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Shin: Silver’s heart of gold
by Carolyn Watts
Francesca Zanotti is diminutive, perhaps not even five foot tall. But she is a pillar of FPMT. Together with that of her husband, Franco Piatti, her name is synonymous with Shin, an Italian company whose uniquely beautiful silver jewellery assists in funding Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in Pomaia and, where possible, other beneficial projects.
More than twenty years ago, Francesca and Franco were selling jewelery on the streets in Amsterdam — far cry from the business that currently employs fifteen full time staff with an additional thirteen representing the company throughout Italy.
The individually crafted bracelets, rings and other ornaments have developed a firm place in the national market. Currently Shin is looking to move into the international arena. Francesca Zanotti is looking to go into retreat.
We talk in the office and workshop, which are housed in the castle that became Istituto Lama Tzong Khapa in 1977. Francesca is warm and open about her life and its different aspects. She works for Shin eight hours each day and then goes home to cook and care for her family. Not so very different from millions of other working mothers. Add the ingredients though, of an eighty-three year old father whose needs are augmented by his senility, and a seriously handicapped twenty-one year old daughter, and her story takes on the individuality that makes it unique.
Two decades of a life whose efforts would be hard for anyone to bear have not scarred the fresh beauty of forty-seven year old Francesca, and her face is tranquil as she tells me of the efforts in the early years with Tsering.
“There were problems with the birth that left her seriously mentally handicapped. In the beginning, doctors said it was unlikely she would ever walk,” she says. “But we did physical exercises with her until she was seven or eight. Now you only know she’s handicapped when you talk with her, she has the mentality of a twelve or thirteen year old.
“So much work goes into caring for a handicapped child, there were many times when I thought it was all too much, but I have been fortunate enough to meet the lamas and my perspective is probably what saves my sanity.
“I’ve learned not to concentrate on the particularities of what I do, but to look at the wider scope, to see the benefits in my life.
“I’m not a particularly good practitioner,” she says. “In fact there are many times when I find myself falling asleep just saying my daily prayers.
“One time when I was in Nepal,” she recounts wistfully, “I was with a group of five people saying goodbye to Lama Yeshe. He went around the group giving each of us practices to do. You do this and this, you do ten thousand of these, etcetera. When he came to me, he said nothing and went on to the next person, “You do this and that…” I thought, “what about me?” Then Lama came back to me and said “Your practice is Tsering.”
“When I am physically or mentally tired I have to stop what I”m doing and ask myself why I”m doing it all. When I can see the broader perspective again, then hope comes back into my heart and I know I am doing my duty (dovere).”
As we speak of Lama, her eyes fill with tears. More than ten years have not erased the pain of losing her beloved teacher, and delving into the reasons behind her life”s efforts bring memories flooding back. Especially one very painful memory.
“There is one thing I will always regret in my life, that is having said “no” to Lama.” Through tears and tissues, Francesca explains: “The last time I saw Lama alive, he asked me to come and travel with him for six months as his secretary.”
She catches her breath, “You can imagine how much I wanted to do that, I had always attended to his needs when he came to the institute, but the opportunity of being so closely involved for so long was unique. But my mind brought up possible problems, being away from the children, not getting on with my work… I told him it was not possible.
“Lama encouraged me to change my mind. It”s not long, he said, it would be a good break for you… but I was resolute. So, then, he brought me a heart shaped cushion filled with dried flowers and said “it is not certain whether we will meet again, but I leave you my heart.”
“Now I understand that he knew I really needed a break from all of my family responsibilities. I couldn”t see it then, but I know now I should have said yes.
“Without his influence in my life I couldn”t have coped with mothering Tsering, but the lessons he gave me have let me see life more clearly.
“He never said, “This is the way it is,” always the opposite, stressing that he could only share his experience and if it worked for me, all the better. I find that in daily life I put those lessons into practise.”
I ask what plans Francesca has for Tsering’s future, clearly it is a subject she’s thought much about.
“Well, for now, she is well cared for, the state pays an allowance which means I can pay a good carer to be with her while I work, but I am concerned about the time when I am too old to work. We are talking at the moment about what can happen for people who have given their lives to FPMT and whether they can be looked after in some way.”
“There are times when Franco and I consider going back to India when we get old, at least there is the opportunity that Tsering might be well cared for.” Perhaps that is something which might become clearer in July, when Francesca plans to do ten days’ retreat (her first retreat in fifteen years).
It is late afternoon now and Francesca goes home to care for her father and daughter as well as her husband and her fourteen-year old son. I had known of the success story of Shin, and during the meeting of the CPMT we had all heard about the company’s benefitting many facets of FPMT (Franco refers to all sentient beings as the shareholders of Shin). Now I have met the good heart behind the effort.
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About Mandala Publications
Mandala Publications is the official publication of the Foundation for the Preservation of the Mahayana Tradition (FPMT), an international charitable organization founded by two Tibetan Buddhist masters, Lama Thubten Yeshe (1935-1984) and Lama Thubten Zopa Rinpoche. FPMT is a vibrant international community, with a network of 160 affiliate centers, projects and services, and members in more than 30 countries.
Mandala print magazine is published in January, April, July and October. Mandala is available via the Friends of FPMT program.