Bhutan is located in the Himalayan Mountains between India and China (Figure 1). The ethnically Nepali, Nepali-speaking Bhutanese, or Lhotsampas (“People of the south”), are a largely Hindu people who moved from Nepal to Bhutan. They lived peacefully in Bhutan until the mid-1980s when Bhutan’s king and the ruling Druk majority feared that their population could overrun the majority group and dilute the traditional Buddhist culture of the Druk Bhutanese. 1 A cultural campaign known as “One country, one people,” or “Bhutanization,” was initiated in order to forge a Bhutanese national identity.
The policies forced the Druk dress code, religious practices, and language on all Bhutanese regardless of heritage. These adopted policies alienated the Lhotsampas by attempting to forcibly integrate them into the majority culture.
1 Difficult requirements for proving citizenship were also imposed on the Lhotsampa people, and even those who could provide documentation were usually denied citizenship.
1 Human rights violations were commonplace and by the early 1990s, the “One country, one people” campaign had precipitated a humanitarian emergency. By 1993, more than 100,000 Lhotsampa Bhutanese had fled or were forced out of Bhutan and resettled in southeastern Nepal.
Figure 1: Location of Nepal and Bhutan
Location of Nepal and Bhutan
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Language and Literacy
The majority of Bhutanese refugees are bilingual. Most speak Nepali at home, but some also speak the Bhutanese language, Dzongkha.
1 Younger members of the refugee community have also been exposed to English in the camps in Nepal. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that about 35% of refugees in Nepali camps have a functional grasp of English.
2 Among the older refugees, those not born in camps, men speak more English than women.
3 Nepali interpreters, however, were required for nearly 90% of Bhutanese refugee post-arrival medical screening examinations carried out from 2008-2011 in Texas. 5 Among Bhutanese refugees, the literacy rate in their native language is estimated at 65%. 4
Approximately 60% of the refugees are Hindu, 27% are Buddhists, 10% are Kirat (an indigenous animistic faith), and the remaining refugees are Christian. 2
Bhutanese refugees follow a complex caste system very similar to that of their Nepalese counterparts. In the refugee camps, there are a total of 64 castes, groups, and parties. 3 The Hindus have four castes, of which Bahun is the highest. In the refugee camps in Nepal and in U.S. communities after resettlement, caste has been declining in importance for many people, while still retaining its value for others. Those who still adhere to the social and behavioral rules of the caste system are unlikely to discuss it openly with outsiders. 1
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Family and Kinship
The typical household is large and often includes elderly parents, married sons and their wives and children, and unmarried children. 2 The younger generation is generally responsible for the care of older relatives, reflecting the tradition of respecting one’s elders, regardless of relation. 1 It is common for family disputes, health problems, and financial troubles to be brought to discussions with the elders within the family before action is taken. The Bhutanese community as a whole is tightly-knit, and kinship ties are important. 1
In Bhutan and in refugee camps in Nepal, gender roles are clearly demarcated. Females perform far more housework, have less access to information and resources, and usually have less decision-making power than males. 2 In some castes, female victims of sexual violence and their families can face alienation from their community.
Cultural Approach to Health Care
Bhutanese refugees often use home remedies as first-line treatment for illness and seek outside medical advice only if their symptoms are not relieved. 1 Traditional healers, called dhami-jakhri, also continue to play a role in health care for many resettled refugees. Patients may need encouragement and positive reinforcement to feel comfortable sharing their use of traditional practices with American providers. Bhutanese refugees tend to seek out care in response to a serious health problem rather than seeking preventive care. The reluctance of the community to seek care unless severely ill may be amplified by the fact that refugees may not have adequate health coverage after the eight-month period of federal resettlement benefits ends, and may be unable to meet the financial costs of medical care. 1 Health care utilization is also affected by traditional gender roles, as mothers may be hesitant to describe their own health concerns but will voice the health concerns of their children or spouse. 3
For more information about the orientation, resettlement, and adjustment of Bhutanese refugees visit the Cultural Orientation Resource Center.
Maxym M, et al. Nepali-speaking Bhutanese (Lhotsampa) cultural profile. 2010. http//www.ethnomed.org. Accessed 12 Mar 2011.
