Do not take lightly small good deeds believing that can hardly help,
For drops of water one by one, in time can fill a giant pot.
The Sutra of the Wise and Foolish.
Messages arrive in many guises often bringing unexpected results. This certainly is true of a request made by Tsoknyi Rinpoche from whom I, as well as many have had the fortune to receive numerous teachings over the years. This unanticipated invitation brought me to Chobhar Nepal, half an hour outside of Kathmandu where the Tsoknyi Gechak School, directed by Fionnuala Shenpen is educating nearly one hundred young nuns. In 2011 very unexpectedly eighty-two little ones arrived on Rinpoche’s doorstep from their home village Nubri in search of an education, a scarcity even today for girls in northern Nepal. Rinpoche wishes to provide the nuns with a secular education as well as train them in the Tsoknyi Lineage begun in the 1800’s in Nangchen, Tibet by the first Tsoknyi Rinpoche during a time when very few women had the possibility of studying and practicing Dharma.
Rinpoche’s request was both simple and difficult. He asked if the creative process could help open the nuns’ minds allowing them to view their worlds from differing perspectives. I was uncertain how to proceed as I had only taught art on the level of Masters of Fine Art and never to young minds. Luckily I decided to join the ten-day Drubchen and sitting within their female mandala gave us time to meld together before art classes started.
On the first day I decided to see if they were able to handle an open expanse. By this I mean I decided not to give them direction. They had received many arts and crafts lessons creating marvelous things but had always worked within given perimeters. What I wanted was for them to explore their own imaginings. With this in mind I asked them to sit quietly for five minutes allowing images to flow through their minds without blocking anything. I then gave them one white A4 size sheet of paper plus a pencil and asked them to draw what had come to mind. The results were remarkable. There were no inhibitions! They all sat and drew without any hesitation or judgment as to good, bad or indifferent. It was all pure joy! I then gave them colored pencils and their worlds came alive. I did have to teach them the proper use of the color pencil, how to bear down so the color was rich and full. Also it was important that they took time to complete the drawing that was started, but certainly these were small details as they gleefully brought their creative worlds to completion.
After the first day I realized that the nuns had the possibility of helping themselves right in the palm of their own hands and the idea was born of offering these remarkable drawings to Rinpoche’s international sangha, creating an interdependency between the little ones and we who come to hear wisdom teachings from Rinpoche. The Tibetans call this tendrel—a magical interlocking web connecting all. Each day I asked if they would draw a symbol and then create a surrounding world of their own choosing. A bodhi leaf, lotus, OM and finally using the five buddha colors we did hand printing which naturally was enormous fun but rather difficult not to get paint on their robes. This is especially important as nuns traditionally process only three robes.
The worlds they created are those of all young girls everywhere: Mother, father, brother, sister, chickens, rainbows, butterflies galore, the sun, the school with snowy mountains behind. One even drew the Little Mermaid and another a Bollywood lady of bangles and bright red sari. We all had a marvelous time!
I then went to Shechen Monastery in Kathmandu to sit in the drubchen that was already unfolding. Upon offering the white scarf to Dilgo Khyentse Yangsi Rinpoche, he asked where I was from and after being told that I had missed the beginning of the Drubchen because of teaching art to Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s little nuns in Chobar he explain, “My uncle! How is he as a teacher?” the response came spontaneously: all-accomplishing compassion. The next day the first of the nuns’ drawings was offered to Khyentse Yangsi interlocking this magical web of creative generosity.
The nuns through their own creative efforts are now able to practically contribute to their personal welfare. This is very special, as we all know. Who would have thought that simple unaffected drawings created on the hilltop in Nepal by those who have very little in the material sense could beam such joy to we eating in the dining room of the Gomde retreat center in Denmark after hearing Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s teachings. These are small gifts of Open Heart Open Mind.
Tsoknyi Gechak School is part of Tsoknyi Gechak Ling Nunnery which includes a Shedra and a three year retreat center. The main temple is currently under construction and in the future will house an international meditation center. To date the entire project has been funded by Tsoknyi Rinpoche’s international students, the school in particular is sponsored by Rinpoche’s UK and Malaysian sangha. You can follow the nuns activities on Facebook or by contacting Julie Green.
Photos by Martha Boyden. Share this Post
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