23.04.2012 - 25.04.2012
One of the most memorable cultural and spiritual experiences we’ve encountered was at the Pema Ts'al Sakya Monastic Institute located just outside of Pokhara. Situated near the gorgeous Annapurna range, the Himalayaan mountains serve as a breathtaking backdrop for this beautiful monastery.
How did we find out about this monastery? One of my coworkers, Elizabeth, had taught English to the monks last year and loved it so much that she decided to come back and for another 5 months. If you’ve ever met Elizabeth, you would understand how her smiles, contagious energy, sincerity, and genuine love for these monks make her a “mom-figure” for them.
Even S.A.M. was so intrigued by the idea of visiting a monastery that he came with us! As we approached the monastery by taxi, we mistook it for a swanky hotel! For 3 generous meals, hot shower, and a clean and comfy room cost about $10/day. In addition, visitors are allowed to watch the pujas (prayers) and interact with the monks.
As soon as we arrived, Elizabeth excitedly informed us that we were lucky to be present for a special ceremony the monks were performing. It involved much prayer, chanting, and instruments. Each monk was to give up one of their personal possessions and have it burned in a pyre. Elizabeth told us that one little monk gave up a picture of his family. When he was asked why he was giving this up, he patted his heart and said “I don’t need pictures because they are here.”
We felt very welcome here. The monks are shy but genuinely friendly. It does not take long for the children to warm up to you – eventually they were vying for our attention and playing with us! Prior to visiting the monastery, I had this impression in my head that monks would be constantly praying and silent in their thoughts. This was NOT the case! Although there are rules to follow, the monks were free to express their different personalities. The little children were the most surprising to me since they were able to almost run amuck during their break times, laughing and playing loudly amongst each other. The monastery was such a lively place to visit!
Some other random things we did included Derek debating a monk, helping Elizabeth in the clinic and during bath times, participating in a couple of Elizabeth's classes, playing with the little monks and learning that they watch horror movies, and attending a lecture on Buddhism.
We were privileged to meet a talented Spanish artist, Andrea Lopez Iglesias, who is living at the monastery as she works on paintings for her big art exhibition featuring the new Faces of Tibet. Andrea's artwork communicates the stories of different Tibetans, their struggle to survive, and their outlook towards the present and future. On the backs of her paintings, their stories are written in Tibetan script by the monks. I was so impressed by her professionalism, passion, talent, and sheer determination to accomplish her goals at such a young age!
It was such an honor to be part of this large family, even if it was for such a short time. The experience provided us with a small yet enlightening insight on Tibetan culture and monk life. I have a great respect for their constant search for truth, wisdom and knowledge, and for their emphasis on the importance of critical thinking and questioning.
This experience gave me time to reflect upon my own spirituality, life priorities, and eccentricities. It was a truly humbling experience that I will cherish always, like the boy who kept his family in his heart. Thank you, Elizabeth, for this gift.