Monday, March 24, 2014

Spring

Mr. Leki Dorji tending his flower pots.

Every morning before we start our classes, one of the most frequently asked questions is ''What is the temperature today?'' When asked, A student checks the reading from the thermometer. The practice of recording the daily temperature has been helpful to track the gradual changes in the atmospheric temperature. Over the last few months we have recorded the gradual rise in the temperature. Today  we have 23 degrees Celsius on the record.
Through the rise in temperature and the experience of warmth every day, we can feel the approach of new season. The visible changes happening in nature have prompted a few students to talk about the current change in the seasons. A few of them have witnessed the blossomming of flowers in and around the Institute gardens. The beautiful flowers of peach trees in the jungle opposite  the Institute is an obvious sign of spring.

Beautiful orchid flowers from class garden
Back in the class, our student Mr. Tshewang Wangdi
recently started to adorn our small class flower garden. He dug the flower bed, put fertile soil over it, planted few more flowers and started to water them. Now he is very happy to see the spring glow of a few beautiful orchid flowers growing.  
Another student, Mr. Leki Dorji passionately works in the garden. Most of his holiday time could be spent gardening, or either in the CGI garden or maintaining his own flower pots back in his room. With good background knowledge in agriculture and farming, he knowsit's now a season of growth. Recently, he wentto the communities of Bangtsho and Rekhey, in Dewathang, in search of chilli plants. He came back with a few bundles, enough to fill in his garden. Today, in his garden, we can see those chillies growing green and a few inches tall. He also sowed bean seeds, coriander, and spring onions.
Mr. Leki Dorji's flower pots

With the spring season in full swing, His work has just begun . There is a lot to do before he can harvest. He told us that one important element in growing plants organic fertilizers fetched from the jungle and brought to the garden. Another vital element is watering, and he has rubber pipe that takes water into his garden. Finding time in the morning and evening is the best time to water, he explained. He also added that this time of the year isthe time to transplant especially for chillies, because monsoon season will wash away small chilli plants. If you don’t transplant them, you may never grow chillies.
Back in his room, he has little corner of flowers filled with flower pots made from clay, worn out buckets, cans, and plastic bottles. I could see beautiful budding and little bright flowers blossom from that private garden.
Mr. Leki Dorji in his vegetable garden, after chilli plantation.
Last year, Mr. Leki Dorji received a prize from the Institute for being an active and hard working boy in the agriculture garden.
There are also a few other students who have maintained their own small garden in the nook of their rooms. A few days ago a group of students came to me. They shared their idea to go into the forest to collect flower plants to grow in our class garden. I felt it was great idea, and the fact  that they came up with and it shows their interest and love of nature. 

Dawa











Sunday, March 23, 2014

Greetings!



Its long past-due that I introduce myself here, but honestly, the time has flown by since I've been here, and I can't believe that it has already been more than five months since my arrival. 
Noa passing the reigns of the English program.
Not pictured: Dawa, my great co-teacher

My name is Brodie Lewis, and I'm from the United States. I had the good fortune (or karma, perhaps) to be hired as the visiting English teacher, and arrived in October. For the last two years I've been teaching English in Taiwan, and I'm happy to leave the concrete jungle of Taipei (where the population density in the neighborhood I taught in is 41,000 people per sq kilometer) for the old-school jungle of southern Bhutan. 

But more than just the geographical relocation, I feel extremely fortunate to be teaching the monks at CGI, to be a part of Lhomon Education, and to be working under the guidance of Khyentse Rinpoche. And most of all, to have the twenty students that I do as my pupils on a daily basis. 

For a teacher, having good-natured, inquisitive, and motivated students is about as good as it gets, and my students have blessed me with that (alright, most of the time). For the last five months they have amazed me with their memories (remembering the definition of a word I casually mentioned weeks before), their questions (even the difficult ones, like "who is great in your village?") and good humor in rain or shine. It seems no one told Bhutanese monks what teenagers are supposed to act like. 

That's not to say that the assignment is completely without its challenges. I think particularly of the difficulty of achieving the beginner's mind necessary to understand the educational needs and abilities of young men and boys who have come of age in a world so different from mine. Even explaining a shopping cart can be a challenge to someone who has never been in grocery store. And then, of course, choosing, as the teacher, what is important enough to teach them. Every teacher has an internal hierarchy that they try to draw from in terms of what to teach next, and it is a bit of mental gymnastics to monitor and reconfigure that here, in a place where they don't have traffic lights or stop signs, and have never used email, and you're never sure when those things might happen.

