Dharmadhatu Foundation

"Transforming Self, Transforming World"
" Pioneering Culturally Appropriate Community-based development in Nepal "

Ramesh Tamang - Nepal
Oct 7 2010
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A journey of dream Story of a couple working for changing world

Bimala Lama Yonzon and Buddha Tsering Moktan married in 1993. Bimala, from the small village of Lisankhu located in the District of Sindhupalchok, in Northern Nepal. Buddha, her husband, is from the same district but from the village of Sunkhani. Both are Tamang, Indigenous Peoples of Nepal. In his youth, Buddha was exposed to district level activism when he became a member of his student union organization where he was introduced to Marxist socialist ideals. This education and exposure to Marxism and sociopolitical philosophies were new, unique, and even shocking to a young man living in a small village in Nepal. Consequently, the seeds of activism were planted for Buddha, and according to him these concepts were never far from his mind even in his early professional endeavors. Prior to marriage, Buddha worked in the thangka painting business, selling thangkas and continued to do so for several years into his marriage. In 1994, the couple had their first and only child.

In 1999, Buddha traveled to Australia to attend a thangka painting exhibition and ended up staying for 6 months, assisting a Nepalese friend with his art shop. He later returned to Australia in 2000 as an invited lecturer on thangka painting. During his second trip, Buddha explored the idea of working in Australia for an extended period to send his earning back to Nepal; he stayed for three months. In this period, Buddha's confidence increased, as his lecture had been well received. He came to realize that he had a way with words and found pleasure in speaking in front of a crowd. He reevaluated his position about living in Nepal, that he was committed to the country and that perhaps his talents could be of use there. This was quite contrary to the trend of Nepali men who often sought work opportunities and hope of a better life outside of Nepal. Up until this point, Buddha had been given the opportunity to interact with the wider world and to generate a profit while doing so. As his sales career in Thangka progressed, perhaps due to his early exposure to activism, he was not satisfied with entrepreneurship without social responsibility. Buddha recognized that the skill set he had acquired as a salesman, the gift of speaking to crowds of people he gained while lecturing in Australia and the connections he had made over the years could be focused into the endeavor of social enterprise.

As a result, Dharmadhatu Foundation was founded as an organization to respond to the social and economic conditions of historically marginalized peoples of Nepal. The personal shift in Buddha's life from a focus on profit making to social enterprise was not widely appreciated nor accepted by friend, coworkers or family for that matter. Firstly, he had to convince his wife of such a proposal that had drastic implications on their life. Once Bimala had taken to the notion of this shift in focus to the more social, Buddha and Bimala moved, jointly, moved forward towards elaborating and living the mission of DF. In its earliest incarnation, the efforts of Bimala and Buddha were to provide educational opportunities to marginalized children in Nepal, which meant for them the taking in of several children into their home.

They not only provided an educational opportunity to these young people but for some, also shelter, food and guidance in a familial environment. Among some of these young people emerged leaders who shared the same vision as the foundation, later to become team members working toward the same vision as well as stewards in their communities to promote the foundations social agenda. With the efforts of this team, DF has been able to not only expand their programs to the rural areas of Nepal, where the need is often the most but also to their partners. DF has worked with grassroots activists and rural village communities who have enthusiastically shared their expertise to enrich the efforts against the struggle against the marginalization of Nepalese as well as international partners and continue to open doors to global partnerships.

Only those who dare to dream
can change the world*

Indeed, seven years ago we were daring to dream, nothing but dream. We were not only dreaming but also were sharing our dreams while encouraging others to have a dream too. Suddenly our world had begun to change. Those students who joined with our dream have grown up. Some of them, having completed their studies have become professionals. Rural Indigenous and Dalit women who suffered from internal conflict in the country had become a part of our dream and for them we have imparted life supporting skills through training in the traditional painting of "thangka' and Utilization of this skill in hands had made them to dream of a new life, to make a life, in the consumerist societies of luminous Kathmandu. The numbers of our dream actors are increasing. The new generation of dreamers have sequel was joined DF as by working thangka artists. We, having organized door to door awareness programs, workshops, various meetings for two years uninterruptly and at the end culminating in the helping to establishment of the Nepal Association of Thangka Artists (NATA) and Kunpen Cooperatives that had helped to sustain dreams of a golden future.

