Marian van der Horst-Lem lives in
Nijmegen, the Netherlands. Before her meeting with Tibetan culture, she
specialized in the fabric painting. Marian was strong impressed by Buddhist
murals in Indian caves.
She said about herself, “After
the middle-school I got an art-education on the academy of arts, in
techniques like glass-windows, mosaics, sculpture and textiles. For me
it was always important to meet spiritual contents and meanings, found in
symbolism. On my way to Buddhism and travelling in the East and West
(Ireland) I found Celtic interwoven motives — eternity-knots, based even on
symbolism of ciphers. I met beautiful mandalas in many different
cultures which brought me intensive fascination and satisfaction.
Still there was a longing for even more spiritual contents. In Nepal and
India and later in Tibet I found my way and goal.”
So in 1984, she began to learn the Tibetan art under guidance of
the English teacher of thangka-painting in Mangsar Style. After two years,
he advised Marian to try continuing the study with Tibetan master. Therefore, in 1986, she came to Belgium to course of Gega Lama, who became
the main her Teacher, and during eight years she studied under his
third her Teacher is
Sherab Palden Beru the Tibetan thangka artist from Samye Ling, Scotland.
Now more than seventy thangkas are drawn by Marian, one of them
Refuge Tree had needed three years for its painting. Also Marian took
part in mural painting in Copenhagen Dharma Centre and others.
In 1993, Marian was invited to
Ukraine, Kharkiv, for
teaching of thangka-painting (firstly by Lama Ole Nidal), in 1994 to Russia,
St. Petersburg, since this time
she visited Russia just every summer. So in general, more than
Buddhists took part in thirty retreats during 25 years, from Russia as well as from Ukraine and
other republics. Also all the year round Marian teaches the thangka-painting
in her homeland and twice a year in Germany (Frankfurt and Berlin).
Gega Lama (1931-1996) was not only
outstanding master of thangka-painting but also a sculpture, founder of
ritual things, dancer and singer.
He was born in the village of Rinchen
Ling, Eastern Tibet. At his eight he began studying Tibetan calligraphy with
Lama Drontsay and at eleven entered the monastery Chokor Namgyal Ling at
Tsabtsa where he studied Buddhist doctrine, dance, painting and music. Gega
Lama's first painting teacher was Lama Chokyong. In 1947, at his sixteen, Gega Lama became a student of the greatly respected painting teacher,
Thangla Tsewang (1902–1989). Gega Lama remembared about his Teacher,
“From a young age, he was very talented, filled with a deep desire to create
representations of the Buddha's body, speech, and mind. He became
famous and had many students. Without showing partiality, he developed their
various talents with many different methods of teaching. Being a
good-humoured man, he made many jokes, and there was always the sound of
laughter among his students. He had a vast knowledge of the Dharma, so
he could unerringly specify the characteristics of the different deities,
peaceful or wrathful forms, the categories of the higher or lower tantras,
the Sarma or Nyingma viewpoints, and so forth. He was also recognised
as an emanation artist, thus being an artist of exceptional ability.
Together with his students, he worked unceasingly on his paintings from his
youth till the age of eighty-five.”
By the age of twenty-two, Gega Lama was recognized as an
artist in his own right. In 1959 he fled Tibet as a result of the 1959
uprising and settled in Northern India, Darjeeling, where he rebuilt the
body of diagrams and methods necessary to the painting of Tibetan thangkas. Gega Lama and his wife Rinzing Chodon (born in 1943, she was a student Gega
Lama) had two children: a daughter Yangchen (born 1966) and son of Tharphen
(born in 1973).
Further years Gega Lama lived in Katmandu,
Nepal; there he worked in his studio and tough students — he put much effort
in their education. He was the director of the Department of Fine Arts
in the University of Rumtek in India. Gega Lama painted many thangkas for
Beru Khyentse Rinpoche, Kalu Rinpoche, Dhingo Khyentse Rinpoche, etc.; in 1991, he built big Namgyal Stupa in Manduvala village, Indian Lingtsang,
in memory of lama Ogyan (1933-1990); also he created a lot of
handcrafts such as vajras and bells, statuettes and other ritual things.
In 1978, 19th May, His Holiness the Sixteenth Karmapa Ranjung
Rigpey Dorje (1924-1981) entrusted the Gega Lama to extend the Gardri
traditions to the Europe. Gega Lama conducted few thangka-painting retreats in Yeunten
Ling, Belgium, and
taught this art to Western students. These eight-year courses included
the iconography, practice of drawing, technology and works with colours;
five-year students tough drawings of mandala, creating sculptures,
consecration of statues, construction of a Chortens, calligraphy.
Advanced students had opportunity to work together with Gega Lama and his
two assistant teachers Rinzin Tcheudeun and Temba Rabgay.
