The photograph (below) is courtesy of Austrian artist and filmmaker Norber Pfleger. Reprinted here with permission.
Embodied social relations within a ‘Tibeto-Mongolian’ and Buddhist intercultural sphere
Katharina Siess is a trained artist and teacher. Having recently retired from her profession, she lives with her growing family in the small Austrian town of Feldkirch. As students of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy in the Gelugpa tradition, we have been close friends since I was her ‘guest’ in Switzerland in 2010. Katharina, of all whom I know, is one of the most outstanding (Gelugpa) liturgical chanters (in Tibetan) I have had the good fortune to meet.
She was my gracious and generous host-companion, as we sat together during a month-long Lam Rim Summer School taught by Gonsar Rinpoche at Rabten Choeling (Le Mont Pelerin, ‘up the hill covered with grapevines near Vervey) that same year, 2010. I use the term ‘guest’ here in reference to myself, so as to reflect the skilful and careful manner in which she ‘led the way’ through the intricacies of a daily program, proceedings and chanting repertoire, with which she was already intimately familiar through many years of practice, that otherwise would have remained unfamiliar and therefore inaccessible to me.
Whereas the tangible artefacts of my own (Buddhist) preoccupations—working with words, photography and music—are somehow separate in form, Katharina, through her own approach, diligence and practice, has managed to integrate these into a very well-considered and integrated liturgical-performative whole. I bow down to my ‘big sister,’ a metaphor we use (sparingly) in our authentic letters to one another, one that enables each one of us to refer to a cultivated personal quality perceived or deemed superior in the other, to that of our own.
These days, we are both drawn to calmer places. It is from such spaces that we correspond to the other, for we live on different continents that are many thousands of kilometres, deep oceans, deserts and mountainous ranges away. It is through our shared deep appreciation of scholarly books, the arts and doha that connects us, even though we are, in terms of spatial geography, so very far apart.
Aspects of the highly-stylised, symbolic articulation of Tibetan and Mongol Buddhist art forms, and their contemporary convergences with not only each other but with modernity’s Euro-centric techniques, is a psycho-sociocultural domain, the ‘imagined community,’ that we each not only study and investigate (in our own way) but at times also share. Textural and harmonic ‘complexity’ even when ‘dissonant’ rather than ‘cultural demarcation’ is the domain of which I speak. For us, (deeply) considered peer review and encouragement is a valued and honest aspect of our dialogue, one that underpins our unfolding friendship at its heart. We have rarely, if ever, elected to stray far from here, for with whom are we to ‘commune’ when each is absorbed in honing one’s own artisan-ry and craft? Offering unsolicited false praise is not what we do.
And so it is, that embodied non-proximal relations with other producers of art, and of reflexivity and knowledge, are important sources of inspiration and nourishment. The study of such art and its generative processes can fill one’s whole life instead of, for example, just shopping, although we do a bit of that too. In particular, when Dharma and art come together, a range of emotions including great joy can arise. The two together are complimentary, especially where great lama-artists are concerned. For the past year Tashi Rabten in Austria has had in residence, a trained Tibetan Thangka painter. Considered not only to be a Master Painter, but to also have a very good sense of humour, having completed the painting required for the main temple at Rabten Choeling, the beautiful new Tara Temple at Tashi Rabten is now being painted with contemporary expressions of well-established, conventional and traditional Tibetan Buddhist motifs. Katharina is pictured (above) painting one of the twenty-one Tibetan Buddhist prayer wheels at this important to her local site.
Author’s note: In the above narrative, edited extracts of correspondence between K.Siess and myself have been rendered in italicised text.
© 2013-2021 CP in Mongolia. This post is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. Posted: 8 October 2015. Last updated: 29 October 2017.