Dharma Dreaming: Monastery Guesthouses in India
By Mary Ann Davis
Reprinted by permission from Transitions Abroad Magazine
Religious pilgrims from all parts of Asia pass through Buddhist center of Sarnath, India, near the city of Varanasi, and stay in its monasteries as they travel to other holy places.
Many of the monasteries welcome Western visitors as paying guests. The accommodations are inexpensive and the rules are basically the same in all the monasteries–no smoking, drinking or loud music. But staying in the monasteries and eating in tents with pilgrims and monks gives one a sense of the rhythm of religious life throughout Asia.
MONSTERIES IN SARNATH THAT ACCEPT OVERNIGHT GUESTS
Dharmashala, the monastery operated by Sri Lanka’s Mahabodhi Society, is located on Sarnath’s main road, across from the park. The rooms are Spartan–bed frames with thin futons, a table and a broom–and Dharmashala’s electricity is unpredictable.
Bathhouses, sinks and toilets are in the inner courtyard. You must pump your own bath and laundry water. Women and men bathe at different times, everyone remaining partially dressed. There are no other bathrooms and no cooking facilities.
Tibetan travelers–traders as well as pilgrims– cook meals together in the evenings over fires in the courtyard. 50Rs/night.
The Nyingmapa Tibetan Buddhist Monastery is another excellent place to stay. Professors from Sarnath’s Tibetan University teach courses in English in Tibetan philosophy and language. The cost is a small donation. There are peaceful gardens and a community kitchen, too. The rooms are new, some with private baths. The rent is about 200 Rs daily.
The “Old Tibetan Monastery,” near the Mishra Communications shop and grocery, has basic rooms that are often filled by Tibetan and Ladakhi pilgrims. This monastery serves as a gathering place for celebrations of all sects, including those of the Bon students from the University. (Bon is Tibet’s pre-Buddhist religion.) In the courtyard the always popular Tibetan restaurant tent, with its friendly monks and bright red benches, offers tasty meals from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. In the evenings, the cook plays recorded Tibetan folk music.
The Chinese and Burmese monasteries also rent rooms. The Chinese monastery is basic and inexpensive, and the monks sometimes allow lengthy stays and cooking in the rooms. The Burmese monastery is very peaceful. Inquire at the monasteries.
The canteen at the Tibetan Institute for Higher Learning, on the outskirts of Sarnath, is an excellent place to meet young Tibetan students. The open-air canteen–just inside the Institute’s gates–is also a good place to learn about educational opportunities, upcoming ceremonies, and traditional dances. The canteen serves basic, inexpensive Tibetan foods, including omelettes, butter tea and hot Tibetan bread for breakfast.
Ask Dr. Dey at Gyan Joyti SDT
The Sarnath Tourist Bungalow
240 Rs per night per person with attached bath, restaurant available. The Jain Guest House
Several rooms and family-style vegetarian meals, 300 Rs per night
The Tibetan Institute has rooms only for its registered studentsand guests – email
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