What does the 17-year-old descendant of Tibetan royalty do during a visit to New York? In“The King and Us,” New York Times journalist Dorothy Spears recounts her experience hosting Namgyal Wangchuk Lhagyari Trichen—the descendant of three ruling monarchs of Tibet—at her Manhattan home.
Trichen, as he calls himself, was in town for ten days to show his 30-minute film “My Country is Tibet” at schools around New York in partnership with BYkids, an organization that pairs filmmakers with children and young adults to make socially conscious documentaries. From tbe BYkids website:
My Country is Tibet, is not only a story of the King’s struggle with the responsibility of the one-thousand-year-old heritage of Tibet’s Dharma Kings, but also with a new responsibility of representing and leading the a generation of young Tibetans who are caught between the peaceful traditions of Tibetan Buddhism and a desperate desire to fight for their freedom. “We Tibetans are losing our identity,” [Trichen] says. “We do not seem to realize that our rich culture is enormously unique and we should instill our energy to preserve and furnish it to the coming generations.”
In addition to showing his film, Trichen attended the Dalai Lama’s teachings at Radio City Music Hall and met with Buddhist scholar and Columbia University professor Robert Thurman. He also found time for some relaxing activities: discussing the music of Lady Gaga, Greenday, and Eminem and playing video games with Spears’ teenage son; playing tennis; hanging out with friends in Times Square; and exploring New York.
Trichen is a direct descendant of King Songtsen Gampo, the seventh century Tibetan ruler who unified Tibet and introduced Buddhism to the country. Trichen himself has never been to Tibet. He grew up in Dharmasala, India, where many Tibetans—including the Dalai Lama—have lived since the failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Though the Dalai Lama crowned Trichen as King of Tibet in 2004, Trichen’s family has not had a ruling monarch in place in Tibet since the 9th century. Still, Trichen takes his role as King very seriously and, upon the advice of the Dalai Lama, plans to serve the Tibetan community:
Trichen explained that after the Chinese took control of Tibet in 1959, his father — then king — had been sent to prison for 20 years. The queen died while he was behind bars, and the Dalai Lama urged the king to remarry and bear a son; he did. Trichen was in sixth grade at a Tibetan boarding school in Dharamsala when his father died.
According to Tibetan ritual, Trichen set fire to his father’s funeral pyre. His mother and eldest sister scattered his father’s ashes along the Ganges River. A year later, in 2004, Trichen was crowned.
“My family came to talk to me about all of my responsibilities,” he recalled. “It was really hard for me.”
After finishing high school last month, Trichen sought advice from the Dalai Lama. “His Holiness said I need a modern education,” he said. So he plans to attend an American university, then spend two years studying Buddhist philosophy. Then, he said, “His Holiness wants me to serve in the Tibetan community,” which he is excited to do.
Check out the trailer for Trichen’s film, “My Country is Tibet” below:
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