Young Buddhist Lama returns home to Shoreline

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by LORI MATSUKAWA / KING 5 News

KING5.com

Posted on August 23, 2012 at 6:03 PM

Updated Friday, Aug 24 at 6:40 AM

SHORELINE, Wash. -- He is destined to lead the 100,000 followers of Sakya Buddhism, but for this brief summer, he can simply be a kid.

Asanga Rinpoche, which means "precious one," is just 13-years-old,  but he knows his purpose in life.

"To help people and guide them in the right path," he said.

He was delivered by his parents at the tender age of five to be raised and taught by monks at the Tharlam Monastery in Nepal. His family visited him each year, but this is the first time he's returned to Washington in eight years.

"He's so precious to us, but at the same time we think he can benefit other people. He is born in this lineage and this is what he is meant to be," his mother Chimey said eight years ago as she and her husband Ani Sakya prepared their son for his 7,000 mile journey.

When we visited Asanga at the family's home this week, he was calm, smiling and playful with his two younger sisters. He wore maroon and gold robes, glasses and braces and keeps his long hair tied back.  He is a "lineage holder" chosen as a child to carry on the family's leadership of the sect that's been unbroken for a thousand years. As such, he is expected to eventually marry and have sons to carry on the leadership.

At 13, he has memorized volumes of texts and sutras and speaks five languages -- Tibetan, Nepalese, Hindi, Chinese and English. He's trained in the rituals and beliefs of Buddhism by other masters -- lamas -- including the Dalai Lama. 

"His Holiness is kind and compassionate," said Asanga. "He is my role model."

A typical day at the monastery starts at 5 a.m. with morning prayers, breakfast, then Tibetan, Chinese and English lessons. There are also math and science classes, religious studies before bedtime at 9.  He also gives teachings and recitations. He said he doesn't get nervous. Despite the rigor, he said he enjoys it.

"Before I left America, there were a lot of things I wanted to study like how to read Tibetan and study the texts.  I got to do that and I'm really happy," he said.

His fellow monks have learned to cook some of his favorite foods -- pizza, American mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.

This summer, the family showed Asanga some of the sights of his own hometown. They went to the top of the Space Needle and splashed in the pool at Great Wolf Lodge.  They went to California where they visited Disneyland, Universal Studios and for the first time, Asanga got to swim in the Pacific Ocean.

"At Malibu Beach, I learned how to boogie board. That was fun!" he laughed.

Asanga's 11-year old sister, Aloki, often answers her friends' questions about the brother who lives in a palace far away.

"'I tell them he's kind of like, a teacher, a lama. So he teaches people and gives teachings.  They say that makes me a princess!" she giggled.

Asanga's parents can only marvel at what their son has become.

"I'm always amazed, although I should not be at this point.  But it always amazes me how well he does there as a teacher," said his mother, Chimey.

Is it worth living apart from him?

"Yes it has been," nodded Asanga's dad Ani, an attorney at Starbucks. "(His life) has been very purposeful and not just for our benefit, it's for his benefit."

Asanga will return to the monastery in Katmandu in the fall and next year, begin studies at Sakya College in India. He has some advice for young people in America.

"Have a lot of compassion for others, be nice and have good manners," he said.

The Sakya Monastery in Seattle's Greenwood neighborhood is located at 108 Northwest 83rd Street.

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