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Echoes Of Empowerment KUNG-FU NUNS
When you first hear the name, you can find yourself asking – can the two even go together – Kung Fu and Nun? There is no mistaking that the nuns of Druk Gyalwang Drukpa nunnery outside Kathmandu are special. As the first order of nuns in the world to be practicing Kung Fu, they have a sense of fulfillment as their founder Gyalwang Drukpa was known for challenging the status quo, believing that Buddhism and the nuns should engage with the world and have equal opportunities.
And rising to the challenge is exactly what these nuns have achieved. Not only by breaking free of traditional and socially perceived roles that a nun is expected to adhere too by practicing Kung Fu, but also championing gender equality, physical fitness, creating awareness of environmentally friendly ways of living, and promoting respect for all living beings. These nuns have been taking Kung Fu to the world, literately and metaphorically.
In September 2016, 500 nuns completed a 4,000 km bicycle ride from Kathmandu to Leh in India to raise awareness on human trafficking occurring in remote regions of Nepal and India. After the 2015 earthquake, the nuns learned that many women in impoverished villages were being sold to human traffickers. In a vast journey the nuns stopped in villages sharing messages of gender equality, offering medical care, meeting with locals, government officials and religious leaders, all the while also persevering in their practice of Kung Fu.
Grand bike rides are not the only long distance mission that these Kung Fu nuns have embarked on. On a mission to raise environemt consciousness, the nuns go on a yearly Eco-Pad Yatra which involves a 400+ mile trek on foot to educate communities on the importance of clean water and removing plastic waste from the environment. Nun Jigme Konchok Lhamo emphasized how actually being out there and physically cleaning the environment and talking to locals along the way has made the greatest difference. She spoke about how many people were just not aware of the environmental damage caused by plastic and they are unaware of the right way to deal with it, she shared
These Kung Fu Nuns are more than just talk; they walk the walk by living by the environmental messages they offer to others. Their home at Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery is being developed as temple for clean and sustainable energy underpinning modern living influenced by Buddhist philosophy. The Nuns are engaged with the building and running of this campus community from communications to solar power generation.
From July 7 – 13 this year, the Kung Fu Nuns will be holding their very first women’s self-defense workshop in Ladakh, India to support #StandwithNomoly. #StandwithNomoly recognises the bravery it takes to speak out against sexual abuse and the right of every girl to have an academic and work environment free from fear and sexual harassment.
Being a Kung Fu Nun is anything but dull. 23 year old Jigme Konchok Lhamo has been a Kung Fu Nun for 11 years. She is a Kung Fu captain and runs the technological aspects of the nunnery. As you would guess the life of a Kung Fu Nun requires discipline and motivation, however, aside from practice, meditation and running the campaigns for a better world, their lives continue to be even more action packed.
A typical day at the nunnery begins at 3am with meditation, puja (prayers) in the temple, breakfast at 8am, cleaning the temple 9am, attending various classes which include a selection of English and Tibetan languages (10am) and musical instruments and theatre. Noon time is for lunch, rest time 2pm, further classes and self practice until 4pm followed by tea break (*Note the nuns do not eat after lunch). 6pm free time followed by Puja, 8pm is another tea break followed by Kung Fu practice until 10pm followed by bed time.
The nunnery accepts women from all different walks of life, shapes and sizes, the oldest being 60 and the youngest nine years old. Konchok joined the nuns as a 12 year old inspired by the teachings of His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa and messages of women empowerment. She maintained there is no previous requirements or specifications required to become a nun but “you need to have allot of motivation”.
“I have been given the chance to do everything. I am very lucky to have the chance to be a part of the nunnery learning meditation, Kung Fu and promoting awareness of gender equality and eco-friendly ways of living.” Kung Fu Nun Jigme Konchok Lhamo
A particular moment that stays in Konchok’s memory was the period following the 2015 earthquake when they travelled to offer relief. They were received warmly by local villagers as the nuns where often the first to reach many remote villages impacted by the earthquake. “We carried all our supplies and equipment on our backs, walking through landslide prone areas and feeling aftershocks from the earth quake”.
Konchok believes in women empowerment and hopes that “one day girls will receive equal opportunities as boys”. The Kung Fu Nuns of Druk Gyalwang Drukpa nunnery are training, walking, operating and spreading the messages and values needed to heal the world. In many societies women have been disadvantaged, underprivileged and reduced as possessions; it is as if we have forgotten that women are givers and providers of life and whose ability of strength, love, care, management and protection surpasses that of males, and some would say comes more instinctively.