Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

Minnesota teenage Buddhist lama reflects on teaching peace, Timberwolves loss

Jalue Dorje
Jalue Dorje is a 17-year-old from Columbia Heights, Minn., and a lama, or holy leader.
Jalue Dorje

Saka dawa is winding to an end. The sacred Tibetan Buddhist month of celebration and prayer surrounding the enlightenment of Buddha was led in part by 17-year-old Jalue Dorje from Columbia Heights, Minn.

That’s because when Dorje was a young child, the Dalai Lama confirmed that he is a reincarnation of a lama, or holy leader, from Tibet. That means he is destined to be a Buddhist monk and leader of peace. He's been studying to become a monk ever since.

When he graduates from Columbia Heights High School in 2025, he plans to move to the Himalayas to continue his studies. For now, though, outside of Dorje’s daily studies and prayers, he’s an avid sports fan and sees participating in and watching sports as a way to practice his faith.

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Audio transcript

KERRI MILLER: Today is the third to last day of Saga Dawa, the sacred Tibetan Buddhist month of celebration and prayer. 17-year-old Jalue Dorje is helping lead the community celebration for Saga Dawa in suburban Minneapolis. You may have already heard of him when he was a baby in Columbia Heights. The Dalai Lama confirmed that he is a reincarnation of a lama or holy leader from Tibet. That means he's destined to be a Buddhist monk and a leader of peace.

He's been studying to become a monk ever since. And when he graduates from Columbia Heights High School in 2025, he plans to move to the Himalayas to continue his studies. Our producer, Ellen Finn, talked to him.

ELLEN FINN: Saga Dawa is a month-long celebration of the anniversary of the Buddha becoming enlightened.

JALUE DORJE: He meditated under a tree for six years. And it's said that he ate nothing but a drop of water and one grain of rice for six years straight under a tree. So that's when he achieved enlightenment.

ELLEN FINN: That's Columbia Heights High School junior Jalue Dorje. He's helping lead nearly 4,000 Tibetan Americans here in Minnesota in their Saga Dawa celebrations from May 9 to June 6. I asked him how he's celebrating.

JALUE DORJE: The whole Tibetan community basically comes together. Teachers teach on the importance of the month. It's supposed to accumulate a lot of merit on that month. So there's a lot of dedication on there. There's a lot of prayers, meditating. It's a widespread event all over Buddhism. So all the Buddhists around the world practicing it too.

ELLEN FINN: That long-focused time of prayer is nothing new for 17-year-old Jalue. He has been studying Buddhism and praying multiple hours a day since he was a very young child. His regimented days of prayer and study are to achieve his goal of becoming a monk. I asked him what it felt like to be told from such a young age, and by the Dalai Lama no less, that his life path is to become a holy leader.

JALUE DORJE: Hearing it from such a young age, at some point, it's like an expectation, right? So I guess the mind has shifted. I guess I've matured a little bit. It feels good. It's one of a kind, I guess you could say. But that might be too much self-praise.

ELLEN FINN: Plus, Jalue is excited to study in the Himalayas. Even though he's around Tibetan Buddhists all the time here in Minnesota, there's a big difference

JALUE DORJE: They're both Tibetan Buddhists, right? But mainly India and Nepal, those are holy sites. But here, it's more jam-packed. People have lots of jobs they got to do. Lives more busy. So once you're in Asia or India or Nepal, more time to practice your own religion, prostrate or accumulate merit in types of ways you probably wouldn't find ways to do here.

ELLEN FINN: At home in Columbia Heights, Jalue has a packed schedule.

JALUE DORJE: So I'd wake up around 6:30, get started with prayers, and then finish around 8:20. Do all my school stuff. Finish school around 3 o'clock. I'll go over to track practice. After practice, I just come back and do homework, sort of. Not sort of, but homework. And then after homework, sometimes I just watch any sports that's going on, like Timberwolves or anything that's going on. And then I have some nightly prayers that I do.

On weekends, I have different teachers. Saturday morning, I'll have one on Zoom. And then after that, I'll have another one. He teaches me about history, Tibetan history. On Sunday morning, I'll have Tibetan religious studies in English. After that, it'll be Tibetan grammar. That's every day of the week, so.

ELLEN FINN: Jalue says it's not just his studies and prayers with his Buddhist teachers that are preparing him to become a monk. It's also going to public high school in Columbia Heights.

JALUE DORJE: Some of my best friends, I've grown up since as a child. And some of them I met in high school. And everyone has a different life. They've taught me a lot. I'm in sports, right, football and track. I'm the sports editor for my school newspaper. I guess it taught me a lot about acceptance or staying patient.

ELLEN FINN: Turns out, being a sports fan is a great way to practice some key principles of Buddhism, acceptance and faith. But Jalue sees his passion for sports as just a small part of his life. This Saga Dawa, he's focusing in on his main life goal.

JALUE DORJE: Studying Buddhism. The biggest goal would be to spread peace, coming back to the States and teaching about how important it is to keep harmony within everyone and keep unity. That's a big goal. These are times of turmoil and war. And hopefully, I can come in and teach peace.

ELLEN FINN: For now, though, Jalue thinks it didn't hurt to spend some of his spare time rooting the Timberwolves through their roller coaster of a season. After all, it was a chance to meditate on letting things go.

JALUE DORJE: It hasn't been the greatest ride since being a fan. But a lot of these losses, it's just taught me to change the reaction. Acceptance has been a big part in it.


ELLEN FINN: For NPR News, I'm Ellen Finn.

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