Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Feeding the monks

If you are my regular reader, lately you would have notice me blogging and raving a lot about the Healing Lama, who was here in Singapore for almost a month. 

His Eminence Kangyur Rinpoche just left Singapore last evening to return to Dharamsala where he resides, to continue seeing many patients, who come from afar daily to seek his healing. Many devotees and DPL members were at the airport to send him off. We do not know when 90-year-old Rinpoche would visit Singapore again but we certainly wish to welcome him back again and again as he has benefited so many people who were sick and healed.

Three weeks ago, during the 3-day public healing in Suntec, the family of this stroke patient (left photo) came everyday to receive Rinpoche's healing. He was in a wheelchair, could not move, and his mouth has to be stuffed in case he bites his own tongue and he was salivating. Just 2 days ago, during Rinpoche's long life puja in DPL, the family of this stroke patient (right photo) again brought him to receive blessings from a smiling Rinpoche. This time, the patient was able to stand up and walk very slowly, even though he still needed to be supported. But he could already stand up! Isn't this a miracle? As a stranger who witnessed all this, how could I not be touched? What more could the family of this man have felt, if not with deep gratitude to Rinpoche?  May the man recover fully soon.

Kangyur Rinpoche reminds me a lot of the late 88-year-old His Holiness Kyabje Lati Rinpoche who passed away into Nirvana in April this year. Whenever Lati Rinpoche arrived for a teaching/prayer session, when he ascended the throne seat, and when I hear him speak, he would be quite breathless, but he continued to teach. As highly realised masters, both Lati Rinpoche and Kangyur Rinpoche really touched me with their compassion and kindness and for tirelessly continuing to teach the Dharma and to heal the masses, despite their old age.

When Lati Rinpoche passed away a few months ago, thousands of monks in Gaden Shartse Monastery in India were devastated. As Rinpoche's body was brought back to the Monastery, all the monks from Gaden Shartse as well as other well known monasteries like Sera and Drepung, were also present to send him off in his final journey. There were about 2000 monks during Rinpoche's fire cremation. Rinpoche manifested a lot of relics after the cremation, testament to having attained the ultimate state of Enlightenment.

Lati Rinpoche was a highly respected lama and guru who was the Abbot Emeritus of Gaden Shartse Monastery. He was considered a saint and a high practitioner who followed His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama into exile in 1959, and who was then appointed as Spiritual Advisor to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama whom Rinpoche served faithfully until his passing. To say that Rinpoche’s contribution towards Gaden Shartse Monastery was substantial is an understatement. All the monks and devotees all over the world love Rinpoche.

In the past, to Lati Rinpoche, his main worries and concern had always been the welfare of the monks in Gaden Shartse Monastery. Rinpoche always put the Monastery and the monks before himself. Food is a primary concern, for without this basic need, it would be impossible for the growing number of 1500 monks to survive and to continue to learn and practice the Dharma in order to benefit all sentient beings. Because of Rinpoche's great sense of responsibility and unwavering compassion, the Sangha has deep respect for Lati Rinpoche. 

Gaden Shartse Monastery is one of the biggest and well-known Buddhist monastery in Tibet based on the Gelug tradition. The monastery was prophesized by Shakyamuni Buddha himself 2500 years ago before its actual founding in 1409 CE by Lama Tsongkhapa (who was considered the Second Buddha in Tibet). It was located on Drigri Mountain, 50km from Lhasa Tibet. Due to Chinese invasion in 1959, the monastery was destroyed and only a fraction of the 5000 monks survived. The monastery has since been re-established in exile in Mundgod, India. The present Gaden Shartse Monastery is where many high lamas like the current reincarnation of HH Zong Rinpoche hail from.

To me, these are some of the greatest Gelug masters of all times, from left to right 1st row, the late great Pabongka Rinpoche, late HH Trijang Dorjechang Rinpoche, late HH Zong Rinpoche; 2nd row, late HH Ling Rinpoche, late HH Lati Rinpoche (my guru), HH Dalai Lama; 3rd row, Lama Zopa Rinpoche (my root guru), the 101st Gaden Trisur Rinpoche (my guru) and the Healing Lama Kangyur Rinpoche (my guru). 

Whilst guru devotion is important, it is also of equal critical importance to support the  Sangha. To quote Geshe Lhundrub Sopa in [Steps On The Path To Enlightenment Vol 2]... "The Sangha are like nurses who are able to help in the healing process because they understand the remedy that the doctor has prescribed. Because they are taking the medicine themselves, they are able to show others exactly how to follow instructions of the perfect doctor, the Buddha."

