A New Years message

 » Dear friends,

Hope all of you are well and preparing for enjoyment for the New Year holiday.

Khenpo Chimi Dorji and I would like to wish you all A HAPPY NEW YEAR for 2013. May this New Year bring you all peace, happiness and success. And also may you all become the source of happiness for all the other sentient beings.

Friends, we celebrate New Year with having fun by giving best wishes and care to each other and having celebrations. Shortly, everyone is being happy. So I deeply wish you all have happy times for the rest of the days to come, full of compassion and concern to each other.

With this wish, I would like to say two things:

We should enjoy our holiday by having delicious meal, meeting nice people etc but we should also be aware and make this New Year celebration a reminder of impermanence of our life. Seconds become minutes, minutes become hours, hour becomes days and days become months and months become years and we travel closer and closer to death. This New Year is one year closer to our death and this previous year will never come back.

And another thing is that during such time, we think, care and wish the best for those we know but how wonderful it would be if we could think and care about other beings like poor people, suffering people and especially all the numberless animals, who need care, love and peace and attention from us. If we care for them with a compassionate mind and don’t harm them, they naturally gain peace and happiness from each of us. So please try to reduce ordering fish, meat, prawns and chicken etc.when you go to a restaurant, in order to save these animals’ lives. You probably think you are not a killer but logically the amount of meat you eat is the amount of harm and killing you are doing. The form of the body of a human and an animal are different but the desire for happiness and the aversion to suffering is completely the same. So the more we avoid eating meat the more we are saving animals’ lives and reducing suffering of innocent animals.

I think we eat meat because of the taste of the meat but if we analyse our motivation deeply, the taste we can enjoy is only when the meat is on our tongue and once it goes beyond the tongue down our throat and stomach then whatever it is, whether meat or anything is the same,we can’t taste it !! if we keep the meat on our tongue to taste for a long time many people will laugh at us – imagine if we did this !! So the taste we can feel is only for less than a minute. So what we need to solve our hunger can be solved by even bread, rice, fruit, nuts, cheese and vegetables. So try to eat meat only sometimes and focus on creating happiness rather than suffering.

May we all generate compassion for all the other sentient beings. Happy New Year 2013″.

Lama Namgay

A monastic education

We’ve been receiving quite a number of enquiries lately about the monastic curriculum at Phajoding and its importance to modern day Bhutan. Given that the monks have just completed their end of year exams, we thought it timely to explain some of these issues in this blog. It is by no means intended to be a definitive nor thorough account of the complexities involved, but as best as we can within this format, we will answer the questions posed to us about the “What” and “Why” of a monastic education.

Traditionally, education in Bhutan took place only in the monasteries. “Modern” education was largely imported from India and the West in the late 1950’s and with this came the introduction of essentially Western ideals and values generating tensions between tradition and modernity, that continues to this day. In response, Bhutan has created a unique development philosophy. In a world first, Bhutan requires that any development be culturally, economically and environmentally sustainable to measurably enhance the Gross National Happiness (GNH)[1] of its people.

As part of this, Bhutan promotes modern education to provide for the economic needs of the country whilst at the same time ensuring that its unique Buddhist culture and value system is preserved through traditional monastic education. As Bhutan prepares to implement its 11th five-year plan (2013-2018) guided by the philosophy of GNH, the preservation of Bhutan’s cultural traditional values will continue to be infused into Bhutan’s modern education curriculum.

But will this be enough to stem the tide of young Bhutanese students increasingly lured into desiring a life of excessive consumption and glorified materialism touted by the West?

Lama Namgay recently posed this question: ‘How can the monks and monastic education better serve the youth studying within the modern education system?’ This line of enquiry strikes at the heart of the need to find a balance between tradition and modernity.

What is the relevance of monastic education in modern day Bhutan?

This is what Lama Namgay and Khenpo Chimi Dorji expressed recently:

…………It is important that everyone tries to understand the basic teachings of Buddha because it can help them so much and also help them help their families, strangers, in fact all sentient beings. If they focus their mind on developing wisdom and compassion then they will not grasp for external things to make them at peace and happy which ultimately are the causes of unhappiness due to the law of impermanence. If the students in schools understand properly the Buddhist teachings at an early age this will help them to discover peace and inner happiness and help them to spread this to others they come in contact with.

There are many very educated Buddhist masters in Bhutan but it is difficult for them to communicate such wisdom, as they cannot speak English. Therefore, to maximize the potential of the Bhutanese school children, monks should be taught English so they can share these precious teachings with them.

