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Tara Di

An Interview with Tara Di
By Kelly Roberts

When I was asked if I would interview Tara for the Art Issue of the Gentle Voice, I have to admit, I was deeply excited and happy. It was about time that people heard what she had to say about her art and the topic of Thangka painting. I have had the great fortune to know Tara for many years. I have watched her closely ~ developing into the absolutely stunning Thangka painter that she is today. I remember when she showed me one of her first paintings it vibrated with so much magic, presence and movement. I was so moved, speechless, tears fell. Amazing. It truly felt as if she had brought the deity to life right before my very eyes. This particular deity continued to haunt me for days and now still does years later ~ bringing so much presence into my practice. Over the years she has developed this skill to a place where even a non-dharmic person is incredibly touched by her paintings. Of course anyone who knows Tara will not be surprised to hear that she adamantly refuses to take a compliment.

When I told her that the Gentle Voice had asked if I would interview her, her immediate reaction was an adamant “NO – I am not a traditional Thangka painter. There are many others who are much better than me that they could interview.” I wasn’t going to give up. I had to assure Tara that Gentle Voice had Rinpoche’s support to do the interview and only then did she consent. Rinpoche has mentioned many times over the years how he feels she is amongst the most accomplished painters he knows.
It’s actually an amazing accomplishment to get her to speak so openly and profoundly about her art. It is a true gift to all of us. I am so happy to be able to share her in this way. We met for a “cappuccino and chocolate”, at the local “Bliss Cafe” in downtown Crestone, Colorado where we both live. It was a lively and laughing conversation most of which I have included here:


Kelly: So tell me how you first became inspired to become a Thangka painter?

Tara: When I was about 16, I decided to go on an adventure for the summer to Nepal , not yet as a Buddhist but more to have an adventure. The day I arrived was the day I found out Trungpa Rinpoche had only months to live. So – suddenly the journey switched for me. I realised I had a connection to Buddhism, and the various adolescent activities I had hoped to pursue as an unsupervised teenager in a foreign country no longer held much allure.

Tara's colours

Shortly after I arrived, someone said, “Oh you draw ! There is this Thangka painter – you should meet him.” It wasn’t something that I had even thought of. Soon after that I was introduced to this painter who lived with Thinley Norbu Rinpoche. His name was Jamyang Gyatso – he was such an incredible person and Thangka painter. He lived in this tiny little shack in front of Rinpoche’s house with his mom, and sometimes his sister and brother. The second I met him and saw one of his Thangkas I knew that this was where I wanted to be. It just made me incredibly happy to sit there in this small room with him and paint. I loved being in Rinpoche’s space as well, and although I didn’t get to see him often, I was quite awestruck and enamoured. I ended up staying in Nepal for a few years.

My painting teacher’s demeanour was so much different than anything I had seen in the West. There seemed to be no ego or arrogance or anything related to the fact that he was doing these amazing things. This was so inspiring. He was naturally so utterly egoless, humble and devoted.

He would get guidance from Thinley Norbu Rinpoche on how to paint the faces and maybe other aspects of the paintings he did. He was one of Rinpoche’s personal painters and also his student. He had studied traditional Thangka painting , but what made his Thangkas so special was that the paintings felt very alive.

Coming from a Western painting background, this was so intriguing. It seemed this was not something you could capture from training. Something vast and magical shined through his paintings. That was a real teaching for me.

K: Its kind of cool to hear this because this is actually my favorite thing about your paintings. I have always felt that the special thing about your Thangkas is that you capture the essence of that particular deity. There is so much of the energy of the deity coming out and also so much movement. The deity is so alive – it’s so amazing to me how you do this. He must have been a good teacher!

K: You keep telling me again and again how you’re not a “traditional” Thangka painter. In fact you didn’t even want to do this interview because you felt you didn’t represent properly the tradition of Thangka painting. Personally, one of my favorite things about your Thangkas is that they are not traditional. When you say that about yourself what do you mean ?

T: There are many schools of Thangka painting. Normally when you study with a teacher, you take on their style and follow the specific rules of that tradition. The iconography, the sacred geometry or proportions of the deity and there are also the colours and landscape elements that vary from tradition to tradition. It might vary from teacher to teacher but it was my understanding that I should study for 7 years.

So while I still try to honour the tigse (the traditional proportions) and the iconography I have started to play with some of the landscape elements and some of the colours. I also think despite my attempts to let go of the western training, it seeps in …I have definitely reinterpreted colours a bit, because of my preferences , and also the vast array of pigments that are now available. I still use mostly mineral pigments, but I mix them and continue to experiment with that, and also with the landscape elements, animals, robes, and jewellery. I’m trying to use colours and shapes that feel natural and right but also honour the tradition, which I feel is what brings the blessings and life force to the painting.
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche seems to encourage me to do this sometimes… and so I am playing with it, but its also a little scary because I don’t want to be disrespectful to what I have learned. I feel it is so important to understand the tradition fully before you divert from that tradition. Yet I am definitely still a student in this regard, I actually don’t know nearly enough to know which boundaries not to cross.

Korwa Dondruk by Tara Di

K: So tell me more about how Rinpoche (Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche) has been working with you with regards to your Thangka painting? You tell me that he sometimes pushes you beyond your comfort level. Can you say more about that?

T: In the beginning Dzigar Kongtrul Rinpoche asked me to do a painting for him, which was quite thrilling. It was the first Thangka I did for somebody. It took me forever to finish it – I don’t even remember how many years. This was about 20 years ago. I never thought I would do Thangka painting for a living. I assumed I would do it for happiness, on the side. Then, after I just had my daughter, Maya and hadn’t yet finished art school, Khyentse Rinpoche scolded me for not painting Thangkas. The initial scolding was surprising to me because I never would have had the confidence to take such a leap. Especially as I was still something of a beginner, and was nowhere close to completing the traditional length of study.

It also seemed a funny thing to do because Rinpoche has also scolded me for being impractical. I can’t really think of a more impractical livelihood, unless I measure livelihood not financially, but in terms of more long-term benefits, such as supporting sanity and reminding me of the Dharma, and maybe hopefully, if someone connects to it, supporting someone’s practice.

I feel a little funny saying he pushes me, because that’s just my version… But each painting I do pushes me, and it always feels far beyond my skills and capabilities. It is very much like jumping off a cliff . I try to get instructions from Rinpoche, but often its just a few profound words, and often ones that really challenge my preconceptions. I always want lengthy elaborate details, so I don’t ruin it! But definitely his words have influenced me utterly….

Sometimes he will make little suggestions like, “make this lotus more life-like or put a champagne bottle in the offerings” or sometimes just hearing him talk about dharma or deities or art or anything, serves as inspiration.

Longchenpa By Tara Di

K: Following along that line, tell me about what inspires you in your art?

T: Probably ultimately the Dharma, and the yearning to be free, and of course the living embodiments of the deites, all the amazing Lineage Teachers. I think in the beginning, it was being around Thinley Norbu Rinpoche, my teacher Jamyang Gyatso and his mom – they were embodiments of this joy and purity. When I was young, art was joyful and innocent. When I started to study more formally, with western art – it felt like western art wasn’t cultivating areas of my being that I wanted to cultivate. I loved the idea of offering something to people that gave them joy. What was so profound about Thangka painting was it did feel as though you were offering your heart out. Remember these deities are symbols of everyone’s inherent nature, and so it isn’t your personal self-expression but it is something more universal. The forms and rules aren’t my invention and it feels very much like if I don’t let go enough and surrender to the tradition, it doesn’t flow through. So there is a balance with letting that happen but allowing my flavour in too. Also, painting for someone feels very reciprocal ~ I’m making a painting for them but it’s also their faith and devotion and trust in the path that would make them want one in the first place. That is really inspiring and I appreciate it a lot.

K: I know that most of the people who will be reading this interview will be artists as well as dharma practitioners. How do you mix dharma and art?

T: I think it’s just the same as dharma and life going together. It feels more genuine to be raw and present, to try to be awake, to offer that to the painting, but of course I get lost too, constantly, and so that’s just the aspiration…to be present, to come back again and again…

K: I agree with that. I feel this awareness really comes through in your painting.

K: So…. you have a SMALL reputation of someone who takes a long time to paint a Thangka. For those out there who don’t know you as well as I do – How many hours would you say you spend a day painting?

T: It really depends on my outer circumstances but in general, these days I would say ideally a minimum of 8-12 hours, 7 days a week unless I have to stop to clean or shop or something.

K: So you spend pretty much your every waking hour painting – even late into the wee hours of the morning?

T:I have been told to “speed up” so I’m trying to do that now. So until I figure it out I’m trying to just immerse myself in it. I am still trying to understand this because I feel the paintings do have a life of their own and. I can’t push that. At the same time, clearly I see so much letting go in myself that needs to happen, and so probably my slowness is a manifestation of that… there’s always so much more to let go of. Ideally I isolate myself and I paint as much as I can without going cross-eyed. If the spell of the painting gets broken for me by outer circumstances, its hard to come back, but I aspire to become stronger, so my outer circumstances don’t have such an effect. I’m trying to speed up by being more confident and more present and yet at the same time not fall into habits with them. If I just followed a formula they would be easier to do and faster. It’s such a balance of outer and inner elements.

Gesar by Tara Di

K: I get so frustrated sometimes knowing how much time you spend on your thangkas and knowing that some artists out there can spend one day painting one painting and ask for $10,000 for it. Its so frustrating that there can’t be a way to value the amount of time, energy and talent that is put into your painting. I feel you should be paid SO much more for the original artwork and then sell lots of prints so that your time and energy can be monetarily rewarded. Do you think it’s worth it to work so very hard for the relatively small monetary reward?

