Author: Flēra Bīrmane
What brought me to Nepal was a decision to master the skills of Tibetan sacred painting. Looking for a school of this specialty, I soon came to realise that Tsering Art School in Nepal was the only one where the secrets of this intricate art were also taught to people from other countries. Tsering Art School is a Shechen Monastery school, supported, among other Tibetan projects, by Richard Gere. The Hollywood star, a practising Buddhist, is an active champion of Tibetan independence since 1978 and a follower of the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet. The objective of Tsering Art School is passing on the skills of painting the traditional thangkas and thus preserving the unique heritage of Buddhist sacred art.
Therefore, should you find yourself in the town of Bodhnath, instead of buying one of the 'sacred paintings' which, usually somewhat faded in the sun, are sold as souvenirs at the countless tourist-orientated shops, do visit the Tsering Art School (www.tseringschool.org) with its little shop where you will find a selection of authentic works of high quality by the school's students.
The six-days-a-week study routine does not leave much time for independent travelling; however, practically all temples and monasteries in the neighbourhood and even more distant locations have become our destinations for learning purposes: as students, we visit them to study the different schools of painting. Anybody interested in exploring the most magnificent blossoms of the Tibetan Buddhist culture would find this route interesting as well: after all, Buddhism is a very visual environment. Buddhists are people who express everything through art: each story with its countless meanings is embodied in paintings and sculptures. Monks do not hesitate to create sacred art even from butter and dyes, sculpting the torma figures which are reminiscent of marzipan.
The Tsering Art School is located in the town of Bodhnath, the Tibetan refuge in Nepal which is a 20 or 30-minute drive from Kathmandu. A pair of 'Buddha's eyes' constantly watches the town from the tower of Boudhanath Stupa, a Tibetan Buddhist temple. This Nepalese wonder in the shape of a mandala is a gigantic 14th-century sacred building with a hemispherical roof. Every morning and every evening a kora ritual circuit is performed around the stupa.
Founded in the 17th century, the Shechen Monastery (shechen.org) is one of Nepal's most significant monasteries. Incidentally, if you are planning a visit to Bodhnath, you may find that the adjacent Shechen Guest House (www.shechenguesthouse.com.np) with its huge and peaceful garden is the perfect accommodation for you. All proceeds from the guest house are used to meet the monastery's needs. The Shechen Monastery is home to over seven hundred manuscripts, incredibly rare Buddhist texts, thangka originals and miniatures. The monastery also owns one of the most extensive photography collections comprising images of Tibetan art and culture, compiled over 35 years in Tibet, Bhutan, India and Nepal. The monastery also houses a philosophy school; its courses in Buddhist philosophy, sacred texts, astrology, history and debate correspond to the degrees of MA or PhD.
A forty-minute walk from Bodhnath, there is a number of monasteries set in the mountains. One of them, the Kopan Monastery (www.kopanmonastery.com), stands out with its special Buddhist educational programme for Westerners. The monastery was founded by Thubten Zopa Rinpoche, a follower of the Dalai Lama lineage. Thubten Zopa Rinpoche is the author of countless Buddhist books, and there is a library of his works at the monastery. The paintings at the Kopan Monastery typically belong to the Menri style, one of the oldest forms of thangka from which the whole of Tibetan painting has originally evolved. Vivid and vibrant colours are characteristic of the Menri style while the formal side of the image is paid less attention.
The nearby Pullahari Monastery, on the other hand, is home to some outstanding paintings belonging to the Karma Gadri style of which I myself am currently a student. This is a place frequently visited by students of the Tsering Art School in search for inspiration. The paintings are exquisitely beautiful in the smallest of details; once you are aware of the complexity of their creation, they seem even more awe-inspiring. The architecture of the monastery itself is interestingly reminiscent of the Japanese construction style. The monastery is located high in the mountains: you would be hard pressed to find a place steeped in more profound and unswerving peace.
Founded as recently as in 2009, the Drikung Kagyu Rinchen Ling Monastery is quite new. It was at the Rinchen Ling Monastery that my mother became the first Latvian Buddhist nun. The Kagyu school has always been famous for its great masters who spent most of their lives in caves, dedicating themselves to solitary contemplation and meditation. The head of the Rinchen Ling Monastery Nubpa Tulku Konchok Tenzin Rinpoche is a great master of meditation who leads a number of serious retreats. Nubpa Rinpoche is also the patron of Lapchi Caves, one of Buddhist holy sites where Milarepa, one of the most famous Tibetan yogis, attained Enlightenment during a single lifetime.
The village of Pharping with its renowned Asura Caves is located not far from the outskirts of Kathmandu. Dark, black, covered in symbols and lit by candles, the Guru Rinpoche meditation caves are one of the main destinations for Buddhist pilgrims. You can also see someone's hand impressions in stone here... Perhaps they belong to the guru himself.
A religious centre - the Vajrayogini Temple - is set a stone's throw from the caves; Hinduism and Buddhism live side by side here. Vajrayogini, the female embodiment of Buddha-nature, is revered by all schools of Buddhism, as well as by Tantra which, in its turn, is embraced by Buddhists and Hinduists alike.
Namo Buddha is a significant Buddhist pilgrimage destination; it is also home to one of the three main Kathmandu stupas. The place is fabulously beautiful and a number of meditation shacks are available here. According to the most colourful of Namo Buddha legends, it was here that Buddha in his previous incarnation sacrificed his body for a tigress to feed her cubs. The local Thrangu Tashi Yangtse monastery features some recently completed Karma Gadri style wall paintings.
Unlike the chaotic cities, the sacred buildings here are well-maintained and constantly renovated. After each monsoon, the local people donate money for the whitewashing of stupas; they are also willing to get involved in the actual work. The Kathmandu market, on the other hand, is an epicentre of chaos and squalor.
Swayambhunath, the second largest stupa in Kathmandu, is known among tourists as 'the Monkey Temple'. The place is indeed swarming with monkeys. The mountain-top stupa was erected two thousand years ago when the Kathmandu Valley was actually a deep lake. According to a legend, a lotus flower was blooming in this place, in the middle of the lake. As the lake dried out, the lotus flower transformed into a temple.
Nagarkot, the village of the fabulous sunrises and sunsets, is a mere 30 kilometres from Kathmandu: an incredibly peaceful place, ideal for contemplating the silhouette of Mount Everest.
The Peace Pagoda in Pokhara is a Japanese gift to Nepal symbolising friendship between nations and world peace, an ever-topical idea. The city of Pokhara itself is a very beautiful place with a lake flanked by mountains; for many people it is first of all the starting point of their Annapurna challenge or the numerous trekking routes of the vicinity.
Thangkas are painted on very fine fabric, using authentic techniques. The image is painted, starting with the blue tone and then gradually going back intensity-wise tone by tone. The painting is created by drawing fine lines with a very fine brush.
AKarma Gadri style painting; a Menri style drawing
Keywords: Tibetan sacred painting, Nepal, Kathmandu, Bodhnath
oh really you will beparfect artist....