As much as I've been trying to teach, I've also been trying to learn from my students, and respect all of the intelligence they possess that will never show up on a standardized test. In Taiwan I remember reading a newspaper article that was showing the correlation between lack of natural sunlight and poor vision in children, and how some children, from spending all their time indoors studying and looking at screens were getting to the point of legal blindness. Its hard to imagine that happening here. In Bhutan, like, probably, most rural agricultural places, life seems to be outside. And not just the walking which seems to be such a part of daily life, but being in nature, learning from nature, experiencing nature. You can take a twenty minute walk through the woods with any of the LME students and they can tell you (in Sharchop, at least), the names of the animals they see, the birds they hear, and the names of which plants are edible, which are medicinal, which can be used to make brooms, and which you can surreptitiously throw at your friend to stick on his robe. In a recent straw poll, two of the students had used a washing machine, while 19 had herded cattle, and even 10 had woven! There are a host of skill sets among the monks of Bhutan that are very foreign to the young men of my home country, and they never cease to have things to teach me, or the enthusiasm to share it.

Luckily I have found myself working for an organization that respects this extant knowledge, and has the goal of augmenting the students' understanding of life rather than replace it with inapplicable foreign pedagogy. It has been a rewarding challenge to work on developing and implementing an integrated curriculum that is so tailor-made to suit these students. 

I look forward to the rest of my time living, teaching, and learning here. Keep an eye on this space for updates!

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Losar



Terma
Losar Tashi Delek! March 2nd marked the Bhutanese New Year festival, called Losar, and the first day of the Wood Male Horse year. The festival here at Chokyi Gyatsho Institute, in Dewathang, was preceded by the five-day practice of the Vajrakilaya Puja, in keeping with the tradition of the Institute.
This festival holiday in the I
nstitute was opened by receiving the terma statues of Great Guru Padhmasambhava (the main relic in the Institute) into the temple at around 4 a.m. from the guest house. After that there was offering of the grand feast by the khenpo, lamas, lopons and the monks of the Institute. The ritual, which lasted for three hours, came to an end when the terma was taken back to the guest house.
Tug of war
In the following hours of the day all the fraternity of the institute came together on the temple yard to mark the first day of the new year. The tables and chairs were arranged under the lone standing tree right near the edge of the yard. The weather was bright and beautiful. A number of monks and cooks prepared the grand feast for lunch while there was entertaining play for other monks.
The younger monks played soccer and competed in tug of war and sack races, and there was a competition among the brand new monks to see who could put their robes on fastest, all in front of the watchful eye of Khenpo and the senior lamas. The senior monks were also entertained with tug of war. It was really grand celebration with lots of entertainment.
Soccer on play
 After the entertainment programme there was traditional midday meal which was really a grand feast. Food such as local rice, chicken, beef, emadatshi (chilli and cheese), dhal, fried fish, fried egg, mixed vegetables, cauliflower, mushroom cheese, soup, milk curd and green bananas were served. Green bananas are considered auspicious foods, the presence of which helps to ensure the New Year will be a good one. Every one enjoyed the delicious meal.   
The play continued after the lunch break with a volleyball match organized amongst the senior monks. While there was entertainment in their play, it was also serious competition, and included prizes, provided by the institute, for the winning teams. The first day came to an end with the awarding of prizes to the winners.
The second and third days of Losar were celebrated with playing games and arranging special meals.
New monks wearing robes
The word losar is the Tibetan word for "new year". Lo means the "year, age"; sar means the "new, fresh". The losar is traditionally celebrated for three days.

Dawa

                                                                  


Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Vajra Kilaya Tordok



The Vajra Kilaya ritual (Phurbi Tordok) ended in the late afternoon, February, 28th2014. It was the second of two Tordoks in Chokyi Gyatsho Institute this winter, the other of which was the Jamphel Shenye Tordok (wrathful manifestation of Manjushree ritual) which was performed earlier in February 2014. The rituals are usually scheduled at the beginning of each year.

It is believed that there are many external evil forces that are influence one's life, causing sickness, death and other misfortunes. These rituals are performed to protect all sentient beings from those evil powers, and  to defend from misfortune and sickness. This ritual is carried out at the beginning of the year to bring well-being, peace and harmony to the Institute, the community, the country and the world at large. Lopen Dechen, one of the senior teachers at CGI, said ''This ritual will also help protect and propagate Buddhadharma.'' He added ''Our activities will go according to our wishes and our aspirations will be successful.''  
The residents of Dewathang, Bangtsho and Rekhey came to pay their respects and to wish for good fortune in the coming year. The ritual was presided over by Khenpo Sangay Jamtsho and Lama Choeda and performed by hundreds of other lamas, lopens and monks  

Dawa

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

New monks





From the day the "increasing" terma was brought in as an important relic to Chokyi Gyatsho Institute, the number of new monks has increased. The first two monks, one from Bartsam and other from Mongar, came on the eve of 11th January, 2014 and now we have more than twenty five new monks.
Almost all the monks, ages 9 to 16, went to primary school from grades two to five and one of them went through grade nine. They have come from Tashigang, Mongar, Lhuntse, Shingkhar, Lauri, and some from Dewathang. 
In informal chats they said it was their interest and choice to be monks. Now they are really happy to be at the Institute with so many friends.
This group of monks will start their basic Buddhist studies beginning this new academic year 2014

Dawa