A Day In The Life Of A Monkle

I’ve been a Tibetan Buddhist monk (my niece calls me “Monkle Chris”) now for about 3 months. I’m down here at Namdroling in Bylakuppe, South India, continuing my quest for fluency in Tibetan Language.

A friend of mine recently hit me up on Facebook wanting to know more about what a typical day at the monastery looks like.

So at the risk of putting you all to sleep, here we go!

6:00am My alarm goes off. Notice I did not say “I get up”. Many of the monks here are up and about by 4 or 5am. Some, like yours truly, find that to be a bit little extreme (i.e., crazy). So after a couple of rounds with the ‘snooze’ button, I’m up and at ‘em…

6:14am Ok, let the fun begin! I get up, put on some coffee (yes, monks drink coffee), do some morning practice of making offerings, saying prayers, that kind of thing.

7:00am Time for coffee and my morning ritual of writing in my journal. This one’s in English-thoughts, musings, petty complaints, as well as notes for a future book about how on earth I ever decided to go through so much trouble to be a Buddhist.

8:00am Now we really get cooking. Tibetan study time begins here. I start out warming up with practice writing of a new (to me) cursive script called Khyug. I do this for about 30 minutes then switch up to reciting and memorizing a famous poem called The Great Living Tree. It’s a super-condensed collection of verses about the basic rules of Tibetan grammar. It’s about three pages long and after 5 and a half weeks, I’ve got two pages down cold (well,  tepid at least). This is huge for me as I suck at memorizing things. Another couple of weeks should do it.

Tibetan Khyug script. It's really kind of soothing to write it.
Tibetan Khyug script. It’s really kind of soothing to write it.

9:00am Conversation class. I’ve got the huge fortune of having two hours of private tutoring time. This hour is focused on casual conversation. Mostly we just talk about the weather but sometimes foray into more advanced topics like the World Cup, politics, and American Pro-Wrestling. Good stuff.

10:00am Reading practice. Here, I just read out loud (emphasis on “loud”) until I can’t stand it anymore.

11:00am A little break, a walk around the monastery, and an early lunch.

 

The plumbing stinks but the view's not bad!
The plumbing stinks but the view’s not bad!

12:00pm Rest time. There’s still quite a bit to come…

1:00pm Now we get into the nitty gritty. For the next hour, I study Tibetan grammar. The text I’m using these days is a 500 page monster. It’s in English, but I’m finding it’s really helpful to have the basic (though always maddening) elements of the language spelled out clearly. I’ve been working with it for about 5 weeks and I already see huge improvement in my understanding of the written language.

2:00pm Reading comprehension. This is a fun hour. I just read Tibetan folktales and stories, teasing out the meaning little by little. At least, I think so. The one I’m working on now is supposedly called “The Urinating Jewels”. True story. Anyhow, it’s getting easier.

3:00-5:00pm Translation. Working with two books right now. One’s a collection of transcribed talks by His Holiness the Dalai Lama called “The Peaceful Mind”. This one’s tough as it’s chock full of very technical Buddhist terminology. His Holiness is one of the most highly educated people in the world, so of course he speaks very well. As a result, it’s kind of like a second-grader (I’m being generous here) trying to translate MIT lectures on astro-physics. Still, it’s a good exercise. After that, I work on some short prayers and verses. Sometimes they’re easy, sometimes not.

5:00pm Tibetan journal writing. My least favorite activity of the day. Tibetan spelling is confounding to say the least. I’d be pulling my hair out if I had any (that’s a monk joke). In almost two and a half years, I still have no clue as to the rhyme or reason of it. The only way to learn it is to use it. So I just do the best I can. Though I have to admit, I sometimes “forget” the time, and just kill and hour or so checking what’s going on with Facebook.

6:00pm Kora time! Kora basically means “to circle”. It’s a devotional practice as well as a kind of walking mediation. It’s practically instinctual for Tibetans to walk around holy objects and places, reciting mantras and saying prayers. It’s said that we accumulate tons of merit (the causes for ultimate happiness and enlightenment) by doing this practice. It’s also pretty darn relaxing, too!

7:30pm Conversation class, take 2.

