Art at the Kag Choede Monastery

by Pete Makela

“By simply relaxing in this uncontrived, open and natural state, we obtain the blessing of aimless self-liberation of whatever rises.”

                                                           – Kabjey Dudjom Rinpoche

Through the ripening of karma and by magical synchronistic events, I found myself winning a raffle ticket in February, which would send me to Nepal and start my current Journeys.

Pete Makela

Pete Makela

The raffle was organized as a fundraiser for Hector Marcel’s organization “The 108 Lives Project.” Hector, 10 other volunteers and myself traveled to Nepal and volunteered at numerous schools and orphanages making connections, giving and receiving love and joy and being of service.

As the project’s trip was drawing to a close we traveled from Kathmandu up to the magical land of Mustang to volunteer at the 600-year-old Sakya monastery of Kagbeni. 2800 meters high and much of the medieval town is still inhabited. It really is a place of enchantment.

After a few days everyone had to go back to Kathmandu and fortunately I was able to stay and work on murals with the young monks.

When it comes to art, I have serious apprehension to the word teaching. In my understanding everyone is primordially a powerful artist and creator, some may just not be as aware of this because of lack of encouragement and opportunity to express themselves unabashedly.

Learning color theory

Learning color theory

Monks preparing walls for painting

Monks preparing walls for painting

With this understanding I tried to have as little influence as possible.

Young artists

Young artists

On the first day of the project I gave all the boys pieces of paper and asked them to draw an animal or plants or whatever they wanted, and out came dragons, monkeys, kangaroos and sparrows. Normally shy and reserved boys were smiling and creating exuberantly, and using their imagination to make some very free and inspired work. The original idea was that every monk would make a drawing, which he then would draw on the wall and then paint. For the first two weeks I would come in the afternoon and I would help a few of them draw their images on the walls. I was always very happy to see that when I left each day the creative process did not stop. When I would come in each afternoon there would always be new surprises and usually in multiples, 6 Tom and Jerry vignettes would emerge, or a huge Spiderman, or a dragon attacking Mickey Mouse.

Classroom 2

Classroom 2

There are 32 monks at Kag Choede Monastery, from age 4 to 16, and they are receiving an excellent monastic education and are very fortunate to have great teachers and role models, but boys will be boys regardless of the environment, and a sign of real intelligence is mischievousness. The young monks who I enjoyed working with the most were the ones who were the “troublemakers”, the ones who embodied the Tom Sawyer nature, sneaking around slyly, playing practical jokes, and just looking like they were up to something, but with a pure heart. In public events or upon first meeting them the boys were very reserved and stoic, but in the monastery they were very lively and animated and full of fun and joy.  This inquisitive lively nature kept the project moving interestingly, especially when enamel paint was involved. Whenever there was an obstacle or set back there would always be monks who were there to offer help or a laugh. An energy of disciplined fun and optimism not attached to the result permeated the whole atmosphere and it was a great lesson and experience to be apart of that resonance for over a month.

The gang is all here, the boys and I in front of the Gonpa

The gang is all here, the boys and I in front of the Gonpa

The understanding of impermanence and nonattachment are very much understood and lived by the boys, there are no personal possessions and no real clinging. It was a beautiful thing to witness kids enjoying candy or drawing or games without attachment and without tantrums when the enjoyment stopped or when someone lost their turn.

As Kabjey Dudjom Rinpoche beautifully said, “ Since pure awareness of nowness is the real Buddha, in openness and contentment, I found the lama in my heart. When we realize this unending natural mind is the very nature of the lama. Then there is no need for attached, grasping, or weeping prayers or artificial complaints. By simply relaxing in this uncontrived, open and natural state, we obtain the blessing of aimless self-liberation of whatever rises.”

One of many dragons

One of many dragons

This is precisely what I saw in the young monks at Kag Choede, and it shows in their art. Hopefully they continue to draw regularly and their drawings will continue to show this pure awareness. To have been a part of this was a great blessing and teaching, and I was so impressed that when I have boys one day of my own I will be very proud to have one of them study in a monastery in Nepal.

I look forward to getting to know these young monks more in the future, and being able to watch them progress into inspiring Khenpos, monks and bodhisattvas that work and live for the benefit of all sentient beings.

Walk back from Muktinath

Walk back from Muktinath

Down in the valley

Down in the valley

Classroom 1

Classroom 1

Free draw

Free draw

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