A Special Day in Tawang

Originally posted on Beezy ‘s Facebook page, and shared with her permission.

Tawang FieldtripNovember 21 was a very special day for the children of Jhamtse Gatsal. Several relics (small pieces of bone) from Buddha, on loan from the National Museum in Delhi, are on exhibit at the great Tawang Monastery this week. Many of the children had never visited this center of Tibetan Buddhism only about two hours drive from Jhamtse Gatsal. It is the largest old Tibetan monastery in South Asia. Lobsang decided that it was important to take all the children to see the relics, if at all possible. We currently have just two vehicles capable of holding, when jam packed, about 12 children each, but there are 85 children, plus staff. Fortunately, we were able to borrow two buses, a 16 passenger bus from a local politician, and a 36 passenger bus from the army. In the four vehicles, about 110 people were transported to Tawang. Packed tightly, several children to each seat, the children sang all the way there and back. This was the first time the entire school had taken a trip together.

Upon arriving at the monastery, we were ushered into an enclosed plaza and seated on thin carpets, joining about 300 people already there and waiting their turn to see the relics. The plaza was decorated with strings of 5-color flags, orange, white, red, yellow and blue. While we waited, we listened to monks of Tawang Monastery chanting, and heard a teaching by Tsona Rinpoche, a reincarnated Lama who is the head of cultural affairs in this region and who has worked for the last year to bring the relics to Tawang.

Tsona Rinpoche is a very engaging speaker, whether he is speaking in one’s own language or not! He first asked, in Hindi, whether there were any people who did not speak the local language, Monpa. There were a number of Hindi speakers, so he first gave his teaching in Hindi. Then he spoke in Monpa. Finally, recognizing that there was at least one English (only) speaker in the crowd, he gave a synopsis of his teaching in English. He spoke about the five great precepts of Buddhism, symbolized by the 5-color flags: refrain from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxication.

In this normally quite chaotic environment, people were ushered, about 100 at a time, into lines to see the relics. As Jhamtse Gatsal folks waited in a line against the fresly whitewashed outer wall of the chanting hall, we looked across the stone-paved path to a similar line of villagers, most women wearing traditional rose and white striped long dresses of coarse silk, heavily embroidered jackets of the same silk in solid rose, and a heavy felted red or black apron worn in back—for sitting on. Many of the men wore the traditional heavy red or black felted coats, with wide hand-woven sashes. Missing, by request of Tsona Rinpoche, were the big, heavy knives made of re-purposed automotive springs, that are the all-purpose tools of Monpa village men. Everyone was in a festive mood. There were many children, including some little girls in tiny Monpa dress. Beyond the line, we looked down on the yellow roofs of the white-washed monks’ residences, built of stone and mud like village houses, with gaps where the walls meet the roof, to let out the smoke of cooking fires. Below the monastery, the town of Tawang spread out on many ridges, and across the valley rose the snow-dusted higher mountains against a blue blue sky.

After we visited the relics, Tsona Rinpoche invited me and Vasudha (Managing Director of Jhamtse Gatsal) to visit with him. We had a lively conversation about many topics. His english is excellent. He mentioned that a couple of days earlier when there were a lot of Indian army personnel in the waiting crowd, when he talked in Hindi about not stealing, he mentioned the common practice in the Indian army of leaving with a full tank of gas, then siphoning some of it off along the way, and selling it on the black market. “That is stealing from the people,” he said. This state is known as perhaps the most corrupt in India, and Tsona Rinpoche is in the forefront of the movement to obtain autonomous , within India, for the portion of the state known as Monyul. He hopes that Monyul obtains autonomy, as Ladakh (another ethnically Tibetan region in India) did many years ago, then Monyul will become known for its lack of corruption, as is Ladakh. To that end, he works hard to spread the message of the five precepts.

Tsona Rinpoche will be visiting Massachusetts in late spring 2014, and I really look forward to having him with us and to hearing his teachings. He has been a tremendous help to Jhamtse Gatsal since Lama Lobsang Phuntsok first conceived it, and he considers it one of the treasures of the region.

Tawang Monastery

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2 Responses to A Special Day in Tawang

  1. Mark Foley says:

    great story

  2. Laurel Lhowe says:

    How wonderful for all the children to be taken on a trip together.

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