Thursday, January 15, 2015

Nalanda University, Bihar

As a follow up to my previous blog, my visit to Nalanda monastery made me interested and curious about the original Nalanda university in India. So here is something that I found out -

Nalanda was a large Buddhist monastery in ancient Magadha (modern day Bihar), India. Located about 95 km southeast of Patna – centre of learning from the fifth century CE to c 1200 CW and was at its high of glory during the Gupta era.
Covering an area of around 12 hectares the residential school, constructed mostly in red bricks, during its heyday it claimed to have accommodated 10,000 students and 2,000 teachers. There were eight separate compounds and ten temples, along with many other meditation hall and classrooms. Lakes and parks created a sense of peace and tranquility.
The library was an immense complex separated into three large buildings. The largest building known as the Ratnadadhi (Ocean of Gems) was nine stories high and housed most of the sacred manuscripts. Though the exact number of volumes of the library is not known, it is estimated to have been in the hundreds of thousands. The library had not only religious manuscripts but also had texts on such subjects as grammar, logic, literature, astrology, astronomy and medicine and attracted pupils and scholars from Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Persia and Turkey.
It is believed that the library burned for three months after invaders set fire to it, ransacked and destroyed the monasteries and drove the monks from the side.

Now around 800 years after it was razed to the ground, the University reopened its doors with the first academic session starting on September 2014 with 15 students, five of whom were women, in temporary facilities in nearby Rajgir. The modern complex is expected to be finished by 2020 and will have seven schools for postgraduate and doctorate students.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nalanda Monastery, Punakha

I had not known that there was a Nalanda monastery here in Bhutan. I thought that there was only one - the famous Buddhist monastery/University of the past which was in Bihar, India. 

So while in Punakha, I took the opportunity to visit the Nalanda monastery of Bhutan. Located just below Talo Monastery and about 15 km away from Punakha town, the monastery is situated on a sunny slope overlooking the Punakha valley and the highway leading down from Dochula.

The upper temple of Nalanda, Punakha

 So here, for the knowledge and information of any who may be interested, I take the opportunity to share with you the history and interesting information I obtained from the notice board about the Nalanda monastery in Bhutan.

History about the Nalanda monastery in Punakha
In 1757 the 9th Je Khenpo Shakya Rinchen, considered to be a reincarnation of Rechungpa (one of the two extraordinary disciples of Milarepa in Kagye Buddhist lineage), founded the Nalanda Monastery in Punkaha.
At the time when this monastery was built, the ancient Nalanda University in India was a very holy and sacred place. Bhutanese people made great efforts to visit this special holy place at least once in their lifetime. There were no roads and people had to walk to India. As a result the journey was very unsafe and people were at risk to be robbed or even worse. Once in India, people from Bhutan faced many difficulties including dealing with differences in food, culture, and language as well as being in an unfamiliar place. As a way of accommodating people’s desire to visit Nalanda, Gyalwa Shakya Rinchen Rinpoche built this monastery in Bhutan and named it after the Nalanda University in India.
Gyalwang Shakya Rinchen had completed the building of Phajoding in the monastery above Thimphu valley. Upon its completion he was wondering where the next site to build the next monastery. The monk body was moving their residence from Thimphu to Punakha, as was the traditional way to spend months in Punakha. When he was walking over Dochula mountain pass he saw eight vultures flying to a specific area that has now become the present Nalanda monastery. He through that maybe these vultures were the eight original scholars (pandits) from the Nalanda University in India. After seeing it he asked for a confirmation in a dream. Consequently the eight scholars appeared in his dream and gave a teaching to him. Based on seeing of the vulture choosing this site and the dream of the eight scholars, this site was chosen as the area in which to build Nalanda monastery.
During Gyalwang Shakya Rinchen’s lifetime, Nalanda monastery in Bhutan was a thriving Buddhist teaching institution with a renowned reputation. After Gyalwang Shakya Rinchen’s final thugham or Maha Samadhi, slowly the teachings stopped and the great institute lay dormant. Nalanda Monastery was restarted several times with different eachers but after the teachers departed the monastery would again be less inhabited with monks.
Eventually the uncle of His Majesty, the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck, Lopen Yoenten Gyaltsen requested permission from the King to open an official Buddhist Shedra (institute). In 1991 His Majesty gave permission for Nalanda Monastery to become a Shedra. Then in 1992 two lopens (teachers) began the Shedra with 20 monks. Over time the number of lopens and students increased. In 2014 there are 6 lopens and 125 students that range from 8 to 28 years old.                                                

