Walking along the Pokhara Lakeside in a small shop we’ve noticed an unusual picture: a strong-looking Nepali man was painting thankas. What’s unusual about it – there’s plenty people creating thankas in Pokhara. These thankas were different: they depicted the Biblical story of Jesus Christ.
First of all I asked Binod what bothered me the most: why Christianity? In this beautiful country with rich Hinduism and Buddhism traditions why did you choose this religion? What brought you to Christ?
— Why do it if there’s no answer…
— And Christianity, is there any “answer” within it?
After that I’ve asked Binod ususual “wandering religious studies” questions like which kind of church does he attend – it turned out to be some Evangelic with services both in Nepali and in English.
I asked, how often does he pray?
— 2-3 times a day, for the country, for other people…
But what is really interesting for us is how the Buddhist painter became a Christian and how did he come to the idea of combining Christian religion and Buddhist-style creativity.
So, below is the story of Binod, his thanka-painting business, and his conversion to Christianity.
THE STORY OF BINOD LAL CHISING:
I was born in a small Nepali village in a family of thanka painter. My father was a master and he still paints traditional Garab Chenrezig canvases. At sixteen
I got into college in Kathmandu where I tried to combine studying and painting to earn some money for living.
Nepal is mostly Hindu-religion country with very few Christians, who are pretty rare to find. Once I’ve met a Christian who surprised me with a story of his “miraculous” recovery from a dangerous disease. He commented:
— if doctors say it’s not possible, and God says “yes”, then it’s possible, but for it to work you need to believe and prey. The guy was a “humble and honest good man”, and we became friends. After some time I’ve got to know many of his brothers in faith.
Christian friends had often proposed me a Bible. At first I wouldn’t accept the Book.
At some point I’ve understood, that I can’t trust my Buddhist brothers, but I can trust the Christian ones.
(Surprisingly, but in mostly Christian Ukraine, the situation is opposite – people, who are “traditionally Christians” often conduct dishonestly and the true following of moral way of life can be met in the circle of “non-traditional religiosity” like Buddhists or neo-Hinduists. Is it the destiny of all old religions to weaken, rot down into outer form and meaningless rituals, separating themselves from live religiosity? And is it the destiny of all new religions to shine with purity, freshness, honesty, and true sense of brotherhood struggle to transcend boundaries?)
At this time Binod became a boss of a small thanka-painting business.
He would not believe in God or Buddha, or in gods\ghosts at that time. He believed in hard work.
And he went on playing. He had Bible book, which his Christian friend presented, he kept it in the box under lock:
— I didn’t want to accept anything imposed on me. I didn’t want religion. In our village “religious” people – lama, priests just take money from the poor…
— All I believed was hard work. I thought man was God. man can go to the Moon. I’m God, I provide people with jobs – I do good.
I was proud, too proud.
At pretty young age I’ve got addicted to chewing tobacco. When I had been a Buddhist I couldn’t do anything with this habit, but when I’ve become a Christian with God’s help I’ve managed to overcome it in just two months. I was also addicted to gambling: sometimes I spend whole nights playing cards for money.
Christian “brothers” would every now and then offer to come to church with them, but Binod would usually refuse.
Everything started with a small rain, which grew big and at some moment water began getting into the house where Binod lived and stored 300 thankas. Water came on and on, he and his wife tried to get it out, but in the morning they’ve understood: “in just one night we’ve lost three hundred thankas due to the flood”.
It was a shock. Five months of painting – all the stock, Binod had lost large sum of money.
O god, why this punishment???
Where does this come from???
But the rational quickly suppressed these thoughts: “It’s not my sin. It’s not any kind of “punishment”. It’s just a flood, it’s just water…
One more incident changed Binod’s perception of Christianity:
One Christian took dinner with their thanka-company. He suddenly felt sick and Binod took him to hospital. The Christian just asked:
— Call my Church, tell them I’m in this hospital.
That day a dozen of Christian people came to hospital and prayed for his health.
That amazed. They’ve told about God speaking from the heart.
When Binod offered one of them food, the Christian asked if he could pray for Binod.
— I’m a servant of God. God has provided food for me by you. So, can I pray for you?
Pray for me? O’k. But I don’t believe it. What a funny nonsense. Why pray for food?
But this praying for me, this behaviour was a kind of shock once more. — No one prayed for me when I’ve lost three hundred thankas.
Christian brothers were friendly. On meeting they’d always ask to come to the Church and learn, “don’t be a Christian if you don’t want to…”.
One day I decided to go to Church. I go and take a look but will not become a Christian. They’ve told me lots of amazing things about Jesus and Christianity. At some point one of them asked:
— Do you accept Jesus today?
— May I pray for you?
