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Dragons of enlightenment

April 26th, 2009 - by Kiran Yadav of Financial Times (Delhi) - see original article in PDF format

The sleepy town of Kathmandu was literally awash in maroon and saffron last week. Over 4,000 monks and nuns from around the world descended in the capital of Nepal to attend the week-long Annual Drukpa Council meet. The first ever meet organised by Drukpa, an offshoot of Mahayana Buddhism, was partly an attempt to let the world know more about itself. "It is important to come out and interact with the world. There's plenty to do - to guide the youth and teach them the virtues of love, compassion and wisdom," His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa says pragmatically. Unconventional in more ways than one, he doesn't merely preach - he has a website of his own, is a regular blogger and it may not be long before he considers tweeting as well. His teachings are also webcast live in multiple languages.

And the key message that he wants to communicate is "Live to Love." Simply put, "anything done with the genuine thought of selflessness will always make you happy emotionally and will also be an accumulation of positive karma. When you love someone, you think less of yourself and you become a little selfless as you wish to give happiness to the other person. As long as that thought lasts, one does feel happy."

You'd know what he means when you look at the monastery at the Druk Amitabha Mountain. There are as many nuns in the monastery as monks, or possibly more. Unlike other Buddhist sects, His Holiness places a lot of emphasis on gender equity. In fact, only last year Tenzin Palmo was given the rare title of Jetsunma, which means one who is accomplished in the Surayana and the Tantrayana by His Holiness in recognition of her spiritual attainments as a nun.

Right from driving a car or a truck to practising Kung-fu and performing traditional mask dance - the nuns do it all. In fact, a lot of women are now turning to the faith. Consider, for instance, Jigme Thupsten, former woman police officer in Jammu & Kashmir and now a nun at the Kathmandu monastry. Or Jigme Cheneing Khandro - princess of Nanching province in China. The 20-something opted to renounce materialism and become a nun at the age of 12. There's an interesting anecdote here. The first time she went to the monastery's mess to eat, all the nuns got up from the table out of sheer reverence for the princess. But today she is one amongst them. She "doesn't miss the luxuries of her palace. Her regular day starts at three in the morning with prayers and recital of mantras."

However, it was hardly easy to bring about the change. But despite protests from various quarters, His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa integrated women into the faith with rights equal to men. The universal principle of equality of all human beings, for him, takes precedence over all else. The bhikshuni order, an integral part of Buddhism, never really spread to Tibet.

The little yet remarkable progress happening here could well be expected to institute the bhikshuni ordination in Tibetan Buddhism soon.

The flying dragons

Over 800 years ago, around 1206, Drogon Tsangpa Gyare Yeshi Dorje, Buddha of Compassion, reached Nam-gyi Phu near Lhasa, in search of a site to build a monastery as prophesied by his guru, Lingchen Repa (1128-1188). At this site, nine dragons, said to be manifestations of Indian Mahasiddhas, reared up from the earth and soared into the sky. Taking this to be an auspicious sign, Drogon Tsangpa Gyare named his lineage Drukpa and both his lineage and followers came to be called Drukpa.