While all of our Workaway experiences so far have been amazing, our experience at Gomde was a truly unique treasure for many reasons. We were so enchanted by this magical place that we came back to volunteer again - and brought my mom and her partner with us to help as well!
I have always been fascinated by the philosophies of the East, including Buddhism. After reading several books related to Buddhist philosophy, including one my favorites by the Dalai Lama (The Universe in a Single Atom: The Convergence of Science and Spirituality), I knew I wanted to experience more of the Buddhist way of life first-hand. My love for the mountains of Austria and my desire to spend some time living in a Buddhist center found the perfect match at Gomde!
We first stayed at Gomde during the first week of December 2019. After visiting our German/Argentinian "family" near Munich and spending the afternoon strolling the Christmas Markets in Salzburg, we headed towards the Austrian village of Scharnstein. About 5 minutes from the village, on the top of a beautiful hill nestled amidst breath-taking nature lies the enchanted land of Gomde - a Tibetan Buddhist center that welcomes everyone to "be themselves, connect, and contribute happily."
When I say "Buddhist center," what comes to mind?
Perhaps a picture of a quiet monastery where Tibetan monks walk around in silence?
You probably wouldn't think of people getting together, talking and laughing about normal every-day life, or even dancing and singing to some 80s hits, curated by "DJ Lama" (Lama Thierry).
The beauty of Gomde is that you get to have whatever experience you choose, including the latter, which was our first delightfully surprising experience when we arrived.
As we pulled up to Gomde on that cold December Friday night, we were warmly greeted and welcome by several of the amazing Gomde crew. We then joined the rest of the volunteers in a Friday night celebration that involved playing some instruments and jamming along to a mix of 80s, reggae, and other great hits.
We loved connecting with so many wonderful and kind souls that were also volunteering at Gomde at the same time. We met friends from all over the world - ranging from Brazil, Germany, France, Turkey, Nepal, Croatia, Poland, to Australia and so many other countries!
The most beautiful thing about interacting with everyone has always been the underlying sense of connection we all felt to live a life filled with meaning, joy, and service to others - regardless of where we were from or our past stories.
Underneath all of our cultural differences, we all have a deeper desire to infuse deeper meaning to our life and the lives of others. We all wish to enjoy every moment as if it were the last.
Impermanence, after all, is the one thing that is here to stay. All matter, all forms, even all experiences come and go - yet that deeper sense of human connection remains.
Even a brief chat over a cup of tea in the dining hall can turn into a life-transforming experience that lingers long after our physical interaction ends. I have experienced many such meaningful chats about the nature of reality and the wonders of being human during our stay at Gomde. They have all left an indelible mark on my soul that can't be put into words.
The most beautiful thing about Gomde is the vibration of love, compassion, understanding, and joy that radiates from the center in all directions. Science has shown that emotions and feelings are a measurable energy - they carry an electromagnetic current which radiates from the heart and affects the field around us. Being at Gomde is like bathing in a field of warm and loving hugs!
During our first stay at Gomde, some of our work included cleaning, organizing and sorting out the large storage containers outside, and even shoveling snow! :-D My silly heart was super excited that morning that the snow fell - it definitely felt like Christmas to me!
We helped the team prepare for a Winter festival that was held on December 8th to bring the community together and celebrate the coming of the holiday season.
The event was lots of fun and a huge success, with everyone enjoying delicious winter treats, hot tea and gluhwein (mulled wine) in great company while Lama Ösar delivered a great talk about meditation and offered his calligraphy talents.
Our first stay at Gomde was magical and we knew we wanted to come back. Overhearing the crew talk about the New Year's celebration, we decided that would be a wonderful time to visit again. And so we did! This time we brought my mom and Deja who came with us to enjoy the experience and contribute amazing work to the team!
Although we initially only planned to stay a few days, we ended up extending our stay at Gomde again and stayed through the whole first week of January. The big event of the week was the arrival of Chökyi Nyima Rinpoche, the founder and director of Gomde. He traveled all the way from the main Gomde center in Nepal to offer teachings to hundreds of attendees.
Our tasks during our second stay were also a mixture of different jobs, but the highlight for Bryan was definitely all the time he got to spend in the kitchen doing what he loves most - cooking!
No matter what task we were doing, we always had a great time and felt the spirit of love and joy that everyone brought to every action!
A whole book could be filled with all of the deep spiritual insights that I've had as a result of the Buddhist teachings I was blessed to come upon at Gomde. But in my perspective, two words are enough to summarize the basic foundation of the teachings: Wisdom and Compassion.
Whether through the wonderful teachings of the Lamas, Rinpoche, or the countless books in the library, my heart deeply resonates with the concept of Bodhicitta - living a life that is motivated by great compassion for all sentient beings as we realize the inter-connectedness and mutual interdependence of all life. The concept of bodhicitta is often spoken of as having these two wings: Wisdom and Compassion. Without one or the other, our lives feel incomplete.
Wisdom means seeing into the true nature of reality, beyond labels and forms - into the essence that connects everything. Even quantum physics confirms this underlying interconnectedness. And if you find the scientific aspect of this intriguing, simply visit my blog at World Full of Bliss for more insights.
Compassion is using that understanding of our mutual interdependence to treat all sentient beings as we would want to be treated - to wish them all well - and to use our lives as a means to let go of old conditioned habits of fear and judgement so that we remember the deeper essence that connects us all.
I believe that underneath all the labels of culture, language, and traditions, our true nature is that which cannot be described in words, only experienced directly.
While "emptiness" is often misunderstood in traditional terms, it is simply another label that points to a deeper understanding of life as that which is. Right now. Right here. In this breath. Life is. You are. You are life. Life is you. Life is the All of It.
The Buddhist teachings beautifully remind us to never confuse "the finger pointing at the moon" for the moon itself. Rather, they are simply a means for us to re-train our mind to see life through fresh eyes - the eyes of love, compassion, and kindness. With any philosophy or set of beliefs, the important thing is not to get attached and simply see it as what it is - a tool to help us see life differently - a tool that can be set aside once its purpose has been fulfilled.
This is one of the reasons I choose to not affiliate or label myself as a member of any particular belief system or religion or philosophy - I am simply a human being...like you.
A human being filled with love for life, a love for others, a love for the elegant and intelligent beauty of nature, a love for being alive on this earth at this exact time. And everyone I've met on my path has been a beautiful reflection of life's wonderfulness - especially these loving souls at Gomde that I am forever grateful for meeting.