The life of a monk

I wrote last week about the beautiful experience I once lived as a volunteer in a Buddhist monastery in Nepal. Today, I’d like to share with you the story of Lekshey Choedhar, a monk I had the privilege to get to know, and most of all, a beautiful young man with an incredible story. These are his words he willingly wants to share with the world…

My life as a monk
By Lekshey Choedhar, Pema Ts’al Sakya Monastic Institute, Hemja, Nepal

Lekshey, riding a monastery guest's motorbike

Lekshey, riding a monastery guest’s motorbike

I am a 25-year old human being like you, essentially the same, except for my profession – I am a Buddhist monk. That’s all! Basic human needs are always the same – either in ancient time or present time, from the highest king to the lowest tiny insect – nobody wants suffering and everybody wants happiness. I believe the only differences between each of us is the methods, profession and lifestyle we choose to help us find this single word called ‘happiness’ – along with abiding suffering. Every second of our lives is spent for the preparation of this task. So my needs are the same as yours, but the way of seeking them is, of course, different.

I have my own beliefs about how to gain happiness and abide suffering. But when the time came for me to choose my path, I was too small to decide by myself, so life chose for me. It made me a monk.

In our tradition, it is said: “The monk’s life is the happiest life of human being,” and “The freedom of human life is being a monk.” Through such strong encouraging beliefs, many children are sent to the monastic life by their parents. Some children decide on this path for themselves, others have families who are too poor to afford raising their children and therefore send them to the monastery. There are many more good and bad reasons why families and children may opt for a monastic life. My own story started in 1988.

I was born in a very unique place called Mustang, a remote region of northwestern Nepal. It is often known as a forbidden kingdom. It is nestled in the Himalayas at an average altitude of 13,000 feet (about 4,000 metres). Even in this small kingdom, there are numerous small villages. Mine is the capital and the heart of Mustang. It is called Lo-Manthang, a walled city, where the King and Queen of Mustang reside. The most attractive part of my village is the old seven-storey white palace of the King along with the two biggest monasteries in Mustang built more than 500 years ago. Hundreds of tourists come every year just to see these wonders.

Behind that gigantic palace, our little one-storey house is hiding along with some others. Not that long ago, we used to have a big family living together. My grandmother had three sons and three daughters. Those three sons are now married and living with their wives and children. Two of the daughters got married and moved in with their husbands. As for the third one, the youngest daughter, she is my mom. Her name is Tsering Dolma and she is now 47 years old.

I was born when my mother was 22. She had an affair with a man who left us both when I was still young, and I never had the chance to call him dad. I never found out the reason why he did this to us and I don’t want to know. He never looked back. Even when we saw each other, he acted like a stranger and wouldn’t speak to me. It really hurt – hurt more then when people called me ‘rascal’ and ‘son thrown by his own father’. I cried myself to sleep. And then I realised there was nothing to be sad about and I should toughen up. I had my mom, after all. So I got through this. Today, I’m happy to know he does not have to suffer from poverty like us as he belongs to one of the rich families in our village.

I feel lucky to be a human. In Buddhism, it says: “This human life is unique and has the potential that we can hardly even begin to imagine.” Who knows what my life has in store for me…

My childhood period was the most beautiful and memorable time of my life. Although there were only three of us (grandma, mom and me), some days I felt our family was the happiest – with much love, compassion and understanding for each other. My wish was to always have my family united in happiness and love. Other days, I felt our poverty made us the saddest family in the world. To be happy, I thought we needed to make the world ours. But to make the world ours, wealth was necessary. We were nothing in front of rich people. They had everything. In my village, rich people were listened to, treated well and received no punishment because they had the power. Poor people like us hardly got any friends and others treated us like slaves.

When I was six, my mom started travelling to India to help my uncle with his small sweater business. I stayed with grandma, who made me in charge of feeding water to our four horses. Every morning, I would walk the horses a few miles away to the river. The hardest time was during winter. Every day we had snowfalls of about a metre high, my blood froze and bones cracked. But that wasn’t an excuse… I still had to go down to the river with the horses,  feeling the damn cold freezing wind entering the hole of my torn pants. As houses were made out of mud, we also had to get the snow off the rooftop before it started melting and leaking inside the house. That was my daily routine for nearly three years.

Lekshey Choedhar

Lekshey Choedhar

Then one day, mom told me my uncle wanted me to come to India for schooling. I was so excited, but I also didn’t want to leave grandma alone. She was overwhelmed when she heard the news and with her blessings and prayers, I left my village with my mom in early 1996.

I was shocked when I saw my first bus. I asked mom: “What is that moving box?” I saw so many more things that had been unbeknown to me up to that stage. I slowly accommodated to the Indian lifestyle and eventually became a different person; no more rough face, red cheeks or dirty clothes, I was a gentle boy with well-combed shining hair.

