English, a part of curriculum in Gangtey Zherim Shedra
The expansion in the scope of subjects, which include English teaching, has remained rudimentary for many years in Gangtey Sangag Choling Monastery (Zherim Shedra), a private monastic school.
Teaching English in the Buddhist monastery project’s major goals is to provide the education that prepares them for future. Some of the subjects in demand include English teaching, but the requirements depend on the monastery.
The monks’ education does not end when they gain proficiency in Buddhist studies alone.
Historically, education in Buddhist monasteries in Bhutan has focused on scriptures and beliefs. English has now been part of the the dratshang’s curriculum for many years apart from the main course.
The monks have been taught English as a part of subject since 1985 with the establishment of Gangtey Shedra by Lopen Chimi Kinley under the guidance of Gangtey Trulku Rinpoche.
Thinley Namgay, 42, Dorji Lopen of Gangtey monastery, said English teacher will help provide basic conversational English to monks. “English subject that will be of benefit, as even Buddhist monasteries need to be run efficiently as the country’s determination in building a modern education system,” he said.
Modern education, by contrast, is viewed as focusing on human development and improving living conditions in the world for the purpose of obtaining happiness and material comfort for oneself.
“All the monks are young who are equally deserving of the same rights,” he said, adding that the monks are deprived of learning English although they are just like any other youth in the country.
There are several large monasteries in the country where monks live and devote their lives to Buddhism. With globalization and other developments, there is a great need and desire for young monks to learn English.
“It is important that our monks learn English not only to interact with foreigners, but also to promote and showcase Bhutanese Buddhism and culture of the dratshang,” he said. “It is also important to reach out to Bhutanese youth.”
“It is also important for monks to be able to read and write in English so that they can be able to translate Buddhism into English,” Thinley Namgay added.
Kinzang Chodrup, 16, a monk at the monastery, said they are need to know English not just to communicate but also interpret Buddhism to foreigners who are increasingly becoming keen on learning Buddhism.
“Sometimes I represent caretaker in the chapel where mostly foreigners visiting,” he said, adding that he can understand English but he can’t explain the depiction of status and murals in English.
Foreigners are privileged to learn under Buddhist masters, it is the dratshangs, lobdras, and shedras that serve the masses as the formalized monastic institutions that introduce, cultivate, or maintain a presence in Buddhist learning and scholarship.
However, Thinley Namgay said it is difficult since many of the scholars are not educated in English.
Another problem is that many members of the public or institutions primarily speak English, so they are not able to receive spiritual guidance from the members of the dratsang, which cannot impart the teaching in English.
Officials said, “Its lack of English- speaking members, some even think that the members of the dratshangs and shedras are uneducated and not professional practitioners.”
Thus, several Bhutanese go abroad to the extent of coordinating teachings and empowerment from Buddhist teachers. Therefore, it is a big challenge for them to close the gap with such individuals and to develop closer relationships and stronger communication with the general public regarding the full set of spiritual resources it has to offer.
Pemba Dorji, 26, a monk in the 5th zindra at Kuenzang Choling Shedra said, “In the modernizing world, it is needed to educate English which will enable the monks to impart their Buddhist expertise to westerners or can become a global teacher.” He added that he has a dream to go abroad to pursue English studies.
Monastic institutions offer an alternative, traditional approach to education and they preserve and promote Bhutanese culture though there are different forms of Buddhist teachings.
Kinley Wangchuk, 21, a monk, said they have to respond to the foreigners when they ask about the culture in monastery. “Many of the tourists visit the monastery where they also want to interact with monks,” he said.
However, the monastery is grappling with a lack of trained teachers though English is part of the Zherim Shedra board of curriculum monks have to sit examinations as part of their curriculum.
There is no specific teaching qualification required to join the teaching English to Buddhist monks in Gangtey but only the desire to communicate, learn and the ability to be flexible.
Kinley Gyelmo, a class 12 graduate from Rinchen Higher Secondary, is required to teach English since 2015 after the post rendered vacant when another left.
“As there is no trained English teacher in the monastery, I am required to teach monks their daily classes,” she said, “I really enjoy this project, as I get to learn about, observe and even participate in the culture and Buddhist practices in the monastery.”
