My Journey to Jhamtse Gatsal

It was an adventure reaching Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community.
Our journey began on the first day of Losar – the Tibetan New Year. Leaving the bustling and warm Indian City of Tezpur behind, we packed up the jeep and headed for the foothills of the Himalayas. We slowed for the families of monkeys in the roads and I noted the yellow “Elephant Crossing” signs along the roadway. The USA was officially far behind! As we ascended, the roads became ever more perilous and the views ever more breathtaking.

Odessa with Jhamtse Boys

Despite the skull and cross-bone signs posted along the roadways, I felt safe in the hands of Kailash, our Monpa driver, who navigated every hairpin turn with caution and experience. We spent the first night in Dirang, one of the old administrative headquarters of Tibet, its majestic monastery covered in frost on the hill above. Travelers heading back down to the plains warned us that it had snowed on the Sela Pass that day. The Sela Pass is the second highest roadway in the world and has been described as ‘Heaven on Earth’. I was looking forward to the snowy crossing but was secretly relieved to hear that we had chains for the tires should we need them.

The next day dawned cold but sunny.
We headed out at dawn, determined to make it to Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community for a late Welcome Lunch. We drove higher and higher into the mountains. The landscape was dotted by ice covered pines and the occasional woven bamboo tea stalls selling hot chai, instant noodles and simple egg omelets for hungry and cold travelers. Crossing the Sela Pass is not for the faint of heart. I marveled at the snowcapped peaks and incredible remoteness of my destination. Hours later we could spot the red roofs and prayer flags of JG on the hill below us. My heart leapt with emotion as we were welcomed by a smiling line of staff and children wearing traditional dress and offering us “khatas” – white scarfs that are placed around the neck of an honored guest. After the emotional introductions, we ate a delicious picnic lunch of ‘mo-mo’s ‘ a celebratory dish of steamed vegetable dumplings. I took in the startling beauty of this Himalayan mountain ridge and the bright campus buildings. The joyful energy held in this space was palpable from the moment of arrival.

Living for three weeks in the community I was able to observe the kids gardening, playing sports, dancing and breaking out into song as they help prepare dinner…I watched them studying for exams, holding the younger children on their laps, taking turns washing the piles of breakfast plates and sweeping the floors as they chatted and joked. As the mother of an American teenager, I marveled at the older children’s ability to be truly be present in each moment. It was heartening to watch them alternate between reverence during meditation and giggling silliness walking to lunch. I looked forward to their greetings -which were either politely called across the lawn “Good Morning, Madam!” or in the form of bear hugs when I least expected it.

As I engaged in deep conversations with the teenagers about their life experiences and their dreams for the future, my wonder and admiration for them only increased. How much wisdom they already held, how much I to learn from the adults that had guided them from a place of suffering into these vibrant and loving beings! It dawned on me that Jhamtse Gatsal wasn’t just a place for children to heal but rather a place from which much healing springs forth.

I believe this is what Jhamtse Gatsals’ founder, Lobsang Phunsok, had always intended -each child radiating out the love and compassion that this world so desperately needs. I said my goodbyes feeling so grateful to be one tiny spark in the shining light that is the Jhamtse family. How lucky we are to be connected through the laughter from the children on this Himalayan mountain ridge and to be held in their daily prayers and mediations. On one of our afternoon walks, Lobsang told me that even a smile can be an act of compassion. Now, even on my busiest day, I am able to evoke the joyful energy of Jhamste Gatsal through the simple gift of a genuine smile…

Meet Kelsang!

I am Kelsang Yudron and am from Bletting village near Bhutan border in Tawang district. I was born on 11th January, 2000. I have five members in my family including myself, younger sister, younger brother, mother and my mother’s sister. I have been living in Jhamtse Gatsal since 2007. Now, I am in 12th grade pursuing Humanities course. My favorite subjects are Political Science, History and English. After 12th grade, I want to study Law and become a lawyer.

My hobbies are reading books, writing poems and articles, acting and playing games such as Volley Ball.