I attended a boarding school in Kalimpong, India, and finished two and a half years later with high grades. My uncle was so proud of me.

In 1999, a monk came to meet me in my school and asked me if I wanted to be a monk. This was the hardest question in my life. I couldn’t find an answer. I had seen many monks in my village, but I knew nothing about them. I was so scared. I didn’t know what to say. He asked me again and “Yes!” slipped out of my mouth, without any real meaning. This answer was about to completely change my life…

I resisted joining the monastery in Nepal. I wanted to stay with mom. I cried for three days and didn’t eat for two days. In the end, my mom and uncle managed to change my view. I know they did it not only because we were poor, but to better my life.

So at the age of 11, I joined the monastery with 25 other boys who all became great friends within a week. We received our monk ordination from a very holy spiritual master in Kathmandu and cut our hair just as Buddha had done. We were given red monk robes, which felt both like heavy blankets and a blessing for our lives ahead.

Becoming monk was like a rebirth, a new beginning with a new dawn. I was a totally different person, from then on, a monk, a homeless person who abandoned relationships with near ones to devote his life to the dharma. My ultimate goal became to attain liberation from suffering for the sake of all beings through self-discipline and by following the path of Buddha’s love and compassion. And for this journey, I was given the new name of Lekshey.

Our monk life is one of simplicity and monastic dedication to the religion and its tenets. Our four simple prohibitions are: do not kill, do not steal, do not lie, observe strict chastity. There are different levels of monkhood with the highest being Bhikshu. These monks have to follow 253 rules of conduct (and 364 rules for nuns of this level). Some of these rules relate to etiquette (for example, how far a monk should walk behind the abbot of the monastery), others to conduct. A monk must be at least 21 years old before agreeing to take the Bhikshu vow and become a fully ordained monk. At the age of 22, I took this final vow.

Life is not always straight and up – I have been through much more difficult times. Sometimes you totally break down and become hopeless. This happened to me many years ago. Let me share it with you.

In 2004, my grandmother passed away. My mom became helpless, her soul eaten by sorrow. I was crying constantly. I couldn’t attend her funeral and felt so shameful. I will never forgive myself.

But through this miserable time, a miracle happened. My mom gave birth to a baby girl, with another guy who too left her (I think my mom has no luck for perfect relationships). From that day on, my mom was not alone anymore. I always believed that my grandma came back into our family through my little sister to live forever together. I promised myself I would never ever let my sister and mom suffer again. When my sister was five, she went to a public school in Lo-manthang. She studied there for three years but she wasn’t progressing. I thought she was wasting her time and was worrying about her future. I discussed it with mom and decided to send her to a good quality school in India. I didn’t know how I would manage the expenses, but I would find out. She is now enjoying herself there and doing great in her studies.

Since my sister’s move to India, I have seen my mom’s life change a lot. In that old house under the shadow of that gigantic white palace, she lives, as lonely as a tree grown in the center of the Sahara desert. She has no one to talk to, no one to help her. As the only son in my family, I feel guilty for leaving her alone. Last winter, she came down to Pokhara for a few months. I spent a whole day with her. She was staying in a very small, cheap rented hut, which is usually used to keep buffalo. The stench was awful. After a small meal, she told me: “I need you to come back, son. It’s really difficult to live like this.” Then she started shedding tears. I was so confused – what should I do? Leave my monk robe to help her or leave her to do what I do?

I am a monk, a disciple of my Lord Buddha. It is my responsibility to go through the direction he has shown. But there is also another responsibility for me, which came after being born in this world, known as a ‘desire realm’. I have a very strong desire… it is the desiring love towards my beloved mom.

Days, weeks, months and even years have passed. But my dilemma remains the same. I feel so confused and ashamed of myself for not having the confidence to judge my weakness. I want to follow a path my heart will suffer from.

Lekshey, smiling at the camera

Lekshey, smiling at the camera

My life might be a surprising or sad story to you. But for me, my life has always been an ugly story, a true ugly story. There’s a saying “Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder.” I am not expecting my life story to be beautiful to you. I do hope however that you won’t see it as ugly as I do.

I once read:

“If the problem can be remedied,
Why to worry about it.
If the problem cannot be remedied,
What is the use of worrying about it.”

This verse has always kept me alive. I have always believed that my problem is changeable if somehow I can figure out the way. For some, my problem might not even seem that big to deal with. For me however, it is as hard as breaking a rock with my pinky finger.

May Lord Buddha bless all His Blessings and Happiness upon you and your family!  Be happy and make others feel happy!

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4 thoughts on “The life of a monk

    • Oui, je suis d’accord. Ce n’est pas une histoire familière pour nous… Merci pour ton passage ma soeur.

  1. OMG another nice story!!!!! Sad for me but happy for him….
    Tu devrais écrire un livre, tu es tellement intéressante à lire….
    bonne journée..je t’aime xxx

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