Morning Session Webcast from the Gönpa of Merigar West on July 6, 2017
On July 6, 2017, in the Temple of the Great Contemplation at Merigar West, a whole day was dedicated to presenting the activities of the Shang Shung Foundation, the International Institute for Tibetan Culture, with its eight seats all over the world.
The new director of the SSF, Oliver Leick, opened the meeting by stating that all the bodies of the International Community, including the SSF and ASIA Onlus, are part of the vision of Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, its founder and spiritual leader. The first conference on Tibetan medicine in the West organized by the Dzogchen Community in 1982 could be considered the ‘cradle’ of the founding of the SSF.
Oliver then went on to speak a little about the history of the organisation. At the beginning most of activities were related to medicine, and then the translation and publishing of books, through Shang Shung Edizioni (Publications). After the inauguration of the Shang Shung Institute, as it was called previously, with the visit of H.H. the Dalai Lama, the SSI organized conferences on Tibetan language, and gradually activities related to Tibetan culture began to manifest in other places outside Italy.
He explained that according to Buddhist tradition there are five fields of science or knowledge. The first of these is art in its many aspects: with traditional forms such painting, calligraphy, and sculpture, and then Yantra Yoga, Vajra Dance, and Khaita being the art of the body. The second field of knowledge is language. The SSF started with Congresses on Tibetan language and currently has courses for qualified translators to translate Dzogchen texts in addition to courses for beginners and intermediate level.
Next is medicine and in this field, particularly in the USA branch and later in Russia, they have been working with Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo to successfully set up a 4 year training course on the Tibetan medical tantras.
Then there is logic, represented by the SSF IT department and digital archive. The 5th science is inner knowledge, which is linked to training Santi Maha Sangha teachers authorized by Rinpoche, who can offer their knowledge to the Dzogchen Community and people outside it by giving public talks, conferences etc.
Oliver also mentioned that the SSF has an international board of directors consisting of Yuchen Namkhai, Julia Lawless from the UK, Kiril Shilov from Russia, and Oliver Leick who is the director.
In 1989 the Foundation started with one location in Italy but now there are eight: in Italy, USA, Austria, Russia, Argentina, UK, Australia, and Spain.
Gaetano Ruvolo, general manager of Shang Shung Publications, spoke on behalf of the Foundation in Italy. He explained that the first seat of the SSF is at Merigar where the Foundation takes care of the library, the archive, open courses related to Dzogchen teaching and other aspects of Tibetan culture, and publications. He said that the aim of SSP, the first cultural organization founded at Merigar in 1983, is to be of service to all members of the Dzogchen Community and at the same time allow people who do not know our Teacher and the Community to become acquainted with them through their products.
The second seat of the SSF to be founded was in the USA, in Conway, Massachusetts. In the last 10 years the American branch has focused on the Tibetan Medical School and related activities under the direction of Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo. Many people have been able to follow the four year training and successfully qualified. More recently the medical program has had some challenges, which Dr. Phuntsog and the board of directors of the SSI USA are trying to resolve together.
The third place where the Institute was founded was Austria where Oliver Leick has been the director for the last 17 years. The main activity of the Austrian branch is the Ka-ter Translation Project, which started in 2002 and has as its mission the guarantee of qualified translation of unique and sacred Tibetan texts. The Austrian seat carries the financial responsibility for these translations as well as the creation of courses for qualifying translators from Tibetan.
Kirill Shilov, on the board of the SSF and SSI Russia and director of SSEd. Russia, explained that the SSI Russia was created as part of SSI Italy in 2008 when Khyentse Yeshe and Luigi Ottaviani, director of SSI Italy, came to Russia. Finally in 2012 it was formally founded and registered as a non-profit. From that time the SSI Russia has had two main activities: Shang Shung Editions Russia and the School of Tibetan medicine which opened in 2013 under Dr. Phuntsog Wangmo.
