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Andrew Dispatch

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.

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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.

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Pierre in the monastery
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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.

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larger view
Ani Chudrun traded her jet setting lifestyle as a journalist for a taste of real wisdom.
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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.

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.

Vocabulary

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

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 point.

Related Links

Asterix Website
Tibetan Govermnent Website
Tibet Information Network
History of Buddhism from PBS
Introduction to Tibetan perspectives

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.

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Andrew and Ani Chudrun laugh at the thought of their next incarnation
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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.

Andrew

p.s. - Please e-mail me at ...andrewcote@bigfoot.com
 

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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