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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Ten Ways to Free Tibet

May 17, 2009

Tibet Space Blog
May 9, 2009

WTN Note: Ten Ways to Free Tibet is \n assembeld
set of three articles written Between April 27 an May 9, 2009

I continually meet people who want to "do
something" about Tibet and the Tibetans. And who
wouldn’t? An entire people committed,
particularly over the last 700 years, to the
principles of non-violence, whose homeland has
been occupied with varying degrees of brutality
over the last half century, and whose leader has
become not only an adroit ambassador for his
country, but one of the most revered spiritual
figures in the world . . . What’s not to
like?  And don’t forget:  George Lucas, in Return
of the Jedi (1983) had those cute little Ewoks speaking Tibetan.

So if you google the phrase, "help Tibet," you’ll get over 8.5 million hits.

Take your pick. Many of these organizations have
made substantial contributions to the Tibetan
cause, and there’s a lot you can do that will make a difference.

But having been involved over several decades
now, and with dramatically varyingHhdl degrees of
commitment, to understanding what Tibetan culture
might reasonably offer Americans, I wanted to
offer my own Ten Ways to Free Tibet, and then be
done with it. It’s not a manifesto; it’s not a
declaration. It’s just a list of suggestions that
are offered here as tentative answers to persistent questions.

My working plan:  In this posting I’ll list three
suggestions; in the next posting, four; and in
the third posting, three, making for a total of
ten. I’ll eventually offer a bit of commentary, a
very little commentary, on each item, hoping to
provide a picture of the overall conceptual
structure that stands behind the entire set of
ten.  But for now, here are the first three ways to free Tibet.

1. Set aside 20 minutes and watch the following
video. It's a recording of a talk given by Jill
Bolte Taylor at a TED Conference on February 27,
2008. (If you're unfamiliar with TED, correct
that problem asap. Their website contains a
library of TED talks, and they're routinely
amazing, jaw-dropping, and inspiring.) Dr.
Taylor, a neuroanatomist, suffered a massive
brain hemorrhage in the left hemisphere, and her
description of this experience lays the
scientific groundwork for Americans to approach
and potentially understand one of the most
important legacies the Tibetan philosophers have
left us.  Warning:  Don't even think about
starting this video if you don't have twenty
minutes to give to it because you'll completely
ignore whatever you were supposesd to be doing.

2. Memorize this fact: Before Western explorers
arrived in America and began its colonization,
noted anthropologist Henry Dobyns estimated the
population of Native Americans to be
approximately 10 million. By the end of the 19th
century, the number had dwindled to 250,000. Over
9 million Native Americans perished as a result of our arrival on these shores.

3. Memorize this quotation by Mahatma Gandhi:
"The outward freedom ... that we shall attain,
will be only in exact proportion to the inward
freedom to which we may have grown at a given
moment" (from The Essential Gandhi, ed. by Louis
Fischer with a Preface by Eknath Easwaran, p. 165.)

* Before I list the next four ways you can free
Tibet, let me say something about the first three
that I included in my last posting.

1. Jill Bolte Taylor’s video, if it does nothing
else, should alert us to the accuracy of
Neurology what Tibetan meditators -- and their
Indian avatars -- have been saying for several
millennia. We’re hard-wired to look at ourselves
and the world around us in two ways: one way
engages the left hemisphere of the brain, which
plans, orders, graphs, plots, isolates, analyzes,
and sequesters everything we do, think, figure,
calculate, and say; and the other side, the right
hemisphere, removes those boundaries, undoes
those calculations, dissolves our sense of an
isolating self, and fuzzes the boundaries of our
forms, placing us in larger, inter-connected
energy fields (read:  quantum field). The news
here is that these two modes of perception can be
united for each other’s benefit and that this
state of unity has traditionally been called
Nirvana, or the removal of ignorance, but that
this now turns out to be as much a neurological
birthright as it does an abstract and blessed
state accessible only to the super-humans of
sacred literature.  For Americans, literal-minded
and empirical as we are, it’s helpful to have an
outline of the neurochemistry of enlightenment.

2. Over 9 million Native Americans died because
our ancestors, with whom we share a culture and a
way of looking at the world, arrived on these
shores. We are implicated. I’m not suggesting
undue penance and sackcloth. I am suggesting
accuracy in our self-perceptions because the way
in which we view ourselves will impact how we view those we wish to help.

