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Lions Roar : May 2017
He began to see he was in a unique position: “The strange karma I had of being a monk, yet knowing English, was pushing me to be a medium between the two cultures.” Jinpa also had to face what his heart was telling him—he wanted a family of his own. “I’d had a yearning for family since my early twenties. The yearning was even stronger after my undergraduate time at Cambridge. So I made the decision to give back my vows.” Jinpa wrote the Dalai Lama a long letter to apologize if he had disappointed him. A couple of months later, Jinpa got a call that His Holiness wanted him to translate in Switzerland. He explained that he was no longer a monk, but the Dalai Lama’s secretary said that His Holiness had personally requested him. When he saw His Holiness, Jinpa remembers, “I said, ‘I’m so sorry to turn up like this in trousers instead of robes.’ The Dalai Lama laughed and said, ‘You always had a big head. But now, with hair, it looks even more impressive.’ His Holiness told me, ‘I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed and saddened by your leaving the monastic life, but I know you have not taken this decision lightly. I respect your judgement.’” Then the Dalai Lama gave Jinpa this advice: “I have no experience in family life. But I have seen enough broken rela- tionships to know that you shouldn’t have children before you’ve found the right partner. There are so many broken families with small children caught in the middle and parents expending so much energy trying to resolve conflicts.” Jinpa says His Holiness’ reaction to his decision taught him a lot about compassion. “He could have scolded me. But he got to my level, understood me, and looked at the situation from my perspective. That changed everything.” A year later, when His Holiness couldn’t make a scheduled radio interview in Montreal, he sent Jinpa in his place. Because Jinpa did not speak French, Sophie Boyer, a volunteer for the Canada Tibet Committee, went to the studio to help. “The first time we spoke was on the radio,” he says. “Later she told me she was planning to go to India to learn Tibetan.” Jinpa arranged for Sophie to stay in his former monastery and he went back to Cambridge, where he was working as a research fellow in Eastern religion. The two stayed in touch and eventu- ally married. Thupten Jinpa now smiles as he remembers the learning curve that being in a romantic relationship entailed. “In the Tibetan community, once you grow up, there’s not much physical contact,” says Jinpa. “And having been a monk, physical intimacy was not part of my life, nor was the sharing of emotions. My wife, she’s French-Canadian, which is a culture that expects that intimacy. So learning that took a little while.” Jinpa and Sophie have two daughters, now both at university, and Jinpa says becoming a father changed his perspective on com- passion, which had been a little theoretical. “It helped me make real many of the sentiments around compassion that we, as monks, visualize and imagine. In the face of an infant’s immediate need, a loving parent is completely there for that child. That uncondition- ality, that total presence, is the quality of mind and heart that com- passion and meditation tries to cultivate for all beings.” Jinpa’s youngest daughter, Tara, taught him many lessons. “Between ages two and four, she was completely unmanageable sometimes,” he says. “I remember getting caught being very angry and frustrated. In relationships you have with colleagues or teachers, you’re not completely exposed from the personal When Jinpa gave back his monastic vows to start a family, the Dalai Lama was disappointed but supportive. Jinpa, his daughters Tara and Khandro, and his wife, Sophie Boyer Langri, with His Holiness. LION’S ROAR | MAY 2017 50