Marya Schwabe began studying Buddhism in 1974, together with her husband Miguel, at a temple in Wood Valley on the Island of Hawai‘i. The temple was founded for Nechung Rinpoche, the reincarnate lama of Nechung Monastery, the institution that houses the Chief State Oracle of Tibet. From 1975 to 1983, Marya and Miguel lived and worked closely with Rinpoche. Under his tutelage, they immersed themselves in Buddhism and learned spoken and classical Tibetan at the remote sanctuary.
Nechung Rinpoche encouraged them to learn Tibetan so they could comprehend the profundity of the Buddhist philosophy from the source. He foresaw that they would study with many lamas who were not fluent in English. True to Rinpoche’s prescience, Marya organized visits and teaching programs for over fifty lamas, including His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1980 and 1994, from all the major lineages of Tibetan Buddhism, to the temple and other centers. She has had the rare opportunity to study with and translate for many of these extraordinary teachers. The subjects range from foundational practices, the highest yoga tantras, and Dzogchen.
Since the 1970s, Marya has also served as the temple administrative director, managing the business, outreach, and public relations; while Miguel has utilized his skills to develop and maintain the infrastructure, buildings, and grounds. They have traveled extensively in Asia and currently reside and work at Nechung Dorje Drayang Ling http://www.nechung.org in Hawai’i.
Title by Marya Waifoon Schwabe
Road to Freedom — A Journey from Occupied Tibet
The True Story of the Search, Discovery, and Escape of a Reincarnate Lama
“In this book Marya recounts the exciting tale of their journey, while at the same time revealing many aspects of Tibet’s religion and culture. The story is also an example of how setting a goal and taking a realistic and determined approach to fulfilling it eventually leads to success.”—His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama
In accordance with the Tibetan tradition of finding the reincarnations of high lamas, the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama was sought to locate the rebirth of Nechung Rinpoche, who passed away in 1983. Rinpoche is the eminent lama of Nechung, the institution that houses the Chief State Oracle. His Holiness gave several clues: the year of the boy’s birth, the names of his parents, and the locale of Lhasa, the capital city of Tibet.
A search party of three people—a monk from Nechung Monastery in India, Marya and Miguel—made journeys to Tibet in 1987 and 1993. Their search led them to sacred visionary lakes and ancient monasteries. The expeditions were precarious and filled with challenges such as where to look, whom to trust, and how to accomplish a nearly impossible mission in a Chinese communist-occupied country where surveillance was prevalent. Ultimately, the escape with the eight-year-old lama entailed crossing multiple heavily guarded checkpoints, including two international airports. http://www.journeyfromoccupiedtibet.org
Well, I have not been spellbound by the written word for a long time. My goodness, what a treasure you have woven in this recounting. I am near speechless. These are some of the words that were coming to my mind while I was reading: captivating, completely engrossing, richness, compelling, wonderful flow, amazing story, WOW, poetic imagery, this is VERY good, very suspenseful and tears at the crossing of Friendship Bridge. As a layperson I found the narrative of this odyssey spellbinding from the first paragraph to the last sentence. I can only imagine how powerfully significant it will be for those with a greater knowledge and understanding of Tibetan Buddhism and lineage
Your book is a jewel…such a critical mission, and such a grand adventure, it is certainly a story that needed to be told, and you have told it so well, and the book, the physical presentation, is beautiful.
Jerene - 1/16/2021
The book is so very wonderful. It is BEAUTIFUL in all ways: A work of art in its quality of look and feel! The many colored photos make it extra extra special. Pictures of child-Marya were especially touching. I love holding it and inside it is a wonder. Your words are so personal, and descriptive of those early years of your life together steeped in Buddhism in America as well as Dharmasala, Kathmandu, and Tibet. Also I love the weaving of history and explanation of Tibetan Buddhism. I am gobbling and savoring each chapter and I am happy for this treasure gift for our world.
Aaron - 1/16/2021
What a great book and such an amazing story!! There haven’t been many books where I started reading the first page and didn’t put it down until I finished the last page. This was one of them! There were times when I got lost in reading and forgot that these were actual events and not something out of the latest fiction bestseller. I’m not sure a fiction writer could even come up with a character like Thupten. 🙂 The lessons, suspense and humor throughout the book were just great. Also learning little things like how Miguel got his nickname were fantastic. It was definitely worth the wait. Congratulations on a wonderful work!
