The Monastery in Rumtek
This is so familiar as I look at it today and so many memories come back to mind.
It was the day before leaving for Rumtek that I attended a lecture given in the afternoon by the Bhikku. We were staying with a Tibetan family at their home in a village close by. In the morning the Bhikkhu gave us a lecture which I will always remember although I cant be sure why he told this story. Here is the story:
There was a Bhuddist monk who was living for many years in a monastery, but he was never happy. He found that the prayers were too much, the work and studies never ending and the food so little. One day he decided to run away. He was able to obtain some peasant’s clothes, some tea and butter for the journey and also, he stole some sacred objects of value that he could sell. He left early one morning long before the monks arose for prayer and he went up over into the forest where he knew of a path that would lead him over to Nepal.
Before arriving there, he hid his robes under a rock and he changed to the clothes of a peasant and on arriving in the village he sought out a shop that pawned precious objects and jewelry and there he went and bargained until he got what he wanted.
He lived for the rest of his life in a small village very far away and worked as a farmer where he was on his own, and did not have the strict life_style of a monk. He arose when he wanted. He ate what he wanted, and lived a far different life from his previous days in the monastery, but deep down inside he was not at peace but he had no strength to go back. Time passed and one day he got sick and he died.
Some years later, he was re-incarnated in a very Christian country and was baptized a Catholic and was given the name Patrick O’Toole.
(When the Bhikkhu came to this part of the story he looked at me in the corner of his eye and had a smile on his face).
He explained that this former monk came back in this lifetime in such a way as to fulfill his ‘karma’ for his leaving the monastery.
(I also smiled because I knew this was one of his ways of teasing me while showing affection).
So Patrick as he is now called in this lifetime, grows up and has a wonderful education in a Catholic college and he has a desire to join a seminary and there he studied and finally receives ordination as a Catholic priest.
Father Patrick now is intent on becoming a missionary and begins his training. He asks to be sent to India where he wants to study Tibetan so that he can preach and convert Tibetans.
I am now, maybe like you the reader, asking myself, where is he going with this story. but because I remembered so clearly his last story about the spider. I am anxiously attentive.
Father Patrick is sent to India and settles in a religious community in Nepal where he is now a chaplain for a group of nuns who have a school and he has found a Tibetan who has started giving him lessons. Everyone is amazed at how fast he learns Tibetan. The time passes and finally the Bishop calls him in and he is given a blessing and sent out on his new vocation as a missionary for Tibetans.
Father Patrick begins his journey and for a while is accompanied by some guides with experience in the areas. After a few days, the guides bid farewell to him and he is left on his own with some food and some money, maps, and tea and butter. It is so strange he thinks to himself, how happy he feels, and how much at home, he finds himself in this environment which is yet so different from Ireland. His heart is light and excited and he believes and tells himself “this is really my calling and this is exactly where God wants me to be.”
The days start early in this part of the world and the evenings are short and the nights come early so that at 5:30- 6pm it already begins to get dark. The monsoon rains were quite unannounced and at nights one could not sleep outdoors because it would be impossible, so he had always to look for a covered place or a cave to sleep. It was on such a night that father Patrick was hurrying and he slipped on a muddy piece of earth and fell, hitting his head on a rock.
He must have spent a good part of the night there in a sort of coma, unconscious. The next morning some Tibetan monks were on the path as they were travelling to a nearby monastery for ordinations and they found father Patrick. They could not leave him. luckily they were several of them, enough to make a stretcher, bound his wounded head, and decided to take him to the monastery where he would be able to rest and continue on his road.
The next day, father Patrick recovered and found himself in this Tibetan monastery and because his clothes were torn and dirty, the monks had bathed him and dressed him in a monk’s garment. There was one thing, one important thing. father Patrick was now suffering from amnesia and his backpack with his passport etc. was lost in the journey. He could remember nothing of his life as an Irishman, priest or missionary.
Yet he spoke a perfect Tibetan and when the monks took him to the temple, he knew all the prayers by heart.
The Bhikkhu now said, “and so this monk had paid the price of running away and he was given the chance to continue his life as a Tibetan monk all over! He lived a now happy life and his past was forgotten”
The Bhikku had a twinkle in his eye and I left the lecture hall. He gave so many details and it was like following a movie.I was feeling somewhat like how we sometimes feel when we leave a cinema after a powerful movie and come out into the streets.
I came out and started my way back slowly and I dont know what happened but at some point I realized I was completely alone on this unfamiliar path and it was getting dark. Here I was lost in a forest some where in Nepal where tigers among other creatures roam at nights. I was horrified and as it got darker my sight became worse and I was stumbling over stumps and stones. The mad thought came to my mind, “was the Bhikkhu talking about me? am I going to fall and hit my head and become unconscious?” as exotic as the life in this part of the world was, I could not see myself living here as a monk.
So I prayed and prayed and instead of walking, I literally crawled the earth! Just when I was getting discouraged, I suddenly heard voices and in a near approaching distance I could see some monks with lanterns on the path. I yelled and screamed “Tashe Delek! Tashe Delek” and they stopped and waited until I joined them and all smiling they led me back to the village where I was staying.!
I was happy to find the place where I was staying and do some packing as the next day we were scheduled to go to Rumtek. I fell asleep so tired that night and the hard cot felt so welcome. The rain was falling and as I fell asleep, it sounded like music to the ears. The next morning I was anxious to meet some of the people on the retreat as we were travelling to Rumtek and the monastery and the group leader said that if we were lucky, we will be allowed to witness some ceremonies and also to take refuge there with Karmapa. I somehow wish that then, I had known what I know today but isn’t it so in life? Or maybe a part of me had known all of it but was not allowed to reveal. (continued tomorrow on Part B)