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Sophia’s World   Music   Prayer Flags   Flags in Tibet   Poetry   Calligraphy
Sophia's World

“A Flag for Sophia”
by Richard B. Moss, M.D.

On a recent trip to Tibet, during which my wife and I joined five others, partly as tourists, partly as pilgrims, I carried in my daypack an unusual item. A month previously, I had the occasion to care for Sophia Sachs, who will be two years old on May 22, and meet her parents Richard and Karen Herzog during Sophia’s hospitalization at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital. Sophia suffers from a severe form of Niemann-Pick disease, an incurable metabolic disorder that results in progressive disability and early death. Knowing I was going to Tibet, and learning from Karen that many friends and neighbors were making prayer flags for Sophia, I contacted Karen and offered to take a prayer flag with me to Tibet and, hopefully with the blessing of a monk or nun, leave it on a prayer flag pole on some holy mountain there as a symbol of hope and invocation of the wisdom, compassion and power that are the basis of Tibetan Buddhism. Karen and Richard gave me a flag they had made. It was a blue flag with the outline of Karen, Richard, and Sophia’s hands interposed on each other, and written statements from Karen and Richard about what Sophia meant to them and had done for their lives. Along with this flag they gave me a picture of Sophia to give a face to the prayers so that strangers would know in whose name they might call upon Chenrezig, the bodhisattava of Compassion, whose living reincarnation is Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.

While in Tibet, we visited several monasteries and nunneries. Many were destroyed by the Chinese during the Cultural Revolution of 1965-76, but are now recovering and, under suspicious Chinese regulation, are allowed to register small numbers of younger monks and nuns to maintain the old faith, seeds of which have been sown throughout the world as a result of the Tibetan Diaspora. For example, Drepung Monastery, one of two great Gelugpa lineage monasteries in Lhasa, was once the world’s largest monastery with over 10,000 monks; it now has about 600. On April 19 we drove up a sharply inclined, winding narrow dirt road up the side of one of mountains surrounding Lhasa to the Chub Song nunnery, founded in the 16th century. From the main assembly hall one looks down from an altitude of 14,000 feet upon the valley formed by the Lhasa River to the city below; the famed Potala Palace, home to Dalai Lamas from 1645 to 1959 and the central fact and symbol of Tibetan life, can be easily seen in the far distance beyond the stupa and prayer flag pole in front of the sanctuary. This was the place.

After meeting some of the nuns and responding as best we could to their gentle but insistent hospitality (yak butter tea and dried yak meat), I took out Sophia’s flag and picture and asked our Tibetan guide and translator, Tenzig, to explain my request to the head nun. She looked briefly at the picture and flag, nodded and smiled as he translated. Then she looked at me and replied, as he put it: “There are 160 nuns at Chub Song. Starting tomorrow, we will place her picture on the shrine of Chenrezig and during our morning chants we will ask Tsepame [the Buddha of Longevity] to protect and defend her. Although she is ill and may soon die, a human birth is the most precious thing to us, and we hope Tsepame will help her. For her great merit as an innocent pure infant, for the merit of her parents who thought to do this, for you for bringing this to us, and for our own efforts to awaken, I know her next rebirth will be a very high one.” I looked out to the flags fluttering in the strong Tibetan wind, blowing sutras andprayers from this noblest of all people around the earth, understood, and in my heart agreed.