This is part of a continuing series about our recent travel to Bhutan. Lessons 1 and 2 can be found in a previous post.
Attending church this morning is part of my usual Sunday routine, just like reading the Sunday paper while drinking my coffee in a favorite chair. For many Christian Americans , we practice our religion on the weekend and then exist in a much more secular world during the work week. That is very different from the experience that I had visiting a predominately Buddhist country (75% of Bhutan is Buddhist, 24% is Hindu). Bhutan has no separation of church and state, with the government buildings, Dzongs, serving as the both the secular and religious administrative centers. Each day of our trip was spent trekking to a remote monastery and visiting a Dzong in a different district of the country.
Monasteries are built for worship and reverence and also serve as the primary place of learning for the monks. The majority of monks come from poor families who consider it an honor to have one of their sons receive a free education while also providing them with a religious officer for future needs. Young boys are committed to a monastery at around age 5 and live full time with boys of other ages, learning how to read both Sanskrit and English and living a simple and meditative life in order to achieve nirvana. Sounds very peaceful and calming, but remember that we are dealing with teenage boys and hormones all clustered together. Sunday exists for these boys every day of the week, as prayers are said many times a day and their daily routine is built around the Buddhist religion.
Rule #3 Boys will be boys, no matter where they are born.
The color of the robes made it difficult to put my camera down, as it contrasted so nicely with the white monasteries and the green hillsides.
Young girls may also be given as nuns to the monasteries, but are present in much smaller numbers and in different monasteries than the boys. However, they are able to perform all of the ceremonies that monks perform and seem to function at the same level once they have completed their education.
Most of the monasteries that we visited involved a 1-3 hour trek off of the main road. I am sure that this adds a level of contemplation to the journey, while allowing the monks and nuns to live a simpler life away from the more populated areas. Traveling to a monastery to have certain prayers chanted and make offerings is part of everyday life when important decisions need to be made. Monks are also consulted in naming babies or giving blessings on the New Year. All of these ceremonies involve a monetary offering, very similar to the collection plate that is passed in Christian churches.
Because Dzongs are both places of religion and government, they are treated with great respect and honor. Traditional Bhutanese dress, either the gho or the kira, need to be worn as well as “prayer shawls” by the men. Prayer wheels are spun upon entering and the entrances are decorated with elaborate Buddhist paintings.
Lesson #4 Reverence and respect for religion and government was a pleasant change from what we had left in the US. It can also have a downside, as there seems to be little questioning of authority when religion and government are so closely intertwined.