Ranard D. (2007). Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Center for Applied Linguistics. [www.cal.org] [PDF - 4 pages]
International Rescue Committee (2009). The health of refugees from Bhutan. IRC New York.
International Organization for Migration (IOM).
Texas Department of State Health Services (2009-2011), Electronic System for Health Assesment of Refugees (eShare Database).
I think we owe future generations anaccount of the traditional Tibetan social, political and economic systemthat is as objective as possible based on the best documentation available. That was my aim twenty years ago, and still is today.
This is the html version of the file [www.case.edu].
Google automatically generates html versions of documents as we crawl the web.
BRIEF COMMUNATION:Freedom, Servitude and the “Servant-serf”Nyima: a re-rejoinder to Miller
MELVYN C. GOLDSTEINR.
Miller has continued the Goldstein/Miller debate in a recentissue of The Tibet Journal (13 (3): 63-66, 1988).‘
However, at the same time she suggests that people are probably weary ofthis dialogue. I agree-especially since I think her latest commentsmuddle rather than clarify the discussion.
But be that as it may, I am willing, as she indicates she is, to agree to disagree over the heuristic value of applying the term “serfdom” to Tibet.
Thus. I shall not respondpoint by point to her rejoinder.lnstead I shall take this opportunity to refocus attention from “terminology" (“serf" versus “subject" versus “miser") back to the real issue underlying our debate — the nature of the peasantry in Tibet beforethe Chinese assumed control in 1959.
In general, I must confess that Iam ooncemed that enthusiasm for the “Tibetan Cause” vis-a-vis Chinamay be fostering a “revisionist” approach to Tibetan social structurethat downplays the existence of massive servitude — implying, for example, that Tibetan peasants were not really bound to estates and lords because they were likely to succed if they ran away to another area.
Running away was certainly possible in Tibet, but it was an illegal option of last resort. Runaways also paid a steep price: leaving ones home village and family forever, and losing security, friends and support netwroks. Moreover, lords sometimes caught and punishedrunaway serfs - as was clearly their legal right. The presence of runaways, therefore. does not alter the jural essence of the traditional system any more than the fact that slaves in 19th century America ranaway to Canada would change the structural and legal essence of theSouthern plantation/slave system.
Arguments that try to emphasize a high degree of mobility in Tibet based on the fact that desperate serfsc ould run away from their lords place the traditional system in a deceptively positive light and trivialize the oppressive and exploitive aspects of that system.
FREEDOM, SERVITUDE & NYIMA $7
Foundational aspects of the nature of servitude in Tibet areaptly illustrated by its converse - opportunities for manumission. As I have demonstrated in earlier papers. the various categories of serf or miser differed substantially in terms of inherited obligations (andr ights). I cite below a retranslation’ of a partial manumission (“humanlease") document of one type of miser — a nang gzan. Nang gzan werea servant type’ of miser. They generally had no arable land and had to provide lifelong service to their lords, receiving food and clothes but no wages.’
Both aristocratic families and (Buddhist--Corboy)religious corporations (labrangand monasteries) had such nang gzan. The document in question was issued in 1946 by a Tibetan monastic lord _to one of its miser —- Nyima,a Tibetan refugee whom I met in 1965 while conducting a two year ﬁeld study in Bylakuppe. a refugee camp in India. It states:
This man named Nyima. from the taxpaying serf [mi rtsa] family ofDzingkhag, on one of Tsechogling labrang's estates, fromerly was a
gzan working in the kitchenof the labrang. [Tenchog] requested and obtained permission [for Nyima] to be relieved [temporarily] from his duties as kitchen-worker in order to serve him during his term o foffice as Lhanyer of Tagpo. When Tenchog was transferred, Nyimar etumed and was sent by the labrang to take charge of [a minor estatecalled] Phuzhi.
