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Touring Buddhist monks make stop in Borrego Springs

By Moshay Simpson

BORREGO SPRINGS – Seven Buddhist monks from the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery kicked off their visit to Borrego Springs yesterday with a special performance at the local high school.

Students were treated to a traditional Cham performance.

The demonstration included dancing, music and a debate about compassion. The debate, held among three of the monks, was in Tibetan.

“It was unique, a great cultural experience for our kids,” said Gary Gernandt, principal of Borrego Springs High School. He said students didn’t know what to expect. Some thought the monks were coming to teach Buddhism.

Yesterday was the monks’ first appearance in Borrego Springs, one of only two communities in the county being visited. The group of seven men, their interpreter and driver will be in town through Saturday conducting meditations, discussions and performances.

The monks have been on the road since September, beginning their tour in Canada before traveling to the East Coast . The powder blue Ford Club Wagon with “Free Tibet” stickers on it has logged 11,000 miles so far, volunteer driver Raymond Gilliar said. The tour concludes July 21.

The purpose of the tour, translator Lobsang Dhondup said, is to draw attention to the kidnapping of the Panchen Lama, a religious leader anointed by the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s exiled spiritual and political head.

The monks have not known the whereabouts or condition of the Panchen Lama since the Chinese government took him and his family into custody in 1995, when he was 6 years old.

The monks are also trying to build support for the movement to liberate Tibet from Chinese control and raise money to expand the monastery and feed monks as their numbers grow.

“The reason why we’re taking this tour is to bring awareness,” Dhondup said.

The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery was founded by the first Dalai Lama in 1447 but was abandoned in 1959 when Tibet was taken over by China. At that time, the temple was home to 5,000 monks.

After the invasion, many monks were killed and imprisoned and their temples destroyed.

The Tashi Lhunpo Monastery was re-established in 1972 in the Southern Indian state of Karnataka. Its numbers, as well as those of other monasteries-in-exile, have grown to the point where facilities are unable to support the rising populations, the monks say.

Melony Light, who runs Devas Day Spa and helped bring the monks to Borrego Springs, said their visit was a chance for the community to expand its cultural boundaries.

Borrego Springs Junior High students Rene Navarro and Nick Hallowell, along with Rene’s brother, Cesar, said the monks’ visit opened their eyes to the plight of the Panchen Lama. The three signed a petition calling for the Panchen Lama’s release.

“The people here are so good and kind,” Dhondup said, adding that he has enjoyed the trip so far and has been impressed by the region’s infrastructure.

The Tashi Lhunpo monks will hold a meditation and Dharma talk at Devas Day Spa at 7:30 this morning.

A mediation is scheduled for Saturday, followed by a world peace ceremony and another Cham performance. They will also perform Feb. 22 at Shiho Gallery in Del Mar. More information is available on the Internet at

Moshay Simpson can be contacted at (760) 752-6738;

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