The story of a former Bhutanese Buddhist monk named “Jampel”.
by Michael Graham
On another occasion, a former Buddhist monk had become a Christian. Fascinated, I asked him, “What’s your story?” He’d been a monk since the age of 12, committed to the monastery by his parents, so that he could be trained in the ways of Buddhism. In their home they had a shrine with many idols. They desired to entrust the maintenance of this family altar room to one of their own sons. Jampel was the son they chose.
His training as a monk took him to several Tibetan monasteries in India. As he continued in his studies, he always had a curiosity about ‘Salvation.’ In all his meditations in the monastery, he’d hadn’t discovered true salvation up to that time. One day in his middle teens, a tall being in dazzling white appeared to him in a vision and clearly declared. “I will give you salvation.” He could never forget this encounter but didn’t have a clue as to who it was.
Sometime later, while in a monastery in Kathmandu, he and two other young monks went to buy some new clothing on the eve of the Tibetan New Year. While in the cloth store, the owner approached Jampel (that’s his name) with some literature. It was written in Tibetan. “What is this?” Jampel asked. “It’s about Jesus Christ,” was the owner’s reply. Of course, Jampel had never heard of Jesus Christ to this point and was then told that he was a spiritual teacher. Jampel immediately refused the offer of literature since the Buddha, as he declared, was the only teacher for him. Minutes later, the other two monks said, “No no, Jampel, you should accept the literature.” So he approached the man again and took what he’d offered.
As the three were walking back to their monastery, the other two asked for the literature and proceeded to tear it up and throw it away. Puzzled, Jampel asked, “What’s the idea; you’d just asked me to take it from him?” They replied that it was impolite to refuse something from an older man, and that this was the only reason for taking it. They also warned him that if he read the track, a conflict would arise between the gods and would bring trouble upon his family.
Several weeks later, Jampel happened to walk past that same shop. As he did, the shopkeeper recognized him and called him inside and asked whether he had read through the track. Lying, Jampel responded that he had read it, but when the man persisted in asking him about what he had actually read, he was later forced to confess that he hadn’t read it after all. He explained to the shopkeeper the warnings that his friends had given him.
The shopkeeper assured Jampel that nothing bad would happen to him or his family if he read the track. He even promised that he himself would take personal responsibility if something did happen. He also made it clear to Jampel that he wasn’t forcing him to follow Jesus. Rather he was encouraging him to compare Buddhism and Christianity for himself. When Jampel heard this he felt reassured. Since the shopkeeper was his elder, he reasoned that he should at least read it through.
Jampel took the literature and returned to the monastery. He had his own room. When he was safely inside with the door closed, he opened the track and began to read. As he read, he was especially touched by these words of Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jampel was surprised by the bold claim of Jesus Christ to not only be a way to heaven, but the only way to heaven. Comparing this with his own Buddhist beliefs, Jampel recalled that in all the teaching of the Buddha, he had never made such a radical claim. The Buddha always exhorted his disciples to test his teaching, Jampel reasoned to himself, he had never claimed that he was the only way to heaven.
The Holy Spirit was convicting Jampel as he read the track. It raised serious questions in his mind that he had never thought of before. He went back to the shopkeeper to discuss these matters with him, but he was never able to meet him again. However, the questions that were burning inside of him refused to go away.
Some time passed and Jampel was sent to Darjeeling on an assignment to teach. One day he was sitting on a park bench with another monk. Beside them was another man—a Nepali. His monk friend departed and a conversation began between the two remaining. The man started telling him about Jesus Christ and asked him over to his house. Several visits ensued and he took a copy of the New Testament back to his monastery cell to read. By his bed were Buddhist scriptures and carefully hidden under his pillow was the New Testament. He read it with great interest and it wasn’t long before he knew without a doubt that it was the person of Jesus Christ who had appeared to him in that vision and said, “I will give you Salvation.”
In each of the monks cells there was a peep hole through which the monastery abbot could check on his students. On this occasion, while he was reading his New Testament, a knock came on the door and he hurriedly hid the New Testament under his pillow, dutifully pulled out his Buddhist scriptures and pretended to read. Then, standing up, he opened the door for the abbot . He was immediately confronted with the question, “What were you reading?” Why, these Buddhist Scriptures of course,” Jampel replied. The abbot didn’t believe it and Jampel had to confess as he dragged out his copy of the New Testament from under the pillow. The abbot looked at it, figured out it was about Jesus and said to Jampel, “Come with me!”
Jampel was led into the big assembly hall where nearly 300 monks were gathered at the command of the abbot. In front of the whole assembly, the abbot turned to Jampel and the whole crowd and said, “Brother Jampel has been studying about Jesus Christ. In this monastery we honor, respect and follow the Lord Buddha. Brother Jampel, who are you going to follow, Jesus Christ or the Buddha?” Jampel hesitated and quietly said, “Jesus Christ.”
At this he was immediately led into another room and savagely beaten by a score of monks, expelled from the monastery that day and jeered by columns of these men assembled, especially for his ignominious departure.
Jampel then burnt his robes, assumed ‘civilian’ clothing and sheltered with the Christian group who’d given him his New Testament. As it turned out, this group had a legalistic spirit and in no way mirrored the teachings of the New Testament. He felt a heavy demanding spirit similar to the tone of his monastery, but thankfully and finally found himself in the company of genuine Christians.
In Jesus Christ, Jampel found the true way to salvation that his soul had always longed for. As he studied the words of Christ recorded in the Bible, he found the truth. He also found that Jesus was the true source of a life that would last forever. To this day Jampel lives by the strength that Jesus gives. He has dedicated his life to proclaiming this good news of salvation to others.