Sonam (right) | Kathmandu
I was 7 or 8 when I joined the monastery. I came with my cousins. I was nervous when I came here. I was nervous for three or four months. My family decided I should be a monk, but I was a little nervous about it. I was too young to decide. I’m happy here, but sometimes I get bored and I want to go back to Mustang. But when I go home for a while it’s the same thing every day, so it’s better here because my friends are here. My favorite subjects are Tibetan and English. The studies are challenging sometimes. Everyone puts pressure on being educated and doing well in studies, but the education here is not as good. There’s a lot of pressure to do well in studies because we are monks, and what we are focusing on is to be enlightened. So for that, education—especially philosophy—is important. If you look at people outside, non-monks, they study to make a living or to get a better job, but not monks; monks study to become a better person, to become enlightened, because that’s the goal—to become enlightened. I get most of the pressure from myself; if the pressure comes from inside you will work harder and get better. In the beginning, the pressure should come from inside. I want to finish studying here and continue to university, because at university you have a better understanding of the teachings of the Buddha. Then I want to achieve enlightenment, spread dharma and take care of my family. If you think you can do well in studies, then you do it and people will see it.
Tashi, 15 | Kathmandu
I have been here since I was 7. I like it here. My best friends are here. But the village is better. Here it is so dirty and people are sick. The village has true fruit—they don’t use chemicals. Everything there is true. Here is not. When I came to the monastery it was my first time in Kathmandu. I really wanted to see Kathmandu and my father told me it’s really nice because the buses are the size of a house! I wanted to come and see what it is like. When I’m in my village I don’t see a bus, car, bike, motorcycle—anything. But I come here and I see those. It was very different. It was exciting. But when I came here my family was crying. They wanted me to come, but they were sad. I last saw them in 2012. My father and mother said to stay in the monastery and be a good monk. It was their aim. My father wanted us all to be monks or nuns. My two brothers were monks, but they didn’t like it in the monastery so they decided to leave. That’s why my father put me in the monastery, but I also really wanted to become a monk. My father was sick three or four months before he died. The doctors told him there was a hole in his heart. He went to other villages on business to trade and sell items. He was there as a guest, so he would stay in their houses. Some families do that—they put poison in food or drink. It was on purpose, but we don’t know who did it. In the beginning, his hands, feet, everything started to swell. His body was swollen for about two months. Then he stopped eating and he became very skinny. He was brought to the monastery hospital, and he passed away a week or two after the earthquake. My mother was in the village. She called here, but, you know... She didn’t know when he died. My sister came from the village when he was in the hospital. She and I were with him. When he died I felt a lot of tension. I had a heavy heart. Very sad. I couldn’t eat because of the stress. I was skinny and very weak. My family is okay, though. My brothers are doing dharma and my mother is fine. My father was very nice--he did everything for me. I want to do things that make him proud. I want to be a good monk. I want to do dharma. I want to finish that aim.
Samdup, 17 | Kathmandu
I am the only son, so my parents sent me here, but I wanted to come. In my village the work was very hard. My grandfather and I were herders. We would have to move the animals far away to graze; there are no fields for animals to graze, so we would have to walk for a few days. Sometimes we would have to go for a month because the grass was not good enough where we went. When I was herding, it was really hard to look after all the animals. We had horses, yaks, goats, sheep—so it was very hard to look after all of them at the same time. There were 25 yaks, and with the goats and sheep it was maybe around 50 animals total. Sometimes they would slip off a cliff and die, or they would get lost. It was especially hard in the winter. In the Dolpo region it’s very cold and the rivers freeze, so it’s too dangerous to try to cross them. The winter was so cold. My cheeks got really red and dry, and my hands and arms dried completely. We would set up a tent, and we always tried to bring all the animals back to the tent before it got dark. Tigers would eat some of our animals—sometimes they would kill and eat it, but sometimes they would just kill an animal and leave it. We would set a trap to catch the tigers by setting up two logs with an animal’s head in between. There were heavy stones on top of it, so when the tiger would grab the animal head, the rope would bring it down and the stones would trap the tiger. I never really caught a tiger, but my friends did, and sometimes they would kill it, or sometimes the tiger would escape. We would shout or make loud noises to scare the tiger away, but we had to move to a new location if the tigers came too close to us. Raising animals is not complicated, but it's hard work. I have now been here three years. When I return to my village I want to be a khenpo, but first I have to finish university, so it will be at least ten years before I go back.
Dawa, 17 | Kathmandu
I was 10 when I came here. I was going to come when I was 7 years old, but I didn’t want to go that soon. I didn’t know much about the monastery when I was younger. I was scared. I had just finished upper kindergarten. I wanted to be out all the time and I thought I wouldn’t be able to do that if I was in the monastery, so I wanted to wait. When I was 10 there was a khenpo who said the new school year was starting when I was 10, so I agreed. At first it was awful--I didn’t know anybody. After one, two weeks I felt better because I learned more and made friends and met the seniors, and I didn’t notice time passing by. Now I have special friends here. We talk about normal things like movies, or our studies. We wake up at 5am. For one hour we wash our faces and do some exercises. At 6am we pray for one hour. After that we have breakfast for half an hour, and then we play for half an hour. From 8, we have our studies. From 8 to 9 we practice our reading. After 9, we get some refreshment for 15 minutes, then after that we get our assembly. From 9:30 we start our classes until 12:10, when we have our lunch. Then we have more classes. Our last period is 3:15-4pm. After that, for a half an hour, we have refreshment—just a break. We have self study from 4:30 to 6pm. At 6pm we have dinner. From 7pm we again pray until 8, when we get another break for a half hour. Then 8:30 to 10pm we get self study to memorize prayers before we go to sleep. My favorite part is break so I can hang out with friends or play something to get active. It’s hard to stay awake sometimes. I mostly fall asleep. Morning is so boring; we don’t have a lot of time to sleep at night, so it is difficult. My favorite subject is English—I understand English very well, but I’m weak in Tibetan. It is my father’s dream to see me as a khenpo; he wants me to become a scholar and become an abbot and be a teacher in the village to look after the monastery. It will take maybe another 20 years. My father wants me to be good and learn well. I don’t know what will happen—I don't know my future, but I have a desire to become a khenpo, so I will keep pursuing that.
Tsering, 11 | Kathmandu
Since I was very young I wanted to become a monk. I had a cousin in the monastery and I had seen a few monks in the village and I was interested. I told my parents and they said yes. I want to be a khenpo - I want to be someone big. In the village I looked after the goats and cows. My parents also looked after the herd. My father passed away because of a heart problem. I think it was because of alcohol. He drank a lot of alcohol. He drank while he was working—people drink a lot in the village while they’re working because of the heavy work. My cousin in the monastery told me. I was a little sad. I was a little afraid of my father. He only scolded me when I did something wrong—otherwise I wouldn’t be scared of him. I lost a cow once. He just drifted away and I didn’t know. We had 70 cows. We had names for all the cows; my father was counting them and realized which cow was missing. He asked me, “Why did you lose him,” and I said, “I didn’t know…he was just here a while ago!” But we found the cow later and brought him back home. I don't know how my mother feels about my father's death. I haven't seen her. My father died about five months ago, but I didn’t really know about it. He came to the hospital in Kathmandu two or three times. After the 2nd time he didn’t want to come all the way back to Kathmandu for a check-up. I met him at the hospital once, but he was sleeping. So I saw him, but he didn’t see me. That was the last time I saw him. The last time he saw me was before I left the village to come to the monastery. He only said, "Study well."