Crimean chödma and self-taught jeweller Lidiya Dzhebisashvili talks about her creative path on her spiritual voyage
My name is Lidiya Dzhebisashvili. I was born and grew up in Crimea with my kind parents who gifted me with two sisters, where my Mother taught us how to save animals and help elders, and our Dad taught us creativity and wisdom. Our house was always full of artistic people from Moscow and St. Petersburg who adored my father and mother and our bookshelves were filled with albums on art and literature and esoteric books.
Once, when I was at secondary school, my father asked me where I would like to go to study after finishing school. Without thinking too much I answered: “Nowhere. I can learn everything myself“. I still remember his smile and approving gaze when he looked at me. This conviction in my capacities and myself came from him. Not only because I soaked it up watching him, seeing his confidence and ingenious approach to task-solving, but also because my parents filled my day in a way so that after school I would run to different sports and artistic groups, from karate to photography, from piano and flute classes to painting school. He saw more benefit in them than in the simple drill and kill of the school curriculum, although even these tasks sometimes seemed boring to me and then, with the permission of the teacher, I would pass an exam on a recorder playing a Khachaturian tune with my nostril, and always made my parents laugh with such acts.
In his youth my father served in the army in Baikonur [Kazakhstan], and as many people who served there were exposed to radiation he was ill a lot and left this life very early having given me the gift – my faith in myself and my capacities. And I keep this gift with gratitude in my heart and try to develop it and take on everything new with interest. Moreover, learning something new turned out to be a very useful training tool for thinking as well as for practice.
Meanwhile our mother taught us to help and save all that is alive – insects, animals, and people. Working on three jobs, she managed to take care of all of us and taught us to always strive to help those in need, so no grannies with heavy bags ever went home without us helping them. And now all merits that come from my sisters’ charity projects go to her.
Years went by and after school I went to Moscow to start working to help my mother and sisters. I quickly learnt to extend nails and eyelashes from my boyfriend Maxim’s aunt, Nadezhda, thanks to Maxim who helped me to buy all the materials. I started to work very successfully as a beauty consultant and was studying academic vocals. Four years passed in this way but I didn’t see any kind of realisation of myself in society.
I returned to Crimea and together with my childhood friends we went to the ancient cave town of Mangup-Kale and stayed there, reading Buddhist books and coming back home to Simeiz from time to time. In 2002 I finally met my two masters, Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche and Bogdo Gegen Rinpoche, my Chod teacher, who I visited in January 2003 in India and Nepal where I learnt Chod practice. For two years I did personal retreats in sacred places near the caves of Padmasambhava, as well as receiving teachings from H.H.Dalai Lama and Lama Wangdu Rinpoche. Again the sponsorship of my ex-husband Maxim helped me to make this journey!
When I returned two years later, I met Fabio Andrico, and while we were living at Tashigar North in Venezuela, close to our master Chögyal Namkhai Norbu, a friend of mine asked me to help her with a necklace that had broken. Sitting on the floor in our room I spread the beads on the floor and in the light of the sun let my fantasy run free. I wished the necklace could become even more beautiful and interesting than it was before it was broken. I was so involved in the process that I didn’t notice that Fabio had been watching me with curiosity for a while. He told me that I had some talent and could make a living doing this.
On Fabio’s next trip to New York he brought me back a bag with beads, wire and tools which I use till now. After receiving some lessons from Fabio – he had made bracelets for a living when younger – I took up this new pursuit and in a couple of weeks went with my Vajra sisters to the endless beaches of Margarita. While they were swimming and sunbathing I went to the brim of the ocean and offered my jewellery to holidaymakers to buy. I don’t know why I was so brave because looking back I understand that it was quite a risky endeavor. Venezuela is not the safest place. I got acquainted with all the ‘inhabitants’ of the beach, other sellers, cooks, waiters from the cafes and even some local criminals. The artisans were kind and accepted me in their circle and told me about the local ethics – never to compete with a colleague, pass by if a colleague shows something to a group of tourists, even if the tourists are interested in your goods. I liked these rules very much and easily moved into their environment, learning about real life and the problems of the island hidden from the eyes of tourists.
“Pretty girl, if someone tries to offend you, tell them that Don Jose will kill for you” – a local gangster who liked my courage told me when he asked me what I was doing in Venezuela.
The jewellery trade on the beach was going very well. I creatively elaborated more and more new designs and without even noticing started to think in new categories. Although I had many more teachers who shared the secrets and nuances of jewellery making with me, the beginning was laid at that time on the floor of our house in Venezuela. Thus Fabio not only helped me to become close to Rinpoche, but also became my guide into the world of jewellery work.
I went on to travel around the world following Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche and cooking for him, and came back to Bogdo Gegen Rinpoche and did retreats in the Himalayas from time to time. When I returned home to Crimea I had a dressmaker from whom I would order clothes for the Master and myself. I told her about my journeys, how I sometimes lived on Margarita Island, and that I wanted to make silver jewellery. And it happened that this dressmaker had an acquaintance, a jeweller in Sevastopol, called Elena.
Elena had wanted to travel to Margarita since Soviet times and when she knew that I had lived for a long time on the island, she treated me very warmly. She still makes silver wire and plates for me for making rings. But the most important thing was that she taught me how to solder silver and over the years has always encouraged me in all possible ways to study soldering and hot enamels. There were also other excellent friends, like Yomaira from Caracas, Lalita, Morgan, and many others all of whom helped me with materials and information on materials and instruments, for which I am very grateful. Last summer I went to the beautiful city, St. Petersburg, and took lessons on hot enamel from a wonderful teacher and now I am training in this mesmerizing skill.
I really enjoy receiving messages of gratitude from girls who have bought my earrings or rings, when they share their positive emotions from wearing the jewellery. I love to set my creative energy free and see how new designs are born under my fingers. For me it’s real magic – before it was just in the mind and now you have it in front of you on the table.
But maybe if it was not for my mother and participation in a charity (we have little shelter with 20 cats and 4 dogs at home), I wouldn’t be doing it so actively, and instead would spend more time in retreat in some Nepali cave, but the feeling of responsibility for those who are near me, for those I can help with beauty, inspires me to continue. Moreover the south of Crimea is one of the most beautiful places in the world and I have a possibility, living a simple life, to work, practice and infinitely study at my home. I have my own sense for beauty, and if it resonates with the sense of beauty in another person, it makes me very happy. I draw inspiration from masters of the past who lived many centuries before, which is why many people feel the breath of ancient times in my works.
Living in Crimea I am very lucky to have my Master Chogyal Namkhai Norbu’s child, Kunsangar South, close to me.
As you may know, there is an artistic tradition that comes from Rinpoche himself. I often observed how he could playfully fold origami, cut the form of double dorje from paper, or make a bracelet or protection necklace. Some of them he immediately gave to auction with all funds going to support a Gar or a place where a retreat was taking place. But his most precious ornament, the Precious Garland, his most important gift is his Teaching, which lives on in his students. That is why any sincere searcher, not having money, but having transmission, could get in touch with it.
Together with the Gakyil of Kunsangar South we are producing Melongs, the funds from which, excluding the costs of material, will go towards organizing retreats at Kunsangar South. In this way we pay homage to Fabio, my first teacher of jewellery, with the funds from the first set of Melongs covering the costs for the organisation of his upcoming retreat at Kunsangar South.
Future sets of Melongs will go to the organisation of retreats with other instructors of the Dzogchen Community. This project has been very successful and I hope that in future we will continue earning money for Kunsangar South using creative activities.
As long as the teaching is alive, Rinpoche is alive too, and beauty, at least a little bit, will be saving the world.