Tag Archives: Brian Harris

Brian Harris: Story behind iconic Laughing Nuns photo

My name is Brian Harris. My wife Paula and I have left legacy gifts in our wills for the Tibetan Nuns Project as a way of continuing our support of the essential role that Tibetan nuns play in the ongoing transmission of the Buddha’s teaching.

Almost 30 years ago, in 1989, I travelled to India to take photographs and gather sound recordings for a special exhibition called India: Eye to Eye. My journey took me to Dharamsala, the heart of the Tibetan exile community and home of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

It was on this trip that I encountered the Tibetan Nuns Project. The Tibetan Nuns Project would become one of the charitable organizations that I chose to help with my photographic projects.

Brian Harris, Tibetan Nuns Project, laughing nuns, Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Dharamsala, Tibetan Buddhism, nunnery, Buddhist nunnery, legacy gift to Tibetan Nuns ProjectLaughing Nuns: The Story Behind the Photograph

It was lunchtime at Geden Choeling Nunnery when two nuns stepped out of the main entrance to the shrine hall. As soon as I spotted the lead nun holding a gong in one hand and a mallet in the other, I realized this might be a good photo opportunity. I pointed my camera and took one photo.

This was before digital cameras were common, so it was almost six months later when I was back in Vancouver and I finally developed the rolls of film from that trip. When I saw the photograph for the first time, I was stunned by its beauty and power. It wasn’t the photo I imagined I had taken. I had thought I’d taken an image of a nun banging on a gong. Instead, it was a marvelous display of two nuns in full-bodied, infectious, joyful laughter. Little did I know that it would become an iconic image – one that so many people have come to identify with the Tibetan people’s indomitable spirit and light-hearted, warm character.

Brian Harris, Tibet, nun receiving blessed water, Giving and Receiving

Over many years, my association with the Tibetan Nuns Project has been a two-way relationship resulting in friendships and a deep satisfaction in knowing that my photographic gifts and project funds have been useful and kindly received.

The reciprocal relationship of receiving while giving that I experience with the Tibetan Nuns Project is, I think, beautifully portrayed in this image I took on my first trip to Tibet in 1987.

The photo above is of a nun humbly receiving blessed water offered by a Ganden Monastery monk. The blessed water is being given from a simple teapot rather than the traditional , more ornate vessel, because many of the valuable ritual implements were plundered during the violent occupation of Tibet several decades before. [Tibet has been under Chinese occupation since the 1950s. During the Chinese Cultural Revolution in the 1960s, “More than 97 percent of monasteries and nunneries were destroyed and the number of monks and nuns living in the monasteries was reduced by 93 percent,” according to the 10th Panchen Lama’s famous petition submitted to the Chinese government on the conditions inside Tibet.]

An element in this photograph that I have always liked, but particularly appreciate more recently, is the fact that the face of the monk is in soft-focused shadow. In the Theravada tradition, there was and is a custom of a monk holding up an elaborately embroidered ritual fan in front of his face while teaching the Dharma. This symbolizes the impersonal nature of the teaching, thus reminding both listener and speaker that it’s the Dharma that is the primary teacher or wisdom source, not the individual giving the teaching or recitation.

In closing, I’d like to suggest that you join me in leaving a lasting legacy to help the nuns, by including a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project and share your intention by emailing info@tnp.org or calling 1-206-652-8901.

If you include a gift in your will to the Tibetan Nuns Project before the end of March 2019, I will send you signed prints of both photos as a special thank you. Just contact the Tibetan Nuns Project office by emailing  info@tnp.org or calling 1-206-652-8901.

May all beings be happy and free of distress!

Brian Harris

From the Nunnery Kitchens: Tibetan Nuns Making Tofu

There’s something special cooking in the kitchens of Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in northern India.

For the past several years, the nuns at Dolma Ling have made tofu once a week to supply the nunnery kitchen for meals. There are a lot of mouths to feed at the nunnery, so being able to make tofu in-house is very important. Currently there are over 230 Tibetan Buddhist nuns who live at Dolma Ling Nunnery and there are also teachers and visitors. The nuns follow a vegetarian diet and tofu is a nutritious and protein-rich part of their weekly menu.

