Friday, October 06, 2006

A Fathers Heart

The Tibetan community worldwide was also impacted profoundly by this tragedy. It was a powerful lesson on the fragility of life, and on impermanence. Yeshi Choden was the daughter of Bhakha Tulku Rinpoche, a high master and lineage holder in the Nyingma and Kagyu lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, and a respected and much-beloved elder in the Tibetan Buddhist community. Rinpoche remembered his daughter Yeshi in a writing that was read after traditional weekend-long Shitro practice that was done for Yeshi September 29-October 1 at Rinpoche’s Vairotsana Foundation Dharma Center in Santa Barbara, California. Just as her life benefited as an example of the value of education and the joy of being of service, may Yeshi’s death benefit all beings as a lesson on impermanence and the fragile, cyclical nature of life. Nothing insulates any of us from death, at any time. And may Yeshi’s commitment to protecting the earth, the environment, natural resources, and the poor continue to be carried forward by everyone whose lives she touched. For the benefit of all beings!

My daughter Yeshi Choden Lama was born on November 26, 1968, in the Northeastern part of India near the border of Tibet, in Tetjun, the Lohit District of Arunachal Pradesh, beyond Assam State. This remote area used to belong to the tribes, and tribal dialect was spoken there. When Yeshi was born, I was not there. I was serving His Holiness Dudjom Rinpoche in Kalungpo, West Bengal, India. Until she was one month old, she was cared for by her great-grandmother.

When she was six years old, I took Yeshi to Darjeeling, India. The Darjeeling area had the best schools, missionary schools. I felt it was very important to ensure that Yeshi received an outstanding education. I believe that one of the main reasons that Tibetans lost Tibet to the Chinese occupation was because of a fundamental lack of education – and a lack of sophistication in international matters. Throughout her life, I worked diligently and constantly to provide Yeshi with an excellent education – always with the independence of Tibet in mind.

Yeshi’s grandfather was also a well known Tulku from PemaKod, Padmasambhava’s sacred land. He didn't want to send his granddaughter such a long distance to Darjeeling, but I insisted on taking her to the best place for her education. I knew some Tulkus from Darjeeling, whom I asked if I could bring her. These Tulkus had a family with children, the sister’s daughters, and they said yes, of course. Yeshi and I stayed in a monastery run by Kangyur Rinpoche, a well known Nyingma teacher and Dzogchen master. Rinpoche’s son, Tulku Pema Wangyal, lives in France now and runs three-year retreats there.

At Kangyur Rinpoche’s monastery, there were many cabins around the monastery where westerners stayed as well. So I took Yeshi there. Yeshi started at a Himalayan nursery school for two years, and I stayed in one of the cabins working on a manuscript for Tulku Pema. Tulku Pema found sponsors for Yeshi and her education, and fed us from the monastery kitchen. After two years at the Himalayan nursery school, Yeshi went to Bethany School – a missionary Christian school run by Irish nuns. The Bethany School also had Tibetan teachers to give Tibetan lessons as well. After some years in the Bethany School, Yeshi was accepted as a day scholar at a school connected to the convent. She walked 4-5 miles to and from this school every day with the other children connected to the monastery. On vacations, November December January, I would Yeshi home to Arunachal Pradesh, and in the Spring I would bring her back to Darjeeling for school.

Yeshi’s mother was involved in social welfare programs at a Tibetan settlement in Arunachal Pradesh. She gave immunizations, taught first aid and basic medicine, taught basic language and other skills to children, and other activities like this. Yeshi’s grandfather had a village temple near where her mother resided. People were always coming to her grandfather’s temple to turn the prayer wheels – they have many prayer wheels there – and on holidays, people would come for fire pujas.

Yeshi studied up to Class 10 in Darjeeling. Many times, she got First Division. She was very smart. After she finished 10th grade, there was no school available in Darjeeling, so she had to go to Bangalore to finish Class 11 and 12 there. Bangalore is about 5 hours away from Mysore, where His Holiness Penor Rinpoche's monastery is, head of the Nyingma lineage. So Yeshi had relatives there. While she was studying in Bangalore, I moved to Tibet.

