Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Anything You Can Do . . .

Kung fu nuns
Nuns practising kung fu at the Druk Gawa Khilwa Buddhist nunnery in Ramkot, Nepal. Photograph: Simon De Trey-White/Eyevine

"None of us shrieked in fear or crouched on the floor crying. We moved quickly, dodged falling pieces of the wall and escaped."
"Community duty is also a form of spiritual exercise, and our strong limbs are now trained to work hard and for long hours."
"Kung fu is not meant to attack people or fight with them. It prepares you for enduring difficult situations, like this earthquake. It is also a form of meditation because it helps us concentrate, keep our minds still and body nimble and light."
Jigme Konchok, 21, Buddhist 'kung fu' nun, Kathmandu
Buddhist nuns practise kung fu at Druk Amitabha nunnery in Kathmandu.File Photo: AFP
Buddhist nuns practise kung fu at Druk Amitabha nunnery in Kathmandu.  File Photo: AFP

But the women at this 26-year-old nunnery excel at other occupations viewed as the gender-specific monopoly of masculine skills, particularly in the monastic order. They have learned to do plumbing, electrical fitting, computers, bicycle riding, speak English, and pray just as well as any monk who prides himself on practical and spiritual skills such as these. And with those skills they exit their Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery to offer their services to the villagers living below.

All the more so since the devastating earthquake that shook the western valley of Kathmandu, inflicting violence on the nunnery just as it did other buildings throughout the area in the Earth's cataclysmic upheaval in Nepal. None of the nuns was crushed, became injured, died as a result of the building's response to the tremblor. Though the windows shattered, staircases collapsed, and doors rattled as walls buckled, the nuns leaped to their own salvation.

And they were inspired by their order and their considerable acquired skills to help in providing aid to victims of the deadly earthquake. Structural damage to their sanctuary was assessed and the nuns determined that their duty lay in looking beyond the nunnery for the moment, to offer assistance to those whom they felt required it far more than they did. And so, every day, wearing their distinctive maroon robes nuns travel to nearby villages to give aid.

They help to remove the rubble from people's shattered homes, to dig up, salvage and return objects to their owners, and to clear trails and pathways. These nuns are living examples that traditional gender roles need not necessarily spell out the manner in which women should tend to womanly chores of a menial nature, leaving to men more overtly masculine tasks, including occupying positions of influence and power.

Before the quake: The Druk Gawa Khilwa nunnery in Kathmandu teaches martial arts and meditation to empower young women
Before the quake: The Druk Gawa Khilwa nunnery in Kathmandu teaches martial arts and meditation to empower young women -- Photo, Mail on Line, India

The 300 nuns have refused invitations for evacuation assistance, to ensure their safety. Their self-confidence and self-reliance leads them to use their energy and their skills to help others. The leader of the Ladakh-Based Drupka order, the 12th Gyalwang Drukpa, stated: "I was expecting the nuns over there to be under trauma. Many people were saying that they should be evacuated but they decided to stay back and help others.
"It's raining continuously, earthquakes are repeatedly happening, the walls are falling and none of them can go back to their rooms so they have had to camp in the garden. Despite all these problems, they are willing to help." They are not called the "Kung fu nuns of Kathmandu", after all, for no reason. They began their training years ago, in anticipation of responding as they have, to situations such as this.

They use the ancient Chinese martial art for many reasons, not the least of which is meditation. But they also engage themselves deeply with a sense of obligation, in community work, campaigning as well against toxic waste, and are exponents both in voice and in deed for women's empowerment. They have engaged in walkathons to protest the prevalence of plastic products and the wastefulness of thoughtless everyday life.

They are the "kung fu nuns of Kathmandu".

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