Julia Lawless, board member and one of the founders, explained that SSI UK was established in 2010 and has a lecture series in which they invite speakers who are expert in Tibetan or Himalayan culture. Originally hosted at SOAS they are now held at the Dzogchen Community center, Lekdanling. SSUK also organises other courses such as Vajra Dance, Khaita, Yantra Yoga, in addition to art workshops. The London branch is currently planning to hold an art conference in October and a Festival of the Mind in spring 2018.
The director of SSI Australia, Bruno Irmici, sent a report. The SSI in Australia was officially opened in April 2012 on occasion of the retreat at the new Gar, Namgyalgar North. The school of Tibetan Medicine is the main flagship project and based on the course program taught by Dr. Phuntsog at Tsegyalgar. The SSI also has an art department that is very active in the performing arts directed by Topgyal and Tsering, who have organised more than 27 Khaita events in Australia since their arrival there. The Institute also provides a bookshop service that provides significant support for the Dzogchen Community in Australia.
Spain – Tenerife
The executive secretary of the recently founded Shang Shung Foundation in Tenerife, Spain, Ilaria Faccioli, explained how the Foundation there is closely connected with Dzamling Gar, the Global Gar. The founding members are Chögyal Namkhai Norbu and Rosa Namkhai, with patronage from the International Gakyil represented by Mark Farrington, the IDC of Dzamling Gar represented by the Director, Yuchen Namkhai, Oliver Leick, Julia Lawless, and Kiril Shilov. Many of the activities of 2017 concern legal work, but the Foundation has already opened a bookshop and set up a Spanish branch of SSF publications.
One of the houses at the Gar which is now under the responsibility of SSF has been renovated and furnished and is available for visitors. Long term plans include visits by Dr. Phuntsog to give training on external Tibetan therapies, and organisation of another big event on another of the Canary Islands. Next year there are plans to organise workshops in thangka painting, calligraphy, and photography.
Archive Project at Merigar West
Mirella D’Angelo, in charge of the archive project at Merigar, explained that it contains 40 Years of the history of the IDC around the world – films, photos, audio, and written material, most of which has been donated by practitioners. Physically the archive has 2200 audio cassettes, 4000 video cassettes, more than 16,000 images (negatives, slides, prints), more than 2500 Tibetan manuscripts and pecha, as well as a collection of magazines and journals. The digital part is on two servers and has more than 40,000 files of images and 18,000 video and audio files in 100 terabytes.
Over the years the material has been catalogued according to different criteria. In 2002 the first project of digitalisation started up. In 2014, with the birth of a platform of digital archiving developed within SSF, a different phase of perfecting the process of archiving and preserving this multi-media material began. Currently the archive is undergoing another process to make uniform the criteria of cataloguing all the material of all the branches of the SSF both at Merigar and around the world.
International Dzogchen Community and Shang Shung Foundation
Mark Farrington, Vice-President of the IDC spoke about the relationship between the IDC and the SSF.
“One of the very important points that has already been made is that we are all one community, the International Dzogchen Community, and Rinpoche has made this point very clear and we just take this as a natural fact. These organisations that have been formed such as ASIA, SSF, and IDC are just ways of organising ourselves for a specific mission or to show a particular face to the outside world. But behind the scenes, we can share all levels of resources such as IT, financial understanding, organisational planning, etc., as we are one group.
There are many reasons for organising ourselves in three separate organisational structures, but ignoring the more technical ones and just focussing on this idea that we also want to be more open and connect with more people, the SSF is this ideal legal entity that is best for us to have contact with the external world in the different areas you have heard about today. So it is over-simplistic, but the responsibility of the IG is to facilitate and take care of the students in the IDC. Dzogchen is a living transmission and so it is our responsibility to work with the students and the teacher in order to preserve the Dzogchen teaching within ourselves. But the SSF and ASIA have this external responsibility of helping to preserve some of the conditions that are also necessary to preserve the Dzogchen teachings. Of course the best way to preserve the Dzogchen teachings would also be to increase the membership of the Dzogchen Community and SSF plays the important role of having first contact with many potential students and people who have a natural interest in Dzogchen and Buddhism. So I think it is very easy to see why it is so important for us to support them to do this function because ultimately it helps us to achieve our mission.”