In 1980s — beginning of 1990s, Gega Lama made frescoes in the
temple in Yeunten Ling, the great Buddha statue behind the chateau and the
other one in the stupa, also the statue of Kalu Rinpoche, the 25 golden
thangkas and the many others that can be seen in the Centre — are so many
examples of the perfection and great mastery of his art.
Gega Lama had many students from Tibet, India, Nepal and Europe, but only
few of them become the masters: Jamyong Singye in California, USA; the of
Gega Lama’s son Tharphen, who now in Amsterdam, and nephey Karma Lingthang
in Kathmandu; Bruni Feist-Kramer in Germany; Marian van der Horst-Lem in
Nijmegen, the Netherlands.
Nowadays Gega Lama's son Tharphen
Lingtsang continues his father's life-work and conducts thangka-painting
courses in Europe.
Gega Lama’s book “Principles of Tibetan
Art” (printed 1982 in Belgium and in 1983 in Dharamsala, India) is the indispensable guideline in Tibetan
iconography. In the foreword of the book, H.H. Dhingo Khyentse
Rinpoche says, "This is a book on the bodily proportions of sacred
figures, one of the branches of the manual arts, a division of the
traditional technical sciences which form one of the five main fields of
knowledge. These illustrations are the work of the Lingtsang artist
Gega Lama and they are authoritative, having as their ultimate sources the
Sutras, Tantras and Practical Instructions. This first publication of
these drawings is certainly trustworthy." This beautiful book was reedited in 2014 by Gega Lama’s son (in
See Gega Lama's book Principles of Tibetan
Art” (in two volumes, 1983, Dharamsala's edition) onBDRC.
Thangla Tsewang (1902-1989) was born in 1902 in
the region of Arap in Derge Palyul in Eastern Tibet. Gifted from an early
age, he studied painting and sculpture under two accomplished Gardri
masters, Wari Lama Lodro, who excelled at drawing, and Payma Rabten, a
holder of the Karsho lineage, who excelled in coloring. Beginning with this
extensive training in the arts, Thangla Tsewang spent his entire life in
ceaseless creative activity. The previous H.E. Tai Situ Rinpoche, Payma
Wangchok Gyalpo, once said that his paintings were so good as to be fit to
be installed in shrines without being formally consecrated. It is said that
whoever viewed his work, whether they were discerning or not, found the
forms illuminating and in accord with the import of the sutras and tantras;
his work was considered authentic by all.
From book: D. Jackson. A History of
Tibetan Painting. 1996. p. 327-328
The senior painting master at the Derge Tibetan school until the late 1980s
was Thang-bla-tshe-dbang (1902-ca. 1990) of A-khri in Derge district. He
studied first the Old sMan-ris under A-khu bKra-rab at dPal-spungs. When he
was fifteen, he was instructed by Kah-thog Si-tu Chos-kyi-rgya-mtsho to
study at Kah-thog, in addition to other subjects, the sMan-ris tradition
under Gru-pa Phur-bu (Chab-mdo Phur-butshe-ring) and 'Dzing-lha 'Jam-dbyangs.
In 1926 when painting the murals in dPal-spungs with Kar-'brug, he mastered
the sGar-bris together with the theory of iconometry. After this he was
often praised as a “magically emanated artist” by the great master 'Jam-dbyangs
mKhyen-brtse chos-kyi-blo-gros (1893-1959).726 He worked for many
years for the dPal-spungs Si-tu sprul-sku not only as artist, but also as
secretary responsible for important, elegant compositions.727
Under Si-tu at dPal-spungs he painted many thangkas and also oversaw mural
projects. Then he became secretary for the 16th Karma-pa (b. 1924) and
stayed a long time in dBus province.728
He experimented in different styles. He painted a set of the Sixteen Elders
in a Chinese style, as well as a watercolor or ink-wash painting of Mi-la
(mi Ia chu ris ma). He also painted a portrait of his patron dPal-spungs Si-tu
Padma-dbang-mchogrgyal-po in “the style of foreigners” (i.e.
Western-art-inspired realism).729 In addition he is said to have
written a brief history of Tibetan Buddhist painting.730
In 1952 he was responsible for drawing in a basically Old sMan-ris style
(with some sGar-bris affinities) the originals of some twenty-three figures
carved onto printing blocks at Derge, including images of the Sixteen
Elders.731 He himself commented that the printing blocks and
murals at Taranatha's monastery of Jo-nang rTag-brtan-phun-tshogs-gling were
similarly in an Old sMan-ris style that had affinities with the sGar-bris.
