Another casualty of rural to urban migration is the decline in the number of lay monks

Religion: There is no one to mend the displaced wooden shingles of Chungthang Goenpa’s roof since the day its routine offerings came to an abrupt end one fateful night five years ago.

Its monks never returned from a journey to Gyalpoizhing, Mongar in 2010 after a tragic accident in Namling.  Since then Chungthang goenpa has remained closed.  The drasha, (dormitory) constructed for the monks, stands uninhabited.

“The goenpa is left unattended because no new recruits could be found,” Gyedhen lam, Thinley Chophel, said, adding that attempts to find new recruits from Kengkhar, Mongar failed, because the children chose school education over monastic education.

“As more children prefer to study in monasteries outside the village or in schools, goendheys in the villages are going empty now,” Thinley Chophel said.

Today, all lhakhangs in Ura are left without a lay-monk.  There are 17 lhakhangs in Ura, including Gyedhen, Sumthrang and Shingkhar. “None of these lhakhangs have a lay-monk attending monastic education today,” the gyedrung, Dorji Wangchuk, said.

Earlier, every lhakhang at least had its own lay-monks to conduct village rituals and annual tshechus.  But today, the villages look for religious figures from other dzongkhags.

“It’s been a few years since we started hiring monks from Mongar to conduct drubchen and read Kanjur,” the gyedrung said.

Ura gup, Dorji Wangchuk, added they also hire lay monks from neighbouring villages, like Shingkhar.  Similarly, other villages like Pangkhar, Shingnyer and Pangkhar are also confronted with the same situation.

The drop in number of lay-monks is also leaving these lhakhangs without a koenyer (caretaker), while the current koenyers are also planning to quit.  Recently, Pangkhar lhakhang caretaker submitted his resignation.

“The gewog, however, rejected the caretaker’s resignation,” Dorji Wangchuk said, adding that, without a caretaker, offerings would be missed, as well as the lhakhang left susceptible to vandals.

The drop in the number of lay-monks in communities has left villagers concerned.  Farmer Tashi from Ura, Chari, said getting lay-monks is difficult, particularly during annual lhochey.

“The scarcity of lay-monks becomes worse during illness and death,” Tashi said, adding that, while the rich could afford to hire monks from distant places, farmers couldn’t.

Attempts from lhakhangs and gewogs to recruit children in monastic schools have also failed in the past.  Earlier, local leaders and parents dropped students from schools to enrol them in goendheys. “That attempt, however, failed when every child returned to school after a few years,” Dorji Wangchuk said.

The villagers attribute the shortage of religious figures to mass resignation of monks, lack of benefits and opportunities in the monk body.  Many lay-monks have also migrated to urban areas for better livelihood, while some have become shopkeepers or farmers and no longer performs rituals.

But the goendheys are still hopeful and attempting to find students for monastic education. “Plans to reopen Chungthang goenpa still remain because I’m hoping that some day people might return to monastic schools,” Thinley Chophel said.

By Tempa Wangdi, Ura