Courtesy of the artist
Published: July 23, 2011
Weekend Edition once did a story on a 6-year-old boy in Utah who was about to embark on a remarkable journey. Here's how that story began:
Among the rows of small cornsilk-blond and haystack-brown heads squirming through reading lessons in Mrs. Bigler's first-grade class at the Oak Hills Elementary School in Bountiful, Utah, one small boy stands out among all the Ashleys, Cassies, Laurens and Chrises.
Tenzin Dhongha's hair is as black as coal. His eyes are Asian. But in all important respects, he is one with his classmates, fidgeting if the classroom clock ticks too slowly towards recess.
But Tenzin Dhongha draws occasional visitors to Bountiful because he has been proclaimed by Tibet's spiritual and temporal leader, the Dalai Lama himself, as a tulku, a miracle being — the reincarnation of his grandfather, the high Tibetan Buddhist lama Goma Rimpoche.
That was 16 years ago. Tenzin Dhongha had just learned that he would soon be sent to a monastery in India to study and fulfill his destiny to become a Tibetan spiritual leader. Tenzin became a monk — Gomo Tulku, as he is now known — and settled in Italy among a community of his followers. He spent 12 years in a monastery, and finished the equivalent of a bachelor's degree.
But now, there's been a detour in Gomo Tulku's spiritual journey. He's about to release his first rap recording.
The single "Photograph" comes out this month. Gomo Tulku sat down with Weekend Edition Saturday host Scott Simon — whom he has no recollection of meeting 16 years ago — to talk about his new career.
"I decided to follow a different route," Tulku says. "Definitely, I have my religious side in me, and my whole — my past influence. But that's something personal, you know. And then I have this thing that I'm doing as a musician — or you can call it a business, you know." [Copyright 2013 NPR]
SCOTT SIMON, host: I once did a story about a six-year-old boy in Utah who was about to embark on a remarkable journey. Here's how that story began:
(SOUNDBITE OF CLIP)
SIMON: Among the rows of small cornsilk-blond and haystack-brown heads squirming through reading lessons in Mrs. Bigler's first-grade class at the Oak Hills Elementary School in Bountiful, Utah, one small boy stands out among all the Ashleys, Cassies, Laurens and Chrises.
(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDREN READING)
MRS. BIGLER'S CLASS: (Reading) If you were an animal, what would you be? Where would you go and what would you see?
SIMON: Tenzin Dhongha's hair is as black as coal. His eyes are Asian. But in all important respects, he is one with his classmates, fidgeting if the classroom clock ticks too slowly towards recess. But Tenzin Dhongha, this six-year-old boy, draws occasional visitors to Bountiful because he has been proclaimed by Tibet's spiritual and temporal leader, the Dalai Lama himself as a tulku, a miracle being, the reincarnation of his grandfather, the high Tibetan Buddhist lama Goma Rimpoche.
Well, that was 16 years ago. Tenzin Dhongha had just learned that he'd soon be sent to a monastery in India to study and fulfill his destiny to become a Tibetan spiritual leader. Tenzin became a monk, Gomo Tulku, as he is now known, and settled in Italy, among a community of his followers. Now there's been a slight detour in Gomo Tulku's spiritual journey - he's just released his first rap recording.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PHOTOGRAPH")
GOMO TULKU: (Singing) Can you stop, if only for a moment, 'cause we can catch a ripple, we can try to hold it. Try to notice why everyone's winning, put it on a photo roll, wind it to the beginning 'cause she came to me, admitted it was perfect, but couldn't do it, that the fire and searching, the uncertain, unnerving burning - guess it wasn't me but the need that gave her purpose.
SIMON: That's the single "Photograph," coming out this month. Gomo Tulku joins us in the studio. So nice to see you again.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
TULKU: Nice to see you too, man. Wow, it's been so long, right?
SIMON: It's been 16 years.
TULKU: Sixteen years.
SIMON: And I think we already established before we came into the studio, you have no memory whatsoever of my producer and I spending all that time with you, do you?
TULKU: Oh, man. I don't know what to say but yeah, I mean...
SIMON: So, where you been? What you been doing? What's life been like?
TULKU: Well, you know, I just been in the monastery for like 12 years, you know, and did my first face degree, sort of equivalent to Bachelor's degree. And once I finished that, I decided to pursue my dream, which was making music. And, yeah, 2009 I left the monastery and since then I've been into working music.