His murals at dPal-spungs, however, were in as Gar-bris style, with
landscape and coloration in a Chinese style. He was the chief painter also
at the building of the g.Yung-drung lha-khang at Derge in 1982.732
During the Cultural Revolution he was able to save many precious objects
from destruction. In more recent times he took responsibility for the
renovation of dPal-spungs, and he taught many students who are now capably
working on their own.733
Thang-bla-tshe-dbang's students include painters who left Tibet and became
prominent artists in their own right. The painter Shes-rab-rgyal-mtshan of
the Beru family (now at Samyeling center, Scotland) was a student of
Thanglha-tshe-dbang before Gega Lama's time. He was from the rNam-rgyal-dgon
monastery in lDankhog, northwest of Derge.734 Another important
sGar-bris master of this period was bKra-rgyal from Nang-chen, who trained
several gifted students before his death in Rumtek, Sikkim.
THE RECENT KAR-SHOD-PA
The Kar-shod-pa style also continued to be cultivated in Khams. Since at
least the early 18th century this Karma-sgar-bris style seems to have been
an eclectic fusion which selectively included both Old and New sMan-ris
influences, in addition to the predominating impulses from the sGar-bris.
The painters Padma-rab-brtan and mGon-po-rdo-rje were two Kar-shod-pa
artists of the early 20th century whose names are still remembered by living
tradition. (On them see above, chapter 11.) Other recent artists who were
influenced—at least in part—by the Kar-shod-pa tradition in the 20th century
included the Gling-tshang artist Gega Lama's teacher Thang-blatshe-dbang (b.
1902) of Derge dPal-yul, who learned coloring from Padma-rab-brtan of the
Kar-shod-pa.735 But the latter also learned the Khams New
sMan-ris and a more orthodox sGar-bris.
726 Ibid., pp. 88f. See also dKon-mchog-bstan-'dzin
(1994), pp. 125-27, who sketches the life ofThang-blatshe-dbang. According
to the latter authority, p. 126, he was born in 1902 at dPe-war-chu-nyin
near Derge, by the banks of the 'Bri-chu. In addition to his practical
studies, he learned the theory of bzo rig (proportions, etc.) from mkhan-po
mKhyen-rab (dBon-stod-pa 'Jam-dbyangsmkhyen- rab, 1889-1960s, who was second
mkhan-po of the rDzong-gsar seminary, tenure ca. 1920-1929).
727 Gega Lama, Bodhnath, March 1995, recalled that when he first went to
study under his teacher Thang-blatshe-dbang, the latter was at work writing
Kong-sprul's biography. He was not only a great artist but also very learned
in the literary arts and as a scribe. He worked on important occasions as
scribe for the Si-tu sprul-sku, such as when it was necessary to write
official letters with ornamental poetical contents. Gega Lama was amazed to
see his teacher keeping up a steady banter of jokes and other light-hearted
remarks with his colleagues while he was at work composing the biography.
But he never made mistakes while writing—he seemed to be able to do two
things at a time.
728 dKon-mchog-bstan-'dzin (1994), p. 126.
729 Ibid. On p. 131 he mentions some other Western-style realistic paintings
in the rTag-brtan-mi-'gyur phobrang of the Nor-bu-gling-kha that the 13th
Dalai Lama commissioned.
730 dKon-mchog-bstan-' dzin (1994), p. 112, mentions as his source for the
history of the sGar-bris the work Bod kyi ri mo 'byung tshul cung zad gleng
baby Thang-bla-tshedbang, a work that is otherwise unaccessible.
731 According to Gega Lama, Bodhnath, March 1995: Some of
Thang-lha-tshe-dbang's drawings were carved onto blocks at dPal-spungs, such
as of the Shangs-pa bKa'brgyud rTsa ba gsum (i.e. 1. bla ma, 2. yi dam, and
3. chos skyong). At dPal-spungs the printing blocks for deities, etc., were
kept at the Upper Retreat (Ri-khrod gong), i.e. at rTsa'i-'dra Rin-chen-brag,
where many blocks for printing Kong-sprul's written works were also kept.
732 Thub-bstan-phun-tshogs, pp. 88f.
733 dKon-mchog-bstan-'dzin (1994), p. 126.
734 Gega Lama, Bodhnath, March 1995.
735 Gega Lama (1983), vol. 1, p. 36.
741 Rang-dge bsTan-'dzin-yongs-'du of Khams-pasgar, interviewed by Veronika
Rouge, India, Sept. 1971.
742 dKon-mchog-bstan-'dzin (1994), p. 122.
of Thangla Tsewang
from book published by Thangla Tsewang's
Tibetan students (Collection of Tanglazewang. Authors: Konchog Tenzin,
Yontan Tsering, Dodril. 2006)
See on BDRC: Collection of Tanglzewang.
Translated by Реmа
Wangyal, edited by Michael Sheehy
Thangla Tsewang was born in 1902 in the Derge region of Kham near the
Yangtse River in a village called “Bayrawab.” In 1907, when he was six years
old he began to study chanting with Ancho Gonpo and without pen or paper, he
began to teach himself how to write. As a young man, be herded horses for a
living. While he was working, he would constantly have visions of warriors
riding horses waving victory-banners as they traveled through the sky. Later
in life, he was told that this is the eighth dimension within the world of
Having heard from his uncle at an early age about the distinctive arts of
thangka painting taught at Pelpung Monastery, the seed of wishing to paint
was planted within his mind-stream. As a child, Thangla would paint and
carve monkeys, elephants, and various animals on rocks wherever he went.
