Tibet 2009

More about living in a monastery


Many of you have been wondering about the rules here at the monastery. Most of the our rules are already covered in our personal monk vows, so the monastery needs few rules of its own, most are for the safety and care of the younger monks;

  • Monks have to always sleep at the monastery, unless given permission
  • Fighting, stealing, etc..will get you kicked out of the monastery
  • Monks need to be in the monastery by 7:00 every evening
  • Monks aren’t allowed to ride motorcycles
  • Of course no T.V.s are allowed, but monks do listen to the radio on their cell phones
  • Yes, monks are allowed cell phones and many own expensive ones. Family and sponsors give them as gifts so monks can stay in touch with their families in Tibet 
  • Monks aren’t allowed to play sports (Though most sneak off and do so)
  • Monks aren’t supposed to watch movies, but on occasion even the monastery shows them when on holiday
  • Women (Sisters, mothers, teachers, guests) must leave the monastery by 7:00 every evening
  • Younger monks need permission to go to town, older ones do not
  • The monastery kitchen and restaurants are vegetarian but monks are allowed to cook meat in their rooms
  • And of course no smoking, drinking or drugs…which no one does, anyway

Everyone has a “House teacher” 
House teachers make sure monks do their studies and for young monks, teachers make sure their dressed properly, acting like a proper monk and spending their money wisely

Most days are just study, 
Monks spend most of their time studying but all monks take turns working in the kitchen on a monthly rotation – 2 times a month.

Tuesday is our holiday
Some monks go to town for some yummy South Indian food. Others go vegetable shopping, or just strolling around our local town. Many stay home and catch up on sleep or catch up on their studies.  Still others do laundry or cook some special food in their rooms and talk with friends.

Tuesday evenings
The monastery shows VOC “Voice of America” news videos (in Tibetan) specially made for Tibetans by America. It includes current news about the world and news about Tibet.

For money,
Monks receive a monthly donation from the monastery through sponsors; this amount varies greatly month to month.
The monastery provides food, room, electricity, water etc…monks are responsible to buy their own clothes, medicine, toiletries, and costs of travel.

Most monks are very happy,
No one ever fights or argues, the monks are very devoted and caring to each other, but western commodities are getting more and more appealing to the young monks, many can think of nothing other than to dis-robe, moving to America and becoming rich, like in the movies.

All in all
It’s a very challenging and trying time to be a monk. The monastic world is changing so fast as it confronts the modern world. The next ten to twenty years will be challenging for monastic’s.



China 2009

Living in a Monastery



I’d like to answer some of the questions I get in emails from friends about what it’s like living in a monastery.

Do they let you leave?
Yes, of course we can., we enjoy a lot of freedom. I think when westerners picture a Buddhist monastery they think it’s like a catholic monastery where monks pray and live in silence and devotion. This would be the equivalent to a Buddhist hermitage or retreat house. But Tibetan Monasteries are more similar to western universities. There are rules to follow like any school, but these rules are more about reminding us that we’re monk and need to behave dignified with proper manners. If we don’t have study or work obligations we can go to town, have lunch at local restaurants or go and watch the local soccer team play. Tibetans believe being happy is a very important part of being a monk. And following ridged rules doesn’t lead to calm, happy and peaceful monks. We can go on holidays, study at other monasteries and decide to quit the monastery anytime we like.

What do you do at a Monastery?
Monasteries are a place of study and practice. A place to work on yourself and to improve yourself. The days are filled with classes, debate, study and the occasional puja. And of course we always find time to make and enjoy some sweet milk tea with friends.

What time do you wake up?
Our morning gong rings at 6:00 but most monks wake up before that to get a head start on their studies.

How’s the food at a monastery?
Well I’m fortunate for they say Sera has the best food of all the monasteries. But monastery meals are mostly the same each day. Some may find that the hardest part.

What’s your daily schedule?

6:00: Monks wake up and do morning prayers until breakfast
6:30: Breakfast – Breakfast is “Pa-le” (Tibetan bread), and Tibetan butter tea.
I usually have ‘Tsam-pa’ (Roasted barley flour) in my room for breakfast.
After Breakfast: Monks study, have classes and prepare for morning debate last two hours or until lunch.
11:30: Lunch is always Dal (lentils in broth) and rice or bread with fresh water and a banana. Monastery food is always vegetarian though monks are permitted to cook their own food in their rooms if they wish, including cooking meat, or to eat at a local restaurant many of which serve meat. Remember vegetarianism is not a tenent of Buddhism. Many monks from different tradition eat meat.
After Lunch: The whole monastery sleeps for an hour…very nice habit.
1:30: Monks have afternoon classes and study throughout the afternoon.
4:30 Dinner: dinner meals vary, usually some kind of mixed vegetable with fresh Tibetan bread or rice. Also chow mein, fried rice. or noodle soup are served. Strictly speaking monks are not supposed to eat dinner, Most Tibetan monks eat diner because their studies require high amounts of effort. in fact many monks will eat a second dinner of Tibetan noodle soup at 9:00 made themselves in their rooms.
After Diner: Monks prepare for evening debate.
6:30  Debate: Evening debate is a vigorous examination of the days lessons and will usually last for two hours.
After debate: Monks will study until 11:00 or 12:00 in the evening
Bedtime: bedtime is usually around 11:00 for most monks. ‘Shas’ or rooms are usually shared. most rooms are small but clean.

