Friday, October 28, 2011
Sunday, October 23, 2011
"He said that 'hypocrisy' has become part of the fabric of the 'communist' system and said that those who spoke the truth made China uncomfortable."
Friday, October 21, 2011
Thursday, October 20, 2011
We, as Americans, are famous and notorious for demanding foreign visitors and immigrants to our shores learn English if they are going to live here. How would we feel if a Pashto speaker, for example, marched into our home and demanded that we speak Pashto so that others could understand--within the privacy of our own space? Tibetan language is an important part of Tibetan identity. If we are claiming to support Tibet, we should then encourage the use of the language. We are so used to the privilege of having everyone speak English, of believing ourselves to be welcome everywhere. Supporting Tibet means respecting Tibetans, respecting their language, and respecting their space. The option always exists to learn Tibetan or respectfully ask for assistance, rather than demand that our English-speaking needs be met
Saturday, October 8, 2011
Sunday, October 2, 2011
This post was sparked by the following post, which I came across on tumblr:
i always look at the world for how beautiful it is, which can be found everywhere and anywhere as long as you look for it. but one day, man will destroy all that is left of that; and when i’ve had enough and want to make the whole world disappear, i will walk into tibet and lose myself in the himalayas.Tibet is the perfect example of the Brown Space That Is Stuck in a By-Gone Age of Meditation And/Or Flying Monks Who Live Forever and Other Peaceful Spiritual Things. Assuming that the answer to human survival will lie in the Himalayas, while the rest of the world is in flames, is ridiculous. (Makers of the film 2012: I’m looking at you.) It assumes that Tibet, in its current state, is peaceful and happy and doing perfectly fine by itself—which, of course, is far from the truth. Believing this kind of tripe completely erases the last fifty years of Tibet’s history. Doesn’t it seem a bit odd to you that while Tibetans are fleeing into Nepal and India, risking limbs and life to seek freedom of religion, a good education, the chance to learn and use Tibetan in their public lives, the (usually) White Person is flying to Tibet and proclaiming it a magical place that not only can cure cancer but is Happiness and Peace made geographical?
The saddest part about the original quote is that this individual has gone to Tibet and still walked away with this view. I guess some ignorance is hard to break, especially when it’s being subtly and blatantly enforced by the oppressors. The Chinese government is notorious for paying students to show up at big functions (such as the arrival of Chinese delegates in foreign countries) if but to give some fodder to the media that shows that people love China and it’s just a rag-tag group of “splittists” who feel a different way. The Chinese government also coerces Tibetans into lying to the media, donning traditional dress and attending festivals and holidays that they were previously boycotting (knowing that it would piss China off if they refused to be puppets for China’s lie that We Keep the Tibetans Very Happy and Liberated, Yes), among many other things.
We of the West are still ignorant. We refuse to let go of the belief that Tibet is a space to be put on a pedestal and worshipped—but only while we’re taking the food off of their altars for our own private consumption. The end result of this thinking is almost always invasion, of both bodies and mind. We fear, so we invade to “liberate”; we lust after, so we appropriate. It’s been centuries and we have yet to change our outlook; we’ve just substituted our weapons—guns and Bibles when we’re entering countries of Adults and toys for when we’re entering countries of Children.
So when the apocalypse comes and you go walking into the Himalayas, I think you’ll find that not a single mountaintop has snow (thanks to global climate change), and not a single person will be there to guide you. I hope when you finally spot Lhasa and gravitate to the sparkling object in the distance, when you arrive there, you’ll find the golden arches of a McDonald’s.
Tuesday, August 9, 2011
In this illustration, the Chinese provinces are given alternate (and rightful) names— a majority of what is known as Qinghai is actually the Tibetan province of Amdo, and the Tibetan province of Kham exists in the Chinese province of Sichuan.
When the Yushu earthquake occurred in 2010 (om mani padme hum), there were many facts that were wrongly reported by the Western media—including the mislabeling of the victims as "Chinese."
The earthquake originated in what is known as the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture, where, according to the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture Statistics Bureau in 2005, 97.25% of the population is Tibetan, with the next largest ethnic group being Han at 2.56%. The vast majority of the victims were not Chinese—they were Tibetan (Khampa).
It’s hard to claim that you’re “spreading awareness about the issues” when the issues aren’t even being discussed. Another year passes and “Seven Years in Tibet” is screened again instead of more revolutionary material, such as Dhondup Wangchen’s film “Leaving Fear Behind”, for which he is still imprisoned.
