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A Monks Life - Part 2

30 April 2007 (Tibet) by Kendon Glass


Photo: A smiling Tibetan monk

Attempting to merge into the rich tapestry of monastic life I wiped the sleep from my eyes and found a dark corner inside of the modest temple space. I watch closely as the monks bring to life sacred mantras with their trademark guttural chanting. Seated in rows, they resemble tall stemmed flora flexing in a kind breeze, joined together in a rhythmic sway, celebrating life in a dance of minimum resistance.

With first light permeating through the monasteries every opening, earthen faces take on near angelic form. A procession of warm exhalations produces a spirit mist in the daybreak chill. I am lost in dreaming and unwittingly commit the days first faux pas, letting my bowl of yak butter tea grow cold. Thanks largely to the genorosity of my hosts by days end I would redeem myself and break every yak butter tea drinking record in the kingdom.

A window frames the outside world, rendering a work of art in real life form. A cobbled courtyard leads through separate entries on the inner and outer walls. Striking in his maroon robe, a young novice moves across the canvas without pause, his brown skin flaring in golden tones. Embroidered Wheel of Life symbolism hangs over several inner entrances displaying the various paths mortals have in life, the choices they make and the doors the human passes through on the way to discovering their ultimate realisation. The wheel includes imagery of a blind man with a cane, representing ignorance of the true nature of the world. Moving clockwise, an artisan moulds a pot of clay symbolizing that humanity shapes its own destiny with its actions through the workings of karma. Further along a monkey picks fruit symbolizing the grasping for objects of desire and the subsequent attachment to them. The creature who turns the wheel of life and holds it in his clutches is Yama, a wrathful deity and the Lord of Death [see image in sidebar]. Yama symbolizes the inevitability of death, rebirth and the impermanence of all things. The detailed design is an exquisite and fascinating one.

All the ways in and out of the monastery are crowned by facades with elaborate carvings and artwork. Above these an outer wall looms 20 feet high, its fringe painted in the trademark oxblood red of Tibetan monasteries. Outside these walls of human endeavour the jagged blues of distant peaks shift subtly into a less assuming softly lit sky, the contrasts filtered out by the reflection of light, the polarities merged by the snows neutral white. Suddenly sleet begins to fall in the sunshine, drawing the mountains closer, bringing them to life. In the foreground tall whippy trees undress in the autumn breeze, a seasons foliage slinks to the floor, the leaves true beauty finally appreciated in their fall. The highest branches are now just skeletons of their former selves, a divergence of crooked bony fingers pointing towards the inevitable. Winter is the thief, autumn is her accomplice and you will miss the handover if not paying attention. The shift in the cycle is magic to watch. Nothing is permanent.

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Photo: A view from Sera Monastery in Lhasa with Potala Palace at the base of the mountains

A Monks Life - Part 2

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