Thupten Dhonden is a young Buddhist monk who was exiled from Tibet as a child and presently living at Shar Gaden Monastery, Mungod, in Karnataka State, India. My wife, Alexis, and I had been financially supporting him since he was six years old and he is now twenty seven.

Wanting to finally meet Thupten was a major factor in our decision to travel to India last year and in particular, to southern India, where his monastery is located. Although getting to Mungod wasn’t easy, we couldn’t wait to meet him. Shar Gaden was informed of our impending visit to their monastery 9 months in advance. After a lengthy and dusty 6-hour car ride we eventually made it to the Tibetan Lama Camp that supports close to 7000 monks.

We sat expectantly in the waiting room while the only monk that spoke English went to fetch Thupten. Isn’t this amazing? we thought. We are finally meeting Thupten after all this time. We were absolutely thrilled. After what seemed like an eternity the English-speaking monk finally returned, looking very crestfallen and in hindsight I realize, slightly embarrassed. Thupten is not here, he said. We stared at him in gape-eyed shock. Thupten, he said, had been called to a monastery in Nepal to lead puja (religious ritual) because he had become a chanter of great reknown. They needed him, he went, and that was that.


How can this be?

Our entire trip to India had been centered around meeting our monk friend. We had hired a special driver to take us 6 hours into Karnataka State to the monastery, since no trains or planes were accessible. We had planned this monumental trip for over a year and had traveled half way around the world – 10 thousand miles – to visit this very special someone and he wasn’t there! Our response? Stunned surprise and huge disappointment. But this was India after all, and we had already learned that in India things don’t always go as expected.We needed to make our peace with this because, after all, we’re in a Buddhist monastery! If there was ever a place to learn the lesson of non-attachment and letting go, it was here and now.

This happens to be true in our “real lives”. Things we expect or hope for sometimes just don’t happen. Letting go can free us up and allow us to replace what might have been with other possibilities. When the monk told us that Thupten wasn’t there, Alexis and I could have felt angry, resentful, indignant, or outraged. But what good would that have done? It was up to us to let it go and be okay with it, because there was nothing else to do but let it go. That meant taking a few (well okay, many) deep breaths, acknowledging our disappointment and then opening ourselves up to any new opportunities or possiblities that might be available to us.

As things turned out, we ended up spending two days at the monastery anyway. We were befriended by a young man from the UK who had lived at the monastery for many years, teaching the monks English and Math. We spent many hours with Thomas, learning about the monks, monastery life, the Dalai Lama, and Buddhist tradition from a very personal and knowledgeable perspective. We learned so much from him. Much more, in fact, than if we had spent our time with Thupten, who couldn’t speak any English. “Letting go” allowed Alexis and I to trade in a huge disappointment for an enriching life experience.