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Life of Tibetan Monks

Life of Tibetan Monks

If Tibetan Buddhism were taken as a lake, Lhasa would be an island in its center. When the wind blows, the lake ripples with gentle waves spreading out to the eastern tip of the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. That part of the world is home to Tibetan, Tu and Han ethnic groups and boasts 29 monasteries of Tibetan Buddhism.

Why were there so many monasteries in such a small and remote place inhabited by not only Tibetans, but also people of other ethnic groups?

According to the Record of Minghe County, in 814, when Buddhism suffered from suppression during time of the Tubo Kingdom, many monks fled to Qinghai with the result that the Hehuang area became the place where Tibetan Buddhism boomed again. During China's Song and Yuan Dynasty, the Nyingma Sect of Tibetan Buddhism entered Minghe. In the 15th century, Zongkapa founded the Gelug Sect also known as the Yellow Sect, and some of his disciples built monasteries in eastern Qinghai. One of these is the Honghua Monastery in present-day Zhuangdao Township built to house the bones of Sagye Yeshei, Zongkapa's first disciple.

During the Ming Dynasty, the 3rd Dalai Lama came to Qinghai, and the Gelug Sect flourished. At the end of the Ming Dynasty and in the early days of the Qing Dynasty, with the support of the Mongol Gushri Khan, the Gelug Sect rose to be the most influential sect in Tibet and monasteries were built to cope with the growing need.

According to statistics released in 1955, in the county there were 54 monasteries of the Gelug Sect and 990 monks. Major establishments included the Honghua Monastery, Kadikawa Monastery, Hongshang Monastery, Longhe Monastery and Gangou Monastery.

And, wherever there are monasteries, there are monks, most of who come from farming families living nearby.

There are various situations in which the children of farmers become monks. Monks of the Gelug Sect cannot marry or sire children. When a monk grows old and needs someone to care for him, he will select one of his nephews willing to perform this duty, and this person then enters the monastery to study sutras and other relevant knowledge. After the death of the old monk, the younger man will naturally become a monk in the same monastery. For example, Jigmei Xoilang with the Kadikawa Monastery was 80, and was cared for by a nephew of Shijiawan family.

If a boy of a farming family living near the monastery often fells sick, and cannot recover after being treated in many different ways, the parents will visit witch doctors, or invite a witch to perform divination. In this situation, most boys will be persuaded to later become monks, and their parents will not disagree.

Most of the families near Kadikawa Monastery and Gangou Monastery are Tibetans, and they mainly live on farming. If children become monks at the age of 17 or 18, their parents will not worry. The children who become monks should be treated in the same way as their male siblings, and will also receive a part of family property.

Lama Qoido is a case in point. Qoido has four brothers and sisters. One day, a sister of his second sister-in-law met him and they fell in love. But her father refused to let them marry. Flying into a rage, Qoido told the old man "I will not marry her and will be tonsured to Gangou Monastery!"

Everyone present on that occasion was astonished. Locals believe in Tibetan Buddhism, and once words have been spoken they cannot be taken back. Qoido was 18 then. His family had a Lamaist origin. If one of five sons becomes a monk, this would be considered a good deed. Although his parents were reluctant, they had to agree, and he was tonsured to the Gangou Monastery.

It was a great event for Qoido to become a monk. After being approved by the abbot of the Gangou Monastery, they divided a piece of land in the monks' residential area to build his house.

Qoido's uncles, brothers and sisters-in-law offered money or labor to build a courtyard and house on the piece of land. As he should be treated in the same way as other sons divided from the family, he would also receive part of the family property three big pine wood rooms in the north, two kitchens, water closet, etc. in the east.

After all this was done, he selected a good day and was tonsured.

The house of Lama Qoido was connected with other lamas' houses, and a village came into being amid the mountains, where it is extremely quiet.

The door of the courtyard is a single door leaf with a small copper bell hung inside. If a visitor comes, the bell will sound after the door is pushed, and he will receive the guest and, cheerful chatter and laughter will soon erupt. If no guest comes, Lama Qoido will close the door and read sutras as the other monks. He drinks spring water, burns branches and cow dung dried from the year before, replaced by a charcoal fire in winter. The coal is taken from the Minghe county seat. He can hire a walking tractor to carry enough fuel to last a whole winter.

If a family near the monastery wants to perform some Buddhist activities, he will be invited to chant sutras and have dinner with the family. Usually, monks will cook their own meals in the monastery. His food supplies are taken from his lay family. His part of the family field will be cared for by his relatives. When he needs food supplies, he can send a letter to his family, and they will try to satisfy his requirements.

If a family near the monastery holds a marriage or funeral, lamas will often be invited to perform Buddhist rites. At the end of the ceremony, the hosts will offer a feast to entertain them, and the gift money will be divided equally among the monks. During the feast, when hosts invite them to drink, they cannot decline and drink a little wine to express thanks. At the time when the hosts and guests are happy and content, monks will add to the fun by singing local toasting songs and popular songs. There are many families nearby, and those monks who are respected by all the people get more opportunities than other monks. They eat well and have money left for not only their own living needs but also the lay family. In recent years, the farmers' life has become better, and the money given to monks has increased. Some of the monks have bought motorcycles and mobile phones.

For other monks, their lives are not so good. Only when there is a shortage will they be invited, and most times they cannot get the opportunity and have to stay in the monastery. Thus, they end up with little to live on. Then, they have to take off their monk's robes, put on ordinary clothing and work outside along with the youth of the village or, they will go west to Hoh Xil to pan for gold, to south to dig for Chinese caterpillar fungus on the grasslands, and come back after two or three months. Some others go to Qinghai-Tibet Railway construction site to do odd jobs. But they must ask leave from the monastery. If they stay outside longer than their approved leave period, the monastery will punish them and impose a fine of five Yuan per day as a warning.

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