Light Mode

Benedict Cumberbatch forever grateful to the Darjeeling monks who shared life lessons

Benedict Cumberbatch will always be grateful to the Buddhist monks who took him in when he was 19.
The actor spent five months teaching in a monastery in Darjeeling and admits that although he wasn’t paid, it was a very rich experience.
“It was in an exiled Tibetan community, just outside of Darjeeling, on the border. It was a little hill station town,” Benedict tells pal Thom Yorke as part of a chat for Interview magazine. “I was one of five teachers who had done a training course. It was extraordinary, but it was quite an isolated experience.
“I spent half a year working odd jobs to build up funds for the airfare and to pay for the course. You’re not paid for the teaching; you’re paid in experience. You’re surrounded by the monks and their lives.
“It was a small monastery, and the top floor was the temple. I was living on the bottom floor, which was pretty damp and had huge spiders. I think it was just near the end of the rainy season; I can’t remember, but it was cold. And because it was so high up, you would open your window, and the clouds were like dry ice rolling across your desk. Nature was ever present; that was gobsmackingly beautiful, as was the spirit and nature and philosophy and way of life of these monks.”
The actor quickly became obsessed with the monks and wanted to learn everything he could from them: “I was so curious to know what the hell they were chanting, why they were doing what they were doing, and how to do it myself. I was like, ‘How do I go further into this world?’ After the course, I did a two-week retreat with one of the other teachers.”
But there were some things about the experience he really didn’t enjoy – he got very little sleep every night and ate mainly porridge and “a little stew”.
“That part of the retreat was intense. We were with the monks – my God, what discipline they had. It was revelatory. There are these stories and parables and tools with which to channel your focus and meditation and practice, and begin the path to enlightenment.
“(But) it was massive. I really cannot get over the generosity of our teacher. He said, ‘Don’t punish yourself. You’re going to be a student at a university in the north of England. You need to have your experiences and have your fun, and not judge yourself. Don’t live in guilt and regret’.”

- Advertisement -