BUDDHIST TRADITIONS (INCLUDING BON)

These interviews detail the religious and spiritual traditions of Tibet, including Buddhist monasteries, the influence of these traditions in everyday life and perceptions of the Chinese occupation.

ORAL HISTORY INTERVIEWS

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USA (2006)
1. Lama Kunga Thartse (#94)
2. Tsewang Khangsar (#93)

Bylakuppe, India (2007)
1. Ngawang Choseng (#91)

Mundgod, India (2010)
1. Lobsang Lungthok (#21M)
2. Thupten Rangjung (#34M)
3. Kunchok Paksam (#27M)
4. Zoepa Gyaltso (#30M)
5. Lobsang Wangdu (#8M)

Dharamsala, India (2012)
1. Thinley (#9D)
2. Kalsang Dakpa (#11D)
3. Thupten Woeser (#36D)
4. Rinzin Dolma (#64D)
5. Thupten Palmo (#67D)
6. Lhakpa (#69D)

USA (2012-2014)
1. Ngawang Tsultrim Thepo, Geshe (#1C)
2. Ngawang Dakpa, Geshe (#2C)
3. Lama Lodu Rinpoche (#8C)
4. Jangchup Palmo, Naljorma (#13C-Part 2)
5. Lama Wangdu Rinpoche (#15C)
6. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, His Holiness (#27C)
7. Chimey Luding, Jetsun Kushok (#31C)

Bylakuppe, India (2013-14)
1. Karma Lamthon (#3B)
2. Tsultim Jungnay (#12B)
3. Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche, Jangtse Choje (#14B)
4. Gelong Jamyang, Khensur (#16B)
5. Chime Dorjee, Geshe (#18B)
6. Jampa Chonphel, Geshe (#20B)
7. Samdhong Rinpoche (#23B)

Nepal (2015)
1. Ngawang Chunyi (#28N)

© 2009-2017 Tibet Oral History Project. These translations and transcripts are provided for individual research purposes only. For all other uses, including publication, reproduction and quotation beyond fair use, permission must be obtained in writing from: Tibet Oral History Project, P.O. Box 6464, Moraga, CA 94570-6464.




Lama Kunga Thartse (#94)

At the age of 10, Lama Kunga Thartse was recognized as a reincarnation of a previous lama. He was taken to Thargye Dupdhe Monastery in Shang village to study and later moved to Ngor Monastery near Shigatse. He was born to an aristocratic family and his father, Mr. Shuguba, served the Tibetan government in various capacities, including the Minister of Finance. Lama Kunga Thartse nostalgically recalls his family estate where they used to grow barley, vegetables and flowers. The estate was later covered in concrete when the Chinese constructed a hydraulic energy station there. Ironically, his village had no electricity even after this transformation.

Lama Kunga Thartse’s father was arrested in 1959 after the collapse of the central Tibetan government and he and his brother escaped to Nepal. When his father was released from prison in 1980, Lama Kunga Thartse visited Tibet and was reunited with his father after a period of 20 years. During his visit to Tibet, he was very touched by the difficult, poverty-stricken condition of the Tibetan people. Some pleaded with him, “Please do something. Help me.”

Lama Kunga arrived in the USA in 1962 and lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He established the Ewam Choden Tibetan Buddhist Center offering meditations and classes in Buddhism.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, monastic life, imprisonment, forced labor, Chinese oppression, brutality/torture, escape experiences.

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Tsewang Khangsar (#93)

Tsewang Khangsar, who is from Yancho Tangkar in the south central part of Tibet, lost his father at an early age. He and his sister were brought up by their mother, who faced many challenges in raising her children by herself. Tsewang Khangsar gives a vivid, in-depth account of Tibetan people’s beliefs, customs, language and their unique characteristics as “human beings.” He describes the Bon religion and its influence on Tibetan culture.

Tsewang Khangsar describes how Tibetans held on to their sanity despite the suffering and trauma that they underwent from the Chinese occupation of Tibet. He discusses the Chinese invasion and the subsequent cultural, ecological, historical, religious and social annihilation of the Tibetan identity. He presents his ideas on how the Tibetan people can meet these difficult challenges. He also explains his theory about why Tibetans have the strength to endure such hardships and deal with their anger towards the Chinese.

Tsewang Khangsar served as a teacher, headmaster and principal of Tibetan Children’s Village in Dharamsala, India, for 20 years before immigrating to the United States.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, Buddhism, Bon, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, brutality/torture, Chinese oppression, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Ngawang Choseng (#91)

Ngawang Choseng was born in the village of Gerdha in Utsang province. His family was a tenant of the Lhatse Chodhe Monastery and, as a form of tax, they sent Ngawang Choseng to the monastery to become a monk when he was 7 years old. His father was Chipon, the keeper of the horses of the monastery.

