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Buddhadharma : Summer 2007
buddhadharma| 69 |summer 2007 when I first heard about Daja Wangchuk Meston’s childhood in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery, I immediately remembered another West- ern boy named Jampa whom I encoun- tered at Sera Monastery around 1977. During the seventies, I was immersed in my Ph.D. in Buddhist studies with Geshe Lhudup Sopa at the University of Wis- consin. As a Fulbright scholar in India, I lived in the refugee monasteries con- ducting research for my dissertation and experimenting with the idea of becoming a monk. Jampa’s blond hair was shaven, and his white body looked pale in con- trast to his red Tibetan Buddhist robes and the darker-skinned Tibetans. He was a sweet kid but seemed a bit lost and out of place. He and I were the only non-Tibetans living at Sera, and I occasionally sought him out to see how he was doing. Even though his mother would visit from time to time, the older monks thought this situation was very unusual and that her decision for her son to be a monk was hard for him. They knew that he would never quite fit in to this Tibetan refugee monastic community, and that it would be difficult for him to find a place in his own Western culture, a culture that does not revere or support Buddhist monks. Yet they did their best to include him in their vocation and daily life. Daja’s memoir, Comes the Peace, tells the story of a child of American hippies who at age three was placed in the care of a Tibetan family in Kathmandu, and then at age six was sent to live at the nearby Kopan Monastery. He recalls the stern discipline of monastic life and how he was “the other” amidst a community of refu- gee Tibetan monks in Nepal. And like any child whose parents have left them, he felt both abandonment and guilt, believing he was the cause of their leaving. Daja’s father was mentally ill and eventually returned to California after suffering breakdowns in Nepal and India. His mother was devotedly Buddhist, and when she enrolled her son in the monas- tery, she likely believed that she was giv- ing both her son and the world a great gift. She also seems to have doubted her ability to be a good mother and felt that motherhood would deny her the freedom to become a Buddhist nun. Of course, this story was being played out in the exuberant global theater of the 1970s that showcased a unique mix of idealism and self-righteous narcissism that provided justification for Daja’s mother’s decision. No doubt many of her peers thought her action was heroic and would further propel Buddhism toward the West. But the self-centered, immediate- gratification ways of the 1970s were in fact antithetical to classical Buddhist teachings. The twenty-something youth of the industrialized nations wanted instant freedom, and many glommed on to Tibetan Buddhism as a quick path to liberation. This was a phenomenon that Tibetan Buddhist refugee monks were totally unprepared for. They had just fled the Chinese genocide and left behind a culture where Buddhism was the norm. Suddenly, they were surrounded by scant- ily clad young Western seekers buzzing around them like bees in a honeycomb. The refugee monks in India and Nepal had no worldly possessions except their robes, a few books, and a rosary. Yet heroically they set about rebuilding their monasteries and preserving their tradi- edward w. BaStian HaS a pH.d. in BuddHiSt StudieS and weStern pHiloSopHy and HaS lived and Studied in tiBetan BuddHiSt monaSterieS. He covered tHe vietnam war aS a writer and pHotograpHer and HaS produced award-winning televiSion documentarieS on tHe religionS of aSia for tHe BBc and pBS. CoMeS The PeaCe By daja Wangchuk Meston with Claire ansberry Free Press, 2007 288 pages; $25 (hardcover) Reviewed by edward W. Bastian a casualty of the tiMes