Kalsang lives with an appreciation for life. While others may take their loved ones, job, language or culture for granted Kalsang has found a way to make meaning from her experience of losing these things.
Kalsang was born the year Mao’s China invaded Tibet – slowly over a decade thousands of Chinese had migrated to Tibet and were welcomed as neighbours. In reality, they were Chinese militants who rose to invade Tibet killing over 1 million people in 1959. Another 800,000 Tibetans fled the country including H. Holiness the Dalai Lama who was only 24 years old.
Consider right now without warning, you are forced to leave everything, take only what you can carry and never be able to return to your home while at the same time not know where you are headed. Kalsang’s family made the treacherous trek to India – to a new land, a new language, all without a home or a job or a plan.
They survived even thrived with the help of their culture, religion and the generosity of many Indians. Over time, dispersed Tibetans struggled to keep connected to their roots; and for Tibetans that remained in their homeland practicing their religion or acknowledging their traditions were forbidden.
To preserve the Tibetan culture and people, H. Holiness the Dalai Lama established a Tibetan government-in-exile, Tibetan schools, handicraft centres and training institutions in Dharamsala, India. Young Tibetans learned their language, heritage and traditional art. This was the foundation for the Norbulingka Institution that exists today. Then and now, its purpose has been to preserve and protect the essence of Tibet and its culture.
Kalsang attended this school when she was 5 years old. She lived with a foster Tibetan family and was not able to see her parents again until she was 10 because of the distance and terrain to travel. Despite her loneliness, she learned who she was including her native language and heritage.
When she finally returned home she remembers clearly the lesson her mother bestowed while she was giving her a bath one evening. All life is precious, she said. If one throws handfuls of rice at the wall, handful after handful, maybe one kernel will stick. It is special.
For two people to meet, out of all people.
for a fetus to grow, out of the thousand things that need to go right to build a toe, a hand, a heart.
for a baby to crawl, for a child to learn how to print their name in their native language,
for a person to safely grow into a teenager, an adult and a senior facing each joy and struggle.
The creation of all life is a series of magnificent yet simple events and all of them precious.
Kalsang not only learned this but embodies this notion. This thought was very enlightening juxtaposed it against my short subway ride on my way to meet Kalsang. Patrons fall into an anti-social coma to check their social networks. The uniqueness and preciousness of life seemingly non-existent. Kalsang offers that she has always tries to have compassion for others and their feelings.
“Making other people happy is going to make me happy.” Kalsang knowingly states. It didn’t quite resonate with me at first but it does make sense…you get what you give. I can’t think of a time when I made someone unhappy and felt genuine happiness about it. Making others unhappy originates from of unhappiness and produces unhappiness, therefore the opposite as Kalsang states must be true.
The support and encouragement from Kalsang’s parents helped her complete her bachelor and master degrees; later when she returned to Dharamsala to give back she met her husband-to-be and they moved to Canada with his family.
It was, of course, difficult in Canada. Kalsang adopted the lifestyle of many Canadians who work a 9 to 5 job without much time for themselves or much money. More importantly, the job did not carry any meaning and she grew unhappy and restless for a change. This is a position many of us may relate to yet may not act upon. Buddhist teachings offer that all human suffering is due to one’s mental attitude. A negative attitude can blind you from all of the many good things that appear right in front of you. Kalsang believes our time is very precious. Do as much as possible as soon as possible, waiting for another moment in time or until you retire could be too late – anything could happen, so always do it now. She did.
Instead of staying in a job that made her unhappy,
she took a chance and started her own business.
She had the idea to open a Tibetan store; at the time there wasn’t anything a similar operation in Toronto. She opened the Tibet Shoppe which now resides on Queen St West in Toronto. Like Kalsang, the store is authentic.
Kalsang travels to Dharamsala India a few times a year to purchase Tibetan made products. This supports the work of preserving and promoting the unique Tibetan culture and traditions by not only selling the genuine works but also just as I met Kalsang, she shares her passion and knowledge of Tibet with those that are curious. She has spread the knowledge of Tibet to Torontonians for almost twenty years.
If Kalsang continued in that job she did not enjoy, she would not have found her way to not only enriching her life but that of others from across the globe. Kalsang advises ‘Each individual can make a difference in this world, no matter how small. Life is so incredibly short so use each day well.’
For more information:
662 Queen St West, Toronto
The Tibet Shoppe specializes in traditional, high quality Tibetan home furnishings and accessories. They carry a wide selection of items ranging from traditional Tibetan rugs, rare, original antique Tibetan furniture and decorative artifacts, Buddhist ritual instruments, handstitched bedroom collections and cushion covers as well as traditional jewelry, clothing and books. All of their products are genuine works of art by Tibetans
As the website mentions Norbulingka is dedicated to handing down tradition and restoring standards by providing training, education and employment for Tibetans. It supports an environment in which Tibetan community and family values can flourish. It reconciles the traditional creatively and respectfully with the modern, and seeks to create an international awareness of Tibetan values and their expression in art and literature.
The Tibet Shoppe has compiled a list of resources for learning more about Tibet, you can visit here: http://www.tibetinteriors.com/about-tibet/