T: It’s hard to live in this world where you have to think about things like money and putting values on your work. It’s painful and awkward. I don’t like having to talk to people about money and to charge people when doing it in the first place seems to be part of a different set of ideals. I do feel profoundly rich in being able to do something like this and get paid for it. I am thrilled that people even ask me. I feel so lucky. I just haven’t found the balance of how to do this and also have a good livelihood. In some ways it’s so crazy, I still don’t know if it makes any kind of sense. I’m always prepared for it all to fall apart and to have to get a job at McDonalds! I do have my own obstacles that I have to work out with regards to the livelihood part of it. It’s never been my strength. I am not practical and this is a blessing and a curse. I couldn’t imagine anything else in the world that I could possibly do. It so nice that there is a place for this crazy Thangka painter in this modern world! So I feel so fortunate that I have found a way to stay alive and do this.

K: So I’ve been dying to ask you… when you say Rinpoche scolded you – what did he actually say?

T: He kind of said something like: “Because you’re too insecure, you are not painting Thangkas and I have to pay other people to do it.”

K: I am so glad you listened to him! Do you have some advice you would like to give others who are inspired to become Thangka painters?

T: I think it can be a very profound discipline…. its wonderful for people who have no artistic background because as it is a craft in some sense, anyone can learn it. A lot of my friends who paint really beautiful Thangkas never drew or painted before this. Just having the openness to surrender to the form completely, and devotion to dharma, their work is beautiful and full of heart as well as technically amazing. There is the Tsering Art School in Nepal (at Shechen), Cynthia Moku in the US who is a wonderful painter and teacher at Naropa Institute. An other amazing teacher is Ngodrup Rongae in Manali. I think he has a school as well. There are many many more living masters. For someone who has artistic training, I love how Thangka painting reaches something much bigger and deeper than “self ” expression. There is so much freedom in that. The many boundaries and the lineage of this tradition seem to serve as reminders to let go of oneself ~ which is what we all aspire to do. I think all art forms can support that, with the right intention.


Tara Di


If you would like to buy prints of Tara’s work or if you would like to commission a piece from her, please contact her directly at Watch this space for her new website address!

Authentic Study

the lineage

Excerpts of an interview with Charlotte Davis by Paul Ferguson
Nov 2011


How did you come to study thangka painting?

I decided to study thangka painting when I was coming to the end of my studies at art school in Australia. I didn’t feel so attracted to the contemporary art world, dominated at the school I went to by Post-Modern theory and wanted to study thangka painting so that I could combine my interest in Buddhism with my interest in art. I asked one of my teachers whether he knew of anywhere I could study and he told me about the Tsering Art School, which had just started. I joined the school in April 1998 and ended up staying for the next 6 ½ years, completing the training and also working for the school.


Guru Rinpoche, 2000 By Charlotte Davis

How did your appreciation/attraction grow for thangkas once you decided to make the switch?

Although I didn’t initially have a great attraction for thangka painting as a style, after arriving at the school and becoming familiar with the Karma Gadri style, I have really grown to love and admire this tradition. I find the colours and spacious landscapes very appealing. I also find it somewhat more naturalistic than some of the Tibetan traditions, especially in the landscape, in that softer Chinese-influenced style very beautiful and uplifting. In terms of the process, I also really loved the feeling of just being a vessel for the art form, and going through a process that was probably more in line with pre-modern European art and the apprentice model. I never had any feeling that I was being limited in my creativity either. There are still many choices that are made by the artist and different artists have different styles, without in any way necessarily breaking the rules of the tradition. My main inspiration was our teacher, Konchog Lhadrepa, not just in his obvious genius as an artist, but his personal qualities of warmth, wisdom and humour as well as depth of devotion, humility and hard work, showing his strength and example as a person and practitioner.


It sounds like you got in on the ground floor for Tsering Art school when it was just opening. Could you tell me a bit about how those early days of the school were for you?

The school had already been running for two years while the art school building was being built. I just very quickly felt at home. It was quite scary of course to leave all that was familiar to me, and there were some big learning curves in terms the cultural differences, the food and so on. But I was very touched by people’s kindness and the aspects of softness and simplicity of the culture and people (combined with a lot of toughness!). Pretty soon Konchog asked me to help with some of the administrative work for the school, especially where English was needed. I was really delighted to be able to be able to practise some “karma yoga” in this way. I think having something outside of studies to occupy myself with in this way also helped to feel at home.

In terms of the discipline of study, certainly six hours sitting cross-legged with a slate or board on your lap is pretty painful for the knees! But it was good training for sitting practice. The daily schedule is rigorous, but I got used to it and found it a good support. So I really just became immersed in life at the school and then there was the Boudhanath Stupa just a few minutes away and being able to observe and slowly become a part of the life of the monastery and school. Being woken up in the morning by the chanting of the small monks below the school, the endless bells, for meals and classes. The life was tough, spare, and full of heart.


Hayagriva, 2001 By Charlotte Davis

Do you still use the same materials in which you were trained or have you experimented more? What have you discovered through either method? I know it might be hard to find certain materials outside Nepal such as the gold.

I experimented a bit with the last thangka I did, using acrylic on canvas, although we also experimented quite a lot at the art school anyway. The school has developed a method of painting with acrylic paints that match the traditional colours and texture very authentically. Practically speaking it being more hard-wearing and durable in humid environments and easier to apply. Konchog’s approach is not particularly ‘precious’, when it comes to the materials needing to be of stone pigments etc, which I like in the sense of this being a living tradition and not feeling the need to do everything exactly as it was in the past, for it to be considered ‘authentic’. This is an issue for many indigenous cultures, for their artforms to still be accepted outside of the domain of the museums as a living tradition that can adapt to the times in terms of materials available.

From my understanding, the authenticity of the art lies in the training and the motivation. At Tsering Art School we learn Karma Gadri tradition, so important to really learn the style and methods of that tradition and to adhere by it, but once a student graduates, it comes down to the individual artist’s interest and nowadays many artists want to create their own style. As long as the proportions and iconography are correct and the inner understanding of the purpose and meaning of the art is there, it is still authentic in that sense. But the understanding of what each tradition consists of is eroding. Even though my own knowledge is still pretty limited, I do know enough now to see that many times, even on art websites and books, thangkas are incorrectly designated “Karma Gadri” or “Menri” etc. I was fortunate to have had time with Konchog where he pointed out many differences and it made me appreciate that it would be very difficult for art scholars to be able to make those distinctions. Konchog could say something like: “Oh this is a thangka painted in the Karma Gadri tradition, but by a Menri artist”. Or “this is Karma Gadri, but the clouds are Menri!

Another thing I think sometimes misunderstood is that the quality of the work is really defined mostly by the quality of the drawing, much more than the technical perfection of the colour-work. This is because, along with the consecration once the thangka is complete, the blessing of the work comes through the correct proportions, as outlined in the tantras. This is also really the basis of the aesthetic beauty of the work as well.



You are also a student of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. How do find your thangka practice relates to your other Buddhist practices under this lama?

It does relate to the Buddhist trainings we receive in basic ways as a lot of patience, discipline, and diligence is required to really progress in this form (having said that, I don’t claim to be an adept myself as, lacking in these qualities, I keep allowing myself to be distracted by other activities!). In fact it can be shown to be a practice of all six paramitas. Of course, it is also a practice of shamata meditation, as any practice of concentration could be said to be, but in this case the object of concentration is a dharma image so there is a direct relationship there with the practice of meditative concentration.

Then, as we are usually depicting deities and Buddhas for visualisation practice, it does relate directly to sadhana practice. In the teachings we receive from the manual written by the Principle Konchog Lhadrepa, the direct relationship between thangka painting and the practice of kyerim or development stage and dzogrim, completion stage, is explained, I think this is a unique teaching, in the sense that it has not previously been written down and explained so clearly. I have been attempting to write down these instructions in English for the non-Tibetan students, to be published later this year. I think this will be very helpful for people practising thangka painting. It also includes a special sadhana for artists to use during the process of their painting, which was written by a great master from the Drikung Kagyu tradition. So our art practice relates directly to the sadhana practice and especially the practice of visualisation.

Regarding your question about relating it more directly to my practice under my specific gurus, is that I can make an offering to my teacher of a work of art, which is something that has felt very meaningful for me as a practice of guru devotion. I feel that the image that my teachers choose to have me paint often relates in subtle ways to confirming something specific about my own path and connections as well, but that is quite personal, so I’d rather not be more specific about that. The other thing of course, is that I can paint an image of whatever deity I am practising and been empowered for under that teacher, so it does relate very much to our own practice under the guidance of our lamas.


Jigme Lingpa, 2010 By Charlotte Davis

What do you hope to see develop in the preservation of this art-form in regards to both its creation as well as its use within Buddhist communities?

I think there is a lot that is happening to preserve the art form as a living tradition. There are western Buddhists like ourselves training in this artform and in the communities from which these traditions come from. I think that schools like Tsering Art School play an important role in the sense that its main focus is not just to preserve the artistic tradition but to convey it from the context of Buddhist practice. I have also heard that the Karma Gadri tradition is again flourishing in Tibet. In terms of its use in Buddhist communities, many of our graduates from the local Buddhist communities have gone on to paint temples for monasteries and individuals. I think the main thing is that there are teachers who are very experienced and well trained who are able to pass this on authentically to others.

One thing I would like to see is greater education in the West amongst Buddhist practitioners in the appreciation of the importance of the sacred Buddhist arts for the practice of Vajrayana Buddhism. The commissioning of thangkas is an accumulation of merit and of course making offerings to these images and statues, once consecrated is also a great accumulation of merit. The study of the sacred arts is actually one of the five disciplines of a bodhisattva, so traditionally it has been greatly appreciated and in fact it could be said that the continuation of this tradition is intrinsically entwined with the continuation of the dharma itself, as these images are used as a support for practice and to depict the lineages of practice and so on.

It seems to me that the digital age could threaten this appreciation somewhat. If people only wish to save money by getting reproductions, eventually the role of the artist will lack support and there will be fewer artists with the knowledge and skills to keep this going. Thankfully in the East at least there is still enough appreciation of the role of the sacred arts to keep the traditions going.



