5% of all profits go to the Nangchen Nuns of Tibet
To help support these nuns who have dedicated their lives to prayer for all beings, call 866-409-6252
Quietly living in the remote plains of eastern Tibet are between 3000 and 4000 nuns who reside in approximately 30 different monasteries scattered throughout the countryside, nestled in mountain nooks. For 250 years these nuns have dedicated their lives to the practice of constant prayer, sending their love and compassion out to all of us. They are the Nangchen Nuns. These devoted women live without electricity, heat, running water or adequate medicine.
The words of Tsoknye Rinpoche III:
“These women embody the full richness of Buddhist love, compassion and wisdom in female form. It’s quite rare, I think. If this light of tradition is gone from this earth, even though we have text, the experiential warmth and blessings of this living women’s tradition will be gone forever.”
250 years ago, the first Tsoknye Rinpoche stated:
“Female practitioners are often not valued, and so they have a harder time finding proper guidance and instruction. Therefore, rather than keeping a congregation of monks, you should take care of nuns. That is your mission.” Find Tsoknye Rinpoche at www.pundarika.org.
Tara Malas – The Birth of our Non-Profit
In 2007, with the collaboration of Tsoknye Rinpoche and Sukhisiddhi Foundation, a cottage industry was created for the Nangchen Nuns of Tibet. Inventory provided by Tara Malas was taken to Tibet where local Tibetan women made prayer beads in the form of wrist malas, which were then delivered to Gechak Nunnery. The malas were placed on the prayer alter for 30 days, being infused with the prayers and blessings of these dedicated women. The malas were then sent back to the U.S., sold for $108 and the proceeds are sent to Tibet. The cycle continues. www.taramalas.org
The Story – A Journey of Global Connection and Inspiration
Little did we know that when we designed our first Tara Mala in February of 2007, it would be the inspiration for a life-changing journey to Tibet only four months later.
Within days, I learned of a fundraiser for the Nangchen Nuns of Tibet called “Awakening the Enlightened Feminine,” to be hosted by my friend Lama Palden at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. The benefit was in honor of the deity Tara, the ‘mother of compassion.’
It was then that I got to know these women who devote every waking moment of their lives to the prayers and blessings for all beings. These devoted women live without electricity, heat, running water or adequate medicine. We donated the proceeds of our new Tara Malas to the nuns — the impromptu beginning that gave birth to our non-profit. We quickly realized that the next step was to start a self-sustaining cottage industry.
Fourteen volunteers came forward and within a couple of months we put on a benefit and raised the money for our journey. Ten days later my videographer, Jeffrey, and I were on an airplane headed for Xining, China to a place that was a 23 hour drive into Eastern Tibet and didn’t have even have an address. Tango Meets Tibet Benefit – more.
Arriving in Xining
With luggage lost and nobody who speaks Engligh, we surrender to the beauty of Kumbum Monastery.
Days later, on Rinpoche’s recommendation, we move into Xining. Still no luggage, now no electricity and bad sewers. But we meet dear Tashi, our translator and Tashi Rinpoche, our angel and the blessings of it all takes my breath away!
Today, we had lunch at Rinpoche’s home. Jeffrey, Tashi and I and about 5 monks and/or lamas. We ate yak meat and lots of veggies, drank wine because Rinpoche knew I liked it — the consideration and hospitality is amazing here. Tomorrow, we will take Lama Chuying with us to Yushu. I am learning that everything that happens seems to have some purpose. Jamin tried to get us a 4th person to cut down on costs, yet what could be more auspicious than starting our journey with this wonderful, openhearted Lama! Kumbum Monastery, Xining and Rinpoche – more.
Finally, we are on the road to our first stop – Yushu
To leave the very crowded, overbuilt and over stimulating city of Xining and to nothing but pure mountainside, and then there is a tent of prayer flags joyfully blowing in the wind. Yaks cross the gravel highway at their own pace and herds of sheep and goat intermittently enliven the countryside. Tibetans works alongside Muslims doing what seems like an endless job of either repairing a road or building a road. We all become silent, sans the stream of prayer next to me that I want to inhale deeply inside of myself. After hours of driving, Tashi puts on a Tibetan CD and enthusiastically sings lively Tibetan songs. We stop for lunch at a small Muslim restaurant and have delicious noodles with yak meat and raw garlic. We feel so strange — as though we are from another planet. Afterwards, I squat in a rectangular hole — the first of many to come. The road to Yushu – more.
Our new mala maker
We spend the day teaching Tashi’s wife, cousin and another women how to make the malas. I had brought about 15 malas with me, thank goodness! We simply cut them and remade this. At least the women could learn to make them. They are better at it then I am! It’s a fun and relaxed day in their backyard and, as usual, everyone is delightful!
At lunchtime we go into town for lunch and shopping. The men in town dress in nice pants and jackets — we never see blue jeans on anyone but Tashi. Many of the women are in traditional Tibetan dress — lovely long black dresses, colorful sashes and large coral and turquoise jewelry. We take pictures of them and they love to see themselves on the camera — they are truly beautiful women who adorn themselves with care — no matter how poor. Tashi’s wife and home – more.
This is sense of dignity that seems to come from the women and they seem proud to be women. Suddenly, I want to travel all over the planet and be a photographer and photograph beautiful women — not beautiful the way we think of in America i.e. without lines or wrinkles, but beautiful in the way a woman carries herself, dresses herself and cares for herself.