In 1911, at the age of ten, his uncle Sonam gave him an illustration of the
progressive stages of meditation and the four great protectors. This
inspired him to begin painting and when he visited Pelpung Monastery and saw
a painting of the Buddha, he immediately began to paint it. As he painted,
he depicted the Buddha as yellow. His teacher later explained to him that
this yellow Buddha was a previous impression that he had carried into his
In 1913, at the age of twelve, he received novice vows from Khenpo Tsewang
Paljor at Pelpung Monastery. Although he studied ritual arts and general
Buddhist studies, he spent most of his time painting. Knowing this, his
mother and his uncle Thangla Norbu offered an abundance of gifts, and
requested the great doctor and architect Washul Lama Lodroe to tutor their
child. This led to Thangla apprenticing with Washul Lama every morning and
evening, conducting his chores during the day. During the summers, Thangla
and his master would travel to the mountain sides to gather medicinal
flowers and herbal plants in order to grind them into pills.
As a young man, Thangla’s uncles were also his teachers. When he completed
painting twenty thangkas, his uncle Thangla Norbu decorated them in colorful
silk brocades and hung them on the temple walls. Also, Thangla studied
closely with his uncle Lama Sonam Norbu who bestowed upon him the single
essential instruction that liberates everything.
At the age of fourteen, Thangla started to study grammar from Jamyang Chokyi
Gyaltsen, a master whom Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche and Palden Khyentse Odzer
Rinpoche received guidance instructions. In 1916, when he was fifteen years
old, Khatog Tsitu Rinpoche Chokyi Gyaltsen was invited to Derge. On the way,
Thangla’s family invited him to their home. At that time, Khatog Rinpoche
saw Thangla’s thangkas and was impressed. Khatog Rinpoche then asked his
family to send their child to benefit from the great training in thangka
painting at Khatog Monastery, and assured them that he would be provided
for. Upon meeting his new teacher Jamyang Sertag Phuntsog at Khatog
Monastery, Jamyang Phuntsog was painting the Khatog lineage masters — a very
At Khatog Monastery, Thangla stayed with Khatog Rinpoche and studied with
Sertag Phuntsog. He also studied epistemology and philosophy with Khenpo
Kalu. After two years at Khatog Monastery, Pelpung Rinpoche requested that
he return to Pelpung Monastery. Once he returned to Pelpung Monastery, there
were many scholars including Tai Situ Rinpoche and Drongnyi Tsewang Rinpoche
who asked him to attend formal education in the Buddhist College. After he
finished his studies of Madhyamika, Abhidharma, and Prajnaparamita, Thangla
went into a three-year meditation retreat.
During retreat, he primarily practiced the red and white forms of Vajryogini,
the profound teachings of the Shangpa Kagyu, and the Six Yogas of Naguma. He
also practiced the essential empowerments, oral transmissions, and guidance
instructions of the Karma Kagyu that he received from his uncle Thangla
In 1921, when he was twenty years old, he completed his retreat. That same
year, his uncle Tangla Norbu suggested that he enter a dark retreat on
Kunrig (Buddha Vairochana) and Mitrugpa (Akshobhya). Although this was
granted, Situ Pema Wangchuk also requested him to paint a new Kalachakra
temple and a hundred-thousand Vajrasattva statues. This was considered
important because due to the wealth at Pelpung Monastery, painting materials
of the finest quality were brought from India.
In 1922, when he was twenty-one, he received the bodhisattva vow along with
many other empowerments and oral transmissions from Situ Pema Wangchuk.
During that same year, he wished to receive the full monks vow but was
advised by Pema Wangchuk to reframe for receiving it because he was a
painter who had to handle valuable materials such as gold and precious
In 1926, while remodeling the Maitreya temple inside Pelpung Monastery, he
worked with the famous architect Gelong Kardrug. From Gelong Kardrug, he
received instructions on numerous customs of the Tibetan architectural
In 1956, the political climate within China began to affect the Kham region
of Eastern Tibet. With the rise of upsurges from Khampa rebels, Atrungbu and
Atri Solponpo came to Pelpung Monastery to invoke monks to join them in
their rebellion against the incoming Chinese forces. At that time, Tangla
Tsewang said that because the Chinese are so powerful, it is impossible to
defeat them. He said that it is better to escape to India in order to
prevent further violence and a worsening of the situation. During the next
year, the Chinese Communist Army infiltrated the Kham region, killing
everyone who participated in the rebellion.
