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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Peace, Wisdom, Compassion

Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery
On Tuesday, September 5, I rode out of the chaos of Kathmandu and through the doors of Rigon Tashi Choeling Monastery where I would be teaching English to Buddhist Monks. When I first arrived I was uncertain of my duties and what would happen next since Neejal the person who dropped me off and my contact for Volunteer Aid Nepal did not know himself. I entered the main office, where a gruff man told me there were four rules: No Drinking, No Smoking, No Eating Meat (yes, I’m vegetarian for the month), No Monks in your room, and then sent me away. Thankfully, I met the Brazilian who now lived in Australia, my co-English teacher, Edson (Ed) who had already been here for a month and was staying for two more. He not only showed me the ropes but has become my mediation teacher, tour guide and very talkative friend. We would mediate at 6am, breakfast at 7am (Ed only eats lunch because he is to “healthy/fat”), teach two classes starting at 9am, take tea with the elder monks at 11am, lunch at noon, an hour break, teach two classes from 2-4pm, teach English to the older monks, dinner at 6pm, hang out, then bed by 8pm or 9pm. Have half days on Saturday and Sundays off. For the rest of the month I would be apart of this simple life, with the majority of my time trying to teach English.

As one can imagine for me, the first day of teaching I was completely nervous. What the heck had I gotten myself into, I the person who jokingly has their own language, Wetterberguese since she is not good at English, teaching someone else such a hard language? As usual Ed saved the day. He not only taught English to the monks he made it fun. He is a 46 year old kid that can trick anyone into learning, and with him I found my place as more of a teacher aid then the primary teacher. The youth I saw struggling I would try and give one on one attention and add in my layer of knowledge of what had helped me when I learned. A dynamic was quickly built and I fell confident in my role as Miss, my new name at the Monastery. Ed also has inspired me to become TELF certified because it not only will allow me to help others, it will help me to learn correct English. The best thing about teaching is that when you are teaching someone else you also are teaching yourself
Future Lama
On to the monks in school that Ed and I are teaching. They are as young as 5 and as old as....depends on when they enter the Monastery and when they finish the Dharma (Buddist teachings). Unlike traditional school the monks in training come here to become monks first and to get an education second. Grade 1 ranges in ages from 5-14 because they are 1st year monks and when they past the 1st year Dharma, Tibetan, Nepali, and art they move onto Grade 2 and so on, even if they don’t pass the other subjects such as English and Math. Therefore each grade is a mixture of age and levels of English. Think olden day schools in the US with all the kids in one classroom. 

The monks in training start at all different ages because of two things, when their family sent them to the monastery or when they decided for themselves to become monks. For a Nepali family it is an honour to have a monk in the family, and to a poor family it also means that their son or daughter will get fed and have an education. I am not passing judgement since all the young monks are asked if they want to be here, but for some you can see the pressure or lack of interest in Buddhism. Whereas, the monks that start later are the ones who are serious about it. To me it is similar as starting college fresh out of high school because that is what you are suppose to do, and an adult choosing to go to school, as you can imagine the one who really wants to be there is more serious. The nice thing about this system is when you finish your 7 grades you have a year to decide if want to take your vows to continue the monk life forever or live a “normal” life. One of the most interesting people here is a gentleman who went to school with one of the other elder monks but decided it was not the life for him, and now works at the Monastery as a translator; I like talking to him because he can explain both sides of the coin to me. 

One thing that surprised me about the young monks in a good and bad way is that I thought they might be more like robots then real boys. Like all boys, they show off, chase snakes (but don’t kill them because that is a bad monk), love attention, cheat, tattle on each other, check out girls, fight, and love to laugh and smile. My favourite time with them is when then read or try to read to me books especially Dr. Seuss, which also my favourite time with the elder monks. There is such a beauty is sharing a childhood favourite with another culture. 

Ed, Mike (former English Teacher) and the monks in training.
Speaking of books, Ed is creating an English library here so all the monks can bring books to their room to read. Currently we only have 20 books which have to stay with us so they have something to read to us when we teach. If anyone is moved so, mail a check to my parents and email me the name of their favourite childhood book(s), (Goodnight Moon, Goosebumps, Choose Your Own Adventure, etc.) and I will buy two copies and donate them to the Monastery with your name written and any message you like inside the cover. I would have asked you to just mail the books but the mail system in Nepal is not great. And until I can guarantee that they will get here, this is the best bet. If you do so, I also promise to picture of the monks reading your childhood favorite.

My parents address: 6605 Ptarmigan Road, Racine, WI 53406.


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