On an outdoor stage, in a small, poor, dusty village in central India, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, one of the world’s most renowned and beloved spiritual leaders, got a close up, personal glimpse of Laguna Beach’s generous spirit.
In January, the Dalai Lama visited Norgyeling, a remote Tibetan refugee settlement and the birthplace of Tenpa Dorjee, who owns the Laguna Beach shop Tibetan Handicrafts. At the same time, Dorjee and a troop of U.S. visitors, most also from Laguna, had travelled to the village bearing gifts.
Moments before the Dalai Lama took the stage before the thousands gathered to see him, Dorjee, was told to sit in the VIP section. Not dressed for such an honor, the tireless, big-hearted shop owner rushed back to his sister’s house, finding only a still damp, but freshly washed shirt. Covering the shirt with a suit coat, Dorjee sat nervously before the spiritual leader of his people, the man Tibetan Buddhists consider to be the embodiment of compassion.
As the Dalai Lama listened, the village representative presented a report detailing the settlement’s progress, mentioning
the contributions of Tenpa Dorjee. Hearing about Dorjee’s and his fellow humanitarian’s accomplishments, the Dalai Lama asked, “Who is Tenpa Dorjee?”
Flushed and stunned, Dorjee climbed onto the stage, kneeling before the 78-year-old Nobel Peace laureate. Asking him to stand, “His Holiness put his arm on my shoulder and thanked me and asked me to continue helping the people of the village,” Dorjee said. “I was thrilled, shocked and very sweaty.”
“I was just the representative for the people of Laguna Beach,” Dorjee said recounting the “huge blessing” he had received.
“I am completely overwhelmed by the huge support from this community, especially from the Neighborhood Congregational Church and its members, who have given us a platform to discuss Tibetan culture and issues many, many times. It’s not just one person’s efforts, but the efforts of the community,” Dorjee said, that have resulted in several donated projects for the impoverished village.
The following day, in a small village monastery, the Dalai Lama asked about the foreigners accompanying Dorjee, which included three Laguna Beach women and their daughters. Pam Wicks, music director of the NCC, who was travelling with her daughter Skye Flanigan, was ready.
“I told His Holiness about our church, our open-hearted mission in the world, our work in the village and our commitment to the Tibetan cause,” Wicks said. “He looked at me with kind eyes and told me how much he appreciated our hard work. I was needless to say overwhelmed with gratitude at that personal connection with this great teacher and wonderful human being.”
Morgan Lamb, who was accompanied by her mother, Vickie, was able to get the Dalai Lama to sign a white, not-made-in-China soccer ball that her fiancée, Nick Villarrial, had scoured Orange County to find. The ball will have an honored place in the sports complex that Dorjee and his group, and the community of Laguna Beach, is helping to fund.
For the past 10 years, Dorjee has spearheaded improvement projects for his home village, including building a kitchen and bedrooms for the village monks and a stupa, a Buddhist tomb in memory of the late spiritual leader of the village.
For the past three years, he has been helped by a steadfast and loyal band of Laguna residents, the Sharing Light group, together with NCC and its congregants. Last year, the fruits of community fundraisers and donations allowed Dorjee and his fellow humanitarians to provide all 200 families in the village with solar lights. This January, along with seed money for a village sports complex, the group travelled with nine duffle bags stuffed with soccer gear.
Ever humble, Dorjee believes the recognition he received from the Dalai Lama he owes to the community that supported his vision. “We all did it and let’s continue the work,” he said.