Lost Legacy

From Tibet's Himalayas to New York's Tibetan Kitchen: one lama's spiritual journey. Khado Rinpoche speaks.Elizabeth Bayard


Enthronement Ceremony of Khado Rinpoche at age 3

TENZIN NORBU NAMSELING, the sixth Khado Rinpoche, is the son of Namseling, as aristocrat and finance minister of the former Tibetan government. In 1958, the elder Namseling was sent to the south of Tibet to negotiate with the Khampas, or Tibetan resistance fighters, but joined them instead. After helping safeguard the Dalai Lama on his passage from Tibet to India in the historic 1959 escape, Namseling went to Sikkim, where he passed away in 1973.

In Tibetan tradition, each historical Khado Rinpoche is the incarnation of a lama, or holy teacher, who manifests generation after generation in order to be a source of spiritual strength for his people. The spiritual lineage of Khado Rinpoche is embodied in many famous deeds. The immediate predecessor of the sixth Khado Rinpoche was a close friend and ally of one of Tibet's last regents, Reting Rinpoche, who withdrew from office in 1941 and who was imprisoned and killed four years later when he attempted to resume his government post. Khado Rinpoche was imprisoned at the same time, and his possessions—monasteries, houses, and a hermitage in the vicinity of Lhasa—were confiscated by Namseling on behalf of the government. Released from prison after the death of Reting Rinpoche, Khado Rinpoche went to Changtang, the northern plains of Tibet, where he had several other large monasteries. He passed away there.

Namseling had five daughters and was ecstatic when finally his wife bore him a son. It is said that he loved this baby ver ymuch and carried him around in his arms everywhere, only to find that this beloved son was actually the incarnation of the man whom he had imprisoned, Khado Rinpoche.

Namseling's son grew up in dire poverty during the 1960s in Tibet. At the age of 16 he became a political prisoner under communist rule during the Cultural Revolution. He spent three years in solitary confinement. After his release, he foudn that his mother had been sentenced to ten years in prison because his father had tried to send the family money from Sikkim. Khado Rinpoche then went to work to care for his sisters and family. He still does so.

Khado Rinpoche in New York's Tibetan Kitchen

The first time I met Khado Rinpoche was at the Tibetan Kitchen, a small restaurant in midtown Manhattan. He is a quiet, reserved, and unassuming man. His white apron hid his simple Western clothes. I could not help asking myself the obvious question: Why is a rinpoche, a lama, making momos (Tibetan dumplings) and clearing tables in a restaurant in New York City?

"Why do they call you Rinpoche?"

"When I was three years old, His Holiness the Dalai Lama chose me to be the sixth Khado Rinpoche. After the traditional haircutting ceremony, I was sent home with my mother. I was too young to enter the monastery."

"Chose?"

"Yes, he chose me; he recognized me. I grew up during a most difficult time when the Tibetan people were on the verge of war, unable to accept the increasingly brutal Chinese domination. The Khampa resistance was inflicting some damage on the Chinese army in the south of Tibet. My father, a government official, was sent to the south by the Chinese-controlled Tibetan government to stop the fighting. Instead of stopping them, he joined up with the freedom fighters and later on went to Sikkim. We never met again."

"Do you remember your father?"

"I only remember that he was very tall and stately. I don't have any memory of his kindness or affection toward me."

"Your father fought against the Chinese army to defend Tibet's independence. Would you do the same if you had the chance?"

"Yes, definitely. I would want to join the army and fight."

When he saw my shocked face, he went on, "Not to kill the Chinese or take revenge, but to defend my people, our country and culture. The Chinese have killed many Tibetans and want to wipe out the Tibetan people. They are committing genocide.

"We did not go to China. They invaded us. I stayed in my country, and the Chinese came, killed my family, and put me in prison. Why? They say the Tibetans want to change the inequality of rich and poor in their countries. This is not the job of the Chinese, it is our job. We will do it. I don't want to go to China and kill the Chinese; I want only to preserve my country."

"But then you are not really adhering to the principle of nonviolence, as His Holiness the Dalai Lama teaches."

"Yes, it's the same."

"No, His Holiness is committed to nonviolence under any circumstances. But you are willing to join the army and kill the Chinese, if necessary. So you are not nonviolent."

"They both come to the same place."

"The end justifies the means?"

"I AM NOT TRYING TO JUSTIFY an action for the sake of possessing something or for the sake of power. You can look at the situation in Tibet yourself and easily see who is being victimized and who is justifying wrong deeds."

"But the Dalai Lama is asking all Tibetans to follow the path of nonviolence, isn't he?"

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