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Bhutan: Bhutanese monks

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Bhutanese monks > Bhutan > Asia

[Visited: October 2009]

I met the first Bhutanese monks already at the airport of Bangkok, before boarding the flight to Paro. A familiar sight, after having visited other Buddhist countries in the region. Wrapped in a red cloth, monks are easily spotted anywhere in the country. Buddhism is clearly embedded in public life of Bhutan, and the religion has a virtual monopoly on religious life in the country. Monks are obviously an important element in the visibility of Buddhism in the streets. Their life is not always easy. Boys (even though there are nuns in the country, they are a small minority, and I did not see any) can start at an age between six and nine years old, and are then educated to read the language of sacred texts, chhokey, Dzongkha and English, before they have to choose their future in Buddhism.

Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Bhutanese monk posing at Trongsa Dzong

Their choice is to either take a theoretical or practical way, with the latter being the most common one. After having visited several remote monasteries high up in the mountains, I gained always more respect for the monks who were living there. Far away from a village, they live under very basic circumstances, and I could well imagine that during winter, the monasteries would be very cold to live in, as most of them do not have heating systems and are located at altitudes of over 4,000 metres.

Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Passing prayer wheels: Bhutanese monk

Bhutanese monks are friendly and welcoming to guests, but I did not find them as forthcoming as monks in other countries in the region. Perhaps their command of English is not sufficient to communicate with foreigners, or they might be shy, or not used to meeting foreigners. At the same time, they are often smiling, offering holy water in temples which the visitor is supposed to sprinkle in his hair, or demonstrating how a flute made of human bone is being used as an instrument. At times, I found monks in a very playful mood, running after each other, threatening to throw cabbages, hiding, giggling... It was not always easy to imagine these often young guys going into retreat for a long time. Nevertheless, it is common for a monk to, at least once in his lifetime, meditate in a remote place close to a monastery for a period of three years, three months, three weeks and three days. To me, it seemed something that was hard to imagine.

Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Bhutanese monks washing in a brook near Petsheling monastery
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Young Bhutanese monk with dress in the courtyard of Gangte Goemba
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Young Bhutanese monk wrapped in red cloth
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Two Buddhist monks in discussion
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Religious artwork being examined by Bhutanese monks
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Bhutanese monk sitting at some stairs of Trongsa Dzong
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Bhutanese monks playing in a courtyard of Trongsa Dzong
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Bhutanese monks welcoming one of the religious leaders on tour
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Young monk with a very un-Buddhist toy
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Lighting butter lamps: Bhutanese monk in action
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Rest for Bhutanese monks
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Monk in Thimpu dzong
Picture of Bhutanese monks (Bhutan): Young monks near Petsheling Goemba

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