Follow the Yellow Brick Road (to meet an eight year old monk?)!
June 14, 2000
Hey kids. In my past four dispatches, we have learned about Tibet, Tibetan
people, and have even met two of the biggest figures in Tibetan Buddhism. To
wrap up this series on Tibet, I want to introduce you to a couple more cool
people I have met.
The first is a smiling young man named Pierre. His Tibetan name is Thupden. He
was born in France, but he spends half of the year in a monastery in India. He
is eight years old, and he speaks French, English, Breton (a language
spoken in the north of France), Bhutanese, Tibetan, Nepali, and a little Hindi.
He is a happy, energetic little fellow who likes video games, ice cream,
bicycling, and swimming. He also likes to read Tin-Tin, Asterix, and Rudyard
Kipling's "The Jungle Book". One of the things that make him unique is that he
decided at a young age that he wanted to be a monk. So how did that happen?
When Pierre (who was not yet Thupden) was very young, he and his mother went to
India where they hoped to adopt a child. They met Thupden (another Thupden)
whom they adopted. This Thupden was already a monk living in the monastery (It
is common for orphans and destitute children to join a monastery in this place).
Pierre decided that he too wanted to be a monk. His mother told him to put on
his jeans and go to school in France, but he was adamant in his decision. He
would put on his brother's clothing and run off to the monastery. This was when
he was three years old.
Pierre and his mother, Alison, were both stubborn in what they wanted, and
finally they went to a high lama (spiritual teacher) to get advice. Pierre had
imposed himself on the monastery and would not give up. The lama did an
astrological reading and checked Pierre out, and determined that he had been a
lama in a previous life. The high lama told his mother that she should not
interfere with Pierre's determination to become a lama, but that he should not
neglect his Western education either. Therefore, he should spend half the year
in France, and half the year in the monastery in northern India. And that is
what he has done ever since.
The monastery at the time had no head lama. It was very poor and in bad
condition. Pierre's mother gathered money from friends in France and helped to
repair the monastery. They built showers, toilets, and in general helped to
make the place more livable. Within a few years, it was in good shape, and the
head lama returned from his three-year retreat. When Thupden and Thupden are at
the monastery, they sleep in a dormitory room with other monks, get up early in
the morning to study, have breakfast of butter tea and tsampa (Tibetan porridge)
and then study some more. In fact most of the day is spent studying, except
when having meals. But the week-ends are free, at least for the young monks, so
the Thupdens have plenty of time to play and have fun. The other half of the
year, Thupden goes to school in France, where he keeps his other lifestyle
private. He does not wear his robes, and the other kids don't know about
Thupden's -- I mean Pierre's -- other life.
Click image for larger view
Now let me tell you about a young woman who is a Tibetan Buddhist nun. She is
Ani (Tibetan word for nun) Tsewang Chudrun. She has been a nun for seven years,
and her story is very interesting. She is 33 years old, from south of London in
England. I never asked her former name. She used to be a reporter for the BBC
(British Broadcasting Corporation). In 1993 when she decided to change her
life. She had been travelling in Nepal when someone showed her a picture of the
Karmapa. It was a photo of him when
he was about eight years old. When she saw it, she said that her eyes locked on
it. She could not hear words, but somehow the photo spoke to her. She said
that she could sense "wisdom like you have always wanted to find." The lure was
so strong that she went home, quit her prestigious job, and moved to a Tibetan
Buddhist monastery in Scotland. She decided to join for one year, since, as she
figured, the Karmapa has been a monk for seventeen lifetimes, she could be a nun
for a year. So she took her five vows- no killing, no lying, no stealing,
celibacy, and no intoxicants (no drinking or drugs). Once she took the vows,
her karmic clock starting ticking- that is, she began to gain merit from the
lifestyle she chose. Why gain merit? Merit leads to wisdom. What wisdom?
Fundamental wisdom, which in a perfect manifestation, is called enlightenment.
Click image for |
To the Buddhist way of thinking, we need positive karma to do anything. Karma
is the goodness that we have performed in our lives, that helps us in our day to
day lives. Some people call it good luck when good stuff happens to them, but
many people believe that it is only from the good stuff you have done
previously. Anyway, Ani Chudrun wanted to get closer to that enlightenment, so
after only six months she realized that she had chosen the correct lifestyle,
and made her vows to remain a nun for this entire life. Now, seven years later,
she does not regret her decision.
She says that human life is precious, we should remember how lucky we are to
have the mental capacity and the ability to understand the value of our life.
She told me a story that Buddha told about how rare and precious life is. When
the earth was all covered in water, a blind turtle swam in the ocean. He
surfaced for air only once every hundred years. The chance of getting this
precious life is as rare as that turtle surfacing twice at any one particular
destitute - extremely poor
adamant - firm, insistent
prestigious - famed, celebrated
celibacy - abstinence from sex, chastity
enlightenment - perfect knowledge
Prince Siddhartha - later became the Buddha
barrage - shower, burst
And why does she have to shave her head? She told me that historically, in the
time of Prince Siddhartha, long hair was a sign of royalty. He shaved his head
to renounce his high position. So, Buddhists still do this. Also, it is a way
of renouncing the self. When someone becomes a nun, she changes her name,
clothes, loses adornments (for example, no more jewelry or make-up) and is left
thinking "Who am I? What is it to be a woman? Is it a hairstyle? Clothes?"
These things come to seem shallow and pointless.
So why be a nun? Ani Chudrun says that the point is to practice meditation, to
develop specific qualities of mind, like compassion, and overcoming ignorance.
An enlightened mind is like a white light, and shone into a prism, a barrage of
colors will burst through. Like other people in her order, she recognizes that
we are not perfect, and she embodies the purity and potential in recognizing
that we are not there yet. "There" being, perfection, or nirvana. Ani Chudrun
says that we need two wings to fly properly -- one is faith and the other is
study. This sounds like good advice for anyone, no matter what they are trying
to accomplish. Until later, keep flying right.
Click image for larger view
p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...firstname.lastname@example.org
Andrew - Burial at Sea: Being Thrown to the Fishes in Teeming Varanasi
Abeja - Trading With The Enemy? How One Company Dominated India
Monica - Serving the Poorest of the Poor: Mother Teresa of Calcutta
Jasmine - Village of Angels
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