After Yeshi completed school, she went to Nepal because I had moved to Nepal. She found a job in a shop selling things, and served as a guide for our dear friend Ian Baker and his friends on two adventure explorations or treks he did – his first trip into Mustang, and his second trip to Eastern Tibet, to Kham. Ian Baker subsequently became the first person to explore the hidden Tsangpo River Gorge, the Hidden Sacred Falls. Ian and Yeshi were extremely close, and at the time of her death, they were planning another trip to PemaKod to explore the rare medicinal plants and herbs that grow only there. When she was first in Nepal and working in the shop, Ian helped find a sponsor for Yeshi, and helped her get a scholarship to Middlebury College in Vermont. Yeshi went to the U.S. in 1989 to study Anthropology at Middlebury. After she left for college, I came to the U.S. in 1989.

After finishing Middlebury College, Yeshi went to Oxford to get her masters, sponsored by the department in Oxford. After finishing at Oxford, Yeshi and her husband Tashi lived together and had their first child, Phuntsok. In many Tibetan families, marriages are arranged, where one family asks another for a bride or for a groom, and where the bridge and groom do not choose each other personally. Here, Yeshi and Tashi picked each other -- there was no arranging this! Tashi's father is a noble man, who sponsors many high lamas and Rinpoches.

Yeshi completed her studies and then through Ian, she got a job with the World Wildlife Fund in Nepal in 1996. When Yeshi began working for the World Wildlife Fund in Nepal, Phuntsok was a baby. WWF had a project in a Dolpo area, in the eastern border of Nepal and Tibet. The culture in Dolpo is all Tibetan. When Kolkot became powerful, he took over this area – but it had belonged to Tibet before. Yeshi would go to Dolpo several times a year, generally in the summer. She started Tibetan Medicine Clinics in the villages, educated the women about family planning and basic preventative health care in their communities, and serving as a guide and helpmate to the villagers. Yeshi’s salary started at something around Nepalese 8000/month – which translated to something like US $100 per month. Whatever money she got from her salary, though, was never enough, because she was always helping everyone and lending money. The villagers from Dolpo would come to Kathmandu with tsampa and small presents and would borrow money from Yeshi. She was so generous, giving everything away. She never had enough.

If Yeshi had been Nepalese, she would have received closer to US $1000 per month. But because she was Tibetan, she was discriminated against. All of her colleagues at WWF received much more compensation than she did. But she never complained. She was very quiet, gentle, simple.

In 2000, Yeshi and Tashi had their second son, Thinley. Yeshi continued working for the WWF, but she dreamed of leaving that job, of coming to the U.S. to study for her Ph.D. in Anthropology and to become a professor. That was her dream, to teach social anthropology and to work on programs benefiting beings in underserved countries and communities.

While she was working with the WWF, Yeshi had the opportunity to visit many countries, for many different conferences, and to interact with various cultures and people of the world. There were very few people who come from such poor backgrounds and are able to get out of a poor region and are able to go and see and experience as extensively as she had. Among poor Tibetans, Yeshi was one of the most highly educated. She had seen so much, had been exposed to so many different cultures and opportunities. The work she was doing, as well as the example of her simple life of generous service, served as a bright light and an example not only to her family, but also to the entire Tibetan community.

Her family members respected her highly. She was an advisor to her brother. Yeshi’s death is not only a loss for our family, but also is a loss for the whole Tibetan society. And her death is a profound lesson in impermanence for all of us. We do not know the moment we will die – all that is certain is that each of us will one day die. Yeshi lived her life fully – a life of service to her family, her community, her culture, the environment and the world. Her loss will be felt profoundly by all of us. But we can honor her memory by learning from the example of both her life and her death. We can experience her death as a great teaching on the nature of impermanence – and we can begin living our lives more fully resting in a deeper understanding of impermanence. -------->

No comments:

Post a Comment

I welcome feedback or comments on my blog, but please, no advertisements.