I have been living for over a week in the Diwakar Buddhist Academy (DBA) and I have been getting used to the quiet, steady life in the monastery. DBA is a Shedra, a Buddhist college. The students are mainly of Tibetan origin or from one of the neighbouring countries Bhutan, Nepal and China. But here and there you also meet the one or the other Taiwanese or French. The student monks have enrolled in a seven year program in Buddhist philosophy. Lectures are usually given in Tibetan, but in order to enable the students to communicate with ordinary people they also learn English. And that is my purpose of being here.
After graduation the students have different options. Some go back back home and become Buddhist teachers or work in charity. Students with very good grades can start teaching in the Shedra. If they want to become a Lama, however, they have not finished, yet. To complement their philosophical education with spiritual practice they have to do a three year retreat doing intensive mediation.
But in order to graduate, the monks have to learn a lot of philosophy. And lot of it by heart.Their day is marked by studying, studying, praying and then again, studying. They start early, with self study from 5:00 to 6:30 followed by a one hour Puja in honour of Manjusri, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom. I am usually getting up when the Puja is almost over, just in time for breakfast. The food in the monastery is plain but tasty and organic. In the morning we often have the Tibetan porridge, Tsampa, roasted barley flour mixed with butter and Po Cha, the famous Tibetan butter tea.
In spite of me being very flexible regarding food, I am quite happy to have a cup of coffee in my room, after breakfast. Po Cha is all right, but it just isn’t a replacement for my morning coffee.
After coffee, I usually meditate and prepare for class. The students have lessons from eight to twelve.
For lunch we usually have rice with dal (lentils) and one or two types of vegetables. Probably two thirds of the world population live on that kind of alimentation (maybe minus the vegetables) and it somehow feels good to be one of them. Pulses provide some proteins (maybe supplemented by an egg once or twice per week), the rice the carbohydrates and the vegetables contribute vitamins and variety. In the west, we tend to think to much about nutrition which itself might be more harmful than even the most healthy food can compensate. Thus I am quite happy to live in an environment which relieves me of thinking about food.
At one o’clock my first lessons starts. It’s a beginners class. As to be expected for a Buddhist Monastery, there are no chairs in the classroom. The students sit on simple cushions, as a teacher, I am allowed or should I say required, to sit on a small dais.o
Almost all of my first class students come from Bhutan, they are fifteen to 25 years old and for many it’is the time they are outside of their small home country. As to be expected, they are quite curious about the world outside. Bhutan and Kalimpong, too, are quite remote and even though most of them have smartphones, they haven’t had a lot of contact with westerners. A few of them speak some English but most of them only very little. So it can be quite difficult to communicate. They haven’t had any Geography, Physics or science lessons in general, so I started teaching them basics, I can easily draw countries, continents, body parts and clothes on the whiteboard. I plan to continue this way, teaching English combined with a general education.
Directly afterwards, I teach the advanced students. They have almost finished their studies and are soon to set foot in wide world. They have had some English lessons so communication is much easier. Even so they are still need to improve their grammar and pronunciation.But anyway, I have a textbook at hand which facilitates preparation significantly.
After class I go to the dining hall and have an after work chai and chat with my colleague, the other English teacher. For the students the day is far from over. From three to half past four they have self study. Then, they debate until six o’clock. The debates are quite intense. Always, one student is in the focus of attention. A group of two to six is asking the questions, emphasising the question with clapping directed towards the person in the middle. The content of disputes reminds me of scholastics. They discuss philosophical and Buddhist terms using their proper logic, in order to determine the truth.
The second Puja of the day starts at six. It is dedicated to Mahakala, the protector of the Karma Kagyu lineage. Dinner is served directly after the Puja. Again we have rice, lentils and vegetables. The final session of self study lasts from 8 pm to 9:30. Then, finally the students have one hour free time. The gong for night’s rest sounds at half past ten.The students go to sleep. I do one hour of evening meditation before I go to bed around midnight.