                                                                    Mural of Lord Buddha
There are eight statues made of clay inside the lower shrine room of the upper temple (lhakhang). Here is their story:

The Eight Disappearing Indians
While constructing the original temple of Nalanda in Bhutan, Gyalwang Shakya Rinchen Rinpoche saw eight Indians from India in an adjacent valley to the building site. He soon realised that these eight Indians must be the eight scholars (pandits) of the original Nalanda University in India. When he went to find them to see if it was true, they had disappeared. The disappearance of the Indians, led to the confirmation that these indeed where the eight great scholars of Nalanda University. In order to praise and honour them for their auspicious appearance, he built eight clay statues. These statues can be seen inside the lower shrine room of the upper temple (lhakhang).

Late afternoon view of Punakha valley from Nalanda monastery


Monday, January 5, 2015

Sipa-Chi-Dhoe at Punakha

I started my New Years by going to Punakha, specifically to offer prayers at the Sipa-Chi-Dhoe. Located in the Thangzana, the ground near the Punakha Dzong, hundreds of people had been coming every day to cleanse their negative deeds and offer prayers for protection from bad omen. Considered one of the most important traditions, the Sipa-Chi-Dhoe which is normally conducted once in 12 years, was being conducted after a gap of 13 years.
His Holiness the Je Khenpo and the monastic body preceded over a five day prayers during which symbolic offering were being made at the Dhoe (a great altar representing the universe) and there were two towering representations of the main protective deities of Bhutan, namely Yeshey Goenpo (Mahakala) and Pelden Lhamo (Mahakali).

Initiated by Guru Rimpoche and performed in Bhutan since the time of Zahbdrung in Punakha, the Sipa-Chi-Dhoe offering is made as a sacred offering to all the realms of the universe and to balance the forces of good and evil. Such offerings were to protect the nation against all threats and to foster peace and prosperity in the country.
The event culminates with the final dissipation of offerings (which happened on 5th Jan 2015) during which scores of people rush to the Dhoe and dismantle the structure and take with them pieces of material and religious offering.

I was not there to witness the final event but it was nice to be a small part of such a big event. It was joyful to start my new year by witnessing such an important the religious tradition. There was a feeling of peace and tranquillity as I offered my prayers and listened to the monk body reciting prayers for the universe.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Parenting - a balancing act

Today morning, the second last day of November, was a cold and frosty morning. Dressed in warm clothing and supplemented by a warm cap, I went to drop my daughter to school. She did not want to wear any coat saying that she does not get cold in school. I tried to persuade her to carry a coat but despite my attempts she flatly declined to take anything with her.

And there lies a dilemma that I sometimes encounter. Where do I draw the line in parenting? I know she should dress warmly, and that prevention is better than cure. But if she does not want to do so, despite knowing the advantages and disadvantages, shouldn’t she have the final say for herself?
Parenting, I have realized, is a balancing act.
We need to try and ensure that we protect our child and take care of them. On the other hand we also need for them to be able to experiment with life, to face challenges and to grow from them. If we always impose our will on them, where is the scope for them to grow and learn?

When my daughter was about 10 months old, she attempted to walk. Wobbly and uncertain, she took little steps – and I was there constantly trying to move aside anything that may hurt her. I watched her walk, laughed as her little steps reached the destination. I watched – with my heart in my mouth - as she fell, time and again – and each time she would get up and try again. And she would eventually succeed.

And what joy there was for us all.

We cannot walk for our children but we try and create a safe environment for them to learn, for them to make mistakes and to fall till they succeed eventually.
It has been said that “It is not what you do for your children, but what you have taught them to do for themselves, that will make them successful human beings.”