In 1957, the Democratic Transformation Movement began in Kham. Lamas,
wealthy merchants, and scholars were imprisoned and the Chinese authorities
forced them to confess their allegiance to the Communist Party. Khangtri
Tsewang Gyurne and many others were beaten to death. Almost one-hundred
people were imprisoned and starved. Among these one-hundred, only two
survived. While imprisoned within Pelpung, Thangla painted simple images for
the Chinese officials and was granted greater leniency than other prisoners.
Because other prisoners were illiterate, he was asked to serve as their
scribe. Thangla attributed this good fortune to his karma and skillfulness.
In 1958 and 1959, the Chinese began communes within Kham. All of the land
and farm animals were confiscated by the government and no one was able to
maintain any personal possessions. At that time, Thangla worked as a farmer.
In 1960, a famine began in Kham due to the Chinese occupation, this time,
Thangla was requested to design and draw plaques for the Chinese reward the
evening under surveillance. During system for those who participated in
accord with die Party line.
In 1961, the political situation in Kham slightly changed. Thangla worked
with Jelag Karma Phuntsog and Lugla Karma Sherab in order to rebuild the
main temple at Pelpung Monastery. Thangla was then appointed the Religious
Representative by the Chinese Communist Party and while in office, he
traveled to Dartsedo three times in order to meet with other representatives
and play his official role.
The Cultural Revolution began in the summer of 1966. The Red Army destroyed
religious objects including monasteries, books, printing houses, stupas,
antique reliquaries, and ancient cultural artifacts throughout Tibet. The
Red Army looted the precious gems, gold and silver, taking them to mainland
China. During the Revolution, Thangla along with others undertook the
dangerous adventure of hiding various precious relics in the mountainsides
and local forests. Once the political situation had changed, he retrieved
these hidden relics and returned them to their monasteries.
When people asked him how he did that, he replied that since he was regarded
as a painter and was asked by many Chinese guards to paint for them, he was
able to remain friendly with the local guards. This allowed him to sneak
into monasteries without getting caught. When asked if the Chinese officials
paid him anything for his paintings and decorations, Thangla simply replied
that his payment was not being beaten or killed.
Thangla also copied Chinese calligraphy and paint the words of Mao on city
walls. In 1976, when Mao died, the Cultural Revolution officially came to
end and the political climate changed entirely. From 1977 onwards, Thangla
taught thangkha painting and poetry along with The Way of the Bodhisattva to
many young Tibetan students. After the Revolution, he also began building a
College of Buddhist Studies at Pelpung Monastery, but due to overwhelming
obstacles, this project was not completed.
In 1981, when he was eighty years old, Thangla along with the assistance of
Tashi Tsering who was the Head Director of the National Bureau of Sechuan
Province, opened a Tibetan School in Derge. This school was structured
according to the nonsectarian approach to education and included studying
Tibetan culture, religion, the arts of painting, architecture, and herbal
medicine. Due to Thangla’s efforts, nowadays many of the most influential
and renowned scholars, officials, and artists are educated in this school.
Until Thangla was fifty years old, he served as the regent architect and
painter of Pelpung Monastery. During his entire lifetime, he accomplished
more than one-thousand thangka paintings by himself, and he completed over
two-thousand thangkas with his students. Now, many of his works are
preserved in the Derge Printing House.
Although he did not have the magical power to transform rocks into gold,
Thangla Tsewang Norbu’s magical power subdued disturbing emotions with
mindfulness and awareness. Thangla always said that those who study the
Buddha’s Sutra and Tantra teachings for a long time, and who cultivate their
mind are the true representatives of Buddhism. He was also a follower of
reasoning, and this is why when having to choose between a reincarnate Tulku
and a learned Khenpo, Thangla would always choose the Khenpo. Thangla always
said that to know if someone is a real Tulku or not, look at their
mind-stream and not their title. This was how Thangla Tsewang Norbu embodied
the Buddha’s teachings. These days, there are very few lamas like Thangla
with Marian van der Horst-Lem (Kaluga
retreat centre Buddha's Place of Enlightenment,
Marian in interview took part her students: Alla Fadeeva, Zalina
Toguzaeva, Vadim Gudkov and Kristina Popova. Moscow, 2009.
Question: In the beginning we would like to know, of
course, how you started to paint thangkas, who were your first teachers. We
know it, of course, but…
Answer: I was an artist; I was educated as an artist.
But I was never really satisfied, there was always lacking something.
Happily, I found, by my traveling to India, thangka and Buddha, than I got a
possibility to study by Andy Weber, so he was my first teacher. I studied
some weeks during some summers with him and then he said: "You go to a
Tibetan master, you have to go. I don't teach you anymore" and he did not
give his reason. So we found each other, I found Gega Lama. He came very
late, because he intended to be at the beginning of July in Belgium, and by
the end of August he was not still there. Only a few days were left, so I
had two or three days together with him. He gave me some things to do so
that I could draw at home to practice. I bought the big book, "Principles of
Tibetan Art" by his hand. It was available at that time.
