On Sunday, Jen and I attended a four hour puja in the gompa at the monastery. Now, if a bunch of those words don’t make sense to you, you’re not alone; just let me explain. A puja is a prayer service and a gompa is the building, like a church or a temple. Over 1,000 people attended this very special prayer service on Sunday, which was dedicated to one of the gurus, who passed away a few years ago and has since been reincarnated into a now three and a half year old little boy. Sound a bit far-fetched? Not if you’re Buddhist.

Over 1,000 Monks chanting in Tibetan
Over 1,000 Monks chanting in Tibetan

A lama is a spiritual leader in the Buddhist faith. But more than that, lamas are people who have learned how to control when and where they will be reincarnated. They aren’t all “enlightened”, at least not yet, but they all have achieved a certain level of understanding of the universe around them. In Buddhism, the main concept is to still your mind through meditation so that you can learn the truths of the universe – the major one being the idea of emptiness (or selfless-ness, loss of ego). All Buddhists are somewhere along the Dharma or the path to enlightenment. They are striving to attain the status of Buddha. There are stops along the way, including the title of lama.

This particular puja was dedicated to a man named Lama Lundrup, the former abbot (head) of Kopan Monastery. His reincarnation appeared in a boy named Tenzin Rigsel, who lives in the city of Kathmandu until he becomes old enough to enter monastic life. Hopefully, he’ll accept his destiny. But what happens if he doesn’t? Well, it happened recently.

All of my Students were in Attendance (You can see some on the left side)...
All of my Students were in Attendance (You can see some on the left side)…

A few years ago, a young man denied his Buddhist order after being chosen by the Dalai Lama himself as a reincarnation of another lama. Osel Torres, now lives in Spain and studies film at a university in Madrid, but he was supposed to be a monk. So what happened? He was the finalist chosen out of nine boys to be whisked away to a monastery in northern India, where he was denied sports, movies, and girls. “It was like living a lie,” he told El Mundo (a Spanish newspaper). I suppose ultimately, we’re born with free will and that can mean turning your back on your fate if you want to, and choosing another.

Buddhist Nuns are called Anis and aren't easy to spot...
Buddhist Nuns are called Anis and aren’t easy to spot…

So the puja lasted four hours with an intermission and involved a lot of bowing, offerings, and chanting in Tibetan. It was very hard to follow, but with the help of our English translation, Jen and I at least got the gist. Visitors from Singapore sponsored the event, which meant they brought along snacks and relics to hand out to the participants. Other than being in a foreign language and in a foreign temple, all in all, the services were a lot like a Catholic Mass or a Christian church service. It was quite an experience.

Until Next Time…

-Justin

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