October 13: Karma in Translation

The five-story main prayer hall at Sumtseling Monastery. i i

hide captionThe five-story main prayer hall at Sumtseling Monastery, capping a hillside of buildings that are part of the monastery complex.

Bill McQuay, NPR
The five-story main prayer hall at Sumtseling Monastery.

The five-story main prayer hall at Sumtseling Monastery, capping a hillside of buildings that are part of the monastery complex.

Bill McQuay, NPR
Images of greed, hatred and delusion at the hub of a wall painting of the Wheel of Life i i

hide captionImages of greed, hatred and delusion at the hub of a wall painting of the Wheel of Life at Sumtseling Monastery.

Bill McQuay, NPR
Images of greed, hatred and delusion at the hub of a wall painting of the Wheel of Life

Images of greed, hatred and delusion at the hub of a wall painting of the Wheel of Life at Sumtseling Monastery.

Bill McQuay, NPR

Yesterday afternoon, I met with a 70-year-old Tibetan monk, a monastic since age 10. He agreed to meet with me, but did not want the interview recorded.

He was born in a village close to the Sumtseling monastery, where he is now a resident. During the Cultural Revolution, he fled to India to escape persecution. He returned from exile three years ago during a period of Chinese religious liberalization.

Pilgrimage Map

Click the smaller map above to chart Bill McQuay's journey i i

hide captionClick the smaller map above to chart Bill McQuay's journey.

National Geographic Society
Click the smaller map above to chart Bill McQuay's journey

Click the smaller map above to chart Bill McQuay's journey.

National Geographic Society

I asked him about rebirth, and he tells me that when I am reborn as an animal it will be due to the karma I have created in this and previous lives. I ask him if I must be reborn as an animal — and he again states that it will be the result of my past and future actions. I stop asking and hope that I am simply confused by the translator's interpretation.

I shift the conversation to my pilgrimage. He tells me that if I am concerned about the benefits that I will receive from my pilgrimage, I can expect little. He suggests that a better attitude would be to perform the pilgrimage in the hope that it would benefit all beings.

Previous: October 11 — The Laws of Disappearing Legroom

Next: October 15 — Some Unexpected Passengers

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