8:30 Time to start winding down. Not that my life is all that stressful. But still, learning a new language takes a lot of mental energy. Sometimes I’m pretty wiped out. So it’s dinner time (if I have dinner), then an hour or so of a Tibetan-dubbed soap opera I’ve become addicted to. Then some reading and off to bed.

And that my friends, it the life of a monkle!

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Stepping Stones (Taking The Monastic Vows)

“…I will finally see that the path, just as it’s always been and always will be, is right there in front of me.

That’s how I ended my first book, The Narrow Way. It was meant to be a teaser. A hint at the grander things that I hoped would come. The thing is, I really had no idea where that path would ultimately lead.

But then again, maybe I did.

From the beginning, all the way back to that first trip to India in 2008, there was a part of me that knew that someday I was going to become a monk. I’m certainly not clairvoyant, but I remember a clear vision of myself, as clear as an open-eyed dream, of some not-to-distant future.

I was dressed in red robes, head shaved and shiny in the sun, sitting (I remember green grass and clear sky) legs crossed and smiling. I looked genuinely happy.

I always held that picture in my mind as a carrot at the end of a stick. A goal to look forward to as I took on the sometimes daunting tasks of writing books, trying to cultivate some understanding of the dharma, and learning a new language. All of that in-between hopping across the oceans, to and from, India.

But for the longest time, I kept the “vision” mostly to myself. I would whisper hints to my close friends and family from time to time. But always I’d end with a shrug of my shoulders and a coy “Yeah, but we’ll see…”.

I think I just knew how serious of a choice it was. I wanted to make sure that it wasn’t a fleeting whim. I mean, I was talking about taking the monastic vows, after all. Promises to commit myself to the Buddhist path, to see it through to its ultimate end. I didn’t want to take them lightly.

Seven years past. I flip-flopped from time to time, thinking that maybe I would wait until retirement to take the vows. Or maybe I would just wait until some future life.

But the feeling, the pull, the longing (for that’s what it was and more), kept coming back.

“You must become a monk,” a voice kept saying. “It’s the only way to make the best use of this precious human life. Anything else will just be marking time.”

And as I thought these kinds of things, I would realize that my lips were turned up in a smile. The same smile I imagined in that vision of my future self.

So back in March I made up my mind to finally ask my Lama, directly and decisively, for permission to take the vows of a novice monk, also known as Getsul vows.

He looked around the room as if he were thinking. Then he asked me to think about when I wanted to take the plunge.

But there was no need to think.

“As soon as possible,” I said.

There were some ups and downs after that. Quite a few downs actually. Was I making the right choice? Would I be able to uphold the vows? Would I ultimately fail?

But these were just echoes of my fears. Some old, some new.

In the end, I went for it. I can’t be too particular about the details of when, where, and how. Politics, ya know?

It was beautiful, that much I can say. It had been raining for days. Snowing in the high mountains even at the end of August. There had been magic and mystery a plenty on the trip so far, but for that hour, as I sat in front of my preceptor reciting the promises to spend the rest of my life (and more) on the path of liberation, there was just stillness and waiting.

And then it was done. I was a monk. Easy as pie.

IMG_0780

 

It’s been about a month now. I’m almost comfortable getting dressed in the morning. The robes are tricky things to learn how to wear. My hair is growing back from that first shave but I’m already looking forward to cutting it again.

I’m down at Namdroling Monastery in South India now, taking the first few steps on a journey of deepening my understanding of this new life I’ve decided to live. I will be resuming my study of Tibetan, as well as learning how to be a monk in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

But they’re just stepping stones really. The real lessons I think, will be in learning to let go of myself, my fears, my personal agendas and desires. All the things that keep us bound and tied.

In any case, and as always, I’m looking forward to sharing the journey.

 

 

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And Here We Go…(Again)

Cute posing prairie dog

So, it’s been a while since I’ve put up a blog post. What have I been up to, you ask? Let’s take a short quiz and find out.

Has Chris Lemig been spending the past six months:

A. watching too many 90′s rock music videos on YouTube?

B. eating pint after pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream?

C. working on a novel featuring a preacher’s daughter from Texas, a transexual mystic, a Hopi U.S. Marshall who uses his powers of astral projection for evil, and a fuzzy (but wise) prairie dog who’s bearing sole witness to the End of The World?

