My Kind of Town

Don Chapman

Budding Buddha

>> Liliha

It had been a perfectly normal day in the Kharma household 16 years ago. Tibetan-born Dad, who went by Steve, was cooking at King Tsin. Hawaiian-born Mom, the former Mayadharma Ka'iwi, was home with the boys, Joe, 10, and Frank, 2, helping make ends meet by sewing for a local designer.

She was at the sewing machine, Little Frankie at her feet hammering bright plastic squares, stars, crosses and circles into like-shaped pukas with a red plastic hammer from the carpenter play set. He looked up and said, dead serious, "Mama, Frank isn't my real name."

"Really? So what is your name, sweetie?"

"Doofus," Joe cracked. He was watching "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" on TV and, in the bigger picture, growing up to be a normal American kid just the way his father wanted.

"Eh, be nice, bruddah. OK, Frankie, so what's your real name?"

"Lama Jey Tsong Khapa."

Mayadharma's heart almost stopped, but the sewing machine didn't and she sewed right through a zipper. "What was that again, Frankie?"

"Not Frankie. Lama Jey Tsong Khapa."

"How do you know that?"

"In a dream. I just know."

These were words that in the Tibet of pre-1949, or even the India of today, would honor any mother. But not Mayadharma Kharma of Liliha 16 years ago.

Being reincarnated as one of the most beloved lamas in Tibetan history was not growing up to be a normal American kid. She'd worried about it from the day he was born, tried to ignore the signs that he might be a budding Buddha -- the golden skin, the ushnisha brain dome, the slightly webbed fingers and toes, the vague tiger striping on his legs. She hoped it was just a phase.

But now her baby, her little Frankie boy, named for Frank Sinatra, her husband's favorite American singer because "he did it my way, and that's the American way," was saying her fears had come true.

"Mama," he said, showing a lama's compassion, "I know you couldn't know my real name. Remember, when I left before, I said I wouldn't be reincarnated in the official way?"

She was totally rattled. "So, um, you changed your mind, I guess?"

"Uh-huh. Our people need me again."

"Oh my. Well, Joe, looks like your baby bruddah is a Buddha."

"I thought he was a boo-boo." He'd heard his parents talking one night. Frankie was an accident.

Mayadharma blushed. "You're not supposed to know that!" But it made her wonder: Was it divine conception? And then to the toddler who would be Buddha. "So what do we do now?"

"I must return home and continue my work."

"I think we better wait till your father gets home."

See the Columnists section for some past articles.

Don Chapman is editor of MidWeek. His serialized novel runs daily in the Star-Bulletin. He can be e-mailed at


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