Then, also I went to Scotland to Sherab Palden Beru two or
three times, something like that. It was a Buddhist center, Kagyu center.
There I painted on a big thangka, one of a series of several thangkas for
the big gompa, each of them 3 meters wide and about 2 meters high. In
Scotland I painted a big thangka. And he knew I was a painter already. I had
to prove myself as a painter so I painted a ball; I shaded it, something
like an orange. I made it very natural. And he said, OK, you can paint.
It was funny because Sherab Palden Beru could not talk
English, he could only say "Good night", or "Good morning", so he could not
teach us with words but he taught us in a different way, and it was
amazing what we learned. I went several times to Scotland for many weeks and
visited then also Andy Weber who lived in the lake-district very close to
Question: And how did you get to know about him?
Answer: Andy Weber told me that there was a big need
of thangka painters in Scotland. You can go there, you don't have to pay
there; you can stay there and help them. So I went there several times. And
I went every year to Gega Lama, during eight years. And I was amazed: he had
so many students, twenty at once — at one course, at one summer. Very, very
few happened to be a painter: I see only two people, three people at most,
who became professional painters. Then I thought: you must have the karma,
all the situations have to give you the possibilities, enable you. So this
is not a very big story.
Question: So, your teachers were Andy Weber, Sherab
Answer: …and Gega Lama. Gega Lama was my main teacher.
But Andy Weber put me on the path; he gave me the initial instructions
during the first years. He taught me also how to prepare the gold, it was
very important. He was really a very good first teacher, he is a very good
person, and I still like him and visit him when he is in Holland.
Question: Tell about your first coming to Russia.
Answer: Funny, in fact I was not invited, but Bruni Feist was
invited, she is also a thangka painter, one of the three students of Gega
Lama, who succeeded to be a thangka painter. Ole Nydahl invited her two or
three times. And one time, in 1993 Bruni and I were painting a big
wall-painting, the wheel of interdependent links, in Denmark and Ole was
there and invited Bruni again. But she did not like to go to Russia for
teaching, and then I said I could go. Ole was glad. He organized it. And the
first year they sponsored the whole course, so the group did not have to
pay, but the German Kagyu group did it. Gabi was responsible, she organized
Question: Did Gabi find the participants of the
Answer: Yes, she found sponsors and organized the whole
course. Don't forget that Ole's Russian students did again and again ask for
someone teaching on thangka-painting. And it was the first time. And it was
funny here, because at that time I moved from one house to other house. It
was in the beginning of February, and in March we were in Denmark, and Ole
agreed that I would come. And then I was just at home, and the telephone was
just attached to new connection, it was seven o'clock in the morning. And
there was a ring, and they asked me: Marianne, could you come to Russia? I
went for the first time in my life to Russia. And I was gone; I think it was
June, or July. And also that year my mother was ill and died. Yeah, every
year I came, except two years: my husband became very ill in 2002 and asked
me not to go, and the year after his death I also did not go. So since 1993
I came and this is my 14th time.
Question: What development has happened within these
14 years, what has changed in Russia, in students?
Answer: The first students I still have: they are
Tanya, Misha, Natasha Machs. I still meet them, and they have contact with
me. I saw in the beginning that the financial situation was very poor. I
remember that during some years people could hardly pay for the course. And
I remember — especially Ukraine, don't remember the name of the place — Phowa was there. Ole had just been there, and they organized my course
immediately after the Phowa. I saw that there was a very bad financial
situation. And they have even hidden some students, so that no one knew that
there were some extra students, and they took the food extra so that to take
to them, and they shared the bed, and so on, that kind of situation. The
official office did not know that there were some extra people. Of course,
the organizer of the course knew. But those who gave the building, the food,
and so on, they did not know. And especially Ukraine, it was so poor. I
remember that it rained heavily, and it rained down the staircase, like a
Also Vika from Saint-Petersburg was there. I have been to
many places: several times to Ukraine, I have been in Kalmykia, between the
Caspian and the Black Sea, in Buryatia, Saint-Petersburg three or four
times, Moscow I think now eight times, at the Ladoga-lake, in the North-West
close to the Finnish border. And we lived in the place of the woman, she was
connected with the Hermitage, she was a photographer, who photographed for
the catalogues and so on, for the Hermitage. And it was the first time
Larisa translated for me.
Question: And it is interesting, did such material
problems, limitations affect somehow the works, the style?
Answer: Let me say, that Russian people are very
devoted. Very active, they want very much to learn, and put much effort.
Most of the time most of them were working until two or three in the night.
They could not be stopped, so they continued and continued. Sometimes I came
in the morning, and some of them were sleeping over their work! I had never
met such enthusiasm. I don't know till when they work here, I have not seen,
not so long, not very late, I think? (Till one — two...) Aha? I didn't know.
And I also remember that in the beginning I had to buy some materials like
brushes and paints (Windsor and Newton) in Holland — the students ordered
for them and I brought them with me. And now everything is available. Is it
so? Can you buy every colour?
