Archive for ‘Tibet in Exile’

Of Temples and Gyms: Playing PokemonGo in Dharamshala

BY EVA CIRNU (Dharamsala) - If you haven’t heard about Pokémon Go and its sweeping effect, then ‘there’s a good chance you might be living under a particularly secluded rock’, says Tenzin Tendar, a young Tibetan man who lives in Dharamshala.

He has been playing PokemonGo for over two months now, and yes, he is a web developer, but the PokemonGo frenzy includes more than just computer people and other technologically-inclined individuals.

While PokemonGo has been around for a few months now in Western countries, I was surprised to hear of it in my little village at the foothills of the Indian Himalayas. It turns out that McLeod Ganj, the town just a few minutes up the mountain, is a PokemonGo hub.

For decades, McLeod Ganj has also been the home in exile of H.H. the Dalai Lama and of a large Tibetan community. Hundreds of monks and nuns add their beautiful maroon robe colors to the green landscape, while golden temple rooftops shine in the sun, scattered on the hills and in the valley below.

Add to that a few good dozen meditation, reiki and yoga studios, and this is the last setting I would have imagined for a video game scene. And yet, although the game is not officially released in India, Tibetans, locals and Indian tourists play PokemonGo here… and love it! Furthermore, since Tibetans rule the Pokemon scene in town -with Tendar’s team ‘owning’ all Pokemon gyms- it is only normal that they would have Tibetan names.

Playing a captivating video game outdoors -on the streets, outside temples or on the edge of hills overlooking beautiful landscapes- is in itself a great thrill. But there is another beneficial side to it as well. ‘It also brings people together’, says Tendar. ‘For example, I put down a lure module on a Pokéstop (which lures Pokémons to the stop) near the Main Square in McLeod around 2 p.m. Even with a slight drizzle coming down, several people showed up within minutes. We exchanged a few knowing glances at first and later on we showed each other our Pokémon collections.’

Tendar is a young, bright and hip Tibetan man, like many of his peers. His generation embodies H.H. the Dalai Lama’s call to keep up with the times, to stay informed about new technologies and follow scientific research. And –ironically, in a way- this is being reflected these days by the fact that His Holiness’ and other Tibetan temples have become virtual Pokemon ‘gyms’…

Watch our video interview to learn more about Tendar and the PokemonGo scene in Dharamsala.

‘Dharamsala Dispatch’ is a series of notes from in and around Dharamsala, covering the Tibetan artistic and cultural scene through reports and interviews with prominent Tibetans involved in community events.

 

Eva Cirnu is the Coordinator of the Canada Tibet Committee’s francophone section. She is currently living in Dharamsala.

Summer reading 2016

SUMMER READING - 2015

Whether sitting on the beach or spending your summer days in balconville, the summer months are a perfect time to do some reading and to feed your Tibet obsession at the same time. Below, you will find a list of Tibet-related books, both fiction and non-fiction, compiled from CTC staff suggestions and including books by Canadian authors.  In addition to recent publications, this year’s list repeats popular selections from previous years, books for children, and a selection in the French language.  Happy reading!

NON-FICTION

Tibet on Fire: Self-Immolations Against Chinese Rule
By Tsering Woeser, translation by Kevin Carrico, Verso, 2016

Since the 2008 uprising, nearly 150 Tibetan monks have set fire to themselves in protest at the Chinese occupation of their country. Most have died from their injuries. Author Tsering Woeser is a prominent voice of the Tibetan movement, and one of the few Tibetan authors to write in Chinese. Her stirring acts of resistance have led to her house arrest, where she remains under close surveillance to this day. Tibet On Fire is her account of the oppression Tibetans face and the ideals driving those who resist, both the self-immolators and other Tibetans like herself. With a cover image designed by Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

Ethnic Conflict Protest in Tibet & Xinjiang
Edited by Ben Hillman and Gray Tuttle, Columbia University Press, 2016

Despite more than a decade of rapid economic development, rising living standards, and large-scale improvements in infrastructure and services, China's western borderlands are awash in a wave of ethnic unrest not seen since the 1950s. Through on-the-ground interviews and firsthand observations, the international experts in this volume create the most extensive chronicle of events to date. The authors examine the factors driving the unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang and the political strategies used to suppress them. This volume considers the role of propaganda and education as generators and sources of conflict, linking interethnic strife to economic growth and environmental degradation to increased instability.

Guardians of Nature: Tibetan Pastoralists and the Natural World
By Tsering Bum, Asia Highlands Perspectives, 2016

Guardians of Nature is a clearly written and insightful view of the political economic, environmental, and social-cultural transformations reshaping lives and livelihoods on the Tibetan Plateau. Written as a first-hand narrative account of his work over several years with Yulshul villagers, Tsering Bum’s perceptive book discusses key issues of contemporary Tibetan pastoralism: mining; the importance of the caterpillar fungus economy; resettlement; co-ops; education policy; human-wildlife conflict; and sacred mountains. It also explores new phenomena, such as Tibetan pastoralists hiring Han Chinese as herding laborers while living off of caterpillar fungus income. Bum’s analysis is strongly recommended for anyone interested in Tibetan pastoral areas of Tibet.

China and Tibet: The Perils of Insecurity
Tsering Topgyal, Hurst Publishers, 2016

Over sixty years of violence and dialogue have brought China and the Tibetans no closer to a resolution of their conflict. Beijing has denied the existence of a 'Tibet Issue' and rejected several Tibetan proposals for autonomy, fearful that they might undermine its state-building project in Tibet. Conversely, Tibetan insecurity about threats to identity generated by Chinese policies, Han migration and cultural influences in Tibet, explains both the Dalai Lama's unpopular decision to abandon his aspiration for Tibetan independence and his demands for autonomy and unification of all Tibetans under one administration. Identity insecurity also drives the multi-faceted Tibetan resistance both inside Tibet and in the diaspora. Thus the outcome is, paradoxically, greater insecurity on both sides.

 Effects of Resettlement on Tibetan Nomads (Yushu Prefecture, Qinghai Province)
By Kenneth Bauer, Commission of Nomadic Peoples, 2015

As nomads increasingly move to urban areas, regional and local economies are shifting, as are social relations and the traditional systems that have managed rangeland resources for millennia. Yet few studies have investigated the empirics of life within these resettled communities. Drawing from survey and interview data, I suggest that while resettlement offers nomad families opportunities in terms of access to public services such as education and health care, it also entails significant new expenses for households even as their earnings potential contracts; these trends are exacerbated in the case of poorer households and income inequalities are likely to worsen when families move to urban areas.

Tibetan Environmentalists in China: The King of Dzi
By Liu Jianqiang - Translated by Ian Rowen, Cyrus K. Hui, and Emily T. Yeh, Rowen & Littlefield, 2015

Tibetan Environmentalists In China weaves together the life stories of five extraordinary contemporary Tibetans involved in environmental protection. In the politically fraught and ever-worsening situation for Tibetans within China today, it is often said that the only possible path for a better solution will be through a change in the way that the majority Chinese society thinks about and understands Tibetans, their aspirations, histories, and desires. This book provides the first such account by drawing readers in with beautiful narrative prose and fascinating stories, and then using their attention to demystify Tibetans, cultivating in the reader a sense of empathy as well as facts upon which to rebuild an intercultural understanding. It is the first work that seriously aims to let the Chinese public understand Tibetans and in doing so it opens up a whole new way of understanding Tibet.

