“Life is funny, something you don’t want, they come to you. Something you want, you don’t get.” ~ Yungchen Lhamo
Today’s conversation is with Yungchen Lhamo.
Meeting Yungchen in person was what I imagine meeting the Dalai Lama must be like.
She’s a quiet, soft-spoken person who gives you all of her focus and attention. She’s undistracted. She’s present. And she is so incredibly sweet. Everything she does is from the heart. And everything she does is for the benefit of others. That’s something you hear about quite frequently in Buddhism, doing things for the benefit of others, but you don’t come across many people who are actually putting this into practice.
You know, in our culture, we so rarely see this that it’s almost difficult to get used to you.
But hopefully you’ve come across someone in your life who’s similar to Yungchen in that, they are so at peace that you want to be more like them. You want that peacefulness for yourself. You see them as a happy person and you want that.
I wasn’t expecting this when I connected with her online and requested that we speak for the podcast. I really didn’t have any expectation of what she would be like in person. I only knew that I really wanted to meet and chat with someone whose voice could be so pure that it brings me to tears.
To say the least, it was a great honor for me to spend time with her and chat with her at her sister’s home in Queens.
Yungchen’s name means Goddess of Melody and Song and this was given to her shortly after her birth. And she’s definitely lived up to this name.
It’s worth noting that she isn’t a political person and she made that clear before we recorded that she didn’t want to talk about politics or about her departure from her home country. Instead she wanted to focus on the work that she’s been doing.
And that work, in addition to singing, includes her non-profit, the Yungchen Lhamo Charitable Foundation. This organization is dedicated to improving the welfare of all human beings in need. Specifically, it focuses on improving and empowering the lives of Tibetan women and children, the mentally ill, the disabled and the homeless.
The One Drop of Kindness project that is part of the Yungchen Lhamo Charitable Foundation. It facilitates empathy, respect, compassion and recognition for others. And she has that in spades.
There was a Newsweek article from a few years ago that talks about a play that she organized called You Are Beautiful, I Am Beautiful. It features 13 residents of a homeless shelter in her hometown. In the article she talks about how, in Tibet, people don’t talk about mental illness. As in, it’s not a thing. But what she says in this article is we are all sick in different ways.
And that’s a very Buddhist insight, that we are all delusional. In other words, it’s a way of looking at the world to realize we should be compassionate toward everyone because we all have our struggles.
So in this conversation, we talk about how she left her home in Tibet and went to India and then on to Australia. She talks about her assimilation into the Australian culture and ultimately the culture here in the U.S. And she has some really fun stories about trying to fit in and understand her neighbors and the culture.
We also talked about how her musical career took off when she was heard in Australia and was asked by Peter Gabriel to perform at WOMAD, the world music and dance festival. She was actually the first person from Tibet to perform at WOMAD. She released a CD for the event and that ended up winning an Aria Award (and that’s the Australian equivalent of the Grammys).
At the end of our conversation, I asked her to sing a bit so you’ll hear her beautiful singing voice. It’s very much in the traditional style of the Himalayas so unless you’re already familiar with this kind of music, it may be a bit different for you.
After we recorded, I talked to Yungchen about the possibility of coming to Seattle for a concert. If you’re at all interested in attending a performance by her, send me a note at [email protected] and I’ll keep you posted on those details. You can also use that email address to send me feedback or you can call my feedback and question line at 877-280-5170. On future episodes, I’ll be answering your questions that are left at that number.
With that, please enjoy this conversation with the incomparable Yungchen Lhamo.
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