The Tsering Art School and Rabsel Thangka Studio

Artists working at this studio are all authentically trained graduates from the six year painting course at Shechen Monastery’s Tsering Art School in Nepal

Tsering Art School

Thangkas are used by Vajrayana Buddhist practitioners to assist the meditator in clearly visualising their meditation deity. Commissioning a thangka painting is also regarded as a way of generating spiritual merit.

The Tsering Art School, housed in the grounds of Shechen Monastery in Nepal, is part of the Dilgo Khyentse Fellowship. It was established by Shechen Rabjam Rinpoche in 1996 in response to the urgent need for young artists to be able to receive a complete and thorough training in a pure and authentic lineage of thangka painting. At this time he requested Konchog Lhadrepa to teach. Konchog is a humble and devoted practitioner and master thangka painter who received training under the guidance of a master thangka painter from Rumtek, at the request of his guru Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. The artists have been trained under the expert guidance of Konchog Lhadrepa and his senior disciples in a lineage of painting from eastern Tibet called Karma Gadri, which is famous its spacious landscapes and transparent hues. The training has been given within the proper context of Buddhist practice.

The Lineage

The Rabsel Thangka Studio was initially formed for some of the graduate students to fulfill a large thangka painting project for Shechen Monastery, with generous sponsorship from the Rubin Foundation from the USA. The studio is now broadening its scope, with more graduate artists joining to help fulfill commissions from around the world.

The school also makes an annual art calendar with Western and Tibetan dates, quality Shechen Incense products, traditional ritual tailored items and embroidered and appliqué thangkas as well as wooden tormas.

To enquire about study or to commission a thangka, please contact Lobsang Dolma on or visit the website at

Art as Celebration of Unlimited Reality

Lhatsun Namkha Jigme – ShechenB

By Jakob Leschly

One of the things we need to remember about Buddhist art, and perhaps sacred art in general, is that it is not situated within a fragmented world view. The familiar split we in the modern world more or less consciously subscribe to, a three-way divorce between science, ethics, and art, does not generally apply to sacred art. Sacred art expresses undiluted reality, reality properly seen, and as such it represents knowledge and insight, which again has an immensely constructive role in providing vision and values – the key ingredients in a good life, as well as in the case of Buddhism, the foundation for enlightenment. While the poverty of a world that has separated beauty from truth and moral direction is increasingly palpable, one can still appreciate the brilliance of the cultures that have not fallen prey to such bad science.

Modern Optics

The sacred as a realistic perspective on our experience is almost a contradiction in the modern world, where the sacred is often constructed as part of the great and soothing myths or narratives that are anything but realistic. But then again, the modern view of reality is quite different from most other cultures. The modern world’s view on reality is founded on an amputated science that excludes consciousness and spirit from observable matter, with real science exclusively operating with so-called objective knowledge – data and information exclusively established on the basis on what can be measured and empirically verified. Anything beyond that is problematic; anything that has to do with what we really live for is a grey zone. Go figure it out yourself – don’t come looking for wisdom in the hallowed halls of Stanford, Cambridge or Leiden!

In our modern culture, the real issues of our existence – those of our heart and mind – are traditionally the domains of ethics and religion. Sadly, for the modern believer in science, ethics are generally regarded as something impossibly relative, and religion is seen as founded on impossible fairy tales. Ethics and religion appear to have little to do with reasoning. And far from both science and religion, art has retreated to a neighbourhood that celebrates human creativity without any particular allegiance to either of the former two. At times a guru, at times an entertainer, at times a rebel, art generally has no pretence of representing more than fragments of human reality. The source of its inspiration is indeed often beauty and love, but also just as often confusion and suffering.


The Context of Sacred Reality

Sacred art, or the art of awakening, as we find it in Buddhism, and in numerous other sacred art traditions, is founded on a holistic vision that unites science with religion as the path that enables the awakening to reality. Science as truth and valid knowledge is key in Buddhism. We could translate the Sanskrit term for Buddhism, Dharma, as the study or law of reality. So a Buddhist studies to acquire a vision or grasp of reality, and the practice of Dharma is appreciated as eliminating confusion and dogma and unveiling what is undeceiving and valid. The Dharma is embraced not through blind faith or belief, but rather on the basis of a decisive critique of the deluded assumptions about reality that inevitably lead to suffering. Sacred art is based on liberation from delusion, and an unlimited vision of reality. Such vision reflects accurate knowledge of reality, and accurate knowledge of what leads to happiness and liberation. Such science is wisdom, and, being the domain of the sage, not the scientist, she is happily married to both ethical practice and the joy of artistic expression.

Liberation and enlightenment has inspired an immense production of art that celebrates its immanence and validity. In that enlightenment is regarded as pinnacle of life’s potential, Buddhist art everywhere celebrates this vision in paintings, sculptures, architecture, and calligraphy, flower-arranging, not to mention empty space – the gap that allows us to appreciate both space and the content of space. While the Sutra traditions, particularly Zen, celebrate the nature of wisdom through the beauty of uncluttered space, the Tantric traditions celebrate the inseparability of wisdom and its manifest qualities, reflected in an immense wealth of vivid and powerful sacred art, that also includes music, dance, and sensuality.

Engaging with the Sacred

Sacred art is not objectified and passively beheld as is common in our cultural practice of viewing art. Sacred art is seen as speaking to, or invoking, an inner heritage of what is profound and real, and so its real value is not in the external support – the piece of art itself. The experience of being touched profoundly by what is intuited as real can be called blessing, and as such the piece of art is not merely observed, but is seen as something that we interact or connect with. It touches us and provides us with the relief of recognising an inner wealth that lies beyond the stranglehold of our self-imposed limitation – samsara. For that reason, sacred art in Buddhism is sometimes viewed as a nirmanakaya, or physical manifestation of enlightenment.

Buddhist cultures, and other cultures that live with a sacred vision, do not celebrate their art through merely placing them in museums or galleries; sacred art is celebrated everywhere: in the streets, in the temples, in the hills, in the fields, in workplaces and homes, rendering immanent the sacred that is innate to all life, and providing a possibility of doing so. The sacred is celebrated with innumerable offerings, such as flowers, incense, light, song, poetry, and in the best case – a non-dual appreciation of the sacred within.

In front of sacred art, one does not dwell on some perceived gap between the sacred and one self, but extends a gesture of appreciation and connects with the sacred, or buddha nature, through bowing down and making offerings. In Indian and Tibetan temples, the shrine consists of two aspects: first, the support for the sacred – statues, books, objects, and secondly the place where the offerings are placed. A shrine is not a static institution, but is lively interacted with through honouring the support of the sacred through bowing, and through making offerings. These practices are generally done first thing in the morning, and they are continued throughout the day.

Vision of Life

We can see this practice of connecting with a greater vision of reality in cultures that have so far been untouched by the modern practice of leaving the primary concern of all life – happiness – to being a random private project that is inevitably subject to subjective confusion. In almost any other culture beside that of modernity, sacred art permeates all fabrics of societies with a vibrant way of connecting with, and celebrating, that which is real, and that which brings, on one hand the conditions for temporary and ordinary happiness and, on the other hand, liberation and enlightenment.

Disclaimer: the author apologises for any irritation or discomfort brought on by this article. Raised in the simple-minded cult of modern western rationality, he has had to de-program himself from numerous kinds of blind faith, assumptions, and dogma, and only gradually has the brilliant logic, vision, and liberation of innumerable Buddhist masters been able to penetrate his traumatised mind and heart, and resuscitate a minimal degree of natural sanity. A work in progress, his journey has unceasingly been inspired by the immense luminous beauty and power of traditional Tibetan art.

Lhatsun Namkha Jigme - from Shechen Archives

Of Courtesan Songs and Sanskrit Sutras


by Vidya Rao

There was always music in the house when I was growing up. My mother loved music, and though she was not a professional singer, she sang all the time in her strong, pure voice. She would listen to all the great singers who came to perform in the town where I grew up; I would go with her. Sometimes I would doze half way through those all-night events, when singer followed great singer, until the first rays of dawn, when we would all go home, sleepy and replete with all that we had heard.

There was one kind of song that particularly entranced me. Very rarely was it sung, very few people sang it, and when it was heard at all, it was always only at the end of a concert. Light, lilting songs of love and separation and yearning, their cadences stayed with me long after we went home, back to our ordinary lives. I learnt that those songs were called Thumri and I learnt that most people I met and spoke with considered them less than appropriate.  Some years later, more worldly-wise now, I understood why. Thumri had, only a few years before this, been the exclusive preserve of the courtesan singers. In a recently independent, rapidly modernising India attempting to reclaim and reinterpret its past, Thumri —erotic, associated with the courtesan singers and the feudal courts of the nineteenth century—was considered highly problematic, and certainly not something a young middle class girl should be wanting to learn! Middle class women had only very recently entered the world of music as listeners, students and performers. When they did enter this world, it was generally to study, and perform the more respectable ‘male’ forms like khayal and dhrupad. These styles are formal, more structured, less emotional and certainly less focused on the erotic. Many years later, a grown woman now, I was fortunate to find a guru who taught me Thumri. And that is what , as a professional singer, I generally perform.

Deer Park Sarasvati Photo Raymond Steiner

I began learning music when I was seven. Like all young women of the time whose parents were broadminded enough to allow them music lessons, I too began with training in khayal singing. Simultaneously, at school—the Krishnamurti Foundation-run Rishi Valley—I learnt Sanskrit chanting. I remember those morning assemblies at school when we would chant verses from the Vedas and the Upanishads, a practice that has also stayed with me over the years. The three-note structure, typical of vedic chanting brings a quietness and meditative quality into one’s being. The texts themselves are exquisite reminders of the Teachings that, by articulating in my own voice every day, I am able to bring into my life in a kind of embodied way.

