No, “Kung Fu Nuns” isn’t the name of some low-budget martial arts flick.

It’s the description of the group that has been helping injured Nepal after a 7.8 earthquake devastated the region. Hailing from the Druk Amitabha Mountain nunnery, the “kung fu nuns” sprang into action after the disaster. As Jigme Konchok, 21, told the Washington Post, they didn’t “shriek in fear or crouch on the floor crying.” Instead, they dodged falling pieces of wall, thanks to four years of speed and agility training.

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These nuns didn’t like the accepted gender stereotypes in the Buddhist monastic religion, so they studied kung fu from a Vietnamese teacher. Their discipline isn’t about hurting people; on the contrary, as evidenced by their work after the quake, it’s about helping people. They participate in various community work and stand up for women’s rights and empowerment. Now, after the catastrophe that took the lives of over 6,800 people, these nuns have become beacons of hope and utility. Konchok added that their “strong limbs are now trained to work hard and for long hours.”

And the people of Kathmandu are benefiting from their training. Every day, the Nepalese nuns head into the ravaged city and remove rubble, uncover buried objects and clear pathways. They hand out food. In this case, it’s the women who stepped up, and in a system where only men rise high in the hierarchy. Their philosophy is simple, as Jigme Yeshi Lhamo explains:

“Our teachings say that nothing is permanent. We feel sad because the earthquake damaged something that was so dear to us. At least we have a roof over our heads and foot to eat, and we are in a position to help others. That is important.”

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Relevant Reading:

Dakini Power: Twelve Extraordinary Women Shaping the Transmission of Tibetan Buddhism in the West by Michaela Haas (Snow Lion, 2013)

From east to west, here’s a book that shows how women continue to drive the Buddhist principles in different ways. Author Michaela Haas portrays a dozen women who have pushed forward despite the leashes placed upon them by traditional principles. These women have helped to encourage temples to include women in arenas of practice and leadership, positions they’ve historically been unable to attain. Much like the “kung fu nuns” of Kathmandu, these twelve women break free from old-fashioned boundaries while still retaining the tenets of their faith.