This is our wish

Memorisation of prayers in the main class room

____________________ 

The value placed on a monastic education is directly tied to the importance placed on traditional Buddhist values and culture. Given that Bhutan’s Buddhist culture and traditional values form the foundation of its national identity and GNH philosophy, monastic education is therefore crucial to ensuring that its culture and values are upheld and preserved.

The institution of monastic education is clearly important for Bhutan’s Buddhist population in general but (as touched on earlier by Lama Namgay and Khenpo Chimi) it is particularly relevant to the youth within the modern education system. Monks who have attained a high level of training and who are repositories of spiritual knowledge can counterbalance the process of modernization that perpetuates values that run contrary to Bhutan’s traditional belief systems. They are well positioned to help modern educators shape the youth into highly educated, compassionate and wise individuals, and strengthen the GNH guided education curriculum.

The only problem standing in the way of this is the need to develop the English speaking skills of the many qualified monastics. English is the main medium of instruction in schools (Dzongka is taught as a separate subject). Therefore efforts need to be made to formally introduce English language instruction into the monastic curriculum to facilitate this vitally important transfer of spiritual wisdom to Bhutan’s school aged population.

As mentioned in a previous post, Lama Namgay has already taken measures to begin to teach their students basic English. Opening up the lines of communication between traditional and modern education systems will stimulate debate and discussion and a two way exchange of ideas, which will go a long way to reducing any tensions.

What do the monks learn at Phajoding?

Phajoding serves as a Lopdra, which is equivalent to a primary school education, and recently they have begun to offer a Shedra curriculum, which is equivalent to a high school education. The medium of instruction is Chökey (Classical Tibetan) and Dzongkha (the national language).

The ultimate goal of a monastic education is to provide the student with the tools to attain the mind of enlightenment (a state referred to as an absence of worldly suffering or duhkha in Sanskrit – where the mind is fully awakened) and the generation of Bodhicitta (the seeking of enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings). Teachings largely comprise training in Buddhist philosophy, learning Buddhist poetry and grammar, handwriting, the memorization of prayers, contemplation on the spiritual wisdom of revered Buddhist masters in addition to instructions in the Buddhist art forms such as performing various rituals, playing Buddhist instruments, molding butter sculpture offerings, thangka painting and lama dancing.

Playing the Dungchen – the Buddhist long horn

Those in the Lopdra are being taught Buddhist art forms, Dzongkar handwriting and the meaning of various prayers that have to be committed to memory.

The students in the Shedra are currently being taught about the Buddhacarita or the life of the Buddha, which was written by the Indian philosopher/poet Aśvaghoşa. Written in Sanskrit, it is one of the most famous biographies of Buddha’s life.

They are also learning about the Vinaya, which is a set of rules or a code of conduct that the monastic community abides by. It differs from the dharma (Buddhist teachings) in that it relates to discipline. What Lama Namgay is attempting to teach the monks is for them to not just blindly accept these vows but to understand the underlying principles of the vows and why the Buddha proposed them. In this way the monks will be able to direct their mind away from worldly attachments and towards the dharma.

Studying for the exams

After an « all nighter »

What were they examined on?

The junior student’s recent exams primarily comprised the demonstration of competencies in various Buddhist instruments (cymbals, drums, large and small horns, conch shells and bells) and the recitation of certain prayers in front of the Principal of Phajoding (Khenpo Chimi Dorji) and independent examiners. The prayers covered areas from aspirations to meet one’s master to prayers for those suffering and for those who have passed away. According to Lama Namgay this section was the most nerve racking for the students. They were also examined on how well they could write the Dzongka alphabet.

The younger students doing their Dzongka written exam

In contrast, the senior students’ exams were purely written. They were examined on the Vinaya vows in addition to questions on the life of the Buddha.

All students have an examination number to ensure impartiality with their exam papers being sent away to other monasteries for marking. Similarly, the teachers at Phajoding receive exam papers to be marked from other monasteries.

The results are due to be released around the 10th January then they are officially on holidays until mid February 2013.

A typical day

5.30 – Wake up bell

5:30- 6am – Prayers

6-8am – Studies (memorizing text)

8-9am – Tea break (have only tea with some biscuits)

9-10.30am – Teachings (Buddhist philosophy)

10.30-12pm – English lesson.

12 -1pm  – Lunch break (curry and rice)

1 – 3pm – Ritual teachings

3-4pm– Debating based on Buddhist teachings.

4-5pm– Evening prayers.

5-6pm– Dinner time (curry and rice).

6- 9pm– Reading and contemplating the text learnt in the morning.

9pm– Bedtime

# Maths, computer skills , environmental and agricultural studies are taught on the weekends. Lama Namgay and Khenpo Chimi are introducing these life skills in order to provide these young boys with additional options should they choose to leave the monastery for a secular life.

