When I think of Nepal, there are few things that come to mind. Vast mountains, ancient temples, lush forests, Tibetan monasteries. One of the opportunities I wanted to take advantage of most was living in a monastery for a few days and experience a total different way of life.
Located about 2 hours drive outside of Kathmandu, the Namo Buddha Monastery lies nestled in the rolling hills of the Himalayas. To me, they looked like mountains, but as Jason informed me “These are not mountains, these are hills. Only if they have snow are they mountains”. Nepal is so blessed with topography, they are jaded about hills, cliffs and mountains. Nonetheless, the surrounding landscape is stunning, with green hills, terraced farms and rock outcroppings. In the morning before the haze sets in, you can get a lovely view of the Himalaya mountains to the north.
Namo Buddha Monastery was built in the same spot where the Buddha gave his life to feed a starving tigress and her 5 cubs. Then, he reincarnated as the Buddha in his next life, in which he went on to preach the teachings of Buddhism. Pilgrims come here throughout the year to pray, make offerings and seek refuge and relaxation. Built in 2007, this monastery is in pristine condition and is beautifully ornamented with tradition Buddhist artwork. The whole complex contains the main temple, guest houses, a teaching college, stupas, a cafe & restaurant, and a dancing hall. It’s huge and takes about an hour to walk from end to end.
The pace of life in the monastery slows down significantly, and I found it an excellent place to slow my mind and reflect on my journey thus far. I arrived around dinner time, and settled in nicely to my guest house, which was situated in between the rooms of the monks. Then at 5:30am, a large gong is sounded and the day has begun. The monks all congregate in the shrine room for 2 hours of prayer and chanting prior to breakfast. Breakfast is served in the same room, so guests at the monastery are allow to join. The shrine room itself is a stunning place, with every wall covered in murals of the Buddha, golden statues, silk prayer flags and painted ornamentation. No photos were allowed, or else I would have been snapping away; it was such an inspiration! Breakfast was always simple, bread with milk tea and dhal (lentil soup).
After the morning prayer, the monks would break and head out to class for their studies. What is special about this monastery is all the young monks. There are children studying here all year round, some as young as age 6. Much like a catholic school, they learn a religious education but are not necessarily required to take monastic vows, although they do dress in the Tibetan robes and shave their heads. They must decide is they want to take their vows by age 12, and will continue with their education and begin to practice rituals. The young monks were so cute, because even though they had the peaceful demeanor of a monk, they were still young boys running around and playing during their free time.
After the first class, it is then time for the first meditation. There are many different types of meditation, none of which I am familiar with. But I sat in on a meditation lesson and for the first time in my life, tried meditating. It was difficult at first to steady your mind. But the teacher explained that it is good to let you mind express itself, but guide it in its focus by concentrating on a certain topic, visualization or feeling. It might not be something that I do all the time, but I am really interested to learn more about meditation and different styles. I think it could be something that would really help me!
Next comes more classes and then the main daily lunch meal. All the monks gather in the main lunch room, many of whom will only eat this once a day. Lunch consisted of white rice, a sauteed vegetarian dish, usually with potatoes and eggplants, a green side dish (spinach, cabbage or squash most often), and another vegetable dish, usually something spicy. They eat in silence, so you can just hear the sounds of chewing and slurping. They eat quick, and then are off again to meditation and more class. Finally, the day ends with another prayer in the shrine room.
I know hardly anything about Buddhism and Buddhist traditions, but this stop at the monastery inspired me to learn more. The energy of this place is really special. It’s a place to be at peace, to breath in the fresh air, and to refresh yourself. This was exactly the kind of stop I needed at this point in my trip, and after 3 days there, I am feeling very inspired and ready for what’s ahead in Nepal. I can see how people make a whole trip for this, especially if they were familiar with the religion and rituals. They would
probably walk away from it feeling like a different person!