An interview with heaven-sent tailor, Raj Kumar

Story By: Joy Kam

11 May 2009 - 8:26am Comments Off

I started tailoring at the age of 16. I was a normal tailor making clothes for people. One day I went to a Gompa in a Monastery in Syambunath area. There for the first time I saw Buddha clothes on all the statues and that created curiosity and interest in me. The monks there were very kind and friendly to me so I frequently attended the Dharma talks and became inspired in making clothes for Buddha.

Before being full time in Dharma, life was just work, play, have fun, drink and I wasn’t really a great husband which made my wife very sad. As a normal tailor I was making money but not enough, my mind would wander a lot, not focus, I would just do my job not taking much care in the finished garment, not a very good tailor. The more dharma I heard, the more changed my attitude towards life, my mind slowly transformed. Whenever I saw monks I felt calmer, peaceful, happy, there was a difference.

I found myself spending more and more time in the Gompa. It ended up that all my work was for the Gompa. I learnt everything from my time spent at the Gompa and from the monks. None of monks were tailors, they just bought clothes from outside in which they passed to me and told me to make. I really don’t know why the monks liked me so much but they asked me to stay and sew the clothes for them. Slowly I become creative and give them additional designs to see. I really don’t know why the monks liked me so much because I’m not a great guy to begin with at that time; I was just a simple man. So they made me feel very welcome and over time my mind changed and I became more and more focused and calmer.

I spent one year with my first guru, a lama, who showed me how to “cut” and only “cut”. He didn’t show me how to “measure” or “sew”. As a student of this lama, it was my first link to a high Lama.

My second guru was also student of the same lama. He was quite a fierce guru. He usually just threw me clothes and designs and asked me to make. He never showed me but he really pushed me to be better. I spent 12 years with this guru before he told me it were time to go out and make my own business, and make my life a success. I was encouraged me to open my own shop and stand on my own 2 feet. While working for the Monastery I would only get paid for what I made and would only earn around 6000rupees per month which equivalent to RM200 per month. Now i have 2 stores in Boudanath. First business was a Thangka Shop, then later I opened a Monks clothes shop. I also wish to open up a shop in Tibet in future. One of my first jobs was sewing deity clothes for a Tibetan dance ceremony. After I finished these clothes I had no other work to do and was thinking to myself “what to do now, I have no more work”? Then my guru came and suddenly asked me to make brocade for his Thangka, that was when I started learning how to sew for thangkas. All my guru did was placed a thangka canvas rolled up in front of me and said make a brocade for it! So I had to figure out how and I went to the local thangka shops to do my research. With my measurements in hand I bought the fabrics and made it how I saw it. My first attempt was totally wrong. As I was making and sewing it, my guru was watching me and even though he can see I was doing it wrong, he didn’t say anything until I had finished. Then he told me where I went wrong. Instead of following designs on the fabric I would just cut straight but not take into account the fabric patterns into the design. It was a teaching that my guru let me make the mistakes because with mistakes he said I would learn even more. My guru was very talented and he knows how to do things properly so I took this as the best way he could teach me how to do things perfectly with awareness. My first contact with my guru was with his assistant who would tell me what Rinpoche needed and I would create it. All my gurus have been students of the same high lama, who I wasn’t actually able to meet in this life…but have seen him from a distance, all talking was done through his assistant. This for me is the same as if talking to my guru himself. Over seven years I made a lot of clothes for my guru, Zen (monk shawl), Hat (many types), Tongga (shirt), Shantap (skirt), Chegu (yellow cloth worn with Zen), Namgyar (worn with Zen also). After I opened my shop, I started getting a lot of business just from doing work for my root and second Guru. People eventually found out that If I was doing work for a high Lama like him, my work must be very good. Since then business has just kept going up. Everything I am getting in life now has come from the Monastery. Not only do I make the clothes for statues, decorative brocades and clothes for monks and High Lamas, I also make clothes for Oracles. Over the years I have made many clothes for lamas in Taiwan, Mongolia, Switzerland and many other countries. I have never met Tsem Rinpoche, only from Ruby and others in Nepal like Jamyang. About six months ago Ruby asked me to come to Malaysia. Then, I didn’t have time and didn’t think too much more about it until Jamyang (a lama’s assistant) advised me to come and teach. People around me in Nepal kept telling me that if you go and teach your secrets, no one will buy things from you because they can make themselves. I didn’t feel this way, my motivation was if I teach people then the talent won’t pass away. Even my own children don’t want to learn, but through teaching I get to continue the lineage in others. I wish to pass what I learnt from the monastery to others, anyway when I die I can’t take my knowledge with me.

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