Lama Thupten Phuntsok: Tibetan Monk’s Life Outside Monastery

Tawang, India. Born in Tawang, the middle of three sons, Lama Thupten was by tradition placed by his parents in a Tibetan monastery here. By this tradition here, the first son inherits the family’s wealth, the second son becomes a Buddhist monk, and the third son marries and devotes his life to his wife and her family.

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Photo: Stewardship Report.

In 1959, His Holiness the Dalai Lama fled occupied Tibet into exile across the Himalayan Mountains into India; 85,000 of his adherents followed him. They settled largely into Dharamshala, the capital of the Government-in-Exile, but many were scattered across Tibetan settlements in South India. Hundreds landed in Tawang, a part of Historic Tibet that after a border war with China came under India jurisdiction. 20,000 Indian troops on the border in Tawang keep it Indian.

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Photo: Stewardship Report.

This socially-engaged monk told me:

After I graduated, I was asked by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to return to my community in Tawang and engage in supporting the children. I began with 18 who were either orphaned or disadvantaged, and soon opened a home for them. At first, we were in a shack with a tin roof, but we kept going – through TB and lice – as we raised funds to build new facilities and improve the orphanage.

Lama Thupten was asked by His Holiness to return to Tawang
and help destitute children. Photo: Stewardship Report.

Lama Thupten gave me a personal tour of the Shrine of the Fifth Dalai Lama, the leader who united Historic (Greater) Tibet. The monastery there is where Lama Thupten had grown up. The Fifth Dalai Lama had received Genghis Khan from Mongolia at the end of his life. The Mongolian was repentant for all of the bloodshed he had caused and the Dalai Lama welcomed him. In fact, the temple here has a large painting of Genghis Khan on its wall.

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Photo: Stewardship Report.

On the two-day ride from Guwahati over the 14,000-foot Se La Pass to Tawang, Lama Thupten had told me about his own amazing life. He expounded on how the overarching theme of all faiths was Kindness and Compassion. We chatted about how in my own life, working with orphaned children from Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and Muslim backgrounds, the central theme for all was Kindness and Compassion.

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Photo: Stewardship Report.

Paragraph on Manjushree #1

Paragraph on Manjushree #2

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Old picture of Lama Phuten and Dr. K and Helicopter
Photo: Stewardship Report.

It is my understanding that Lama Thupten is either the first or certainly among the first to leave the Tibetan monastery and engage in, as charged by the Dalai Lama, serving the community. This is very much in the footsteps of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Than, who walked with Martin Luther King, espousing social engagement not detachment. Like Gandhi, serving good by serving the poor.

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Photo: Stewardship Report.

In Protestant tradition, this would be considered engaging in the Social Gospel. In Catholicism, it could be likened to Liberation Theology, such as preached by Bishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador. In Christianity, there are those who preach about Christ, and those who walk barefoot down the dirt road with Jesus.

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Photo: Stewardship Report.

Lama Thupten, Tibetan monk, is clearly walking in the path of Buddha. Not devoting his life to worshiping Buddha as God, but following the Buddha’s own words to become Buddha-like himself. Through his selfless service to humanity.

Series On Pilgrimage: Following the Footsteps of Buddha Across N.E. India in 15 Parts

Series on Tibet in India, September 2019 in 15 parts

  1. The Dalai Lama & Dr. Kazuko: A 47-Year Friendship
  2. Tibetan Children’s Village: Step One to Success
  3. India: Great Protector of the Tibetan People
  4. With Incredible Tibetan Orphans, Reflecting on How I Got Here
  5. Meet Japanese Grandmother of Tibetan Orphanage in India
  6. Lama Thupten Phuntsok: Tibetan Monk’s Life Outside Monastery 
  7. First Trip to Manjushree Tibetan Orphanage High in Himalayas
  8. Dharamshala for Americans: Dalai Lama’s Hometown
  9. Himalayas for Americans: From India/Pakistan to Bhutan & Nepal – plus Chinese Tibet
  10. Himalayas: Once Great Tibet, Now Divided 
  11. Meet American Lobsang Sangay, President of Tibet
  12. Kazuko: Planning Nine Orphanages Globally
  13. Whatever Faith Tradition, It’s All About Kindness
  14. Orphanage Burns; Matt Luce Pledges to Rebuild It 
  15. At 50, I Gave Away My Wealth, at 60, My Possessions

See Also:

About Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens

View all posts by Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce: Thought Leaders & Global Citizens
Jim Luce (www.lucefoundation.org) writes and speaks on Thought Leaders and Global Citizens. Bringing 26 years management experience within both investment banking and the non-profit sector, Jim has worked for Daiwa Bank, Merrill Lynch, a spin-off of Lazard Freres, and two not-for profit organizations and a foundation he founded. As Founder & CEO of Orphans International Worldwide (www.oiww.org), he is working with a strong network of committed professionals to build interfaith, interracial, Internet-connected orphanages in Haiti and Indonesia, and creating a new, family-care model for orphans in Sri Lanka and Tanzania.

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