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Gijs goes monastery

With two months allotted to India and the ambition to travel little in order to see places in depth, I thought it was logical to spend some time in a monastery. After almost a week of intense yoga training in a mini-resort (and 3 days recovery at the beach afterwards), I believed I was ready to enter. Even before I entered I lost my first karma points as my rickshaw brutally disrupted the evening prayers. The ‘Delhi Belly’ the following morning could have been interpreted as a bad omen, but wasn’t.

Before I continue, I’d better explain the reason I wanted to go. After visiting Birma two years ago and spending a magical night in a monastery (think: get woken up by the singing young monks next door at 05.00 in the morning) I decided back in Amsterdam to follow a weekend introduction course into Buddhism and meditation. I liked it a lot, and like most people I never gave it any attention afterwards.

But after about a month in India I heard myself saying to people that I’d ‘like to go to an Ashram’. The ashram I went to has the following schedule:
05:20 wake-up bell
06.00 group meditation and chanting 07:30 tea time
08:00 yoga class
10:00 vegetarian meal
11:00-11:30 cleaning the monastery
13:30 lecture
15:30 yoga class
18:00 vegetarian meal
20:00-21:30 group meditation and chanting
22:30 lights out
All items are compulsory!

As I, unsurprisingly, overslept on the first day, I sat down a bit uneasy in a massive temple as the morning ceremony began. The temple was pitch dark and filled with about 100 persons. Most of the persons I had seen when i arrived late at night the day before had looked relatively sane. However, after the first verse a familiar tune hit my horrified ears:

Hare Rama, Rama Rama hare hare
Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna hare hare

‘Oh my god, I signed up to stay with some Hare Krishna sect’ was my first thought as my eyes scanned the room for the nearest exit. As I did this I saw (again) normal looking people who were quietly meditating or singing along. I decided in that split second that I would give it a shot, as these vegetarians very probably wouldn’t hurt me. I ended up staying 4 days in the monastery and liking it a lot.

The schedule was gruesomely tiring, my body is not intended for yoga, requesting an ‘exit pass’ if you want to leave the monastery grounds for 5 minutes scares the hell out of me, even an loosely and friendly organized religion like Hinduism has no appeal to me whatsoever.

So why did I like it so much? The other guests were absolutely great, parts of my body that have been stiff like rock suddenly became flexible, it’s probably the best organized place in India, they organized an excursion where we drove in a big tour bus with loads of people and I loved it (!?!), the location is amazing, their approach to religion is devoid of any extremism and passion. To my own massive surprise I actually *liked* the singing and found myself humming the songs outside the class.

Will I ever dance barefoot in the Kalverstraat (Amsterdam’s main shopping street) with my friends, in an orange dress happily drumming and chanting like there is no tomorrow? Unlikely. But I have learned a lot about religion.

My body ached and my mind was tired, so I left, but certain to return to this monastery or another one for another long visit.


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