Wonders Never Cease

by Steven Harper

Generosity and synchronicity never cease to amaze. In 1981 I spent a great deal of time in Nepal and Northern India in various parts of the Himalaya often in extremely remote locations and usually among Tibetan people. Complete strangers consistently treated me with incredible generosity, kindness, and honesty that I was forever changed. From Dharamsala, India to a secluded snow-covered peak on the border of Tibet and Nepal, Tibetan people touched my life.

Fast-forward to early 1998 in Big Sur California where a group of Tibet monks from the Ganden Shartse Monastery were giving a talk and demonstration at a local restaurant. At the end of the event they invited people to consider sponsoring a monk. The idea intrigued me in part because of the many Tibetan teachers I’ve had along the way, but mostly because it seemed a way I could give back some of what I was so generously given during my time among Tibetan people. I leafed through the simple album that had color passport type photos of Tibetan men of all ages. I scanned the photos until one caught my attention. “That’s the one,” I thought to myself. I made my donation and was given the photo with a simple piece of paper telling where to send future donations of support and the monk’s name—Jampa Tsering Ngari.

Over the next years I sent donations, letters, and even photos of family, my home, and myself. In return I received manual type written letters, in some version of Indo-Tibetan English. In addition, I received report cards from the college so that I could track the academic progress of Jampa, who by now, we called “our Tibetan monk” (interesting how quickly we form attachments). We placed his photo on an altar we have in our home. We even had the fantasy that one day we would go to visit him in India.

Now, fast-forward again to October of 2005, eight year later. I hear from a friend that a small group of monks form the Ganden Shartse Monastery will be coming to Monterey. I am able at the last minute to schedule a healing session from Chun Lobsang Jinpa Rinpoche. From our home in Big Sur I traveled one hour up the coast to Monterey for my healing session. At the end of the session I asked the translator if it is possible to get a photo of Rinpoche and I together so that I may send the photo to a monk I sponsor at their monastery in India. The translator, Lobsang Wangchuck, asked who the monk was. I pulled out the original photo and accompanying paper I have for Jampa Tsering to show them. Then both Rinpoche and Lobsang Wangchuck looked at the photo and declared, "He is here!"

I am certain I looked at them in disbelief while inside I was thinking this must be a case of mistaken identity as there must be hundreds of Jampa Tserings. They replied again, “It’s him,” and called to the other monks to come see. As the other monks crowded around to see the photo, all agreeing that it was indeed “our” monk, Lobsang explained to me that while Jampa was here in California on the tour he was not here at the center today. He had been given a rare day off from their busy and demanding tour schedule. As we talked about how and when I might meet him I discovered that their schedule brought them down the coast to Big Sur to Esalen Institute for three days. This was perfect for me as I frequently teach workshops at Esalen and it is near enough to our home that my two sons could easily come along.

It wasn’t until I walked across the wooden deck outside Esalen’s dining hall that I knew it was indeed “our” Jampa. He recognized us at the same time I recognized him. Big smiles, bows, and lots of hugs, and the surprise of finding out how much English Jampa had learned since being in America. After visiting for a while with my family, Jampa and I had some time to sit and talk over tea. He had been equally surprised to find us, as he did not know the geography of the U.S. enough to know he was so close to where we live. I learned about the tour, the monastery, his family, his role as a teacher at the college, and his experience of the U.S. while also sharing some of my life. I had the unusual sense of feeling like I knew this man much better than the letters of eight years would explain. A few days later I was able to have him up to our land, where I was able to share with Jampa what our home and daily life looks like. We visited my favorite beach, and picked my sons up from the school bus before taking him back to Esalen where we finally parted.

How easy it could have been for Jampa to pass so close and for us not to meet—synchronicity? How wonderous and how strange this passing of lives, the way we touch one another in unexpected and gracious ways. We had the fantasy of visiting this unknown monk in far-away India, and instead we were surprised to find him in our own backyard (as he was too). We met with generosity of presence and spirit for some precious moments. The world is more alive and wonders never cease to amaze!

Jampa Tsering, Tibetan Monk at Big Sur
Jampa at Pfeiffer Beach with Steven

copyright Steven Harper, all rights reserved