B.K. has a Bachelor in Buddhism and once you ask him anything on that topic, he gets passionate. So passionate, that in his waterfall of words I can only manage to distinguish Lama and Dharma. We have arrived at a place where his lectures flourish like a lotus flower: the Neydo Tashi Choeling Monastery and its guest house, set on a hill, 1.800 meters high, overlooking the Kathmandu valley.
From my balcony in the guest house I see young monks passing by with their shaved heads and their typical deep red and yellow robes: the Bhikkhu. They are laughing, chatting, one eats crackers, another walks with an open study book in his hands. “Do not give them the hotel’s Wifi password“, B.K. reminded us several times. There is a small spot on the monastery site where they could “illegally” grab the signal.
Buddha’s church looks like a living room ready for Christmas
Short before 5 pm we walk towards the temple – soon there will be a chanting session. A monk burns herbs in a fire outside. Today is a special day: They worship Guru Rinpoche who meditated and found enlightenment near the monastery. Listen to B.K.’s explanations and chant with the monks ⇒
In the middle and back of the hall sits a giant golden Buddha, below there are colorful blinking chains of lights – what a kitsch but very cosy and welcoming. In the left corner there is a photo of the Dalai Lama and the third most important Lama of the Buddhist world: the Karmapa Lama. The second highest Lama, the Panchen Lama, is a controversial figure, B.K. says – therefore not displayed here.
We enter the temple barefoot. B.K. urges us: “Only go clockwise! And do not cross the empty middle of the hall.” I get stuck in the left corner of the temple (how shall I go back without breaking the rule?) and sit down cross-legged behind some of the very young monks.
Absorbed by the humming and swaying of the monks
In the temple a leading chanter murmurs into the microphone. All monks are sitting on both sides on cushions on the floor, a wooden row of low tables in front of them. They have a pile of lengthy cards lying with mantras on them (a few monks have books) and they recite the chants and turn the cards – one after the other. Some monks are rocking back and forth.The youngest member of the monastery is 8 years old – that is the minimum age to join. After about 20 minutes, tea is served to warm up (it is chilly and a slight breeze is going through the temple) and monks spread out food: crackers, an apple and packed juice. One monk pours holy water (a sugary, alcoholic fluid) into everybody’s hands. The monks first drop it on their lips and then rub their head with it. We are invited to do the same. Well, I do not want to be a spoilsport. The fact that I forgot to bring my hairbrush to this journey and the fact that you avoid washing your hair when there is only cold water further feeds my bad-hair-day-situation that already lasts more than two weeks.
Ascetic life dedicated to meditation, work and study
After the chanting session the monks rush to their dinner, we take a walk to the home of the nuns nearby, cross a field and enter through the garden door. ⇒
We climb up to the top floor of their house and join their chanting for a while. Their shaved heads make them look like boys. What an ascetic life that many of them haven’t chosen so willingly – which is also true for the little monks.
After boiling water and doing a hot wash of at least my feet in the sink, I switch off the reading lights earlier than the monks and nuns that night: at half past 8. It was a very long day and I want to attend the chanting in the morning which means: getting up at 5 am. Again. And with joy. When did that happen in Germany recently? I wake up at 4:15 anyway, do some yoga and take my seat in the temple at 5:30. The monks walk in speedily, some with socks, some with warm red sweaters over their robes. Two of the monks place themselves left of me and start praying – falling on their knees and getting up again. I thought they might stop after some rounds – but they continue. For the whole chanting half an hour. Each of them has to do it 500 times, I learn later from B.K. Oh dear!
Early birds catch a blessing
Danielle, my “roomy” (as the Aussies in our group say) joins me after some minutes in the back of the temple. We also want our mantra flags get blessed that we bought the day before. B.K. takes the packages and brings them to the table with the monks who are celebrating the chanting. Some minutes later the flags come back – in their sealed packages. “Well, at least the packages are blessed”, Danielle says and we try not to laugh (medium success in that). Monks can be pragmatic.
The chanting is over and the hall empties quickly, breakfast time I get a chance to talk to one of the older monks who introduces himself as “Rinhsinsinje”. He is from India, is the second of three male children (parents usually send their second son) and joined the monastery when he was 12 years old. Now he is now in his early twenties. He says, he just wants to feel and give compassion to all and thus kind of make the world a better place, a peaceful place.
Getting rid of accumulated stuff
We already said our goodbyes but meet again in front of the dining hall and walk one round around the temple (clockwise!) before it is finally time for breakfast – at least for the monks. I have to wait another hour. In front of the hotel I meet Marc from the Netherlands. He has quit his job at home at Campina producing milk pouder (“ethical reasons”) and now travels the world. He came from Indonesia to Nepal and decided to live with the monks for a while. He helps the English teacher with his lessons. “I try to live in the moment. I return to the Netherlands once my money has run out – no sooner – and I do not know what will be next.” Bold move! We talk about the western way of “accumulating stuff” that does not make anybody any happier. Does the simple life? I think about longing for hot water, coke, clean air, garbage collection, solid walls. I could not image replacing my neat German lifestyle and the many choices we have in favor of the Indian or Nepali way of living. Or could I? Could you?
The monks had chick peas, potatoes and deep fried Tibetan bread for breakfast. We are served a buffet with fresh fruits, porridge, scrambled eggs, peanut butter, naan and yoghurt. Then we have to get ready to leave – a multi-hour drive is ahead of us. And one of the roads is “under construction”.