Monkmail

5:22 PM Friday, November 13, 1998

Boom.

I'm in Sera-Jhe Monastery.

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Outside of Bylakuppe, India. It's a piece of land that India donated to the Tibetan people and there are 15,000 settlers there. I had some noodles, a shower, talked to Thinley Gyaltso and had a walk around. It's quite rad here. Thinley the monk is a total freak. All you can do when you don't speak the language is clown around. Oh, and there was an auction on the bus up to Bylakuppe. I recorded it. At first I thought the guy was praying, then singing and then he held up some silk and I heard "100 Rupees" and I realized that he was doing auction calling in Kannada. My rickshaw ride was cool too. Winding up the countryside with beats slammin. Hindi-pop and house and the Indian version of "The Macarena" coming out of the big speakers behind the seat. It's a funny way to arrive at a monastery (I had pictured Bill Murray in "A Passage to India"). I'm going to the debate at 5:30. I've got the whole schedule. 5am prayer (they do that deep mantra ohmm....) going to record that too. Thinley has a little English comp book that I want to take pictures of too. Think I might stay 2 days here.

11:39 PM Friday, November 13, 1998

The sounds of monks practicing for tomorrow's prayers is echoing through he monastery. Here's their schedule on a regular day:

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5:30-6:30 Prayer in meditation hall (puja)
7:00-8:00 Memorizing Buddhist text
8:00-10:00 Debating Buddhist philosophy
11:00-12:00 Lunch
12:00-5:00 Tuition from scholar (school)
5:00-5:30 Dinner
5:30-7:00 Debating in class
7:00-8:30 Prayer in mediation hall
8:30-9:30 Debate
9:30-> Memorizing Buddhist text for next day

The chants they do sound like "hey batter batter, hey" or like that robot Twiggy on Buck Rodgers: "eebeedeebee"

I have the addresses of a few monks. They came up to me and asked to exchange addresses. Thupten could speak a little English and I have an interview with him recorded. The monks want pen pals apparently. One note said "Be my sponsor" I had no idea what that meant then I learned later that you send them $50 and you're contributing to a help get a person enlightened. If you want to sponsor a monk you can write them by combining the name and house number with the address.

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Thinkley Gyaltso
House #1

Thupten Konchok
House #36

Nynma Tsering
House #35

Sera Jhe Monastery
P.O. Bylakuppe 571104
District Mysore
State Karnataka
South India

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They stay up so late! It's now 11PM and they're still hanging out, "eh batter, eh batter". I shot 2 rolls of film of the puja tonight. That's where all the praying monks go and chant for a long time. Tonight was a special puja and it lasted 3 hours. They were in their yellow hats. When they started this rising chant, the puja was almost over. It's my favorite and I was walking around humming it the whole time I was there. When I first came up to the prayer hall I was afraid of disturbing them. I didn't want them to feel like they're being watched. Then some Indian tourists walked right through the hall. I still stayed outside, lurking among the 100's of sandals. You can go up to the second floor and look down on the monks. They're mostly young, I'd say 17-25. They're distracted, looking around and talking and goofing off like most young people in church. There's a huge old Buddha and 2 smaller one and hundreds of buddhisatvas around them. And rows and rows of red-robed monks. Here are more monk chants: monk_chant_1.mp3 (154kb); monk_chant_2.mp3 (139kb); monk_chant_3.mp3 (160kb).

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They stay up so late! It's now 11PM and they're still hanging out, "eh batter, eh batter". I shot 2 rolls of film of the puja tonight. That's where all the praying monks go and chant for a long time. Tonight was a special puja and it lasted 3 hours. They were in their yellow hats. When they started this rising chant, the puja was almost over. It's my favorite and I was walking around humming it the whole time I was there. When I first came up to the prayer hall I was afraid of disturbing them. I didn't want them to feel like they're being watched. Then some Indian tourists walked right through the hall. I still stayed outside, lurking among the 100's of sandals. You can go up to the second floor and look down on the monks. They're mostly young, I'd say 17-25. They're distracted, looking around and talking and goofing off like most young people in church. There's a huge old Buddha and 2 smaller one and hundreds of buddhisatvas around them. And rows and rows of red-robed monks.

