Lama Lobsang Palden was born in the eastern Tibetan region of Amdo, which was also the birthplace of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Lama Lobsang was the oldest in a family of eight children. He was born only seven years after the 1959 chinese invasion of Tibet, which chairman mao called "the peaceful liberation of Tibet." It was anything but. Lobsang's parents and grandparents were eyewitnesses to the tragic destruction of their beloved Buddhist culture. Many monasteries, nunneries, and Buddhist artifacts were destroyed during those first years after the invasion, and many monks and nuns were jailed and tortured, or killed.
On the day the chinese came to Lobsang's father with a uniform and told him he must work as a policeman for chairman mao, Lobsang's mother said, "burn the uniform". But he had a large family, and resistance to mao's army was a very dangerous risk that he was unwilling to take. In the photos of Lama Lobsang's father wearing his chinese uniform, and there is a sadness in his eyes that seems to tell the story of mao's theft of Tibetan culture.
Lama Lobsang's grandfather was a lama who was steadfast in his devotion to his Buddhist faith. He despised the chinese, but he was not afraid of them. If they dared to trouble him, he would point to their guns and say "kill me!" He would chastise his family for using chinese products or wearing chinese clothes. Finally, he grew so tired of the chinese presence in Amdo that he left to spend the last years of his life meditating in a cave. Lobsang would often bring food to his grandfather, and once he found him in meditation, levitating above the ground.
Lama Lobsang's parents did not teach their children the traditional Buddhist rituals, out of fear of retribution from the chinese government. Lobsang went to chinese school, where he learned the chinese language. When Lobsang was still a small boy, he was playing alone one day when he discovered something he had never noticed before: a door under a carpet. He lifted the door and found a ladder, leading to a secret passageway under his house! Inside it he found an old lama hiding in a crawlspace! The lama invited him inside his hovel and showed him something he had never seen before: a beautiful statue of the Buddha. "What's this?" little Lobsang asked. The old lama told him that he would understand all about Buddha when he was older; then he gave him some cake and told him not to utter a word about what he had seen.
When his father found out Lobsang had discovered the stowaway, he reprimanded him severely, and kept him out of school for several days. He told Lobsang that if he told anyone about the lama, he would receive a terrible punishment! Lobsang remembers a time when chinese authorities came to his school and made the children walk on thangkas, which are sacred Buddhist paintings. This was typical of the antireligious indoctrination received in the chinese schools.
When Lobsang was about twelve, lamas from Tashi Kyil Monastery in Amdo began looking for the reincarnation of their abbot. Thus Lobsang was recognized as a tulku, or reincarnation of a high lama. He went to live at Amdo Tashi Kyil Monastery, where he learned all about the precious Tibetan Buddhist Dharma that had been hidden from him until then.
Life in a Tibetan monastery under chinese rule was very different from what it must have been like in the old Tibet. The chinese authorities placed a large picture of chairman mao at the monastery, and they visited there many times to question the monks, specifically targeting Lobsang as a future abbot. Once, he was asked, who was his father? When the chinese officer found out he was the son of Gonpo Chap, who held a high office in the public security department, he asked, "why are you a monk when you could get a good chinese job like your father?" It must have been overwhelming for Lobsang, still a teen, going from chinese school to training to be the abbot of a monastery, and then this harrassment. He grew weary of the Chinese oppression, and surely feared for his safety. The last straw was his witness to the horrific lynching of three monks near the monastery, and subsequent looting and pillaging of Tashi Kyil's Buddhist artifacts and treasures. The doors to Tashi Kyil Monastery were closed.
Lobsang thought perhaps it would be best to leave his homeland, so he meditated on his decision with a midnight fire puja. He told his mother goodbye, and left. He walked away in 10 inches of snow, and looked back at his house for the last time. He took a bus to Lhasa, Tibet's capital, but he'd forgotten his citizenship papers and was stopped by the police. He was able to go on only because of his father's well-known public security position.
In Lhasa, he met three other monks. Together they visited the Potala and Norbulingka, traditional homes of the incarnations of the Dalai Lama, which had become museums. In the Potala, Lama Lobsang saw a picture of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. Upon seeing the image of His Holiness, his mind was made up: somehow, he would go to meet the spiritual leader of Tibet in exile. The four monks made their way to the Himalaya mountains, taking with them only what they could carry. For three months they walked in the snow, camping in caves during the day and traveling at night, eating little more than tsampa. Finally, when they reached Nepal, Lobsang was not well. After a week's rest in the hospital, he continued on to India to meet the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. Lobsang was so very happy to meet his guru, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. He was filled with bliss when the Dalai Lama gave him his blessing. He then went to live at Tashi Kyil's monastery-in-exile in Dehra Dun, India, where he stayed for ten years.