September 30, 2007

9/30/07 Lavaur France

Nalanda Monastery

Well, today is my last day at Nalanda. Tomorrow I take the train back to Toulouse where my cousin Cynthia will pick me up after she gets off work and take me back to their home in St Lys on the other side of the city. I will spend a few more days with Cynthia and her husband Jean-Yves before finally saying goodbye. Then begins a month of travel to London, Berne, Verona, and Rome.

How to put the three months of my stay at Nalanda into perspective? That's a tough one. Basically I learned how difficult it was to put my wants and needs secondary to the harmony of the whole. I hope I followed the Dalai Lama's advice "help others or at least don't harm them." I could either do this with regret, with anger, with selfishness. Or I could just let all those emotions go and just do it to do it. I guess it was refreshing just to let everything, all MY wants and needs go, and focus on the harmony of the monastery. It was an experiment in faith, that in return the monastery would take care of me too. And for three months, it worked. Not perfectly, but it worked.

I got practice with compromise, self-sacrifice, tolerance, letting go, mindfulness, and most of all, patience. I was able to meet men and women on a personal level from all over Europe, from all sorts of backgrounds. And don't get me wrong, it wasn't too serious. It was a lot of fun, living life "with" people, really sharing time together.

For example, it was a laugh riot when Thubten joined us for our weekly soccer game, playing in his monks robes and boots (a few people accused him of hiding the ball under his robes). Or the night I tried in vain to explain, in my beginner Spanish, the intricacies of a English-language suspense-scifi thriller we had been watching to the Spanish-speaking monks. Or all the times I attempted to speak French with Fabiane, failing oh so bad. I'd have to admit that most of my one-on-one experiences with people here at Nalanda usually put a smile on my face. Life was definitely slower here, which allowed us to enjoy those special moments as they happened instead of zooming through life missing everything.

And I did get to learn skills and have opportunities to do things I don't normally do. I got to see how molds are made. I enjoyed making plaster castings. And maybe I will get to use my gold-leafing skills someday. But besides these 'tangibles', I got to put my mind and my hands to work on all the little details to help Nalanda. Yes, if I wasn't here, I'm sure someone else would have done similar work, but I'd like to think I put a 'Jim' twist on it using my own style so to speak. And, some day I hope to return, to see the finished gompa and shrine, to see how my work helped bring it to completion.

I am happy I took the opportunity to volunteer here, to live here, to be part of this monastery, even if only for a little bit. But only time will tell what seeds it has planted in me and what fruit it will bear in my future.

Here are just a few of those wonderful people of Nalanda that I call friends now.




Losang Gendun

Jean-Francois & Toine




Darwin, Miguel & Luis




Dave & Michael





Estela & Sixta




Losang Thubten, Jim & Zopa