A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives
By Thupten Jinpa PhD, Hudson Street Press, 2015

Montrealer, Thupten Jinpa looks at how the Buddhist practice of mindfulness caught on in the west when we began to understand the everyday, personal benefits it brought us. Now, in this extraordinary book, the highly acclaimed thought leader and longtime English translator of His Holiness the Dalai Lama shows us that compassion can bring us even more. Based on the landmark course in compassion training Jinpa helped create at Stanford Medical School, A Fearless Heart uses science and insights from both classical Buddhist and western psychology to train our compassion muscle to relieve stress, fight depression, improve our health, achieve our goals, and change our world.

A Home in Tibet
By Tsering Wangmo Dhompa, Penquin, 2014

When her mother dies in a car accident along a great highway in India, far from her country and her family, Tsering decides to take a handful of her ashes to Tibet. She arrives at the foothills of her mother’s ancestral home in a nomadic village in East Tibet to realize that she had been preparing for this homecoming all her life. Everything is familiar to her, especially the flowers of the Tibetan summer. She understands then the gift her mother had bequeathed her: the love of a land.

Meltdown in Tibet: China's Reckless Destruction of Ecosystems from the Highlands of Tibet to the Deltas of Asia
By Michael Buckley, Palgrave MacMillan, 2014

In Meltdown in Tibet Canadian writer, Michael Buckley, turns the spotlight on the darkest side of China's emergence as a global super power. Tibetans have experienced waves of genocide since the 1950s. Now they are facing ecocide. The Himalayan snowcaps are in meltdown mode, due to climate change—accelerated by a rain of black soot from massive burning of coal and other fuels in both China and India. The mighty rivers of Tibet are being dammed by Chinese engineering consortiums to feed the mainland’s thirst for power, and the land is being relentlessly mined in search of minerals to feed China’s industrial complex. On the drawing board are plans for a massive engineering project to divert water from Eastern Tibet to water-starved Northern China. Ruthless Chinese repression leaves Tibetans powerless to stop the reckless destruction of their sacred land, but they are not the only victims of this campaign: the nations downstream from Tibet rely heavily on rivers sourced in Tibet for water supply, and for rich silt used in agriculture. This destruction of the region's environment has been happening with little scrutiny until now.

Tibetan Home Cooking
Lobsang Wangdu and Yolanda O’Bannon, Yowandu.com, 2013

Tibetan Home Cooking includes a 130+ page eBook full of well-loved, authentic recipes that are cooked in the great majority of Tibetan homes. The book offers 27 wonderful recipes that have been passed down in Tibetan families for hundreds of years and it includes photos and an instructive video with each recipe. The book contains tips on how to find exotic ingredients or what to substitute for certain things are difficult to find outside of Tibet.  All sections of the book can be printed, and you can use it on your iPad/iPhone, or other mobile device.

 FICTION

The Mandala of Sherlock Holmes
By Jamyang Norbu, Bloomsbury USA, 2003

In 1891, the British public was horrified to learn that Sherlock Holmes had perished in a deadly struggle with the archcriminal Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. Then, to its amazement, he reappeared two years later, informing a stunned Watson, 'I traveled for two years in Tibet, therefore, and amused myself by visiting Lhasa.'  Now for the first time, we learn of Holmes's brush with the Great Game and the world of Kim. We follow him north across the hot and duty plains of India to Simla, summer capital of the British Raj, and over the high passes to the vast emptiness of the Tibetan plateau. In the medieval splendor that is Lhasa, intrigue and black treachery stalk the shadows, and Sherlock Holmes confronts his greatest challenge.

Red Poppies: A Novel of Tibet
By Alai, Mariner Books, 2003

A lively and cinematic twentieth-century epic, Red Poppies focuses on the extravagant and brutal reign of a clan of Tibetan warlords during the rise of Chinese Communism. The story is wryly narrated by the chieftain's son, a self-professed "idiot" who reveals the bloody feuds, seductions, secrets, and scheming behind his family's struggles for power. When the chieftain agrees to grow opium poppies with seeds supplied by the Chinese Nationalists in exchange for modern weapons, he draws Tibet into the opium trade -- and unwittingly plants the seeds for a downfall. Red Poppies is at once a political parable and a moving elegy to the lost kingdom of Tibet in all its cruelty, beauty, and romance.

Maya
By C.W. Huntington Jr, Wisdom Publication, 2015

It is 1975 and India is in turmoil. American Stanley Harrington arrives to study Sanskrit philosophy and escape his failing marriage. When he finds himself witness to a violent accident, he begins to question his grip on reality. Maya introduces us to an entertaining cast of hippies, expats, and Indians of all walks of life. From a hermit hiding in the Himalayan jungle since the days of the British Raj, to an accountant at the Bank of India with a passion for Sanskrit poetry, to the last in a line of brahman scholars, Stanley’s path ultimately leads him to a Tibetan yogi, who enlists the American’s help in translating a mysterious ancient text. Maya, literally “illusion,” is an extended meditation on the unraveling of identity. Filled with rich observations and arresting reflections, it mines the porous border between memory and imagination.

The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver
By Chan Koonchung; translation by Nicky Harman, Doubleday, 2014

Champa, a young Tibetan, is a simple chap. He has a stable job in Lhasa as chauffeur to a successful Chinese art dealer, Plum. Champa doesn't have a gripe against the Chinese. He's not the sort of guy to get caught up in politics either: he just wants to get on in life. For Champa, a sure sign that he's made it would be to move to the Chinese capital and live there like a young Beijinger. But then he begins a romantic affair with Plum and life gets complicated. Shifting balances of power, deliberate manipulations, the force of sexual desire, and the ache of longing are par for the course. And relationships are even more complex when there are vast differences in wealth, culture and power between the man and the woman, between Tibet and China.

CHILDREN:

 Shantideva: How to Wake Up a Hero
By Dominique Townsend and Tenzin Norbu, Wisdom Publications, 2015

Shantideva: How to Wake Up a Hero is the retelling of Shantideva’s teachings before a surprised audience, who had thought he was useless and could only eat, sleep, and poop. Leading his listeners into a superhero training of different kind, he reveals the secret to perfect bravery and unbounded compassion and shows how anyone can develop them. You don’t need super-strength or magical powers, he says. You just need practice. Over a dozen illustrations painted in traditional Tibetan style draw in readers to this work that will be treasured not only by Buddhist families but by anyone who aspires to become more kind and wise.