At the monastery Ngawang Choseng learned the Tibetan language and basic Buddhist scriptures. When he reached 13 years of age, he started studying Buddhist philosophical debates, which became the main focus of his education. At the age of 28, he went to Lhasa and enrolled in Sera Monastery. After the Chinese invasion, he witnessed the arrest and public beatings of many monks. Ngawang Choseng returned to his village after Lhasa was attacked in 1959.

Ngawang Choseng made his escape to India in 1962 with three other monks. Initially, Ngawang Choseng worked on road construction and later settled in Bylakuppe where he joined 300 other monks who labored to build Sera Monastery in Bylakuppe.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, first appearance of Chinese, life under Chinese rule, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India, early life in Bylakuppe.

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Lobsang Lungthok (#21M)

Lobsang Lungthok was born in Tunuegang, a town very close to Lhasa. His family engaged in farming and he recalls herding the animals. He became a monk at the age of 8 and recounts his life as a monk in the Drepung Monastery in Lhasa. He describes the admittance process and selection of teachers for new monks. As a young man he joined the the dhopdhop—a bunch of obstinate monks who indulged in jumping and throwing stones instead of studying the scriptures.

Lobsang Lungthok provides information on the procedure of the Monlam Chenmo 'Great Prayer Festival' in Lhasa and the various ceremonies and officials associated with it. He explains his own role as a genyok 'assistant' to the tsogchen shengo, who is in charge of discipline during the Monlam Festival where up to 40,000 monks assembled. He shows the tools of the disciplinarian—a sword and a stick, which required that he give up his monk’s vows to use.

Lobsang Lungthok speaks about the shelling of the Potala Palace on March 10, 1959 and about witnessing the mass of people fleeing through the swamp near Norbulingka. Fearing the worst, he escaped from Lhasa soon after and relates the difficulties they faced during the journey into exile in India.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, religious festivals, invasion by Chinese army, March 10th Uprising, Norbulingka, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Thupten Rangjung (#34M) (alias)

Thupten Rangjung remembers going swimming and swinging on the trees as a child. His family engaged in farming as well as rearing animals. Though self-sufficient, his family occasionally took loans from rich families and monasteries if they did not have enough food. He narrates the process of taking a loan, payment of interest and what happens in the event a loan is not repaid.

Thupten Rangjung became a monk at the age of 7, but continued to live at home and help on the farm until the age of 16 when he traveled to Lhasa and enrolled in the Gaden Monastery. He describes in detail the process of becoming a monk, starting from the 'hair-cutting' ceremony and the next two stages of vows a monk undertakes. He spent most of his time studying and was happy at the monastery.

According to Thupten Rangjung, the Chinese first appeared in his birthplace of Ba in the beginning of 1947 and he remembers their clothing and food. He was living at Gaden Monastery when Lhasa was attacked in 1959 after which the monks were told to leave. He talks about joining the Chushi Gangdrug [Defend Tibet Volunteer Force] during his escape and the exciting encounters with the Chinese forces.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, first appearance of Chinese, religious festivals, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, escape experiences.

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Kunchok Paksam (#27M)

Kunchok Paksam's father had passed away before his birth and his mother died when he was 14 years old. Despite his mother’s plans to have him marry, he was determined to become a monk so he sold his family’s possessions after his mother’s death and traveled to Lhasa. He relates the long journey of over two months to Lhasa, the tremendous hardships he and his companions faced due to the severe cold weather and scarcity of food. He vividly recounts his feeling of happiness on seeing Lhasa and his subsequent enrolment in Drepung Monastery.

Kunchok Paksam recounts his life in the monastery, his religious education and his close relationship with his teacher, Tara Rinpoche. He also talks about the mismanagement of the food supply for the monastery by two monk officials and the reforms started by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When the Dalai Lama was 16 years old he implemented changes in taxes and loans.

Kunchok Paksam talks about the shelling of Norbulingka in March 1959 in Lhasa. He escaped from Tibet through Bhutan and into Buxa, West Bengal, India. He tells about the training her underwent to become a teacher and different Tibetan schools in India where he worked. Later he served three years as the abbot of Drepung Loselling Monastery in Mundgod.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, first appearance of Chinese, Norbulingka, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Zoepa Gyaltso (#30M)

Zoepa Gyaltso hailed from a small village in Amdo Province. His parents made him a monk at the age of 8 years. He lived in the local monastery until he was 12 years old. When he was 15, he and two of his monk friends spontaneously decided to run away to Lhasa, being lured by its fame as well as fear of receiving a beating from their teacher for loitering. Due to lack of proper planning, they did not have any food and money and faced a lot of problems on the journey. They spent a year with a family on the way to earn their passage. After finally arriving in Lhasa Zoepa Gyaltso joined the Gomang Datsang of Drepung Monastery in Lhasa. He served in various capacities in the monastery like storekeeper, disciplinarian and business manager.

