by Judyth O. Weaver
Lobsang (her name has been changed to protect her and her family in Tibet) was my first Tibetan nun sponsored. (I have, for many years, sponsored some Tibetan monks through various teachers I have met, but never a female practitioner.) I received the sponsorship of her through the Tibetan Nuns Project here in California. They sent me her photograph with a biography. She was number 437. She looked so young in her photograph, with her round face and slightly questioning expression. She was so young! Younger than my children.
In her biography she related how, born in 1974, in Lhasa, she was not able to go to school but had to weave carpets at a factory, working until 11 or 12 PM. She wanted to come to India because I wanted to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and I wanted to get a religious education She told about her difficulties in leaving Tibet and how harsh it was along the way. In Nepal, a man trapped her and wanted to keep her to cook and do his laundry she escaped out of a small window when she once went to the bathroom. Finally arriving in Dharamsala, India, she offered her hair and was able to become a nun.
When I first went to Dharamsala to teach therapeutic massage to the Tibetan nuns through the TNP, I also went to the nunnery where Lobsang was living and met her for the first time. I speak no Tibetan, she speaks no English, the nun who was my translator for my classes took me to her room and translated for us. I was impressed by her sweetness and again how young she was. She talked about how she missed her mother and gave me (over my protestations) her only possession from Tibet. It was a purse that a friend had woven for her as a going away present. The colors are very bright and the name Tibet is woven in the pattern. The zipper was broken and she apologized profusely. She told me that a Chinese guard at the border had tried to rip it from her and that is how it broke. I certainly did not want to take from her the only item that managed to travel all the way with her to India-her only physical connection with the country she had left. She insisted. I gave her dried fruit and money to buy a new pair of shoes. At our parting we performed the traditional Tibetan salutation: touching of the foreheads. It seemed very intimate to me. I was very moved.
The second time I visited Lobsang I brought more dried fruit, money and socks to warm her feet in the winter. She told me she was doing well. Her studies were going well and she seemed more mature even though she was then only 25. She was more settled into her life as a nun. She was sincere and happy with what she was doing although she did express concern for her mother. I could feel her longing to have contact with her family. We still could not speak directly to each other. We never spent a moment alone. Nonetheless I felt I could understand her. Our time together felt very intimate and intense and there was a pull, a twang in my heart when we said goodbye.
The third time I went to Ganden Choeling, the nunnery in Dharamsala where Lobsang lived and studied, she was not there. I was told that she had wanted to go back to Tibet to see her mother and so began the travel with two other nuns who also wanted to see their families. They were stopped at the Nepal/Tibet border for questioning. Lobsang was asked where she was born. Since she had escaped from Tibet and had no record of how or when she left, she said she had been born in Nepal. Somehow the guards discovered that she was lying and she was put in prison. She has been given a three-year sentence in one of the very harsh prisons (although I’m not sure any of them are otherwise).
During my fourth trip I checked and no one has heard anything about Lobsang. I think about her a lot, always worrying about her health and strength. I keep remembering her delicateness, her shy demeanor. I have been told that she has gotten into more trouble (a longer sentence I think) because she participated in a Freedom for Tibet effort, and I worry about her even more. I also read into that report a strength and determination that I had not seen in our meetings. Although as I think back over the obstacles she had to overcome just to get to India, I realize that determination was always there. I hope it supports her as she needs it. I wish she knew how much I, and others, care for her and want to help. We feel impotent, our hands bound.
When I first heard of her situation of being arrested and put in prison my immediate impulse was what can I do to help? To whom should I write letters? But I was quickly told that I could only cause more trouble for her if I tried to intervene. I had such an American attitude. The Tibetans tell me there is nothing I can do.
My sponsorship dollars at the Tibetan Nuns Project are now going to other nuns. There is no way for me to make contact with Lobsang or give her any support. My thoughts and prayers go daily for her health and safety.
***If you are interested in sponsoring a nun or learning more about them, please visit their web site at www.tnp.org