Escape from Tibet (Young Adult - revised edition)
Nick Gray with Laura Scandiffio, Annick Press, 2014

A true story first told in an acclaimed documentary, Escape from Tibet, this is a riveting tale of courage, adventure, and triumph.  It tells the story of two young brothers who escape an oppressive existence by fleeing to India alone and on foot over the Himalayas. On the forbidden journey they face challenges, including unimaginable cruelty of border police, and the unforgiving severity of Mother Nature.  In this updated edition, the Dalai Lama provides a forward and the authors tell how the brothers fared in exile and what they are doing now.

The Dharma of Star Wars
Matthew Bortolin, Wisdom Publications, 2005

The Dharma of Star Wars uses George Lucas' beloved modern saga and the universal discoveries of the Buddha to illuminate each other in playful and unexpectedly rewarding ways. Bortolin even reveals satisfying depths to the second trilogy of movies-the ones that met with what can understatedly be called a less-than-warm critical reception. The Dharma of Star Wars gives you an inpsiring and totally new take on this timeless saga, from A New Hope all the way up to 2005's Revenge of the Sith. Fun for all ages, The Dharma of Star Wars is also a perfect way for Buddhist parents to bridge the generation gap.

Middle Way or Rangzen? Opinions from the blogosphere

BY JAMYANG NORBU AND TENPA TSERING (USA) - Recently, two opinion pieces have circulated in the English language Tibet media.  One is written by well-known writer and activist, Jamyang Norbu who lives in Tennessee and proposes full independence (rangzen) as the best political strategy for Tibet. The other is written by Tendar Tsering, a Minnesota-based journalist who argues that the "Middle Way Approach" is the best vehicle for advancement of the Tibetan cause.  We are re-posting both OpEds so that our readers might better understand the debate that is currently vibrant within Tibet's exile democracy, particularly as the leadership election approaches in March 2016.  The CTC thanks JamyangNorbu.com and TibetSun.com for allowing us to re-post from their blogs.

1. The Matrix in the Middle Way, by Jamyang Norbu (December 31, 2015)

Last November, as I was preparing to fly to Toronto for my talk “Forging a Rangzen Strategy”, I received an email from Gashi Tenpa la, one of the TNC organizers there. He had an amusing suggestion for a concluding message I could leave the audience: “Jamyang la, don’t forget to tell them to choose the “Red Pill”

About a third of the way into the cult-classic science fiction film, The Matrix (1999), the main character, Neo, is offered a fundamentally life-altering choice in the form of two pills: a red pill representing the painful truth of reality and a blue pill representing the blissful ignorance of illusion.

The movie is fairly bursting at the seams with implied philosophical references: from Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” and Descartes “Meditation on First Philosophy”, to rather conspicuously, Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation. The film also freely borrows ideas from a number of religions, of which the central concept of the “Matrix”, the all-embracing digital world of illusion in which humanity is enslaved, is clearly a metaphor for the maya of Hindu philosophy, and to a point the samsara of Buddhism. It is also, I think, a not inappropriate metaphor for the current Tibetan political situation.

The Tibetan leadership and much of its following-in-exile have become mired in a state of chronic delusion created in large part by our prevailing culture of blind faith, sycophancy, corruption, and intellectual indolence. There has also been the occasional manipulation of this mind-set by Communist China through some of its indirect agents of influence operating in the liberal democracies (politicians, academics, journalists, celebrities, even certain NGO’s). In the last few years this manipulation has been taken up more directly by the PRC’s own agents almost certainly planted among those Chinese “intellectuals” and “tourists” regularly meeting the Dalai Lama.

However depressing the situation, many Tibetans have, in recent years, come to realize that the official Middle Way Approach (MWA) policy has been disastrous for the Tibetan political cause, and for the unity and well-being of the exile community. Yet this growing public awareness has had little impact on our political reality, since most of these people have been reluctant to openly express their concerns for fear of offending the Dalai Lama. Even among those Tibetans openly advocating independence from China as the only possible salvation for Tibet, many have shied away from taking the one final step necessary to making their commitment a meaningful one. All these people though making the initial difficult decision and choosing the red pill, have subsequently been unable to swallow it, and instead kept rolling it around their mouth like a Ricola cough-drop.

To put it simply, most people who believe in Tibetan independence still cannot give up the hope that they could somehow, eventually, arrive at some kind of understanding or compromise with the official MWA policy, and more importantly, remain in the good books of the Dharamshala establishment and, of course, His Holiness the Dalai Lama – even while supporting or even advocating a policy completely in contradiction to his wishes.

To be fair, this did seem doable some year ago. The Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) which though championing Rangzen as it core goal, was granted regular audiences with the Dalai Lama and even received the occasional praise and blessing. The same could be said for the Students For a Free Tibet (SFT). The unwritten rule of the game was that you never expressed any criticism of Dharamshala or its policies, and did not pose any direct threat to the power of the leadership.

All that changed radically around the time Samdong Rinpoche (the self-appointed ideologue and Svengali of MWA) issued his now infamous warning to Tibetan society that Rangzen advocates were more dangerous than the Communist Chinese. Samdong did walk back his statement a bit, on an occasion or two, but in a cynical Donald Trump fashion “Mexican immigrants are criminals and rapists. I love Mexicans.”

TYC branches in South India were infiltrated by MWA followers which effectively began the process of neutralizing the largest Rangzen organization in exile society. At the beginning of this year the New York/New Jersey branch of the TYC was also taken over by MWA henchmen. The 2015 March 10th commemoration in New York City was also hijacked by MWA, whose leaders tried to get the NYPD to remove, even arrest, demonstrators (including two SFT leaders) displaying FREE Tibet signs and shouting anti-China slogans.

I am not sure about this, but I heard from Dharamshala that of late, scholarship students from India entering American universities have received “advice” not to join SFT chapters in their schools. We also know that the Gu-chu-sum Political Prisoner’s Movement, which once advocated Rangzen has been pressured to give up its core goal. Even the New York branch of the Chushigangdruk, the present day welfare organization of the great resistance force, has also been browbeaten into give up its goal of Tibetan independence.

The most recent evidence of Dharamshala’s efforts to marginalize and push out all Rangzen advocates from the exile political process has been the widespread demonization of Atsok Lukar Jam, the only Rangzen candidate in the Sikyong elections. The apparantly officially sanctioned efforts to deny him speaking opportunities in the major monasteries in South India and in schools and colleges under the CTA, also point in that direction. Last minute fraudulent rule changes made after the polls had closed in the first round of elections, appear designed to keep out Lukar Jam from the second round of elections, and ensure that no discussion or debate takes place on the issue of Tibetan independence in the forthcoming campaigns. I have gone into detail on this in my previous post and have also mentioned how the Dalai Lama himself and members of his family have made very troubling public statements that could be construed as condemning all Rangzen advocates as anti-Dalai Lama.

