Friday, January 24, 2014


Basket offering bowl, Dewathnag
Offering shrine, Dewathang
It was quite disheartening to see how thoughtlessly the plastic products are being used to offer for tshok in recent empowerment ceremony in Bartsam. If we closely examine the products on the offering shrine more the ninety percent came from plastics. The biscuits, chips, waiwai, maggi, koka, bread, mimi, lays, parle-G and the list goes on. I observed that almost all the people gathered in the ceremony had been actively involved in offerings of package foods and stuff from the shop. It was logical that people coming from far places would have had no option to cook and bring in organic items however there were alternative offerings in the shops, like oranges, walnuts and sugar canes. Even many lay people and civil servants from the same community had the choices of easy offering. Why not people go for bio degradable and environment friendly options. Don't you think the reason boils down to education as an key player.
Our students as outside visitors to Bartsam were surprise to see the unlike practice to that of what they practice are in line with environment friendly and healthy organic items. I felt that could be the reasons why my students sitting near to me during empowerment session murmur into my ear complaining ''They are using plastics and it is unhealthy practice.'' The problem is not with what is being offered on the shrine but it is with what is left unconsidered once the inside products are used. So one has to ask these apprehension questions where does the plastics go? who would care of it? what are the immediate effect? and what are long term effect?  and other more.     
Offering shrine, Bartsam Tashigang
I also felt that our students have certain right interpretation when they have said ''Bartsam is dirty.'' and I guess their interpretation came from what they have observed in an around the temple. I take this complain as a positive note to change in a way the present situation demands. We know that now because of modernisation at our door step everything from living standards to eating habits have changed to what we call ''modern ways.'' I agree that modernization is vital but remember let's not live behind the legacy that would not be cherished. Our simple local practices cherished for many years by our forefathers can be reintroduced from our sweet home and community.
Lopen Tsheten Norbu 
If you happened to visit to Chokyi Gyatsho Institute especially during one of the Drubchens or pujas. It is common to see an amazing and local ways of offering. The shrine is adorned with golden, white and red food, different curries, raw vegetables, cooked potatoes, orange, banana, homemade chips, momo, Indian sweets, cucumber, pineapple, sugarcane, apple, beaten maize, roasted rice, walnut, peach, boiled beans, cooked pumpkin and the list keeps on going. These offering comes from our community and this is where the first wise choice begins for the people of Dewathang and other premises around. I would  say these are the choices that has many positive implication to our environment, health, cost and our ways of offering. 
Offering tshok, Bartsam
Another important aspect of environment friendly and locally available practice one can witness is using of tree leaves and banana leaves instead of plastic plates and cups. I believe these are traditional bowls used by villagers commonly. When I was a kid in my remote hometown, I remember I ate many times on this mother nature plate. I also saw my mom and dad packing cheese and butter in it beautifully and wrapped it from all corners and send it as parcels. I wonder if these practices have deteriorated because of modernisation but now I realise it is extremely good practice once existing widely and I feel we have to re-establish this tradition.
While there are many expensive and polished offering bowls readily available one can see homemade bamboo container storing tshok on the shrine. It is beautiful container from mother nature and still serves the purpose.
Garbage in corner, Bartsam
I am very confident that if we create this environment of practice and nurture the mindset of the young and old through education we can change the way we are now and bring in positive force to our mother nature and the world at large.


Fruits and foods, Dewathang

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A journey to Bidung

Bidung community, a photo taken from Bartsam by Brodie.

Bidung is a scattered village opposite Bartsam, in Tashigang Dzongkhag, at about 2400 m elevation. 
The Bidung temple (also ta dzong) sits on the slope, hidden from the other side of the same community by a huge hill covered by pine, oak and other high altitude plants. 
The rising of the early sun was shadowed by the hill until late morning. The temperature we experienced was below 0 degree centigrade in the morning and it rises to maximum of 13-14 degree centigrade at mid-day. 
The typical winter season in the village could be witnessed every morning as puddles of water turned into hard slippery ice, the shedding of the oak tree leaves in the afternoon, and the skeleton deciduous trees standing tall in the garden.
It takes roughly ten hours by bus to make it from Dewathang to Bidung. We travelled in a public mini bus which was quite old and not in good condition. We had to stop several times on the way to fix the bus. These unscheduled stops actually provided nice opportunities for our students to go out and enjoy the outside environment. The worst part, however, was when we got in an accident with a car. Luckily nothing happened to our students or the people in the other car.    
Bidung temple (Ta-dzong), in Tashigang: Photo Brodie
Almost all of our students were traveling for the first time away from the Institute. It has been a good opportunity for them to see the world beyond their restricted zone of the Institute. While there were a few students who felt traveling sickness most of them were normal and active. They were singing together and making fun of each other.
Looking left and right side with their eye brows raised through the transparent window of the mini bus and pointing to villages, birds and plants, I could tell they are really curious about the outside world.
They were curious to see the Melong Brak (Mirror cliff) which is considered a dangerous and very high cliff on the way to Tashigang from Samdrupjonkhar. They had heard from other people that many accidents take place in that area because the road is comparatively narrow and often has foggy weather.
Monks from Dewathang during Baza guru mantra recitation. Photo by Dawa
They also narrated the story that is behind the name of the river Neagra Ama Chu (roughly which means a river of the Indian mother). They said once an Indian lady was digging an hole to get water out of it and suddenly huge volume of water came out of it and the woman drowned. That was the beginning of the present river and hence how it got its name. They also narrated a story about Kholong chu.