Zoepa Gyaltso was 26 years old when the Chamdo region fell to the Chinese army. He was one among the group of monks of the three great monasteries of Sera, Drepung and Gaden sent by the government of Tibet to defend Chamdo. However, Chamdo was lost during the change of leadership between Cabinet-members Lhalu and Ngabo, and the monks were dissuaded from confronting the Chinese army because there were too few of them. Zoepa Gyaltso also witnessed the occupation of Lhasa by the Chinese in 1959.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, first appearance of Chinese, invasion by Chinese army, Norbulingka, resistance fighters.

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Lobsang Wangdu (#8M)

Lobsang Wangdu was born in Duktsa in eastern Tibet. The main livelihood of his village was farming and harvesting of several types of mushrooms. Lobsang Wangdu became a monk at the age of 2 or 3 years old, but lived with his family most of the time rather than at the monastery in order to continue helping his parents. Lobsang Wangdu explains that taxes in his region were paid to the Chinese authorities instead of the Tibetan Government because they lived on the eastern side of the Yangtse River.

When he was older Lobsang Wangdu was admitted to Gaden Monastery near Lhasa. He outlines a typical day in a monk's life as well as how food is arranged for the monks by the chanzo ‘business manager’ and what their daily meals included.

Lobsang Wangdu describes the role of Chushi Gangdrug [Defend Tibet Volunteer Force] in resisting the Chinese forces and escorting His Holiness the Dalai Lama to India. Lobsang Wangdu left his monastic life to join the Chushi Gangdrug and describes his training and battle experiences. He left Tibet immediately after the escape of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1959. His group arrived in Mon Tawang [Arunachal Pradesh, India] with no food or money and had to sell the small number of horses and mules that survived the journey over the mountain pass.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, taxes, monastic life, Chushi Gangdrug guerrillas, Dalai Lama’s escape, escape experiences.

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Thinley (#9D)

Thinley hails from Dhagpo in Utsang Province. His family was engaged in farming, but he does not recall much of village life because at the age of 13 Thinley was called to serve the monastery of the state oracle in Lhasa. He explains that in Tibet the land belonged to the government, monastery or aristocrats. The common people were subjects of these landowners and must serve in whatever capacity the owners requested or else pay a fine. This was the system of midhak 'master' and Thinley was assigned his service based on his father's master, the Nechung Monastery.

The Nechung Monastery was the monastery of the state oracle. Thinley describes in detail the institution of the Nechung, who is one of the main protector deities of Tibet and of the Dalai Lama. A kuten is the medium of the deity who transmits prophesies. Thinley talks about the Nechung's role in the Tibetan Government and other institutions. Thinley's job was to clean the living quarters of the kuten and he received a small salary in return.

Thinley recalls the final transmission that was sought of the Nechung oracle in the Norbulingka with Chinese troops surrounding the palace. The prophecy suggested that His Holiness the Dalai Lama to flee Tibet. The Nechung oracle and his staff soon left Lhasa as well and Thinley resumed his work in exile in Dharamsala. He served three different kuten over a span of 44 years.

Topics Discussed:

Servitude, oracles, first appearance of Chinese, Dalai Lama, Norbulingka.

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Kalsang Dakpa (#11D)

Kalsang Dakpa was born in Namay village, which he describes as the birthplace of Chogyal Norsang, a religious king of Tibet. Kalsang Dakpa's father was a boot maker and a tailor. He describes the different types of boots and dresses that his father stitched. He became a monk at the age of 3, but continued to live at home for a few more years. Once he moved to the monastery he was assigned duties as a conch blower and kitchen worker.

Kalsang Dakpa talks about the various stages in a monk's life, such as taking the rabjung and gelong vows. He explains the daily meals, division of labor and studies at the monastery. He was not good at memorizing religious texts and was relegated to making tea offerings. Once he turned 20 he became a kitchen overseer. Kalsang Dakpa ran away from the monastery to join his brother on a pilgrimage. He talks about his journey to Bodh Gaya in India and Lhasa soon after the Chinese invasion of Tibet.

Kalsang Dakpa recounts that the Chinese initially ordered monks in his monastery to subject their deceased leaders to thamzing 'struggle sessions.' Then they were told to falsely accuse and beat living people and Kalsang Dakpa did not like to be forced to do such acts. He was also discouraged because the Chinese had banned religious practice in the monastery. He and five other monks decided to escape to India in 1959.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, monastic life, pilgrimage, thamzing, oppression under Chinese escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Thupten Woeser (#36D)

Thupten Woeser's family consisted of 17-18 members divided into two groups, one that worked as farmers and the other as nomads. He explains about this typical composition of family and its advantages. He became a monk at the age of 12 in a small monastery called Sikhu Gonpa. He talks about dividing his time between the monastery and his home. He also explains the religious studies and how he received the teaching called Lamday 'Path and its Fruit' from His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche.

