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"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Amity with Tibetan monk sets woman on path to India

January 3, 2008

29 December 2007
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

For 14 years, KT Rusch has sent a modest stipend to support the 
spiritual education of a Tibetan Buddhist monk at the Drepung 
Loseling Monastery in southern India.

And for 14 years, Kunchok Chophel's letters of thanks have given her 
a glimpse of his ascetic life in a world she could only imagine.

Until now.

Rusch will meet Chophel for the first time next week when she travels 
to Karnataka state for the dedication of the monastery's new prayer 
hall. The ceremony, which will be presided over by the Dalai Lama, is 
expected to draw thousands of faithful and visitors from around the 

The prospect is humbling for Rusch, herself a Catholic, who draws 
inspiration from the Buddhist tenets of non-violence and compassion 
in her work as an artist and musician.

"I'm not a Buddhist scholar by any means," said the Mequon mother of 
three who plays bass in the local Universal Love Band and teaches art 
and music to at-risk youths through the nonprofit Express Yourself 

"But that connection comes through to me," she said. "It's what I'm 
trying to do with my art, and my service. To me, the example of 
universal love is right there."

Rusch was among hundreds of Americans invited to the ceremony because 
of their contributions to the monastery, the largest Tibetan monastic 
institution in exile and the spiritual home of the Dalai Lama, who 
fled from Tibet for India after the Chinese invaded his Himalayan 
homeland in 1959.

"There are about 50 who have officially registered to attend," said 
Tsepak Rigzin, assistant director for cultural preservation at the 
Atlanta-based Drepung Loseling Monastery Inc., the North American 
seat of the Dalai Lama.

Rusch said she's long had an interest in Asian religions, having 
studied them at Dominican High School and later in college. She began 
contributing to the education fund after seeing the monastery's 
touring "Sacred Music Sacred Dance" performance at the Pabst Theater 
in 1993.

Rusch's gift wasn't that much, she said, just $20 a month. Still, it 
was tough some years.

"But we really wanted to come up with the money, to figure out a way 
to do it," she said.

When she received the invitation - in English and Sanskrit - this 
summer, she knew she wanted to go but wasn't sure how her family 
could swing it. The airline ticket alone was $1,500.

But the next day, she received an order for 600 CDs of her band's 
music, a sign, she thought, that it was meant to be.

Rusch will leave Jan. 3 for what is expected to be an arduous trip, 
with six days spent traveling to and from the monastery.

She'll fly from New York through Mumbai and into Hubli, India, near 
the coast of the Arabian Sea, then ride - she's not sure in what or 
with whom - about 30 kilometers to the monastery. Along with a visa 
and passport, she required a "restricted area permit" to visit the 
Tibetan settlement there, with 14,000 people, the largest community 
of Tibetans outside their homeland.

"It's a bit of a leap of faith," said Rusch, who as recently as 
Thursday wasn't sure where she would stay once she gets there.

While at the monastery, Rusch will have an opportunity to sit in on 
teachings by the Dalai Lama, described by Rigzin as "empowerments" 
and "very precious, very rare."

In addition to clothes, food and other gifts for the monks and 
refugees, she is bringing a prayer scroll - it features the names and 
intentions of people in Wisconsin - which she plans to read in the 
prayer hall.

And she's taking an art project begun by a group of Milwaukee 
children, hoping to finish it with their Tibetan counterparts in India.

"When we were painting it, we were contemplating peace in our lives 
and reading poetry," Rusch said of the project begun with teenagers 
from the Milwaukee County Detention Center.

"And I'm hoping to do the same thing with children over there."

Just as important, she said, will be to spend time with Chophel, 
learning more about his life, his escape from Tibet across the 
Himalayas and the spiritual growth that has taken him from student to 

"I can't wait to hear his story," said Rusch, who keeps a photograph 
of the monk on her refrigerator and treasures the letters he's sent 
over the years.

"He wrote a beautiful letter a few years ago, saying he couldn't 
believe he'd known us for 12 years. He said he had all of the 
pictures of our family on his altar."

For more information about KT Rusch, go to 
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665
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