In the year of the Fire-Dog , he was transferred from Phuzhi and ordered back to resume his duties [as nang gzan] inthe labrang. The essence of the issue is that Nyima accumulated large debts from Dodrag monastery, Trengzhi dodzong and [families]belonging to us such as Nangpa Sanagpa and has no means of repaying them, being already stripped by creditors of what few belongings he had, having become like a Gypsy-beggar. But that is not a good excusefor granting “human-lease" status [mi bogs] for like buying a bad horse,[you have to take care of it - i.e., it is your own fault]. However, even though he is not worthy of being granted “human lease” status[mi bogs], viewing the relationship between a serf and master a sequivalent to that of lama and patron, and in consideration of Nyima's pitiful situation and the fact that we should help our serfs [mi rtsa], his request is granted. Henceforth he shall pay ﬁfteen sfang to the[Tsechogling] labrang before the twenty-ﬁfth of the tenth month eachyear without excuse. If he does this, he is relieved of all taxation [inkind] and cowee labor obligations. However, if the labrang needs him for special occasions (ceremonies) and for traveling, the Iabrang will send a notice-and he should come as soon as the notice arrives. If this is fulﬁlled, then the officers and managers of the labrang whoever comes[in the future] are not permitted to abuse (bother him). Fire-Pig year(1949), twelfth month, seventh day." SEAL
The document dose not say how Nyima came to be a nanggzan of Tsechogling, one of Tibet’s most famous religious institutions(Iabrang), but normally this came about because one of the periodic obligations of agricultural miser families was provision of nang gzan servants for their lords. The document reviews the circumstances of Nyima's service and how Tsechogling came to grant him “humanlease,“ a status which conveyed a speciﬁc type of partial manumission,i.e., exemption from daily servitude _ rom having to serve his lord(Tsechogling) in whatever capacity the lord saw ﬁt. However, receiving human lease status made him only partially free. It was conceived inTibet only as “leasing” (bogs ma gtong) one's daily freedom from service to the lord/estate, not as severing the hereditary link between serf and lord.
ln Nyima’s case, a relatively steep annual fee had to be paid and, in addition, Nyima was liable for two types of temporary services whenever the lord requested it. There was no limit on the number of times the lord could summon him for these, or on the length of time he had to work on each occasion; and there was, of course, no payment. Moreover, Nyima was requested to drop everything and come at once to serve the lord. This residual service and payment was
Nyima's obligation as a “human lease" serf, a status that was difficult to obtain and highly sought after despite the continuing service obligations.
But not only did Nyima still belong to his lord after receiving“human lease" status, that status was hereditary.
Nyima's sons would have also belonged to Tsechogling.
The link of a serf to his lord passed through parallel lines of descent, i.e. from father to son and mother to daughter, so when Nyima’s sons reached about 13 years of age, they would have been liable to be summoned to serve as servants (nanggzan) for Tsechogling. If Nyima were fortunate, he would have been able to arrange for his sons to receive “human lease" status when they ame of age, but they would not have escaped from the hereditary binds that forced them to provide services and money to their lord eventhough they held no land.
Nyima and his document are real. Whatever we choose to call Nyima — miser, serf, subject, peasant — he was clearly not free in any sense that we understand the term, nor was his servitude his own choice. He belonged to Tsechogling because his father did. and beforethat, his father.
As I indicated earlier, although much has been made of the notion of “running away” from one’s lord and estate. “mnning away" was neither desirable nor a casually undertaken decision.
Take, forexample, Nyima’s response to my attempt to buy his “human lease"document. He initially was reluctant because he said he needed it. Since this was India in 1965. I was puzzled by this answer and pressed him to explain why he still needed it. He explained that if Tibet regained itsindependence and he retumed without the actual document, he couldagain be liable for daily service to Tsechogling as a nang gzan.something he did not at all relish(Corboy italics).
This was not a trivial matter for Nyima who did not see the illegal act of “running away" as the alternative to holding the legal status of "human lease.” even though the latter meant 'a sizable annual monetary payment. I ultimately obtained the document only because I promised I would return it to him should Trbet gain its independence and Nyima somehow need it.
In conclusion, it is because of characteristics such as this that Ihave argued that the concept serfdom is an appropriate designation fortraditional Tibet. Some, such as Dr. Miller, may disagree with this, but whatever tenninology we use, I think we owe future generations an account of the traditional Tibetan social, political and economic system that is as objective as possible based on the best documentationa vailable. That was my aim twenty years ago, and still is today.
so THE mar JOURNAL
1. This was her response to my rejoinder to her rejoinder to myoriginal article titled: Reexamining Choice, Dependency andCommand in the Tibetan Social System: "Tax appendages"and other landless serfs. (The Tibet Journal, 9 (4): 1986, 79-112.)
