LITTLE SANDS, P.E.I. - Before the Great Enlightenment Buddhist Institute Society (GEBIS) built its P.E.I. monastery, all Venerable Eli knew about the religion was what he’d picked up in movies and on the news.
Born in Charlottetown, the now 27-year-old was introduced to the monks when they first arrived because his mother started helping out in their community.
Once Eli started learning more about the group, he realized he also wanted to live as a monk.
“I just really enjoyed being with the group, and then eventually decided that I would like to try to be a monk,” said Eli, who has now been at the monastery for five years and is the only Island monk living there.
Nearly a decade ago, four Buddhist monks arrived to set up the eastern P.E.I. monastery.
Today, more than 300 monks reside in the monastery located in Little Sands, a private location closed to the public for most of the year.
Geoff Yang, the society’s executive secretary, said there was a growing interest over the years from the public to learn more about this new, growing community of monks, so they began to host events.
There certainly seems to be an interest, as more than 2,000 people from Tignish to East Point, and from New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, visited the monastery over the weekend during its annual open house. The open house included dinner rolls, stories, a prayer hall visit, a debate demonstration, spiritual education and other free, family-friendly activities.
Jean-Marc Cormier made the three-hour drive to P.E.I. from Cocagne, N.B. for Saturday’s showing, drove back home and thought about coming back on Sunday.
When he awoke at 6 a.m., his mind was made up.
“I thought, ‘well, now I’m up, I might as well go’ so I decided to come along this morning,” he told The Guardian.
Cormier said he learned about the Island monastery two years ago and earlier this year began participating in some of the community programs GEBIS offers.
What he liked most was that he could take the courses online.
“I find that so incredible. I can be home and be in class. The first time I was in class I was cooking a chicken fricot.”
It was the compassion the monks show towards one another and to outsiders that first left an impression with Cormier.
“Every one of them, they just want to meet you. It was different from any other place that I’ve visited or searched. I’ve been searching for a while,” he said. “But this is what did it for me, is their compassion.”
Other than shaving off his long dreadlocks, Eli said the major change in his life was learning how to be more compassionate and caring towards those around him.
He said he hopes events like the open house help people realize that monks are just human beings.
“We all have difficulties and we all have different ways of wanting to overcome that, but I guess just to realize that we’re people, too, and that we’re all here together – to work together, to make a better environment and become better people.”
For more information about the Island’s monks, visit Gebis.org.