In an official statement on December 10th, resembling the “lese majeste” attacks of the Thai military junta against journalists and critics, the CTA declared that “… at a time when Tibetans are expressing gratitude to His Holiness on his 80th birthday, we have a few people who indulge in crazy talk and sarcasm by calling His Holiness a traitor. Such actions are immoral…”

It is becoming clearer than ever that the CTA’s on-going exclusionary agenda for Rangzen advocates has taken on a disturbingly authoritarian turn. In Dharamshala staff members of CTA offices are now required to take a pledge of allegiance to the MWA Policy, and by extension, rejection of Rangzen. I have it on good authority that even menial kitchen workers (ma-yok) have been instructed to take this pledge or lose their jobs. It is just a question of time before Rangen advocates are asked to sign such a pledge or be hounded out of Tibet society. Should we also fear for the future of those courageous members of the exile parliament who have on occasion spoken out in defense of SFT and Rangzen activists?

WHAT CAN BE DONE?

Rangzen advocates must absolutely give up the delusional hope that the Dharamshala establishment can be persuaded to see the futility of the Middle Way policy. The reality is that most of the leadership are already well aware of that. They may be corrupt and self-serving but they are not fools. For these leaders and for all their lowlife thuggish followers (like Ngawang Palden and his gang in New York currently trying to terminate the TYC chapter there as a freedom fighting organization) MWA is a meal-ticket to jobs and positions they would otherwise be unable to secure with their own limited ability and education. Through their shrill advocacy of  the Middle Way Approach and cynical condemnation of Rangzen supporters, they are preying on the Dalai Lama’s desperation to prop up a failed policy (and his own political legacy) that in reality has been murdered and laid to rest (countless times) by China’s leaders.

Tibetans who stand for freedom and independence must now openly declare their conviction, join together, and through the democratic process, bring about a root-and-branch transformation of the exile administration. I now believe, more than ever that this can be done. I will elaborate in my next post.

________________________________________

2. Rangzen needs to be reviewed, by Tendar Tsering (January 4, 2016)

Rangzen means more than freedom from oppressors and suppressors. It means the sheer joy and liberty to own and run the whole sovereignty of a nation independently. But unlike Rangzen, Umaylam — the Middle-Way Approach — is a strategy set and voted on by the public. So, contrary to the growing number of Rangzen activists demanding an end to the Middle-Way Approach, recent incidents in New York/New Jersey and elsewhere speak otherwise — causing many to mull over the idea that maybe it’s the Rangzen model which needs to be reviewed.

For long, Tibetan Youth Congress has been the largest, strongest, and most prominent Tibetan organisation whose sole goal is to overthrow Chinese rule and lead an independent nation. But for whatever reason, recent incidents in New York/New Jersey and elsewhere indicate that the organisation is at the verge of becoming a giant shallow shell, and its members just numbers read from its old records that date back to 1990s or so. The cracking sound of that shallow shell is echoing from the mountains of Ladakh to the plains of Bylakuppe, from New Delhi to New York, and Tibetans in Europe and elsewhere are also likely to feel that vibration sooner or later.

The birth of Umaylum traces back to the Dalai Lama. He made the proposal, but he didn’t make it arbitrarily — he sought suggestions and held discussions about it. Finally after a series of debates and discussions, the Tibetan public voted to adopt it as the most pragmatic way to put an end to the ongoing tragedies in Tibet. Despite zero response from the Beijing government, Tibetans’ faith in its Middle-Way Approach is growing stronger and stronger in recent years. For many, that is a kind of irony, but the reason looks like simply because of the ever-increasing empathy and sympathy from the Chinese public, and the surprisingly increasing number of Chinese following Tibetan Buddhism and visiting Tibetan spiritual leaders inside as well as outside Tibet. As of now, it looks good and hopeful, but it’s difficult to predict if that bet on hope will once again betray us, as we are known to be betrayed by hope when it comes to the issue of Tibet and China.

Rangzen activists are getting alarmed and angry as the larger Tibetan public is once again betting on its hope in its religion, and these activists have every reason to be alarmed as the bet is too risky. And in the eyes of many of the Rangzen activists, these Middle-Way Approach followers are old and orthodox, and simply and blindly following the proposal set by the Dalai Lama. But the bitter fact for these Rangzen activists is that more and more Tibetans are becoming more and more rational, and starting to genuinely appreciate and follow the vision set by the Dalai Lama. The general Tibetan public is neither blindly following the Dalai Lama’s vision, nor respecting him merely just because he is the Dalai Lama. They believe his vision is realistic, and that his contributions towards the Tibetan cause are unfathomable.

If the Rangzen spirit is to grow, not just survive, then the Tibetan independence advocates have to understand that most of the Middle-Way Approach followers are not just blindly following the proposal set by the Dalai Lama. They are concerned about the real situation in Tibet, along with China’s rapidly growing strength in the global power arena. And the Tibetan Youth Congress has to come up with a strategy or plan that can convince the general public why they should not merely rely on the Middle-Way Approach. Unfortunately Tibetan Youth Congress, the backbone of the central force for Tibetan independence, has been already neck-locked by a few individuals who care more about their ideologies than the ongoing situation inside Tibet.

Most of the founders of the Tibetan Youth Congress are now staunch supporters of the Middle-Way Approach. It is an open secret that the organisation’s reputation was built by the public’s support with the blessing from the Dalai Lama. For decades, both the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile had been indirectly supporting the organisation as well.

If the Tibetan Youth Congress is to remain as a tiger, while the Beijing sheep shiver just from the knowledge of its existence, then the general public should decide the ideology of the organisation. The public should not let the organisation be hijacked by a few narcissistic individuals who are ready to kick and kill the organisation for their own individual benefit — be it a chance to settle down in the states or to have a high post in the Tibetan government-in-exile.

 

 

 

Dharamsala Dispatch #7: A birthday video for the Dalai Lama

BY EVA CIRNU (Dharamsala) - Living in Dharamsala, we are often asked if we ‘meet the Dalai Lama’… No, we don’t. We are, however, fortunate enough to see him often. For example, whenever he travels we join the hundreds of people lining up along the streets of Dharamsala, waiting for him to bless them from his passing car. On other occasions, we attend public audiences that are organized for visitors & foreigners and during which he often shares advice on anything from compassionate living to doing drugs.

Lately, myself and Dominik Czartoryski, who is also a volunteer for the Canada Tibet Committee and living in Dharamsala, have had the opportunity to work on a project that made us feel as though we were meeting the Dalai Lama every day: we were filming and editing a video wishing him Happy Birthday, on behalf of the Tibetan government in exile and the Tibetan people. This post is less about the technicalities of that project and more about its emotional side putting the video together.

As one example, throughout the project I was amazed by how few Tibetans would agree to appear on camera to wish His Holiness Happy Birthday. Their profound reverence for the Dalai Lama compelled them to hesitate because they didn’t feel ‘up to the task’, or because they feared they would not do a good enough job.

We were also moved by the discovery of meaningful photographs to feature in the video. We did not want to re-use photos that had already circulated in the public domain and so we searched out photographers with previously unpublished images. Each photo that we found had a wonderful story behind it. For example, the photo depicting an old monk and young boy inside Tibet holding photos of the Dalai Lama reminded us that they both risked imprisonment for that very simple act.

The photo we used showing a nomadic family – a father with his two beautiful daughters – appears to portray a happy and worry-free family. As it turns out, both daughters had just missed the age cut-off for the mandatory boarding schools for nomad children. Photographer John Birchak told us that both of the girls were comforted in the realization that they would be doing what their mother, grandmother and great-grandmother had been doing for generations.

