Tibet

Tibetan Lamas

A rosy-cheeked miniature monk wearing a sleeveless yellow shirt and burgundy robes that dragged on the ground waved a heavy brass bell outside the monastery kitchen. It was time for tea, and the boys at Lamayuru Gompa came running from all directions at the signal. The young lamas invited us to join them. The boys, whose ages ranged from eight to eighteen, poured into a kitchen specially equipped to brew tea. Cauldrons simmered beneath shelves housing pounded brass pots and pitchers. Each young lama held a cup that an older boy filled, and they all sat together in the courtyard, sipping their mid-morning snack.

I loved these keepers of harmony; simple monks who chanted, drummed, and rang bells for days at a time. When the morning ritual was complete, their round faces looked up from their scriptures and I saw the fullness of many benevolent moons in their expressions, their balanced hearts and minds ever ready to serve.

Later, from my second floor window I observed the monks in the courtyard below. Young ones darted about while the meditative silence of senior lamas was preserved in less accessible parts of the complex. Others tended to shrines or were involved in renovation. Above the main building, compartments without windows had been dug out of the hillside. Monks lived in total isolation in this area. Each cell had a wood door with a slot in it so food could be passed to the inmates. We were told that these advanced monks were observing silence. They started with three weeks of isolation, and, if that went well, increased their seclusion to three months. Those who found the routine to their liking continued for three years. The reclusive monks occupying the cells were guaranteed success in observing the four virtues of a Buddhist: speaking truth, never speaking offensively, never engaging in frivolous conversation, and never defaming others.

Inside the main hall, senior lamas began a chant to bring a good harvest for the village folk under their care. The deep, resonant chanting went on at such an even cadence that I had little choice but to fall inward and soon I was responding to the chorus of voices that set a frequency in motion that spread far beyond the monastery walls. I loved these keepers of harmony; simple monks who chanted, drummed, and rang bells for days at a time. When the morning ritual was complete, their round faces looked up from their scriptures and I saw the fullness of many benevolent moons in their expressions, their balanced hearts and minds ever ready to serve. These were peaceful warriors and had been for lifetimes..

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