But equally, Sanskrit chanting also lends a gravitas, resonance and depth to the voice. It is also, as I understand it a kind of articulated breath-work, or pranayam. So not only does this chanting create a sense of calm abiding, but it is also excellent exercise for the voice. Moreover, the structure of Sanskrit with its long compound words filled with consonant clusters poses a contrast to the elongated vowel sounds typical of Thumri. The practice of enunciating Sanskrit poses both a challenge and an opportunity to engage with a very different sound-linguistic structure, which again, I believe lends tone and texture to the voice. I still begin the morning with silent meditation followed by chanting of Sanskrit verses from both Buddhist and Hindu texts.

My growing interest in Buddhism—an interest that began in my school days– led me to teachings by several masters, and especially by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. I would long to be able to offer my music to him, and to place it in the service of the dharma. Miraculously, one day, several years ago, Lama Doboom Tulku Rimpoche of New Delhi’s Tibet House asked me to chant sutras in Sanskrit on the morning of Buddha Jayanti, the day of Buddha’s birth. It was a lovely morning in May, unusually cool for that time of year. A small group of practitioners met in Delhi’s lovely Buddha Jayanti park before the statue of the Buddha which has been presented to the people of India by His Holiness. We meditated against the background of chirping birds and the laughter of children picnicking on the grass. Verses from the Buddhist texts were chanted in different languages like Pali and Japanese. I recited verses in Sanskrit. We meditated again, and then shared a welcome breakfast, before going back to our busy lives. After that auspicious day, I was fortunate to be asked to recite sutras in Sanskrit on many occasions, and several times in the presence of His Holiness too.

Then one day, again quite miraculously, I was asked by Prashant Verma, now Director of the Deer Park Institute in India to chant sutras at the inauguration of a monastery at Bir in Himachal Pradesh and in the presence of His Holiness. That was my first meeting with Dzongsar Khyentse Rimpoche, and the beginning too of what I believe is a life-long connection with Rimpoche, and with the Deer Park Institute. It was with Rimpoche’s encouragement that I undertook to record the album Dharma Nada for the Deer Park Institute.

Vidya Rao

How, one might ask, do I reconcile these two aspects of my musical life– the singing of an erotic courtesan form like Thumri, and of the austere, structured Buddhist chants. Thumri, as a form, is set squarely in the everyday world, secular, earthy, and calculated to evoke desire. On the other hand, the Buddhist sutras encode the abstract and highly philosophical teachings on bodhichitta, wisdom and method and especially, emptiness. Yet for me, it is precisely the dance of these two forms and philosophical ways of being in the world that I believe gives me a balance that allows me to live in this world. To engage with it deeply, and yet not be swamped by its bewildering experiences, to begin perhaps to understand the brilliance and vibrancy of beloved form as essentially, and equally belovedly, empty. I believe that if I had to make do with only one of these musical spaces, I would be, as the sutras say, a bird with only one wing— and I need both these wings to fly. Living and working with these two very different musical forms, I am able to play hide and seek with form and emptiness, recognising that both have their place, both are precious, and an understanding of both is essential.


A book review of Heart to Heart: Remembering Naina Devi

Legendary singer, Naina Devi was born into a Bengali Brahmo Samaj reformist family in the early years of the twentieth century. A childhood replete with music, dance, theatre and social reform gave way to the grandeur and seclusion of the life of a young queen of the Kapurthala royal family of Punjab. Despite seventeen years of silence necessitated by the norms of a royal household, she came back to music and a glorious career as a singer, arts-administrator, teacher and patron, after the tragic death of her husband.

Heart to Heart, traces Naina Devi’s incredible story as she told it to her disciple, Vidya Rao. Naina Devi’s story traces the changes in the world of Indian classical music, women singers and women in Indian society over the last century. Learning seena-ba-seena, heart to heart, in a seamless blend of music and life-lessons, Rao imbibed not just a knowledge of her chosen form, Thumri, but a sense of the very being of her teacher.

The evocative narrative weaves back and forth between historical record and memory, past and present, and between  Naina Devi’s voice and Rao’s own. It illuminates the power and beauty of music, the lives of these two women and of many others, of courage, pain, joy and love, and of the deep bond between Rao and her beloved Guru.


Engaging Sarasvati


By Douglas Mills

In Buddhism, Shri Sarasvati Devi is the consort of Manjushri. She is also closely associated with Prajñaparamita, Shri Devi, Vasudhari, Maha Devi and Durga Ekajati.

There is a temple near Bir in Himachal Pradesh with a statue of Maha Devi Durga Sarasvati which is over 500 years old. See pictures.

Fresco portraying Sarasvati, Mahadevi and Durga Photo Douglas Mills

500 year old statue of Mahadevi Photo Douglas Mills

View back to Bir from temple Photo Douglas Mills







































There are many praises and sadhanas of Sarasvati in sanskrit and tibetan in both the oral and revealed treasure lineages.
One may find sadhanas to Sarasvati in the collection of sadhanas of Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo and the collected treasures of H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche. Jamyang Khyentse Wangpo practiced a form of Manjushri and Sarasvati riding on a blue lion.

See how she is depicted in the original sanskrit :

Hymn to Shri Sarasvati.

Your manifestations thoroughly destroy the afflictions like the scent of the jasmine flower,

your appearance radiantly beautiful, shining protector

sublimely playing a beautifully adorned vina,

your body brilliant white, seated in lotus asana.

Your sacred resonance streams forth as auspicious

offerings and praises to the devas, a celebratory proclamation of purity.

Sovereign Bhagavati Sarasvati, entirely dispelling, without remainder, any lack of discernment.

I offer this hymn of praise to Sarasvati, the mighty patron of knowledge, the lotus eyed one,

wisdom taking form, distinguished queen, the very embodiment of awareness.


Her activity is described in the sadhana text as follows:
Excerpts from the sadhana called ‘The Melodic Tambura’.

Homage to You, the shining essence of resonance, the Svarasvati.

Svarasvati, Nada Bhava, (the origin of vibration),
the Devi of speech who has mastery over all resonance,
resting in emptiness,
the origin of all eloquent exposition and the tambura, care for me.

In order to fulfill one’s aspirations for the attainment of sublime intelligence and the very quintessence of resonance,
this play of the descent of supreme liberation of the vajra devi Sarasvati is set forth….

Bhagavati Vakk’ishvari, queen of speech,
through the power of my heart of devotion,
from the entire abundance of seed syllables,
blossoms this hymn of praise as an offering to your ears.

Knowing myriads of poetry,
an effortless waterfall of praises imbibes the waves of your youthful beauty.
You are the ocean of engagement,
brimming with the limitless discernment of the Jinas.

Born from unity, elegant queen of sentient beings who traverses the sky,
holding the appearance of the moon’s reflection,
light of the moon like the conch and kunda flower,
your appearance moistens a hundred answers with the vase that emanates joyous amrita,
the medicine that dispels the disease of the gradations of existence.

Beautifying like the petals of the utpala come your joyous,
lightning quick, playful glances from the corner of your eyes,
the flush of your cheeks displays the intoxication of faith,
your raga of intelligence clarifys any enquiry whatsoever.

Your lips, the lushness of bimpa petals, the very rasa of reality,
your teeth a garland of white moon pillars
and the embrace of your dancelike display of ripening knowledge
is fully supported by this effulgence. ….

Another excerpt from a sadhana called The Secret Practice of Red Sarasvati With Five Deities:

To the queen of all primordial wisdom, the devi who demonstrates the embodiment of intelligence,
bestowing superior memory and understanding, Vajra Sarasvati, my head is at your feet.

Provisional translations by Douglas Mills.

Sarasvati Photos Janine Schulz and Noa Jones

It Takes Two


Robert Spellman

Rinpoche with Robert Photo Emily Crow

Artistic practice and meditation practice make fine companions. They are mutually complementary, one illuminating what may not be apparent in the other. This interplay is useful in exposing deception, perception’s twisted sister. Drawing a simple object enhances our ability to see while simultaneously revealing how inaccurately we see. Meditation practice stabilizes the mind while simultaneously revealing how skittish the mind is. In my classes at Naropa University I recommend alternating between sessions of meditation and sessions of drawing. It is only a matter of time before the two meet, like long lost twins separated at birth.

February 5, 2012

Pewter Pitcher By Robert Spellman


Persimmon By Robert Spellman

Immateriality – intention as Art

immateriality love

Raphael Zimmerman

In the near future there will be widely recognised art forms that need no longer be object based. One could think of them as pure intention, conscious actions, interrelations, or perhaps communication. Their expanded levels of awareness could be described as “Intention being the forth dimension” or simply as Immateriality, extending our collective consciousness as well as our collective experience -making entire new dimensions (of) our own.

Despite their previous ‘non-existence’, these new dimensions are emerging into ever more popular conscious existence, not least through our participation in virtual cyber worlds and via artists deliberately creating within the freshly recognised fields of Social Sculpture and Immateriality to mention but a few.

In the beginning these consciousness expansions took the form of mental enhancement and mind training techniques fostered by the New Age Rebellion meeting with Eastern spirituality and not least through the effects of recreational mind-altering drugs combined with art and music.

Today’s Immateriality then, is becoming a valid and important art form because through its’ appreciation we are widening our self-awareness both individually and collectively. Becoming ever more aware, we enrich reality, take greater responsibility and realise more of the creative beings we are.

As Joseph Beuys said: “Each and everyone here is an artist.” Being Beuys, he was already further along the track – was already proclaiming these new fields of experience as politicised realms from where to consciously radiate out into different environments.

Art today is no longer just about imagery, or even abstract ideas, but more subtly, about greater self awareness alongside a newly linked super-awareness á la Teilhard de Chardin’s ‘third step’ in human consciousness evolution known as Noosphere.