John’s photo of the Potala was another reminder of today’s sad reality inside Tibet. Once the glorious home of the Dalai Lama filled with historical significance for the Tibetan people, the Potala is now a government-operated museum. Still, China’s propaganda does not fool visitors. “I wanted the photo to suggest sadness with the dark sky, clouds and graininess”, explained John Birchak.

The final version of our video was launched just prior to the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan calendar birthday on June 22. Dominik and I were honored to have been part of the project and are now, more than ever, in awe of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s accomplishments and life-long commitment to compassion and non-violence.

‘Dharamsala Dispatch’ is a series of notes from in and around Dharamsala, covering the Tibetan artistic and cultural scene through reports and interviews with prominent Tibetans involved in community events.
Eva Cirnu is Coordinator of the Canada Tibet Committee’s francophone section. She is based in Dharamsala, India.

Dharamsala Dispatch 6: Tibet Rhymes

BY EVA CIRNU (Dharamsala) - Tenzing Seungyi is a popular Tibetan hip-hop artist who lives in Austria. He looks and moves like many of the young performers his age.  The crowd loves him, bounces around and sings along to his electrifying rhythms.  He is a talented musician with a loyal following.

But there is more to Tenzing Seungyi – his lyrics. The words that accompany his music deliver an important message to young Tibetans.  Even in distant Ladakh, where Seungyi performed for the thousands who gathered for the Kalachakra teaching, that message resonates.  Everyone seemed to know the lyrics of his songs.

Seungyi recently visited Dharamsala where I was fortunate enough to interview him.  Off stage, he’s a charming young man, well-spoken and with impeccable manners.  We had a short conversation by the end of which my respect for his point-of-view and his musical mission had surpassed my liking of his music. It turns out that Seungyi’s songs (which I had imagined to be about bad boy stuff) are all about the Tibetan cause and the importance of preserving the Tibetan language in exile.

“My message to Tibetans in exile, and to people my age, is that without language you can’t do anything. You have to learn your own language first. I understand that in your context it is difficult to learn it, but it is important that you make the effort to learn it. My request to you is that you learn the language as well as the Tibetan texts. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

Once again, Tibetan artists manage to notch it up: even in an art form stereo-typically associated with violence and aggressiveness, Tibetan hip-hop artists like Seungyi and Switzerland-based Shapaley, manage to manifest positivity, humour, courage and hope.

Watch our video interview to learn more about Seungyi and to see some of his live concert performance:  Interview with Tenzing Seungyi

‘Dharamsala Dispatch’ is a series of notes from in and around Dharamsala, covering the Tibetan artistic and cultural scene through reports and interviews with prominent Tibetans involved in community events.

Eva Cirnu is the Coordinator of the Canada Tibet Committee’s francophone section. She is currently living in Dharamsala.

Report from Ladakh 2: Reflections on freedom

BY MATI BERNABEI (Leh, Ladakh) -

It’s 3am in Leh on the morning of July 14, and I have just been awoken by the screams and cheers of what sounds like a huge crowd somewhere in the centre of town, the direction my open window is facing. Someone just scored in the World Cup soccer finals, and the town has gone wild with delight. The cheers are followed by what seems like hundreds of barking and howling dogs, eager to join the fun. Yesterday some Tibetan monks told me how relieved they were that their devotional loyalties would not be tested, as the World Cup finals occurred in the early hours of the morning after the Kalachakra, rather than during the teachings. They would not be forced to choose between the two (whew!). And, by the sounds of the cheers, whistles, howling, and honking, the favourite team of locals must be winning at the moment. The gods are indeed looking favourably upon the people of the Himalayas, it seems.

Although I’m somewhat disappointed that I wasn’t able to force myself to stay awake to watch the game with the crowds, this form of early morning wake-up has me smiling. I’ll use the time to complete a bit of writing, hopefully to be sent off to Canada in a few hours, if the internet connection in working (this is a struggle in Ladakh – connections are intermittent, and slow – I have attempted to send short blog posts every day, but have only rarely managed to be on-line when the internet was functioning).

I have chosen to write about some of the human contexts within the community of devotees rather than about the actual religious teachings. In part this is because I am not an expert on Buddhism, and am not qualified to discuss the teachings themselves. Also, this communication is for the Canada Tibet Committee, and therefore most likely be read by people who share my interest and concern about issues of human rights, social justice, and environmental sustainability.

As is to be expected during ten days of Buddhist teachings by the Dalai Lama, I have experienced countless moments of reflection and introspection during the teachings and in conversations with old and new friends here. Yet, a particular theme, revisited every day by His Holiness (sometimes with a brief mention and sometimes discussed at length), has lingered in my mind reinforcing my commitment to the CTC’s advocacy work.

The theme I am referring to centres on the current realities of Tibetans within Tibet and their struggle for human rights and dignity. In the context of these teachings, issues of freedom of religion, freedom of movement, and freedom of association come into focus.

Every day His Holiness took time to acknowledge Tibetans who had wished to attend his teachings and to openly study and practice Buddhism but could not.  They could not due to restrictions imposed by the Government of China. He spoke of his deep respect for the resilience and dedication of Tibetans in Tibet, and of his sadness and grief that in recent years many have resorted to self-immolation in the hopes that their plea for help would be noticed by the international community.

During the Long Life Initiation and prayers on July 13, His Holiness asked all 150,000 in attendance to focus several minutes of their prayers on Tibetans within Tibet who, at great personal risk, continue to struggle for cultural, spiritual, and physical survival.

The Chinese Government placed a complete ban on participation in the Kalachakra, yet some Tibetan and Chinese people attempted to make their way to the teachings anyway despite the threat of reprisals. Those reprisals might be applied directly on their return home, or could be applied to family members who never left Tibet. The personal risks they face are huge, yet they are unwilling to succumb to threats and be ruled by fear. Their dedication, inner strength, and determination have inspired those of us whose main obstacles to participation have been rather mundane financial and time restrictions. In my case, I am delighted that I was able to attend these teachings in person.  Still if they had not occurred during my summer vacation I could have very easily, and in perfect safety, read books, watched DVD’s, and followed His Holiness’ teachings on-line from my home in Canada. Tibetans and Chinese who live in regions controlled by the Chinese Government do not have those options.

To protect the anonymity of the people who told me their personal experiences, here I have described the situation in general terms, blending stories I heard from several different individuals from different parts of Tibet and China.

Tibetans are accustomed to travel restrictions and so the challenge of attending the Kalachakra teachings this year did not come as a surprise to them. It is difficult for Tibetans to obtain a passport. For those who do manage to secure a passport, the Chinese Government may permit travel to Nepal but if they continue onward from Nepal to India they risk severe repercussions upon their return to Tibet. In the months leading up to the Kalachakra, the already severe restrictions to travel within Tibet were up-leveled yet again, with increased vigilance at police check-posts along the roadways and in the border regions. One friend told me that a few years ago about 400 people from his region obtained permission to travel to Nepal but this year permission was granted to only 3 people. Freedom of movement is curtailed in a multitude of ways.