Tuesday is the Monasteries day off everyone is free to do whatever they want.

Most days I spend very little money, but costs do arise occasionally for: medicine, toiletries, and travel expenses when needing to renewing my visa.

Well, that’s a typical day. But there are so many holidays and special prayer gatherings that add a nice change to the schedule and very often during the week I am surprised with a whole day off when I can study, go to town, or do laundry. Besides cold showers, no privacy, and squat outside toilets, overall living at a monastery is fun, with a great sense of friendship and family.

Types of retreats

.There are many kinds of retreat.
There are meditation retreats, study retreats, silent retreats. There are retreats centered on specific meditations or practices. There are solitary retreats, group retreats and seminar-like study retreats.

You can do a retreat on a mountain top or in a busy monastery, There are even home retreats where you stock up your kitchen, turn off the phones, unplug the T.V. and don’t answer the door for a specified amount of time, concentrating completely on your retreat agenda.

Retreats can be undertaken according to many different guidelines. They can be of any duration of time:0 one-day, weekend or month long retreats and long retreats of one year or the traditional three year, three month, three week retreat. Some retreats provide tightly structured schedules, while others offer retreatants more freedom.

In order to choose a retreat, you could ask your spiritual friends/teacher for suggestions  or ask yourself questions like: What are my reasons for wanting to do a retreat, what are my spiritual interests and experience, and what environment would best facilitate their actualization? What are my limitations, physical, mental, financial, time-wise, etc.? Do I want to be silent and solitary, or am I looking for new like-minded friends?

For how long should I retreat? This will depend a lot upon your prior retreat experience. For some people, it may be best to start small with a half-day, daylong, or weekend retreat rather than jumping into a week or ten days of silence and/or solitude. What kind of structure would suit me: many scheduled activities, or lots of open time for my own established practices and interests? What kind of surroundings would be most conducive? Do I need to conduct other activities while on retreat, or can I sequester myself entirely from the world during that period of time? What specific practices might I like to engage in? Do I need to ask a friend to provide cooked meals, groceries and shopping while I’m on retreat.



Understanding Retreat


Why do a retreat?
The reasons for seeking a retreat experience are as diverse as the many types of retreats. Some seek spiritual renewal; others are looking to heal physically and mentally. Many desire a retreat specific to their religious faith, and some are simply looking to escape for a few days into a life unfettered with the daily demands of work, home and family.

The word “retreat” itself is misleading; for some it connotes escape or retreat from the real world — which is true to a degree – but it also involves retreating from ignorance, from the dissatisfied mind of attachment and from the self-cherishing thought.  These are the fundamental forces from which one must retreat.  Transforming the mind into virtue, freeing oneself from suffering and its causes: these are the essential meaning of Buddhist practice. Our motivation in any practice we do begins with wanting to achieve enlightenment for the sake of all beings. To achieve our full human potential so we can fully benefit others.

  • To develop our fundamental human qualities of wisdom, patience, compassion, loving kindness and basic goodness.
  • To gives us the time for putting into practice the teachings we have received. Practices like: meditation, reciting mantras, praying for the welfare of others, accumulating merit and visualization techniques.
  • To take a break from the busyness of our ordinary lives. We are generally so caught up in; “habitual doing”, self indulgent fantasies, sense enjoyments and our various obligations to others that retreat time is the only time we have to relax and  slow down. In a retreat situation, with all the “busyness” gone, we are forced to come face to face with ourselves, to expose our delusions, to discover our depth, to meet ourselves honestly.
  • Lastly; retreat gives us the time and space to explore ourselves, our minds and our feelings leaving nothing hidden. All habitual patterns are uncovered so we can awaken and start living life directly, truthfully, honestly no longer on auto pilot.

