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corner from the rea l la ma of the mona stery
Tintin had visited in the children’s b ook.
His name is Zatul rinpoche. The name
Zatul means tulku or reincarnate lama of
Zarongphu Mona stery (or Za for short),
the highest and most remote perma nently
inhabited mona stery in the world, loc ated
right beside the base camp for climbers
approaching Evere st (Chomolungma –
Mother Goddess of the Sky to the native
Tibetan s), with incredible views of this most
maje stic of mountains.
Zatul rinpoche’s life reads like an epic
of Tolkien proportion s. rec ognised a s the
reincarnation of the Lama of Za, at a young
a ge he wa s s ent to Mindroling University,
hardly read when I was a child as I was
far too active playing sport and running
amuck in the garden. But there were
three book s that rea lly captured my
imagination growing up in a quiet English
suburb – The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings
a nd Tintin in Tibet.
The imprint in my mind was so strong
that when I faced my first crisis in adult life
my instinct was to travel to Tibet in search
of answers, calm and healing.
I didn’t make it to Tibet that year but my
desire sprung on me a great search and, a few
yea rs later, after travelling through much of
the Himalaya s , I found myself living in the
northern suburbs of Perth just around the
the head of the Nyingma tradition, the
olde st of the four major Buddhist tradition s
in Tibet. Here, he was schooled and sat with
lea rned scholars from his infancy.
In 1959, when just a teenager, he fled
with his family to India following the Dalai
La ma into exile – not dissimilar to Frodo
fleeing from the Orcs to the safe heaven of
Once in India, Zatul rinpoche was
su mmoned by His Holiness to come to
Dharamsala to be one of 10 young lamas
and three geshes who were instructed to
lea rn English before being sent to different
parts of the world. Among the group was
Profes sor Samdong rinpoche who wa s later
to become the first Prime Minister of the
Tibetan Government in exile as the Dalai
La ma sought to create a modern democracy.
Switzerland generously decided to
take several groups of Tibetans, and when
the first group left in 1961, His Holiness
a ppointed Zatul rinpoche a s their leader.
It was while in Switzerland that Zatul
rinpoche continued his father’s obse ssion
with Japan; his father, a Tibetan dignitary,
had once travelled to that country (in the
days when intern ational travel wa s a great
rarity) on an official mission.
The family karma saw Zatul rinpoche
train to become a black belt and then very
advanced karate practitioner, regularly
travelling to Japan and learning their language
(rinpoche speaks six language s in total).
It was no longer feasible for him to
continue as a man of the cloth so he became
a householder, ma inta ining his spiritua l
practice and never losing heart or ceasing his
e fforts to support his beloved homela nd a nd
her children. Zatul rinpoche wa s elected a s
the Europea n representative in the Tibetan
Pa rliament in Exile. And he worked tirele ssly
as an activist campaigning for human rights
a nd freedom for the Tibeta n people.
Zatul rinpoche went on to become the
Dalai Lama’s representative to Japan a nd
Korea, living in Tokyo for some years. But
it was in Australia, and Western Australia
in particular, that Zatul rinpoche felt most
at home since fleeing Tibet and, after his
retirement from offic e, he settled here with
Zat ul rinpohe’s retirement from office
w as not a retirement from life. r ather, he
stepped up his work as an advocate for Tibet,
as well as his spiritual practice. For years he
tried to set up projects in his home village of
rongbuk where Za Monastery is located. Its
a ltitude at around 5000 metres and remoteness
makes life very hard for its inhabitants and
it is one of the most impoverished regions in
Zatul rinpoche made ma ny attempts
to assist his monastery and village but each
time was blocked by the Chinese officials.
After many years of trying, it became
obvious that for the moment it was not
possible to set up projects in his own region
so Zatul rinpoche decided to look else where
to invest his humanitarian desires .
Just a few kilometres over the border
dividing Tibet and Nepal lies the Tsum
Valley, another very remote and beautiful
community of ethnic Tibetans also
struggling with the remote lifestyle a nd
the incursions of Western society. At the
a ge of c onsent many of the children would
head to Kathmandu and end up in low end
employment or worse, something that wa s
ripping the heart out of the community. To
this end, Z atul rinpoche ha s linked with
Venerable Ngawang Thardoe, a monk based
in Kathma ndu, on a project to build a school
in the Tsum Valley so children can stay in
the community and study and also create
positive opportunities for themselve s a nd
their fa milies.
The two men met when Zatul rinpoche
wa s visiting his tea cher, Kyabje Trukshik
rinpoche, the head of the Nyingma
tradition of monks who have made their
home in exile beside Swayambhanath in
the Kathamandu Valley. Kabje Trukshik
rinpoche recently passed over and Zatul
rinpoche, as the second lama of the
monastery, will be involved in the process
of finding his reincarnation and helping
managing its affairs.
Zatul rinpoche a nd Geshe Ngawang
Thardoe with Austra lia’s honoured nurse,
Dame Leanne Bird, will lead the first trip in
the Jhomolangma rainbow Project to build
the Buddhist school in the Tsum Valley.
My business, Tra nsformationa l Tours, is
honoured to assist in this project and we
we lc ome a ll donations of skills, energ y
a nd money to ma ke this drea m of keeping
c ommunities and families together, a rea lity.
Now in his 70s, Zatul rinpoche has a
heartfelt desire to le ave this world having
created something of la sting benefit to
his community that will live in the hearts
and sustain the quality of life for many
generation s to come , so that his precious
human inca rnation will have had some
lasting meaning and value.
26 © noVA JuLY 2013
Jeremy Ball tells of a remarkable meeting with
the lama from Tintin in Tibet who is building hope
for his fellow Tibetans from his home in Perth.
Ven. Ngawang Thardoe
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