Tibetans who managed to make the journey from Tibet to Leh explain that it is the realization of a life-long dream. If they choose to return to their homes and families in Tibet after the teachings their lives will literally be in peril, as they risk imprisonment and even torture. Yet, for them, the opportunity to see His Holiness just once before they die, and receive the Kalachakra empowerment delivered by him, is a risk they are willing to take. Relying on their own creativity and support from people in India to reach Ladakh safely, the journey often took several weeks or months depending on mode of travel and the extent to which underground networks were needed.

The restrictions on Chinese devotees differed somewhat in that they enjoy greater freedom of movement and association within China although they are also banned from any form of association with the Dalai Lama. And, the threat of repercussions for having attended the Dalai Lama’s teachings is also a harsh reality for Chinese Buddhists. Normally, citizens of China who are ethnically Chinese, wealthy enough, and well positioned enough, can easily obtain a passport and a visa for India. In recent years India has become accustomed to Chinese tour groups from places like Beijing and Shanghai visiting various part of the country.

This year was different.  In the months prior to the Kalachakra teachings, the Chinese Government instituted a ban on travel to India. I have been told by people I met here in Ladakh that some Chinese people who had valid passports and Indian visas were denied permission to leave China when they arrived at the airport to board their flight to Delhi. Alternatively, those who travelled to a different country first and who didn’t carry any evidence of their intention to later travel to India, were permitted to leave China without complications. Some of those people managed to reach Leh for the teachings. They remain vigilant and alert, attempting to keep physical evidence of their India pilgrimage to a minimum, yet they exude joy and enthusiasm because they managed to get here at all, and they seem to be making the most of every minute. Many of us who come from countries where freedom of religion, association, and movement are enshrined as legal rights, have been humbled by the realization that we too often take those rights for granted. I am deeply appreciated of the Chinese devotees I have met here who remind me that these freedoms are to be cherished.

Meeting people who face struggles such as these and who express such joy that they could attend the Dalai Lama’s teachings despite the hardship and personal risk, is truly inspiring and humbling. With my Canadian passport, the personal risks I might experience when travelling are minor in comparison. Meeting people who face unreasonable restrictions and attempts by their government to control their bodies and minds and yet respond with dignity, grace, and kindness towards others, inspires me to continue the struggle for global justice.  As a Canadian citizen, I enjoy the freedom of speech as a legal right.  Therefore I have no excuse for remaining silent in the face of injustice.

Mati Bernabei is a Vancouver high-school teacher who is spending the summer in Ladakh.  She is a long-standing member of the Canada Tibet Committee and currently sits on its Board of Directors.  Some of Mati's photos are posted at facebook.com/CanadaTibet.

 

 

Confronting China’s iron fist during my visit to Tibet

BY GAVIN KILTY (Devon, UK) -

Having never been to Tibet before, I had built up a multitude of impressions of what it would be like. Some of those impressions were reinforced during my visit this summer while others were challenged by the actual experience of being there.

One Chinese professor from Shanghai recently said, “The Communist Party is like God. It is everywhere. You just can’t see it.”  This was my overall impression of Chinese rule in Tibet. It is the rule of the iron fist, yet you never see who the fist belongs to.  During our visit, we confronted many examples of this tight control.

No foreigner can travel in Tibet without a guide. This guide must be organized before entering the country. Whether traveling alone or in a group, a guide is mandatory. It does not mean that the guide has to follow the tourists as they wander through the streets of towns, but he must organize and report the itinerary to the authorities regularly at check points positioned along the main highways.

As well as a guide and a Chinese visa, additional permits must be obtained for Tibet in general and for many of the areas to be visited. The entire trip itinerary together with names and passport numbers must be submitted to the authorities and on no account can it be changed. For example, one person in our group fell sick and considered flying back to Kathmandu from Lhasa. This would have meant reapplying for an adjustment to the entire group itinerary, requesting that one name be removed from the list, and applying for a permit for that person to leave the country early. One cannot simply book a flight, take a taxi to the airport, and leave.

For Tibetans the daily life situation is worse.  In the so-called Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR), Tibetans cannot move or travel from one town or region to another without permission. A Tibetan from Shigatsé wanting to visit relatives in Lhasa must apply to authorities for permission to do so - and this in their own country!  Moreover, if a Tibetan has a relative staying in his or her house, Chinese officials must be notified of that visit. Freedom of movement is a fundamental human right, and it is just one of the freedoms curtailed in the TAR.

Since 2008 it has become very difficult for Tibetans to obtain a visa for India. One woman whose uncle lives in Dharamsala, told me she can no longer visit him there because of her past trips abroad.  She even suggested that her son, who had done excellently at school, was being denied the opportunities to pursue his chosen career because of his mother’s connections with people living outside of Tibet.

Everywhere we travelled during our tour, there were permits to check, passports to show, and places that were off-limits for no apparent reason. The beautiful Lama Latsho Lake with its prognostic abilities was suddenly out of bounds for tourists over the month of Saga Dawa. Why? What possible threat to national security could a lake pose?

Control was everything. People watched us closely as we made our way through the Potala alongside throngs of Chinese tourists/pilgrims. Once, in a street in Lhasa, a Tibetan shopper was arguing with a Chinese stallholder over the price of an item. Within minutes a plain-clothes security official arrived from nowhere to sort it out.

Even at Everest base camp, a haven of peace and tranquility miles from any political centre, checkpoints were in evidence. We couldn’t do this and we couldn’t do that. We could not even walk alone from the guest house to the base camp tents.

Young military officers are everywhere. Some are pleasant, others officious. Most carry guns. Most look about seventeen years old. In Lhasa there is a police check post every hundred metres or so.

As we approached the full moon of Saga Dawa, lines of army trucks appeared on the streets, each filled with baby-faced soldiers facing to the outside of the truck, machine gun in hand, just waiting for trouble to begin.

The Chinese system functions by way of a tight control over its citizens. Although outwardly it has the appearance of a rampant capitalistic country, its system of social control comes straight out of the old Soviet model handbook. This is explained in the excellent book, The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers, by Richard McGregor. Centralization and control of all aspects of life is the driving force behind China’s presence in Tibet. It does not matter if individuals (the relatives of the Tibetan self-immolators, for example) are harmed in the process. The system comes first. What does it matter if a few ants die as long as the ant colony is preserved?  Public opinion is to be controlled and even repressed if necessary, all to ensure the well-being and survival of the Communist Party. Survival is at the very heart of the Communist Party’s thinking. Devoid of any mandate from the people, it must exercise an iron will at any cost.

The Tibetan people are victims of this repressive system. They are not regarded as a distinct people with sensitivities and needs, but as beneficiaries of the Motherland who must comply with the will of the Party. Anything other than that is unpatriotic at the least and treachery at the worst.