The Challenge of retreat
I think to some, a retreat sounds “harmonious”, but the stillness, serene settings and silence that are hallmarks of most retreats can also open the floodgates to all kinds of thoughts and feelings that we rarely acknowledge. Often when we look so directly into “the mirror” we don’t like what we see. Some feel suffocating loneliness, others feel indiscriminate aggression, intense passion or unbearable boredom. But rest assured, the inner clatter of extreme emotions and unpredictable feelings is eventually replaced by almost heavenly waves of calm and equanimity.

Understanding retreat
Some argue entering retreat is a selfish act or a wasteful use of our precious human life. Retreatants are just escaping their responsibilities, avoiding what needs to be accomplished at this very moment.

But if we take this analogy:
A person could decide to dedicate their life caring for the sick and do much good in the immediate world. But also a person could decide to first spend ten years going to (retreating into) medical school and become a doctor to possibly help in a much greater capacity. We all have choices, to how we want to impact the world. Hospitals need nurses and technicians as well as surgeons.

In retreat a student practices, works with and contemplates the teachings he has studied until he understands and realizes them fully. Then emerging only after he has acquire the tools to benefit the world in a much greater capacity.

What is Buddhism?


Buddhism is a path of practice and spiritual development which can lead to Insight into the true nature of life. Buddhist practices such as meditation, the practice of ethics and reflection are a means of changing oneself and ones habits in order to develop qualities such as kindness, awareness, and wisdom. The experience which has been developed within the Buddhist tradition over thousands of years has created an incomparable resource for all those who wish to follow a spiritual path, a path which ultimately culminates in enlightenment or Buddhahood.

Because Buddhism does not include the idea of worshiping a creator God, some people do not see it as a religion in the Western sense. The basic tenets of Buddhist teaching are straightforward and practical such as: impermanence (nothing is fixed or permanent); karma (actions have consequences); awakening (positive change is always possible). Buddhism teaches practical methods (such as meditation) which enable people to realize and use its teachings in order to transform their experience, to be fully responsible for their lives and to develop the qualities of wisdom and compassion.

There are over 350 million Buddhists and a growing number of them live in the Western world. They follow many different forms of Buddhism, but all traditions are characterised by non-violence, lack of dogma, tolerance of differences, and, usually, by the practice of meditation.


Who Was The Buddha


Buddhism started with the Buddha. The word ‘Buddha’ is a title, which means ‘one who is awake’ in the sense of having ‘woken up to reality’. The Buddha was born as Siddhartha Gautama in Nepal around 2,500 years ago. He did not claim to be a god or a prophet. He was a human being who became Enlightened, understanding life in the deepest way possible.

Siddhartha was born into the royal family of a small kingdom on the Indian-Nepalese border. According to the traditional story he had a privileged upbringing, but was jolted out of his sheltered life on realizing that life includes the harsh facts of old age, sickness, and death.

This prompted him to deeply investigate the meaning of life. Eventually he felt impelled to leave his palace and follow the traditional Indian path of the wandering holy man, a seeker after truth. He became very adept at meditation under various teachers, and then took up ascetic practices. This was based on the belief that one could free the spirit by denying the flesh. He practiced austerities so determinedly that he almost starved to death. But he still hadn’t solved the mystery of life and death. True understanding seemed as far away as ever.

So he abandoned this way and looked into his own heart and mind; he decided to trust his intuition and learn from direct experience. He sat down beneath a pipal tree and vowed to stay there until he’d gained Enlightenment. After 40 days, on the full moon in May, Siddhartha finally attained enlightenment.

Buddhists believe he reached a state of being that goes beyond anything else in the world. If normal experience is based on conditions — upbringing, psychology, opinions, perceptions — Enlightenment is Unconditioned. A Buddha is free from greed, hatred and ignorance, and characterized by wisdom, compassion and freedom. Enlightenment brings insight into the deepest workings of life, and therefore into the cause of human suffering — the problem that had initially set him on his spiritual quest.

During the remaining 45 years of his life, the Buddha traveled through much of northern India, spreading his understanding. His teaching is known in the East as the Buddha-dharma or ‘teaching of the Enlightened One’. He reached people from all walks of life and many of his disciples gained enlightenment. They, in turn, taught others and in this way an unbroken chain of teaching has continued, right down to the present day.

The Buddha was not a god and he made no claim to divinity. He was a human being who, through tremendous effort of heart and mind, transformed all limitations. He affirmed the potential of every being to reach Buddhahood. Buddhists see him as an ideal human being, and a guide who can lead
us all towards Enlightenment.