Immateriality - Love By Raphael Zimmerman

Mixing Yin and Yang By Rapheal Zimmerman

Looking at Abstract Art Can Be Like Listening to Music By Rapheal Zimmerman

Joy By Rapheal Zimmerman

Chipping Away

Lotus by the Lake

Fiona White

Already an artist, Fiona got a yearning to learn how to carve stone so she did a course in the north west of Ireland. While on the course she went on a Buddhist meditation retreat in the southwest and was slowly more drawn into Buddhism. Through this, she came across mani stones. It seemed a natural progression to start carving them and bring together stone work and meditation. While carving the first mani stone she met Orgyen Tobgyal Rinpoche and since then she has been on many trips to Bir in India, learning what she can. Carving when she can. Fiona has a commitment to carve 100 mani stones.

The benefit of mani stones is manifold. The mantras on the stone play and interact with the elements. It is said that they have the same energy, power and blessings as the Buddha they represent. And so, in the same way as chanting the mantra, creating and looking at them, has the power to heal and transform the mind. When they are out in the open, it is like they radiate the mantra and all the energy within it

Here are some beautiful examples of Traditional Mani stones , Fiona’s work and a link to her website with a video of her beautiful studio and environment in Ireland.

Mani mantra, Photo Fiona White

Mani wall, Chokling Gompa, Bir, Photo Fiona white

Vajra Guru Mantra, Photo Fiona White

Lotus by the Lake, Photos Fiona white

The Meditative Art of Integration

Sparshe By Caterina De Re

By Caterina De Re

“It is not that there is a particular line or tradition of art that comprises ‘dharma art’,” says Dugu Choegyal Rinpoche. “It can be abstract painting, Western painting, Eastern painting, it can be music, dance, football, skiing or anything; so long as the motivation is not polluted by negative emotions, it is dharma art.”

A surprisingly large number of interdisciplinary artists engage Buddhism. Many are dharma practitioners while others are not. I believe it very important to acknowledge artists who are not spiritually inclined and yet create stunning works reflecting altruism, generosity, mindfulness, compassion and wisdom. Over the last 25 years I have been training in meditation and the process to bring art and spiritual practice together is ongoing work. Mentorship with Pauline Oliveros paved a path for me to get into the skin of being an artist and validated the importance of meditation in the creative process.

Neuroplasticity and Art Performance

Sparshe was one body of work focused on the meditating body and mind. Initially it was presented as an installation performance piece with multiple video projections including one on my meditating body. Red satin fabric and meditation cushions covered the floor for viewers. I composed a soundscape from processed field recordings of pilgrimage and my own voice.

I was a subject for brain studies and meditation at Rutgers University and so was able to incorporate into my work fMRI scans of my brain. Performing meditation while bathed in imagery that included the landscape of my meditating mind was an exciting context given my interest in neuroplasticity.

The Art of Improvisation and Spontaneity

Trungpa Rinpoche said to Allen Ginsberg, “Why don’t you do like the great poets do, like Milarepa? … Why don’t you make poems up on the stage? … Don’t you trust your own mind?”

Vocal improvisation is my forte. For a time I was focused on transforming compelling industrial spaces into eclectic collaborative events that honored place, American history, spiritual power places and my own personal Buddhist pilgrimage. One memorable multi-media performance I created was The Gasholder Stupa. It was a structured improvisation with pre-worked pieces (like videos) but a lot of the performative action was created “on the spot”.

Upstate New York has no lack of impressive Victorian buildings but the Troy Gasholder Building stands unique for its huge resonant acoustic space. There was never a full rehearsal and the entire crew came together for the first time about an hour before the show opened. The Gasholder Stupa’s success I attribute to the heartfelt support of my extremely proficient and gifted collaborators. It was a most attentive in-the-moment practice. I still marvel at the all the connections that occurred at the right time with the right folk. The Gasholder Stupa was a crazy confluence of diverse elements like music, dance, video projections, and just as diverse themes like Victorian history, Tiffany glass, spoofing, a Tibetan horn and jazz cornet duel – even a space station mission.

Another example of trusting spontaneity was a video piece, Seven Minutes. It features Linda Montano whose art practice utilizes endurance, focus and spirituality. In Montano’s work, art and life boundaries evaporate. Her seven-year performance where each year focused on a chakra is iconic in performing art history. We had engaged in many discussions about meditation, leading me to create this video. The parameter was seven minutes and filmed in a single take. Montano’s art/life patterning the chakras I find masterfully eloquent and my editing process incorporated the colors.


Working as an artist is for me a practice that constantly challenges one’s habitual states. Improvisation stretches boundaries and by its nature a process that refines awareness and openness in the spacial environment. It is refreshingly “healing” and like most avant-garde shakes up your preconceived ideas, assists opening the mind and heart, and embraces all possibilities.

Sparshe by Caterina De Re Photo Kyra Garrigue


Caterina De Re is an interdisciplinary artist using experimental vocals, improvisation, performance, video and collaboration. Performing internationally as a vocalist, she has collaborated with renown improvisers & sound-makers including Pauline Oliveros, Peter Kowald, Dennis Rea, Michael Pestel and Strafe FR. She is the first Australian to gain certification in Deep Listening – the practice of Oliveros.

Given her extraordinary vocal range, she has a particular affinity with birdsong and performed at the National Aviary in Pittsburgh and at Central Park Tropical Aviary in Manhattan. With Butoh master, Taketeru Kudo, she participated in a performance series devised by Michael Pestel called “Stray Birds”.

Caterina’s interest in Tibetan Buddhist epistemology is evident in her work with performance, electronic art and scholarship. While in Tibet, India and Nepal, she sonically and visually mapped spaces of spiritual activity that was later used in performances and compositions. She is particularly interested in the synthesis of Tibetan buddhist practice with contemporary art, especially with new media technologies in performance. For two graduate degrees this has been her field of specialization.


The Gasholder Stupa
Seven minutes

Creating a Space of Love


 While Drawing Portraits By Claudia Bueler 2011

Part 1

Art is a wonderful way to learn how to relate to people suffering from dementia. In observing elderly people during their creative process and later watching the results (aesthetics and perspective), we learn about their behaviour, their manner of perception, and the ways they handle their mental gaps. Being unable to cure the illness, we would ideally wish to be able to improve their attitude and the sensitivity of their interaction between generations: social caretakers, relatives and children and amongst the patients themselves.

As known in eastern art schools, meditation takes part of the creative process: before we even start with the art we are about to do, we sit. We generate a special moment of awareness, we feel the creative flow and we experience an empty space out of which art can be born.

Line drawing By Claudia Bueler

According to Chögyam Trungpa, having a specific intention and following a goal in art is already a form of aggression. But our minds are constantly chasing after goals, and so normally does the artist ; his result proves his skills and shows both his expression and what he wants to insinuate. In the spiritual approach to art you learn to empty yourself from the goal, from hope and fear.

Having worked with elderly people with dementia many times I noticed, that the persons seem to be able to feel whether I am chasing after a goal in working with them. I also noticed, that when I meditate before starting the creative dialogue it makes a huge difference for the encounter to happen.

People with dementia are usually not able to connect any information. The past and the future can´t be reasonably thought of any more. Consequently they are unable to follow a goal, but live very much in the present moment and can be in a state without thoughts for many minutes. There they forget about goals or conditions. A person who is willing to enjoy the present moment together with them helps them to feel safe. In this very moment we generate an open space for the aimless state of the artist before he takes up the brush.

When I am working with elderly people I draw their portraits. It takes me about an hour to finish a drawing. In this time I practice Tonglen as much as possible. Practising while I’m drawing seems the best preparation for my everyday work with elderly people with dementia. I noticed that it is easier to hold the concentration of the practice, when I meditate in the morning. The demented people seem to feel the difference as well; a feeling of mildness or loving kindness fills the space between the model and myself.


Part 2

In the second phase of the art project the drawings provide a template, which is consequently colored individually in the group. I call this setting “open atelier”, because it is open for everybody and, for dementia sufferers, there is no time limit.

The interest in looking at the portraits is strikingly high. Even people with very advanced dementia lean forward or stretch out their hands towards the portraits, and look at them for a long time. In general, we know little about the visual functions of old people with dementia.  The question, “What do you see when you look at this drawing?” is usually answered with “I don’t know.” It is better to wait patiently until activity can be seen in the old person’s eye movements. It is a matter of not asking questions that are loaded with expectation. Again it´s about letting go off goals.


Line drawing by Claudia Bueler coloured by dementia patient

In creative work, it sometimes happens that you don’t think about what you are doing and simply relinquish yourself to an internally determined direction. If you find this moment together with a dementia sufferer, there is a good chance that he or she will let themselves be carried into the process. These creative moments bring us on. The careful, intensive and extended (over a few days) work on a portrait mobilises the functions of the working memory. The senses are active and they interconnect. Associations are made. Conversations that arise now can contain clues to, or directly express, the things that move the people involved. “The Creative Flow” is as if the artist were being borne by a stream, spontaneously, effortlessly. If these conditions are simultaneously met, they forget all their concerns and even forget themselves as something separate from what was happening, and they become a part of something greater. This description comes very close to the feeling into which we in the creative group and the dementia sufferers can release ourselves together. If we switch our gaze from the so-called “deficits” of dementia across to what is possible, this atmosphere can emerge and be enjoyed. With dementia sufferers, we get to know the unpredictability and abundance of the moment. Together we experience what a transformative power the moment can have.


The spiritual seeker may wonder, why to enter into this process for demented people could be good. As we are looking for the gap, we might find it ironical to seek moments of reconnection for demented. I find that the very process of coming and going, of disconnection and reconnection is a mutual learning process. We still looking for ways to understand a dementia sufferer so that we gain abilities to create a better environment for them and learn to handle their states of being stuck in tears and negativity. It is our deep wish to be able to at least guide the suffering persons out of their momentary state, so that they have a chance to stay peaceful in this weird illness state of no thoughts. It might be an openness to love too, who knows?


