The disagreements about H.E. Tsem Rinpoche’s involvement in the Dharma centre continued unceasingly, culminating in a furious argument between 16-year-old Rinpoche and his father. At the height of his anger, Rinpoche’s father told him to “get out of the house”, which he did within 20 minutes with two suitcases; one for his clothes and the other for his treasured prayer items including his statues, mala and Vajrayogini sadhana. In fact, the two suitcases were already prepared because he had always planned to run away to become a monk!
With just US$50 in his pocket, Rinpoche left New Jersey for good, walking out to the highway and hitchhiking all the way across America to L.A., California. The journey was long and difficult; he lived on the streets and had to deal with being beaten, guns, physical abuse and offers of porn and prostitution.
I know what the homeless feel – apart from the embarrassment and the shame, there’s the hunger and the cold. Some places where I slept, there would be frost when I woke up. I’d be shivering when I woke up, on roadsides, or in a cardboard box or whatever.
When Rinpoche arrived in L.A. in September, penniless and homeless, he stayed with his step-cousin for three months in Monterey Park, enrolling in Mark Keppel High School in 1982 for his sophomore year. He completed his GED in January 1983, being one of only two students from that school to pass. Rinpoche then legally quit his studies, preferring to concentrate solely on Dharma. For him, school represented everything in samsara.
It was around this time, quite a few months after arriving in L.A. that Rinpoche found his next Dharma centre, Thubten Dargye Ling.