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"For a happier, more stable and civilized future, each of us must develop a sincere, warm-hearted feeling of brotherhood and sisterhood."

Why they follow the Dalai Lama

October 10, 2007

In life vs. death, 'people choose life'
Monday, October 08, 2007
By Renée K. Gadoua, Staff writer

The Post- Standard, Syracuse,

Tenzin Thutop's parents fled Tibet in 1959, the same year the Dalai 
Lama disguised himself as a soldier and crossed the Himalayas to 
freedom and safety in India.

Thutop, 39, is a resident monk at the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca, 
which the Dalai Lama will visit Tuesday and Wednesday. Thutop was 
born nine years after his parents' flight to India, where thousands 
of Tibetans settled after escaping Communist Chinese rule in their 
homeland.

"There was bombing. There were bullets. They were running out of 
food," Thutop said. "There was a question of life and death. People 
chose life, so they decided to follow the Dalai Lama."

Thutop continues to follow the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual and 
political leader of Tibet, as a monk of the Namgyal Monastery, where 
he studied and trained, in Dharamsala, India. Since 1999, he has 
lived with the Namgyal community in Ithaca, home to the North 
American branch of the Dalai Lama's Namgyal Monastery.

The Victorian house in downtown Ithaca is home to four or five monks 
on a regular basis, but in advance of the Dalai Lama's visit that has 
grown to 11 monks, including the abbot of the monastery in India. 
Several monks were eager to share stories about their connections to 
Tibet, their affection for their spiritual leader and progress on the 
new, expanded monastery they are building a few miles away.

"In order to save Tibetan Buddhist culture, that is why we are 
struggling," said Tenzin Wangchuk, 32.

Wangchuk has been at the Ithaca monastery since June, and he expects 
to stay a year. His main assignments include the Dalai Lama's visit 
and guiding construction of the new monastery.

After the Chinese invasion, Wangchuk's family stayed in Tibet, where 
he was born. He left with his mother in the 1980s.

"She just made up her mind," he said. "She was in danger, so she 
escaped."

Tibetans remaining in the area China calls an autonomous region are 
not allowed to go to temple, to practice Buddhism or display a 
picture of the Dalai Lama.

"If they are caught, they might be put in prison," Wangchuk said.

Although he remembers little about his time in Tibet, he's passionate 
about his belief that Tibet should return to an independent state.

"Almost everyone who is Tibetan wants to go back," he said on a day 
he wore a T-shirt that read "Free Tibet!"

In Dharamsala, India, where he and his mother settled, Wangchuk 
attended a Tibetan school started by the Dalai Lama's sister. At 11, 
he entered the monastery.

"The thing that impressed me was the story of Buddha. I wanted to 
follow him," he said. "Although he was a prince and he had 
everything, he gave up all these things to be a monk."

Thutop also entered the monastery at 11; he took vows as a novice 
monk at 19.

Asked if he thinks his career choice was a good idea, he smiled.

"It's a struggle," he said. "I make good decision. Being monk not 
easy, but less stress."

He laughed.

Does he miss having a family?

"Being a monk, I'm supposed to be taking care of a big family," he 
said. "The idea is taking care of a bigger role to teach whoever 
comes in life."

Besides, he said, his life as a monk encourages the survival of 
Tibetan culture.

"They had no choice to leave there," he said of his parents. "They 
were happy in Tibet. They were happy to be Tibetan."

Ngawang Tsundug, 56, who fled Tibet at age 8, remembers playing games 
with sticks and stones in the Kedong Valley.

"This place was surrounded by rivers at both sides of the mountain. 
It was a very beautiful valley, a nice breeze," Wangchuk said, 
translating for Tsundug.

"There was a happy life," he continued. "Since the Chinese invaded, 
they lose their freedom and (they) took over all their belongings. 
There was no choice. We had nothing."

Tsundug's family walked for three days, ending up near Nepal. The 
family met Chinese military along the way.

"It was a really risky and dangerous trip. It was kind of rocky, and 
very steep," he said, gesturing as if to show a long distance.

Tsundug's eyes fill with tears, and there's a long pause as he and 
Wangchuk talk about whether they'd like to return to Tibet.

"At this time it is almost impossible," Wangchuk translated for his 
brother monk, who is visiting Ithaca. "It's really sad that we are 
not in our place, that I have to be like a refugee."

Renee K. Gadoua can be reached at rgadoua@syracuse.com or 470-2203.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
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