Indiana U. Remembers Dalai Lamas Brother

This story was written by Elvia Malagon, Indiana Daily Student


Yellow, white and blue katas were tightly held in hand as people honored Thubten J. Norbu one last time.

The katas, scarf-like items that are used in Tibet to show honor and respect, were draped around Norbu by family and friends who went to his visitation Wednesday afternoon in the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Culture Center in Bloomington.

Norbu, a former Indiana University professor and the eldest brother of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, died Friday of natural causes. He was 87.

Norbu first came to Bloomington after former IU professor Denis Sinor offered him a position in the Department of Central Eurasian Studies, Sinor said.

Norbu was also a well-known activist for Tibetan rights.

His commitment and passion inspired so many people, and he was relentless in his dedication of sharing his story of Tibet, said Elaine Irwin-Mellencamp, who is involved in the local Buddhist community.

Irwin-Mellencamp, who is married to the singer John Mellencamp, met Norbu in 1999 at an event where she first learned about Buddhism and Tibet.

While people visited Norbu, a slide show of photos of his life played as a backdrop on a television in the lobby.

For Norbus wife, Kunyang Norbu, she best remembers him doing simple things such as taking walks around their house with their five dogs and five cats.

Despite accomplishing great things like the establishment of the Tibetan Center, everyone from those who worked with him at the center to those who hardly knew him remembered Norbu as a simple person.

As impressive as he was, he was still a down-to-earth person, said Gail Henrie, a volunteer at the center.

Elliot Sperling, a professor of Central Eurasian Studies, first met Norbu as an undergraduate at IU where he learned Norbu was someone with a tremendous spirit and generosity with students.

Freshman Jeremy Gotwals first learned about the Tibetan Center in 2003, and although he never had a close relationship with Norbu, he said Norbus life was about spreading knowledge.

Gotwals said Norbu gave up his robes, which meant he could not be a monk, but was able to spread Buddhism more by opening the center in Bloomington.

Kunyang Norbu said she wants people to remember her husband as a kind, unselfish, simple, freedom fighter for Tibet.

Sperling said he doubts people will forget him because of the huge impact he had on people.

Everything he did was infused with the spirit of Tibet, Sperling said. He was devoted to his country.
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