TECH-SAVVY MONKS EM­BRACE NEWAGE

Devo­tees are us­ing

China Daily (Canada) - - TIBET -

Be­com­ing a mem­ber of a Ti­betan Bud­dhist or­der doesn’t mean be­com­ing to­tally di­vorced from the out­side world, cell­phones and tablets to stay in touch, re­port Chen Bei in Qamdo and Lu­oWang­shu in Xigaze in the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous

If you spend 30 min­utes check­ing Ten­zin Yon­tan’s so­cial net­work­ing posts, you’ll quickly get a good idea of his three main in­ter­ests: Ti­betan Bud­dhism; his fam­ily; and­so­cial en­gage­ment.

And if you’ve never met Ten­zin, his posts will sat­isfy your cu­rios­ity be­cause he oc­ca­sion­ally posts “self­ies”, self-por­traits that show a 20-some­thing monk with chis­eled fea­tures, dressed in a crim­son robe.

Ten­zin lives at the Champa Ling Monastery, the largest in the Gel­ugpa school of Bud­dhism in Qamdo, a city in the east of the Ti­bet au­ton­o­mous re­gion. The 27-year-old mem­ber of the Ti­betan eth­nic group said his daily rou­tine re­volves around lis­ten­ing to the teach­ings of the Buddha, an­a­lyt­i­cal de­bates with fel­low monks and read­ing the su­tras.

It seems a world away from his peers in the out­side world, yetTen­zin’ss­mart­phonere­veals that monas­tic life is not to­tally di­vorced from moder­nity.

“So­cial media ap­pli­ca­tions such as Weibo (a Twit­ter-like ser­vice) and WeChat (a pop­u­lar Chi­nese so­cial net­work­ing plat­form) are among the most used apps on my iPhone,” he said, adding that he mainly uses so­cial media to read the news, in­ter­act with friends and pro­mote Bud­dhist cul­ture.

Ten­zin up­dates his WeChat “mo­ments” about five or six times a month. He ob­vi­ously adores his rel­a­tives who live sev­eral kilo­me­ters away, post­ing photos of his new­born niece and send­ing his best wishes to his par­ents on Fa­ther’sDay and­Mother’sDay.

One of his latest up­dates con­tained prayers for those killed in a re­cent ex­plo­sion at a chem­i­cal ware­house in the north­ern port city of Tian­jin, China’s worst in­dus­trial ac­ci­dent in decades.

Just a few hours af­ter news of the ini­tial death toll and the num­ber of se­ri­ous in­juries be­gan flood­ing China’s so­cial media net­works, he posted: “Pay silent trib­ute to the dead, pray for the liv­ing and show re­spect for the coura­geous fire­fight­ers.” The post was ac­com­pa­nied by a photo of a statue of the Buddha.

“Be­ing amonk­doesn’tmean liv­ing in a sealed world, read­ing scrip­tures and pray­ing for the re­lease of dead souls from pur­ga­tory,” Ten­zin said. “A monk also needs to ed­u­cate the liv­ing to do good works and help each other in this world. That means we have to know what’s go­ing on and com­mu­ni­cate with so­ci­ety.”

He said mo­bile gad­gets such as smart­phones and tablets help the younger gen­er­a­tion of monks to keep their fin­gers on the pulse.

“With the help of so­cial media, we can per­form char­i­ta­ble works in a more ef­fec­tive way,” he said, cit­ing an in­stance in 2013 when he helped to raise 25,000 yuan ($3,900) in five days via WeChat to pay the med­i­cal bills of a 1-year-old named Losang Senge who had frac­tured his skull.

Ti­bet has a high rate of cell­phone pen­e­tra­tion and In­ter­net us­age. About 95 per­cent of the re­gional pop­u­la­tion is reg­is­tered as cell­phone users, and by the end of July about 70 per­cent used the In­ter­net regularly, ac­cord­ing to the latest data from the re­gional de­vel­op­ment and re­form com­mis­sion.

The ma­jor­ity of Ti­betans use smart­phones, as in­di­cated by a 2014 con­sumer-spend­ing re­port by Ali­pay, the pay­ment arm of e-com­merce gi­ant Alibaba Group Hold­ings, which showed that Ti­betans ac­counted for the high­est num­ber of mo­bile pay­ments — 62.2 per­cent— in the first 10 months of last year.

The Champa Ling Monastery is home to about 1,200 monks, and more than 700 of them own tablet com­put­ers and smart­phones, in­clud­ing top brands such as Sam­sung, Huawei and Ap­ple, ac­cord­ing to Champa Kalzang, a 26-yearold monk.

Champa also uses WeChat, shar­ing his “mo­ments” with friends. “I don’t think mo­bile gad­gets will dis­tract me from Bud­dhist prac­tices,” he said, adding that he likes to “take things as they come”.

“So­cial net­work­ing helpsme keep up with the times, and I can also use it to pro­mote Ti­betan Bud­dhist cul­ture be­cause photos about rit­u­als, re­li­gious sto­ries and art are al­ways given more ‘likes’,” he said. Champa down­loads Bud­dhist scrip­tures onto his 11-cen­time­ter-screen phone, which helps him to re­cite the su­tras out­side study pe­ri­ods.

The wide­spread use of elec­tronic de­vices at the Champa Ling Monastery is not un­com­mon, ac­cord­ing to Ten­zin. “Most monks in Ti­bet’s monas­ter­ieswhow­ere­bor­nafter 1980 use mo­bile de­vices, although the se­nior monks are slow to adapt to such gad­gets,” he said.

Lo­cated more than 1,200 km west of Qamdo, the Tashihun­poMonastery has adopted tech­nol­ogy to ben­e­fit visi­tors and pil­grims.

Since the be­gin­ning of this year, the tra­di­tional seat of the Panchen Lama in Xigaze, Ti­bet’s sec­ond-largest city, has used a quick-re­sponse code sys­tem, and the code is posted in front of ev­ery assem­bly hall.

Visi­tors can scan the QR code and se­lect au­dio in three lan­guages, Ti­betan, Man­darin and English, to learn about the monastery’s history on their cell­phones.

“We in­vited some ex­perts, in­clud­ing fac­ulty mem­bers from Ti­bet Univer­sity, to im­prove the qual­ity of the trans­la­tions,” said Kachen Buchung, a high-rank­ing monk, who added that the sys­tem has proved a hit with visi­tors.

“When tour guides are in short sup­ply, the au­dio in­struc­tion sys­tem is an al­ter­na­tive, free mea­sure to ful­fill visi­tors’ needs,” he said.

About 70 per­cent of the monastery’s monks have smart­phones and 20 per­cent own lap­tops, ac­cord­ing to Kachen, who said many of them use elec­tronic de­vices to read scrip­tures and learn Man­darin and even English.

“Many trans­la­tion apps are fan­tas­tic. When we in­put some­thing in Ti­betan, the Man­darin trans­la­tion just pops right out,” he said.

Con­tact the writ­ers through chen­bei@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Be­ing a monk doesn’t mean liv­ing in a sealed world, read­ing scrip­tures ...”

Ten­zin Yon­tan, a monk at the Champa Ling Monastery

WANG ZHUANGFEI / CHINA DAILY

A Ti­betan man hangs col­or­ful prayer flags in Ngaqu pre­fec­ture, Ti­bet.

WANG ZHUANGFEI / CHINA DAILY

A Ti­betan monk makes a phone call in front of the Jokhang Tem­ple in Lhasa.

Be­liev­ers wor­ship

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