The tranquility of any monastery, mingled with the comforting sight of friendly faces and the soothing sounds of Buddhist chanting, is, almost always, enough to make one forget the problems and the hatred in the world outside, replacing it with a sense of peace.
Despite my fascination with monasteries and their golden rooftops, there’s nothing more fascinating than a day in the life of an ordinary Buddhist monk, who has avowed to a life of discipline, celibacy and dedication to the Buddha Dharma.
As early as four in the morning, the different cells in the monasteries are abuzz with a consortium of various alarm clocks going off simultaneously, signaling it is time for the monks to go to the main prayer hall for their morning prayers.
Absenting oneself from these prayer meetings would result in the guilty being heavily fined. Also, talking or yawning during the prayers always resulted in a sharp stinging whack on a monk’s shoulders as the prayer beads of the Gegou (or the supervisor) immediately finds its victim, or a beetroot red ear, as the Gegou pulls the guilty one’s ear.
It is some consolation though that the traditional Tibetan butter tea and phalae (Tibetan bread) are served during the prayers.
At around seven, it is back to their own cells for their breakfast and then soon after, it’s time to leave for their teacher’s cell, to learn the Buddhist philosophy. The monks value these teaching sessions very highly, often recording the entire session for future reference/study.
At around nine or so in the morning, they again assemble in the main prayer halls for their second morning prayers and finally break again about an hour later.
Lunch is usually brought in from the main kitchen in large trolleys. During their lunch, the monks sit in groups of threes or more, according to their ranks or otherwise; what is common in each group is that they all seem to always have something to laugh and be happy about. Lunch is also sometimes used as a time for many to hold debates with one another on their morning’s lesson on Buddhist philosophy.
Surprisingly, the quietest time in the monasteries are the afternoons, when all the monks have their afternoon nap. The afternoons in the monastery are the quietest time of the day and give you the impression of a huge town, whose residents have suddenly deserted it.
But just when you were wondering if the monks had suddenly left the monastery, the alarm clocks sound their wake up calls again and life in the monastery suddenly resumes, just as though it had never been interrupted.
With cushions in hand, the monks set off again to the prayer halls for their evening prayers. There again, it is the same procedure of checking identity cards, fining the absentees and punishing the inattentive. At half past five in the evening, the monks again return to their cells and have a light snack, after which they have two hours of intensive debates on the Buddhist philosophy, outside the main prayer hall.
After their much-heated debate sessions, by dusk, the monks return to their cells or to the terraces or corridors of the monasteries’ buildings to memorize huge chunks of Buddhist teachings from the thick Tibetan Buddhist manuscripts.
It is only around midnight that the Tibetan monk’s day ends — a time when the thick texts are closed, all prayers said and the tube lights in the individual cells switched off, one after another, until finally, it is only the streetlights that illuminate the deserted streets of the monastery.