COLUMBIA — Champa Lhunpo was afforded an intimate look into the life of the Dalai Lama. As a part of his monastery and personal entourage, Lhunpo traveled with the Dalai Lama for more than three months and said he vividly recalls being surprised by his humanity and his ability to relate to people.
“It’s a cool thing when he smiles at you or pats you on the shoulder,” Lhunpo said. “He believes he’s just a normal person and a simple monk.”
On Tuesday afternoon, Lhunpo shared his story with students in World Religions and AP World Life and Literature classes at Hickman High School. This year marked Lhunpo’s 10th annual visit to the high school.
Lhunpo presented the students with a crash course in Buddhism, including reincarnation, the three poisons (ignorance, desire or attachment and anger), the four precepts (no killing, stealing, lying or sexual misconduct) and the six realms of Samsara (God, Semi-God, Human, Animal, Hungry ghosts and Hell).
Pari Jafari, a sophomore at Hickman High School, said she appreciated the lesson in Buddhism and feels like Lhunpo’s message contained practical life lessons.
“He showed us that Buddhism is a very pragmatic religion that you can apply to a modern world,” Jafari said. “By understanding a person’s religion, you can really understand who they are.”
Lhunpo emphasized that studying ideas and thinking through these beliefs is key in Buddhism.
“Without analyzing anything, you have blind faith,” Lhunpo told students in the AP World Life and Literature class. “You have to believe what’s right for you, and if you’re confused, that’s good because that at least means you’re doing something.”
Lhunpo said he fled Tibet with his family at age 4 to escape the Chinese communist government and settled in India, where he lived until 1992. He decided to become a monk at age 15.
“I decided myself because they’re role models and you want to become one of them,” Lhunpo said.
Lhunpo was sent by his monastery to New York in 1992 to establish an institute through Cornell University. He currently lives in Kansas City and teaches Tibetan Language and Culture at the University of Kansas. Lhunpo is no longer part of the monastery, though, because he turned down the Buddhist leaders’ offer to make him the discipline master.
“I have a hard enough time disciplining myself,” Lhunpo said with a smile. “I certainly can’t discipline other people.”
Lhunpo finished his day at Hickman High School by talking about the ongoing struggle for autonomy in Tibet. He had the chance to travel to Tibet earlier this year for three weeks and commented on the present state of human rights in Tibet.
“Everything looks OK from the outside, but people still can’t raise their voice or have free speech,” he said.
Overall, Lhunpo said he feels talking to the students at Hickman High School every year is important.
“It’s good for students to know the differences between the religions of the world,” he said. “I like that I can teach them from a Tibetan monk point of view.”