Violently splitting Tibetan culture from Tibetan politics and the history of the Chinese invasion in order to make the truth taste a little sweeter, the tragedy a little less brutal, is an injustice. Maybe we think that if we don’t aggressively pursue the issue, we are more likely to arouse new supporters—and I will buy this to a certain extent, because the issues of Tibet are vast. The crimes committed against the Tibetan people are not merely religious or political in nature; their lifestyles are being forcibly changed, their land is being destroyed, and in exile they face numerous issues ranging from health issues to language and cultural barriers.
I’m not interested in a “cultural experience.” Stop trying to raise awareness about the culture, stop trying to keep the Tibetan culture alive—if you’re not a Tibetan, it is not your culture to save. We should be working with them, rather than touting their culture as something unique and on the verge of extinction so we should hurry up and see it while it lasts.
Painting Tibet as a “cultural experience” is serious erasure. The image of Tibet may never recover, if college administrators (and others) do everything in their power to deny the fact that “Tibet” is a political issue at its very heart.
“Twenty years ago, when the public didn’t know the first thing about Tibet, we used to pray and dream that somehow Tibet would become a household word. If people knew the truth, we believed, they would come forth and intervene. Tibet would be saved. Now Tibet was indeed a household word, but China had imposed its will, transformed it. Beyond our worst nightmares.” (one of the women in “Sky Train: Tibetan Women on the Edge of History” by Canyon Sam)
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
Us non-Dharma Tibetan students are frequently encouraged to do translation, which as Pongu noted in a previous post, seems to only mean Dharma translation. Strangely enough, work on translating modern texts, or using one's studies to write in Tibetan are considered worthless, but we'll talk about that another time (hence the "part 1.")
I have a problem with this. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate a good translation and the hard work that went into it, but I really don't like the ideas surrounding it. Why should anyone studying Tibetan automatically be assumed to be a translator? Well, statistically, there's a pretty good chance that they are. To me, that brings up a big issue. Tibetan is a living, modern language with more than eight millions speakers world wide, if one includes related dialects such as Balti and Ladakhi. Yet the modern spoken aspect of Tibetan is systematically ignored by many, if not most, people interested in learning Tibetan. Only the Dharma language is seen as worthwhile. It completely disregards modern Tibetan language, and with it, much of modern Tibetan culture.
What of modern Tibetan literature? Songs? Blogs? Autobiographies? When I mention translation of any of these, the idea is generally tossed aside as worthless.
I seriously ask the commenters here. Can you think of another language with millions of speakers and a vivid modern culture and literature scene where the modern language is outright ignored? Where only the classical language is considered worthwhile? I am really trying to think of one and I can't.
The second issue was pointed out be a commenter as well as several Tibetans I've spoken to. That's qualification for translation.
Virtually all of the primary texts in Buddhism have been translated already. That means the texts yet to be translated are either very new or very rare or very advanced. In short, if you've reached the level where you should be studying these texts (which, from a traditional study standpoint would probably include a minimum of 10 years in a shedra) then I certainly hope you would have picked up some Tibetan along the way.
This isn't to say all Tibetan Buddhists should learn Tibetan. By no means! But it means that if you are going to be studying these extremely advanced esoteric texts, you should have taken the many years necessary to study all of the primary texts, primary practices and so forth. Don't start decorating a house before you've built the foundation, as a friend of mine likes to say. If you are studying these texts, you should be under the guidance of a teacher, and if you are doing the years upon years of intensive study, then you are probably in a monastic environment, in which case, yes. You should learn Tibetan.
But it's more than just the linguistic knowledge of Tibetan. These texts are advanced. Throughout Tibetan history they would have been translated by khenpos, geshes, lamas who had studied Buddhism for most likely a bare minimum of 20 years of intensive study inside of a monastery or shedra. They would have learned all the primary texts and practices and likely studied and practiced this text before translating it.
Linguistic knowledge is not enough! In order to express the actual meaning of a complex Buddhist text, one needs to have a deep understanding of the Buddhist context. To paraphrase one person: "How do these kids who've studied for five years think that they can accurately translate the texts we take a lifetime to master?"
As another Tibetan friend expressed, it is cheapening the profound teachings and culture of Tibet.
And that's not helping anybody.
Saturday, July 16, 2011
You won't find the invasion and occupation of Tibet in a high school World History textbook and, even at a large university, you will be lucky to find even one class about Tibet (although a Buddhism course will surely cover at least a little bit.) The resulting ignorance creates a glut of issues. From an information standpoint, the biggest issue is that the majority of non-Dharma Tibetan resources available to non-Tibetans (who do not speak Tibetan) are written by a very small number of people. The intentions of some of those people is enough for another post entirely, so I'll save it for later.
