It is hard to believe that it has been over 6 weeks since I loaded myself and my backpack into the van and headed out of Kathmandu to begin life at Manjushri Di-Chen Buddhist Learning Center. I knew all along that the time to leave would come, but it seems to have happened remarkably fast. I am now sitting beside the lake in Pokhara, staring out at the buffalo grazing in the small paddy between me and the lake, with a beautiful backdrop of mountains, para-gliders, and the Peace Pagoda over-looking it all, thinking back to my experiences at the monastery. I have been struggling with finding the right words to adequately describe this incredible experience and the lessons I have learned over the last 6 weeks.
When I first arrived, I was warmly greeted and right away felt quite comfortable and welcome inside the walls of the school. The boys quickly became used to seeing me around and let me join them in their games, their classes and pretty much every aspect of their daily lives. Although I was almost constantly asking questions about life as a monk, Buddhism, their school and their villages they never treated me as though I was a nuisance and always took the time and effort to try to find answers for me. I quickly fell into the routine, waking up while the boys were at morning puja, having fresh bread (sometimes with peanut butter!) and sweet tea for breakfast, getting some yoga in then heading to my first class, and sticking around after class for any questions or just to work on the computers before heading to lunch. The food at the school was great! It usually consisted of Daal Bhaat of some delicious flavour and vegetables, but sometimes went the way of potatoes, cucumber, cabbage, bread or soup and pretty consistently had fresh garlic and ginger or other spices included in high enough volume to make my taste buds very happy! After lunch was free time until 1:30, which was usually filled by playing games in the courtyard or driveway. Some days I had English class right after lunch. The boys were at very different levels, so we did a lot of games and repetition. It was usually a lot of fun, but even on the days when there wasn’t a huge amount of cooperation I still left class with a content satisfaction that really felt great. My favourite part of the day rolled around at 3:30…tea time. We all gathered in the outdoor hall, squatted down with our sweet milk tea (often with biscuits for dunking as well) chatting, making faces, and having fun with each other. After tea came more classes, including my second computer class of the day. The schedule of computer classes rotated between the 3 oldest levels. The youngest of these was focused on creating email accounts, learning to send emails, respond to messages and doing typing drills and games. In the two older levels, we created websites using wordpress, learned basic HTML, worked with Microsoft Word, Excel and Powerpoint and made movies using Movie Maker. The subjects had to be flexible as we sometimes would show up to see that the internet was out. The boys came up with some great questions and when it was time to be creative, they went above and beyond. After that class, we headed to dinner (again super yummy) then the boys were off to self-study time before either Buddhist debate or puja, depending on the day, and I was off to read, watch movies or go to puja. This was our daily routine. However, at some point everyday I would find myself doing something, maybe playing games, staring at the scenery, listening to the boys or pretty much anything else, when I would be overcome with such an impressive contentment that I would catch myself and have to remind myself that this was real…this school, these monks, this environment…it was all real and I was fortunate enough to be given the opportunity to experience it. How amazingly fortunate am I?!?!
It seems to have gone by very fast, but when I look back through my journal, I can remember each day and the thoughts and feelings I was experiencing as well as the lessons that were coming my way. When it came time to leave, I was surprised to find that I was not sad. Not because I wanted to leave, but because I was so happy to have had such an incredible time here and felt so fortunate to have been welcomed in for as long as I had. This doesn’t mean it was easy to leave, especially after the boys flooded my room with hand-drawn cards and beautiful letters. No, it was certainly not easy to leave, but the time has come to move forward to head towards other experiences. So, here I am in Pokhara getting ready to go trekking to the Annapurna Base Camp in the Himalayas, but the experiences and the lessons that were learned in Pharping are still very much present in my mind, and I am certain they always will be.