Thursday, March 24, 2011

The schedule of a Buddhist monk

On a weekend I climbed for a few hours to stay overnight in one of Bhutan's 2000 monasteries: Dho Dhey Drak (meaning 'place with rocks and cliffs'). Human settlement has occupied this place located for long time, but in 1986 a Buddhist Institute was established here currently hosting 170 monks from the age of 10 up to 29. Students come from all over the country to study Buddhism from four teachers. There is a guest house for visitors, but it was occupied by a family, so I shared the room with three monks.

Dho Dhey Drak from Buddha point over Thimphu
A closer look.
One of them was my guide for the two days who had joined the Institute only two years ago. We had a great discussion about Buddhism in general and life at Dho Dhey Drak in particular. Before you decide to become a monk student, please read his daily schedule:


4-5am: waking up and studying in the room
5-6: morning pray
6-7:40: lessons in the classroom
7:40-8: morning tea
8-9: lecture in the classroom
9-10: repeating what was studied the morning
10-10:15: break
10:15-11:30:lessons in the classroom
11:30-12:30: lunch
12:30-13: handwriting class
13-14: learning to play musical instruments or make rituals and ritual cakes
14-15: English lesson
15-16: studying on his own
16-17: repeating what was learned today
17-17:30: dinner
17:30-19: evening pray
19-19:10: break
19:10-22:00: evening studies and going to bed

On weekends: taking care of the compound; washing clothes, cleaning the rooms; playing sports like football or badminton; and having hot stone bath (stones heated on open fire are placed in cold water in simple wooden bathtubs)

Strictly forbidden for monk students to 1) challenge the teacher; 2) leave the premises without a permit; and 3) steal. In addition, there is no sex, smoking, drugs, and alcohol. And of course they have to follow the daily schedule.

What do they study ? Memorizing liturgical texts in Classic Tibetan language, known in Bhutan as Chöke. How to behave as a monk. How to play musical instruments. How to conduct rituals. How to write poems. English language.

Recently I heard it is considered to integrate math and sciences and more English into the curriculum to help monks get a job in case they decide to quit the monastery. It is probably a good idea, at the same time I met a few geytays (monks who gave up monastic life) and they seem to be successful in their new secular life. I was even told that the best businessmen in Bhutan are former monks. 

Former monks or not, my experience is that there is more room for creative and hardworking entrepreneurs in Bhutan.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Unique to Bhutan - The Languages

In Bhutan, the official language is Dzongkha meaning "language of Dzong" meaning "language of fortress-like monastery". Originally used as the language of popular communication since the 17th century, especially in western Bhutan, it was only declared the country's official language in 1971. Linguistically, Dzongkha is a South Tibetan language. Although spoken Dzongkha and Tibetan are very different, the literary forms of both are highly influenced by the liturgical Classic Tibetan language, known in Bhutan as Chöke (choekey). 

Besides Dzongkha, there are around 18 other local languages in the country, including Nepali in the south. Visiting Ura located in the middle of the country I had dinner with a local family and my Bhutanese colleagues were sitting like me equally unable to understand a word of the conversation in local dialect.

File:Languages of Bhutan with labels.svg
Languages of Bhutan (Wikipedia)

Although English has no official status, it is taught at schools and widely spoken, especially in towns, where some people even speak better English than Dzongkha. It is also fairly common to hear educated people casually mixing the two languages when speaking. In Mongar I heard a minister discussing his itinerary with his team in this mixed way. Currently, there is intensive public discussion about the use of two main languages and how to preserve the role of Dzongkha when experiencing greater and greater English influence. The government even set up a development commission to pursue this goal.

Other interesting thing about hearing English spoken in  Bhutan is the use of the word "la" at the end of the sentence as a sign of respect. A typical phone conversation could be something like that:

"Kuzuzangpo-la"     (Good morning)
"Where are you going, la?"
"From Thimphu to Paro, la. I'll be back to Thimphu tonight. We can have dinner, la."
"Okay, okay"

What I have also noticed is that most people just suddenly end the phone conversation when they feel everything has been discussed without saying something like 'bye' or 'see you'. For the first time it sounded a bit rude to my chilip ear (chilip = foreigner), but now I'm used to it.

The last thing I would highlight is the habit of covering one's mouth when speaking to a person of perceived higher status or giving offering at temples. I heard that the reason is to prevent bad mouth smell from spoiling the environment.

To hear people speak Dzongkha, listen to the online radio, Kuzoo FM.

To read more unique things in Bhutan, click here:  NAMES  or  DRESS, DOMA, ETC  or PENIS