D. planning a two-year trip to China, India, Nepal, and possibly Sri Lanka, where he will not only finally get a grip on the Tibetan language, but also find out if red really is his color (more on that enigmatic bombshell to come…)?

E. all of the above.

Leave your answers in the comments section. Other speculations as to my whereabouts and activities (past, present, and future) are also welcome. All winners will receive the ultimate prize of “Total Consciousness”.

But seriously, my friends. I’m off again! In just about 12 hours, my brother, sister-in-law, and sweet, sweet niece will be dropping me off at Denver International Airport. From there I’m heading off to western China for three weeks, then down to Bylakuppe in south India for a two year stay at Namdroling monastery.

There, I’ll be working out the finer points of Tibetan grammar while keeping a close eye on the tree line of the jungle for signs of cobras, leopards, and gianormous insects.

It’s going to be an amazing trip. One sure to be filled with magic, mystery, tropical heat, fear, loathing, and possibly even a glimpse of enlightenment.

But whatever is in store, I’m looking forward to sharing the journey with you.

So stay tuned and stay in touch. I’ll be back with more as soon as I can…

 

photo by:
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The Big Heart: A Meditation on Love and Compassion

I just finished my third show in a series on Lessons in Joyful Living. Another fun one to be sure!

As promised, here’s a recap of the meditation on love and compassion we touched on during the show.

As always, take a moment to settle into a good meditation posture. For a detailed explanation of this, click here.

Once you’ve relaxed into the present moment visualize three people in the space in front of you:

A friend, a neutral person, and someone you don’t like.

Begin with the friend. Call to mind how she experiences happiness and suffering. Does she want comfort, good food, health, material abundance, pleasurable experiences, satisfaction in work, relationships, and family life?

How about suffering? Does she want to avoid illness, physical and mental pain, loss of life and possessions, sorrow, conflict, hunger, thirst, and all the other things that bring us suffering in life?

Of course she does.

Think of as many situations as you can where these things are so.

Chenrezig thangka, Avalokiteshvara, Bodhisattva of Compassion, crowned by Amitabha, holding a lotus and mala, wearing an antelope hide, sun, moon, stars, Tibetan Buddhism, Seattle, Washington, USA

 

Now, cultivate a feeling of empathy towards your friend. Doesn’t she want happiness and to avoid suffering just like you? Are the two of you really all that different?

Continue to contemplate these questions and situations until you can generate the strong wish that your friend be happy and free from suffering.

If you like, you can visualize pure white light surrounding and protecting your friend. Think to yourself how good it feels to be able to love and care for her like that.

Repeat this mental exercise with the next two kinds of people, the neutral person and the enemy.

Both of these will pose their own challenges but work on them until you come to the conclusion that even difficult people and those you don’t know are still the same: They want nothing more than their own happiness and to avoid suffering.

The main benefit of meditations like this is that we can transform and improve our minds. When it comes to changing long held habits and beliefs, this can take some time and effort.

So give this meditation a try for at least a week. Let the realizations sink in until they become new habits and new ways of seeing the world.

Then, just maybe, you’ll see how big your heart really is.

photo by: Wonderlane
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Found in Translation: Translating The Buddha’s Teachings

Did you know that more than 200,000 pages of the Buddha’s teachings have not been translated into modern languages?

Most of this precious advice, spiritual teaching, and insight is still encased in wood block printings in Classical Tibetan. This language is disappearing fast, and fewer and fewer people are able to read and translate it.

84,000: Translating the Words of The Buddha, is a project started by Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche that aims to translate all of these invaluable teachings into modern languages.

For today only (Tuesday, 5/6/14), share the post of the video on the 84,000′s FaceBook page and a generous donor will contribute $1 to this vital project.

Check out the video here…

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Gay Monk Lays Buddha Smack-Down

A friend of mine posted this over at Buddhadharma the other day. It’s a great video clip of an interview with a Thai Buddhist monk who used to be a transvestite.

The interviewer is a little annoying at times. In his overly sensationalist, typical tabloid-in-your-face-a-current-affair journalistic style, he seems hell bound on getting a rise out of the guy.

