The monks had the habit of helping each other in the classes. Whenever a weaker student went to the whiteboard, the stronger students would help. Sometimes they would spell letter by letter to help finish the exercise. They spoke in Nepalese, but I understood what they were doing.
My goal was to make them see that, thinking is learning. I insisted they think for themselves, explaining they wouldn’t always have someone around to help.
In one class I called a weaker student to the whiteboard, insisting that the others remained silent. The little monk got the exercise all wrong. I explained the English grammar rules that he slowly applied, fixing all the errors by himself.
When he got the exercise right, all the other monks applauded! He went back to his seat with a big smile on his face. I was so proud of him! It was a powerful moment, where I felt I was helping.
There is a big discussion on whether volunteering for short periods of time actually helps. In my short experience, it does. It helps both ways. I learned a bit about the monastery lifestyle. I got into their routine of a mix of spiritualism, discipline, learning and respect.
I taught them a bit of English, but I also left them with some stories of how life is outside their walls, in particular, back where I live. We shared meals based on vegetables, lentil soup, and rice. Every day. In the afternoon, we shared tea before getting back to classes.
I also had interesting discussions with the principal about life in general in the western world. I helped an older monk read his book, correcting his pronunciation. At 5am I would go and see the Puja in the main temple. I would just sit there and observe the monks during their chanting. Sometimes I would close my eyes and meditate to the beautiful sound.
Concepts that were distant to me, like karma and reincarnation, became more familiar. It made me think and motivated me to get some books from their library which I read in the little spare time I had in the evenings.
They do not impose their beliefs, they discuss them. Even between themselves. That’s what the famous Buddhist monk debates are all about. Every afternoon they would discuss different points of view. I watched them with great interest even though I did not understand a single word.
I don’t remember where I got the idea to volunteer in Nepal, teaching English in a Buddhist Monastery. It was an extraordinary experience where I learned much more than I taught.
There was one special moment every day that I will never forget: falling asleep listening to the little Buddhist monks chanting next to my room. The whole experience definitely made me want to be more spiritual in my life.
Driving down the mountain back to Kathmandu, I remained in silence. I couldn’t stop thinking about the wonderful experience I just had in those two weeks living with the Buddhist monks.