3. If Gandhi is correct -- and I believe he is --
then our "inward freedom" should be greatly
impacted by Taylor’s video because we can now
begin to think of the inner liberation that
Gandhi spoke of as neurological component of our
species. Like any other adaptive mechanism in the
evolutionary process, inward freedom must be
evolved by each of us if we are ever going to be
able to help anyone in a substantial and
permanent fashion. There are tried and true ways
to do this; avail yourself of them.

And now, the next four ways that you can save Tibet.

4. Come to terms with Jamyang Norbu. One of
Tibet’s leading intellectuals and writers, Norbu
has stood defiantly for Tibetan independence in
ways that are learned, well conceived, and
passionate. He is, as T.S. Eliot once said of
Samuel Johnson, a dangerous person to disagree
with.  Read him -- start with his blog, perhaps,
look at the archives for interesting topics, and
pay close attention to the comments.  But most
importantly, you need to read the following
excerpt from the Introduction to his collection
of essays, Shadow Tibet (the book I’d most recommend):

Like alternate worlds in science fiction, two
distinct Tibets appear to co-exist these days.
One flourishes in the light of celebrity
patronage, museum openings, career ad academic
opportunities, pop spirituality and New Age
Fashions. This is the Tibet that has captured the
romantic fantasy of the West and which has drawn
much of the attention that Tibet receives at the
moment.  Here, Tibet is far more than the issue
of Tibetan freedom and represents the unrealized
aspirations of the affluent and the established
for spiritual solace, ecological harmony and world peace.

And this from the first essay in the collection,
"Opening of the Political Eye:"

I am on no account putting the entire blame for
Tibetan political regression on our Western
friends, but they did substantially contribute to
it. Usually the presence of such tourists and
visitors have only a marginal effect on the
society they are passing through, especially in
such large countries as India. But Tibetan
society in exile was very small, poor, and
because of the tremendous dislocation it had
experienced, extremely impressionable. Through
their constant disdain of Western rationalism,
democracy, and science, Western travelers
effectively discouraged Tibetan curiosity about
the West, and encouraged Tibetans to revert to
their old and fatal way of dealing with reality
by burying their heads in the sands of magic, ritual, and superstition.

5. Set aside eight minutes and watch this video,
although at 3½ minutes you’ll get the point. What
you’ll see is a film, taken 12 years ago at
Harvard, of a young Tibetan attempting to tell a
young Chinese what has happened in Tibet.
Standing behind and to the left of the Tibetan is
an American, concerned, wanting to help, but
plainly irrelevant to the important dialogue that
is occurring between the two principals, the
Tibetan and the Chinese. Remember this image of
the Tibetan, the Chinese, and the sidelined American.

6. Learn to micro-meditate. A Tibetan friend of
mine who spent six years in retreat told me that
Americans could benefit greatly from learning to
meditate for 2-3 minutes at a time, several times
a day, or as many times a day as they feel
comfortable doing it. This means stopping for a
moment at your desk, or while walking to the car,
and breathing in and out ten times or more, doing
whatever is required to take the left hemisphere
of the brain offline and encourage the right
hemisphere to boot up. It’s not hard; it’s part
of our natural evolution; and it works. Our
political positions will sharpen their focus if
we can calm down for a couple of minutes a day.

7. Memorize this fact: At least 80% of the human
population lives on less than $10 a day. Poverty
My guess is that many of you who are reading this
blog live on more than $10 a day.  I
do.  Materialism in America seems to have hit
epidemic proportions, which is one of the reasons
the gap between the rich and the poor is widening
and devastating the culture.  But it is important
that we remember this fact for two reasons:

a. We begin by acknowledging our privilege and,
like anyone who has great stores of resources
that others need, we become more likely over the
long run to part with some of those resources in
creative, effective ways.  So acknowledge your privilege on a daily basis.

b. Realize that, as Americans, your first-hand
knowledge of materialism and its effects, both
desirable and undesirable, is unequaled by any
other culture in the world.  Tibetans, for
example, know nothing about the dangers of
materialism, and if you survive it, like any
survivor, you can talk with authority about its
devastating effects and its potential
remedies.  That many Americans have felt that
Tibetan culture holds just such a remedy is
perhaps understandable in this context. And
whether or not Tibetans will be able to resist
the Westernization that is occurring in India
remains to be seen.  My prayers are with them.