Summary of the Group Work Afternoon Session
Shang Shung Publications
A group of 14 people, 10 of whom SSP staff and collaborators, met to discuss ideas and proposals to improve Shang Shung Publications products line-up for the next few years. Some areas were highlighted such as children books, including coloring books for children and grown-ups, apps, games and books for beginners. A few special projects were mentioned as well, particularly “Dzamling Garden”, an illustrated hard cover table book with pictures of the rare and beautiful plants now adorning Dzamling Gar. All these proposals will need additional help from DC members sharing their expertise in the fields of editorial projects management, book editing, apps design and children books design.
The Tibetan section (pecha and deb) has been completely reorganised, catalogued and partially labelled (for the catalogue see http://opac.libraryworld.com/opac/index.php library name SSI ZIKHANG LIBRARY. The Tibetan journals are in the process of being catalogued, and the Western section will follow suit. We offer bibliographic assistance, loans, scans, assistance in reading room and guided tours in which we introduce the library, its content and traditional Tibetan books. The interest in, and the use of the library is in this way increasing.
It will be good to have some initiatives at the library, such as presentations of new Shang Shung Publication books and theme-based tours of the library contents. The new SSF website should help in collecting suggestions for new acquisitions and funds to purchase them.
SSF is already offering courses of mindfulness and Ku Nye, mindfulness of diet, the benefits of YY, and Harmonious Breathing. It would be good to work on herbs, oils and tinctures if SSF could collaborate with spas. Although Tibetan Medicine is not recognized as a valid medicine, SSF should not give up all its efforts to implement the various aspects of Tibetan Medicine and offer possibilities to study and apply them.
IT technologies are an inseparable part of life in modern society as they are in SSF. They have main 2 missions-dimensions:
External – They are a tool allowing us to reach people all around the world preserving and spreading Tibetan culture in new engaging ways;
Internal – They serve as organizational tool to improve management, communications, align programmatic activities between branches and provide mechanisms to ensure overall consistency, efficiency, and quality of undertaken projects
This year we will conclude the development of the international SSF website which will embody the mentioned goals. A team of 20 editors will ensure that the website will always be full of new and interesting content (in 5 languages including Mandarin)
SSF also will offer its know-how and developed software to IDC in collaboration particularly in areas of Event Management, Educational Platform and Fundraising.
We are committed to building the internal culture of Open Source development in the spirit of generosity and collaboration where programmers from all the world can contribute freely to our projects. To start this initiative on August 27 we will organize the 1st Merigar Hackathon under the theme “Programmers for Tibetan Culture”.
Future Vision for SSF
The theme of openness came up very strongly. How to be open to the wider world & see through the eyes of the public at large.
How to approach new people is very important & to be conscious about how to involve them whilst being welcoming, inclusive & collaborative.
Shang Shung Foundation has an important role in this process, as it is the interface between the IDC and the public.
In opening to the world, we need to give time for feedback – maybe adopt a 6 monthly review period & encourage people to contribute ideas on an ongoing basis, not just at a conference.
This two way communication also applies to Tibetan culture itself as culture is not static: it is always evolving so if we want to be a bridge between Tibetan people and the West, this requires a 2 way communication & a shift in understanding.
Tibetan language department
We have been offering the long training for translators (two weeks to one month) every year. In the last couple of years we have added weekends to allow students to continue their study of Tibetan texts between the intensive courses, with guided translation of practice texts for Community people and translation training of other texts for all others. We tried different formats for the beginners’ courses to make them fruitful.
We are planning the development of online tools to study Tibetan and we are designing new courses in a school-like institution imparting training in both classical and spoken Tibetan. We are also working on shaping Drajyor courses for teachers and general users.
The Archive of Merigar is now pursuing a new important process that will also involve all SSF branches in the world. The project concerns the possibility to refer to an unique Classification Scheme to organize and catalogue the new input and output material in every format, in addition to the existing one. It will make it possible to search very quickly for data and materials for different purposes as, for example, historical reconstructions, presentations of the International Dzogchen Community, administrative and legal requests.
Report by Liz Granger
All photos by Lesya Cherenkova