Monks on the mountain: Tibetan monks take lesson at Tahoe Donner as part of fundraising tour
Dressed in borrowed winter clothes, Lobzang “Shanu” Yeshey points the tips of his rental cross-country skis toward the bottom of a small hill at Tahoe Donner Cross Country Ski Center.
For Yeshey, a Tibetan monk from India, it’s his first time on skis, but he’s seen alpine racing before, and so, with a beaming smile he ignores the instructor’s directions to plow snow, tucks and heads straight down the hill.
The ensuing crash brings laughter and applause from the three other monks taking part in a cross-country ski lesson from instructors at Tahoe Donner.
The scene repeated itself often throughout Tuesday morning, as the monks — three on skis and one on snowshoes — got their first taste of one of Truckee’s favorite pastimes.
“We all loved it,” said Yeshey. “This was the first time we all have been (skiing). It was very exciting and very fun.”
Yeshey and five other monks from Gaden Shartse Monastic University have been in Truckee this past week giving presentations to students, performing healings, and also soaking up some of the local lifestyle.
The group was at Sierra Expeditionary Learning School earlier in the week sharing aspects of their culture and talking with students about ideas like happiness, materialism and non-attachment.
One of the activities the monks had students do, according to Truckee host Julie Gordon, was to create sand mandalas, which are to be swept away after they are completed.
“Some of the kids would make the sand mandalas, and they wouldn’t want to sweep them away,” said Gordon. “And then if they did, they were running to get their cell phones (for a photo). It was a good lesson and so simple.”
SHARING THE LOVE & COMPASSION
The stop in Truckee is part of a two-year expedition in which the Tibetan monks have been traveling the country visiting schools, performing healing rituals and blessings, giving lectures, and sharing their culture in an effort to raise funds for their monastery in India.
“We want to teach about love and compassion,” said Yeshey. “It’s not just for religious people … it’s very important for daily life even if you don’t believe in Buddha, or Jesus, or God. Even scientists out there say, to have a happy life we should practice love and compassion. We just want to spread that kind of teaching.”
Yeshey estimated the monks have visited more than 30 states and about 60 cities during the trip, which has involved things like visiting New York City and rafting in Durango, Colorado.
“No classes, no meditation, no debate, no prayer — two-year holiday,” joked Yeshey, when asked about life at the monastery compared to the tour. “(The others) practice more. Making someone happy is my practice, not reciting with malas, or doing lots of chanting. That doesn’t make someone happy from my point of view.
“Today, when I fall down, you all laugh, I make you happy. That’s my practice,” cracked Yeshey. “That’s why I fall again and again.”
MONKS: BE KIND TO ONE ANOTHER
While on the tour, the group said they have been met with nothing but kindness from Americans, but did comment on the way they’ve seen people of the U.S. treat one another.
“People here have been so kind, but we think the same kindness is not for each and everybody, it’s just for, like the monks,” said Yeshey. “But the seeds are there. Love and compassion towards others are there, so people in the United States should share these seeds of love and compassion, not only for monks, but towards everybody.”
The monks still have several more stops on their tour before finally returning home this spring.
“This tour is like the lifeline for our monastery,” said Yeshey. “We have 1,500 monks in our monastery. So, your food, education, housing, cleaning — everything is taken care of by the monastery.”
The monastery estimates roughly $2 per day is needed to maintain each monk. Of the more than 1,500 monks at the monastery, roughly 500 are children, according to Yeshey, who are as young as 4 years old.
“These guys are like their mom, their dad, their teachers, their everything,” said Gordon. “And for $2 a day it includes all of their robes, all of their food, all of their teaching.”
For more information or to donate to the Gaden Shartse Monastery, visit sacredartsoftibettour.org or Lobsang Wangchuk at 562-225-3072.
Justin Scacco is a reporter for the Sierra Sun. Contact him at email@example.com.