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Monastery Life

Monastery Life

Monastery Life

There is no other place in China like Tibet, wherein religion stands above all else, where life is full of a
strong religious flavor and culture contains a strong theological atmosphere. There used to be
thousands of monasteries in Tibet.

Every family was expected to send at least one boy to a monastery. Usually, boys would be ordained
at the age of seven; girls, a bit older. The monastery life used to be the only access to education and
improved social status. People went to monasteries to get educated, to merit their family and to pursue
religious fulfillment. Although educational and economic conditions in Tibet have improved, many
Tibetans are still drawn to the monasteries.

The monastery life is rigorous. Monks are involved in all kinds of religious services and administrative tasks, on behalf of individual study and the
monastery community. Daily life starts in the early morning and ends in the late night. The whole day is occupied with communal or individual
religious services and the management of the monastery. Older monks, learned lamas, hold greater responsibilities such as maintaining
discipline and leading the group prayers. Younger monks help by running the kitchen, shopping and serving food and tea.

Monastery LifeReligious study and services are the main theme of the monastery life. The newly ordained monks start
from basic Tibetan language, grammar, literature, sutra chanting and prayers. Then time will be spent
on Buddhist canons such as Abhidharma (Higher Knowledge), Prajnya Paramita (The Perfection of
Wisdom), Pramana (Logic), and Madhyamika (The Middle Way). Generally the study process will last
for 18 years or more. Monks study sutras and tantras and read Buddhist texts. Crafts, astrology and
medicine are also the subjects they need to learn. In addition, Monks retreat for hours to reflect and
meditate on the meaning and implications of Buddhist philosophy. Sutra debate is important to help
master and deepen Buddhist theology. These debates are also a method of examination: high lamas
debate with the applicant monks. Those who pass the examinations held in their own monasteries will
be qualified to participate in the Monlam (The Great Prayer Festival) Debate. A Geshe Lharampa Degree,
which represents the highest degree in Tibetan Buddhism theology, will be conferred on those who win. A Geshe Lharampa who wants to
advance to a higher religious and scholarly fulfillment needs to attend one of the tantra colleges to get the Geshe Ngarampa Degree (Tantra
Master). Only a few talented monks can enter a scholarly religious life and advance to religious fulfillment. Many others fall into more secular jobs
such as craftsmen, builders, artists and cooks.

Nuns live a life similar to that of monks, in a more invisible manner. Their religious practice mainly focuses on meditation and prayer rather than
advanced philosophical studies in less structured nunneries, although there have been a few great female scholars in Tibetan history.


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