(Zalina and Alla: There is nothing here! We were lucky
when we painted Dorje Chang, we managed to buy the colours we have never
seen in our life. That's how the blessing works! And now, ther is nothing
there again! But we think the situation will change. We remember how we were
looking for glue all over country, and now it is available everywhere. Misha
and Tanya told us that they were looking for some paints in garbage, since
there was lack of paints).
And now I think all Russia is comparable with this special
region of Moscow, and even to Holland, to the West. Of course, I lived in
many-many different houses, but I think the last years I lived in more
luxurious houses; at first I experienced very small apartments with very
small space. In the beginning I was amazed, how many people could fit into a
small kitchen two by two, let me say. And also I noticed the sense of
solidarity, though the level of life was so low, that people who could not
pay for anything were sustained by others who also did not have so much
money, they paid for those, so that they could learn. And what I also liked
was the contact ability: people touch each other; it is not done in our
country, almost not. I remember the banya, where people washed each other — hair, and so on. It was astonishing! I did not get used to it at all!
Question: And such a question: which qualities are
developed by thanka painting?
Answer: Because you have to use the Six Paramitas, it
has a big impact on your life! It takes you a lot of time, you need long
time for sky, and sometimes you are fourteen days only on one sky. So you
give your free time, and also you need patience — a lot of patience. You
need enthusiasm; you have to stay on, to continue the process. And you need
to put effort in it, because it is not always easy. I remember the
situation, when I had to finish a big thanka, it was so hot in my studio,
sweat covered all my body, and I had to put something beneath my hands so
that I would not lose sweat on the painting. And there was really effort I
put in it. And then, you need concentration, of course, lot of
concentration. You have to find pictures, you have to look in books, be
attentive. You have to invent many things. Wisdom is expressed in such a
way. So I'm shaped by that, I'm shaped by those paramitas. And, besides, of
course, my spiritual practice. I got for painting different initiations,
e.g. one needs to have highest Annutara-yoga-tantra initiation when you have
to paint a deity in that category. It all has to go in combination.
I remember, my teacher Gelek Rinpoche asked me for a big
thangka, I remember I was sitting in America in his house, together with
him, and no one else was in the house. I asked him: what could I paint next?
Do you have an idea, because I did not know. He said: "Oh, you paint a field
of merit". I said: "You don't mean the big one with all the figures on it!"
He said: "Oh yes, I mean it". So, sometimes he was in Holland, and I asked
him, could you please pass by and look if I'm doing well. He was there. I
remember that there were people from everywhere: from Taiwan, Malaysia,
Germany, Holland etc., about ten people were in my studio looking on the
thangka, and he was sitting there and he was explaining. It was very nice.
He visited my house, and they all looked at my thangka with all those people
around. Sometimes I asked him to come, and he said: no, I don't come, I
don't come. But I put some pressure on it. I said: "I need some support".
"You have support all the time", he said. And when I was painting, a Tibetan
person was standing behind me. A woman saw me in a vision, a clairvoyant.
Clairvoyant means such a person who sees more than normally is seen. It is
clear view. It is more a spiritual experience, when you see extraordinary
things. There are some people who have a gift to see more than normal
people. A special woman saw at a certain moment in a dream that I was
painting a big painting, and that behind me a Tibetan person, so he was
guiding me, a man was observing my thanka painting. She saw that. Behind me
there was a master, a man was guiding me in the backside. That lady was a
friend of a friend of mine. She told her: do you have a friend who is making
a big painting? And then my friend said: yes, I know someone. And she said:
a Tibetan is behind her to guide her. So, sometimes things happen.
Question: Was it when you painted the Refuge Tree?
Answer: Yes. And also the Tibetan master was in my
house, and he had a look at the painting from behind.
Question: How long did it take you?
Answer: That thangka took me three years. I consider
that period as a kind of three-year-retreat.
Question: And how long does it usually take you to
paint a thangka?
Answer: It depends, of course, on how big it is,
normally it takes six weeks. And ...) I paint six hours a day, five days in
a week. So, thirty hours a week. I think one thanka will be six times thirty
hours… About hundred eighty hours. And when it is bigger, I need, of course,
Question: What is now main occupation for you — painting or teaching?
Answer: Both supply each other. So, I like to teach,
and that will be possible till I'm very old. But whether I will be able to
be a thangka-painter for more then several years again — that
is a big question. May be, hands will be trembling, or eyes will be bad.
Until now it goes well.
Question: Do you mainly paint by order or for
yourself, for your friends?
Answer: Mainly I am asked to paint a certain thangka;
but now, with these financial bad times, I also experience the recession.
When I have no request then I paint something that I liked to paint already
earlier. In that way I painted e.g. the Kalachakra and a Vajra Yogini in her
light-palace. And I have recently painted Machig Labdron, which I also
wanted to paint for a long time. It is for the Chod practice.
