Lessons in culture – Tibetan Monks
Early one Saturday morning I decided I needed some peace, and calm. I’d been going to Buddhist Meditation classes for about a year, but at that point I didn’t consider myself Buddhist, but rather someone who needed to learn the artful skills of shutting up when required, and finding a peaceful inner sanctuary.
I absolutely loved going to classes but I’d always feel better and decide not to go again for a month or so. Then I’d feel like crap and surprise, I’d toddle off to class not realizing that you really should keep up with meditation even when everything appears to be going great. Hey, I was a beginner (and probably still am)
Anyway, on this particular morning I was really, really looking forward to sitting in a crossed leg position and listening to wonderful Buddhist teachings.
As I walked up the stairs I noticed it was eerily quiet at Bondi Pavilion and then I saw the sign ‘Our apologies but there will be no class today’. To say that I was devastated was an understatement (a Buddhist teaching needed right there) I huffed my way down the stairs, put my bikini on and went for a swim in beautiful Bondi.
It was a very hot day and after I got out a just threw a tiny little see through top back on and a very mini skirt. I rushed back to the Pavilion to use the bathrooms and I noticed a stall had been set up. It looked quite hippy but interesting. The stall was FULL of Buddhist jewellery, cards, CD’s and a who mish mash of interesting Tibetan things. As I chatted to the ladies at the stall I did notice they were looking at me like I was a little out of place in my beach gear. And boy, they weren’t wrong. As they ushered me inside, I was met with what I can only describe as the most beautiful and peaceful scene I had ever scene.
There were about 6 monks in their beautiful Orange and dark red robes. Some were walking around and others looked like they were crouched over a giant table working at something. This was what I now know as a sand Mandala. These monks were absolutely amazing artists and I had never seen artwork so intricate and colorful (more on Mandalas shortly).
There were hand made paintings and wall hangings and rugs all placed out immaculately around the room. There was a shrine with a large photo of The Dalai Lama placed right in the centre of the room for everyone to see.
Even though I had been going to a few meditation classes, I had never met any real life Tibetan Monks, let alone in a place like Bondi !
As I walked around the room, there was this incredible energy I had never felt before. I think it was just PEACE and LOVE (sorry to sound corny) It was also very foreign to me. I had no idea what any of this meant or why were these monks even here ? It was like being transported to Tibet and becoming immersed into their world. At first when I watched the monks, they looked rather solemn. I thought everyone who was Buddhist should be doing happy dances around the room and smiling from ear to ear, even in their sleep. Geez, this isn’t very Buddhist like I thought. How I love this naivety.
What I was forgetting at this point, was that I was in a room full of Monks .. The Gyuto Monks of Tibet in fact… Dalai Lama Monks … CELIBATE monks … monks who have never been out of Tibet and India … Monks who do not have direct contact with women …. Monks who are given the utmost respect and love around the world … Monks who had been in Monasteries since they were 5 years old .. Monks … Monks and more Monks … And here i was parading about in the shortest skirt and pretty much flashing my boobs at anyone close enough to see through my top. Hmmmm not really my finest of moments. And probably the reason why i was being looked at as being an uneducated bimbo parading around like I was on a catwalk.
I watched these monks make intricate sand mandalas that took hours and hours of tedious work. Not a skill us Westerners would have the patience for.
It was actually quite terrifying for me being around them. I had no idea what you were supposed to say to a monk and it was even more difficult to have a chit-chat with a monk who didn’t really speak English.
I figured it would go something like this …
Me – ‘So how was your night last night ?’ ‘Get up to anything exciting’ ?
Monks – ‘We went out for dinner and then prayed’
Me – ‘Wow cool.. So how long did you pray for ?’
Monks – HUGE LAUGHTER
But instead, it went something like this..
Me – (terrified fear grin on my face) ‘hello’
Monk – ‘Tashi Dalek’ (Hello)
Me – ‘How do you say that again ?’
It wasn’t so much the conversation that changed my life that day, it was an understanding between fellow human beings that had absolutely nothing in common but a desire for happiness and love.
One of the Monks turned to me and smiled. It wasn’t just an ordinary smile. It was a HUGE, happy, loving, calm, friendly, warm and perfect smile and one that would instantly melt my heart.
I instantly fell in love with this Monk (It happens A LOT) I couldn’t quite believe that there were men so pure and loving. Now there’s a crazy idea.
I stayed around for the entire day. Each minute getting more bizarre than the one before. I soon discovered that this order of monks had been coming to Australia for many years to do Buddhist programs for the public and also to educate Westerners on the plight of Tibet.
Maureen (who had been the first lady I had met on the stall) had been bringing these monks over and managing their every move. From day to day living, housing, eating (this was a lot considering the amount of grown men involved), hospital visits, travelling and everything else involved in ensuring Tibetan Monks are well catered for. This was an incredible feat considering these monks didn’t even have a passport before they met Maureen and most had never set foot in the Western world.
Maureen’s story about her life with the Gyuto Monks can be read in her book . Its an amazing read and she’s had a wonderful life. An inspirational woman.
Maureen had set up Gyuto House Australia close to Byron Bay on the far north coast of NSW and it was here the Monks got to rest and relax after many months of touring on a coach around Australia and New Zealand.
Back at Bondi …
My excitement took hold of me and during a quiet period, I went away to do some shopping. All I wanted to do was buy the Monks gifts. I felt it was the least I could do considering how much happiness they gave to others. I searched every single store I could find. I really had no idea what Monks needed or wanted but I was determined. I ended up buying each of them a beautiful hand crafted notebook to write down their thoughts … Ok, ok I can hear you all laughing now !
When I gave them all the books one by one, they all took my hands in a prayer formation and thanked me in their wonderfully cute, broken English. Being the novice I was at the time, I’d put my foot in it again when buying gifts for monks not realizing part of being a Monk was not owning anything or collecting lots of belongings. Although they must of found it funny, I still hope they used the notebooks.
Next up came the Chanting. Well quite frankly, this chanting made me want to hang myself. It was sooooooo depressing. The type of chanting the Gyuto monks perform is very specific to them. Apparently it takes them many years to master. It’s a very deep chant which I found almost satanic at first. It hurt my ears so much that I felt like I had to leave. I couldn’t quite believe how many people were sat around the room looking relaxed and at peace. Get me outa there !
I have absolutely learnt to love this chanting and now I am one of the many who can sit for hours in the same position getting into some sort of meditative state (geez, I really sound like a fruity spirit fingers woman now)
There was so much to learn. And as I’d ‘fallen in love with a celibate, Tibetan monk, I thought it best to keep coming back again and again and again.
I have always loved culture and this learning curve gave me some of the greatest pleasure I have ever experienced. My life changed forever the day I met all of them.
And this is how ……
To be continued …