ITANAGAR, Jan 16 – For young monks, spiritual discipline is foremost at Thubchog Gatseling Monastery in West Kameng district of Arunachal Pradesh.
The Bomdila monastery is among several Buddhist places of learning that dot the region, including the monastery in Tawang, about 40 km northwest of Bomdila.
In the past, parents with three sons would send the middle one to a monastery, while parents with two sons sent the youngest. Other boys joined if they wanted to.
“Now people do not care for such customs,” a senior monk said. At the age of 20, Tenzing Sherab, a saffron-robed youth with a shaven head, has already completed nine years at the monastery in Bomdila, the district headquarters, which borders the Tibetan region of China.
He had to become a monk, he said, since Buddhist Lamas in his village in Bhutan identified him as the reincarnation of a Tulku or Bodhisattva, an enlightened being who chooses to continue to reincarnate to help others achieve enlightenment.
Sherab recalled walking three days to reach the monastery since no roads connected his village in eastern Bhutan with Bomdila.
Sherab left home at 11 and he keeps in touch with his family through letters.
“I want to meet my parents, but it is not possible as I want to finish my studies first. The monastery and monks are like my parents here,” Sherab said.
Asked about monastic life, he said, “I’m going the right way by following the path of Buddha. I think about enlightenment. We don’t want to be attached to the wheel of life.”
He also supervised the younger ones such as Lopsang Gensen, 12, a chubby boy with dimples.
When asked why he became a monk, Gensen answered, “I became a monk just to be a monk.”
Though he joined the monastery with the permission of his parents, he said it was “the saddest day” for him when he donned the robes of a monk.
His parents now phone him and bring special homemade food during visits. He shares the food with his friends.
Another young monk, Tenzing Lobsang, said his parents forced him to become a monk. “But I’m now quite happy here. My ambition is to be a good monk and nothing else,” he said.
Jampa Khechog, 20, who spoke English and interpreted for the other monks, said one of his dreams was to be a Buddhist philosopher.
“I feel good I’m here. I want to do something good.”
One of the young monks, Jambey Dorjee, however, would not mind having a television set and a motorcycle. “As for dress, I’m satisfied with my robes,” he said.
His confederate, Lobsang Tsering would like also to wear jeans, jackets and sweaters to stay warm.
Pema Wangchuk, a senior monk at the monastery, recalled when monks were not allowed to wear jackets or sweaters. “Now they wear warm clothes over their robes during winter.”
Some monks also go for higher education. One of them is Tsering Tashi, 22, a student at the Central Institute of Himalayan Cultural Studies in Tawang.
Asked about other religions, most young monks said they had heard about Christianity, Hinduism and Islam, but knew nothing about them.