Thupten Woeser recounts the first appearance of the Chinese army in his region, the fleeing Nationalist soldiers and the Chinese policies in the early 1950's when Lhasa had not yet been invaded. People in his region were divided into five groups and subjected to praise or accusations depending on their status in society. His parents faced hardships during the liberation because the Chinese confiscated all of their possessions and farmland.

Thupten Woeser decided to not return home from the monastery, but instead accompanied His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya Rinpoche to Derge and eventually travelled to Lhasa. He recalls the various pilgrimage sites he attempted to visit while in Lhasa, which included Shigatse, Yarlung, Tsethang, Tandu and Samye. He then stayed at Sakya to continue his Buddhist studies until the unrest in Lhasa caused him to flee to Sikkim.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, customs/traditions, monastic life, Buddhist beliefs, first appearance of Chinese, invasion by Chinese army, resistance, oppression under Chinese, pilgrimage.

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Rinzin Dolma (#64D)

Rinzin Dolma, who just turned 90, is from Sakya in Utsang province. She says that they were a farming family who grew barley and wheat and also spent time weaving and tailoring clothes. Rinzin Dolma was able to escape to India while on a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash, but the Chinese killed all her family that remained in Tibet.

Rinzin Dolma expresses her strong devotion to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and her daily prayers. She speaks about her religious beliefs, of which she feels the most important things are chanting the mani mantra, Om mani padme hun 'Hail the Jewel in the Lotus' and praying for the well-being of all sentient beings. But she chooses to leave out the Chinese from her prayers because of the suffering they have caused to the Tibetan people.

Rinzin Dolma arrived in India at the same time His Holiness the Dalai Lama and recalls being granted an audience with him at which time he cured her eye problem. As a refugee in India she and many other Tibetan refugees worked as coolies at road construction sites. She has memories of Tibetans dying during those early days as refugees.

Topics Discussed:

Childhood memories, Buddhist beliefs, life as a refugee in India.

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Thupten Palmo (#67D)

Thupten Palmo is from the Utsang region. She recalls living with her mother as a little child and going to graze animals. Later she went to receive teachings from a lama called Napta Rinpoche, who lived in a nearby monastery and mainly in solitary retreat. She became a nun around the age 17 or 18 and served the lama as one of his cooks.

Thupten Palmo gives an account of the lives of nuns and monks in the Napta Monastery and the prayers they performed. She tells how the poorer monks and nuns had to beg for sonyom 'alms' and went on yulong 'begging for grains at the time of harvest.' She also compares life and other aspects of activities in the nunnery in Tibet to the nunneries in India.

Napta Rinpoche left his monastery after the Chinese began observing the Tibetans' activities. He retreated to an older, dilapidated monastery but passed away soon after. Thupten Palmo sadly remembers how his death rituals were performed. She explains the sometimes strange phenomenon associated with the death of great lamas, such as remaining conscious after their physical death. After Napta Rinpoche's death, the monks and nuns dispersed and Thupten Palmo left Tibet with her mother and brother. She lived for three years in Tsum, Nepal and then went to India.

Topics Discussed:

Monastic life, first appearance of Chinese.

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Lhakpa (#69D)

Lhakpa was born in the village of Kyirong Magal and recounts that his family owned 40-50 animals, worked in the fields and performed government tasks as a form of tax. He talks about keeping horses ready for the atung 'postman' who came to deliver letters from the government. He recalls taking food to the ngagpa 'shamans' and monks that lived on retreat in caverns in the mountains. The villagers requested help from ngagpa during times of drought and other difficulties. The ngagpa were known for being able to start or stop rain.

Lhakpa travelled to Lhasa at age 25 to visit relatives and go on pilgrimage to monasteries. Upon returning to his village he witnessed how the Chinese initially tricked the Tibetans with dhayen 'silver coins' and helped the villagers, then later harassed and imprisoned them. Many influential Tibetans fled at this time, including Lhakpa's family, but he chose to stay in the village in order to fulfill a promise he had made to the manager of the local monastery.

Lhakpa was selected to stay in Tibet until he and two others were able to safely escort the sacred Kyirong Jowo 'statue of Buddha Sakyamuni' from his village's monastery to Nepal. He gives a detailed account of the planning, the replacement of the statue with a fake one and the execution of the dangerous mission. He explains that fear of the holy icon being smuggled to China compelled them to embark on this plan. His journey ends with the Jowo safely in Nepal. Later it was brought to India by plane and installed in Dharamsala.

Topics Discussed:

Taxes, customs/traditions, Buddhist beliefs, shamans/mediums, first appearance of Chinese.

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Ngawang Tsultrim Thepo, Geshe (#1C)

Geshe Ngawang Tsultrim Thepo was born in a village called Phenpa located near to Lhasa. His family farmed and never sold the produce because villagers did not use money. He reminisces about how wonderful Tibet was because of the freedom to travel and natural beauty. He joined the monastery at age 15 and remembers his feeling of happiness when he donned a monk's robe for the first time. Monastic life was not easy; there were many chores for novice monks and a lot of scriptures to be memorized. Geshe Ngawang Tsultrim was elected as the private steward of Thepo Rinpoche, whose teacher was Lathi Rinpoche.

