There have been many times this year when I’ve thought “I can’t believe this is my job,” and yesterday afternoon was one of them.
A colleague and I visited Thrangu Monastery on No. 5 Road, Canada’s first traditional Buddhist monastery, and it was an extraordinary experience. The building was finished in 2010 and stands three storeys high; strings of prayer flags bouncing in the wind invite visitors in from the front gates and towards the refined and colourful structure.
Inside, we met Rabjor, a monk at Thrangu who also manages the office. He was a small and instantly-likeable man dressed in traditional garb – a red and orange robe, a dark maroon shawl thrown around his shoulder, and sandals.
Because of this rather timeless look, it was just a bit odd to hear him say “Yes, I take care of our PR!” Buddhism may be thousands of years old, but it has certainly kept up with the times.
Rabjor is from Nepal, and used to teach in a school there founded by the monastery’s leader, the Venerable Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche. Since the 70’s, he’s been travelling the world, teaching and raising funds for the Shree Mangal DVIP Schools, which provide “education for the forgotten children of the Himalayas.”
Rabjor taught many of the school’s 900 children, some of whom come from areas so remote it takes them five or six days to walk to areas with bus access. Thrangu Rinpoche has various non-profits around the world, the Canadian branch being the Vajra Vidya Foundation.
The spiritual leader of the Karma Kagyu lineage (one of the major traditions of Tibetan Buddhism) is His Holiness the 17th Gywala Karmapa, Orgyen Trinley Dorje. He was born on June 26th, 1985 to a nomadic family in Eastern Tibet. That’s right, he’s YOUNGER THAN ME. He was recognized as the 16th Karmapa at the age of seven through a prediction letter.
The Thrangu Monastery in Richmond is open to everyone, with no fees, but donations suggested (they are inclusive of everyone, regardless of economic status).
Their teachings include meditation, Buddhist philosophy, and Tibetan language classes, with weekend programs held almost year round. Every Sunday, you can join them for a demonstration of the creation of sand mandalas (here’s an incredible time-lapse of the practise), and there’s also a library and souvenir shop. Personally, I found it remarkable just to stand in the prayer hall, a space that’s calming and visually magnificent.
It’s a space of colour, light, paintings, and symbolism, all culminating in the golden, jewel-like Buddha seated at the far end.
Every last corner and space is decorated, yet the effect is one of complete unity rather than overdone chaos. It’s a photographer’s dream.
The north and south walls are each made up of 1000 little shrines, each of which contains a singular golden Medicine Buddha.
Standing next to the shrine where people make offerings (in any form, Coke and Mountain Dew included), Rabjor spoke to us about the Six Perfections in Buddhism, which are mastered on the path to enlightenment: Giving, Morality, Patience, Diligence, Meditation, and Wisdom.
He stressed that diligence is a necessary aspect of all the Six Perfections, and must be practiced constantly. The one that really got me, however, was the first: Giving.
Lately, I’ve found the news headlines to be particularly disheartening and horrific, the kind of news that can smother one’s sense of optimism. Hearing Rabjor speak of practicing kindness and generosity to others without expecting anything in return was like much-needed oxygen, and I was grateful for it.
A sincere thanks to Rabjor for taking the time to show us around the monastery, and for answering all of our many questions. If you live in the Greater Vancouver area or are just visiting, I highly recommend a visit to Thrangu, and if you’re interested in supporting a child who attends the Shree Mangal DVIP School, you can click here for more information.
Feeling awed and ever so calm, I went to find some lunch. I opted for sushi at Osaka Today, a long, narrow, and busy restaurant in Blundell Centre on No. 2 Road. I ordered the Gomaae ($3.95), Grilled Salmon Cheek ($4.95), Kamakaze Roll ($7.95), Red Snapper Nigiri ($1.25), Saba (mackerel, $1.50) Nigiri, Octopus Nigiri ($1.75), and the cold Zarusoba Noodles ($6).
The gomaae was the most sesameiest (it’s a word now) of any gomaae I’ve had in Richmond. The sauce was thick, coarse, and sweet, and at first I thought they’d completely overdressed the poor spinach. Then I thought “No, this is fab and I love it!” This won’t be for everyone, but it’s certainly for me.
The grilled salmon cheek came next, and I think we can all agree that salmon cheeks are not the prettiest of things to arrive on a plate. Essentially, it was a salmon head split in half, with its front fins protruding like wings. Homely yes, but also TASTY. The meat was juicy and flavourful, and there was more of it hiding in there than you might think. It came with a mild, sweet soy dipping sauce.
The Kamikaze Roll was very good – high quality sushi rice with tempura prawns, spicy tuna, avocado, lettuce, and tobiko. The sliced rolls were placed in a spicy mayo sauce, which added further flavour and satisfied my desire to have mayo with everything. It had just the right amount of heat, and the prawns added the perfect crunch.
The nigiri (what a bunch of beauties, hey?) were good, though there was just a touch too much wasabi in them for my liking.
Of the three, I most enjoyed the tako (octopus).
The cold, buckwheat zarusoba noodles came with a dipping sauce, crunchy bits of tempura batter, and pureed daikon.
The noodles were still chewy – cooked just long enough – and while this is an incredibly simple dish, it’s one that would be wildly refreshing on a hot, midsummer’s day.
Though the service was a little rushed, I was very impressed with my meal at Osaka Today, and thought it was an ideal follow up to an afternoon spent chatting with a Buddhist monk. Here are some more pictures from the monastery – a place everyone should consider visiting.
Cash and cards accepted
Vegetarian and vegan options available