I’ve been fortunate to have had about six or seven opportunities to attend/teach/make some music with some young Sakya monks here in Boudha. I was a part of three different classes, 45 minutes each, monks age ~6-13. One class had 7 monks. Another had over 20. I’m entirely unsure how they create classes as the ages in each class are very mixed. The monastery I’m guessing has about 50 young monks ages 6-17. The monks live there and have class six days a week from morning until 5. You can read more about the monastery school here: https://www.sakyatharig.org.np/school/index.html
I want to tell you about my time with the kids, but first I wan to share with you some thoughts I’ve had about monks since I’ve been here. We don’t have anything like this in the West and for me it is really fascinating to observe, learn about, and be inspired by.
I don’t really know how these kids ends up at this monastery. My understanding is that some are sent out of poverty, some out of religious devotion, some for education, some because they lack family support. I can’t imagine how difficult it must be to be five years old and sent away from your home for the rest of your childhood. I tend to imagine a monk as someone who made that choice willingly out of religious devotion. But many monks had that choice made for them when they were small. As they get older, even if they want to live an ordinary life, it may be difficult to give up the robes as they offer status a familiar way of life. In any case, I’ve heard that it’s not uncommon in Nepal for monks to even to be married, which is of course the main prerequisite to being a monk.
Being a monk is highly respected. And for me, even knowing that some monks don’t take their vows seriously, it’s still inspiring to see all of these robed men and women walking around. The robes are an outward sign of intense religious commitment and as such they help engender faith in the rest of us. If someone is willing to give up so much in the name of belief, it adds a certain reality to what they believe or at least inspires an interest in what creates such commitment. There are a lot of monks walking around Boudha. On my way to class every morning, I easily see between 20 and 50 monks going about their business. There are tons of monasteries here in Boudha, definitely the rest of Kathmandu isn’t like this. For me it’s one of the perks – not only is there one of the most important stupas in the world that I get to walk by every morning, the roads are filled with monks and monasteries. It’s very inspiring.
The first few times I went I mostly observed what they were doing. I was in English class, so I would play a few little language games with them on the board. One of the classes had just read the story of Jack and the Bean Stalk and they were drawing pictures for different scenes from the story, which you can see below. Some of them are really great artists! They all seemed to love to draw and were very intent on making the best picture they could.
A few times I brought my guitar and taught them simple kid songs like Row, Row, Row Your Boat, The Cat Came Back, And If You’re Happy and You Know It Clap Your Hands. We did some vocal exercises and other fun musical games. It was really fun and sweet and they seemed to love it. They especially loved the Cat Came Back, in the States, too, kids really love this one.
They took a field trip to the Airplane Museum in Kathmandu and I was able to accompany them for part of it. The museum is in an old plane that crashed a few years ago at the Kathmandu International Airport. A wealthy Nepali man paid out of pocket to have the plane disassembled, transported to the current location and put back together and turned into a museum. The plane has lots of pictures of Nepal, has large and small model planes, and you can go into the cockpit and see what it originally looked like.
One time there was a birthday party at the end of the day for one of the teachers. They shared some food and, amazingly, cut up a birthday cake in like 80 pieces so everyone could have a piece. After eating, the monks would come up and sing a song if they wanted. Mostly they sang popular pop songs and sometimes they would come up together and sing. A lot of the songs were love songs and it was pretty amusing to me to see these very young monk boys in robes singing popular love songs!
I’m grateful for the time I had to spend with these lovely monks. It was really interesting to have a chance to see in a small way what their life and culture is like. I hope that in the future I have more opportunities like this!