Geshe Ngawang Tsultrim had little exposure to the Chinese occupation until a message was sent to his monastery explaining it was to be bombed by the Chinese and His Holiness the Dalai Lama had fled from Lhasa. Although many monks from the monastery ran into the hills and later returned, Geshe Ngawang Tsultrim continued on the escape to India with Thepo Rinpoche and Lathi Rinpoche. They witnessed many others being captured by the Chinese. After reaching India they were sent to Buxar for a few years, where many died from tuberculosis and suicide.

Geshe Ngawang Tsultrim became the private secretary for Lathi Rinpoche and stayed with him at Namgyal Monastery in Dharamsala. He is now in charge of 20 young monks at Gaden Monastery in Mundgod, India. He describes the daily routine and the differences between monasteries in exile and those in Tibet.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, monastic life, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Ngawang Dakpa, Geshe (#2C)

Geshe Ngawang Dakpa was born in Nagchukha into a nomadic family. The family reared yak, goats and sheep, but did not need to move often. Geshe Ngawang Dakpa reveals that he was a naughty child who broke his toys and hid from his parents.

Geshe Ngawang Dakpa recalls how he was inducted into monkhood at the age of 10. He explains the process of memorizing scriptures and the desire he had to study Tibetan medicine and astrology. He describes the types of astrology the uses of these astrological calculations in everyday life of the Tibetans.

Geshe Ngawang Dakpa was praised as one of the top students and longed to go to Sera Monastery near Lhasa for further studies. He was finally permitted to enroll in Sera in 1954 and was given the opportunity to participate in philosophical debates. He describes how the debates are conducted between monks.

Geshe Ngawang Dakpa describes his experience of the turmoil in Lhasa in 1959 as a result of the Chinese occupation. Many monks left Sera Monastery to collect guns and defend themselves against Chinese attacks. Geshe Ngawang Dakpa witnessed the shelling of the Norbulingka and Potala Palaces, the smoke and dust rising around the city and monks and laypeople fleeing.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, nomadic life, monastic life, Buddhist beliefs, astrology, Norbulingka, March 10th Uprising, resistance.

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Lama Lodu Rinpoche (#8C)

Lama Lodu Rinpoche was born in Rumtek, Sikkim in 1942. His father was of Tibetan heritage and his mother was from Sikkim. They were farmers and nomads, but Rinpoche explains that nomads in Sikkim were different from Tibetan nomads because they did not migrate with their flocks. Lama Lodu Rinpoche expresses his gratitude towards his parents who were devout Buddhist practitioners and instilled in him the importance of such a practice.

Lama Lodu Rinpoche became a monk at the age of 5 and joined the Rumtek Monastery at the age of 8. He gives a detailed account of his life as a dharma practitioner in the monastery. He belongs to the Kagyu sect of Tibetan Buddhism and talks about his education at the monastery and the intensive meditation practice in a cave that he underwent as a 13 year old. At the age of 17 he was sent to a retreat center in Bhutan at the request of the 16th Karmapa Rigpe Dorjee and remained in meditation for three years.

At the request of Kalu Rinpoche and the Karmapa, Lama Lodu Rinpoche went to the United States in 1974 to teach the dharma to Western students. He briefly explains some of the basic concepts in Tibetan Buddhism. He describes how Buddhism can be instrumental in making our life purposeful and how it is spreading around the world. He offers his views on the self-immolations taking place in Tibet, emphasizing the importance of human life.

Topics Discussed:

Sikkim, childhood memories, farm life, monastic life, Karmapa, Buddhist beliefs.

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Jangchup Palmo, Naljorma (#13C - Part 2)

Naljorma Jangchup Palmo shares her dedication to religious practice. At the age of 13 she and her family received special teachings called Lamday 'Path and its Fruit' from the Sakya Gongma Rinpoche. She learned about cause and effect and the need for compassion. Realizing that she was unable to rid herself of hatred, she devoted herself to the Rinpoche and the Buddha dharma in order gain compassion and enlightenment in this lifetime. She gives an explanation of the ngondro 'preliminary teachings' that she received and their importance.

Naljorma Jangchup Palmo performed prostrations around Mt. Kailash at age 17 and underwent great physical difficulties on the journey. The full-body prostrations were done to purify oneself and she focused on her intentions to overcome the hardships involved. She describes the ritual of chod and her experience of practicing at one hundred cemeteries as her teacher instructed.

Naljorma Jangchup Palmo married and had seven children, but continued her spiritual practice and was able to utilize what she had gained from her earlier efforts in her daily life. She founded a Peace Center to help others cultivate kindness. She believes that with strong effort, a good teacher and meditation, anyone can develop their Buddhist nature. She explains that understanding the nature of one's mind will release one from suffering. In this way she has not suffered from old age or illness because she does not associate herself with it.

