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A Monks Life - Part 1

15 April 2007 (Tibet) by Kendon Glass

A Monks Life - Part 1

Photo: Nemarseray, Choonda and Jahbay with Kendon in front of Nethang Monastery

I was making my way to Everest. It was already late in the afternoon when I cycled past a small unassuming monastery and returned the wave of a young monk busily performing his chores at the main entrance. In the next hundred metres I made the decision to turn around and ask about the possibility of spending the night inside of the monastery walls. Im glad I did.

I soon became aware that this was no ordinary place. This was Nethang Monastery, where the Bengali Buddhist Master, Atisha, helped resurrect Buddhism in Tibet and died in the Monastery in 1054.

The monks where already busy preparing for dinner. I was invited to sit down in the eating area. A horseshoe shaped bench ran around an antique wooden table designed with individual compartments for the monks to store their wooden bowl and utensils. At one end of the table a young monk is hitting down hard on a short wave radio. For several minutes he taps and shakes the device without any success. He hands it to an elder monk and to the amusement of everybody present it comes to life.

Theres an English Tibetan dictionary sitting on the window ledge. I nose my way through the sun bleached pages and come across single word translations for the renunciation of all worldly things and a cow tethered to a tree. Stuffed lung is defined as a Tibetan delicacy, though at this altitude I imagined it more likely to be a symptom of cycling across Tibet. One of the younger monks called Choonda flicked through the pages and pointed to the translation for the white conch shell. He was trying to explain something to me of its relevance however I was having trouble understanding him. It wouldnt be too long until I began to understand the significance placed on this icon of Tibetan culture.

Darkness has fallen and soon a senior Lama walks into a candlelit room full of hunched over shadows. The lama introduced himself in perfect English and enquires on my nationality. In Tibetan the Lama begins to question the younger monks. I was not sure of the feeling in the air and rather than sit there expecting dinner I excused myself from the table. The Lama asked me to take a seat and a filling dinner of rice and legumes ensued.

Its early to bed in a monks life and that suited me fine tonight. I asked for the toilet and followed a monastic entourage of ten young monks out the front gate and into the night. What followed was one of those unforgettable moments in the life of a traveller. The monks thinned out along the roadside, gracefully pulling up their robes in unison before setting back on their haunches to do their business. The quarter moon provided just enough light for me to take in the surreal moment as I squatted into line to join my devout hosts.

Next I was shown into bare quarters nestled between the perimeter and courtyard walls. Choonda, Nemarseray lit candles as Jahbay fetched an extra blanket. It was a cold night and Lowsang, the older of the monks made sure that I was tucked in and comfortable. I thanked them all for their hospitality and Choonda stayed behind for a chat. I rolled over to my knapsack and pulled out an old Australian penny characterised by a bounding Kangaroo on its face. I held it out for the young monk but Choonda seemed to be in two minds and reacted hesitantly. I wondered whether he thought it was a monetary offering and motioning to my heart I assured him that it was simply a gift from a grateful friend. With this he accepted and proceeded to take my hand, placing his ring in my palm.

Reminding me to blow out the candles, he excused himself in a typically obsequious manner and retired for the night. My eyelids grew heavy as I imagined a tomorrow where I would have the unique opportunity to blend myself into the daily ritualistic life of this Tibetan monastery.

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A Monks Life | Part 2...Show Oxfam 

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