Denise - 2/4/2021At the heart of this amazing story is a secrete that is hinted at without being clearly named and it was this aspect of the adventure that kept me up all night. I read the book in one long gulp.There are plenty of adventure books that describe the discomfort and dangers of travel and although Road to Freedom has its share of travel woes, the element that made it so exciting for me was that against impossible conditions, without any force to overcome even the smallest obstacles, Marya and Miquel trust that their mission will succeed. It is a trust that the universe is good and that the road would open for them at exactly the moment it needed to open by completely unexpected means, by trusting people who they might otherwise have feared. It takes a certain kind of mind to live by this trust, and even forty some years of Dharma practice does not automatically give you that mind. From the very beginning of the story it is evident that both Marya and Miquel live in this flow, which is why they found each other and then found Nechung Rinpoche and the Buddha Dharma. For those who can catch it this story is also a dharma teaching.Mixed with the travel story and the great mission is an accurate account of the reality of life in Chinese occupied Tibet, as of the late 1980s and 1990s. It has gotten far worse now. The foreword by His Holiness Dalai Lama, introductory chapters on Tibetan history and The Explanation of Reincarnation by His Holiness are very useful, as is the glossary of terms and names. There are also many photographs. I recommend this book to people who thrill at being alive in this unfathomable cosmos.
Maria - 2/7/2021
Aloha Marya. Congratulations again on the book. You managed to weave together the threads of a bestselling thriller, profound insights and dharma, and details making the historical story come alive. I really enjoyed the journey so much. Mahalo nui loa. I can hardly wait for the movie.
Jay - 2/7/2021
What a great true adventure story. The telling was well organized and was a joy to read. The wonderful color photos and the foreword and ending by His Holiness the Dalai Lama were of real value. My genuine gratitude for your effort and hard work to bring this previously untold story to life/light. Mahalo nui.
Faith - 2/18/2021What a treasure of a book. Your writing was personal, highly descriptive and engaging. So many checkpoints, 19 or more? It is nothing short of a miracle that you made it out safely. How wonderful that you could visit so many special sacred places–lakes and temples. And of course, heart-breaking to hear of all the destruction and desecration of Tibet and worse still, how the Tibetan people have suffered. I’ve already passed your book on to another family member so we can talk about it together. You wrote an amazing book. Thank you.
Colleen - 2/18/2021
You have written a wonderful book! I’m halfway through and finding it hard to tear myself away. But just wanted to take a moment to acknowledge this amazing work you’ve created. You must have kept a detailed journal, since everything is so vivid, and the narrative keeps pulling me forward. And the pictures are truly worth “a thousand words.” Heartfelt thanks for taking us on this amazing journey.
LihLing - 2/21/2021
What a journey to find Rinpoche’s reincarnation. Wow! It’s just so captivating that I finished reading your book in two consecutive days. Love it, totally!
Debbie - 3/2/2021
I received your treasure of a book yesterday. I need to put it down to do some work around here! Not only is it a wonderful account but a true love story. You have brought me to tears of joy and also sorrow. Thank you so much for bringing me along through the memory of your experience.
Walter - 3/8/2021
Road to Freedom is an outstanding epic rescue mission completed by my dear Hawaiian friends described in a breath taken pace! Facing insurmountable odds we see determination, perseverance, cool well calculated logic and unbounded faith in Dharma overcome all obstacles in this truly intimate rock rattle and roll ride to freedom. Marya and Miguel display a fearless courage which I witnessed in a Bangkok Sabre rattling event long ago in a prominent hotel restaurant not far from the Emerald Buddha. My respect for them was cemented, they were being tested and they would succeed in any quest they chose to endeavor. Congratulations on the publication of this Grand Opus. May the Nechung Rinpoche Legacy spread far and wide.
Fan - 3/8/2021
Highly recommend it! This book is very nutritional , the story is very exciting, and the author is very lovely.
Paula - 4/3/2021
Road to Freedom is an enthralling spiritual thriller! When author Marya, her delightful husband Miguel and Thupten, an unpredictable monk, set off on a mystical mission to find an eight-year-old reincarnate lama in occupied Tibet, they must out-maneuver the Chinese police and a host of other obstacles. Depending on your point of view, is this a kidnapping, rescue or act of resistance?
Far from a “Hippie” search for self-enlightenment, Marya and Miguel venture from their secluded Wood Valley Buddhist temple home in Hawai’i on a harrowing spiritual quest through China, India and Nepal to Tibet. Yet their faith never wavers. The book retraces their adventure with all its original animation:
“We recognized the near impossibility of our undertaking, yet we had absolute confidence of success. We had been offered the role of a lifetime and given an open script with a generous plot, as well as the challenge to develop the story with precise details of cast, stage and settings. There was the distinct consideration of scenario changes but…Triumph was our sole objective.”
Like a luminous Himalayan stream, Marya’s writing flows easily from spiritual complexities to practical necessities. Layered plots and clandestine strategies dissolve and reform like mountain mists, but Marya treats the diverse cast of characters with great humanity, whether they are allies or adversaries. Miguel’s offbeat humor keeps the journey grounded while “Oh my God!” becomes Marya’s mantra whenever she’s dumbfounded.
