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The Kung Fu Nuns of the Drukpa Order

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 13, 2019

Kung Fu Nuns

Until recently, Buddhist nuns in the Himalayan region were denied leadership positions and the opportunity to exercise as part of their spiritual practice. Then the spiritual leader of the Drukpa Order, frustrated at the lack of equality for women in the region, changed that and the Kung Fu Nuns were born.

Traditionally, Buddhist nuns have not been allowed to exercise. They are forbidden from singing, leading prayers or being fully ordained. In some monasteries, it is believed that female Buddhists can’t even achieve enlightenment unless they are reborn as men.

“Everyone has this old thinking that nuns can’t do anything,” said Jigme Konchok Lhamo, 25, who has been part of the nunnery since she was 12. (Jigme is a first name that all the nuns share, which in Tibetan means “fearless one.”)

But the spiritual leader of the Drukpa lineage, His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa, has spent much of his life breaking down those patriarchal Buddhist traditions.

Gyalwang Drukpa doesn’t like “the terminology of empowerment,” he said in a 2014 interview. “That actually means that I have the power to empower them.”

“I’m just moving the obstacles, so that they can come up with their own power.”

The nuns train in kung fu and meditate for hours a day, which they say prepares them for their real duty: helping others.

They teach self-defense classes for women in an area that is known for violence against women and have biked thousands of miles to protest against inaction on climate change & human trafficking. The nuns hike to collect litter. Many of them are trained solar panel repair technicians. In the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, they provided aid to communities that other international aid organizations deemed too dangerous to travel to.