8. Avoid double-barreled, dualistic thinking.
Often, the way we conceive of a problem directly
shapes the kinds of solutions we envision for
that problem.  Clearly, in the Tibetan struggle,
we view the Tibetans as the good guys and the
Chinese as the bad guys.  There’s good reason for
doing that, particularly when one well-armed
culture has already slaughtered 1.2 million
citizens of another culture and destroyed
thousands of its temples and sacred artifacts in
the process. But to conceive of this struggle as
essentially Sino-Tibetan, as pitting the Tibetans
against the Chinese, will never allow a
successful resolution from the Tibetan
perspective.  And so for the last half-century,
the Dalai Lama and his people have been slowly
gaining allies in many countries, developing a
multi-faceted response to Chinese
aggression.  There is, of course, disagreement
within the Tibetan community about what should be
done, and viewing Tibetans as having a monolithic
voice, most often a voice in agreement with His
Holiness’s voice, is yet another problem of
dualistic thinking.  Tibetans good and always in
agreement about their goodness, Chinese evil and
always committed to their evil—of course, it’s not that simple.

The interface between Chinese and Tibetan culture
is changing. Young Tibetans arriving in
Dharamsala often speak Chinese and are conversant
with Chinese culture, for better or worse.  I met
a young Tibetan last summer in Dharamsala who’d
arrived in India in 2005, who spoke Chinese, and
claimed to have many young Chinese friends in
eastern Tibet who are as unhappy with the PRC as
the Tibetans are.  He argued forcefully that the
future of the Tibetan struggle within Tibet lay
partly with the Tibetans’ ability to make
alliances with the younger Chinese
generation.  In this country, for example, at the
University of Virginia and at Harvard,
conferences have been recently held between young
Tibetans and young Chinese aimed simply at
historical understanding and
dialogue.  Totalitarian governments, of course,
depend upon human oppression, but human
oppression is the common denominator for successful political liberation.

So if we familiarize ourselves with the Chinese
dissidents who are living heroic lives in China;
if we learn a little more about the reform
movements in China that are constantly facing
debilitating opposition from the PRC; if we begin
to see the human rights struggle as a global
initiative with national concentrations, and to
see human rights as the common denominator that
runs across national boundaries, then perhaps we
will begin to find realistic solutions that
reflect more accurately the nature of our
involvement with the Tibetans and their current struggle with the Chinese.

9. Understand the technology and get creative
with it.  The revolution08moldova3-600 will be
tweeted.  As many of you know,  in Moldova a mass
demonstration was organized instantly through
Facebook and Twitter, and much of what happened
in Tibet before the Olympics was exposed through
video and camera phones.  (Read an insightful
piece here on Twitter.)  A cell phone is now more
dangerous to totalitarian governments than an
AK-47.  One of the many things we learned from
the Obama election is that viral technology
empowers large groups of people who previously
had no access to power.  And once empowered, they
vote.  If you spend any time on Facebook or
Twitter, you also have learned something
else:  that the new technology reflects the
strengths and foibles of the cultures that adopt
it.  The point is that the same mind-numbing
technology that allows people to tweet about what
their dogs are doing or what sort of coffee they
just ordered or what the sunset looks like from a
condo on a beach is also the very same technology
that strikes fault lines through the Moldovan
government.   These “social networks,” as they
are called, have enormous organizational and
information-spreading potential.  They’re waiting
to be developed, applied, and targeted.  We’re at
a pivotal moment, I believe, as we’re learning
just how influential these networks can become .
. . they’re clearly on the radar of most
oppressive regimes, and they’re clearly one of
the most significant threats these regimes have seen in a long time.

10. Conceptualize, organize, and contact.
Finally, after all is said and done, nothing
replaces political organization, if you live in a
country where political organization is viable,
and nothing leads to political organization like
an old-fashioned petition.  Check out the
Care2petition site; there, you can find examples
of successful petitions and by clicking on
“create petition,” you can design and create your
own.  If you want a handbook for political
organization, one that lists both strategies and
online resources, have a look at Naomi Wolf’s
Give Me Liberty.  It’s a good place to begin.
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