But the young monk never looses his cool. Towards the end of the interview segment he lays the Buddha smack down on the show’s host:

“Can you cease it in your mind? A gay is a gay. Let it be. I am what I am.”

That’s right!

Watch the whole video clip here:

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Self-Compassion In Practice: A Meditation

In Buddhism, we talk a lot about generating compassion for all sentient beings.

The problem is we usually forget that “all” includes “us”!

Here’s a simple self-compassion meditation from my latest show on Lessons In Joyful Living.

Give it a try!

First of all let’s find our seat. We all have different capacities for sitting, so if you find sitting on a cushion to be uncomfortable, sit in a chair.

The main thing is that you adjust your posture so you’re sitting with a nice, straight spine. Ground yourself to earth. Let go of tension in the body. Bring your awareness of the breath.

Remind yourself that you are safe. Any emotions that come up in this meditation, just let them come. Experience them fully knowing that you are in no danger, they will pass.

Now that we’re relaxed and present, take a moment to examine the truth of your own suffering.

We all suffer. There’s no denying that. Look at some examples in your life. Right now in this moment you might be feeling uncomfortable sitting in your chair or on your cushion. You might be too cold or too hot.

In your daily life, you may be going through a tough time at work. There many be family and relationship problems Maybe you’re going through a break-up or even the death of someone close to you. Maybe you’re going through an illness, longterm depression, addiction.

Normally we resist the unpleasant emotions we feel during these times. They may even seem unbearable.

Right now I want you to take a moment to let the feelings of suffering come up without pushing them away. Let yourself become open to your own suffering. Let yourself become tender, soft. Don’t resist. Don’t be afraid. Even if tears are flowing down your cheeks, don’t run away.

Now I want you to generate compassion for yourself. You are a suffering sentient being. The sadness that you feel, the pain, even the agony, is all a part of who you are.

You deserve relief from that pain and  sorrow, from all that suffering.

Just as you would wish for someone you care deeply about: a spouse, a child, a parent, a dear one, generate the wish that you too be free from the suffering you are experiencing.

When that feeling is as strong as you can make it say this:

May I be free from suffering.

May I be free from illness.

May I be free of pain and sorrow.

May I show myself kindness.

May I show myself patience.

May I always have the strength and wisdom to show myself compassion even when I’m feeling great suffering.

Say these words, or any that resonate for you, a few times. Let that feeling sink in until you know without a doubt that you have cultivated compassion for yourself.

Now open your eyes and come out of the meditation.

Dedicate the merit of your practice to the relief of suffering for yourself and all beings.

And that’s it!

So go ahead and give this meditation a try. Try it out for the next thirty days and let me know how it changes your relationship to yourself and everyone around you!

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Pema Chodron On Gentleness

I know that one of the biggest things that fueled my life of addiction was my lack of gentleness towards myself.

It’s still an issue for me but I’m working on it day by day.

Here’s some beautiful and inspiring advice from Pema Chodron on how to cultivate gentleness towards yourself, others, and the world.

Give her advice a try. How do you treat yourself on a daily basis? Are you kind, patient and gentle? Or are you harsh, judgmental, and aggressive?

Try cultivating some mindfulness about how you treat yourself for the next week (or two). When you find your patience with yourself running short, take a deep breath and resolve to go easier on yourself. Cultivate some love and compassion for yourself. Become your own best friend.

You’ll be amazed at how this simple shift will change your whole view!

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A Prayer For The Victims Of The Fort Hood Shooting

The Buddhist teachings say that at the moment of death, our experience will be deeply affected by our state of mind.

At the moment that the outer breath ceases, if we are calm, cultivating thoughts of love, kindness and compassion, then there is nothing to fear.

On the other hand, if our minds are filled with anger, violence, hatred, and grasping, our experience will be nothing short of a hell realm.

Untethered from our bodies, unable to find any place to rest, we will be caught up in a tidal wave of disturbing thoughts and emotions. We will tumble helplessly through the bardo of death until we are reborn in another similar state of confusion.

Whether you believe this or not, it can’t be argued that the victims and the shooter at yesterday’s tragedy at Fort Hood, died in such a state of profound unease.

Imagine all they must have been feeling. Fear. Confusion. Desperation. Their thoughts must have turned to their loves ones and families and all their hopes and dreams that would never be realized.