I am happy to share some of my writings:
WHEN MY DAUGHTER SANG
As she stepped up and sang
All the audience glanced at her
I was somewhere in the middle of the audience
I could not see the motion of her mouth
I could see how she twisted her tongue but
I could not receive her sound
This is my weakness
I hope she was glorifying some sort of sadness
Because all the audience was motionless
I could not jot down her exact feeling in my heart
So, I felt a sudden pang of loneliness in my gut
I felt what if I had a sense of hearing not an ear
What if I had sound not a mouth
But my hopes were beyond my imagination

MY MEMORIES
A bottle was occupied by water still it seems empty in the eyes of mine as the fluid is not going to occupy the space anymore. I believe a sunny day predicts a good day but my own conviction betrayed me when the sun was compelling the water to leave. I wish to weep but I cannot cry because my tears are mine and tears are water.

The only flower blooming in my heart will be when I consider the clouds and water vapor as that water as the chain of circle that never ends. My recollection will never die as long as I live.

GIFT OF MELODY
You never leave me solitary on those desert days
Instead you make me feel the beauty of a paradise
On warm and sultry days even my shadow begins to beg for shade
So, you give me shade to just refresh myself in
You never send me away in isolation
Your gifts of melodic songs are endless
So, there is a lack of object to compare you
At last, I always retain your melody.

Jhamtse International Welcomes Executive Director Odessa Dwarika

OdessaUntil the present time, Jhamtse International has been able to function as an all-volunteer organization. However, we have come to the realization that, as an all-volunteer organization, we have reached the limit of our ability to further our mission to end suffering, spread happiness, and build a better world through the practice of the universal principles of love, compassion, and wisdom. We now look forward to being able to increase our impact with professional leadership.

The Board of Directors is excited to welcome Odessa Dwarika as the “face of Jhamtse International.” Odessa, who was selected out of more than 50 candidates, has 20 years of outstanding performance in non-profit leadership and fundraising in organizations dedicated to improving people’s lives. But it is Odessa’s personal qualities and life experience that give us confidence that she will guide the future of Jhamtse not only with skill and grace, but with love and compassion.

Odessa says, “After viewing Tashi and the Monk, I knew that I belonged with Jhamtse International. I look forward to walking on this journey with the many who have been inspired by Lobsang Phuntsoks’ healing vision and the amazing children that he serves.” 

As part of the interview process, Odessa was asked to respond to a number of questions. Her answers reveal much about who she is.

“The mission of Jhamtse Gatsal speaks to me because of my personal history of child sponsorship and volunteerism. The day I turned 15 and got my first job in food service was the day I sent away to sponsor a child through Children International. Her name was Kelly and she was three years old. Twenty-four years have passed since I first visited her. I have been back fifteen times. I’ve planned the ‘Quinceaneras’ for Kelly and her sister, made sure all three siblings graduated from high school, attended their weddings, and seen Kelly’s two children born.”

In speaking of her reaction to viewing “Tashi and the Monk,” Odessa said that the film “…is a testament to the healing power of community. In the case of the Venerable Lobsang Phuntsok, it also demonstrates the impact of service work to heal our own wounds. Throughout the movie the message is clear – when you contribute to the collective, that love and light is reflected back upon you. At the beginning of the movie, Tashi appears to be so traumatized as to be beyond reach. The culture of compassion and self-respect that is generated at Jhamtse Gatsal is embodied in the children and adults there, and it is this incredible culture and environment of compassion that provides the healing.”

Odessa clearly understands the value and importance of the sponsorship program, which provides the foundation for Jhamtse International’s support of operating expenses at Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community. She writes, “The sponsorship model is a very organic model for social change. It is the way we have helped each other for millennia. Before the institutions and the charity drives, humans simply expanded their notion of family to include others. They nursed the babies whose mothers were sick or had died, they cared for the elderly as they would their own parents, and many Native American communities protected and incorporated Africans escaping slavery. The mission of Jhamtse International means that we can continuously expand our notion of family until it reaches around the globe and leaves no one uncared for.”

The Board of Directors of Jhamtse International looks forward to Odessa Dwarika’s leadership with excitement and confidence.

Zen Arts with Allan Sosei Palmer

image003On Thursday, November 3, at 7:30 PM in the Chapel of First Parish, 20 Lexington Road in Concord, Jhamtse Buddhist Center will host the second of a series on “Zen Arts,” welcoming Allan Sosei Palmer to demonstrate Japanese tea ceremony.

