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"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?"

49 Days, 49 Years: Dalai Lama Leads Prayer Service for Tibetans Killed in Protests

May 1, 2008

Rebecca Novick
Huffington Post
Wed Apr 30, 2008

According to Tibetans, after death the consciousness takes at least 49
days to travel from one life to the next. Prayers conducted by the
living can assist the dead through this journey and can help to guide
them toward a good rebirth, and so it is a period that is always marked
by special rites. Generally, groups of monks come to the house of the
deceased and conduct complex prayer ceremonies that often last all day.
The family members are also deeply involved in these activities, and the
last day, the 49th, is particularly significant. By then, the family has
had time to grieve, and through their active participation in the rites,
can rest assured that they have done everything they can for the departed.

No matter what your belief system, it is brilliant psychology. I
recently watched a Tibetan family go through this process after the
death of an old man named Pasang -- one of the personal guards of the
Dalai Lama, who escorted him out of Tibet in 1959. He died on March 8th
from natural causes. The daughter took it very hard, but observed all
the rituals to the letter. After the 49th day, she looked relieved,
radiant, and completely at peace.

Early on the morning of April 28th, around 2,000 Tibetans gathered
around the Dalai Lama in his temple in Dharamsala, India, to mark the
49th day of Tibetans killed in Tibet by Chinese police during the
protests that began on March 10th. The number of Tibetans who died
during the protests has been put at 154 by the Tibetan government,
although China's state media puts the figure much lower.

Next to the Dalai Lama sat the 23 year-old Karmapa, one of the highest
teachers in Tibetan Buddhism, and the person who many suggest could be
the next leader of the Tibetan people. Around them, about 300 monks and
nuns formed another circle, and beyond that, lay Tibetans and a few
curious Westerners. I thought how many of the older Tibetans present at
the prayer ceremony must have had another 49 on their minds, remembering
the 49 years of occupation by China and the mass public uprising by
Tibetans in Lhasa.

A mountain of blessed food was distributed, or rather lobbed, into the
crowd by monks from large milk crates. As packets of cookies and chips
rained down on unsuspecting heads, people laughed and shouted, welcoming
a bit of light relief in the gravity of the day.

A 28 year-old man named Jampa sat next to me, mouthing the prayers while
earnestly turning his rosary in his hand. He told me that both his
father and younger brother were currently in prison somewhere in Amdo
Labrang in north-eastern Tibet, after having participated in the
protests there. He had no idea about their well-being, and he hasn't
spoken to his mother or sister for almost a month for fear of putting
them in danger. "The Chinese police monitor phone calls," he said. "I
can't call them directly. It's too dangerous. It was a sober reminder
that these were not prayers for a people and place far way. This was
personal.

Jampa expressed his concern that after the Beijing Olympic Games in
August, the world will stop paying attention to Tibet, even though the
problems there will remain. Just before we parted he looked at me
searchingly. "Do you think the situation in Tibet will improve?" I was
deeply moved by his question. I replied that I didn't know, but that I
thought, like him, it depends on whether the world keeps caring.

"People in Tibet are really tired," he said. "Do you understand?" I
thought I knew what he meant but pressed him further. "Tired of what?" I
asked. "They are tired of life." Jampa pressed his hands firmly into
mine before he left, and I watched him disappear into the crowd, still
turning his rosary in his hand, one bead at a time.


Rebecca Novick is a writer and the Executive Producer of The Tibet
Connection radio program. She is currently based in Dharamsala, India.
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