Topics Discussed:

Buddhist beliefs.

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Lama Wangdu Rinpoche (#15C)

Lama Wangdu Rinpoche's birth took place in Dhingri. His parents were farmers and as a young boy he herded sheep with other children. He recounts teaching his fellow shepherds play games in dharma activities and tried to influence his parents and friends to engage in religious practices. He remembers that around the age of 9, a relative who was a monk took him to learn reading, writing and the dharma. At the age of 12 he became very ill and his father was advised by reverend lama that Lama Wangdu Rinpoche must practice the dharma in order to live a long life. So his father requested that the lama, Nadag Rinpoche, be his son's teacher.

Lama Wangdu Rinpoche gives an elaborate account of his arduous spiritual practices assigned by his new teacher, which included 300,000 prayers and 300,000 prostrations. He explains the significance of the basic tenets of the Buddha dharma and meditation practices. Between the ages of 18 and 20, he performed the unique chod spiritual practice in 100 cemeteries.

Lama Wangdu Rinpoche's teacher then advised him to go to Nepal on a pilgrimage around 1958. He describes the various Buddhist pilgrim sites in Nepal. By then the Chinese army had already invaded Tibet and Lama Wangdu Rinpoche heard it was not safe to return so he stayed in Nepal. He concludes with the importance of developing love and compassion for all sentient beings.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, Buddhist beliefs, monastic life, pilgrimage, life as a refugee in Nepal.

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Jigdal Dagchen Sakya, His Holiness (#27C)

His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya was born in the town of Sakya in Utsang Province. He is a descendant of the Khon lineage called the Phuntsok Phodrang. He was also recognized as the reincarnation of the former abbot of the Yulung Lhagyab Gon monastery in Kham. He grew up studying the Buddhist scriptures with his father and teachers, including cham 'religious dance performance by monks.' He explains the origin of the Sakya tradition and his lineage.

His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya recalls his journey to Dzongsar Monastery in Kham to study under the renowned master Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro from whom he received various spiritual instructions and transmissions. He explains the importance of three different kinds of faith one must have in his teacher. He also recounts his father's spiritual accomplishments as a duthop 'one with special powers' and the miracles he had demonstrated.

His Holiness Jigdal Dagchen Sakya made a hasty decision to leave Kham after Chinese intrusion in eastern Tibet. He and his family escaped to India but never expected to remain there for very long. When the Rockefeller Foundation sponsored Tibetan scholars in several countries, he accepted the invitation of the University of Washington in the United States. He taught classes there and established a monastery in Seattle because he believed that Tibetan religion, culture and spiritual activities, especially in the Sakya tradition, should be preserved.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, Buddhist beliefs, festivals, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India, life as a refugee in the United States.

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Chimey Luding, Jetsun Kushok (#31C)

Jetsun Kushok Chimey Luding was born in Sakya near the border of Sikkim. She is the eldest of four children, two of whom died in childhood, and her younger brother is His Holiness the Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya sect of Tibetan Buddhism. She describes the Khon lineage and how it is passed on from father to son and any daughters must become nuns. After her mother passed away, she and her brother were raised by her aunt, who was herself very religious.

Jetsun Kushok Chimey Luding gives an insight into her education, her teachers, meditation and memorization of ritual prayers. She explains the different kinds of ritual practices and their merits. She recounts the various teachings, the different retreats and practices she undertook. She went into her first retreat with her teacher at the age of 11 which lasted for one month. She completed a 7-month retreat at the age of 16 and also studied for two years at Ngor Monastery.

At the age of 12 Jetsun Kushok Chimey Luding was instructed by her father to travel to nomadic regions where she gave long-life empowerments and performed other rituals for the nomads. When they heard about His Holiness the Dalai Lama's escape to India, her aunt took Jetsun Kushok Chimey Luding and her brother to Sikkim. She was unable to remain a nun as a refugee in India and was sent to study in a missionary school. She recounts the situation that led to her to Canada and how her brother asked her to teach the dharma.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, education, Buddhist beliefs, customs/traditions, life as a refugee in India.

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Karma Lamthon (#3B)

Karma Lamthon was born in Gemokhuk in Kham Province. His brother was a reincarnated lama and his father was a ngagpa 'shaman,' who helped to cure the nomads' sick livestock. Karma Lamthon recalls being taught to read the scriptures by his parents at home. He joined the local monastery as a monk at the age of 8 and shares his experience in the monastery until the age of 20.

Karma Lamthon recounts how he spent three years in meditation at the retreat center of Dolma Lhakhang from age 12 to 15 where he was instructed once each week by his teachers in different meditation practices. Karma Lamthon talks about his long journey to Lhasa where he witnessed the festival of Tse Guthor, a religious dance performance by monks given at the Potala Palace. He proceeded on a pilgrimage and gives vivid images of various sacred and holy places in Lhasa and surrounding areas.