Line drawing by Claudia Bueler coloured by dementia patient

In the moment in which I see that the person reading a portrait has re-awakened the motive force , I offer them paint and a brush, and assistance to help them pursue the desire to paint. The first questions before they reach for paint, “Would you like to paint, too?” or “Which colour fits with this?” can also be distractions, and that is why it is important to focus the attention on the line drawing, allowing painting to take place as if it were secondary. The reach for paint usually happens on impulse rather than after consideration. It is only in exceptional cases that people colour their own portraits; it is more usual that a portrait becomes their own only through the use of paint. The emphasis here is on the manner of painting, the brushstrokes, the selection of the picture and the duration of their focus and action, not on the choice of colour or the recognisability of the image.

After the end of the “open atelier”, there is an exhibition opening. The participants are present. In formulating the presentation, I take care to engage with the pictures in a lively way. The result is not the artistic development of an individual, but the representation of the group of dementia sufferers. I call it “A Mirror to the Encounter”. In this mirror, each encounter with the members of the group appears in its individual light and every project has its own dynamic, its own characteristic features. Originally, the presentation was conceived as an exhibition solely for the participants in order to strengthen the bonds within the group and to honour the individual participants. It is now organized as a public event.

The “Artecura Project with Portraits”, especially, delivers a contribution to the understanding of dementia and promotes dialogue with the relatives. The “art” that has been produced in this creative process deepens the general understanding for the demented person. All the faces, all the portraits, are very present to the observer. They say, “Look at me. I am here. I have a face.”

As it comes

as it is ikebanaPam Croci

* “ Man is only truly alive when he realises he is a creative, artistic being…..Even the act of peeling a potato can be a work of art if it is a conscious act.”

Joseph Beuys

Inspired by the confident artists who have contributed to this issue and with an intention to overcome my lack of same I include some examples of rustic and rusty displays that have come forth from my domestic days.
These art works will leave you with no doubt as to the dilettante nature of this “artist”. However if you too have resisted creating works because of immature ego obstacles I urge you to open yourself to your own creativity. The possibilities are endless and can require nothing more than a playful mind. For too many years I thought that the joy was just in the thinking however I have discovered that there is merit in following through and manifesting installations with whatever comes my way.

Pamela Croci


  * interview with Willoughby Sharp, 1969; as quoted in Energy Plan for the Western man – Joseph Beuys in America compiled by Carin Kuoni, Four Walls Eight Windows, New York, 1993, p. 87


Remembering Sarnath

May all sentient beings


Dharma Gar: Two articles to encourage you

Europe Dharma Gar

Taking Control of our Existence

By Jakob Leschly

What is the vision behind doing a Dharma Gar?
In general, Buddhism asserts causality – our suffering and happiness depend on our actions; and the value of our actions are contingent on the attitudes behind them. In Buddhism these actions and attitudes are seen as conditions that we can work with and change – this is very the purpose of the Buddhist path. Throughout his teaching the Buddha empowered individuals to take control of their existence and ultimately to free themselves. Dharma Gar provides the context for applying these teachings and taking control..

What does one do in a Dharma Gar?
One commits two hours every day to the practice of meditation. One meditates based on trusting the basic goodness and workability of our existence. It is a pro-active measure based on the realisation that vision without practical integration is merely a passing thought. To penetrate the inertia of our dullness we need the presence and wakefulness of meditation. Actually sitting down and meditating establishes a mental space of calm where sanity can emerge, a gap where our habitual patterns can give way to insight.

What is the purpose of a Dharma Gar?
Everyone recognises and cherishes wisdom, peace and compassion. Yet sometimes it seems that no one actually believes these can be translated into reality. Buddhist meditation challenges such a sense of poverty. Basic goodness is inherent to all sentient life and the objective of the Buddhist path is to actually manifest it. The Buddha taught so that we can claim this natural inheritance, and by doing so, consequently help to dispel the gloom and suffering of the world.

With the emergence and subsequent spread of Tibetan Buddhism far beyond its original Himalayan homelands, teachers such as Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse have worked tirelessly to promote the Buddha’s vision of basic goodness, guiding students to find peace and happiness. Over the last thirty years Rinpoche has engaged with modern audiences, sometimes teaching philosophy, sometimes being a traditional Buddhist master, sometimes being a contemporary film-maker, and sometime teaching meditation.

Dharma Gar provides the opportunity for creating a gap, a crack in the brittle shell of delusion that keeps us in the sad and painful half-life of delusion, samsara. It is a space in which individuals can become familiar with the Buddha’s vision and its application. The goal of the Dharma Gar is ultimately to be of service to the greater community. Discarding the cocoon of their comfort zone, practitioners might ultimately become inspiration for others. In the past, Buddhist practitioners and masters have brought inspiration and trust in basic goodness to the larger communities, and given meaning and value to human existence. This could also happen in the modern world.

Dharma Gar, Europe Sept 2011 Photo Anja Quathamer

Dharma Gar – do yourself and others a favour and practice more

According to Arne Schelling – Somewhere over Europe 2011

What to do, if you have the longing to deepen your practice, when you wish to go off the radar of the worldly life?
The Tibetans came up with the model of a three years retreat: leave job and loved ones behind, retreat within the boundaries of the retreat compound, have little to no contact to the outside world, and do many hours of practise each day. An extraordinary method to break through our habits, hang ups and inhibitions and ideally come out a little wiser. However according to Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche there are two problems with this method. Firstly, when going into a long retreat, you cut off the worldly life, and secondly when leaving the retreat you cut back on your intensive practice. There may be that no real integration of practise and worldly life has happened. Wow you might not even know how to use the new iphones.

So, what to do? Rinpoche has tailored a perfect way, of unifying these two lives, the introduction to the West of Dharma Gar. Dharma Gar or Dharma Camp, refers to the nomadic lifestyle of the wandering yogis, who gather for a while for a great Dharma event, and then disperse in all different directions. The curriculum of Dharma Gar is based on the traditional three years retreat, but the contents of these three years of practice is stretched to ten years of two hours meditation per day. By this we can still function in our worldly life, keeping up our responsibilities, and at the same time have a daily two hour practise on our cushion oasis. Easier said than done, since, if you are like me, you have way too many worldly commitments and distractions. But worth trying. A solid amount of cushion-on-time to have a little bit more Dharma than drama during our cushion-off-time. It is amazing how these two hours of practice make the events of the remaining 22 hours fall into place. Even from an economical point of view, these two hours of meditation make the 22 hours of post-meditation are much better, and even more efficient.. Another benefit of practicing more I have found is that you are of less annoyance to others.

Even though I am not at all a fan of advertisement, I just want to say that if you have the feeling that your life is precious and impermanent, if you have seen the uselessness and endlessness of our worldly pursuits and if you have trust in the Dharma and the Guru, do yourself and others a favour and consider joining a Dharma Gar.

Mahasi Satipatthana Vipassana


“When the Shravakayana Teachings cease to exist on this earth Buddhism is finished. So the survival of the traditions that are still practised in Burma, Sri Lanka, are absolutely important because that is the base.”

Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, Bangalow, Australia 2011

By Tara Frances (MacLachlan)

‘We practice meditation to bring peace to the world’ – so said Sayadaw U Pandita of Burma, one of the world’s foremost teachers of satipatthana vipassana in the Mahasi tradition. Sayadaw became a novice at age 12 and a fully ordained Theravadan monk at age 20. Now about to turn 90, he continues to travel widely to teach the Dhamma. In 1986, Sayadaw led his first retreat in Australia, which I was fortunate to attend; it was a watershed event both in my personal Dhamma journey and in the propagation of the practice of the Mahasi vipassana tradition in Australia. I was, as so many others, both overawed and inspired by this monk and drawn to the direct and profound Buddha Dhamma he taught. Then, providentially, some years later I was to meet Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche and occasionally received teachings from him. Clearly there were notable differences in the demeanour and form of their teachings, although what was at the heart of these two revered masters seemed not so far removed. Somehow these experiences led to a privileged invitation to share the vipassana practice with Rinpoche’s students at the second Three Year Retreat at Vajradhara Gompa.

In its pure form the “Mahasi” tradition, one of a number of vipassana meditation techniques, has three main aspects – a formal sitting practice, a formal walking practice and the refined development of a mindful observation of all other activities throughout the day. For lay practitioners the eight precepts are observed to provide an ethical foundation and support for the meditative mind training and of course this includes the seventh precept of abstaining from eating after midday – so only breakfast and lunch are provided (unless there are specific health issues that need to be accommodated). It is usual for the day to begin at 4am and continue until 10pm, comprising alternate one hour periods of sitting and walking meditation, interspersed by the meal breaks and a Dhamma talk in early evening. On retreats led by Western lay teachers this schedule is often modified to reduce formal practice hours and allow for an evening meal. “Noble silence” is also observed, meaning that verbal and non-verbal communication is restricted; conversation is limited to regular interviews with the teacher, an integral part of the retreat, and brief discussions with support staff for any practical needs that arise. It is a simple yet demanding practice that many people, including myself, return to again and again to experience the benefits.

What are these benefits? When we practise the Dhamma there may be profound and uplifting experiences and moments of intuitive understanding that provide a sense of deep faith or confidence in the Dhamma, in our teachers and practices. Conversely, we also may be confronted by many difficulties and challenges that can sometimes seem insurmountable and cause dislike and doubts to arise. The preference is commonly for the former but often as not includes the latter. I would say that one of the benefits of vipassana practice is the development of a pure heart that is open to all that arises from moment to moment.

