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Visit to the abode of moon

As part of the research project on Buddhist educational institutions got an opportunity to enter the beautiful landscape of Chandragiri in Gajapathi district of Odisha not as a tourist but as a learner.  It was indeed an excellent journey through the mysteries of monasteries, monks and momos.  It was more of development of self in the journey than the study, the best part of taking up research projects.

27th November early morning reached Chandragiri by bus from Bhubaneswar.  Monk Neyku was waiting for us in the misty darkness to pick us.  In the wilderness he drove us the ten kilometres into the camp 4 monastery guest house Ripo.  Entered the chilled room into the bed and blanket equally chill to rest without moving our body after the roller coaster ride of sleeper bus.  With special Tibetan hand made bread with peas masala for breakfast felt comfortable as with it the sun rays entered straight into the room, relieving the overnight blues.  With all energy entered temple of their learning Padma Sambhava Maha Vihar  – Rigon Thupten Mindolling Monastery.  Inside life of the students is as unique as the name it holds.  There are 200 students approximately age ranging from 5 years to 23 years.  Age of admission is 5 years.  Those who join irrespective of the age are put in junior 1.  The class they have are called as junior 1 to 9 and senior 1 to 9 thus having 18 years of education.  If a student completes 18 years in the learning they get degree equivalent to doctoral.  They follow the syllabus of their Thupten board and the degree awarding body is the Central Tibetan Administration. The students who complete their education at any stage can leave the monastery and work as per the requirement of the group.  They join as teachers in any monastery, they go to  preach in and outside India depending on the invitation.  They are willing to share their knowledge in any forum.  Initial learning is Tibetan language, English and numbers.  Once  they master by completing 18 years of study in the monastery, they  start teaching their religious literature.  There is wealth of literature in the Buddhist philosophy that are explored by the senior students. 

28th November – visited the central Tibetan school.  The I/c principal gave us the information of the school and its philosophy.  The Dalai Lama means an ocean of knowledge.  They are the spiritual people to spread the Buddhist philosophy.  Anni are female spiritual teachers taking similar responsibility.  One Anni is appointed in the school and she takes classes on the religion, about Tibet, their freedom struggle and vision for their country.  In their time table there is three periods per week for every grade for spiritual lessons.  Anni takes those classes.  She is appointed by the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Dharamsala.  They are appointed on contractual basis and are paid by the school authorities.  Since 2001 Tibetans are not taken as teachers on regular basis.  There are teachers who teach Tibetan language, music, dance and art, from Tibetan community and all are working on contractual basis. Initially there were 73 schools under the central government, the Central Tibetan School and now there are only 14.  The rest are being taken over by the CTA.

From one of the camps (number 5) 14 children from monastery are sent to the Central Tibetan school.  The principal finds them very disciplined and good at studies.  Many delegates come from European and American countries and set up their projects in the Tibetan settlement.  They have set up a cultural centre, hospital and some small scale industries.  They use the Tibetan medicines in the hospitals.  The locality also has other hospitals and dental clinics set up by project funds. World wide there is Tibetan refugee fund set up for the cause of Tibetan that flow into the camps.  Usually during winter parents go on selling warm clothes in different parts of the country. Hostels are set up by these donors to provide accommodation, food, help in studies for their children during this time.  Care takers are appointed and they take classes on moral and spiritual education in the hostel.

The school has classes from 6 up to class 10.  After they complete class 10 students are sent to other schools where plus 2 is available.   Only three central Tibetan schools have science stream.  Depending upon the availability of seats and interest of students the decision will be made in the camp by the respective camp leaders in consultation with the other leaders of the camp.  Many students are found to be entering into hotel management and nursing.

The central Tibetan school goes out for competition in the inter CBSE meets of sports and culture.  They have opportunities to go on field trips to local spots of tourist interest.  Everything is free of cost, students need not pay anything in the school.

Camp 3 – exclusively for girls has three Lopen (teachers) and 36 children.  Started only 3 years back.  Construction work is going on.  The teachers come from outside to teach them English, Tibetan.  Each room has 4 students, the younger ones are kept with the older so that they are attended to for their daily work.  Girls as young as 5 years are there in the monastery.  All were in their routine prayer when we visited.  They completed their prayer and later spoke to us.  Since they are not conversant in Hindi and English it was little difficult for us to continue our discussion.  The Lopen were from Nepal, they speak in Nepali and Tibetan. It was clear from their expression that they are not very much exposed to outsiders to develop communication.  They live in their own world. Prayer, reading Tibetan literature on Buddhist philosophy and working is the way they spend their entire day.  Contact with outside world is too limited.