Karma Lamthon renounced his vow of celibacy and left the monkhood. Since he chose to continue his religious practice and retain all of his other vows, he decided to become a nagapa. He gives us a detailed understanding of the tradition and practices followed by nagapa, the rites and rituals they performed, and the ensuing benefit in both this and the next life.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, Buddhist beliefs, shamans/mediums, monastic life, customs/traditions, religious festivals, pilgrimage.

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Tsultim Jungnay (#12B)

Tsultim Jungnay was born in Zonga Tsang in Utsang Province. He had a big family consisting of parents and nine siblings among whom he was the youngest. He tells that farming was the only source of livelihood for his family, which they had been doing for generations by growing grains, wheat and peas.

Hearing about the Chinese army's appearance in other regions of Tibet, Tsultim Jungnay fled to Nepal at the age of 19 without informing his parents. He worked as a transporter for two years and then moved to India. He shares his experience of working on road construction sites in Kulu Manali in northern India. He then recounts joining the Indian Army for 15 years and afterwards moved to the Tibetan settlement in Bhandara where many refugees died due to the intense heat. Tsultim Jungnay married, had three children and cultivated the land given by the Indian government.

Tsultim Jungnay shares his story of how he embraced genchoe 'practicing dharma in senior years' upon the death of his wife. He describes in detail the merits of taking the vows of ordained monks and the various scriptures containing teachings of the Buddha and practices that are beneficial in this and the next life as well.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, Buddhist beliefs, monastic life, life as a refugee in India.

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Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche, Jangtse Choje (#14B)

Jangtse Choje Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche was born in Lhatse in Utsang Province to a poor family. He was the middle child among three siblings and remembers being inducted into monkhood in the local monastery of Lhatse Choedhe at the age of 7. He learned to read, write and then memorize scriptures.

Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche recounts his 20-day journey to Lhasa to join Sera Monastery at the age of 16 where began his study of the various subjects of Buddhist philosophy. He had only partially completed his studies of the Five Great Treatises of Mahayana Buddhist philosophy when the Chinese army attacked Lhasa in 1959. He narrates the bombardment of the Potala Palace, Norbulingka and Sera Monastery, which ultimately forced him to flee from Lhasa.

Lobsang Tenzin Rinpoche returned to Lhatse Choedhe Monastery where there was a 2-month calm period before the Chinese arrived. He describes Communist propaganda lessons and witnessed thamzing 'struggle sessions' and the imprisonment of the prominent people. He escaped to India via Nepal and resumed religious studies in exile in Buxar. He helped during the initial days of building the settlement in Bylakuppe and later served as the abbot of Gyumed Monastery. Lobsang Tenzin is presently the Jangtse Choje, second in line to the throne of Gaden, the head of the Gelug lineage.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, monastic life, invasion by Chinese army, life under Chinese rule, thamzing, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Gelong Jamyang, Khensur (#16B)

Khensur Gelong Jamyang was born in the village of Yangju Tanka, which is surrounded by mountains and forests. His family grew barley in their fields and his father also travelled to Nepal for trade. Gelong Jamyang became a monk at Zongkar Choede Monastery in Kyerong at the age of 11. He describes his duties as a novice monk and how he later took on administrative responsibilities of the monastery at the age of 22.

Khensur Gelong Jamyang gives a detailed historical account of the origins of the four ancient Jowo, statues of Avalokitesvara. The Jowo portraying "power" was placed in Kyerong. Fearing an invasion by the Chinese army, the monks decided to escort the Jowo to India, but had to overcome strong resistance from the community. Gelong Jamyang gives a narrative of the escape journey and the numerous problems they faced escorting the statue through Nepal into India.

Khensur Gelong Jamyang speaks about the important role divination played in deciding whether to escort the Jowo into exile or not and guiding the team on the right path during the dangerous journey. The men of the Chushi Gangdrug Defend Tibet Volunteer Force provided security while the monks escorted the Jowo into exile. The Jowo was presented to His Holiness the Dalai Lama and remains at his residence in Dharamsala, India.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, trade, pilgrimage, monastic life, oracles, Chushi Gangdrug guerillas, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India.

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Chime Dorjee, Geshe (#18B)

Geshe Chime Dorjee was born in Karze in Kham Province. He was the second among six children in a farming family that grew crops like wheat, barley and peas. He remembers that his family visited the nearby Karze Monastery during auspicious days. He became a monk at age 7 or 8, but continued living with his parents and studied during the daytime at the monastery.

