The odor of chopped onions filled the Center for Positive Living in Cameron Park on Jan. 8 as six Tibetan monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery prepared a traditional Tibetan meal for a benefit dinner.
Mincing carrots, chopping peppers and cabbage and rolling out dough for momos (steamed dumplings), the monks worked tirelessly as supporters from the Placerville Friends of Tibet set tables and prettied up the dining room.
The benefit dinner for 40 was just one of the many activities on the monks’ schedule. Their day begins at 6 a.m. and continues with workshops, mandala building, special presentations and Tibetan cultural performances until 10 p.m. Then they spend a few hours in their own studies and meditative practices.
In Tibet or in the monastery, the dinner of clear soup, salad, vegetables, momos, rice with spicy lentil sauce and butter tea is reserved for special occasions, not daily fare, said Jampa Lobsang, Sr., one of the visiting monks. It would be served all at once, instead of in courses.
Placerville has hosted monks from Gaden Shartse almost every year for many years. They come to the United States and stay for months, sometimes as long as two years, traversing the nation and sharing a philosophy of love and compassion and the culture of Tibet.
They take back with them an exposure to Western culture and technology and funds to help keep the monastery going.
The monastery began in Tibet in the mid-1400s and continued as a university and learning center until it was destroyed in 1959 when China invaded Tibet.
Forty-eight monks and students escaped across the southern border into India and in 1969, they founded the Gaden Shartse Monastery as a center to re-establish Tibetan culture and traditions. Approximately 1,500 monks now live in the monastery and the tours help to generate funds to keep it and the Tibetan traditions alive.
“This is the first time out of India for me,” said Jampa Sr. “Many firsts.”
By this, he means, first time away from the monastery, first time in a plane and first time in the United States.
He and the other monks have not been on such a tour before and they don’t know how long it will continue. They arrived in the United States in July and have already crisscrossed the country from Colorado to New York.
The length of the tour depends on many factors: the number of cities that want to host the monks on their tour, the health and well-being of the monks and how long the monastery wishes them to stay.
Jampa Sr. describes the momos as he and the other monks prepare the fillings.
“You can put whatever you like inside — these will have cabbage, mushrooms, carrots, onions, peppers, masala, salt and oil.”
In India, Jampa Sr. explained, there is only one oil — whatever is available — not the hundreds of choices offered in Western grocery stores.
Wendy Guglieri, of the Placerville Friends of Tibet, took the monks grocery shopping for the dinner menu.
“They must have bought a pound of habañeros for the spicy lentil sauce,” Guglieri said.
Reverend Pattie Weber of the center stopped by to check the progress of the meal.
Tempting odors issued from the tiny kitchen area where two monks were chopping cilantro and cooking mushrooms.
“Having the monks here is a wonderful way to create unity in the community and share each other’s culture. Their presence makes it feel like a global community,” said Weber.
Jampa Sr. said he is already feeling homesick for the monastery but he will miss the technology in The United States.
“The washing machines and dryers have ruined me. This may manifest in some challenges when I return,” said Jampa Sr.
The monks will remain in Placerville and continue to build a mandala at the Cozmic Café until Jan. 15. At 7 p.m. on Jan. 15 the monks will conduct a dissolution ceremony — a dramatic and moving event. The ceremony is open to the public. For more information about the monks visit facebook.com/PvilleTibet or gadenshartseculturalfoundation.org.
Contact Wendy Schultz at 530 344-5069 or [email protected] Follow @wschultzMtDemo on Twitter.