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October 9, 2014

His Name is Ashoka: the Cameraman who got Ebola.

 

Ashoka

The news is full of stories about Ebola right now.

Most of it is fearmongering. The media is trying to make us think that, at any moment, Ebola could cover the United States.

I usually don’t like it when the media tries to scare us, but I heard something on the news that piqued my interest. An NBC cameraman caught Ebola in Liberia. And they said his name is Ashoka Mukpo. He’s the 6th American to get Ebola, which has killed more than 3,500 people in West Africa.

Ashoka shares a name with a historical figure.

He was a king who supported Buddhism. I didn’t know the significance of the name Mukpo until I looked into it. He was the adopted son of Chogyam Trungpa.

Chogyam Trungpa probably did more to spread Vajrayana Buddhism in the United States than anyone else. He created Naropa University and the Shambhala community. He also wrote one of my favorite Buddhist books: Meditation In Action.

He taught Buddhist practices to people like Allen Ginsberg and David Bowie.

I could write a very long article to talk about Chogyam Trungpa. His life story is fascinating. Many consider him a controversial figure, but I like him. This isn’t about him, though—it’s about his adopted son.

Ashoka Mukpo was raised Buddhist.

When he was only eight months old, his father declared that he was a Tulku, the reincarnation of a famous Tibetan Buddhist teacher who was known as the Mad Yogi of Kham.

He’s 33 years old now and he decided not to be a monk, but he is still a Buddhist. He decided to try to help the world in ways other than the monk’s path.

He has been traveling to and from Liberia for a few years and he spent time working for an NGO that was devoted to helping Liberians gain more legal rights. When he contracted Ebola, he was working a freelance job as a cameraman for NBC.

He had been working with several different news organizations covering the Ebola outbreak.

So, this man was out in the world, trying to help people, and now he has Ebola.

I’ve heard people say that he, and others like him, have gotten what they deserved for traveling to places where Ebola is prevalent. I think that’s a terrible attitude to have. Ashoka was out trying to help people.

A few weeks ago he wrote this article about the way Ebola was being treated.

Speaking about the spread of this outbreak, he wrote:

“The lack of treatment facilities for those who have contracted Ebola has terrible consequences. Those Liberians suspected of being infected must travel across Monrovia, often stopping at one of the three main destinations for treatment multiple times. When they arrive at a treatment center, they are often told that there is no space for them and directed to yet another overcrowded facility. The risk of infecting others increases as the patients grow sicker while in transit or back at home. The few ambulances that are running pickup and drop-off services are forced to leave patients waiting in front of treatment centers. Another common practice is for families to pay taxi drivers to carry contagious loved ones to the facilities. This is no way to fight the worst Ebola outbreak in history.”

It’s been reported that the first thing he did when he was diagnosed was call his family to apologize for putting himself in danger. Before he left, his mother, Diana Mukpo had begged him not to go.

He’s back in the United States now, in a hospital in Nebraska. It’s been reported that he’s enormously relieved to be back and that he’s in high spirits in spite of his condition.

He’s worth talking about.

It doesn’t really matter if we believe he’s the reincarnation of a famous Tibetan Buddhist. He’s a hero.

A Bodhisattva who risked everything to help others.

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Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

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