Monday, December 15, 2008

Same, Same

Meet Jampa Lobzang Negi, born in the hills of Himachal Pradesh in northern India in 1974. He looks more like he's 20 years old in person. I first set eyes on him at a White Tara empowerment ceremony led by visiting Tibetan monks near my home in California. I instantly considered him the Shaquille O'Neal of monastic devotions. He's pumped, buffed, cut, hewn out of muscle and, despite his height, looks more attuned to a World Wrestling Federation arena than walking around a temple with a smoldering pot of incense.

The moniker fit when I next found Jampa, standing on an outdoor basketball court with six other monks, shooting hoops in his flowing red robes. They all tossed up bricks, but laughed at every shot. One of the monks prayed for acuracy. Playful as a kitten, spiritually fierce as a tiger, Jampa spent the better part of a week with me, showing me how to blow the long temple horns or suddenly laying his head in my lap during a break in the ceremonies. Monastic austerity and impulsive expressions of joy seem like odd bedfellows until you realize that each facilitates the other.

Jampa was ten years old when he entered the Gaden Sharste Monastery in south-central India. The monastery was founded in Tibet in 1426 by the Buddhist Mystic Je Tsong Kapa, but relocated in exile to India in 1959 when less than a handful of monks were able to survive the onrushing slaughter of the Communist Chinese.

It would be a simple thing to let Jampa's boyish looks and manner decieve you into believing he was born yesterday. He was born much earlier, and several times over. In this incarnation, he undertook 16 years of intensive study of chants, tantric rituals, and rites, including several teachings under the direction of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Only after he left our small community here in the northern foothills did I learn that Jampa was credited with healing many sick in the streets of Dharamsala and aiding the poor.

When I met him I was new to Tibetan Buddhism and was taken by his chanting, which emanated from someplace deep inside him, impossibly low pitched and booming. He seemed dwarfed by his own powers. After the ceremony, I asked if he would bless my prayer beads and he took them in-hand, murmured a sutra, then blew over them. I thanked him, and wanted to say more, but his English was poor and my Tibetan limited to the names of a few meditative deities.

Jampa stood up, wrapped his beefcake arm around me, and tapped my chest. Then he tapped his own. "Me," he said, tapping his chest. "You," he said, tapping mine.

"Me, you," he said...."Same, same."

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