The Daily Lives of Monks

Walking down the dirt road in Namchi, I hear a car barreling up behind me at breakneck speed. Hopping out of the way, it passes in a cloud of dust. It’s filled with young monks. American rock ‘n roll blares on the radio. One of them has rolled the sleeves of his robe up to show off well-sculpted shoulders and arms. As they pass, he leans out the window with a beatific smile and gives me a thumbs up just as the car turns up the road to the monastery.


In a land where the hills are steeped with Buddhism, I’ve had to let go of this idea that monks are somehow more serene or spiritual than the rest of us. Last week in Gangtok, I saw two of them haggling over the price of a television. Another morning I passed one pissing on a bush. Even when I visited the sacred Enchay Monastery, the spot blessed by the notorious flying monk, Lama Drupthob Karpo, from the living quarters I heard men cheering a cricket match on TV. 


A few years ago in Thailand I remember watching a brawl between two young monks on the temples steps. One sect was heading up, the other going down, when one monk flipped the other off. It ended in a fist fight with the older monks pulling the two hot-headed youths apart. 


Watching the daily lives of monks has been both entertaining and illuminating.  My image of monks as sequestered, spending their days in prayer and meditation doesn’t fit. And sometimes it’s the ordinary people who seem to be taking the path more seriously. Shopkeepers count rosary beads. People on the street chant mantras under their breath. I like the sheer humanity of people going about their daily lives with a dash of spirituality thrown in. It’s a good reminder for me, Buddhist slacker that I am, that we’re all only human with our many flaws and our moments of grace, doing the best we can. 


4 thoughts on “The Daily Lives of Monks

  1. Jordan, I’m enjoying your blog tremendously! There will be another book here, I believe. These monks make me think of medieval European nuns and monks who took to cloister and abbey because the times and conditions were such that it was the best way, or maybe the only way, to survive in that world. I wonder how many choices these young Buddhist monks have in their lives? What opportunities do they pass up to become monks?

  2. Jeanie–Good point! in some sects the monks and nuns can get married, have children, etc. Also, it’s very common for families to have one son join the monastery, but it’s not always for life. It’s pretty common to be a monk for 2 or more years, then rejoin daily life. The monasteries are very much the heart throb of the villages and communities, so it also doesn’t feel like they are really living cloistered lives.

  3. Gangsta monks fighting on the temple steps – God I love Buddhism! I’m seeing a Northern Exposure – like sitcom set in a monastery w/some hapless American stuck there like the doctor in the series. Keep up the good work Jordan & let me know well in advance before you run out of go-juice, I don’t want you slowing down! TAB

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