And an important learning, for me, is that it is necessary for children to learn through their own experiences. Let them sometimes face some difficulties and challenges. Let us not always try and ascertain what is right and wrong for them. For it is through challenging experiences, that they most often learn the bigger lessons of life.
My little girl returned from school today. It was cold, she said. Henceforth she would wear her coat to school.

Sometimes they only just need to experience the cold themselves.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Making a difference

We live a brief span of time on this earth and during this time I am sure that we would like to meaningfully touch the lives of the people around us. We would each want to make a difference.
I used to think - I am only just one person, what can I do? When there are millions of people suffering around the world and thousands around us with little to eat or clothes to wear – what difference can I, as one individual, make?

Then I think about the quote by Helen Keller:
“I am only one
but still I am one
I cannot do everything
but still I can do something
I will not refuse to do
something I can do.”

We have the potential to make a difference in the lives of people around us. One of the biggest mistakes is to do nothing because you think you cannot make a difference. We can do big things or little things – sometimes even as little as a smile or a listening ear to a person in need. And while we cannot help everyone, we can help that one person – and our lives become more significant because of it.
I am also reminded of a beautiful story, I once read:-

A young man is walking along the ocean and sees a beach on which thousands and thousands of starfish have washed ashore. Further along he sees an old man, walking slowly and stooping often, picking up one starfish after another and tossing each one gently into the ocean.
“Why are you throwing starfish into the ocean?,” he asks.
“Because the sun is up and the tide is going out and if I don’t throw them further in they will die.”
“But, old man, don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and starfish all along it! You can’t possibly save them all, you can’t even save one-tenth of them. In fact, even if you work all day, your efforts won’t make any difference at all.”

The old man listened calmly and then bent down to pick up another starfish and threw it into the sea. “It made a difference to that one.”

I hope that you are as inspired by this story as I am and that you will think of it the next time you feel that you cannot do much. Because you can really make a difference – to this one starfish – or to this one person – and that is all that truly matters.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


A human life seems like a long time.
If one lives to a good old age which now seems to be in the 70 years, we are talking about 900 months or 27,000 days or 648,000 hours or so. That seems like a long time. And as we go through it day by day, it appears that it is going slowly.
However, the minutes are ticking and our life is quickly passing us by - though often we don’t realize it. We look forward to our birthdays and new year – with joy and anticipation. We don’t think that with every birthday and every new year, we are moving quickly to middle age and old age and towards the inevitable.

That is not to say that it is a bad thing.
With age comes knowledge and wisdom. With age comes scrapbooks and photo albums filled with a lifetime of memories. And hopefully they are good memories. Hopefully we can look back, during the last leg of our lives, and say that ‘I am happy, my life has been well lived.’
We don’t often see the changes that take place, some small and some big, but changes nevertheless. In living our lives we sometimes get caught up in the small things and often forget about the larger picture. We often take for granted those who matter to us, assuming that they will always be there. It is only when children leave the homes to spread their wings and fly or new babies are born or people die that we realize that change is happening.

And that is fine – because change is inevitable.
The important thing is for us to realize that change is happening all the time and that life really is impermanent. It is important for us to sometimes take stock of our values, our expectations, of the people we hold dear, of the choices we make daily – and to see how we want to go from there. It is necessary to look to each day and see how we can make it worthwhile so that at the very end, we can truly say that our life has been worthwhile.
It has been a happy and well lived life.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Lost and Found

In continuing my thought from the last post – I just realised that if we lose or find things in Thimphu, there really is no place where we can contact the other person and return the item. The police seems to be the most likely Lost of Found place of contact. But we all know that the Police have a lot of other work and challenges. And if we lose a key (not stolen), we would not really go to the police to find it. The only other option I see is an announcement in the BBS or Kuzu FM. But for a lost key or a small bag, that does seem quite a tedious and expensive way of making contact.

It may be an interesting idea to explore for our youth. Someone could set up a place (even a website – or phone number) so that if someone has lost something or found something they could call a specific number and get connected with the other person.
Just sharing my thoughts with some possible ideas for our young people to explore.

Would love to hear some of your ideas as well….