When I travelled through Rajasthan with girlfriends about ten years ago, we visited a lot of temples and palaces. LIKE, A LOT. I learned that I enjoy these things in moderation, but after a while they got a bit meh for me.
You’ve seen one Rajasthani temple, you’ve seen them all.
I am glad to announce that visiting monasteries in Ladakh is different. For a start, they’re always in the most startling of positions, carved into the Himalayan Hills. They’re working monasteries which means you have monks doing their thing, chanting, learning, reading, painting, cleaning or sweeping or just hanging out with friends.
The monks ignore you, although you occasionally get a smile or a nod of the head. They are there for serious business and it’s fascinating. A monk studies Buddhism, practices Buddhism and pretty much dedicates his or her life to peace, prayer and contemplation. Monks do not watch Netflix. Or fill their heads with bullshit. They are there to reach enlightenment which I am pretty sure they do.
They also dedicate their lives to helping others.
Monks do good work. They live simply. And without judgement.
I do not think they follow the news. Or worry about Donald Trump. They keep their heads clear and unpolluted.
They know something we do not.
The monasteries we visited, Hemis, Thiksey and Lamayuru, were incredibly beautiful. You don’t have to join a tour, which is fab. All you have to do is remove your shoes when you go into the places of prayer, be very quiet, take in the chanting, walk up and down the steps for exquisite view sites, and insights, and feel, well, spiritual.
There is something very beautiful, and meaningful, about taking a long walk up into a Monastery. Each one includes a bit of a climb and you have to stop, catch your breath, think about where you are, and enjoy the beauty. There are many steps leading up to a Monastery, with prayer wheels leading the way. It’s a wonderful thing to spin the prayer wheels, always in a clockwise direction, meditate a little and dream a lot.
Because somehow, you start to believe that goodness is possible.
Someone asked me why tourists visit Monasteries. Why it is allowed? I think it brings money into the Monastery although many are not short of money. But I think more than anything it brings awareness to the Buddhist way of life. I liked it. I liked that this way of life somehow gave me hope. That there is goodness out there.
And we need to seek it out a whole lot more.