A smile lights Kushok Lobsang Dhamchöe’s face as he queries a young guest at the Alberta Centre for Peace and Meditation, on the corner of 101 Street and 114 Avenue.
Fondly known as Kushok, the spiritual director of Gaden Samten Ling Tibetan Buddhist Meditation Society has been offering teachings and meditation practice to Edmontonians for 16 years. But his journey here was not always so bright.
That journey was what prompted an Edmonton travel writer to find out more. Jane Marshall first met Dhamchöe in 2008 after learning about the centre from a visit to the Tibetan Bazaar with her mother.
“I reached out and called the society … to be introduced to the teacher. They passed my name to him and he called me,” said Marshall. “He said, why don’t you come to the centre?”
That meeting was timely, and being a writer she sensed a crossroads.
“I was drawn to him in particular. Why did he come to Edmonton, this person who studied with the Dalai Lama?” she recalled.
Dhamchöe, invited to Edmonton from Namgyal Monastery in India, holds a Master of Sutra and Tantra degree under the auspices of the 14th Dalai Lama. Orphaned at four years old, Dhamchöe’s aunt took him in until his escape from Tibet in 1963.
“When I met him, I felt there was something bigger. For the next week, I really contemplated what that could be,” said Marshall, who decided to tell Dhamchöe’s story.
Returning to his beginnings was a journey of sacrifice and endurance for both travelers. In 2009, she and Dhamchöe were making their way to Nepal during the Beijing Olympics, and border crossing was perilous. For the exiled monk, it was impossible and Dhamchöe was unable to make the final leg into his homeland. Marshall continued into the interior of Tsum Valley, an isolated Himalayan wilderness in northern Nepal. There she encountered unexpected friendship and a determination to do more.
“I went there to understand about Kushok’s past, and what I saw was how remote it was,” she explained. “I got to witness first hand the lack of medical care in this very remote Himalayan valley, with one trail, no roads.”
Since returning home, the author has not only published a memoir of her journey. With the help of her Nepalese guide and two others, she’s also opened a health clinic in the Tsum Valley. They’ve launched a charity to support it.
“We’ve had one full year of operations. Money we raise goes directly to the clinic,” said Marshall.
Funds pay for medicine and the salary of a health worker, and this month a Buddhist group is sending two midwives to Tsum by helicopter.
Meanwhile, the Peace and Meditation Centre continues to draw new people through its colourful doors. Anyone wanting to learn and practice meditation is invited to attend the weekly classes.
Marshall’s book Back Over the Mountains is published by Hay House, India, 2015. Copies are available at the author’s website seejanewrite.ca, at the Alberta Centre for Peace and Meditation, Prana Yoga Studio and Audrey’s Books. To learn more about Marshall’s charity, go to compassionfortsum.ca.
Header image: Kushok Lobsang Dhamchöe, spiritual director of Gaden Samten Ling, and author Jane Marshall stand in front of the Alberta Centre for Peace and Meditation. Credit: Kate Wilson.