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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

A day in the life

September 16, 2010

Tibetan monks focus on prayer
By MaryAnn Kromer,
September 14, 2010

The monks from Gaden Shartse Monastery have
departed northwest Ohio after educating many area
residents about Buddhist traditions.

The spokesman and translator for the Tibetan
monks, Jangchub Chophel, described a typical day
at Gaden Shartse Monastery recently.

Monasteries are home to men older than 90 and
children as young as age 6. Chophel said the
children live at the monastery and have lessons
in grammar, math and art, as well as philosophy
and religion. Although most children come by
choice, others are orphans or their families send
them to the monastery to get a better education.

Six days a week, monastery residents rise at 5
a.m. for a breakfast of flatbread and tea and
report for prayer at 6 a.m. Chophel said the
monastery is a noisy place in the morning as the
monks chant their prayers. Each monastery has its
own cadences for worship. Singers use low tones
and produce two or three tones simultaneously.

On their U.S. tour, the monks demonstrated the
sound and technique of their poly

phonic throat singing. For public audiences, the
chants are sacred with the words disguised to
conceal the secret teachings they contain.

Chophel said the person praying visualizes
paradise while chanting. The monks pray in
various postures and use hand movements that
imitate those Buddha once used. Vibrations fill
the room and affect more than the individual chanter.

During prayers, monks also ring bells, which
represent wisdom, and hold a dorje. The latter is
a metal implement in the shape of a thunderbolt
and represents method. Buddhists believe bringing
wisdom and method together promotes
enlightenment. More ceremonial rituals
incorporate horns, cymbals and gongs and require special garb.

On most days in the monastery, educational
activities based on the level of knowledge a
person has reached occupy many hours.

Chophel said Buddhist monasteries are the
equivalent of universities. Students of all ages
are expected to memorize pages of texts and give recitations for "tests."

As they get older, they meet in smaller groups
with teachers. They usually sit on cushions or directly on the floor.

"When you visit the monastery, you don't see a
chair, so we don't have a word for chair," Chophel said.

They had to invent a word, which translates to
"butt lift." After lunch, the monks allow time for a nap.

In the evening, a gong summons the men to the
debate yard. For three to six hours, they engage in animated debate.

A lunge, stomp of the foot and slap of the hands is used to "send" a question.

Chophel said clapping symbolizes the hand of
wisdom meeting the hand of method to summon sentient beings.

After a response, gestures from questioners
indicate their opinion of its quality.

"The key to our whole educational system is the
debate system," Chophel said. "It's not like you
can skip your homework. When they debate, they
start off one-on-one with another person in your
class for about an hour. Then they bring the
classes together and your classmates sit around you and you debate."

Some scholarly monks study a specific topic and
debate it for two to five years before reaching
the next level. Those who want to be teachers may
go to study at other monasteries. A geshe, or
doctor of Buddhist theology, must have 20 years of training.

Chophel said knowledge and enlightenment require hard work.

"There are prayers to remove obstacles but they
can't give you knowledge," he said.

Oral exams take place yearly to determine whether
a student can advance to the next level.

At the end of exams, the monks take a week off for picnics and field games.

The Tibetan new year also is a holiday.

Chophel said Monday is their usual day off. Most
of the men use that day to do laundry by hand.

During the summer, the temperature can reach 100
degrees during the day and drop to freezing at
night. The monasteries have no air conditioning.

Chophel said the monks' diet varies by region.
The Tibetan monasteries, situated on
mountainsides, tend to be isolated, so food
choices are limited. In Tibet, barley flour and
yak products are nutritional staples. Some groups
depend on alms or donations for their food. In India, most are

vegetarian, but others do eat meat.

Typically, they do not eat anything after the mid-day meal.

Buddhist women can enter monastic life in a
nunnery. Chophel said the women get the same
haircut and garments as the men and are educated
in the same manner to follow the same "spiritual path."

Monks and nuns are allowed to have contact with
their families, unless the monastery or nunnery is too far away.

Many monasteries accept visitors, but obtaining a permit may take a month.
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