Group to commune with Tibetan monks

By Sharon Boase, The Hamilton Spectator, June 11, 2007

Hamilton, Canada -- It's a given that travel will expand your geographical horizons -- but what about those inner vistas, that intimate, holy part inside crying out to be freed from the tyranny of the everyday?

A group of local philanthropists is organizing a group sojourn to a Tibetan monastery this fall that promises to satisfy both types of yearning.

Canadian Friends of Drepung Gomang, an offshoot of a local chapter of Amnesty International, will lead a group of about 10 local people to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery-in-exile in southern India this November.

Drepung Gomang just outside of Bangalore is home to some 2,000 Tibetan monks, all refugees from Tibet where the communist Chinese -- to whom "religion is poison" -- destroyed the original Drepung monastery.

More than 6,000 of Tibet's monasteries have been destroyed in the 58 years of Chinese occupation. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of Buddhist monks and nuns -- along with Tibetan citizens -- have been imprisoned, tortured and executed.

Today, some 100,000 Tibetan refugees live in India, many in refugee camps. While the monks are not stuck in refugee camps, their encampment is sparse. Poor water quality makes them sick and tuberculosis and dysentery take their toll.

"But their village is superior to nearby Indian villages, in terms of hygiene, building structures and housekeeping," says trip co-ordinator Nick Scime.

Scime and his group want to see conditions continue to improve for the monks. Friends of Drepung Gomang are especially interested in recruiting medical personnel, teachers and tradespeople to join their trip. The monks are apt pupils, Scime explains, given to attentive listening and working at a task until it is perfected.

Attitude is important, says fellow Friends member Laurel Antti. "The monks are quick to sum up a person, they look right through you. It's a bit like being in the principal's office."

Each day, trip participants will work in the monastery complex, such as in the kitchen, and/or share their professional know-how. In the evenings and on weekends, they will be free to take in meditation sessions, chanting ceremonies and the debates for which the Gomang monks are renowned.

Participants will pay their own airfare of approximately $1,500 but simple meals will be provided. Modest dress is required and alcohol, tobacco and swearing are forbidden in the compound.