NPR logo October 13: Karma in Translation

October 13: Karma in Translation

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

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Bill McQuay, NPR

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 at Sumtseling Monastery. Bill McQuay, NPR hide caption

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Bill McQuay, NPR

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. National Geographic Society hide caption

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National Geographic Society

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.

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