An English lesson. Lama Namgay makes the monks take it in turns to lead the class under his supervision to give them a sense of empowerment

Conclusion

Monastic education is not “a walk in the park”! It involves a rigorous training schedule in Buddhist philosophy, the Buddhist arts and Buddhist discipline with the aim of guiding the student closer towards enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. On the other hand, Bhutan’s wisely chosen development path based on the principles of GNH ensures that school-aged children will be highly educated, innovative, adaptable with a strong sense of their unique cultural identity and Buddhist values.

Can the monastic body play a role in shaping and shoring up a modern education system? Quite possibly. But for this to occur efforts must be made to actively introduce formal English language instruction into all monastic schools and provide opportunities for monastics to be invited into the schools to impart wisdom and answer questions. In this way the relevance of monastic education and the teachings of Buddha will open a doorway for the creation of mutual respect, understanding and sharing of information between the modern and the traditional – a truly educational “middle-way” approach.


[1] GNH is a development philosophy guided by values in order to secure the peace and happiness of the nation. It has 4 main pillars pertaining to equitable economic development, cultural preservation, environmental sustainability and good governance. A GNH Index is used as an evaluation tool for the purposes of results based planning to ensure that development truly contributes to the achievement of GNH within Bhutan.

A message from Dom from Denmark

Quite unexpectedly, I landed at Phajoding on the evening of the 28th Sep 2012.

When I landed on the doorstep of Phajoding Monastery, my knowledge of Buddhism, the monastery and a monk’s life was limited to…..

“Buddhism was about vegetarianism, no killing, meditation, believing that nothing is real and everything is a creation of our imagination”.

“A monastery is a place where the men go to escape from nagging women”.

“A monk’s life is about eating, praying and sleeping”.

After my 2 nights at Phajoding, I now understand that……

Buddhism – is a philosophy of life.

Phajoding monastery is a place where orphaned, disadvantaged and unwanted boys are cared for. In the West, such a place is called an orphanage. It is a place for them to live and to learn about Buddhist teachings. In Phajoding monastery, whilst most of their time is taken up with Buddhist studies they are also taught English and organic gardening. They also have a plan to extend the curriculum to include maths, environmental studies and teaching of practical skills such as carpentry and general building.

Monks are normally sent to the monastery though a few make the decision themselves to come voluntarily. It’s definitely not just about eating, praying and sleeping! It take 17 years of study to obtain a Master degree in Buddhist study.

We all believe that children need to be kept warm in the wintertime, have enough food to eat and a place where they can feel safe to live and to study. Phajoding provides this support on a very low budget from the government and the stress to make ends meet is on-going for Khenpo Chimi Dorji and Lama Namgay. They need our help to continue to do this and to care for more disadvantaged boys in the future. Education is the only way to get out of poverty, for those of us who have been through this path; we know it well.

The monks with their new coats……. just in time for winter!

I was so grateful that all my friends promptly rallied to support the needs of the Phajoding Project. The crew who contributed towards the purchase of the heaters and warm coats included friends from Denmark, Netherland, Finland, Bulgaria, Ireland, Brazil, Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, Malaysia and Singapore. They have truly shown compassion without borders!

The 20 heaters which were carried up by the monks

The monks huddle around a heater to keep warm

Here is what they said:

“As a Catholic and a Christian, it is my duty to help anyone in need regardless of creed or color. Having said that, I and everyone else should all the more help the monks because they, with the little they have are helping all God’s living creatures through their teachings. The more monks the better the world will be because of their way of life. Simple arithmetics”. 

– Julietta Nielsen, Denmark

“When Dom told me how Lama Namgay Tenzin expressed worry about how to pay for the winter coats, which he got for his young fellow monks, I was touched – almost to tears. This is such a simple need and most of us will take this simple remedy against cold for granted.

In this world, where greed, anger and fear are setting the agenda for many of our actions and desires, I almost despair. How can we ever hope to create a world where peaceful coexistence, without pain and suffering, become the way of live? 

But when I learn about the monks from Phajoding Monastery, I know that there is still hope for us. Despite an unsure future, always lacking funds and all the basic amenities, which many of us take for granted to such as an extend that we regard them as indispensable necessities, these people insist on their simple lifestyle, focusing on inner values rather than volatile material wealth.

It takes such tremendous strength to live their lives of peaceful coexistence and compassion. Most of us can never hope to achieve this. Yet, my hope is that Namgay and his fellow monks will serve as a beacon of guidance and inspiration for the rest of us, regardless of our religion, race, nationality and political observance.

May we, through their actions, learn how to respect and care for our fellow beings. And experience the joy of giving – rather than taking”. 