SIMON: I hope to understand the terminology here. You are no longer a monk but you are still a lama.
TULKU: Well, yeah. I gave back my vows to Lama Zibrumchar(ph), our spiritual leader, FPMT in '09. And, yeah, I guess I'm still a lama.
SIMON: You'll always be a lama, right?
TULKU: Yep. That's what they say.
SIMON: Now, of course, I've seen the video of "Photograph." The spiritual side is hard to see, let me put it that way. You're sitting in a limo surrounded by beautiful women and sipping what looks to be champagne.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIMON: Tell me, Gomo Tulku, what's that all about?
TULKU: Well, you know, I mean, I decided to follow a different route. Definitely I have my religious side in me and my whole, my past influence. But that's something personal, you know. And then I have this thing that I'm doing as a musician, as or you can call it as a business, you know, but yeah.
SIMON: Yeah. Is there a place where your spiritual side and spiritual history and the music you're doing cross, come together?
TULKU: Not really, no. Not yet but, yeah. Hopefully it might come, but for now, no. My music is more about right now my personal life and just basically putting out there to the people so they can hear what I'm going through. As when I was in the monastery, I couldn't - I had limits. But, I mean, I decided to kind of, like, be more interactive with my fans or whatever you call, you know, my fans, yeah.
SIMON: You still together with your followers? I wonder what they think of what you've done.
TULKU: Um, yeah. They definitely support me. That's been the biggest thing in my career. I mean, at first, of course, I mean, people were suspicious and a lot of them had doubts and been, you know, telling me, oh, you shouldn't be doing this, you should be doing that or not this, not that, and all those kind of things. But now that they've seen what kind of, I guess, person I am and what my real thing is, I mean, yeah. They've been supportive and accepting the fact that I've chose this new life and world.
SIMON: We can't resist playing a moment from when we profiled you 16 years ago. You were six years old and we're talking with you and your cousins in Utah. Listen up, please, Gomo.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLIP)
TULKU: I sure hate girls.
SIMON: You hate girls?
COUSIN: Then how come every recess you play with them?
SIMON: Can any of you, any of the three of you, explain to us what it is to be reincarnated?
COUSIN: It's like when someone dies...
COUSIN #2: They can still be alive.
COUSIN: You would be, like, reborn.
TULKU: Is that right?
SIMON: Have we all been alive before this?
SIMON: Now, wait, let me understand this, Tenzin. All right. If you're your grandfather reincarnated, OK, and your grandmother lives here downstairs, well, I mean, I think is that what you're saying that that's your wife?
TULKU: That's not my wife.
COUSIN: Yeah, it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
TULKU: That was my cousin, man.
SIMON: Yeah. I will never forget your face, by the way, when we introduced you to the proposition that your grandmother could be your wife. First, I got to ask: what do you think of girls now?
TULKU: They're amazing.
SIMON: I gathered that from your video, yeah. Do you sit before me now as someone, are you the reincarnation of the Gomo Rimpoche?
TULKU: That's what the Dalai Lama had told me, was said. To be honest, I don't remember anything about my past. But besides that, I mean, I don't know.
SIMON: You know what I liked about you when you were six?
TULKU: What was that?
SIMON: I like it about you now too, don't get me wrong. I liked the fact that you were a normal kid. You were on the verge of great responsibilities and we were having conversations like the snippet we just played for you, but I liked the fact that you, you know, were playing games and hide and seek and you were pulling hair. And I thought this is a nice little boy, and I hope you'll be happy. So, were you in the monastery?
TULKU: I got to admit, it had ups and downs. I had, you know, some difficulties. I mean, I've been only seeing my parents once in two years maybe. It's been, you know, tough, but I rejoice that I was in the monastery 'cause from there I've learned a lot. It's definitely changed my life.
SIMON: What do you think we can learn from you that you learned?
TULKU: Well, I don't know that. I mean, hopefully we'll see it in the future, you know, in the coming times. But for now all I can say is just see what I do and just, you know, follow me on Facebook.
(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)
SIMON: So, that's what's happened to contemporary religious life. It's gone from follow me to follow me on Facebook.
TULKU: Naw, that's funny but, yeah, I mean, it's like that.
SIMON: Well, it's good to see you again.
TULKU: Thanks. It's really good to see you too, man. Thank you.
SIMON: Gomo Tulku. His new recording, his first, "Photograph." And you can follow him on Facebook.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
SIMON: And this is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.