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The dispersion of a Tibetan monk: Adapting to life in Cardiff

With hope for freedom and a wish for a better future, a Tibetan Monk escaped over the Himalayas in search for exile. How did Lama Lobsang end up in Cardiff?

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The Tibetan Monk Lama Lobsang in his Buddhist ropes

Lama Lobsang’s last words before the Chinese police took him away from the streets were: “Long life his Holiness Dalai Lama. We want our freedom back.”

The then 16-year-old Tibetan Monk was walking down the streets of Lhasa holding a picture of Dalai Lama and his mother. But suddenly, he was swept away by the police, beaten up and imprisoned – all because he was a monk.

“This was the last day I saw my beloved mother, even if it was just a picture.”

Born in 1974, today Lama Lobsang is 42-years-old and living in Cardiff. His home is anything but a typical British home. Inside is countless portraits of Dalai Lama, numerous Buddha statues, pillows for praying to his Holiness and a particular scent of incense. The only thing that makes his home reminiscent of a British home is the many Christmas decorations spread around the house.

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Lama Lobsang’s praying seat

There is no heating as it recently broke. Now Lama Lobsang lights candles and wraps himself up in his Buddhist robe to keep warm. But this doesn’t affect or discourage him.

“I don’t need much. I am just a simple Tibetan Buddhist Monk. I have been through much worse, than having no heating.”

“Remember, I have been in prison for 6 years. The Chinese government has beaten me, tortured me and locked me inside a prison for being a Monk. They have shot me with electronics, and put electronics inside me and given me shocks.”

Lama Lobsang pauses for a second to show me the scars above his eye and on his chin before continuing.

“But never did I lose hope for a better tomorrow.”

Lama Lobsang thinks that his poor and hard childhood was what made him fight for freedom and religion and ultimately led him to prison.

“My mother often told me that life was hard, because we were so poor. When I was 12 years old, I realised how hard life was – for me, but especially for my mother. My mother was the one who took care of me, as I didn’t have a father. I wanted to help her, so I told her that I wanted to go to Monastery.”

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Lama Lobsang’s cupboard with his Buddha statues and pictures of Dalai Lama

But Lama Lobsang’s mother didn’t allow him to go to the Monastery. So he stayed with her for 3 more years, working on their farm and going to school.

Once he turned fifteen, Lama Lobsang had two choices.

“Either I went to the Monastery or I went to the army. I didn’t want to go to the army, so I told my mother that I had to go to the Monastery. My mother still wouldn’t let me go, so I ended up running away to the Monastery one night.”

One year after Lama Lobsang joined the Monastery, the Chinese government invaded Tibet. He saw a lot of Monks, Nuns and young people being tortured in the streets; only because of their religion. Still, he feels like one of the lucky ones.

“Not only did I survive prison and being tortured for 6 years, but some nice people helped me and got me out of prison.”

Being out of prison, Lama Lobsang was relieved that he was finally a free man again. Haven’t being able to see proper sunlight or enjoying the birds singing for around 6 years, he knew now more than ever that he wanted to live his life to the fullest, not being dragged down by the oppression of the Chinese government.

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Posters from Tibet with Tibetan symbols

“After I came out of prison, I was so happy, even though I went to the hospital for around 8 or 9 months. My mother wanted me to come home, but my auntie told me to leave Tibet. If I came home or went to the Monastery, I would just be arrested again, so I had no choice.”

Lama Lobsang stops for a minute, takes a sip of his tea, and then continues talking about his life in Tibet after prison.

“I escaped Tibet in the middle of the night after realising I couldn’t go home or to the Monastery. I walked through the Himalayas by myself – day and night. In the night it was very cold. It was a very dangerous path, and a lot of other Tibetan people trying to escape for exile, like me, ended up dying on this route.”

It took Lama Lobsang 24 days before he ended up in Nepal at a UN Refugee Centre. From here he was sent to India, where he started studying Buddhism and Philosophy for a couple of years.

Eight years after escaping Tibet, he finally arrived in the United Kingdom in 2007. When asked how he ended up in Cardiff, Lama Lobsang explains:

“I went to Cardiff, because I love it here. Here I take care of people and help people. I help people with sadness, anger and meditation. I also help homeless people and children in school. I teach everyone to love life and each other. Because that is my life and this is what I do.”

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A portrait of Dalai Lama surrounded by Buddha statues

Since escaping Tibet, Lama Lobsang has never been back. He tried once, but for his own safety it was not possible. Instead he has started a charity, which helps the people of Tibet with hospitals, schools and such.

But even though Lama Lobsang hasn’t been able to visit Tibet and see his mother for many years now he has never regretted giving up his life in Tibet and leaving his family for believing in religion and freedom.

Lama Lobsang finishes the interview with a beautiful statement:

“I want people to respect each other, smile to each other and care for each other. Not thinking about differences, but love each other like we were all brothers and sisters. Not a day goes by, where I regret my decision of escaping Tibet. Because my life is being a Monk, and that is my best quality.”