What if you were one of them?

In the days to come, there will be the inevitable media blitz. The lives of the shooter, Ivan Lopez, and the victims will be carefully dissected as we try to understand why things like this continue to happen in our world.

No matter who or what is to blame, those who died deserve all the thoughts and prayers of love and compassion that we can muster.

So I encourage you to hold all those involved in your hearts today. Bring them to mind as many times as you can. Send them light and love.

If you have a daily spiritual practice, dedicate it to all of them. Then generate the wish that peace and non-violence flourish from today forward.

If we can do this, today and every time a tragedy like this occurs, not only will be empowered to face these events with courageous hearts, I truly believe we can change the world.

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A Meditation On Love

Thank you for joining me last month my first guest radio host spot on Lessons in Joyful Living!

It was so much fun and I’m looking forward to three more shows this year!

In case you missed the show, you can download the MP3 for your listening pleasure here.

As promised here’s a copy of the guided meditation on love I took us through on the program:

First of all let’s find a comfortable seat. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chair or a cushion on the floor, just make sure you can sit with a straight spine.

Check your posture. Straighten and lengthen your spine. If you’re sitting in a chair, make sure your feet are firmly planted on the floor. You can let your hands rest gently on your thighs.

Your shoulders should be wide like the wings of bird ready to fly. Keep your eyes slightly open, jaw relaxed, tongue lightly touching the roof of your mouth.

Bring your awareness now to your breath. Notice the rising and falling of your chest and abdomen. Let yourself relax into the breath’s natural rhythm.

You can mentally scan your body if you like, paying special attention to areas of pain or tension. Try to simply notice these then let the muscles relax as best you can.

You’re now in a state of calm, focused awareness. Even if thoughts and worries come into your mind, you can just notice them and let them go.

Let’s bring our awareness now to the object of today’s meditation by asking this question:

Do I really love myself? Do I hold myself in high enough esteem to allow myself to be truly happy and live a life of purpose and meaning?

To answer this, take a few moments to examine how you relate to yourself on a daily basis.

How do you speak to yourself when you face challenges and difficulties? How do you view your shortcomings? When you make mistakes, what kinds of things do you say to yourself?

Be honest. Many of us are very hard on ourselves. We say horrible things to ourselves that we probably wouldn’t even say to our worst enemies.

Don’t worry. You’re not alone in treating yourself this way so you don’t have to beat yourself any more than you already do.

Relax and remind yourself that you can change any pattern you want to in your life and you’re going to start right here. Today, at this moment you’re going to take a positive step to change how you see and treat yourself.

First of all, look at who you really are. Often times we exaggerate our good and bad qualities to the point that they’re not even close to the reality.

Take some time here to closely examine your negative qualities and shortcomings, the ones that you really get down on yourself about.

Maybe you think you’re fat, not good looking enough, lazy, stupid, worthless?

When we’re viewing ourselves without love it sometimes seems that we are only that thing that we despise. There’s no room for anything else and we only see ourselves in that negative light.

But is this really true?

It may be true that you’re overweight, for example, but is that all you are? Is that the only quality that defines you as a human being?

Of course not.

You have many qualities that make you a complete person, that make you whole.

Take a look at some of them.

Are you kind, patient, funny, easy to talk to, diligent, reliable, honest?

No one who’s ever lived has been completely devoid of good qualities. This includes you.

Take a moment to recognize those good, positive traits. Rejoice in them, celebrate them. Allow yourself to see your own value as a human being.

Let that feeling of warmth and love for yourself fill your whole being.

Tell yourself, “I am worthy of happiness. I am worthy of love. I am worthy of living a life of purpose and meaning. From today forward I will make a greater effort to see myself realistically, to be kind to myself, to respect myself and give myself every chance to improve where I can and to accept my shortcomings with patience and dignity.”

Now rest in this feeling of love for yourself. Let it linger for as long as it does.

Slowly come out of the meditation. Open your eyes.

Now, if you like, you can do a dedication for this practice. Make the wishing aspiration that all the positive energy you’ve created result in happiness and ultimate spiritual awakening for yourself and all beings.”

I hope you enjoyed this meditation on love and that you got something valuable out of it.

Thanks for listening and may you be well and happy.

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