Since that early retreat with Sayadaw U Pandita, as well as several others led by other renowned teachers, there was an ongoing and growing demand for more opportunities to practise in the Mahasi vipassana style in Australia. So further retreats were held and a number of local teachers also emerged. Around 1989 a small meditation centre dedicated to the Mahasi tradition of vipassana was established in the Blue Mountains, NSW. The Blue Mountains Insight Meditation Centre (BMIMC) set on two acres on the edge of suburban Medlow Bath continues to provide retreats of varying lengths, most commonly weekends and 9-10 days, for up to 18 people (details can be accessed on their website –

Stupa at BMIMC in Medlow Bath Photo Tara MacLachlan

Another option for the practice of Mahasi satipatthana vipassana in Australia is the Bodhi Tree Forest Monastery at Tullera, near Lismore, which is headed by the Australian monk, Ven. Pannyavaro, the founder of Buddhanet. This centre, established in 2005, offers one-day workshops and satipatthana vipassana retreats under the guidance of both the resident monk and visiting teachers, including the experienced local teacher Patrick Kearney. Bodhi Tree is set on ninety-five acres and plans to provide long-term retreat opportunities for both monastics and laypeople ( ).

There are also two senior Burmese monks who reside in Australia and teach the Mahasi vipassana practice. They conduct retreats both at their own centres and other venues in Australia, including BMIMC, as well as overseas. Sayadaw U Pandita, not to be confused with the older Sayadaw, is based in Melbourne, with a city suburban and country retreat centre ( ). Sayadaw Pannathami, who was the first resident teacher at BMIMC, is now the abbot of Panditarama Sydney and Melbourne ( ). Both these teachers speak good English and offer an experience in the traditional Burmese Mahasi style. Their city centres are suburban houses, which have been modified to provide simple residential retreat facilities.

At present, the best option for those wanting to practice long-term is to travel overseas. Personally I have only been to Burma and Nepal but there are many other international groups and centres. Two of the most well known, located in Barre Massachusetts, USA, are IMS (the Insight Meditation Centre), which runs a yearly three-month retreat, and its neighbour the Forest Refuge where a meditator can practice long term with some flexibility to customise their own retreat with the support of various resident teachers, including Joseph Goldstein a co-founder of IMS and a renowned vipassana teacher of long standing. ( ).

For quite a few years now I have been travelling to Nepal to practice at Panditarama Lumbini International Vipassana Meditation Centre ( ). As the name implies, this centre is affiliated with Sayadaw U Pandita and is located in Lumbini, the birthplace of the Buddha, a very inspiring place to meditate. It is a small centre with two resident teachers who both speak very good English – a German monk Sayadaw Vivekananda, who lived and trained in Burma for a number of years, and a Burmese nun, Sayalay Bhadda Manika. The maximum stay here is dictated by the visa allowance, which in Nepal is 5 months in any one year. This potentially means that a ten-month retreat is possible, although it does require a few trips to the immigration office for visa renewals. The centre provides healthy meals and basic but comfortable facilities for up to about 30 people. Similar to many meditation centres in Burma, Panditarama Lumbini runs year round. However the most popular time to come is during the cooler months between November and February. Meditators come and go according to their individual circumstances, staying anywhere between a few days to the full ten months of the visa limit. During the time of the rains retreat – the traditional three months set aside by the Buddha for monastics to devote to practice and study – (usually beginning late July) the teachers here continue to support any meditators who are in residence, although it tends to be quieter due to the more difficult climatic conditions.

In Burma (Myanmar) it is possible to stay for much longer if sponsored by a meditation centre – I know a number of people who have practised and studied here for several years. To practise the Mahasi vipassana tradition in Burma is of course to practise at its source and this, together with being in a devoutly Buddhist country, can make for a very inspirational meditation environment. However, Westerners can find it difficult to acclimatise both climatically as well as culturally, and the country’s politics have been a cause for concern, so it doesn’t suit everyone. I have personally visited two centres, both under the authority of Sayadaw U Pandita – one in Yangon and one in the countryside about an hour from the city. These centres can accommodate large numbers of meditators at any one time. The country centre, Hse Main Gon, is usually very busy during the marginally cooler months from November to January, when there is a popular ‘special’ three months attended by many foreigners. ( )

Other teachers in Burma who have centres that offer the Mahasi practice include Sayadaw U Indaka, Sayadaw U Janaka, Sayadaw U Kundala and Saydaw U Lakkhana – all but the first having been to Australia. At present Sayadaw Indaka’s centre is the Burmese base for the Venerable Ariya Nani an English speaking Swiss nun who has been to Australia many times to teach. She is a highly skilled and respected teacher who is generally in attendance during the cooler ‘winter’ months. (Information about these centres may be found on the Buddhanet website – )

Of course there are other traditions of vipassana and a search on Buddhanet or more widely on the internet should provide further information about these. If you have a personal interest in or have been directed to practice Theravada vipassana I hope the preceding information will be of use in finding something suitable and that your Dhamma journey leads to much peace and happiness.

Stay Curious

Interview with Sydney and Chris Jay

June 18, 2011

Sydney and Chris Jay, long-term Buddhist practitioners, are a married couple from the United States, who decided in 2002 to participate in a traditional three-year retreat under the guidance of Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche. The retreat took place at Vajradhara Gonpa in New South Wales (Australia) and, according to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, lasted three years, three months and three days. According to individually set retreat rules and boundaries, family contact was strictly regulated and shopping, novels, television and any other distractions of the digital age were prohibited.

Sydney and Chris speak openly about the benefits, as well as the challenges of being in a closed three-year retreat situation, with family as well as jobs in the world outside the border of Vajradhara Gonpa.

GV: So you have been together on a three-year retreat in Australia? When was that?

Sydney: Actually the retreat started in January 2005 and lasted until April 2008.

GV: How did this idea come up? How did you come to the point where you said: ‘Yes, we are doing it’?

Sydney: We met some people from Canada, who had done a three-year retreat. I didn’t even know that it was part of the tradition in Tibetan Buddhism. However I was very intrigued and started asking a lot of questions.
This was way back in 1998. I remember thinking, ‘Oh I could never do that.’ But I was curious and the seed was planted.
In 2002 we went to Australia, because Rinpoche was there doing a Ngöndro retreat. We heard that Rinpoche was planning to do a traditional three-year retreat and so I kind of sat there and simmered with thoughts of this … I then went to Chris and said “I think we should do this retreat.”

Chris: I couldn’t believe it when Sydney said, “Let’s do the retreat.” I thought, that there was a snowflakes in hell chance that I’d ever be able to interest her in doing that.
And it was her idea!
When we walked into Rinpoche’s house, I was sure he knew, what we were going to ask. He had this big grin on his face and when we said “Okay, Rinpoche, we want to do the three-year retreat.” Rinpoche replied,” GOOD! You are the first ones. You are in!”

GV: But this was not your first retreat?

Chris: No. We had done some retreats of one month, two months or three months back in the early 2000s. However we have never done a really long retreat. The longest we had ever done was for three months.

GV: For people with a western cultural background, how would you describe the importance and the benefit of a retreat?

Sydney: I don’t think there are enough words or the right kind of words to describe the benefit. You start your retreat the moment you say, I am going to do it. A woman who had just come out from a retreat told me, that it’s like the “you”dies. It’s a process. That “you”before you made the decision is very different from the “you” that’s moving forward. It’s this process of discovering who this person is that’s getting ready to go into retreat and then who this person is during the retreat. That’s one of the benefit’s in doing a three-year retreat. Also when you do a three-year retreat, you have the structure of the whole place, the structure of your room, the structure of everybody else there doing the same thing, and it’s a tremendous benefit to live in that kind of atmosphere.

GV: For someone who is 25 years old reading this may scare them. Because they think, this time I could go surfing on a nice island or have parties……

Chris: There is a kind of karmic connection aspect to this. When you hear the words three-year retreat or when you meet a three-year retreatant and talk about it, some people think that, “Oh gosh, I could be surfing, I could be sailing through the Greek islands” . However other people could be intrigued to the point where they see that there actually is a path where they could go as deeply as possible and as quickly as possible in this life. Also there is a timeliness to it, you know. We couldn’t do it until we were a bit older due to issues of money, children, so on and so on.

Sydney: But for everybody who goes in – no matter what the time in their life – something gets sacrificed. For me when I went in, I had one grandchild and that was a cause for a lot of my pain during the initial stages . When I talked to Rinpoche about this he said: “ Don’t worry, when you are in retreat, within six months the way you feel about that baby, you will feel about all sentient beings.” And I was like, Super! It is a beautiful thought and it really motivated me. As a result it kind of happened and I do feel differently about people. Probably not the same heart passion that I feel for my family but I do feel more open, more caring and not quite so willing to smash people with my temper.

Chris: At the end of the retreat we did a Drubchen and Rinpoche invited the media. During an interview they asked Rinpoche about the purpose of this kind of retreat. Rinpoche answered, “ Until this retreat the students, these practitioners have been dependent on the outer guru and the purpose of this retreat is that they can find their inner guru. Their inner guru will be what teaches them from now on. In the context of the guru that’s what this kind of retreat is about.”

GV: What about the boundaries that are set? Was there for instance , Skype?

Sydney: No Skype. However Rinpoche was so kind with our group. If our retreat master had decided it, it would have been nothing. But many of us had kids and some went in without their partners or spouses. Two months before the retreat started Rinpoche gave permission to have a phone. His directions were, keep it to a minimum. So we could talk, like I talked to my kids back here in the US. Nobody from the outside could come in to where we were except the doctor and the guys who mow the lawn etc. There was a house where people could go if they had visitors so retreatants who lived in Australia could have their families come and visit for very short periods of time.

Chris: I wanted stricter boundaries than Sydney did. Stricter in terms of who I could call because I didn’t want to call family members except for my mother who was 84 years of age. She was really sad when I left because she thought that she would never see me again. I wrote this in my retreat rules which are like a contract between Rinpoche and yourself. I wrote that I could call my mother every three weeks – basically to find out two things: 1) how is she doing and 2) how Tiger Woods was doing [laughs].

