A spiritual sojourn
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When Khenpo Sonam Tsewang would initially step out in his monk's robes in India, people would often rush to him and ask him whether he knew Kung Fu. "I tell them I am not a Shaolin monk and we don't learn martial arts. But that is all people know about monks, from what they've seen in movies," he says.
In fact, Tsewang is a respected Buddhist monk and teacher at the Namdroling Monastery in Mysore, the largest teaching center of the ancient school of Nyingmapa. In the city to conduct master classes on the Buddhist way organised by the Group for the Outreach of Omniscient Dharma at Bharati Vidya Bhavan School on Tuesday and Wednesday, Khenpo Tsewang says his journey to becoming a monk was very smooth and natural.
At his CBSE school in Sikkim, his classmates would never have imagined that one day he would go on to become a respected Buddhist monk and his followers would call him Khenpo-la, the traditional term used to address a Buddhist professor.
"People have trouble believing that I went to a normal school just like anybody else. Most other monks join monasteries at a young age but I joined the monastery when I was 25," says Khenpo Tsewang.
While this has made him proficient in English and has enabled him to study different texts, communicate with more people and relate to them better, Khenpo Tsewang says that it also means that he missed out on precious training given to young entrants.
It was while he was studying Buddhist Studies in Varanasi, that he realised spirituality was his calling. "One of my professors inspired me to become a monk. I saw the way he had devoted himself to meditating, learning and preaching to his students. I saw contentment in his eyes, a glow around him and I wanted to live the simple life he had," says Khenpo Tsewang.