Allan, a practitioner and teacher for forty-four years, will integrate tea with related elements of aesthetics, kindness, and engagement with others, in a journey onto one path of Buddhist meditation. Tea ceremony – the mindful preparation and sharing of a cup of tea – has deep roots in China and Japan, where, as Chado, or the “way of tea” it became a meditative art associated with Zen practice.

Kickoff Parties!

photo of Jhamtse Gatsal kids

We want you to help us celebrate our campaign to help Lobsang say “Yes” to more children! Come and celebrate the amazing Children’s Community where traumatized children like Tashi Drolma of the award-winning film, “Tashi and the Monk,” are thriving.

The parties will feature a Skype call with Lobsang Phuntsok, the Founder and Director of Jhamtse Gatsal Children’s Community!

For more information, please RSVP below.

Kickoff Party in New York City
Date: Wednesday, October 12, 2016
Time: 6:30pm-8:00pm
Location: near W 24th St. and 6th Ave. New York, NY 10011

Join us in New York!
Details will be emailed after sending an RSVP:

This event has passed. Thanks for all your support!

Kickoff Party in Concord, MA
Date: Friday, Oct. 14, 2016
Time: 7:00pm-9:00pm
Location: First Parish, 20 Lexington Rd., Concord, MA 01742

Join us in Concord!
Details will be emailed after sending an RSVP:

This event has passed. Thanks for all your support!

Kickoff Party in Alexandria, Virginia
Date: Saturday, October 15, 2016
Time: 5:00pm-6:30pm
Location: near E Maple St. and Little St., Alexandria, VA

Join us in Alexandria!
Details will be emailed after sending an RSVP:

This event has passed. Thanks for all your support!

Kickoff Party in West Hollywood, California
Date: Sunday, October 16, 2016
Time: 3:00pm-4:30pm
Location: near Fountain Ave. and N Orange Grove Ave., West Hollywood

Join us in West Hollywood!
Details will be emailed after sending an RSVP:

This event has passed. Thanks for all your support!

Kickoff Party in San Francisco, California
Date: Sunday, October 16, 2016
Time: 5:00pm-7:00pm
Location: near Lombard St. and Sansome St., San Francisco

Join us in San Francisco!
Details will be emailed after sending an RSVP:

This event has passed. Thanks for all your support!
Learn more about the Capital Campaign for Jhamtse Gatsal.
See these events, and everything else happening with Jhamtse International, on our calendar.

See you there!

Kyudo in Concord, The Art of Zen Archery

Kyudo_archers_600x900On Thursday, October 6 from 7:30-9pm at First Parish in Concord, MA, Don Seckler will demonstrate the Zen art of Kyudo in Concord.

Kyudo is a movement practice, like yoga, in which the condition of the body reflects, and is a means of observing and working with, mind, balance, and focus. In a larger sense, it is a way of approaching the Dharma, facilitating work with expectation, attachment, evenness of attention, dignity, and compassion.

Help Lobsang say “Yes!” to more children!

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“I’m sorry, but I can’t help your child,” – Lobsang Phuntsok

Imagine having to say this repeatedly to desperate families, knowing that their children’s lives are so challenging that even surviving to adulthood will be a struggle.

Jhamtse Gatsal houses and cares for 85 children. Lobsang has had to turn away hundreds of children in great need because there is no more room.

Your donation to our Capital Fund will help provide housing for more children at the Jhamtse Gatsal campus in the remote Himalayan foothills of northeast India. When complete, we will have facilities for 150 children, plus staff, volunteers and visitors.

During Phase 1 of our campaign to help Lobsang say “Yes!” to more children, we will:

  • Prepare construction documents
  • Level the ridge-top site
  • Construct earthquake-resistant retaining walls
  • Build homes for 4 “families” of 25 children and their housemothers
family-house-graphic

We are more than halfway to our goal. Please help us save more children!

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donate to Jhamtse Gatsal Children's Community - Capital Campaign

Donate via PayPal, or by check to Jhamtse International, 25 Duggan Rd., Acton, MA 01720
Donations from the US are tax deductible.

