Nuns from Karma Kagyu Nunneries Learn to Make Incense
Monlam Great Encampment,
7 February, 2016
Inside the Gyalwang Karmapa’s golden tent in the center of the Great Encampment at the Kagyu Monlam, 17 nuns from six nunneries have been working from dawn until dusk making high quality Chinese-style incense almost entirely by hand. They have been in training every day for the past three weeks, since the beginning of the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering. Their training concludes today.
The nuns have been receiving the training from a professional Taiwanese incense maker named Ru-Ruei Chung. Chung met the Karmapa for the first time last year in Dharamsala, and told him about her experience as a Chinese-style incense maker. He invited her to come to teach the nuns how to make this type of incense, Chung explained, because it is much thinner and less smoky than Tibetan-style incense.
Chung and all the nuns we spoke to praised the Karmapa for the care and attention he has devoted to this training. He helped to purchase the necessary equipment for making the incense, and also learned how to use it. On the first day of the training, the Karmapa translated for Chung from Chinese to Tibetan (on other days one of the nuns did the translating). He visited the nuns every day to check on their progress, and even offered the nuns the use of his personal golden tent in the encampment when the space they had been using in the Monlam Pavilion was needed for other Monlam-related activities.
Only a few of the nuns had experience making incense before, and then only Tibetan-style. Of the six nunneries represented in the training, Thrangu Tara Abbey in Nepal is the only nunnery that currently sells incense. The nuns said they feel confident they could make this type of incense at their nunneries and also train others in how to make it.
During the Arya Kshema Winter Dharma Gathering, the nuns attended the Karmapa’s teachings each morning and trained in incense-making each afternoon. Since the teachings concluded a week ago, they have been making incense all day, sometimes from 7:00am until 6:30pm, in order to achieve the goal they had set themselves to complete 300 boxes of incense, each containing 60 sticks. So with great determination, they collectively decided to work extra hours to complete this goal.
The incense is made entirely from natural ingredients, including herbs and wood, and the materials were purchased from Tibet, Bhutan and Nepal. One Bhutanese nun commented that now she knows the type of leaf necessary, she could pick them herself in the Bhutanese highlands, where this type of plant is plentiful.
While the nuns said making the incense isn’t difficult, it takes sensitive fingers and attention to detail to make the sticks straight and of a consistent size. To help each other stay focused and energized during the long days of production, the nuns have been bringing treats for each other from their different countries, such as Bhutanese toasted rice and candies from Nepal. “There have been lots of smiles,” Chung said.