Whether you’re a skeptic or a believer in reincarnation, Marya’s deep knowledge of Buddhism, fluency in the Tibetan language and upbringing as a Chinese American, create a plausible context for the most striking coincidences. The many gorgeous color photos bring these other-worldly characters and places to life and lodge them in your heart. A final segment bridges the gulf between the East and West with valuable details on Buddhist terms, Tibetan history, people and politics.
Bravo Marya, for a thrilling memoir that illuminates the journey of a lifetime – or should I say lifetimes? Writing a book is a trek in itself but Road to Freedom radiates the same intensity of love, compassion and joy as the original quest – with the added wisdom of reflection. A beautiful gift. I couldn’t put it down!
Cassandra - 4/22/2021
Intriguing, inspiring, educational and adventurous! I was fascinated with this true life adventure of faith, courage and perservance. The author beautifully weaves lessons in Tibetan culture and Buddhist philosophy along with details of the journey to bring a young reincarnate lama back to his earthly home. It is an admirable account of determination to follow through with safe passage between occupied Tibet and the sanctuary of India through seemingly impossible situations and respect for the Tibetan people and their circumstances. It is a brave truth of the desire to keep alive the human goodness despite forces of oppression.
Donald - 4/28/2021Amazing true story. Was just the perfect read during this year of covid. Inspiring us all to a larger life.
John - 5/4/2021
A beautifully written, spine-tingling page-turner; and a must-read for anyone interested in Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama, Himalayan culture or the Great Game played by China and India over Tibet. I couldn’t put it down.
Faith - 5/17/2021This journey of rescuing a young incarnate lama from Tibet is well written and engaging. It could easily be turned into an adventure movie with suspenseful encounters at every turn. Maria and Miguel Schwabe risked life and limb to resuce the incarnation of their beloved teacher. They give an insightful and harrowing narrative into Chinese-communist occupied Tibet, which they gleaned at enormous personal peril. Their wisdom, wit and dedication are inspiring. The story is thoroughly engaging and all true. I feared for their safety at countless junctures. It is a heart-warming account of love and friendship over more than 20 years. I would like to think I could be as brave and devoted as Marya to completing her mission and saving a young lama. This book is fantastic and enlightening read.
Catherine - 7/7/2021
Aloha Marya, Road to Freedom is a magnificent and important account of Tibetan Buddhism and your and Miguel’s search for Rinpoche. Your descriptions in each part of the story, from your journey to Wood Valley, relationship with Rinpoche, treks to Dharamsala, conversations with His Holiness, relationships with monks and lamas, harrowing passage into China, and . . . I could go on and on, were vividly and passionately described. I was rivetted.
Having read an early draft, I wondered how you were going to weave the backstory and teachings about Tibetan Buddhism into the story. You did that beautifully! During my read, the passages that shared the Tibetan and Tibetan Buddhist perspectives, expanded my understanding and world, and made my inner light glow brightly. I never felt lectured at or confused. And each of your footnotes was perfect! Well done! I have a sense of how much work it was to write the story and get it published. Thank you so much, to you and Miguel, for hanging in there with its creation. It’s an important story to share with the world.
I’m visualizing it expanding and deepening others’ understanding about Tibet, China and Tibetan Buddhism.
Chris - 8/18/2021
This book snuck up quietly in to my life as I visited the Nechung temple on the Big Island of Hawaii and became aware there was a book about the Nechung oracle who lived at the temple for many years. It has been a profound way to learn more about Tibet and Buddhism, through a riveting story of the writers connection with oracle and a most devoted life to caring for the body and spirit of the Nechung Rinpoche.
Tom - 9/12/2021
This timely memoir is a superb and inspiring read that will appeal to broad audiences, both here in Hawaiʻi and across the globe. Road to Freedom offers an intimate glimpse of occupied Tibet that’s rarely available to outsiders and poignantly illuminates the struggles of this indigenous people to preserve their culture, traditions, and way of life in the face of increasingly destructive colonialism. Readers in Hawaiʻi will especially appreciate the Big Island connection to the story, and Native Hawaiians and other keiki o ka ʻaina will readily recognize the colonial parallels of this story with that of Hawaiʻi, whose indigenous people have also been displaced through military, political, and economic occupation. I highly recommend Road to Freedom: A Journey from Occupied Tibet.
Karen - 11/23/21
This was fascinating, page after page. Filled with emotion and suspense. I also learned ALOT!! It was like being there. I accented my read with internet and video searches about Tibet and became enthralled with Marya and Miguel’s courage, determination, love and pure faith. This book will reside in my heart always.