2. Original] published in: Serfdom and Mobility: An examinationof the institution of ‘Human Lease’ in traditional Tibetansociety. Journal of Asian Studies. Vol. XXX, No.3. pp.52l-34,1971a., For other examinations of the peasantry see also my:An Anthropological Analysis of the Tibetan Political System.University Microﬁlms, 1968; and Taxation and the structureof a Tibetan village. Central Asiatic Journal. Vol. XV, No. 1,pp. 1-27. 1971b.
3. The Status nang gzan, in turn, is sub-divided into status such asthab gyog.4. See Goldstein l97la for a duscussion of the reason behind thegrant.Communication on this issue is now closed. --Editor.O
From Publishers Weekly
In this memoir, Meston tells the wrenching tale of being put in a Buddhist monastery as a child by his hippie parents, who had hopes of him becoming a monk. Meston was born in 1970 to a father who was a self-taught artist, and later descended into mental illness, and a mother who hailed from a wealthy Hollywood family and became so enraptured by Buddhist teachings that she became a nun in a Nepalese monastery. At age six, Meston was placed in a large Tibetan foster family before entering the Kopan temple. The only white-skinned boy, he was teasingly called White Eye and Rotten, and soon grew bored by the tedious study and chores. He became rebellious, and was eventually expelled for breaking his vow of celibacy and sent to live with relatives in California. Meston spoke little English, had no formal education, and spent years educating himself (he was eventually accepted at Brandeis). Meston later worked for Tibetan rights issues, traveling to Tibet, where he created a cause célèbre when he leaped out the window while under house arrest to avoid interrogation by Chinese officials. Meston's (and Ansberry's) style is journalistically cut-and-dried and occasionally stifles the emotional turbulence that drives Weston's psychic journey, from abandoned child to lonely immigrant and suicidal prisoner. (Mar.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"What a life! Born to a footloose pair of wandering American hippies, raised in a large Tibetan family, and ordained at six as a monk, Daja Wangchuk Meston's quest for his own identity is a kind of modern-day Odyssey. Alive with the sights and smells of a hidden world, resonant with emotional honesty, it is the story of the most epic journey of them all, the one that leads to home."
-- Geraldine Brooks,winner of the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for her novel March and author of Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden Lives of Islamic
Daja Wangchuk Meston begins his memoir dramatically with a desperate leap from a third story hotel window in a remote area of Tibet. It's a quick glimpse at a man pushed beyond his limits, unsure of his place in the world, and desperate beyond sense. When he jumped, he fully expected to die.
That was in 1999, and the author had been in the custody of Chinese authorities, suffering long days of interrogation with no sleep, accused of crimes against the People's Republic of China for his work on behalf of Tibetan rights.
The memoir then leaves behind that awful, desperate step--a step that shattered his heels and his life (both of which would take years to mend)--and takes us back in time to his first steps as a toddler on the Greek island of Corfu. Daja was born to hippie parents (Names Omitted-Corboy) who hoped to leave behind the commercialism of their own American upbringing. When he was one, his parents travelled to India on a whim, and then on to Nepal to attend a Buddhist retreat. It was there, in the mountains of Nepal, that the author's father suffered a debilitating beakdown and disappeared, only to emerge from the woods a week later, disheveled and incoherent. He was sent back to the states (alone) and did not see his son again until decades later.
When Daja was three years old, his mother inexplicably delivered him to a local family (Tibetan nobles, living in Nepal) to raise. For three years he believed they were his real family--until they sent him, alone, at the ripe old age of six, to a Buddhist monastery to take the vows of a monk.
A number of privileged Americans have gone (by choice) to monastic retreats, seeking solitude, respite, and peace, but Daja's childhood was far from idyllic. Thanks in part to his pale skin and blond hair, Daja was treated as an outcast both by his peers and adult monks alike. And the indignities he suffered over the next ten years were Dickensian in scope: sleep deprivation, forced labor, lice infestations, constant hunger, humiliation, beatings, dysentery, alienation and isolation.
He was further emotionally orphaned by a mother who chose, herself, to join the monastic life of a Buddhist nun, shaving her head, wearing robes, and leaving the secular world behind (to include the responsibilities of parenthood).
