the monument.

Meanwhile, all 10,000 Buddhist pilgrims led by His Holiness the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, the spiritual head of Drukpa Lineage, lit 100,000 butter lamps and recited Zangchoed moenlam, regarded as the most important prayer among the Buddhist teachings, on concluding the 13th kora.

The kora, which begun at one in the morning, ended at 10, nine hours after it started. Among the pilgrims were 200 Bhutanese devotees.

Category: Print Media

Coverage by New Bharat Times