Hence it is for this very reason that Gaden Shartse Dro-Phen Ling, Singapore (DPL), has set up a Food Fund which aims to provide the monks in Gaden Shartse Monastery with proper meals and decent nutrition, so that each monk gets to eat a proper 3 meals a day.

It will greatly benefit about 1500 monks of the Monastery, primarily to ensure a continuing providence of food in the monastery. Food, or the lack of it, has always been a main concern in the monastic community.  Ideally, the Sangha need to have proper nutrition from their diet, as it directly affects their overall health and well-being. With good health, the monks would then be able to concentrate well in their Dharma studies.

Being a 'part-time' food blogger, naturally I am very interested to check out what the   Tibetans eat. There are 3 common types of food. The tsampa is a staple food in Tibet which is made of roasted barley flour, and it is soft and dough-like and usually eaten with butter tea. Another is the Tibetan big bread or flat bread (looks like our local version of roti prata) which is again made of flour and fried in little butter or oil. It can be crispy thin or being thick doughy and they eat it with daal. The other ones are Momos, which are like Chinese steamed dumplings. The fillings can be vegetarian or potato or meat.

I found out that the monks in Gaden Shartse Monastery eat mainly the Big Bread for every meal. Each day during meal times, every Khangtsen or house of the Monastery (there are a total of 10 Khangtsen) will send a representative to the main kitchen to collect the food  which are transferred into buckets for all the monks in each house.

The preparation of food in the main kitchen is all divided into different groups  of monks in the different stages of cooking. The main meal is the Big Bread which is simply made of flour, so that it will be more filling for the stomach. 

Each monk sits on the floor around the courtyards of the Monastery to have their meals.

This is a typical daily meal of every monk in Gaden Monastery, whether you are a 5-year-old monk or 80-year-old Geshe.  Each monk gets only a piece of the Big Bread, a small bowl of watery vegetarian daal gravy to go with the bread, and a cup of butter tea. It is only when there are sufficient funds each month or when there are new donors, that the monks get the occasional rice or hard-boiled egg with their bread.  And on very special occasions which are far and in between, only then they get to eat fried rice.

Here are the classrooms and library of the Monastery. In some rooms, the ceilings are leaking which are obviously in need of repairs and maintenance.  Gaden Shartse is well-known as a historic prestigious monastic institute which has grown into a complete monastic University with comprehensive Buddhist educational curriculum. Hence a conducive environment is very important for a proper education. 

Compared to the kids in Singapore, who study in air-conditioned comfort and with plenty of food luxuries, the monks in the Monastery experience less than ideal conditions throughout their learning path. In Singapore, we value our own kids' education highly in the hope that they can enter University and make a decent living when they grow up. In comparison, I find it contradictory that the monks, who are our vehicle to the Path of Enlightenment, have to live in harsher conditions, and having to worry about their next meal.

My guru, Lama Zopa Rinpoche said "The presence of Sangha preserves the lineage of the Buddha's teaching and establishes the cause for others to have a precious human rebirth in the future. This is a great responsibility for the Sangha. Therefore, taking responsibility for supporting the Sangha is extremely worthwhile because they are preserving and spreading the entire teaching of the Buddha."

When DPL volunteers visited the Monastery on many occasions, besides food and snacks, they brought along lots of medication as well, as there is a shortage of medical aid and medicine in the Monastery. In particular, the younger monks often have bruises, wounds or allergies and there is no immediate availability of medication. DPL volunteers check each of the boys for injuries and help them apply medicine they had brought along. 

Some cases are especially heartwrenching when the young monks have more serious conditions, injuries or allergies that have already worsened, for example, rotting on legs, skin and head. Sometimes they are suffering in itch or pain, but they do not know how to seek help.

Over time, the population of Gaden Shartse has increased to more then 1500 monks, including resident scholars, writers, administrators and students. Gradually, educational programs began to demonstrate sustained growth and success and so admission, instruction and accommodations were provided free of cost. Preference was given to children who were either orphans or from very poor families. However there is still a need to do much more to provide a basic living, healthcare and other essential necessities for the student monks and teachers.

Gaden Shartse Monastery has produced many outstanding students and Geshes and there is a group of specially selected Geshes who tour around the world to fulfill their mission of spreading peace, harmony, compassion, and tolerance through cultural exchange, interfaith dialog, and Buddhist teachings. Incidentally, Geshe Jampa Norbu (third from right) has just visited DPL to give us Lam Rim teachings. Learned scholars like Geshe-la are crucial in  imparting the teachings of the Buddha to us. Hence they are very precious to our progress in the Dharma path.