GV: Apart from issues with setting up the boundary and the different characters were there any other challenges directly related to practice?

Sydney: The initial practice everybody does, the Ngondro, where we had to do 100.000 prostrations was what probably gave me the most confidence in myself as a practitioner. Having the commitment of doing 400 times Refuge, 400 times Bodhicitta and 400 hundred-syllable mantras and so on within a certain amount of time, whenever you got behind, you would have to catch up. So you would never be lazy because you knew that you had to keep up. Being able to do that [keeping the commitment] gave me confidence in myself as a practitioner. But that’s only the part of the retreat where you have to count. When we moved to practices where we didn’t count it got really difficult. Settling in, doing the sadhana and doing visualization without the support of counting…..

Chris: At this point one’s neuroses are in full display: Am I doing it? Am I not doing it? oh my god I can’t do it because I am so stupid. Any kind of neurosis that one has comes right up in front of our minds. We all have these kinds of things, but when the neuroses come up we can easily project them onto other people and say ‘It’s their fault, it’s not me “ So there was a lot of self-discovery in the midst of doing Vajrayana practice. Also, a big learning for me in this retreat was to keep my mouth shut. We humans – that is, me – get in trouble with our mouths. To learn that, to see myself doing it while my mouth was open, and to develop some awareness around keeping it shut was really a great learning for me.

GV: Was there a lot of communication going on between the retreatants?

Chris: There was a main kitchen where a lot of people would get together and eat, but there were other people in cabins that would have their own kitchen. It was a very amorphous changeable situation.

GV: Was it helpful for the retreat being together as a couple rather doing it individually?

Sydney: I think for me it was really helpful because Chris is a very committed and dedicated practitioner. He was a real source of inspiration for me because I am much more emotional. I could spend a lot of time missing my children and my grandchildren and be very tearful.
I had three deaths in my family fairly quickly together from 1994 through 1997 including the death of my son (Chris’s stepson). Chris was incredibly important during that time. He took very good care of me. The most powerful learning in terms of the practice and our relationship came during the retreat because I had to take care of that stuff myself and so we learned that it is my pain, my loss just as he had his own pain and loss. Being in the retreat and having that loss came up during practice again and again–It was really healing not only for me personally but in terms of our relationship and the dynamics of that relationship.

Chris: Some people would come by and say ‘You two are so lucky that you have each other and you don’t have to go through this alone’ and it’s true (Sydney agrees). It was wonderful to be there as a couple, but I wondered if we were missing anything by being a couple… however at the end of the day I doubt if it makes any difference. I found myself by the end of the retreat appreciating how hard it must have been to go through this without a partner. But of course, as we all know, having a partner is not all that easy, particularly when the neuroses start coming up….

GV: What do you think is the essence of a retreat?

Sydney: Of course with the practice you start to become a practitioner and in the three years that’s one of the things you learn. Another thing is commitment. For me this was the biggest thing. Once I decided to go that was it and no more questions about getting up at 3:30 in the morning – that decision was already made because it was part of the commitment.

Chris: Two things. First of all to be exposed for who I am as opposed to what I think I am as a practitioner. Because it is so easy to walk in with a certain conceit about “Oh, I’m a great practitioner because I have been doing Ngondro for ten years”. But when one’s neuroses start coming up, you realise the alarming difference between who you think you are and what actually is. It’s stunning, and for me, this was really the beginning of the Path. Nowhere else can we learn this because everywhere else we get to be distracted by entertainment, or even worse, praised for being a practitioner. But here there’s none of that. You have to sit there, look at it and it can be very painful. The second thing is that as students of Rinpoche we are kind of like puppy dogs. We need our master, we wag our tail, we put our ears back and say please Rinpoche pay attention to me. To me, one essence of retreat is about moving from away that stance to begin awakening one’s own inner Guru. And, as Rinpoche told us, essentially, a 3-year retreat is a good start.

A Pilgrims Journey to Pay Homage

Trulshik Rinpoche Kudung

By Charlotte Davis, Kathmandu, Nepal

After the sad news of Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche’s passing was announced, the Vajrasattva Drupchen from Mindroling was practised here at Shechen for a week, which I attended as much as I could. They perform this Drupchen each year and I’ve come to appreciate the special energy and inspiration that comes from attending these intensive group practises. A very kind person has made a translation available, so those of us who aren’t fluent in Tibetan can engage in the practise with more understanding. This practise is also being performed at Sitapaila Gonpa. I was fortunate to have received a number of empowerments from Kyabje Trulshik Rinpche during my numerous stays in Nepal over many years, so I feel a personal gratitude towards him as well as respect for he has been the Teacher of so many of our Teachers.

On the 12th September 2011, I headed up to Sitapaila Gonpa to pay homage to Rinpoches relics, with a nun, (known as “Ani Chung-Chung” or “Little Ani”) who is from Trulshik Rinpoche‘s remote nunnery at Thupten Choling. Sitapaila Gonpa is a large new monastery, still under construction though completed in the main part, that Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche built on a mountain behind Swayambhunath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal. I heard that one of the reasons that Trulshik Rinoche located the new gonpa there is that on a clear day, you can see three of the main Buddhist sacred places in the valley: Swayabhunath stupa, Baudhanath Stupa, and Namo Buddha.

There was the usual chaos that such journeys often seem to invoke! I was assisting the young Ani (Tibetan for ‘nun’) because she has to walk with an artificial leg, due to cancer. So when we found out that the Shechen monks had been invited to conduct the Pujas we decided to travel with them.

The road to Sitapaila Gonpa Photo Charlotte Davis

At 7am we were ready and waiting on Mahankal Road. By 7:30 the buses had all arrived and off we set. The traffic was already building up and we had to alternate between opening the window to let in some air and closing it to keep out the pollution and dust. To anyone who has travelled in this area this will be very familiar. We hadn’t gone far before the first obstacle arose: we were stopped by a car that was stuck in the mud. The bus-driver then backed up and we went back to Ring Road. Again we set off up the hill this time via the only alternative route and soon met a procession of devotees travelling up to Sitapaila Gompa in taxis and cars for the same purpose, causing the ubiquitous “jam” (traffic jam). As the road became steeper, the bus driver said that it was impossible for him to travel further fully laden, so the monks all got out. We weren’t sure if it would make it even if it was empty, so we got out too. Quickly we negotiated a price with a taxi driver heading down the hill and off we set again. We were happy to see that he veered to a side road to turn around but then for some reason he decided to change his mind and instead headed all the way back down the hill until we were back at the bottom! So there we were back at the beginning at the end of the long traffic jam. In the meantime we observed the bus we had abandoned chugging its way up to the top! We moaned and complained a bit, but in the end our intrepid taxi driver pulled through, put his foot to the accelerator, charged past all the stationary vehicles until he got to the steepest part, then he backed up for the final charge to the top of the hill. Muttering “go go go!” under my breath we made it with a wing and a prayer! With lots of smiles and a sense of relief we paid the taxi driver. He went on his way and there we were looking up at the beautiful new Gonpa.

View from Sitapaila Gonpa down the Kathmandu Valley Photo Charlotte Davis

Young Ani “Chung Chung” from the Shechen Gonpa Art School is one of those very humble and sweet natured practitioners you meet here that cannot fail to touch your heart. She never complains about her affliction, the discomfort and the pain it gives her and is constantly attending our art school ‘Genla’ or teacher, Konchog, with great devotion. Konchog in turn also inspires this kind of devotion, being someone who has also spent his entire life in humble service to his guru Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and the Dharma. He too always expresses good humour in even the most difficult situations. Travelling and being in the company of people like this is always a teaching, as I am confronted with my own spoilt tendencies and selfish grasping. I am inspired to see how people who have been brought up from birth, in this ‘dharma culture’, relate very differently to their world and situations.

Back to the journey…
Ani and I headed up the stairs to the Gonpa. When Ani was recognised from Thupten Choling Nunnery and when we said we were with the Shechen monks we were ushered up to the side of the small temple where the relics are housed. We were quickly reminded as to why we were there when we saw a number of grief stricken nuns as well as a few monks overcome with emotion and sadness as they left the temple after paying homage to the kudung.

Handing out Tsok Photo Charlotte Davis

The organisation around this day, the first day his relics were open for the public to view, was very impressive. There were many friendly volunteers to help direct people and take care eg a chair was quickly found for Ani so she could be seated comfortably. I sat with the other westerners to the side of the marquee where the Shechen monks were performing the pujas. People were handed tea and bread as they arrived and later lunch was served. The weather was hot so there were water fountains and cups in many locations that were constantly being refilled with filtered water. As each person left the temple after paying homage, they were each handed a large bag of tsok. Also each person received an envelope with a photo of His Holiness, a prayer for his swift rebirth with English translation, and a small plastic bag with some of his body salts and another bag with a small piece of his cloth, as an object of veneration and devotion. So kind.

Waiting our turn Photo Charlotte Davis

When our turn came, we were ushered into the temple, where a gathering of High Lamas and guests were conducting Pujas. When I went through, Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche was seated in meditation next to the kudung. After receiving a blessing string from Pema Wangyal Rinpoche, I exited the building in something of a daze. Receiving the envelope with the precious remains and the bag of tosk we returned to our cushions and joined in with our own prayers and the Minling Dorsem Puja.

A number of the lamas, as well as ordinary people who were inspired to speak about Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche, were interviewed on live local TV over the afternoon. Although unfortunately the noise of the pujas made it difficult to hear very well, Jigme Khyentse Rinpoche recounted many details of Trulshik Rinpoche’s incredible life story. He also gave words of advice as to how we should relate to this time. The essence of the advice I heard from him and others was that the most significant thing for us as aspiring practitioners to contemplate during this time, was to take the life of such great masters as an example and that the best way to pay homage to such great beings is to put the teachings we have received from them into practice and contemplate their life example so we can try to emulate this in our own lives.

The Kudung of Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche Photo Matthieu Ricard