Monlam Pavilion, Bodhgaya
The lime green tabards of the Bhutanese Young Volunteers in Action (Y-VIA) are back in the Pavilion and grounds for the 34th Kagyu Mönlam. For the second year running, the Bhutan Youth Development Fund (YDF), an NGO under the patronage of Her Majesty the Queen Mother of Bhutan, has brought a group of teenagers and young adults to the Mönlam as part of a programme designed to broaden their experience and develop their citizenship skills.
In this second year, the group has grown from 20 to 27 young volunteers. The youngest is just 15, and the oldest are in their early twenties, and studying for a university degree. All take pride in being representatives of their respective schools and colleges in this programme, and all of them are newbies to the Mönlam; in their own words, they are "a new batch." They are accompanied by two teachers and by the Director of the Y-VIA programme, Karma Phuntsho Wangmo.
The new responsibilities have generated extra work and even the director has been very much ‘hands on’ this year.
Their activities have expanded, too. As last year, they have been tirelessly active in the tea breaks at every session, serving lay practitioners; helping out whenever and wherever else needed, for instance, providing a cordon for the Procession of the Sixteen Arhats alongside the Dharmapalas. They have been remarkable throughout for their unfailing kindness and sweetness, and for how well they all look in their traditional Bhutanese dress. This time they are also operating a small stall opposite Tergar Monastery, selling bags, prayer wraps and other handicrafts in typical Bhutanese patterns and textiles. These are produced through yet another YDF programme, “Empowerment for Employment”, which works with unemployed youth and disadvantaged women in Bhutan. The sale of their products generates income for the programme. With such demanding responsibilities, one might expect the young people to make the most of any chance for a rest. Yet, although they can be seen sitting quietly on the sidelines in between sessions, a closer look reveals that they are in fact intently studying their Kagyu Mönlam books, or softly reciting prayers from bespoke texts. They do so because they readily acknowledge the unique opportunity that the Mönlam provides. As Sönam Chengjur, a young man of 18, explained:
"It is a privilege to be in the presence of His Holiness the Gyalwang Karmapa. We feel we are very lucky to be here."
His companions in the group of young Bhutanese - amongst them Karma Trinley, also 18; Sönam Dorje, 20; and Tsering Tashi, 16, one of the youngest present - all concurred. The journey from Bhutan was a long one, they said, yet it was nice all the same. Arriving here, they found that it could be a problem communicating with participants from so many different countries, but they took it up as a challenge:
"Helping people is the best part. We have to learn other languages, and when that doesn't work, we have to get other people who can speak the language to find out what they need, and that's a good experience. It means we are now better prepared to go anywhere else."
One cannot doubt that such committed young people will, indeed, be a positive force wherever they go.