Question: And such a question: this is the first time
that the retreat on thanka painting is held here, in the retreat center near
Kaluga. How do you like the place, which is called "Buddha's Place of
Answer: Now I like it very much. I even prefer it to
Kunsangar, the first time I liked it very much. But last year there was a
big group of 200 dancers, and there was so much noise. But here I like the
nature very much, the landscape. I have never seen such a lot of flowers. So
beautiful colours. And all these hills. And I think it will be a very nice
center. I heard that a big temple will be built here. And of course, you see
only beginning here, but you see how many people are here, especially at the
weekends, how crowded the bathroom is, and shower, you hear the water all
the time. I am sure there will be big differences in some years.
Question: Which qualities should a thangka painter
Answer: He must be devoted, have Guru devotion,
because without it nothing is possible. He must be humble, not having that
much ego. Certain ego is necessary, let us say, it is not ego, but it is
more feeling kind of self-estimation, that you are able to do it. And as a
teacher one has to be convincing, you have to study yourself, you must know
what you tell, to be able to give people knowledge, to give new things.
Money should not be the main reason to paint. It is nice when you earn some
money with it, but when you feel that there is someone who needs a thanka,
and there is not so much money, you just give it or they pay a little money.
And also one should be loving, because if there is no love and estimation
for someone, than you judge on good or bad work. You know, that even a
drawing or painting is not that good, you see that someone put effort in it;
so you must have love and compassion. And you should diminish your needs
because of others also, because it is really sometimes tiring — to teach day
after day, after day. And there is not so much time for yourself, to do
There was a time when Gega Lama was giving teachings on
what is the function, the duty of a teacher towards his students. And he
explained at least two hours. The main thing he said, that teacher, when he
is still alive, he is and stays the main for his/her students. When a
student will be able to teach the teacher will say: you can start with easy
things and I will tell you when you can overtake my duty. So with that in
mind I was always a little bit… I felt bad about it, I never asked his
permission, although I was asked by my teacher my teacher Kyabje Gelek to
come to America already four times. So I was asked by my own teacher but I
never asked Gega lama so I wanted his permission to teach myself. And I
remember that a friend of mine, she went to Katmandu and she asked me should
she take something for Gega Lama; so I had some presents for him, I wrote a
letter, I let it to translate in Tibetan, and she took it with her, and she
took also a bunch of papers — translation of some chapters of his book,
Gega's book. In Russian — I still have those chapters at home. So she took
it also with her; in that letter I asked Gega Lama: do you think, can I
teach, because I do already and I feel bad about it, that kind of thing. And
my friend-made took some pictures which showed that Gega lama was reading my
letter, and it was seen he was already very ill, and he would not live very
long after it. Then, after some weeks, after two weeks I got a letter, he
sent it from Katmandu, and he said: if you are asked for one person even,
then you have to go. That is how I asked his permission. By him I got a
teacher's name that is painter's name. Tashi Palmo, the one who has an
abundance of capacities. It is very beautiful. And than after two or three
weeks, I think, he died. I was just in time. I would have had a very bad
feeling if I would not have asked in time. But he was so careful, he also
was talking with so much love about his own teacher. And he showed also how
important it is — the lineage, and how precious it is, to have a lineage.
A woman from Holland, she went regularly to Gega's studio,
and there should have been eight or ten people working every day. Lakshmi
was her name. She was very young, she was eighteen, she had very long hair.
She wanted to be a thanka painter, and she went to Katmandu and stayed there
for half a year. All men, the male painters were making jokes on her,
pulling her on her hair, because she was the only woman there. Then she met
Gega's son Tharphen, and he at that time did not want to be a thanka painter
at all, he wanted to go to America and earn quick money. And because Lakshmi
he became a thanka painter. And they are living in Holland, they married,
they have two boys. I met him on the 3rd of July in Amsterdam. They had
there an exhibition. He is a very sweet man. He is e very kind and gentle
man with many capacities, maybe he is around the thirties. So, because of a
Dutch woman he came to Holland and became a thanka painter. He teaches now
in Belgium, in the same place where I got teachings from his father, Gega
Question: How old is he?
Answer: He is a young man, I think, not yet thirty,
Question: May be your children or grandchildren will
take over you?
Answer: Oh no, for sure not. My daughter is not
interested at all; my two sons are also not. Though everyone has a
Buddha-statue and a thangka in the house, but no one will take my stick. And
I suppose no one in Holland. I have no idea about it. I try; I do my best to
find someone. I had a very good student, but she died of cancer some years
ago. And there was also another woman, who was very much interested in
thanka painting, but she also died of cancer. So I think that son of Gega
Lama… At least the lineage will continue.
Question: We hope that it will never be broken. Thank
you very much that you come here to us year after year. May be you want to
make some wish or to give a piece of advice to your Russian students?