Take the issue of the Dalai Lama. No photo of him is allowed anywhere in Tibet. No book, no video, nothing that carries his name is allowed. This is a deliberate attempt to wipe his existence from the consciousness of the Tibetan people. China’s leaders know full well that the Tibetan people love and adore the Dalai Lama. They know, or at least they should know, that he is not a “terrorist” or a “wolf in sheep’s clothing.” And yet they pursue their cruel policy. Why? The answer is control. By separating the Tibetan people from a leader of their own, China’s leaders hope to extinguish any sparks of rebellion or protest.  There is no empathy for the Tibetan people. The self-immolators and their families deserve no pity and no understanding, because their actions threaten the unity of the Motherland. Therefore, they are treated with harshness instead of understanding.

When the current Chinese president, Xi Jinping, was visiting Europe recently he said, in response to a question about the Chinese government’s lack of care for the Tibetan people, “The Chinese government cares more for the Tibetan people than the international community does.” From one point of view he was correct. The government has poured billions of yuan into Tibet to bolster its economy, improve infrastructure, and provide services. There are even stories of the government building homes for Tibetans who return from exile, and of providing them with jobs and money. Monasteries have been rebuilt; hospitals and schools are constructed where there were none before. These improvements in Tibet are undeniable. The country resembles a large construction site. This is what the president meant when he said the government cares for Tibetans.

What the questioner meant however, and what the international community refers to when it raises issues around “caring for Tibetans”, is something different.  They seek the restoration of basic human rights, a return of political power, and the enjoyment of basic freedoms that have been denied.

I do not know how most Tibetans would react if given a choice between economic empowerment, jobs, and housing on one hand, and the restoration of political freedoms and human rights they once enjoyed on the other. Perhaps many would pragmatically opt for the former over the latter.  Regardless of personal preference, the right to be able to move as you please, worship as you please, speak as freely as you please, to have the autonomy that all people deserve, to be able to stand up against injustice, oppression and occupation are the fundamental rights of every being on the planet.

The Tibetan people deserve no less. They are denied it. This is their struggle. It is not built on hate, ideology, nationalism, religious bigotry, or even nostalgia for the past. It stems from the pursuit of justice and fairness, and for everything that is decent in this world.

Long may the Tibetan people survive. Long may they stand firm against the tyranny cast over them, and may truth, justice and liberty prevail. Bö gyal lo! Bö gyal lo! Bö gyal lö!

Gavin Kilty lived in Dharamsala, India, for fourteen years. He spent eight years training in the traditional Geluk monastic curriculum at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. Currently Gavin is a translator for the Institute of Tibetan Classics and also teaches Tibetan language courses in India, Nepal, and elsewhere.

 

Report from Ladakh: Dalai Lama inspires peace

By Mati Bernabei

Ladakh (India) – July 2014: Deep blue skies, glacial fed rivers and streams, glistening snow-capped peaks, arid landscapes of dirt and rock interspersed with lush green river valleys and hillside oases nourished via intricate ancient networks of irrigation channels. Villages and towns across the region consist primarily of flat roofed houses separated by narrow lanes and pathways, along with Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. In the capital city of Leh, mosques add additional colour and vibrancy to the landscapes and soundscapes. Modernity arrived in Ladakh decades ago, yet respect for the ancient wisdom of traditional understandings has been retained in the hearts, minds, and community practices of many people here.

It is not my first visit to Ladakh, but this year I came for a special purpose – to receive Buddhist teachings and the Kalachakra Initiation, delivered by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The event is additionally special, as on July 6th His Holiness’ celebrated his 79th birthday here, with about 120,000 well-wishers in attendance.

There are just a few ways to get to Ladakh, and this time I took the easiest route. First, I took a 24 hour flight from Vancouver to Delhi, then, after a few days adjusting to the 12.5 hour time-change, I boarded a 1.5 hour flight from Delhi to Leh. Alternatively, there are 3 possible land routes to Ladakh, each involving a minimum of 3 days driving from Delhi, including rough roads and passes of over 5000 meters (via Kashmir, Manali, or Kinnaur). In my case, the flight was long, but comfortable. I have no complaints, particularly because some other attendees may have walked and driven for many days from their villages in remote regions of the Himalayas.

On July 6th I arrived early at the teaching site near the Tibetan Refugee Settlement of Choglamsar, about 8km south of Leh. What had been an open field just a few weeks ago is now a bustling and well organized outdoor auditorium that can comfortably accommodate up to 150,000 devotees (or more … Himalayan Buddhist culture is expansive and inclusive  -- somehow, at events such as these, even when the space appears on the surface to be completely full, there is always room everyone who arrives). The vast majority of attendees are Buddhists from the local regions of Ladakh, Zanskar, and Spiti – close cultural cousins of Tibetans. In addition, thousands of Tibetans and others from across South Asia have made the journey, as have an estimated 4000 people from foreign countries. We foreigners are seated together in a region where translation from Tibetan into several other languages is provided over FM radio. I am delighted to see that amongst the “foreigners” are hundreds of Tibetans who now live in countries outside South Asia (such as Canada), yet have journeyed here with their families to participate in the teachings and immerse their children within a landscape and cultural contexts that are as close to “Tibetan” as is possible without actually travelling into Tibet. Amongst their various notions of “home”, this place is very close to the heart.

On July 6th, the commemoration of His Holiness’ 79th birthday was both heartwarming, and inspirational. With 120,000 well-wishers in attendance and many more participating via live webcast, His Holiness expressed deep gratitude and appreciation to all those in attendance physically and in cyberspace, to others around the world who were sending their best wishes, and especially to Tibetans inside Tibet who celebrated in secret and prayed for his long-life in their hearts.

Birthday greetings and speeches were delivered by government representatives of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, representatives of Ladakhi Buddhist and Muslim communities, and Tibetan community leaders. All expressed their love and appreciation for His Holiness, and expressed profound appreciation for the ways in which His Holiness has shown us all how to live well in local and global community, and relish the opportunities for learning that human diversity affords us. Actor Richard Gere spoke beautifully on behalf of all foreigners, conveying our appreciation for His Holiness’ contribution to global community through his teachings and his actions.

His Holiness responded with passion, expressing appreciation and thanks. He took the opportunity to remind us of the importance of living sustainably within the natural environment, of adopting non-violence motivated by deep respect (not simply non-violence through restraint, but non-violence of a deeper sort), and of practicing universal values that are relevant to all, regardless of religious or other difference. His passionate request the each of us act, and act now, to promote “peace” in all its forms – environmental, social, spiritual – resonated across the hills.

More in a few days –

Mati Bernabei is a member of the Canada Tibet Committee Board of Directors.  She lives in Vancouver.

Ladakh (India) – July 2014: Deep blue skies, glacial fed rivers and streams, glistening snow-capped peaks, arid landscapes of dirt and rock interspersed with lush green river valleys and hillside oases nourished via intricate ancient networks of irrigation channels. Villages and towns across the region consist primarily of flat roofed houses separated by narrow lanes and pathways, along with Buddhist monasteries and nunneries. In the capital city of Leh, mosques add additional colour and vibrancy to the landscapes and soundscapes. Modernity arrived in Ladakh decades ago, yet respect for the ancient wisdom of traditional understandings has been retained in the hearts, minds, and community practices of many people here.

