Sunday, July 11, 2010

Monks And Internet - Bylakuppe, India

If being ‘modern’ means being able to use gadgets, update status messages on Facebook and use Twitter, then the monks of Bylakuppe live in another age. There are thousands of lamas in the monastery who meditate, and introspect on life in the six monasteries at Bylakuppe, Kodagu district, India. Facebook and Twitter are off limits for them.

Monastery rules do not allow use of Internet for social networking.

But aren’t the young monks curious? “Yes. I have friends from Bhutan on Facebook. I plan to log on sometime, maybe,” says 29-year-old Lungten Jamtsho, who is from Bhutan and will be spending nine years studying Buddhism at the Namdroling monastery. He says he uses the Internet mostly to check email and keep in touch with his family and friends back home in Bhutan.

Office authorities at the monastery said that Internet is not permitted inside the premises. The purpose of a monastic life is prayer and reflection, they explain.

There is only one Internet connection here, for the use of office staff. But just outside the monastery, among the row of shops is an internet cafe.

Passang, the man who runs the cafe, says that the monks do occasionally use the Internet. “They write to their parents, keep in touch with friends, and then log out to head back to the monastery. I don’t think they might even be keen to latch on to social networking the way youngsters in the city have,” Passang says.

As one walks down to the pond near the monastery, one finds monks sitting in groups on stone benches.

They have cell phones, and some of them are seen fiddling with those. Some monks listen to music on the cell phone. But engage them in conversation and ask if they have a presence on Facebook, and they are not quite sure what you are referring to.

Tenzin Janjung, 24, says that he has heard of Facebook and Twitter. “I know what those are about, I have friends using them. But I don’t feel the need to know more. Somehow, I feel it will interfere in my thought process and my studies,” he says, and returns to watching the ripples on the pond.

Naonj Jampa, college captain (leader of the monastery inmates, in response to a query on Facebook and Twitter, says, tersely, “No interest.”