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Mantra for salvation

- Physical exercise to meditation: All in a day’s work for monks
Monks at a prayer session in Bodhgaya. Picture by Suman

Earthly chill cannot deter their spirit in the path to attain enlightenment. They are unnerved by the vagaries of nature or humanity. They have emboldened their minds with meditation for time immemorial. They are the lamas.

Difficult is their life; difficult is their daily routine.

Buddhist spiritual leaders lead monks to do the chanting and offer prayers under the sacred Bodhi (peepal) tree on the World Heritage Mahabodhi Mahavihara campus in Bodhgaya.

Spiritual leaders of different sects of Buddhism visit Bodhgaya every year during winter to lead an annual event of prayers, mostly organised under the Bodhi tree. The spiritual leaders — the incarnated lamas — are accompanied by hundreds of their followers, who participate in the prayers. Some other spiritual leaders attain the status of a “lama” after undergoing a tough meditation for three, six, nine years or more.

Recently, two popular Buddhist spiritual leaders — both strong claimants to the seat of the 17th Karmapa of the Kagyue sect — Trinley Thaye Dorje and Ogyen Trinley Dorje led their followers to perform the seven-day Kagyu Monlam from December 13 to 19 and the eight-day 30th annual international Kagyu Monlam Chenmo from December 21 to 28, respectively.

The daily routine of Trinley Thaye Dorje starts at 5am with tea and samba, a Tibetan food prepared from corn flour and dry fruits.

He offers prayers at a room attached to his private room after breakfast. He studies hidden mysteries of the Tibetan-Buddhist philosophy from 8am to 11 am. Trinley Thaye also studied classical western philosophy from Harrison Pemberton of Lee Washington University, US.

After lunch, he meets devotees when he not only extends blessings to them but also teaches them the lessons of truth, non-violence and harmony. From 2pm to 4.30pm, he again gets involved in studies about Buddhist philosophy and spiritualism. From 4.30pm to 6pm he performs Mahakaal puja in his special puja room. He avoids dinner and if necessary takes juice or soup at night before going to bed around 10pm.

The daily routine of Ogyen Trinley is also almost similar to Trinley Thaye. Ogyen Trinley also likes vegetarian food. The difference is that Ogyen Trinley has a large number of devotees from the European countries besides lots of Tibetans. At his Tergar monastery in Bodhgaya, more than 200 aspiring lamas under the age of 15 years are undergoing studies on Tibetan tradition. Ogyen Trinley is also patronising environment protection projects in and around Bodhgaya.

The life of a Buddhist monk is no different from their spiritual leaders, who are incarnated lamas. There are different seniority levels for a Buddhist monk. The 62-year old Maniwa Sherab Gyaltsen, who had became a Lama at the age of 15 years, told The Telegraph that one has to take initiation (diksha) from the spiritual leader to become a monk. Once taken the initiation, one has to disassociate himself from the worldly life. However, there is scope for a Buddhist monk to return to the worldly life with a motive that could serve the society.

After the initiation, the aspiring lamas get education in the monastery and have to sit for an examination. After passing out the examination, the aspirants go for meditation in the viharas ranging between three, six and nine years or more and some of them even for the whole life. During the meditation period, they are not allowed any access to the world outside. In the viharas, senior monks are present as teachers, who are called learned lamas. The life in the viharas is very tough where aspiring lamas get up around 3am and meditate for two hours up to 5am.

The lamas also have different food habits depending on the hierarchy. The spiritual leaders like Trinley Thaye and Ogyen Trinley take meal thrice daily. But it is also changed according to their schedule. The 53-year old Shangpa Rinpoche, who became a lama at the age of nine years, told The Telegraph that usually other lamas also take meal thrice a day but for other senior monks the schedule of meal is different.

For example, a gelong or bhikshu takes lunch only. Both Trinley Thaye and Ogyen Trinley are vegetarians. To cook non-vegetarian food, an animal is selected, which is matured enough so that more people can eat at a time. The lamas pray for peace to the soul of the animal that is killed for eating. Although there is no food restriction as such, alcohol is not allowed to any Buddhist monk.

Khampa Tshering, a member of the Kagyue Monlam organising committee led by Trinley Thaye, said the monks were also not untouched with the technological advancements. They frequently use Internet and cellphones.

When away from their respective places, monks remain in contact with their friends through video-chat on Internet, email or video-call over cellphone. Internet is also a source of entertainment for them where they update their knowledge about rest of the world too. They also play games like football, volleyball, cricket and badminton for entertainment.

The monks have a strong physique as they go for daily exercise for nearly an hour in the morning, Tshering said.


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