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Lions Roar : November 2009
SHAMBHALA SUN NoveMBer 2009 21 as a tibetan buddHist monk, sonam had no experience with romantic strife, yet he ended up teaching me how to cope with love and loss. He was twenty-five, just a year older than i was, but he’d en- dured difficulty beyond his years. when sonam was eleven, a nepali man came to his village in central tibet to see if anyone wanted to accompany him to india to see the dalai lama. sonam’s family declined, but he didn’t. He knew even then that he wanted to be a monk, and was so insistent that his family agreed to let him go, asking only that he return as soon as he could. sonam and the nepali man trekked from tibet to india, taking a path so arduous they had to eat grass to stay alive. as sonam tells it, they both nearly died. Finally, they made it to india, where the dalai lama ordained sonam—the happiest moment of his life. years later when i met sonam, he was still happy, despite being unable to return to tibet because of tight Chinese security, and unable to write to his family because there was no mail service to his remote village. He worried they’d been imprisoned, or worse. i was traveling around india, trying to get over a painful breakup by keeping on the move, when i ran into sonam. it was my second day in dharamsala, home to the dalai lama and the tibetan government-in-exile. i was walking down the cen- tral street, looking at prayer flags dangling from the veranda of sonam’s monastery. He reached out his hand and said, “Hello! welcome my home.” He had high cheekbones that perked up his black eyes, and his big smile gave me the feeling that we’d be friends. i agreed to tutor him in english for an hour a day. in exchange, he agreed to teach me tibetan chants. For tutoring, we met at sonam’s ramshackle monastery. but we didn’t work much on grammar or pronunciation. instead, i taught sonam to sing John denver’s “Country Roads,” a tune he insisted on repeating daily, only instead of, “almost heaven, west Virginia,” we sang, “almost heaven, western tibet.” sometimes sonam would get teary-eyed as we sang—he missed his family and his home. but, regardless of these moments, he seemed to be the happiest person i’d ever met. “this morning, i am very happy,” he’d say nearly every morning while he made us thick tibetan tea. “this night, i am very happy,” he’d say in the evening as we cooked dinner. “ this puja makes me very, very happy,” he’d say when we did the tibetan rituals for sick children. this wasn’t empty rhetoric; sonam exuded genuine happiness. as a result, i felt happy whenever i was around him—an emotion that seemed for- eign after months of heartache. i spent many days in his presence. “VeRy, VeRy HaPPy,” sonam said one crisp morning. “the mountain is big. many, many meditation.” we were bringing So Sad, No Problem Roaming India after a painful breakup, JaiMal yogiS befriends a monk who teaches him an unexpected lesson about happiness. illustRationsbykatHeRinestReeteR