– Niels Olesen, Denmark

“Unconditional love is a gift everyone can afford to give and receive. We love to send endless comfort and joy to touch the world of Monks. And we wish that our love makes the world go round”.

– Couple from the Netherlands

“The contribution made is little as compared to the monks in Phajoding who have only basic things to survive and my admiration to volunteers who gives more than us”.

– Mary Yeong, Singapore

“A little love and concern shown, in whatever and whichever way, goes a long way in bringing a smile on the faces of the children”.

– Ms Tee and Mr Leong , Malaysia

“Those when a child have experienced the joy of receiving something, can truly understand the joy of being able to help those who really need.

Despite of my very small contribution, I am very glad to know that the children in Phajoding have received something to make their daily life a little bit easier.

I wish the best opportunities for them in the near future”.

– Carolina Farias Christensen, Brazil

“In thank for their kindness in reminding us………

 The rundown buildings remind us how lucky we are to have a roof over our head, food within reach, clothes to keep warm – things that we take for granted. 

 The cheerful smiles remind us that happiness lies beyond material success – a thought that may take many of us years to realize, if ever.

 Their unconditional giving reminds us that we are in far better position to give a helping hand to our fellow human being”.

–  Vicky Poulsen, Hong Kong

“Having seen how much the spirit and culture of the place inspired my friend Dom, it was a pleasure to make a donation to the work at Phajoding.

All the more so as a relatively small donation, taken together with similar donations from others, can make a difference.

It is inspiring to support, in a small way, people who have very little material goods compared to what most people in Europe take for granted, but who nevertheless have what seems to be a very high motivation to make the best of what they do have”.

– Ed Garvey, Ireland

“With Best Regards”

– Marianna V Kaneva, Bulgaria

“Helping others in need makes your life more meaningful, and you can feel the happiness in your heart”.

– Yu Hui Wang, China

                                   Thank you everyone for your kindness,

                                    Dom

Turnips – an important ingredient on the Phajoding menu

Turnips (Yung Dok in Dzongkha) or Brassica Rapa (for those who are botanically minded) are a prominent root vegetable in Bhutanese cooking. And since they taste the best when they are grown in cooler temperatures (ideally between 5° – 24° Celsius) Phajoding provides a perfect environment for their cultivation. Well-drained soil and a good rainfall are also important prerequisites for a healthy crop so given that Phajoding is in the water catchment zone for the Thimphu valley and positioned on a well-drained slope you’d expect the quality and quantity of the Phajoding turnips to be high. The photo below can demonstrate the quantity but to determine the quality you’ll have to make a trip to Phajoding and taste for yourself! But speaking from personal experience- I can attest that they are of a superior quality. 

The root of the turnip is used to make a Bhutanese curry known as Yung Dok Datse or turnip cheese. For those of you who want to serve up something different to your family or friends, Lama Namgay has kindly offered to share his recipe, which is always served with rice.

Lama Namgay’s Yung Dok Datse

Ingredients

3 medium sized turnips

3-4 large green chillies * (slice lengthwise and remove seeds according to taste).

2 cloves of garlic

2 tablespoons oil

1 tsp salt

1 soup bowl of water

½ cup of local grated cheese (which is similar to a paneer cheese)

(* A word of caution: chillies are treated more like a vegetable rather than a spice in Bhutan which makes the Bhutanese cuisine range from hotter to hottest)

Preparation

Peel the turnips and cut into desired shapes. Chop the chillies in slices and crush the garlic. Start off first by cooking the turnips, chillies and garlic with the salt and oil. When the turnips are more or less cooked add the cheese and place the lid on the pan and lower heat. Further cook till the cheese melts and blends well with the other ingredients.

Voila – Yung Dok Datse!

The resourcefulness of the Bhutanese people is demonstrated by the way they also utilize the turnip leaves to make a delicious soup called Lom Jaju (Turnip leaf soup). Lama Namgay has taken this great shot of the turnip leaves drying in the cool mountain air. Provided that there is no rain, it takes around 2 weeks for the leaves to be fully dried.

Lama Namgay’s Lom Jaju

Ingredients

1 bunch of dried turnip leaves

1 tsp chilli powder

1 ball of cheese (diameter of approx. 5cm)

1 tbsp of oil

Salt

Preparation

Wash and boil the turnip leaves. Strain the turnip leaves and preserve the water. Chop leaves into small pieces and cook in water for about 20 minutes. Add the oil, chilli powder, salt and cheese. Continue cooking till the cheese melts and make sure you mix the soup properly. Add salt to taste and serve with rice.

This is a wonderful vegetarian dish that keeps the monk’s warm during the winter months.

Happy cooking!