But they also find the monks to be enthusiastic students and incredibly appreciative of their work.
Kinley Dorji, 16, a monk from Wangdue, said he enjoys learning in English class. “Many of my friends were ex-students. I didn’t study as I came directly to the monastery.” He said he gets help from friends in learning English besides daily classes.
Monks who have attended formal schools above class six and know English don’t take English as their subject. Zherim Shedra official said that there are about 10 such monks in the monastery today.
Teaching English at a Buddhist monastery offers teachers a unique opportunity to experience and understand another way of life.
Kinley Gyelmo said, “Teaching monks in the monastery is being very different to what I imagine.” During my teaching in the monastery there have been many festivals and events,” she added.
She said while teaching, she gains an insight into the day to day workings of Buddhist culture, prayers, meditation, Buddhist philosophy etc.
“There will be many festivals, rites and visits during their stay in the monastery,” she said. “Try to be proactive in planning fun and creative activities to teach monks.”
The program’s focus is thus on the exchange of spiritual and secular knowledge from which both sides will benefit, monks as well as teachers.
The monk English teaching project in the monastery should be aware that life in a monastery requires a lot of discipline and it is custom that all habits of the monastery life are respected.
However, teacher must be respectful of the monks’ high social status and their attention to commendable life rules. Only very focused and disciplined teacher can join this project.
Monks are not allowed to wonder around the area and outdoor games are prohibited, alcohol and smoking are completely prohibited. “I have to return in a timely fashion,” she said.
The teachers in monasteries usually live in the monastery. There are few exceptions in which females aren’t allowed to remain after sundown. In this case, she stays with her families that live in walking distance from the monastery.
There is no set curriculum and timetable for the monks. It is up to the English teacher in the monastery to set up the teaching material.
The teacher is welcome to teach any of the knowledge based on her experience. Most of the monks have solely been educated especially in the English language which continues to become more important in any and all domains.
The schedule is pretty flexible. They usually do not inform people in advance on what is going to happen.
Normally, a Monday to Friday week is considered, about an hour daily to each class.
Kinley Gyelmo said, “I have to provide basic conversational English instruction to young monks. Besides English teaching class, I also organize entertainment related to the English and other creative activities.”
She found it is an important for monks to learn English when they are in Lobdras and Zherim Shedras. “If they learnt basics in the lower school then, it will be easy for them to get into advance once they
It is custom that the English teacher in monastery asseses the level of English utilized in monasteries and plans the English lessons according to it. “I am solely in charge of the English classes. There is no assisting teacher involved,” she said.
However, the monastery has no materialsfor English teaching. Text books, notebooks, pencils, and other materials are required. Therefore, the administration is managing the from nearby schools.
The monks sit on the floor in the way of traditionally means the monastic body is the ground to practice Buddhism to attain enlightenment.
Monastic schools across the country require English teachers and the Zherim Shedra is in need of trained English teachers.
The monastic Dorji Lopen said lack of trained English teachers in monastic school is a major issue for the Zherim Shedra.
The Zherim Shedra has no way to strengthen and sustain teaching of English in the Shedra.
In general, a monastic education attempts to offer an appreciation of life and simple moments of being, and of preserving a sense of self for self-knowledge and acceptance.
The Central Monk Body has played a vital role in nation-building. Until 2008, the Monk Body sent ten representatives to the National Assembly and two representatives to the Royal Advisory Council to ensure continuity of the unique dual system of governance and permitted intersections of the spiritual and political systems.
It is provided a means for both the spiritual and the political systems to benefit each other and to serve the people better.
The Monk Body is also an important custodian of the unique culture and language. Many historical buildings and sacred art and objects are in the care of the Dratshang, to be protected and maintained for future generations.
Monks are, therefore, highly regarded by people from all walks of life. In a fast-changing society driven by globalization and modernization, they provide a counterweight of meaning, wisdom, and possibility.
Gangtey Goenpa is an important monastery of Ningmapa school of Buddhism, the main seat of the Pema Lingpa tradition located about 66 kilometers away from Wangduephodrang Dzong on the way to WangdueTrongsa national highway.
(This article is reported with support from DoIM)