Next time Church preaching looked completely new for me. They said nothing is impossible in God, if you believe. If it’s true for them, can it be true for me?
How can I believe God?
I’ve never seen God. How?
Business goes down: one day no sales, second, third…
More and more days pass with thankas not sold.
I pray to challenge God – will He help me sell them? I’ve asked God: “please help me”. And He did. I’ve sold them.
So, God – works.
Ok. I take some more thankas from other company. And pray again: God, sorry for the first time, but I need business to go on. I’m selfish.
Please, help me one more time..
And the paints got sold.
From now on I go to Church and I know — God can do everything if you believe.
So, Binod regularly goes to church. But still he doesn’t take baptism. His wife does not believe and worships Laxmi. Their family runs into problems, and Binod argues:
— wealth doesn’t come from Laxmi but from hard work.
Ok, Laxmi – no, but why not Buddhism?
Binod’s arguments show the decline of Buddhism into money-earning and ritualistics:
— lama takes donations and promises I’ll go to heaven because of it, but I don’t believe donations to lama have something to do with heaven.
Bible says: you go to heaven by believing, not buy donation. Studying Bible is free – no money, only belief.
Binod gets more and more interested in Christianity, and his wife’s family would often ask: if you were a Christian before, we won’t have given you our daughter!
As it’s usual in many Asian countries, Binod also had an “arranged marriage” at the age of ten.
THE GREAT TRIAL
It was a big Hindu religious festival were Binod met a real crisis: it’s a tradition in that region to gamble: play cards and dice during religious holidays. And Binod had to face this challenge:
— I didn’t want to play but everybody pushed and under the social pressure I also had to play cards.
I’ve lost: six, seven, eight hundred rupees (that was pretty big money for that-time Nepal).
Binod tried to get out of the game, but people insisted.
His relatives gave him more money to play. And again he lost. Finally it got to two thousand rupees, the money enough to feed his workers with rice for 2-3 months.
It was a terrible stress, he played more and more, lost more and more and took more and more tobacco, tired of losing, and losing, and losing again.
At last he tried to pray to God:
– Oh, God, I don’t want profit, give me back what I’ve lost. Two thousands loss is a lot.
People at this point wanted him to play dice. Binod never tried this game:
I’ve never played it! I don’t know how to! I don’t have money left!
His uncle intruded:
— I’ll give you money. Play!
The dice went on. All of a sudden Binod found himself winning: two, four, six, eight hundred…
God helped. He ruled my hand I’ve won back everything that I had lost before. Because of this incident I’ve stopped tobacco and turned to God.
After that people began buying Binod’s thankas and his life had changed:
— Even my wife’s attitude changed:
— Its o’k. Be a Christian — I see it’s good, because you’ve overcome your bad habits.
My wife got pregnant and there some dangers on the medical side, so I prayed to God and everything turned out good. How could I doubt any more?
After that I’ve taken baptism.
People would often ask: you are a Christian, why do you paint Buddhist thankas and hold a thanka shop? Isn’t there some contradiction?
Binod asked that of his pastor.
Pastor replied – if this is your job and skill to paint good Buddhist thankas, paint it, but do not worship it. It’s ok.
In 1999 tourists began coming to Pokhara in masses. The city became a money center for the lands around.
Next year I prayed God to help me to move to Pokhara from my Bhaktapur village,
where almost everyone had been a painter of thankas for many years. It seemed impossible, but nothing is impossible if you believe.
In just fifteen days Binod moved to Pokhara.
What a miracle and Christ’s help!
In 2002 there was a Maoist mutiny in the country. The King of Nepal had been killed.
Tourists started avoiding Nepal. No tourists – no business.
Binod desided to turn his skill to Christian topics. Why can’t I apply my thanka skills to Bible motifs?
Now on his thankas we don’t see the full Mahakala which symbolized the concept of impermanence on traditional Buddhist thankas, although he is still there:
Mahakala’s head is now hidden behind the mandala of Jesus life, though his sharp-clawed hands and feet remain.
In a traditional Buddhist rainbow or five-element bowls we meet the sign of Quaternion, the sign of Jesus, or, as in some paintings, there’s a Jesus Loves You cross in the center.
Binod thinks that in the Universe there are two powers. Before Christ it was a devil power.
Binod is now 39. He interprets what happened to him as God’s (providential) dispensation:
— If God didn’t wet my thankas I’d never think of him.
Buddhism didn’t work for Binod. Christianity did. Should we wonder why he changed an “unworking” religion for the ‘working” one?
Little by little Christianity spreads in Nepal. 1,4% of Nepali population consider themselves Christian. In Pokhara there are more then forty Christian churches. And in Binod’s native village now there are 12 Christians. Other villagers have learned to respect their choice but still don’t like Christians.
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