Tibetan nuns making tofu

Nuns in 2013 making tofu at Dolma Ling Nunnery. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

The nuns also sell any extra tofu to visitors and the local community to help support the nunnery. This generates a bit of income for the nunnery but, so far the demand for tofu has  outstripped supply because the nuns’ had a limited capacity to make tofu due to the size of their tofu kitchen and the capacity of their tofu-making machine.

Here’s a video made in 2012 by the nuns showing tofu making at the nunnery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgygQy9SaOE&feature=share

It has been the nuns’ wish for several years to purchase a larger tofu machine and to have a new tofu kitchen so that tofu could be made and sold on a larger scale. There is a great demand for tofu from nearby communities so the income from tofu sales will help to support the nunnery.

The new facility for making tofu was built a while ago but the donor who had originally offered to provide a special tofu-making machine was unable to raise the necessary funds to purchase and ship the machine to India. So the project was delayed by almost two years.

We are delighted to tell you that this spring, Norman Steinberg, a generous donor from Canada, has helped fulfill the nuns’ long-term wish by funding the purchase of a much larger and more efficient tofu-making machine and by helping to establish a special tofu kitchen at the nunnery. We are extremely grateful for his support.

A big advantage of the recent donation is that it has allowed the Tibetan Nuns Project to purchase an Indian-made machine, so we’ve avoided the costly customs and shipping costs and it will also be easier to service and repair in the future.

Once the new machine is up and running and the tofu kitchen is firmly established, we’ll post another blog with photos.

Making tofu is somewhat similar to making cheese, but rather than curdling milk you are curdling soy milk. The first step in the process is to soak the dried soybeans and mix them with water to produce soy milk.

Tibetan Buddhist nun making tofu

Soybeans are being prepared in the old tofu kitchen at Dolma Ling Nunnery. This photo was taken in 2013 by Brian Harris.

Next the nuns add enzymes or acid to curdle the soybean liquid. Then they press the liquid to remove the liquid whey. Once there are just curds remaining they can be pressed into forms and cut into blocks.

The Tibetan Nuns Project is extremely grateful to Norman Steinberg and another private donor from Canada, as well as other individual donors from around the world who made the new tofu-making facility possible.

If you would like to learn more about how the nuns are moving towards greater self-sufficiency, or to help fund these efforts, please contact us at info@tnp.org or donate at https://tnp.org/youcanhelp/donate/.

Tibetan Buddhist nuns stirring to make tofu

Photo taken in 2013 by Brian Harris at Dolma Ling Nunnery and Institute in India

 

2014 Calendar from the Tibetan Nuns Project

The beautiful 2014 Tibetan Nuns Project Calendar is now on sale. The calendar is filled with stunning images of Tibetan life and culture and also includes inspiring quotes, the Tibetan lunar calendar and ritual dates. Dimension 6.5″ x 7″. Price $11.00

front and back of 2014 calendarThis year the photographs were taken by four professional photographers — Olivier Adam from France, Brian Harris from Canada, Harald Weichhart from Austria, and Jeannie O’Connor from the US. They are all friends of the Tibetan Nuns Project and donated their time and images to help the nuns.

All proceeds from the calendar help support over 700 refugee Tibetan Buddhist nuns in India and provide them with food, shelter, education, health care and opportunity. Continue reading

Bird song and prayers at Buddhist nunneries

A special post by photographer and Tibetan Nuns Project supporter, Brian Harris.

My wife Paula and I spent five weeks photographing at four Tibetan Nuns Project nunneries in India in April 2013.

It was an experience full of beauty I will never forget. What I recall most vividly are the lovely songs of the many birds in the morning accompanied by the soft murmuring sounds of the nuns reciting prayers and scriptures. (You can listen to exactly what Brian is writing about by clicking his audio recording of the bird song and prayers at http://tmblr.co/ZeUSItheHrQj)

Tibetan nun standing reading outside in India

In the foothills of the Himalayas, Tibetan Buddhist nuns pursue their studies. Photo courtesy of Brian Harris.

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