We took our classes in a room of a traditional house that was reserved for us to stay during the mantra recitation ceremony. The two story house was filled with monks from our Shedra and lay people from another community. The room was not so convenient for teaching and learning because it was rectangular and the students sitting at the back seem far away and also the light was dim. We didn't have a white board, either, but we made the best of it, having conversation class, and had fun with them. 
We started our classes at 6 pm with Manjushri's prayer and three minutes of meditation. The classes went up to more than an hour every day. They were long and tiring days for all the monks because they have to be up by 5 am to go to the temple to start mantra recitation. They chant mantras until 4 to 5 pm followed by dinner and then class. Most of the young monks from Mustang group would often fall asleep during the class.

Lhomon Education


Reception of terma
More than one hundred people from Dewathang and Samdrup Jongkhar gathered at Chokyi Gyatsho Institute late afternoon on January 12, 2014 to pay their respect to one of the five terma statues of Great Guru Padhmasambhava. The "increasing" terma will be kept as an important relic at the Institute. The other four types of terma are uncommon, pacifying, magnetising and subjugating. Khenpo Sonam Tashi said ''the increasing terma will bless us with longevity, property, fame, status, wisdom and other benefits.''
When asked about how to pray and wish for these things, Khenpo said ''one should pray to be reborn in the realm of Zangtopelri and become like Guru Rinpoche after we die.'' He continued, ''when we are alive we should wish for good health, property and any other wishes we have.''
People gathered for Marchang ceremony
The terma was taken to Bidung, in Tashigang Dzongkhag, last December during the one million recitations of the Baza Guru mantra, and later to Bartsam during the Peling empowerment ceremony. After that it was received in Dewathang as the main relic for the benefit of the Institute, the monks, the community,  the Bhutanese nation and the world.  
The agent was received in traditional procession by the Khenpos, lamas, lopens, monks of the Institute, and the lay people of Dewathang and Samdrup Jongkhar. The terma was put on display to the public for three days while there was ongoing recitation of one hundred thousand tshok pecha by the monks of the Institute. The three-day recitation of the tshok was concluded with a blessing from the terma on January 15th.  

Lhomon Education
Increasing terma on display

Monks in line to receive blessing from terma.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Daily Meditation

On Saturday 7th December, 2013,  during the usual exchange of questions the students ask each other, Dema Gempo asked Leki Dorji, ''How do you meditate?''

In return, Leki said ''I sit on the cushion, keep my back straight, place my hands on the lap, touch my tongue to the upper palate, lower my gaze and concentrate on my breath.''

Each day, the twenty students with shaved heads and red robes sit on cushions they’ve made out of repurposed plastics, broken umbrella covers and worn out cloth, facing the small shrine and white board. The person in charge of the bell sits in the front of the room,  and strike it once, producing a sharp and high note to set the students into the world of sitting practice for three minutes.  This moment is cherished for being very silent and aware of each present moment.  The beauty of silent sitting is perceptible when we hear the trickling sound of water, the cheeping of tiny birds from the bushes, the whining of exhalation and inhalation, the slapping of the tree leaves, the tapping of footsteps, etc.

One can hear many common sounds when the class atmosphere is dominated with silence, which we usually fail to spot during most of our daily activities. All our senses become receptive and alert to their respective external stimuli. The very gentle air puffing over our cheeks, the pain in our knees, itching in the various parts of our body, back pain, the sensation of the cushions under our buttocks, and sensing the weight of our hands in our laps are some of the negligible feelings that go unrecognized most of the time, but which are recognized when we sit and practice. These are basic foundation which allow us to climb the ladder of mindful practice, and even to realize them at this small level are positive changes in the right direction.

Contemplative practice has been part of our class since the inception of our program. It is a practice that involves looking inside oneself and focusing one's awareness on the present moment. Our students anchor on their inhalation and exhalation while keeping their spines straight, slightly lowered gazes, hands on the knees, and tongues touching the upper palate. Self-awareness of our students begins with paying attention to their senses and nurturing the present moment.

The art of being mindful can be witnessed from the arrangement of slippers and shoes along the entrance door of the class every morning. It looks very neat and well set up. It also reminds one that the same practice can be done with other activities outside our classroom. The arrangement also portrays an end result of mindfulness as attractiveness, and provides a simple opportunity and platform to practice, thus widening the prospect of practices. Whenever student's are not being mindful out of forgetfulness, as a teacher one can always remind them. 

The practice of mindfulness has changed our students in some ways, compared to when they first began. When we introduced mindfulness to our students the biggest challenge was not being able to control our student's laughter and giggling. Most of them became easily distracted by their friend's little giggles, and I vividly remember having to restart our mindfulness sessions all the way from the beginning several times. Today, this habit is not common anymore with our students. That the students are now maintaining good physical posture is another positive change I have witnessed in our students. Most of them can sit straight and maintain the required posture. I have also seen a few students taking this same practice into their rooms, and finding time to do it privately. Often I hear students teasing each other for not being mindful when they make simple mistakes in their performances. I feel that the students can now sit and practice for longer durations than in the beginning. These are a few measurable observations and changes I have witnessed with my students. 

While the ultimate goals of meditation may remain beyond our imagination, the relative aims that induces us to practice mindfulness are to become aware of daily activities, calm our minds, control our thoughts, develop concentration levels, and to be creative. 

Our practice has been positive and helpful to our students. From time to time, we give further instructions, and have also asked the Khenpos to talk about mindfulness and mediation. These help to guide the students’ practice, so that it is done authentically and in the right way. 
Henceforth, our wish is to practice more and learn more about meditation.

–Dawa Drukpa, 8th December, 2013