For tax-deductible donations in Switzerland, Australia, Canada or India, please see the Donate page on the Jhamtse Gatsal website.

For more info, see the Jhamtse Capital Campaign page.

Follow our progress here, or on the Jhamtse Gatsal Facebook page.

Geshe Dondup’s Overview of Kamalashila’s Stages of Meditation

photo of Geshe Dondup TseringThe Concord sanghas recently had the honor of a visit from Geshe Dondup Tsering, a friend of Venerable Lobsang’s. Geshe-la gave us a two teachings on Kamalashila’s stages of meditation. We had studied this years ago with Lobsang, and it took several months, so this was more of a welcome refresher/overview of the material.

Geshe-la went over a few different types of meditation used during the stages, for example, equanimity meditation. In this meditation, you envision someone you are very close to and care deeply about, someone you don’t like or regard as an enemy, and someone you don’t know and are neutral about. By examining these perspectives, we may find that is is possible for people to travel between these states very easily, sometimes during the course of a single day! Seeing how ephemeral our impressions can be, we might over time reduce our overall attachments, and approach people and situations with a more open mind and heart.

Geshe-la was brave enough to broach the topic of emptiness, which can be difficult to grasp. He had some wonderful analogies, and also led us in an analytical mediation on the suffering of animals who are killed for food. It was a sombre, but thought-provoking exercise.

At the beginning of the new year, Geshe-la will undertake the Kalachakra Initiation conducted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Bodhgaya, and will follow that with a commitment to complete 100,000 prostrations. One of our sangha members suggested that we would pray for the well-being of Geshe-la’s knees! He hope that he meets this daunting and impressive challenge and visits us again next year.

Geshe Dondup Tsering: September Visit

Geshe Dondup

Geshe Dondup Tsering will be visiting the Concord sangha for two weeks in September. Geshe-la will be teaching on meditation and related subjects, and it’s sure to be a great experience for both newcomers to Buddhism and seasoned practitioners. Geshe-la visited us last year and we enjoyed some very entertaining and thought-provoking discussions. We will meet in the Chapel at First Parish, Concord, MA, and all are welcome.

Please join us!

Concord Sangha Guest Teachings with Geshe Dondup Tsering
When:
Wednesday, Sept 7, 9:30-11am
Thursday, Sept 8, 7:30-9pm
Wednesday, Sept 14, 9:30-11am
Thursday, Sept 15, 7:30-9pm

Where: First Parish in Concord, 20 Lexington Rd., Concord, MA 01742
Questions? Email concordsangha@gmail.com

Sangha Updates – August 2016

Guanyin sculptureFor the month of August, the Thursday evening sangha is not meeting at the First Parish Chapel. It’s a chance for us to not oblige the sexton of First Parish to wait for us to pack up at 9 pm. Instead, we met at sangha members’ home for two weeks, with unexpected benefits — one week included an indoor Japanese garden and the other featured a very sweet dog and social cat who meditated with us.

For the other week of August, we did something new and different — we attended a lecture at the Museum of Fine Arts on a particular sculpture of Guanyin, the Chinese Bodhisattva of Compassion. Sangha members are familiar with the Tibetan version of the bodhisattva, Avalokitesvara, who figures prominently in the Heart Sutra. Guanyin shifts and transcends genders, and both names roughly translate as “hearing the cries of the world”.

The talk was given by two of the principal experts involved in the conservation and renewal of the 12th century sculpture, which took two years. Equally fascinating was one of the scholar’s travels through the region of Shanxi from which the figure originated, comparing similar works in small temples. We also learned about the Song dynasty and its aesthetics. More about the impressive conservation effort: http://www.mfa.org/collections/conservation/feature_guanyin

Seeing the wooden sculpture up close was truly amazing. It is a “water moon” form — imagine the ephemeral depiction of the moon reflected in a body of water as a metaphor for the ephemeral nature of all things. After being removed from view in 1999, it is wonderful that this sculpture is back in a public gallery for all to enjoy.

For the final week of August, we’re on vacation, and looking forward to starting fresh in September, back in our Chapel home.