Geshe Chime Dorjee witnessed the appearance of the Communist Chinese in his hometown. The fear of sons being drafted into the Chinese army prompted parents to send them to Lhasa. He narrates the month long journey to Lhasa where he joined the Gyumed Monastery. Geshe Chime Dorjee describes his experience of migrating to different branch monasteries for choethok 'dharma sessions,' which was a tradition unique to Gyumed Monastery. The monks travelled every 15 to 45 days for a period of six years. Food was provided by wealthy patrons, but the monks had to sleep in the assembly halls with only their cloaks for blankets.

Geshe Chime Dorjee heard from senior monks about the bombardment of Lhasa which prompted the monks to flee towards the south of Tibet. He talks about the journey, the difficulties they faced, meeting the Chushi Gangdrug Defend Tibet Volunteer Force and ultimately escaping to India through Mon Tawang.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, monastic life, first appearance of Chinese, escape experiences.

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Jampa Chonphel, Geshe (#20B)

Geshe Jampa Chonphel was born in Tsona in Utsang and there were five sons in the family. He recalls a monastery called Gonpa Tse and a nunnery Dodhenling close to his village. Theirs was a farming family and his father also worked as a nomad for Gonpa Tse.

Geshe Jampa Chonphel was inducted into Sera Monastery by his uncle at the age of 7. He remembers seeing the hermitages located near the monastery and had hoped that was where he would stay. He describes the daily routine at the monastery and explains that food for the monks was often scarce. He often went to families' homes to say prayers in return for food. For a while he worked for the monastery in the role of disbursing grain loans and collecting the repayments from the villagers after harvest. He talks about how the monks begin their education in the monastery and gradually engage in the philosophical studies.

Geshe Jampa Chonphel witnessed the bombing of Sera Monastery by the Chinese army in 1959. Some of the monks of his monastery went to receive weapons from the Potala Palace in Lhasa. He escaped from the monastery and arrived at Mon Tawang in India. He lived in Buxar for nine years to continue studying the scriptures before moving to the settlement in Bylakuppe. Geshe Jampa Chonphel expresses his feeling of great sadness on losing his country.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, monastic life, Buddhist beliefs, invasion by Chinese army, escape experiences, life as a refugee in India

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Samdhong Rinpoche (#23B)

Samdhong Rinpoche was born as Lobsang Tenzin in Nangdug, a small village of 12 families. His parents cultivated a small piece of land and reared yaks and dri 'female yaks' for a living. His father had two wives and there were nine children in the family. At the age of three, Samdhong Rinpoche insisted on going to the local monastery with an uncle, who was a monk, and remained in the monastery with him until he was 12 years old. At the age of 5 he was recognized as the 5th reincarnation of Samdhong Rinpoche. He describes the lineage of Samdhong Rinpoche and what the name means.

As a 12-year old, Samdhong Rinpoche left for Lhasa to complete higher studies, which was a tradition for all reincarnated lamas. He recounts the adventurous 75-day journey to Lhasa and his first impressions of the city. He remembers the first time he saw His Holiness the Dalai Lama and explains how he met his future teachers before travelling on to Drepung Monastery.

Samdhong Rinpoche saw the Chinese military presence in Lhasa and heard their propaganda through daily shows broadcast over loudspeakers. Otherwise, the Chinese invasion did not have much effect on monastic life at that time. He heard the bombardment of Norbulingka, the Potala Palace, Sera Monastery and fled with his teachers. Samdhong Rinpoche continued to study the Buddhist scriptures and practice monastic rituals in the refugee camp at Missamari, India.

Topics Discussed:

Kham, childhood memories, Buddhist beliefs, monastic life, customs/traditions, Dalai Lama, March 10th Uprising, life as a refugee in India.

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Ngawang Chunyi (#28N)

Ngawang Chunyi was born in Ngapring Ruthok in Utsang Province. She was the only child of her parents. They were accomplished practitioners of tsalung 'channels and energy [yogic methods].' Tsalung is part of the Nyingma tradition and the families root guru was Tulshi Rinpoche. Ngawang Chunyi received many wang 'empowerments' and lung 'spiritual oral transmissions' but she never received a proper education.

Ngawang Chunyi's great grandfather was the King of Ruthok, who surrendered his kingdom to the Tibetan Government and was then given a vacant plot of land nearby in Choeling. Her grandfather was a very wealthy and revered person, who remained in a special state of meditation after his death. Ngawang Chunyi's family lived in the Palace of Ruthok, an elaborate five-story building. Her grandfather gave them some land and her parents established a monastery for ngagpa, 'practitioners of tantra' and a small number of nuns.

When the Chinese occupied her hometown Ngawang Chunyi's parents feared they would be arrested so they decided to escape. Her arduous journey to Nepal included being stranded for 12 days on a snowy mountain pass without food. Once settled in Nepal, she learned how to inscribe wooden templates of scriptures and studied traditional Buddhist painting.

Topics Discussed:

Utsang, childhood memories, Buddhist beliefs, customs/traditions, escape experiences, life as a refugee in Nepal.

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Short videos created by Tony Sondag.