Join our Mailing List

"As long as human rights are violated, there can be no foundation for peace. How can peace grow where speaking the truth is itself a crime?"

Buddhism intertwines with Tibet's long history

October 10, 2007

By Jennie Daley
Journal Staff
The Ithaca Journal

Article published Oct 8, 2007

The history of Tibet can be traced back more than 2,000 years through 
a long line of imperial rulers. The first Buddhist monastery was 
established in Tibet during the late 8th century. In the late 1300s, 
the first Buddhist monk received the title Dalai Lama after 
impressing a Mongolian visitor with his vast knowledge of Buddhism. 
The title, loosely translated, means "Ocean of Wisdom."

It wasn't until 1642, under the fifth Dalai Lama, that the position 
gained political powers in addition to its religious importance.

Conflict with China
Throughout Tibet's history there has been a frequent struggle for 
power between Tibetan rulers and their Chinese neighbors to the 
north, with both sides enjoying times of dominance.

Tibet cut its political ties to China when the Qing dynasty fell in 
1911. It is generally accepted that from 1911 to 1950 Tibet 
functioned as an independent state. The political realities of the 
time are not as clearcut, however, in large part because China denied 
any official recognition of Tibetan sovereignty.

By the middle of the 20th century, the newly formed Peoples Republic 
of China was looking to extend its powers. In 1949 the Peoples 
Liberation Army marched into northern Tibet in an attack Tibetan 
sympathizers call unprovoked.

Tibet was somewhat vulnerable at the time because it had been 16 
years since the 13th Dalai Lama died in 1933. Though the next Dalai 
Lama had been identified, he was considered too young, at 15, to take 
command of the country at the time of the Chinese offensive.

Despite his young age, the Dalai Lama accepted the full authority of 
his position by 1950 in hopes of quelling the fighting. In May of 
1951, under duress, the Tibetan government conceded to the Chinese 
and signed a treaty that gave the Dalai Lama domestic power but left 
foreign and military affairs in the hands of the Chinese.

In keeping with Communist philosophy, the Chinese required Tibet 
become a religion-free state. To enforce that position, monasteries 
were destroyed and the expression of religion suppressed.

Slowly, with ever increasing momentum, opposition to Chinese rule 
grew. The resistance culminated in 1959 with the March 10 Tibetan 
National Uprising.

The Chinese met protesters with harsh retaliation. It is estimated 
more than 80,000 Tibetans died in the clash.

The Dalai Lama escaped the violence and possible arrest by the 
Chinese on March 17 by disguising himself as a regular soldier and 
taking a dzo, which is a hybrid yak, over the mountainous border. 
After the arduous two-week trek, he arrived with dysentery in India, 
where he was offered political asylum.

The culture in exile
The Dalai Lama's departure from Lhasa was followed by a mass exodus 
of Tibetans to India, Nepal and Bhutan. It is estimated that more 
than 80,000 Tibetan refugees followed him into exile. Those who 
stayed found themselves strictly ruled. The Tibetan government in 
exile estimates that 1.2 million Tibetans, one-fifth of the 
population, have been killed as a result of Chinese policies, and 
approximately 6,000 buildings have been destroyed.

Eventually, the Dalai Lama set up a government in exile focused on 
supporting the Tibetan refugees and maintaining their education and 
culture. In 1987, he laid out his Five Point Peace Plan for regaining 
Tibetan control of the country. If enacted, the plan would establish 
Tibet as a zone of peace (making it neutral in international 
conflicts), end the large move of ethnic Chinese into Tibet, restore 
human rights and democratic freedoms, stop China's use of Tibet for 
nuclear production and waste storage and establish negotiations about 
the future of Tibet.

While the Chinese did not accept the plan, it is an example of the 
Dalai Lama's dedication to nonviolent struggle. The Five Point Peace 
Plan, in addition to more than 30 years of commitment to peaceful 
diplomacy in the face of oppression, earned him the Nobel Peace Prize 
in 1989.

It was around this time, in the late 1980s, that the plight of 
Tibetans began to attract greater attention in the U.S. and around 
the globe. In 1988 the International Campaign for Tibet was founded, 
and Free Tibet was established the year before in England. In 1996 
the first Tibetan Freedom Concert was held in San Francisco.

For years, actor Richard Gere has been the most public face of U.S. 
support for Tibet. He helped found the Tibet House in 1987 and since 
1995 has served as chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet. 
In 1999 and 2003 he sponsored the Dalai Lama's visits to New York City.

Tibetans in Ithaca
This year at the Ithaca celebration of the Dalai Lama's 72nd 
birthday, 81-year-old Tibetan native Lhakdol and her husband Lhakpa 
were on hand for the festivities. As with many Tibetans their age, 
they do not have a surname. Through her daughter-in-law, Tenzin 
Tsokyi, who translated, Lhakdol said that she was happy to make her 
first trip to the U.S. and visit with her son and daughter-in-law, 
but she remembered well the hardships that followed the entrance of 
the Chinese in Tibet.

Lhakdol left Tibet in 1965 at the age of 37 with her husband and six 
children. Forced to leave for fear of religious persecution, they 
left with little more than the clothes on their backs and headed to 
Nepal. Having to provide for their family with few resources and in a 
new community was very difficult, and for years Lhakdol did manual 
labor, building roads and digging ditches.

"They were paid very little and worked very hard," her daughter-in-
law said.

Like Lhakdol's grandchildren, many in the newest generation of 
Tibetans have never set foot in Tibet. Even many of the community's 
adults were born in India or Nepal, where their parents had fled.

Dreams of a Free Tibet
Palden Oshoe, the monastery's translator, calls himself one of the 
middle generation. He was born in Bhutan, the son of one of many 
artists called on by the Dalai Lama to create religious paintings and 
sculptures. He joined a monastery in India when he was young and 
stayed for about 10 years before leaving the monastic life. In 1994 
he took the job as official translator for the monastery in Ithaca. 
Eight years ago his daughter was born here. He worries for his 
daughter and about how she will juggle living between two cultures.

CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank