In the Footsteps of the Dalai Lama

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A celebration took place in India for the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama, who returns to Orange County July 5-7 for a visit.
A celebration took place in India for the 80th birthday of the Dalai Lama, who returns to Orange County July 5-7 for a visit.

The streets were newly paved. A shelter was built to protect hundreds of visitors descending on the tiny Tibetan refugee village from the unrelenting sun. Red, blue, green and gold prayer flags were hung, the corners turning up in the dry breeze.

People from across the world traveled for hours, even days, ending up on a long, dusty and craggy dirt road to get to Norgyeling village. On this day in January of 2014, nearly 2,000 people lined the streets in the remote Buddhist settlement in central India, four hours by car from the nearest city, Nagpur. The hot air, even in winter, had turned electric. The Dalai Lama, who some say is the embodiment of compassion, was soon to arrive.

“The rumors were flying that he was almost here,” said Laguna Beach resident Pam Wicks, who has visited this village for three consecutive years. “We all went out and we waited and waited, and he didn’t come. It didn’t matter. We were all so happy just standing on the sides of the road with our white scarves in hand, ready to present to him.”

It was the first time in 10 years that His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama was to visit Norgyeling settlement and its two monasteries for orphaned refugees. And the first time Wicks would get this close.

Scenes from the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration last month in India.
Scenes from the Dalai Lama’s birthday celebration last month in India.

Wicks is the musical director for Neighborhood Congregational Church in Laguna, which supports Norgyeling through fundraisers. Laguna photographer Tom Lamb was also there to document the event. “This was a big deal,” said Lamb. “This place is so remote and backward.”

Lamb keeps a photo on his cellphone of himself and the Dalai Lama holding hands and looking at each other. “It’s like a transfer of energy,” he said. “It was humbling. It’s a bigger belief, the compassion.” Lamb will show his photos, including pictures of the Dalai Lama’s recent 80th birthday celebration in his hometown of Dharamsala, India, at a “pop-up” exhibit July 4-6 at Forest and Ocean Gallery, 480 Ocean Ave., with a reception on July 5 from 6-9 p.m.

The event coincides with the Global Compassion Summit and the Dalai Lama’s local visit to Orange County at the Honda Center in Anaheim on Sunday, July 5, which will celebrate his birthday, and at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center, on July 6 and 7.

Another scene from the birthday party.
Another scene from the birthday party.

Lamb returned Friday, June 26, from a two-week trip to India with Tibetan Tenpa Dorjee. Dorjee, who now owns Tibet Handicrafts Shop in downtown Laguna, grew up in a Tibetan refugee camp and is Laguna’s link to the monks and monasteries there. They spent most of their time at Norgyeling settlement in Gondia, India, one of the most remote and poorest Tibetan refugee camps.

Over the past three years, Wicks has organized several local cultural events at the Congregational Church to raise money for Tibetan refugees. To support the lives of 24 young Norgyeling monks, ages 3 to 22, the church will offer an evening of Tibetan culture on Saturday, July 18, from 6 to 9 p.m., including Grammy-nominated flutist Nawang Khechog, accompanied by renowned local guitarist John Heussentamm. An intimate talk and art-quality photo show about the monks will also be presented by Lamb and Dorjee. Small plates of Tibetan and Indian food and a variety of wines will be available for $5 each. Admission is $20 in advance, $25 at the door.

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Tenpa Dorjee with young monks at the refugee settlement where he grew up.

Dorjee met Wicks six years ago and the two began fundraising events for his desolate village, where his mother recently died and his sister still lives. This week, Lamb spent $600 to buy needed mattresses for the young monks’ monastery.

“The monastery is seeing us as their hope and salvation,” he said. ““We were looking at architectural plans, talking what’s next. We’re not going there as tourists.” Last year, the group raised almost $12,000 so the villagers could prepare Norgyeling for the Dalai Lama’s definitive visit.

On the last day of the Dalai Lama’s teachings at the Norgyeling monastery, Wicks felt an elbow in her side. It was Dorjee, pushing her towards the throne-like gold brocade chair on which the Dalai Lama sat, draped in a plain gold robe and maroon sash.

The Dalai Lama visits an India refugee settlement for Tibetans that locals Tom Lamb and Tenpa Dorjee, right, support.
The Dalai Lama visits an India refugee settlement for Tibetans that locals Tom Lamb and Tenpa Dorjee, right, support.

“Tenpa kinda pushed me and said, ‘Go, go now,’ because the Dalai Lama’s handlers are very protective,” she said. “He looked at me like I was the only person in the world, with incredible warmth. We were honored dignitaries from the West.”

Wicks and her group sat in the VIP section with a Tibetan interpreter. She stood next to the Dalai Lama for a group photo, her 25-year-old daughter, Skye, standing in front of her. “He put his arm around me for a picture,” she said. “It was very special.” The group included Dorjee, Susan Brown and her 30-year-old daughter Anna, and Tom and Vickie Lamb with their 29-year-old daughter, Morgan.

Most of the young monks in Norgyeling were orphaned along the border of Nepal and Tibet, said Dorjee. Their parents died from starvation, exhaustion and illness. The monastery they live in, Ngagyur Dupgyud Choephel Ling, provides them with food, water, shelter, clothing and education, he said.

Organizers of the July 18 event hope to raise $10,000, said Lamb, who is also the president of the sponsoring Nying-Je Foundation. The monastery needs $800 a month to teach, feed, house and care for the children, he said. All donations are tax-deductible.

For more info contact [email protected] or call 949-499-3681.

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