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From Chiwong, it took me six hours to walk to Thupten Choling Monastery, where my community of friends and family raised $5,250 to help rebuild the small nuns (ani’s) huts destroyed in the May 12th earthquake. Thupten Choling is home to three hundred and fifty ani’s and seventy monks. They are devoted to the deceased Kyabje Trulshik Rinpoche who passed away in Sept 2011. Trulshik Rinpoche was a very practiced and rare lama, extremely revered within the structure of the Tibetan Buddhist religion, a teacher to many high lamas globally including His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His body is enshrined and sits in front of the monastery hall at Thupten Choling.
When Trulshik Rinpoche was exiled from Tibet during the Chinese invasion in 1959, he was taken in by the Sherpa community in the Solu Khumbu (Everest) region of Nepal and eventually settled here to establish Thupten Choling hillside in the Mopung Valley.
The earthquake occurred at lunchtime. The ani’s were in the large mediation hall and the monks had just left for their bathroom break. This was fortunate as the hall is new, completed about a decade ago by Michael Schmitz, a gifted German engineer/builder/planner/developer/all around fabulous human. The huts as well as all of the original structures were not built to last, as the exiled community expected to eventually return to Tibet.
Currently, about 280 of the ani’s are living three, four or five in very small huts meant for one. 70 ani’s, including very old ones, sleep in makeshift tents of tin, wood and tarps. The tents are too warm during the day, and freezing at night. I toured all of the considerable destruction, the new construction, as well as visited anis in their huts and the tent camp at the bottom of the monastery grounds.
I was looked after by Mingma, my doting porter, and Ani Tenzin Ngadol, one of two nurses I’ve known over the years. Both Mingma and Ani Tenzin speak very broken English, but is was the only English to be had during my stay. The kitchen ani’s seriously hovered over me. When I sat to eat they wrapped me in mounds of blankets and stared smiling at me while I ate.
The ani’s work hard all day. They pray and meditate early in the morning late into the evening. They’re lives are filled with hard labor, currently with the reconstruction, as well as preparing the ground for a new road leading directly to the monastery steps. I was asked if I could help raise money for a jeep so that they no longer needed to haul all of their food miles in on their backs. The health clinic also suffered irreparable damage and needs to be rebuilt…they can also use a larger supply of drugs.
There is no way to fully communicate the appreciation and gratitude that was poured upon me during my stay. I was moved to tears and laughter constantly during my three nights here. This was my eighth visit to Thupten Choling, and the first since the passing of Trulshik Rinpoche. In many ways, it is the heart center of my world. I feel an unspeakable connection to Trulshik Rinpoche and to the ani’s, with their deep, pure, devotion. Sitting in the hall during prayers and meditation, is a source of deep inspiration and strength.
My time here is always a reality and value check. The standard of living, by Western criteria, is so far below the poverty level. Regardless, they live and work with deep smiles that emanate joy and love while they suffer so. The dynamics at this monastery are complicated and I can’t claim to understand. But, I join the individuals and groups around the world that feel the importance of preserving this vanishing culture, desire to help improve the quality of life of its inhabitants, and to keep this community safe and thriving.