What The Buddha Taught


Soon after his Enlightenment the Buddha had a vision in which he saw the human race as a bed of lotus flowers. Some of the lotuses were still mired in the mud, others were just emerging from it, and others again were on the point of blooming. In other words, all people had the ability to unfold their potential and some needed just a little help to do so. So the

Buddha decided to teach, and all of the teachings of Buddhism may be seen as attempts to fulfill this vision — to help people grow towards Enlightenment.
Buddhism sees life as a process of constant change, and its practices aim to take advantage of this fact. It means that one can change for the better. The decisive factor in changing oneself is the mind, and Buddhism has developed many methods for working on the mind. Most importantly, Buddhists practice meditation, which is a way of developing more positive states of mind that are characterized by calm, concentration, awareness, and emotions such as friendliness. Using the awareness developed in meditation it is possible to have a fuller understanding of oneself, other people, and of life itself. Buddhists do not seek to ‘evangelize’ or coerce other people to adopt their religion, but they do seek to make its teachings available to whoever is interested, and people are free to take as much or as little as they feel ready for.

PAP Permits and Application

Want to visit me and/or the Tibetan settlements in South India?
Most of the Tibetan settlements in India are protected areas and require a ‘Protected Area Permit’ or ‘PAP’ for foreigners to spend the night. ‘Day trips’ to any of the Tibetan settlements are permitted, but staying is not allowed without a PAP permit.

Areas that do not require a ‘PAP’ are:
1. Dharamsala in North India – Home of the Dalai Lama.
2. Dehradun, U.A. in North India – Home of the Sakya Trizin
3. Majnu ka Tilla – The Tibetan communities in Delhi.
Visiting and staying is permitted at these settlements without a PAP permit.

 Tibetan Settlements that require a PAP permit including:
1. South India Settlements of: Hunsur, Bylakuppe, Mundgod, and Kollegal
2. Bir in Himachal Pradesh in North India – 2 hours from Dharamsala.
    (Bir PAPs can be attained at the Dharamsala FRO office within a few days)
3. Many Miscellaneous settlements in North East India require PAPs

Hotels, guesthouses, and rental agencies will need to see your PAP on arrival. Police may ask you to leave and/or take you to their police station and ticket you if you do not have a valid PAP permit.

 PAP permits are easy to get:
1. PAP permits are free.
2. Rarely is anyone’s application revoked.
3. No invitation letter is needed when applying through the Indian government.

The problem:
PAP permits for South India take 3-4 months to receive after applying.
When accepted, your PAP permit will be mailed to the address on your application. An emailed copy can be requested. The original is not needed in India, a scanned copy can be emailed to you by family or friends from back home if you’re currently traveling.

1. Keep a scanned digital copy of your PAP (and other vital documents: passport, visa, travel insurance, online, for easy download if they’re lost)
2. A PAP is valid for one year, so always apply 3-4 months ahead to receive your new PAP and keep it continuously valid year after year.
3. Remember PAPs are free and if His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches in South India or you get a sudden wish to visit me, you can simply pack your bags and go. No last minute permit troubles.

Downloading Your PAP

Download your PAP permit application here: PAP-Application.doc
The application is in ‘word.doc’ format so it can be easily edited and printed out. All relative important information has already been filled in on the application.

Emailing PAP applications is not possible because signed documents are required.

When mailing in your PAP application you must also include:
1. 3-copies of your signed PAP permit application (original and two copies)
2. 3-photo copies of your passport
3. 3 photo copy of your Indian visa (If you have not already obtained your Indian visa write: “Have applied for visa – not yet received” on your application).
4. 2-passport size photos

Mail your ‘signed’ PAP application with all the above documents to:

Mailing Address:
Mr. Parida / Under Secretary
Rehabilitation Section
Ministry of Home Affairs,
NDCC Building II, Jai Singh Road
New Delhi 110 001
Other Info:
Email: us-ffrhsmig-mha@nic.in
Tel: +91 11 23438034,
23438037, 23438048
Fax: +91 11 23438033

Allow 3-4 months to receive your approved PAP permit.


Office Directions in Delhi:
Office open mornings: 9:30 – 12:00
Directions: From the Majnu-Ka-Tilla Tibetan Community in Delhi,
Take the Yellow (metro) line to Rijiv Chok metro station.
The NDCC building is at the intersection of: Jai Singh and Parliament Street rd.
(Rs-30 by rickshaw)

Alternative Site for PAPs:
PAP can also be attained through the Dalai Lama’ office in Delhi
But a letter of invitation from a monastery you are visiting is required.
No invitation letter is needed when going directly through the Ministry of Home Affairs.

Mailing Address:
The Rehabilitation Officer
Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama
10-B, Ring Road, Lajpat Nagar-IV
New Delhi – 110024, India
Tel: +91-11-26474798, 26439745, 26218548
Fax: +91-11-26461914,
Web : www.tibetbureau.in
Email : rehab@tibetbureau.in