The current Abbot of Gaden Shartse Monastery, Geshe Jangchup Choeden Khen Rinpoche, wrote (excerpts):

"Gaden Shartse Monastery had gone through a very hard time in year 2008 and until now, we try very hard to establish and grow a fund to provide for the food and education of all monks. The monastery needs to build up a good corpus fund to secure continuity of its monastic educational programs up to a distant future. Although there are multitude of needs like food, education, housing, clothing, health services, public utility and sewage system etc... to rebuild the lost Corpus Food Fund is the most important and prioritized project undertaken by the Monastery."

...."For the past 8 years DPL has benefited the Monastery greatly in various aspects and all the monks are in deep appreciation for the continuous support given by Singaporean devotees. The monastery appreciates DPL for their involvement in this project to raise funds in Singapore for the Food and Education Corpus Fund of Gaden Shartse Monastery. The Monastery thanks DPL for their support in the neediest time in the history of the monastery."  - Khen Rinpoche

The name, Dro-Phen Ling, was auspiciously conferred upon by His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in Gaden Shartse Monastery in December 2001. Dro-Phen Ling is a direct collegiate affiliate of Gaden Shartse College. Dro-Phen Ling means "a place to benefit beings".

According to DPL, the undertaking of this Gaden Shartse Monastery Food Fund Project is an offering to the late dearest teacher Lati Rinpoche. In the past, whenever Rinpoche visited Singapore, he had always shared with Karen, the Chairperson of DPL, his paramount wish to secure a stable food fund for the Monastery so that the monks do not starve.

I sincerely request Buddhist followers, devotees and donors to participate generously in this project to rebuild a solid and sizeable fund for the Sangha, remembering that we serve this great cause for the continuity of authentic Dharma teachings and practices in generations to come and ultimately for the benefit of all sentient beings.  

And I would especially like to implore all students of Lati Rinpoche, the Healing Lama Kangyur Rinpoche, the 101st Gaden Tripa Rinpoche and Dagyab Rinpoche, and everyone who has benefited greatly from the pujas, teachings, and healing sessions in DPL, to generously make a sponsorship. Through this project, may the reincarnation of Lati Rinpoche return swiftly to turn the Wheel of Dharma once again.

Please help in any capacity you can afford as no amount is too small to pledge, whether it is a one-time donation or on a monthly basis. It is estimated that the Monastery needs S$20,000 each month just to provide 3 simple meals to 1500 monks. This works out to be about only 50cents per monk each day. 

All offerings made will be a direct cause for us to gain merits, to achieve swift liberation from suffering and to achieve the ultimate Enlightenment for the benefit of all sentient beings. The extensive dedications of our merits by the monks mean that as long as the monastery exists, all sponsors and donors will receive the merit of making offerings to the monks. 

I remember Lama Zopa Rinpoche used to say, "Offering food to the monks is the best way of collecting unbeeelieeeevable merit because all the monks are the pores of the Guru.  They are all disciples of the same Guru – His Holiness the Dalai Lama. By offering to pores of the Guru, one collects more merit than offering to Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, as well as numberless statues, stupas. If you offer with the recognition that they are the Guru's pores then that is an unbelievable way to collect merit. When you offer to many Sanghas who have the same Guru then you are making offerings to that many pores of the Guru. So this is the easiest way to collect skies of merit by offering".

And I would like to add that, in death we cannot bring our wealth, possessions, houses and loved ones with us. We came into this life alone and we will leave alone. The one and only thing we can bring with us to the next life is our merits. 

The importance of the Sangha cannot be underestimated. Trying to achieve enlightenment by yourself and only for yourself is like trying to walk uphill during a mudslide. Opening yourself to others, supporting and being supported, is critical to loosening the fetters of ego and selfishness. The Sangha have the right to cut through your trips and feed you with their wisdom. The companionship within the Sangha is a kind of clean friendship - without expectation, without demand, but at the same time, fulfilling. By supporting the Sangha, by taking refuge in the Sangha, we become the refuge. This is the path of the Buddhas.

For more details on how to participate in this meaningful Food Fund project, please contact Dro-Phen Ling. May you always be blessed and protected by the Three Jewels. 

Gaden Shartse Dro-Phen Ling
Address: 12 Gullimard Lane, Singapore 399878
Tel:  65-63449521, 65-63420806


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