Research Project 2019

Moondil explores Vajra Dance.

March 1 was the 85th birthday of the abbot of the Tek Chok Ling nunnery in Boudhanath, Kathmandu, Nepal. To commemorate his birthday, the nuns performed a series of pujas and ritual performances. Vajra dance is a ritual dance focused on the progressive stages of awareness. Because of their vinaya (vow), the nuns are not allowed to dance (for entertainment), but in a ritualistic format with a motivation on awareness and their own practice, they perform various forms of Vajra dance. Ani Tsering, the nun dressed in white, is my Vajra dance teacher. She has also performed in two other versions of Vajra dance, Tara dance, Milarepa dance, and a selection of traditional Nepali dance (dances of Tamang and Newar people in Nepal) during the ceremony. Please see the recording below:

“Dance Offerings: Blo Sbyong training and Vajra Dance”

Two years ago, when I was training myself in West African and South Asian indigenous drumming and dance traditions through Thomas J. Watson Fellowship, my major focus was on the healing aspect. I regard these two oldest forms of performing arts as an outlet for emotional catharses. Throughout the journey, I came across various aspects of the drumming and dance forms—historical, political, religious, cultural and traditional. Toward the end of the journey, I was introduced to an intriguing dimension of drumming and dance through Tibetan Buddhist ritualistic tradition. One year after I finished my fellowship, I decided to move to Nepal to understand Himalayan Buddhist philosophy and the role of “dance offerings” in their ritualistic tradition. My role as a research fellow at The Aseemkala Initiative has facilitated in receiving special trainings in Blo Sbyong  training and Vajra dance at Tek Chok Ling nunnery, which belongs the Karma Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism.

The abbot of the nunnery, Khenpo Tsültrim Gyamtso Rinpoche is a renowned Karma Kagyu master who introduced several forms of dance offerings to his nuns to aid in their practice. But in order to advance to that stage, one has to train in Blo Sbyong, which is a combination of Tibetan yoga with movements and mudras of the yogis and ḍākinīs of Tibetan/Vajrayana Buddhism. There are seventeen steps in Blo Sbyong which trains both the mind and body. Every session begins with an aspiration/motivation prayer and ends with a dedication prayer. At the beginning, one sets the motivation to train in those seventeen steps with full awareness of the mind, body and speech. Each movement, each mudra, each syllable of the songs during the entire session are meant to be practiced with earnest diligence. Throughout the practice, with the aid of breathing awareness and body movements, one imagines to breathe in all the positive energies and breathe out all the negative emotions. The purpose of Blo Sbyong is to increase mental and physical pliancy for the advance practices. My trainer Ani Tsering Youdon, a seventeen year old nun and a Vajra dancer, pointed out that Blo Sbyong is a wonderful practice for Śamatha (Calm abiding) meditation done in movements. Throughout the session one puts full attention to the movements.

Another crucial point Venerable Youdon-la mentioned that the purpose of the training or practice is to benefit all sentient beings, which is the essence of the aspiration prayers. This significantly shifts the priority from self to others. From this perspective, one regards one’s body as a tool or means to accomplish the goal of being enlightened. The practices such as Blo Sbyong training and Vajra dance significantly helps one’s practice of training their mind, body, and speech. While Blo Sbyong helps one to prepare for Vajra dance, the latter has two main aspects—embodying the deity and performing their functions. The nuns perform various types of Vajra dance such as “the offering of sixteen goddesses”, “pañca Buddha”, “Manjuśrī dance”, Milarepa dance, and Tara dance. Each of the dance offerings has a central deity or figure, such as Tara, Milarepa, or Manjuśrī. The dancer needs to embody the mudras pertaining to the specific deity with full awareness. Moreover, there is an aspect of blessing during the dance where the dancer blesses sentient beings and those around them. Venerable Youdon-la further elaborated that all these forms of dance offerings have five main central points: the main purpose is to benefit all sentient beings which is expressed in aspiration and dedication prayers, the meaning of the dance should be well understood, each dance mudra is done with full awareness, one meditates by practicing śamatha (calm abiding) during the offering, and through repeated offerings one accomplishes vipaśyanā (superior insight or wisdom). In Buddhist philosophy, the root of suffering is identified as the lack of renunciation from saṃsāra (material world).

In the Buddhist context, sentient beings are bound in saṃsāra due to afflictive emotions (such as ignorance, anger, aversion). Śamatha training temporality subdues the afflictive emotions which serves as a basis for vipaśyanā. Once vipaśyanā is accomplished, the afflictive emotions are completely uprooted. Thus, any form of suffering does not arise. Once asked about the impact of dance offerings on her health, Venerable Youdon-la indicated that such training has increased her mental and physical pliancy which helps her to progress in the path. The fundamental priority is to benefit all sentient beings without exception and one’s body is used as a tool. Therefore, both mental and physical well-being is maintained through these forms of meditation in movement activities.

Click the pictures below for the videos.

Milarepa Dance: 


  Tara Dance:


Vajra Dance: