Thanka Painting

gardri @
GARDRI — 20 years in Russia


Marian van der Horst-Lem

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 Andy Weber, 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 direction.  The 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 Gelug's 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 six hundred 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).

For beginning

Gega Lama (dge dga' bla ma)

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 the Netherland). 

See Gega Lama's book Principles of Tibetan Art” (in two volumes, 1983, Dharamsala's edition) on BDRC.

For beginning

Thangla Tsewang (thang lha tshe dbang) 唐拉泽旺

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 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.

new! Biography 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. 2006  

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 gods.
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 current life.
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 auspicious sign.
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 Norbu.
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 metals.
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 traditions.
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 Tsewang Norbu.

For beginning

with Marian van der Horst-Lem (Moscow, Russia, 2011) See YouTube

Interview was taken in Buddhist Gar under Moscow (Pavlov Posad) during the traditional Summer retreat of thangka painting.

For beginning

with Marian van der Horst-Lem

(Kaluga retreat centre Buddha's Place of Enlightenment, under Moscow, 2009)

Together with 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 Scotland.

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 Palden Beru…
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 everything.
Question: Did Gabi find the participants of the retreat?
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 waterfall.

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, more time.
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 Enlightenment"?
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 possess?
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 other things.

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 Lama.

Question: How old is he?
Answer: He is a young man, I think, not yet thirty, 27-28.
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?
Answer: Continue the way you do, I would say.

For beginning


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