Thursday, November 3, 2016

Monks and Exiles

Entrance to Namdroling Monastery
Bylakuppe near Kodagu in Karnataka is a little Tibet.  In 1960, the government of Mysore (now Karnataka) allotted about 3000 acres of land to the Tibetan refugees.  Today nearly 70,000 people of Tibetan origin live in that place which attracts a lot of tourists.

The Namdroling Nyingmapa Monastery is one of the attractions.  Established in 1963 by Drubwang Padma Norbu Rinpoche, the monastery educates hundreds of monks who graduate after a ten-year course which includes a three-year period of spiritual retreat. 

Inside the Golden Temple
The Nyingma tradition is the oldest of the four major schools of Tibetan Buddhism.  It is founded on the first translations of Buddhist scriptures from Sanskrit into old Tibetan language carried out in the 8th century CE.  The Tibetan alphabet and grammar were created just for this endeavour, according to certain traditions.

One of the plaques inside the Golden Temple attached to the monastery says that the original Guru Rinpoche was the second Buddha.  The Guru was born “twelve years” after the Buddha’s death, according to the plaque though, I think, it should be “twelve centuries” since the Guru lived in the 8th century CE. 

A view of the monastery and the temple
While Lord Buddha’s statue which is 60 feet in height occupies the central position in the Golden Temple, Guru Rinpoche’s statue on one side is 58 feet tall.  The other statue which is exactly as tall as Rinpoche’s is that of Buddha Amitayus, according to the plaque.  All three statues are made of copper and plated with gold.  Inside the statues are many hidden secrets such as “scriptures, relics of great beings, small clay mould stupas, and small statues which symbolise the body, speech and mind of the Buddha.”  The plaque goes on to say that “Seeing these statues, venerating them, circumambulating and making offering to them generates faith, peace, wisdom, loving kindness and compassion in our minds and cleanses unwholesome thoughts and actions.”

Two little monks
The prayers of the monks in the monastery may remind you of some tantric recitations.  There is something magical about the very sound of the chanting which is accompanied by sounds of an enormous gong and apparently a stringed instrument whose vibration penetrates into your soul.

However, I couldn’t notice anything otherworldly on the faces of the monks I came across.  They looked melancholic.  The little monks, students of monkhood, looked like anachronisms walking with uncertain footsteps.  When a few of my students invited the little monks for some snaps, they looked utterly confused.  They posed for the snaps with hesitant longing while throwing furtive glances around as if to make sure that they were not being watched by senior monks.  Are they becoming monks because they have no other option?  The question sprang in my sceptical mind again and again.

Shopping Complex
Outside the monastery is an enormous shopping complex run by Tibetans.  They sell a wide variety of things like apparels, caps, woollen garments, bags, handicraft items, food items, and so on.  But none of the shopkeepers looked eager to sell anything. They just tell you the prices with the stoic indifference of the monks I saw in the monastery.  You buy the goods or don’t, it seems to matter little to them.  But I was delighted to watch one of those women who snatched a toy gun from her little son who was playing in front of their shop.  She held it as far away from her as possible, averted her eyes, and pulled the trigger.  Nothing happened.  The little boy taught her how to do it.  He didn’t hold the gun far from him.  He was not afraid of the paper crackers which produced sounds slightly higher than the cracking of knuckles.  But the mother held the gun far away again.  But the crackers burst this time.  And she laughed like a little child.  That laugh remains in my heart as one of the most pleasant sights I had in the little Tibet in Karnataka. 

What made these people so indifferent?  I wondered.  Is it their religion?  Is it the esotericism of that great Guru’s teachings?  Or is it the exile? 

Or is the indifference merely a mask put up before the thousands of tourists who hang around the place marking a stark contrast to the place’s quintessential spirit?

PS. I visited the place on 31 Oct 2016 along with a group of students of mine.

Some of the students and two teachers
in front of the Golden Temple

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  1. It may be their religion and exile. More than that, it could be their origin from the hilly and the hard terrain. This Little Tibet is worth a visit.

    1. Worth a visit, yes. It's something quite different from what we are used to. Sikkim has such monasteries.

  2. This is a very colourful and beautiful place.

  3. नोटबंदी के बाद डिजिटल पेमेंट पर जोर, जानें क्या है डिजिटल पेमेंट


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