29th November

Camp 1 – students are not there.  Only two monks stay there to take care of the monastery.  There is an old age home associated with this monastery funded by the Tibetan association. 24 old people are staying there.  A community nurse is engaged to take care of their health needs.  She stays there from morning 9 to 5 in the evening.  Mostly the inmates of the home are widows and those who do not have children.  Women are more in number.  They spend time listening to their prayer which is played continuously through loud speaker.  Their day starts with prayer in the prayer room for an hour.  They have a kitchen where appointed cooks preparing food as per their need.  Spacious dining room is attached with a small kitchen that are kept very clean.

Camp 2 – monastery is small but very peaceful.  Students are not there.  Community people look after the monastery.  Significant days monks from camp 4 go there to perform the rituals.  In a month they observe 2 days as auspicious days celebration of the Buddhist religious rituals.    An old man looking after the monastery brought the key to open it for us and helped us to see around.  There is a small well equipped kitchen and dining space adjacent to the monastery which is used whenever the monks go there to perform the rituals

Camp 5 – two Lopen and 50 monks are housed in  this monastery.  The monastery is under construction.  Only hostel, kitchen and dining room is ready.   All the monks from this monastery attend the regular classes from class one to five in the Sambodha Tibetan Primary school that is run by the Tibetian Association and after class 5 they go to the central Tibetan school till class 10.  In the monastery the two Lopen take classes on Buddhist philosophy and religious teaching early in the morning and by 8.30 they are ready to go to school.  They get back by 4 in the evening and the lopen will help them in their school related work and in case of difficulty which the Lopen is not able to solve, especially in science and mathematics they call up the school teachers and get the help from them.  The students are mostly from Arunachal Pradesh (Bomdilla), few are from Nepal and one student is from the local Chandragiri.  Individual choice is taken to enrol in monastery and get spiritual education, still they prefer to keep children from far off place as it is not disturbing them from their routine.  If they come from near by places the parents keep visiting them and they also would want to go home often that impedes their academic activities.  Many times local students run away to home from monastery.  To control such challenges the monasteries prefer to keep children from far off land.  Children like general subjects, they are happy to go to the community school, but they face problem in learning mathematics and history.  One student expressed that he likes science subject very much. Mr Cheme Youngdoung a retired teacher provides his guidance and service to the monastery and children on voluntary basis.

Visited settlement office and met the officer Mr Chonar Samdup to discuss the background of Tibetan settlement of Chandragiri.  The officer talked about settlement of Tibetans in Chandragiri said that since the 60s the settlement has been given by Government of India like in other parts of the country.  In this context he also talked about the state goventment has given them land to settle but as of now unlike other settlements developmental work at Chandragiri is scanty.  He gave some data of the settlement like total household is 600 plus, population is 2400 approximately spread over the five camps.  One significant aspect of the Tibetans at Chandragiri is that they have influenced the local residents to start cultivation of food crops like maize and barley.  Another contribution is that because of the Tibetans the local people get employment and there is a mutual learning of language and culture.  This centre has become the attraction for tourists and recently the monastery at camp 4 is included in the tourist map of Odisah thus attracting a large number of tourists from the state as well as outside.  He quoted the Dalailama’s ideas about the integration of modern subjects in the monastery education.  Now lots of development have been planned to make transportation easier through new construction of roads and alternate approaches to the monastery.  Most of the youngsters are abroad and their parents are engaged in the business.

However it is noticed that the children in the monastery are shy and do not express anything freely.  Probably due to lack of exposure to outer world, they do not even acknowledge the presence of new comers.  They seem to be in their own space doing their work meticulously but mechanically.  It is noticed that young children in Junior one were responding to our interactions much better than the older children in the monastery. Similarly the teachers of the monasteries were very social and willing to share their life and culture. May be that level of concentration is essential to indulge in serious study of Buddhism. Life in the monastery no doubt makes them disciplined and concentrates on their studies of Buddhist philosophy but restricted their socialisation in the larger community.