At its core, this is the heartbreaking story of a lost childhood. It is the tale of one man's lifelong search for identity, belonging, and the welcoming arms of family. And it is difficult to read this book and fathom what the young author endured without feeling anger on his behalf. But the adult Meston refuses to stay in a place of anger and self-pity, searching instead for understanding and forgiveness. Fortunately, the redemptive ending brings us full-circle, and--as the title implies--comes back around to
..partly raised in a Tibetan family until he was dropped into a Buddhist monastary, where he became a monk at the age of six and lived a sheltered, puzzled, religiously indentured life until, at 17, he excaped by means of a lie and flew back to the US, where he found himself in a California high school, speaking rudimentary English and astonished to discover that the world was not flat...
Add to this an early marriage to a wonderful, willful. deeply troubled young woman, a pair of crushed ankles earned by jumping out the window of a hotel room in Tibet while incarcerated by Chinese authorities...
people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars URGENT change needed for archaic Tibetan Buddhist practises, January 18, 2008
By Tenzin (Australia) - See all my reviewsThis review is from: Comes the Peace: My Journey to Forgiveness (Hardcover)
"Comes the Peace" shocked me into the realisation that the "compassion and love" that we all associate with Tibetan Buddhism is definitely being violated inside the walls of some Monasteries. Not only by the "monk police" but by the Lamas and monks themselves !!
This book was an eye-opening account of an American's boy's experience inside a Tibetan Buddhist Monastery in Kathmandu, Nepal. Here he was marginalised and tormented for being "white" and different by his peers and whacked over the head by Rosary beads when only a very young boy by the "monk police" for merely talking . This poor boy had been psychologically tortured.
Though through his sadness, confusion and loneliness he emerges with an inner strength and hopefully inner peace.
This is an important book as it may contribute to shifting the discriminatory and out-dated practises of one of the world's oldest religions. Tibetan Buddhism has so much to offer humanity but needs to abolish these contradictory practises and show TRUE compassion towards ALL the monks and not a priveleged few !!
An amazing and rare account of life inside a Tibetan Monastery from a Western perspective. A must read
The simple life
Raised to be a Tibetan monk, he had to find his own path to enlightenment
By David Mehegan, Globe Staff | April 17, 2007
NEWTON -- With his bright smile, wire-rimmed glasses, and shock of thick hair, Daja Wangchuk Meston of Newton looks like an ordinary guy in his mid-30s, with a faint south-Asian accent. But his amazing story shows what a precious and hard-won thing an ordinary life can be.
When he was 6 years old, Meston's American mother arranged for him to be ordained as a monk in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery monk in Nepal. Confused and unhappy, he left the monastery at age 16, knowing rudimentary English, and eventually made his way alone to the United States. He ended up in Boston, and only gradually unraveled the mystery of his origins.
Today, Meston and his Tibetan-born wife, Phuni, own a small import shop, called Karma, in Newton Centre. Now he has told his story, without any bitterness, in a new book "Comes the Peace: My Journey to Forgiveness."
Meston, 36, was born in Switzerland in 1970 to Feather Meston and Larry Greeneye, a pair of American flower children from Los Angeles, wandering across Europe in a green Volkswagen Bus, smoking dope , and dreaming of enlightenment. They ended up in Nepal, where his father had a schizophrenic breakdown, and his mother became a Tibetan Buddhist nun.
His father eventually was brought back to the United States, to be cared for by family. His mother left her boy at age 3 with a Tibetan family in Kathmandu. Three years later, she committed him to a life as a monk in nearby Kopan monastery, while she went off to study the Buddhist ideals of compassion and renunciation.
As an odd white boy among Asians in the monastery, Daja was harassed by other monk-boys and beaten for making mistakes in memorization. He was often hungry, and increasingly baffled at his own identity. "Six to 16," he said, "my formative years, were a constant struggle to fend off attacks, taunts, name-calling. I developed a sense of unworthiness and discomfort with my own color, a sense that there was something fundamentally wrong with me."
At 16, increasingly restive and angry, Meston got himself kicked out of the monastery by faking a visit to a prostitute. He spoke Tibetan and Hindi, but his English was poor. "There was nothing for me to do in Nepal as a lay person," he said. His mother, still in the region, reluctantly helped him go to Italy for a year, then to Los Angeles, where she had relatives. "She was furious," he said. "She did not want me to leave being a monk."
