Images by Anupama Kondayya
Walking with the monks in Bylakuppe
by Anupama Kondayya
17 December 2009
The first sign that we had arrived was the sight of the Tibetan Prayer Flags fluttering in the wind and bringing prosperity, health and luck to whoever had tied it there. Smiling Tibetan faces greeted us from a wayside tea-stall while others looked at us curiously. The gleaming Golden Pagoda of the monastery rising above the fields in the distance was the definitive sign that we were headed in the right direction. And it was not in the direction of Dharamsala, Sikkim or even Ladakh. It was South.
Home to almost 10,000 Tibetan refugees to whom the Government leased out land in 1959 for resettlement, Bylakuppe in Karnataka is the seat of the Namdroling Monastery in the Nyingma tradition of Buddhism. The Golden Temple here draws many who come here to experience the different world that Bylakuppe takes them to – a world of Buddhist chants ringing amidst the loud gongs, of prayer flags and prayer bells and of the monks and nuns that come here to devote their lives to the study of scriptures.
Sent to the monastery as young as six years old sometimes, the monks and nuns of Bylakuppe have the few faces where true radiance still exists in all its brilliance. Theirs is a life spent understanding and practicing the tenets of Buddhism. They spend nine years after the customary High School studying the scriptures and their graduation discipline side by side.
As they get deeper into the realms of the Buddhist philosophy, the rigor increases with long period of continuous prayer involved. Sometimes they enter a hall with the intention to offer five kinds of prayers, each one-lakh times. The process takes about six months. At others, monks at the advanced stages of study relegate themselves to a special room to meditate for three years with no human contact and food is passed to them through a special window in the room. It is amazing to think when one sees one of those maroon-robed monks walking, one is witnessing such discipline and devotion personified.
The monastery has an extensive stretch of land that is marked by a series of prayer bells that run along the periphery. Beyond that lies a serene lake and a coffee-estate where the younger monks can be seen studying for their exams in peace. The exams are usually followed by a mandatory pilgrimage to Bodhgaya, the town where Buddha attained enlightenment, that the monks must undertake every year.
Shy by nature, most monks keep to themselves unmindful of the thronging visitors at the temple, who have come to be awed by the size and serenity of the temple. But an attempt to talk to them will always elicit the most warm responses ever and they will even willingly show you around the monastery telling you these stories of yearlong meditations and the Tibetan New Year celebrations among others.
If it is close to lunch-time, you might even get to eat at the canteen inside the monastery that serves the most authentic momos along with soup, rather than at the restaurant outside. More than the food, it is that taste of forgotten unconditional hospitality that touches your heart and endears the place to you.
Walking with these epitomes of serenity and discipline and visiting the Golden Temple thereafter brings along an instantaneous rush of peace that stays with you for quite some time. And every time you need it to be replenished, you can always visit the monks in Bylakuppe.