Kung Fu nuns and dragons

By Punya Srivastava

May 2014

A visit to the Druk Amitabha Monastery, Kathmandu, and meeting with His Holiness, opens up a new window to the world of Tibetan Buddhism for Punya Srivastava



We should never forget the importance of women and children in society,” said His Holiness, the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, sitting in his spacious and ornately decorated room, strewn with thangkhas and mandalas. We were at the Amitabha monastery, one of the grandest of the Drukpa lineage of Buddhism. Belonging to the Kagyu lineage of Tibetan Buddhism and known as the ‘red hat sect’, the monastery celebrated HH’s birth anniversary  on March 11. HH is said to be the 12th reincarnation of the Indian Buddhist saint Naropa who named the lineage after dragons (or druks) followed by a sacred dream. The weeklong event started with the Phowa retreat, a Vajrayana Buddhist meditation practice that is described as ‘the practice of conscious dying’. Around 15 to 20 thousand people attended the celebrations rich with various cultural programmes and Buddhist rituals. The confident young nuns gave a presentation of their Kung Fu skills, followed by the traditional dragon dance.

Indeed, the Druk Gawa Khilwa nunnery, home to the Kung Fu nuns, a first in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, is receiving much recognition and appreciation across the world. It accommodates around 300 nuns who came from Ladakh, Darjeeling, Kalimpong, Kinnaur and Lahaul, Spiti.

In dialogue with the media on the occasion of his birthday celebrations, HH was at his candid best flight, “Mahatma Gandhi’s teachings are deeply embedded in my heart. He said that we have to give the space and chair to women, and I think we did a good job of creating awareness about the importance of women in our community,” he said. HH has been the moving force behind the drastic change in the way the order traditionally approached nuns. “I am giving these young nuns the opportunity to be self-reliant. Many of them are training to be general physicians, dentists and eye doctors. Many from our nunnery are sent to Malaysia to study acupuncture, to Delhi for studying medicines, and to Europe too,” he added.

He started the Druk Gawa Khilwa nunnery mainly with the motivation to lift up the status of nuns in his small community. HH does not want his small community of nuns to suffer the social or cultural discrimination that has existed
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