Event — Buddhist Studies Lectures

Open hearts in Nepal: expressions of love and care of Kagyu Buddhist nuns

A lecture with discussion and a short film, presented by Renée L. Ford, a postdoctoral fellow at Aarhus University, Denmark.  

This presentation takes place in the IIAS Conference room from 11:00 a.m. - 12:00 p.m. (CET); it will not be streamed or recorded.

Everyone is welcome to attend. However, we kindly ask you to register as seating is limited.

The Presentation

This presentation explores expressions and dimensions of heart openings from individuals in the Kathmandu Valley. It includes a discussion and a short film of nuns at Tekcholing nunnery, which is a focus of Renée Ford's current fieldwork.

Tekcholing nunnery is a Buddhist monastic institution that was established by Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche, a monk who fled Tibet in 1960. Several young nuns escaped with Tsultrim Gyamtso Rinpoche and eventually built Tekcholing in 2006. Currently, there are over 50 nuns coming from Nepal, Bhutan, and Tibet who live together, practicing Buddhism, studying Nepali, Tibetan, and English, and receiving both a secular and Buddhism education.

Renée Ford lived at Tekcholing nunnery while conducting fieldwork in Nepal throughout 2023 for her current research, which is a part of "Heart Openings: Experiences and Cultivation of Love in Religious Traditions". Her time there allowed her to participate in the nuns' lives and, most importantly, discuss with them how they understand experiences that open the heart. The nuns generously shared how they understand concepts such as "love," "compassion," and "joy" and how they experience these concepts.

Overall, this sub-project and the larger heart openings project aim to understand how individuals from diverse religious backgrounds might share common traits in their experiences. Using methodologies such as life-story interviews, micro-phenomenology, and visual anthropology, the larger project works with individuals and communities in Nepal, Papua New Guinea, Denmark, England, and the USA to record and examine structures of concrete experiences of love in minute detail. These structures may include emotional and physiological qualities. Life-story interviews and other conversations provide the context of these experiences to understand the impact of heart openings.

Renée Ford hopes to open a discussion about how individuals and communities experience moments of heart openings and how these short moments influence more extensive, longer-term connections between individuals, institutions, and larger communities. In a world where lack of connection affects the psychological and emotional, geological and climatic, and globalisation, it is crucial to investigate experiences of the heart to see how these moments impact relations to broader issues.

The Speaker

Renée L. Ford (PhD) is a postdoctoral fellow at Aarhus University (Denmark) as part of the European Research Council (ERC) Funded project “Heart Openings: Cultivation and Experience of Love in Religious Traditions, Islam, Buddhism, and Christianity.” She received her PhD in religious studies and Buddhist thought at Rice University, USA. Currently, her work focuses on gathering life stories and interviews that share Tibetan Nepali Buddhists experiences of heart openings. Renée also teaches Asian Religions as a part-time lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington. Overall, her research focuses on the interplay between Tantra and Dzogchen (rdzogs chen) in the Heart Essence, Vast Expanse (klong chen snying thig) literature in Nyingma (rnying ma) lineages. She has also translated a few texts from English to Tibetan, including the Third Dodrupchen’s The Staircase that Leads to Lotus Light: Essential Instructions on Guru Yoga.

Buddhist Studies Lecture Series

This is a lecture in the framework of the Buddhist Studies Lectures Series, jointly organized by the International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS) and the Leiden University Institute for Area Studies (LIAS).