Little Monks In Big Shrine Halls
For those of you who’ve never been to an empowerment outside of the west, it is a very different situation here. In the west, empowerments are usually given in quite contained situations, and the people who attend them are generally quiet and attentive. As I mentioned, here the shrine room is noisy, progressively more so as one goes back from the front rows where the distinguished meditators, teachers and the monastic and lay officials sit. It’s not uncommon to hear babies crying or watch young monks playing beside you.
In the midst of this chaos one is always struggling to keep one’s mind on the ball—what the teacher is doing. Today, from time to time I was not doing this and instead making a study of four young monks sitting beside me. They were cute and as we say in the west, goofing off. I don’t know what I would do at their age if school was cancelled for the one of the most important religious ceremonies possible—one that ran nearly 12 hours a day. I would probably be fooling around now and again like the four eight-or-somethings between me and the pillar.
What did I see? Well, first of all, if you take a loose bit of fabric from a ceremonial scarf and blow air underneath it, it floats around. Two or three people can play at this. Also, it can be exciting to bring a rock into the shrine room. Smooth rocks slide well on the black marble floor and add a bit of suspense because the noise may attract the master of discipline, an extremely genial looking monk who periodically walks between the rows and quietly stands behind people who tend to loose their attention.
Teatime is higher entertainment. One of the foursome was overlooked by the monks passing out the slightly sweet yellow bread rolls. This lead to a short period of distress which I relieved by calling for another roll. Also, if you do have a roll you can drop the whole thing in your cup of chai and it kind of looks like a grey sponge. I didn’t watch how this was actually consumed, but did notice the ground was slick with tea in front of another of the four.
Later my posture became a point of interest. There doesn’t seem to be much investment in posture for the younger monks these days, so someone sitting up straight, especially if they are 6’5” as I am becomes a major attention grabber. Imitating a straight back can make you turn red if you get caught. The smallest, cutest and most earnest of the lot was genuinely trying get into half lotus with me at the end of everything. He turned and gave me a wide, proud smile when he was able to accomplish it.
PS Other pastimes we’ve heard of include writing your entire name in leftover offering rice and tying the robes of neighboring monks together just before everyone has to stand up.