It is not my first visit to Ladakh, but this year I came for a special purpose – to receive Buddhist teachings and the Kalachakra Initiation, delivered by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The event is additionally special, as on July 6th His Holiness’ celebrated his 79th birthday here, with about 120,000 well-wishers in attendance.

There are just a few ways to get to Ladakh, and this time I took the easiest route. First, I took a 24 hour flight from Vancouver to Delhi, then, after a few days adjusting to the 12.5 hour time-change, I boarded a 1.5 hour flight from Delhi to Leh. Alternatively, there are 3 possible land routes to Ladakh, each involving a minimum of 3 days driving from Delhi, including rough roads and passes of over 5000 meters (via Kashmir, Manali, or Kinnaur). In my case, the flight was long, but comfortable. I have no complaints, particularly because some other attendees may have walked and driven for many days from their villages in remote regions of the Himalayas.

On July 6th I arrived early at the teaching site near the Tibetan Refugee Settlement of Choglamsar, about 8km south of Leh. What had been an open field just a few weeks ago is now a bustling and well organized outdoor auditorium that can comfortably accommodate up to 150,000 devotees (or more … Himalayan Buddhist culture is expansive and inclusive  -- somehow, at events such as these, even when the space appears on the surface to be completely full, there is always room everyone who arrives). The vast majority of attendees are Buddhists from the local regions of Ladakh, Zanskar, and Spiti – close cultural cousins of Tibetans. In addition, thousands of Tibetans and others from across South Asia have made the journey, as have an estimated 4000 people from foreign countries. We foreigners are seated together in a region where translation from Tibetan into several other languages is provided over FM radio. I am delighted to see that amongst the “foreigners” are hundreds of Tibetans who now live in countries outside South Asia (such as Canada), yet have journeyed here with their families to participate in the teachings and immerse their children within a landscape and cultural contexts that are as close to “Tibetan” as is possible without actually travelling into Tibet. Amongst their various notions of “home”, this place is very close to the heart.

On July 6th, the commemoration of His Holiness’ 79th birthday was both heartwarming, and inspirational. With 120,000 well-wishers in attendance and many more participating via live webcast, His Holiness expressed deep gratitude and appreciation to all those in attendance physically and in cyberspace, to others around the world who were sending their best wishes, and especially to Tibetans inside Tibet who celebrated in secret and prayed for his long-life in their hearts.

Birthday greetings and speeches were delivered by government representatives of the state of Jammu and Kashmir, representatives of Ladakhi Buddhist and Muslim communities, and Tibetan community leaders. All expressed their love and appreciation for His Holiness, and expressed profound appreciation for the ways in which His Holiness has shown us all how to live well in local and global community, and relish the opportunities for learning that human diversity affords us. Actor Richard Gere spoke beautifully on behalf of all foreigners, conveying our appreciation for His Holiness’ contribution to global community through his teachings and his actions.

His Holiness responded with passion, expressing appreciation and thanks. He took the opportunity to remind us of the importance of living sustainably within the natural environment, of adopting non-violence motivated by deep respect (not simply non-violence through restraint, but non-violence of a deeper sort), and of practicing universal values that are relevant to all, regardless of religious or other difference. His passionate request the each of us act, and act now, to promote “peace” in all its forms – environmental, social, spiritual – resonated across the hills.

More in a few days –

Mati Bernabei is a member of the Canada Tibet Committee Board of Directors.  She lives in Vancouver.

Dharamsala Dispatch #5: Ladakh Summer

Posted by Eva Cirnu

If you are going to this year’s long awaited Kalachakra teachings by H.H. the Dalai Lama you may also be planning to arrive early and spend a few days enjoying Ladakh’s breathtaking beauty - or frantically looking for accommodation - or acclimatizing and getting used to the height.

And speaking of heights, if you are in Ladakh a few days before the teachings then you are in for a treat: the most renowned artists of the Himalayan region musical traditions will be there to perform during a 4 day mega concert.

The event is organized by HITA Music Agency (Himalayan International Tradition Arts) which is based in Japan.  The concert will take place under the name ‘Tashi Delek Concert’.

A promising line-up of more than 25 artists will represent various music genres from folk to fusion and pop. Among the artists invited are Prashant Tamang (Indian Idol 3 Winner), Techung (Tibetan folk and freedom singer/songwriter), Nima Rumba (popular Nepali singer & actor), Dechen Zang (Bhutanese lead pop singer and actress). The concert dates are June 29 to July 2.

The Tashi Delek Concert will be a unique opportunity to discover and enjoy the musical traditions of the Himalayan region, in a most unique setting.

The Kalachakra teachings and initiation will follow 2 days after the concert on July 4th. They are expected to draw a crowd close to 30,000 people. On July 6, Kalachakra participants will have the special opportunity to spend H.H. the Dalai Lama’s birthday in his presence.

For more info please visit:

Tashi Delek Concert: www.kalachakra2014concert.com

HITA Music Agency: www.hitamusic.com

Kalachakra Initiation: http://ladakhkalachakra2014.com

Eva Cirnu is Coordinator of the Canada Tibet Committee’s francophone section.  She is currently living in Dharamsala, India.

Dharamsala Dispatch 3: Techung – Songs of Freedom

by Eva Cirnu

DD3During my short stay in Dharamsala so far I have had the privilege of meeting many remarkable members of the Tibetan community, as well as Tibet supporters from around the world.

They are often involved in cultural preservation projects, and their lives and careers are emblematic of entire generations’ efforts, dreams and hopes. In the case of Tibetan music, few artists have managed to embody past, present, and future as well as Techung. His career reflects the need to preserve the rich Tibetan tradition, the urge to carry on the freedom struggle and the desire to allow Tibetan music to evolve and fuse with other world music currents.

I have had the pleasure of meeting Techung during his visit in Dharamsala, as well as the privilege of collaborating on a music video for his famous Snow Lion of Peace song. He generously agreed to do a short interview about his efforts to help young Tibetans preserve Tibetan music, while at the same time allowing new musical forms of expression to blossom.

VIDEO LINK

About Techung:

Techung is a Tibetan folk and freedom singer/songwriter living in exile in the U.S. In addition to being looked up to as one of the keepers of traditional Tibetan musical traditions, Techung is also respected for the original solo and collaborative music he creates by drawing on both his own heritage and his familiarity with other world music traditions.

He has participated in all the Tibetan Freedom Concerts, as well as in other major Tibet support events. His music has been featured on the soundtracks of numerous feature films and documentaries. Techung and his band had the honour of opening for His Holiness the Dalai Lama's public talks in the U.S., Costa Rica and Japan.

www.techung.com

‘Dharamsala Dispatch’ is a series of notes from in and around Dharamsala, covering the Tibetan artistic and cultural scene through reports and interviews with prominent Tibetans involved in community events.

Dharamsala Dispatch is written by Eva Cirnu, Coordinator of the Canada Tibet Committee’s francophone section.