Stories Among Us: Jamyang Tsogo

For Tibetan monk Jamyang Tsogo, the chance to study at UC Irvine transcends simply studying English — it’s the gateway to an independence he’s wanted all his life.

In Aldrich Park, Jamyang sits at the foot of a tree, his maroon kaseya and mustard button-up in direct contrast with the tangle of roots around him. In hand he holds the book Pathways: Listening, Speaking, and Critical Thinking, his eyes focused as he mouths the phrases of conversational english. For Jamyang, however, the chance to study at UC Irvine through an annual exchange program transcends simply studying English — it’s the gateway to an education and self sufficiency he’s wanted all his life.

Jamyang was born in a rural village in West Tibet in 1980, nearly 5 years following the end of the Cultural Revolution in China, a measure launched by Mao Zedong in order to reassert his authority over the Chinese government which wreaked havoc among many minorities — particularly Tibetans, whose link with Buddhism was challenged as China attempted to claim territorial ownership over the autonomous nation. Countless Tibetan Buddhists were forced to participate in the destruction of their monasteries at gunpoint, and many monks and nuns were killed in additional to the psychological and physical torture initiated by the Chinese.

The years of tragedy of turmoil that characterized the Cultural Revolution were something that Jamyang grew up ignorant of — his childhood memories are vivid from the young age of 10 during which he was sent to a rich family member to work as a servant, tending to sheep.

Bound to this trajectory of a servant, one day nearly three and a half years into his stay, Jamyang’s hunger led him to steal some money from the home in order to get food — however, the homeowner became aware of what he had done.

The result was intense abuse, and Jamyang finally asked the homeowner for the salary for the work he had been doing for the past 3 years — he could no longer stay and work without proper food to eat. When refused, he asked if he could return to his family.

Sharply, the homeowner informed him I couldn’t return to his home, for his family had sold him for farmland.

“When I heard these words, I was so surprised and I could not imagine what he had just said to me. That night, I escaped and traveled to my home to confirm what I had just been told was the truth. It was then that my parents told me that everything he said was correct and that I needed to continue to stay there and work his land. My emotions were very raw and I was in such shock. I could not believe my parent’s would do something like this to me. I felt disgusted with my family. Why did this happen to me? I did not know what to think or feel. That day was the most difficult in my life. It was also that day I learned what it felt like to lose everything I had.”

That day was the most difficult in my life. It was also that day I learned what it felt like to lose everything I had.

It was at that moment that Jamyang decided to renounce any relationship with his family, and left indefinitely.

Shortly thereafter, Jamyang decided to head to Dharm. Located on the border of Tibet and Nepal, it is a city heavily visited by tourists. With the hope of finding work in a city antithetical to his rural roots, he headed there through a two day journey.

In Dharm, Jamyang began work as a cleaner in a restaurant.

Time passed slowly — his hopes of receiving a salary failed in this city as well, as his work was reciprocated only the basic needs of food and shelter. Eventually, Jamyang met three men which he had known of from his village, who began to tell him what they knew of his Holiness, the Dalai Lama, and India — a nation that Jamyang had never knew of previously.

As years passed and dialogue of a new trajectory increased, the four decided to collectively travel to India. After a two week journey through the Himalayas, a back route to avoid any authority, the four reached India in January of 1999. Upon reaching a monastery in Northern India, Jamyang met the Dalai Lama, who educated him upon the atrocities of the Cultural Revolution, and his exile in India.

He was advised not to return to Tibet, but rather pursue his education to make a difference one day. At age 19, Jamyang enrolled at his first education institution — T.C.V School at Gopalpur.

In 2003, he became a monk.

“Being alone and out of my country was the best way for me to live. In my mind a monk’s life was perfect for me. I no longer had anything left in this world.”

“I began my search for teachers who would be able to teach me Buddhist teachings and take care of students. Finally, I found one monk from South India but he had rejected me. He told me there was no way he could provide me with enough education and take care of me. But I would not give up. I started to tell him that I had a very strong feeling to become a monk and I proceeded to tell him my life story.

The man then expressed his concern for me and my past life and finally agreed to accept me on one condition. The condition being, I need to accept and contact my family. I also needed to promise him I will not think ill of parents for what they had done with me.

At that moment, I accepted his request wholeheartedly and we became teacher and student. I felt very happy at this moment.”

In 2004, Jamyang finally made contact with his family over the phone. They were overjoyed to learn that he had become a monk. However, the communication was brief and restricted — in the years that had passed, Jamyang had forgotten his local dialect, and his parents could not fully understand him in his now fluent Tibetan language.

“Many years have already passed and I have been separated from my family and their life. In this world, our humanity thrives and learns our most basic interactions from our mother’s love. I never received my mother’s love, or kindness, nor did I receive any of life’s teachings from her. I have missed that very much. After learning and studying the Buddhist teachings, I know even more how important a mother’s love and care for her children is. 
Sometimes, I have seen my mother in my dreams. Many times I have called her name and she has slipped away from me. After I wake up my heart is beating so fast I feel like it will jump out of my chest. I long very much to go and see my family again but I doubt that will ever be possible. Separated from time and distance, I have lost my way home…Despite everything that has transpired between my family and I, I still love them, yet I still feel anger from what they did with me. The older I get, the more I feel I need their approval and support that I have never received.”

In recent years, Jamyang’s Master has passed away and he finds himself alone. Everyday, he ruminates what his spiritual master had help him gain — forgiveness, acceptance, optimism towards the future, despite its fickleness — and the dual role of mother and father he fulfilled.

The monastic lifestyle was what led Jamyang to fulfill his wishes for independence from his family, yet now it is precisely what has led Jamyang to question his future self sufficiency.

“ I do not know if I will continue to live as a monk. Everything depends on receiving help from another and it is a truly difficult life. I would like to study more and stand on my own feet and through my own hard work make myself more independent and earn my own salary.”

Written and shot by Aditi Mayer, a sophomore at UC Irvine studying Literary Journalism and International Studies.

You can follow her @aditimayer, and on her blog,