July 7, 2007

7/07/07 Lavaur France

Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual and political leaderNalanda Monastery

Yesterday was the Dalai Lama's birthday, he's 72 years old. Here's wishing him a long life so he can keep spreading the word about peace and compassion.

I thought I would tell you what a normal day is like at Nalanda, for me.

As far as I can tell, a lot of the monks are up at 5:30AM for meditation. Me, well that's too early for this old body, but do I try to go for a run before breakfast. At 7:00AM there is Mindfulness Breakfast. Because the monks go back for more prayers afterward, breakfast is in silence. There is fresh baked bread with lots of jams to choose from, and there is always a full basket of fruit on the table.

My room

There are more pujas (prayers) in the shrine room at 7:30AM. I've gone to one but my legs were not used to sitting cross-legged for an hour and half. Most is in English, but usually the chants are in Tibetan. I don't know why, but the rhythm and harmony of chants, be they Tibetan or Gregorian, just reach deep inside you.

And work starts about 8:00AM. There are no time-clocks, you just do what you need to do. Right now there are more lay people here than monks. Some are volunteers like me working on various projects or just the normal maintenance of the monastery. And a few others are on retreat or interesting in becoming monks. There are a few women here during the day, but they stay either in town or at the Vajra Yogini Institute. I'll tell you more about my work next week, but let's just say that all week I've been covered with plaster dust and for the next two weeks my hands will almost surely be covered with red acrylic paint. When I take a break, I usually just wander the grounds. The cats around the monastery know a good thing when they see it, and usually want some attention if you wander by.

Ah, fresh plaster dust in the morning

Volunteers Tess & Lauren in the workshop

I'm usually very ready when lunch is served at 12:30. All the monks take turns cooking and I always seem to be going back for seconds. It's all vegetarian and there is a lot of variety. We open with a short prayer and again, we eat in silence. At the end of the meal, there is a long prayer with more chanting, but after that talking is allowed and everyone seems to catch up on the days happenings. Then I head back to the workshop.

Darwin (Chile) & Beco (Peru) prepare lunch

It seems that time flies because suddenly I'm cleaning up about 5:30 and closing up the workshop. Most of the time, the monks don't eat again after lunch, so anyone else just makes something with the leftovers in the kitchen. While the monks are doing more evening prayers, I just try relax. I might study French for a bit then head to the library to do some reading or catch up on my email. The monastery has a huge library and most of the books are in English. But sometimes there are other things going on, like Friday nights everyone gets together to play soccer and Saturday is movie night where the monks can watch non-religious movies. Last week we watched 'Fly Boys' about American pilots flying for the French in WWI. I wonder what tonights movie will be.

The library

And usually about 10:00PM, I head to my room for some meditation and stretching before bed.

But today is Saturday and I have the whole weekend to relax. Besides updating the website/blog, I want to bike into Lavour for the Saturday market and just wander around town. It would be a shame to miss lunch here at the monastery because Tendar, the director, always makes good pizza. Then this afternoon I want to bike over to the Vajra Yogini Institute to visit with my cousin's husband, Jean-Yves, who is a chef there for the summer.