Thursday, July 14, 2005

Little Buddha’s showing the way :


How often we find ourself helpless for loss for words. Sometimes things can be beyond description. We can empathize with them but find it difficult to express the significance or the impact they have on us. We mull them over and often communicate with ourselves in the silence. Those images we carry for some time and after a while we get a chance to express what we have witnessed.

Something like this I experienced when I saw little children with shaved heads at Enchay Monastery in Gangtok City reciting Tibetean scriptures under watchful eyes of their Lama teacher. However obedient they may have appeared their naughty eyes did roam around to explore a possible prank that could be accomplished without being caught.

Seeing them run towards dormitory during lunch recess , clutching crimson colored robes to prevent it from being spoilt from rain-drenched mud was amusing. At dormitory a small wooden bench with neatly tucked bed-sheet, blanket and tin trunk is what their worldly possessions are. Housed in big hall numbering in 100’s, they wake up at early dawn. A common toilet and washroom adjacent to the hall give them their first experience of managing life on their own. Scurrying from the school to dormitory , rummaging through tin trunk to pick up their plate and cup and running downstairs in a smoke filled kitchen( fuelled from natural wood) to stand in a queue to grab their meal will make anyone’s eyes moist. Every minute is precious as they could use remaining recess to play pranks with fellow students. Those who are a bit fortunate to have their pocket money from parents and guardians hover around street vendors to see if they could have their crunchy munchy chips and candies if menu at dormitory is unpalatable. As they strut back to monastery for afternoon classes, one could feel their heavy heart. My mind went back to our city-spoilt kids who throw tantrums at everything that they don’t possess.

As these children grow up, some of them slip into worldly affairs of raising a family and some reach to become Lama. Most of them do not live secluded life but amidst people on devout mission of spreading Buddha’s teachings. Often you see them on monasteries flitting at great speed, with robes rustling as they pass pausing briefly to bow reverently in the direction of the Buddha stupa. However, it does amuse when they mix with other Lamas and act like normal people, laughing and joking among themselves, rather than feeling lost in the trance.

How does one embark on the journey to become Lama? This question often intrigued me.

When a person wishes to join the Buddhist Order, he is first ordained as a novice. Often parents from far flung areas decide to have their child ordained. His journey begins with a symbolic act of his renunciation of the worldly life by shaving off his hair and put on a robe appropriate to the monastic tradition, which he has entered. The Preceptor, who is a senior monk and an instructor are then given the responsibility for guiding this novice through his period of monastic training. At the end of this period, the novice may receive the higher ordination as a monk (bhikkhu) or a nun (bhikkuni). There is no specific age for entry; you would often find a 6-year and 10 year old together in same class.

An ordained member of the Order is provided with shelter, food, clothing and medical cares. His life is secure but not luxurious or ostentious. His parents do come and visit him. If he has local guardian, he is allowed to spend his time at their home.

What does he do in monastery? He spends his time mainly

· Studying mostly in groups in formative years and later on individually if subject need arises
· Carry out any assigned task. I have seen a small child correcting visitors at Rumtek Monastery who were taking anti clockwise rounds.
· Meditate and participate in recitation of the disciplinary code on new moon and full moon days
· Perform religious services for the community.

There is no fixed time to complete the curriculum. It depends on the individual’s abilities and skills. Although all members are vowed to the code of discipline and have renounced all but the most basic possessions, they retain the freedom to express their views. The system appears highly democratic. Important decisions are normally made collectively and only after all the members have had the opportunity to air their views.

At first, education in Buddhist monasteries was confined to the study of topics on Buddhist Teaching, History that covers Buddha’s doctrines and his deeds. However, with change of times, monastic education has became more comprehensive. Now day’s students are taught everything from Buddhist and non-Buddhist Philosophy and History, Grammar and Composition, Logic, Mathematics, Medicine and even the creative Arts and debating.

So often in India and in other developing countries we see small children abandoned from school or engaged in labor for the benefit of parental economic sustenance, while this goes on State Govt Machinery watches it with mute silence. In Sikkim, Poor parents in far away areas alongwith Buddhist monastic universities play a crucial role in providing these children not just education but secured and enriched life.

In today’s world begeted by violence, terrorism and religious intolerance, these little Buddha’s come as messenger of peace and co-existence.

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