English, a part of cur­ricu­lum in Gangtey Zherim She­dra

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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

reach col­lege.”

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)

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