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jet's teacher

Lho Kunsang might seem an ordinary man from Tibet.

Something from the very beginning, however, marked him out. He was born, as was told, in a holy province in Tibet. At the time of his birth, very bizarre phenomena were witnessed. A bucket of water turned, on its own, into milk. And witnesses reported strange glows of white light surrounding the site of his birth.

These were the first portents of his unusual state of being.

It was believed, quickly, that Lho Kunsang was the eighth reincarnation of a renowned Tibetan lineage. He was labeled, from early on, a Rinpoche, which is the Catholic equivalent of an abbot. This meant he would preside over the lives of monks in years to come.

The public's recognition of his special place in the world was heralded with great celebration. At the age of nine, he was enthroned in the Palme Gonpa monastery (that, to this day, exists, a holy sanctuary in need of repair).

His early teen years were spent mostly on study. Many great masters taught Lho Kunsang the essence of the Buddhist religion, as well as its incalculable branches, offshoots, and applications. In addition to his strenuous study of the religion, there were many other things to be learned: astrology, poetry, art, ritual performance, and the appropriate placement of religious structures. All these would eventually combine to help him fulfill an important mission of kindness.

With the advent of the Cultural Revolution, however, things were shaken out of frame. The Red Army initiated a frenetic nationwide campaign to kill culture. Scholars and their counterparts were imprisoned and sent to labor camp, if not executed. Books were burned. Everyone was closely censored, their movements and living patterns monitored as if in an experiment. The world, suddenly, clouded over.

Even Lho Kunsang could not extricate himself from the machinations of the Revolution. He was forced to endure great hunger, and had to work as a blacksmith, carpenter, and tailor. It became impossible to study anything during the day. Only when night rolled around could he find the time to study in secret.

At the same time, any religious relics or cultural artifacts deemed undesirable by the government were confiscated and destroyed. But Lho Kunsang could not let some of the relics left behind in destroyed temples go. Risking his life, he collected and hid precious sutras, Buddhist statues, and stupas. The punishment, if he were caught, was most likely to be death, if not incarceration. By the time the Revolution was over, the Rinpoche's salvaged collections were among the last surviving treasures of the religion.

Fortunately, with the end of the Revolution came a temporary peace. As time went on, Lhu Kunsang decided to learn the practice of Tibetan medicine, so he would be able to help others in distress. He studied under a great doctor (Bho Thupten) and trained in all aspects of Tibetan medicinal treatment, including acupuncture, cupping, bloodletting, and so forth.

The opportunities for medical aid were numerous. One day, while making a pilgrimage to a mountain temple, the Rinpoche chanced upon a father and son. The son was mute, and had been so his entire life even though the speech problem, as described by the father, was not a birth defect. None of the doctors they'd seen had been of any help.

But when the boy met the Rinpoche, he sensed something different. The Rinpoche walked with the boy, his arm resting on the latter's shoulder. Later, while they were resting, he took out a bottle of mineral water, said a mantra over it, gave it to the boy, and asked him to recite the Manjushri mantra. To the surprise of witnesses, the boy began vocalizing the mantra. The disease was cured. It might have seemed miraculous to the average layman, but to the Rinpoche, it was just a routine cold treated through a different and more spiritual channel.

Incidents as such were spread through word of mouth. The Rinpoche thus became known in other areas of the world, and invitations were issued for him to visit different countries, to add a golden touch to the existing circumstances. He went on a pilgrimage to Nepal and India. He visited Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, and United States. In most places he left an indelible impression. Some diseases, both of the body and heart, were alleviated, if not healed. Bizarre phenomena occasionally punctuated his arrivals and stays. At a ceremonial gathering presided by the Rinpoche in Kuala Lumpur, observers reported sighting a strange star which exhibited different colors at once. Some said it had three colors. Others claimed it had five. There seemed to be a lack of consensus. Was this a freak of nature explainable by astrology, or something else of its own?

Even though the Rinpoche travels worldwide to spread his acts of kindness, his root and heart still lie back home. The Palme Gonpa monastery, in which he grew up and received most of his training, continues to hold a special place in his heart. The Rinpoche, for a long time, has hoped to revive the worn monastery, and has taken efforts to reinstate it to its former glory. Two decades after the first initiative was spearheaded in 1979, that drive for reconstruction continues.

*Footnote - Lho Kunsang Rinpoche is often referred by his followers as His Eminence, an appellation signifying his important position in the religious hierarchy.

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