This wide spread ignorance has set the bar for knowledge incredibly low. Almost anyone who knows the basics of the Tibetan situation, or I should say almost anyone who seems to know the basics of the Tibetan situation, is practically an expert and can play themselves off as one.
However, many have spent very little time in Tibetan communities, can't speak Tibetan, and only have a knowledge based on hearsay or a bit of reading, and a good deal of misunderstanding.
I know because I was one. I hope I'm not any more, but I definitely was one just like this in the beginning. It's embarrassing for me to think back on it and the misunderstanding I propagated in others by saying things that I thought, based on my comparative knowledge, were true.
I don't think it's done out of bad intention or a desire to misrepresent, but just because the bar is set so low that almost anyone can be an "expert."
People with the best intentions, but very little knowledge, then try to educate the outside world about Tibet. I am the first to encourage telling your friends, co-workers and other acquaintances about Tibet, but a few people want to go far beyond that seeking to widely publish themselves.
I remember one book by a well intentioned, but poorly informed westerner which showed a photograph of a group of Tibetans walking past a mani pile (a pile of stones with prayers carved on them) but the author had labeled it as "a group of Tibetans walking past what are likely the ruins of a monastery." Many publish photographs or books with incorrect captions which sensationalize the issue. The Tibetan issue is serious enough as is, hyperbole is completely unnecessary. Beyond being unnecessary, it is detrimental to the Tibetan cause. When we use hyperbole, the Chinese authorities can accurately claim that we are quoting false "facts" and it is simply propaganda. Are these mistaken, exagerated "facts" closer to the truth than Chinese propaganda? It depends on the statement, but usually yes. But the world will not care, and will just look at it as those Free Tibet Hippies spouting bullshit. See? The Chinese are right, and they can prove it!
A good number of people decide that, with their newly found, limited, and often incorrect knowledge of the Tibetan issue, gained from a few weeks or months in India and a few books, they will make a documentary, publish a book, write a news article, or do something similar. Some write about their own experiences, in which case it is usually an accurate representation of what they saw, and I cannot complain. However, many decide that they want to expose the world to the Tibet issue, despite their lack of an understanding of Tibet themselves. They are blind leading the blind.
Am I missing something? I want to be told, if I am. But I just can't imagine that people who've never been to Darfur or spent copious amounts of time in a refugee camp, or at least worked for years with refugees and done a lot of research would decide to make a movie about Darfur to wake up the world. Am I wrong? Am I just expecting too much? I don't know.
I keep feeling like it's just another version of people who want to be white saviours, heroes, but as usual don't want to make any real commitment.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
Saturday, January 8, 2011
My advice is usually pretty straightforward. As with all travel to sensitive or potentially dangerous areas, register in advance with your country's embassy. I usually give them a list of safety tips as well. But the most important tips that I give to everyone are:
1) Do not distribute anything widely.
2) Do not put yourself in the middle of a crowd.
The second tip is for personal safety measures. If something bad happens, you always want to be towards the edge of the crowd so you don't get swept up into it.
The first tip, however, is for everyone's safety.
A lot of people want to distribute photographs of the Dalai Lama, teachings from Lamas in India and so forth in Tibet. Yes, Tibetans do want these things, but the problem is that in that large group of Tibetans there is likely to be a bare minimum of one spy. In addition, if you are being trailed or watched, spies are likely far more interested in which Tibetans are accepting contraband, rather than the foolish tourist distributing it.
Nonetheless, every year, I see dozens of tourists proudly telling me how they were able to distribute so many photographs of the Dalai Lama and so forth inside of Tibet.
Some people go so far as to arrange video viewings in their hotel rooms of teachings from India. Many of these are from Lamas that are not officially blacklisted, but it's still something from India and arranging for a large group of Tibetans to come to your hotel room is probably not a good idea!
I remember one person proudly boasting how they had managed to destribute so many DVDs of a semi-black listed lama, and how people were so happy, and even Chinese came to take some! I had to wonder if, in all of this person's asking my advice about safety, they ever thought that maybe some of the people coming for the DVD might be just spying to see who was accepting it?
I think the motivation for many of these people, aside from sheer ignorance, is to be a hero. They never stop and think about the consequences that widely, openly, distributing something clearly illegal or dangerous poses to Tibetans around them.
As a tourist, we can go home after your few weeks in Tibet are up. After we are no longer watching, how many people will go to jail?