The Wengchen Princess
We stop at the temple of Wengchen Princess, Chinese princes who married a Tibetan king. She taught the Tibetan culture about Chinese medicine and how to make a home. She also was instrumental in bringing vegetables to Tibet. The story goes that, if not for her, there would have been a great war. The place is amass with prayer flags and offering to her and one the mountain side near the temple is a small hole. If you can find the hole, you put your finger in it 3 times and it proves that you are a good son or daughter. Tashi says that some people can never find the hole, and are ridiculed for being a bad child. He took his wife to this place on their first date and, of course, they both found the hold and felt very blessed.
There is a blind, hunched over woman walking down the middle of the street with her cane. Tashi walks up to her and tells her she should move to the side of the road. “I am looking for the mani stone. I can’t find the mani stone”, she says. She is desperate and sad. Tashi tells her that the mani stone is in her heart.
Did I tell you how much I love Tashi?
Arriving in Shandar
Shandar is a dusty town filled with motorcycles everywhere that weave in and out of people walking. It is some kind of ordered chaos that surrounds us somewhat like a suffocating glove. Pigs and dogs and laughter and popsicles and so many men standing around in their fancy jackets in the dusty heat. Staying at Rinpoche\’s home; mapquest anyone? – more.
Rinpoche’s sister takes us to a local nunnery
We call Rinpoche’s sister who takes us to a local nunnery. Back in the jeep – she comes with us.Up the mountain we climb until we reach a beautiful monastery perched high up in the hillside. The pure, round and smiling faces of these nuns are a peaceful pleasure as they come to greet us and we enter the cool, dark building. Shoes off, pink rubber slippers on, and up the stairs we go toward the echoing of prayers and drums coming from above. The Nuns sit in long lines chanting and praying in harmony. Three nuns drum on large round drums and a single Nun walks back and forth to the window to toss out the oil from the butter lamp. We are given permission to film and they continue, without pause.
Outside again, some of the nuns gather around, looking at the viewer on the video camera, which brings great delight. I give an offering and, in return, receive a small package of blessings. It is herbs that, when not feeling well, you burn and inhale. With our hearts filled to overflowing, we say godinche (thank you) and ga show (good-bye). I have no idea how to spell these words.
The Road to Gebcheck
The rain becomes heavier and the narrow dirt road is starting to fill its potholes with puddles of water. We keep heading up the mountain. We cannot go any slower as we crawl along inch by inch. The drop is on Jeffrey’s side – a sheer cliff that seemed to drop endlessly. Suddenly the car spins. We all jump out, our feet gratefully on solid ground and look at the car which is barely on the road in its almost 180-degree turn. We are all shaken as we stand there on this barren mountain road, knowing there is nothing we can do but go forward. There is no way to turn around or even let another car pass.
On the Sky Wall . . . .
Arriving at the Nunnery!
The nun that Tashi first speaks with beckons a second nun by the name of Mingur. She seems to fly down the stairs, grabbing my hands in hers with such a force and welcoming that it seems we are long lost sisters. Her smile is radiant as she leads the five of us into the room that is usually reserved for visiting Rinpoches. There are five daybeds here just waiting for the five of us. More and more nuns come in, bringing us Tibetan tea, dried yak meat, candies and the ubiquitous bread that looks like funnel cake. They all stand around and watch us eat, or try to eat.
To be in the presence with these divine beings is beyond my comprehension. We are so very blessed. These women are pure love, openness and light. Rinpoche takes us through the nunnery, into quiet rooms filled with statues and thankas and other rooms filled with prayers from women in small boxes doing three year retreats. There is nothing here but prayer, in the midst of poverty and hardship. Life so simple, so profoundly complete. Dangzhan has lived here since she was 6 years old. More . . . . . .
Could we help build a monastery?
Coincidence? Dear Jeffrey directs large non-profit building developments for a living. I knew from the beginning that he was the person that I wanted to come on this journey with me, even though he isn’t a professional videographer. So here we are sitting with Rinpoche. I ask him what the nuns most need. He tells me that, for the 600-800 nuns that are part of this nunnery, there is only housing for about 450 – 550. They need housing! Jeffrey and I look at each other. Is this why he has come? Later we tell Rinpoche and Jeffrey begins getting information about his vision of a new monastery where all of the nuns can live and pray together.
Our malas on the altar, blessings in our hearts
Tashi and I go to say good-by to Rinpoche. Tashi asks him about the road and Rinpoche says, yes, it is best to take this other road. Tashi and I walk down the hill filled with great joy, katas from Rinpoche, packages of blessed herbs and Rinpoche’s blessing for our journey.
The beautiful Tara Malas that Tashi’s wife and cousin made are on the altar in the prayer room and all the arrangements have been made for this project to continue to thrive and benefit everyone involved here. Everything has turned out even better than I ever dreamed it could have and I feel a deep sense of gratitude and fulfillment. I know that, no matter what, everything will be OK now. Saying goodby . . .
Mr. Jain visits the prayer rooms
There is great elation when we finally get out of the car on put our feet on the land of Gebchek. Mr. Jain even gets excited with us – it would be impossible not to. Later in the day he is swept with us into Rinpoche’s room. He is later led into the prayer rooms, past the very sacred and secret places. He is adored, along with us, by the nuns. The air is filled with a hint of gaiety.