26 March 2008

Tibet In Extremis

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('road to Shigatze' by author)


What has struck me lately is that the Tibet I love is partly fictive, partly intuitive. And this has served to strengthen my resolve to Seek truth from facts(shishi qiu shi) 'seek truth from facts' (to borrow a popular Communist slogan).

In my heart Tibet is home. In my spiritual wiring Tibet is home. In my love of raw and perimeter-less nature, Tibet is home. In my love of the open space and cold floors of spiritual perception, Tibet is home. In the human search for truth, Tibet is home. Home, that difficult place where self is created, lost and sometimes found. Home, a place created from answering the needs of the individual. Home, a society. A spiritual home, a nest of fundamental nourishment for transcending the human condition and ascertaining spiritual meaning.

For reasons I have not yet measured or noted, and nothing less than spiritual primitivism and wild intuition, my love affair continues. I know more than ever, as part of the Western contingent, we must must continue to exert pressure and provide real support and answer the mournful, raging howl for Tibetan self-preservation.


The Tibetan people have had something on their mind for a long time. In my many travels to various regions of a vast Tibet that has historically been open to travelers and nomads of many cultures and religions, I came to know one version of a people. This version was to my dismay an altered state of existence dictated by a necessary self-censorship and wariness of outsiders.

Perhaps Tibetan people were not wary or shy because Tibet was an isolated 'remote' land and I was light skinned, but because by the time I first traveled there in 2000, the culture and religion had been badly bullied and beaten by communist Chinese imposition. By the time I finally set foot in a land that has called to me from afar, as a monk calls to his lama, Tibetans had already been thoroughly indoctrinated to be on guard against all - not only visible strangers - but friends and family who were commonly coerced into spying and reporting on one another even.

Tibet, Tibet - Patrick French's personal account of his love affair with Tibet turned activism in the 80's, and later sobered by a real desire and need to ascertain the truth and the best possible way to help a people, culture and religious society eroding before the eyes of the world - notes a people on the cusp of madness that has been beaten in, down and throughout every step and breath of their life since 1950.

French writes:

"From verifiable sources, you can learn much about the Tibetan empire of the seventh and eight centuries, or the history of particular monasteries, rulers or Buddhist lineages. What has disappeared for those inside Tibet is the link between the past and the present.

This link has been been broken systematically by the imposition of an alien political ideology, exported from industrial Europe, and the physical destruction of texts and objects.

The effect of the period of mental cleansing - which was at its most intrusive in the 1950s and sixties - has been to kill the processes of thought and memory that define a society, and enable the people within it to communicate and interact.

This rupture has left those in Tibet, both Tibetans and Chinese, in a state of something like atrophy.

As Nadezhda Mandelstam wrote in Hope Against Hope, her memoir of Stalin's terror, 'An existence like this leaves its mark. We all become slightly unbalanced mentally - not exactly ill, but not normal either: suspicious, mendacious, confused, inhibited." (page 9).
This is what the world has known since 1950, and continues to observe, and will go on observing until the people and this land that lives in the imagination of the West as a magical place of comfort, hope and spiritual sanctuary, finally and completely dies. This death will be real. This death will cause pain in the collective spiritual consciousness and imagination of the world where, for many people, Tibet lives. I wonder, will we in the West remember the proper burial rituals accorded Tibetans in their culture, and carry out a death ceremony to our fullest and most competent ability? For now, history fuels my doubt that we can be trusted with the responsibility.

But, we still have the opportunity, power and motivation to shape history and avert an impending tragedy that is in process. While resolution must come from dialogue and concessions reached between HH Dalai Lama and the Chinese government, we can exert pressure on the latter in any way possible, and in fact, it is our responsibility to do so.

Choosing how and to help is individual; participating is collective:


Tibet Justice Center

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Right Honorable Stephen Harper
Prime Minister of Canada
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2
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Canada Tibet Committee


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Tibet Environmental Watch

Students for a Free Tibet







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