In 1977, Toronto’s first Tibetan store opened, in a renovated white bungalow on the south side of Scollard Street in Yorkville. The proprietor was Tashi Lhanendapo.
At that time, there were very few Tibetans living in Ontario, let alone Toronto. The few who had moved here from their landing place in Montreal in 1971 had settled in Lindsay and Belleville. So the store was quite a first.
Tashi was a skinny little guy who would have fit comfortably in a Damon Runyon story, if he had been from New York instead of Tibet. I remember him in the store as always a bit distant, with a wry twist of the mouth and a frequent cigarette. It was almost as if he were wondering who the hell these people were who were drawn to his small store, and very ambivalent about their presence.
It was only later that I learned Tashi had been a monk in Tibet for 11 years, and had fled from a holocaust the wider world was yet to discover.
It was my good fortune to meet Tashi a number of times over the intervening years, most notably when we both received the Guhyasamaja initiation from Tara Tulku Rinpoche in 1989, at Hong Fa Temple on Bloor Street West.
In 1991, Tashi came for dinner with us at Tengye Ling Tibetan Buddhist Temple (when it were still located in Village by the Grange on McCaul Street), before a Lama Choepa puja. He didn’t eat much, and told us he had stomach cancer. Not long after, he was dead.
I saw his wife again several years later, when Khyabgon Chetsang Rinpoche gave the Phowa initiation at the International Students Centre at the University of Toronto in 1993. I wanted to tell her how much it meant to me to know Tashi, but I didn’t get the chance in the crowded hall.
Not everyone who brought the Dharma to the west was a celebrity or a high Lama. It has been the work of many hands. Thank you, Tashi, for your company on the path.
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