Arriving in Los Angeles in 1987, he was placed in a public high school. He took his mother's family name because he thought Greeneye (his father had changed his name from Greenberg) was too weird. Though he spoke four languages -- he had added Italian -- his reading skills were weak and he knew little math and less science or history. He refused to eat a hot dog because he thought it was dog meat. When a history class took up the Civil War, he assumed that the Battle of Gettysburg had happened recently. Gradually he learned. He found his father's older brother, Albert Greenberg, who became a surrogate father to him. Albert took him for the first time to meet the boy's father, Larry, in a Los Angeles home for the mentally ill.
In 1989, at his mother's suggestion, Meston came to Boston, where he met Phuni Sonam, a Tibetan immigrant. They were soon married. He was 19; she was 20. He had not finished high school but in 1993 was accepted at Brandeis University, graduating with a degree in sociology.
"You don't meet many Jewish Tibetan Buddhists, at least not from the age of 3," said Gordie Fellman, a professor of sociology at Brandeis who remains close to the couple (Phuni also went to Brandeis). "When I learned that the Dalai Lama says the heart of Tibetan Buddhism is compassion for other people and the self, I saw that that is the way he has lived his life."
Yet he remained depressed and confused. He traveled several times to Tibet and India as guide and interpreter. In 1999, China had applied to the World Bank for funds to build a massive land-reclamation project which a Tibetan human rights group suspected would displace Tibetans. Meston was asked to visit the area and investigate. Caught taking photographs, he was arrested. During a break in intense interrogation, he jumped out a third-floor window and shattered his heels, in addition to internal injuries.
Eventually, he was released and returned to Boston, where he spent several years convalescing, while Phuni worked in retail jobs to bring in money. Emotionally, he had hit bottom.
"I was physically broken," he said. "I thought I was finished. I couldn't think or function." Then he attended a 2001 conference at Boston University on the writing of autobiography and memoir, which suggested to him "how I could transcend and transform the difficult experiences I had had by writing about them." But first he had to find the truth. "I had no information at all, zero," he said, and since he could not learn much from his father, he asked his mother, who had moved back to the United States.
"I tried to press her," said Meston, "but she would say, 'Why do you care? It's finished, it's past -- move on.' I was so confused because she was the only person I could go to, and she wasn't giving me anything." But gradually she softened. He said, "She began to trust that I would not attack her, and she told me things she had never told me."
What Wongmo (her nun's name) told him, she repeated in a telephone interview from Washington state, where she now lives. She was from an artistic, high-strung family. Her father, John Meston, was cocreator and scriptwriter for the "Gunsmoke" radio and television show. He and his wife were alcoholics and neglectful parents. Wongmo said that as a young person in California and Europe, she was deeply sunk in "sex, drugs, and rock and roll."
"Then all of a sudden to find your spiritual life and purpose, you can't say no," she said. "When you are so young, you need support. I asked [Daja], 'What did you expect me to do? Did you think I could have come back to the US?' I would have gone back to my old habits in a week. I had to stay."
But there was the small matter of the child. After leaving him for three years with the Tibetan family, she decided to have him ordained a monk. "Every mother wants the best for her child," she said. "I thought with my whole heart that being brought up by wise Tibetan spiritual masters would be the best thing for anyone on earth."
The one thing she regrets is not realizing how unhappy her son was in Kopan. "If I were to do it again, I would check more carefully on how he was doing," she said. Yet she still speaks as though, in abandoning the monastery for America, he had traded his birthright for a mess of pottage.
"He spoke perfect Llasa Tibetan, which is like the king's English," she said. "He could have been a translator for His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] or ancient texts. It wasn't his karma, and I have accepted that, but such a life would be extraordinary, to be in the presence of great masters, as opposed to living a normal, everyday, ordinary life."
Albert Greenberg, 81, of Los Angeles, is devoted to his nephew but speaks with outrage at his sister-in-law's family.
"I can't look at the bright side of that family," he said by telephone. "My family was poor and dysfunctional, but they loved their kids. Her family was wealthy and talented, but more screwed up than we were. They had no love in that family. What Daja and Phuni have done for themselves, all that is in spite of what happened to him."
In 2003, through a friend, Meston made contact with Clare Ansberry, the Pittsburgh bureau chief of The Wall Street Journal. She wrote a story about him in 2005, and acted as coauthor of the book.
