Speaker: Lobsang Phuntsok

Re-inviting the Uninvited Guests of the Universe

Everyone is an invited guest of the universe. Lobsang Phunstock tells the children of his community this frequently.

But the message he received at a young age was the opposite: he was an uninvited guest of the universe. His mother was very young when she gave birth to him in the state of Arunachal Pradesh in Northeastern India in 1971. Trying to avoid disgrace in their village, she delivered him in secret and left him in the leaves used to cover human waste. Thinking a goat had gotten into their fields, his aunt and grandparents followed the sound of crying and found him, almost dead. His birth was not a celebration, but a time of pain and embarrassment to his family.

He refers to himself as being a lost boy. He created problems by breaking people’s windows and destroying their prayer flags. Someone told him that he was never going to change to be better, which he can still remember and feel. If an adult tried to discipline him with anger or out of frustration, it made things worse. Before he was seven years old, he considered ending his life. Luckily, his grandparents loved him even when he felt he was not lovable. They saw something inside him, a potential that he could change. So, at age seven, they sent him to study at Sera Je monastery near Mysore, Karnataka in South India. Lobsang likens it to being sent to a mental hospital -- they were sending him there asking for help, to free him from all the disturbing emotions he was going through. He believes it is because of their kindness that he is alive.

The monastery had a very rigid schedule, strict discipline, and was very formal. It was difficult but it kept his mind engaged and he did not have time to think. Through formal and informal trainings, he began to see that he was part of a larger family in the universe, one in which he could contribute.  It took a while for him to get better, but over time, he started thinking positively, growing in confidence, and believing he could become a better human being. He was encouraged to do something meaningful in his life, something useful for himself and others.

And so he did. He became one of 10 Buddhist monks selected by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the late 1990s to undertake a two-year training program in India and then travel to the West to teach Buddhism. In 2000, he was invited by one of the rinpoches from Sera Jay Monastery in India to translate for him during the United Nations Millennium Peace Conference in New York. While in New York, he began sharing teachings and sermons with the First Unitarian Church in Concord, Massachusetts. His talks on love and compassion were powerful. After his two-year training translating at the United Nations, he returned to his monastery in India and spoke with his teachers about returning to Concord to teach Tibetan Buddhism. He received permission, was hosted by a local community member, and returned to the United States.

From 2000-2008, Lobsang stayed in North America, giving weekly teachings, leading workshops and retreats, visiting local high schools and colleges, working with hospices and training doctors and medical professionals to incorporate compassion in their professional practices.  But when he would return to his village in India during vacations, he would see so many children on the road, in the village. They were young Lobsangs struggling in their lives. When he saw their faces, it was a clear message that he had to do something.  He did not want what happened to him to happen to any child. A few members of his Massachusetts community came together, talked about his vision, and in 2005 formed a U.S. non-profit, Jhamtse International, dedicated to educating and nourishing young hearts and minds in the Himalayas with love, compassion, wisdom, and tolerance. They opened Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community in 2006 with a group of 35 children.

Through Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community, a garden of love and compassion, children in one of the most disadvantaged regions in the world are now given the opportunity to dream. The world seemingly has given up hope on these children, but the place is not called an orphanage or a charity, even to help with fundraising. Lobsang does not want to sell or market the children’s adversity. He does not want his children to feel less than anybody else or to label them. Lobsang knew growing up that he was not a holy person or a saint, and is still challenged by the labels he received as a child.  And so he considers these children “jewels in the dirt,” the ones nobody wanted, like him, but who have equal potential to become amazing human beings. Without doctors, psychiatrists, medications or psychologists, Lobsang is demonstrating the healing and strength that come from love and compassion.  In 2015, HBO created a documentary, ˆTashi and the Monk”, about a five-year-old girl at the children’s community who puts teachers to the test with her behavior. 

“People should know something like this exists.” More than that,  people should know there is a place where everyone is an invited guest in the universe.

Join us in conversation with this extraordinary visionary and gardener of compassion and love!

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