Meanwhile, the world of our dream had begun to expand. Unknowingly, several aspects of our lives and world have made a home in our dream. Noteworthy endeavors include: Specially, we have launching a movement called "Struggle Against Marginalization in Nepal (SAMAN)" to help ending the suffering experienced by historically marginalized Indigenous Peoples, Women and Dalits also formerly known as untouchables. Through this movement, we have dreamed of a world that will see the ending of all kinds of discriminations and marginalization through this movement. This movement, having touched lives of so many rural peoples of Nepal, has generated a foundation that could see new dreams. Yes, we need a heart or mind to conjure such a dream. We possess Nepalese hearts and minds, and rather diverse Nepalese hearts and minds. Friends, our hearts and minds are Nepali. I am here to challenge or question the notion that our dream will be identical but how could our dreams be European, American, Malaysian, or Arabian dream etc.? Even if it is a dream, shouldn't it be of our own cultures and circumstances? Thus, we have to see the Nepali dreams from within our own cultures and circumstances. Towards this goal of constructing a truly unique Nepali dream, For which we have dreamed established "Center for Cultural Dialogue –CCD" in each of our project areas and have decided to run "Culturally Appropriate Community-based Development –CACD" projects. In accordance with these ideals, DF has begun pilot project in Makawanpur district, Shikharpur VDC, is being implemented collecting and weaving new dreams. And we appeal to all of you, to join hands together with us on the journey of these dreams.

But friends, right now, at this moment I have returned to the reality after a long journey of dream. At this moment my head isn't swinging as the head of Poet Srawan Mukarung's Vishe Nagarji. Why wouldn't the head of Vishe swing when it was Vishe who helped covered bodies and was made untouchable by the sacred proclamation of Maharaja the great? Truly my friends my head isn't swinging because I have just returned from the journey of the struggle against marginalization, created by that sacred proclamation but rather I feel a tremendous lightness of my body and mind. Friends, our journey of struggle is also the journey of self-search too. Sage Patanjali has said;

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every directions, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.

Yes indeed friends, we have just recognized ourselves, our potential selves, and have begun the movement, towards have changing ourselves and are trying to now our sites are on changing the world too. Thus friends we are calling upon everyone–;

Transforming Self. Transforming World.

Friends, likewise let's move ahead by transforming self, and transforming the world. Tathagata Shakyamuni had taught us to;

"Go forth on your journey, for the benefit of the many, for the joy of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the welfare, for the benefit and joy of mankind."

- Clarissa Bynum wrote this article as narrated by Buddha and Bimala. Clarissa worked as a volunteer for nine months helping writing and developing projects. She with her husband Piero Passacantando had also visited our project site in the rural village of Shikharpur, Makawanpur district. Piero, a Fulbright student studied Thangka painting and iconography with us and collaborated with our student artists Sherap and Dawa for an art project GEOMETRY. Their joint works were exhibited in the Siddhartha Art Gallery in Kathmandu. Piero has been helping us by getting commissioned works of Thangka painting for our student artists. Sygrun Bynum (Clarissa's mother) has been helping our students who are under the program ‘Self-help Art and Education" Program.

- DF has frequent visitors and students to coming from west to our home in Boudha Kathmandu. One of our foreigner students Talya Zemasch-Bersin from USA was in Nepal under SIT Tibetan Studies, fall 2005. She wrote this quotation in a hand made Greeting Card she made for us. Her paper "Change in Motion: Tradition, Modernity, and a Shifting Tamang Identity" focus on the work and changes made by dharmadhatu foundation.