I have met so many interesting people while being abroad– people sitting next to me on my flights, my yoga instructor, my fellow volunteers (never before have I compared my country to so many others; I feel like I have learned so much about British, Canadian, and Australian cultures– not just Indian and Tibetan!). But perhaps some of the most interesting, most kindhearted people I have met happen to be the monks in my classes.
Things I Didn’t Know About Monks:
1. You can become a monk at any age. Many times Tibetan parents will send one of their kids off to become a monk. My friend toyed with the idea of becoming a monk in her old age, that way she could try to find enlightenment before she dies. It’s a strangely tempting idea.
2. Monks can eat meat. Even the Dalai Lama eats meat because of health reasons.
3. Monks have Facebook.
4. Monks have better technology than I do, i.e. laptops, iPhones, and even stereo systems.
5. Monks get degrees. In the fields of Buddhism Philosophy, Buddhism Science, and one other I can’t remember. I don’t know what their curriculum is like, but i do know that they learn about so much more than I could have imagined. They are so, so bright.
6. Monks have an awesome sense of humor. They literally laugh at everything, and I think it’s because their so full of joy. I think the Dalai Lama once said that sometimes you have to greet/treat sorrow with laughter. For these Tibetan refugees, I think that nicely sums it up.
7. They are so kind. So so so kind. It’s not that I didn’t imagine them to be that way, but I don’t think I could have fathomed to what extent.
One day when I was sick, I was talking to one of the high ranking monks, Kunchok, who works closely with the volunteers. He said that I needed new shoes (I was wearing Chaco-like sandals) so that my feet would stop getting wet and I could stop getting sick. I laughed and said that my only other shoes (my darn
Sperrys) were still soaked from the rain, and I was waiting for them to dry. His response: “My shoes? I get you my shoes?” A monk was going to lend me his shoes, so that my feet wouldn’t be wet. This is the same monk who each time he says goodbye to me, adds in, “If you need anything, if you need help with anything, just tell me and I will help you.” He is so great.
They all really are. They invite you for tea or coffee, and they’re always so gracious and grateful when they’re your students, always saying, “Thank you, teacher, thank you!” Whenever I thank my monk, he says, “No, no. I am the one who’s supposed to say that.” My second class of students told me, “Good teacher,” the other day (my heart soared). This is the group of mostly late 20 to 30 year olds, half monks and half cooks at the monastery. They came to me 4 weeks ago only really knowing the alphabet. They have come so far already. I will be sad to leave them.
I want to be sure to add that all these things I’ve written about the monks, their meat-eating, facebook-using, and possession of high technology, I only write out of sheer curiosity and wonder– I mean nothing against them by it. They are still very high spiritual beings. But they are also very much human, and that’s one of the things that I love most about them. I can relate to them and talk to them comfortably and casually, but I can also learn so much from them. It’s an awesome exchange.
That’s the great thing about Buddhism. You don’t take what you’re told and hold it as truth. You investigate and see what is truth, and what truths work for you. So while there are over 200 vows that monks have to take, they are all unique and have different takes on different topics of Buddhism. My monk and I were once reading out of a Dalai Lama quote book, and after reading from a page, my monk said, “Hmm, I don’t know if I agree with that.” And that’s just part of the Buddhist philosophy– I love it.