Coming Full Circle

Kunzang Drak PilgrimageVisiting Bhutan again after fifteen years felt like coming full circle. My first research project explored the revelatory career of Pema Lingpa (1450–1521) after Sarah Harding invited me to write the introduction to her book of translations, The Life and Revelations of Pema Lingpa (2003).

In February, it was wonderful to revisit Pema Lingpa’s homeland in the Tang Valley of Bumthang. Auspiciously, on his parinirvana day, we toured Kunzang Drak, his retreat hermitage (photo on right); Tamzhing, the temple he founded; and Pema Choling Nunnery, a monastic college for nuns in the Peling tradition, established by Gangteng Tulku. Construction had hardly begun on the nunnery when I last visited, so it was heartening to see it flourishing.

While in Bumthang, we had the opportunity to visit and stay at Ogyen Choling, the manor belonging to descendants of Dorje Lingpa, now transformed into a museum and heritage guesthouse. There we had the opportunity to spend time with Ashi Kunzang Choden, who spearheaded the transformation and is a pioneering Bhutanese writer, perhaps best known for her novel, A Circle of Karma (2005). The novel follows a woman’s journey from betrayal in marriage to the challenges of making her way in the world, venturing on pilgrimage throughout Buddhist Himalaya and finally returning to Bhutan as a nun.

This trip launched a collaborative project on contemporary Bhutanese literature with Sonam Nyenda, my host and Director of the newly established Bhutan & Himalayan Research Centre at Royal University of Bhutan. While in Thimphu, I gave the inaugural lecture for the center on “Translating Buddhist Advice on Meditation across Languages and Cultures” and was able to meet several other leading women writers. It turned out to be a fruitful research trip and pilgrimage.

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