There are no souvenirs. I live in the beautiful guesthouse. I watched another traveler arrive and get the "Thinley Gyaltso treatment". This monk is amazing. He's always on, trying to be goofy. He's huge ” got that way from chopping wood in Tibet. There was a group of movie people here casting for a film and I talked with them. There all enamored of Thinley. I have a picture of Thinley reaching out of his window seat at the guest house cafe‚ and getting me in a headlock. He knows the bro-shake also! He gave me some Tibetan tea - really salty stuff, no sugar. Thinley is an experience. You get sucked in by him and start goofing and making faces. Pictures, words can't do it, you need to see him live.

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I recorded some of the puja tonight, came back and hung at the cafe, then an Austrian guy, Tomas arrived and I took him on the tour. I was glad to be an expert after only 4 hours. Everything I do I have to become an expert. What's up with that? I immediately turn tour guide as soon as I get a little knowledge. I don't know shit about this place and still it was nice to figure out as much as I did. I remember how little I knew when I arrived. When they debate they smack their hands together like they're giving themselves 5. Little things go a long way here. When I come back to the guest house courtyard, Thinley comes running out and yelling, smacking his hands. I left my recorder on by accident and when I was returning from puja, Thinley greeted me with "Davie!" and I showed him my microcassette. I think I want to learn Buddhist debate.

The older monks, I'd say age 20 and older, are vigorous debators. It's probably one of their only outlets for aggression. They do it group-style and have real philosophical arguments, unlike the prosaic 1-on-1 recitations of the teen monks.

Sometimes in the cafe, you can't hear the person you're talking to 'cause Thinley or one of the monks is yelling. You just don't expect yelling, or slugs in the arm, or water fights, or pen pals, or running, or practical jokes or any of the stuff that regularly goes on here. Most of the monks are fairly shy and quiet though. Thinley is like the ambassador of good will. Or is it good non-will? I'll find out more tomorrow. Tomas said it's only 1-km walk to where we can see elephants in the morning. This kills Kabini. Oh, and did I mention it's only Rs.125 a night? And all the profit goes to supporting the health care center next door, serving all races, creeds and castes for free? And did I mention that there are 3 types of monks: workers, prayers and debaters and you switch off every year or so? Thinley is a worker monk. His book is so sweet! He practices his sentences and every page has one sentence written 10 times down the page.

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Thinley Gyaltso likes noodles.
Thinley Gyaltso likes noodles.

10:38 PM Saturday November 14, 1998

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Day 2 at the monastery. Woke up at 4:30am after a pretty good night's sleep and headed off to the puja. Tomas didn't wake up. In the morning just before sunrise the crows go crazy and this is what it sounded like as I walked into the temple. So I photographed the sunrise and flip-flops and some boys and went back to my room. There was such a warm quiet, and my sneezing nose led me to take a Benadryl which made me fuzzy, and all I could do was sleep, and sleep I did. Utill I got up and ate, borrowed a bike from a monk named Prem, and rode down the road as far as I could go.

The open, rolling countryside smelled like shit and I got attacked by a bee. So I came back. Checked out the town during the day, sat at the Std and made calls and read the paper, drank another intolerably fizzy Pepsi through a crappy, cracked straw, came back and went to the debates, talked to some new people, went to dinner, went to outdoor puja and came back and talked. An Englishman who has been here 4 months laid down some real dirt on the monks. He said there are a lot of lay teachers, all Tibetans in their 20's who drink and whore every night (whores, of course, supplied from the local Indian villager population). The monks are only disallowed *smoking* tobacco, they can chew and snuff it, and sure enough, I found snuff cans at the little stalls and that explains why the monks are always digging in their noses. They hock loogies constantly outside my windows and at the pujas they snort snuff to stay awake and sing. I haven't seen most of the older monks 'cause they all stay in their houses but apparently there is one for every young monk you see running around ” and you see a lot!

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The Indians are used as cheap physical labor and sex workers here. Serpent Eagles fly right overhead constantly. My favorite thing is to use the word "monk" in everything to describe this place and way of life: monkbike, monkfood, monksandals, monkwalk, monkhair, monkeybusiness.

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I have a rick ride outta here at 8am. Bus for Virajipret at 9. Later monks. I'll miss you. Even though I didn't get to whip my Buddhist chops out, it was still fun. It was interesting to learn some of the difference between being a somewhat-Buddhist American and being a Tibetan Buddhist monk. I'm burning my official Bylakuppe monkincense. Tomorrow morning we're all going: Tomas, Gunther, Claire, Emma, Paul, me to the super-special puja. 1500 monks. They started practicing again. 10:15 now and they'll go 'til midnight. Not me. Bye bye.