On my first day in Bhutan I had the opportunity to visit Dochu La, a beautiful high mountain pass with a panoramic view of the Himalayas. It was cold and windy and at first it looked like we were the only ones there but I could hear laughter among the prayer flags and stupas. Around the corner from one of the chortens (stupas) I saw two young monks running across a rise while another one hunkered down on the grass in a small depression taking photographs of his friends as they jumped and played. If you took a picture at just the right moment the unusual perspective gave the impression that the monks were flying! When he saw my camera the photographer monk invited me to sit beside him and get some good shots. It was a fun moment and a good introduction to Bhutan.
Before I came to Asia I always assumed that Buddhist monks, or monks of any stripe for that matter, were almost always quiet, serene and aloof. I pictured them as being inaccessible, sitting around with beatific expressions on their faces and just radiating some sort of inner glow. I assumed they were monolithic in their behavior, scholarly and remote. And while certainly nice I thought that maybe they would be, you know, a little dull?
It didn’t take long before I began to realize that my naïve impressions were flat out wrong. There are, of course as many kind of monks as there are people on the planet. Of course there are some that move slowly and contemplate the universe with composure and serenity in their eyes but others are animated, outgoing and lively. It is always unfair to pigeonhole individuals based on stereotypes. While my impressions were always positive I saw the folly of painting individuals in any group with a single brush. I was wrong.
As Mark Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” Good point.