Now that he knows his life story, Daja Meston makes no harsh judgments. The nearest he comes to criticizing his mother is to say, "To be compassionate, you also have to be wise. You can be compassionate and still make a lot of mistakes." He is close to her, and also visits his father several times a year. His and Phuni's home is filled with his father's strange and beautiful artwork.
"The gift of all this," he said, "is the piecing together for myself, and getting to a place where I am comfortable, whether it's understanding my fears, or understanding my parents and all the contradictions, and saying, 'That is life.' Life is a messy business
He and his wife had a daughter.
Scholarship created in memory of Daja Wangchuk Meston Greenberg '96
Boy who became a monk was a passionate advocate for Tibetan people and culture
Aug. 5, 2010
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A scholarship has been created by the family of Daja Wangchuk Meston Greenberg to honor the memory of the passionate advocate for Tibetan people and culture who took his own life on July 11.
The scholarship will recognize a Brandeis student who carries on the social-justice ideals and values that Daja championed.
Daja was raised by Buddhist monks in Nepal and graduated from Brandeis cum laude in 1996 despite having no formal schooling before he enrolled. The Peace, Conflict, and Coexistence Studies on which he concentrated here contributed to his campaign for human rights, and shaped the way he applied his abundant compassion, thoughtfulness, and intellectual curiosity.
He was fluent in five languages – Tibetan, Hindi, Nepali, English and Italian.
“Here was a young man of great sensitivity and depth, and when you saw him smile you could sense all that,” said Gordie Fellman, the professor of sociology with whom he studied most extensively. “He was my student, my teacher, my son, my brother, my comrade, my colleague, my friend.
“He was quiet and shy, but very good” as a student and as a human being, said Fellman, who chose Daja and his wife, Phuntsok (Kim) '05, as the godparents of his children because “they were the people we felt would bring the values, gentleness and compassion to childrearing that we’d be hoping for if something happened to us.”
Fellman said that Daja had difficultly managing the deep compassion he felt for others. “If he heard or read of pain, he took it on,” Fellman said. “He seemed unable to defend himself against the pain of other people.”
Daja’s extraordinary life was the subject of a front-page story in “The Wall Street Journal” by reporter Clare Ansberry in 2005. The two then collaborated on Daja’s memoir, “Comes the Peace: My Journey to Forgiveness,” which was published in 2007.
“Brandeis has always taken great pride in Daja’s accomplishments. He showed a deep commitment to social justice and worked courageously on behalf of the people of Tibet despite facing enormous personal risk,” said President Jehuda Reinharz, PhD ’72. “I had the honor of getting to know Daja through the years. He personified the strength of the human spirit by becoming such an extraordinary individual.”
In his memoir, Daja told of being put in a Buddhist monastery at age six by his parents, who had hopes of him becoming a monk (many in the Brandeis and Greater Boston communities knew him as Wangchuk, the name bestowed on him when he was ordained). His father returned to the United States, while his mother became a nun. The only white-skinned boy in the monastery, he was teasingly called “White Eye” and “Rotten.” His experiences in the monastery had a profound and lasting impact, motivating him to always show kindness and generosity to others.
He returned to the United States at age 16 and spent years educating himself. In 1993, while living in a Boston-area settlement house for exiled Tibetans with his wife and working at the salad station of a seafood restaurant, he walked into the Brandeis Office of Admissions and asked to enroll. Instead of the required application, he submitted a 1981 “People” magazine profile of himself as a child: “For an American Boy-Monk in Nepal, the Path to Buddhism Began in Beverly Hills.”
Daja was a leader in the Boston Tibetan community, working tirelessly on Tibetan rights issues, and traveling to Tibet on a number of fact-finding missions. In 1997, he served as a guide for Virginia Congressman Frank Wolf during a trip to Tibet. He returned to Tibet two years later, a trip that led to his imprisonment and torture by the Chinese government. He was badly injured when he tried to escape by jumping from a window.
He and his wife founded Karma, a fair-trade crafts shop in Newton where he often shared tea with customers.
He leaves his wife; a baby daughter, Jasmine; his father, Larry Greenberg; his mother, Feather Meston; a niece; a nephew; an uncle; an aunt; and seven first cousins