The Tragedy in Tibet: Will Freedom-Loving Countries Stand Up to China?

From my room above the Tibetan-exiled community of McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala, India, all throughout the day, I can hear the protests of Tibetan marchers. Their voices strain into the night, an urgent plea for someone to listen, to pay attention, to respond. I have been based here, on and off, over the last three and a half years, but for some reason, now, more than ever, I am listening.

I am an American nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition.

Before my involvement in Buddhism, I was heavily involved in political work in Washington, DC and San Francisco, California. I thought this was a way to bring about positive change in a conflicted world. I was free to organize political meetings and marches. I was encouraged to speak out in the face of social injustice. I was hired to write about whatever seemed to move political conscience.

However, most individuals born in the United States take these basic liberties for granted. I often did until I engaged in extensive travel outside of the United States. Now, here in Dharamsala, I feel censored. I fear that by writing that I may never be granted another Chinese visa allowing me to travel to Tibet. As a Buddhist, it is too difficult to imagine never again seeing the sacred places and images in Tibet that have so inspired my spiritual practice. In fact, I was due to lead a pilgrimage this May to Tibet. At this moment, however, the tour organizer is researching alternative destinations and designing a new itinerary, one that will take us to a place that is not only holy, but free, not only spiritually beneficial, but safe.

This leads me to question what is free and safe and how best can I respond when those very values are threatened.

Here in Dharamsala, I go down to the town every other day to lend support to the Tibetans. I feel helpless, but join in the protests taking place throughout the town. I clap for, smile at, say thank you (in Tibetan) to, and put my palms together as a symbolic gesture of prayer for the variety of marchers who pass through the narrow streets. At times the Tibetans organize themselves into specific groups with each group marching at different intervals to keep the urgency of their cause heightened. Therefore, at one point I watch a group of Tibetan nuns chanting slogans and waving Tibetan flags through the street. At another time a group of school boys from the Tibetan Children's Village (TCV) swarm through, their fists raised in protest, the blue sweaters and grey slacks of their uniforms betray nothing of their quest for a free homeland.

It is tragic to me how many of these Tibetans have never been able to step foot in their homeland while I have enjoyed two visits to Tibet over the years. Imagine what it is like never to have your own home. To always be a visitor, a refugee without the seeming stability and familiarity of your own land and culture. While I have been on the road for more than three years now, often living out of suitcases, moving rooms, crossing borders, I have a passport that allows me entrance without visa to a country in which I am entitled to stay for as long as I like. I can always go home. Home we often take for granted. For Tibetans, a home such as that is a distant dream.

And I have been warned. I am visitor, a "tourist" in India and it is illegal for me to incite demonstrations and create violence. Some foreigners have already been arrested, their passports stamped giving them 48 hours to leave the country and inability to return to India with this passport or perhaps forever. Creating violence is actually against my very code of ethics as Buddhist nun and therefore, harming others is something in which I am not at all interested. However, what I am most interested in, in this case, is freedom. Most Tibetans are also not citizens of India and their protests have prompted some arrests by the Indian government. Most of them are and always will be refugees here.

The days I do not venture into town, I focus more on my own spiritual practice. Since coming into contact with Tibetan Buddhism, my politics have evolved into a combination of internal and external work. The activism on both fronts feels the best balance now in order to create what His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls "inner disarmament," when the delusions of confusion, anger, desire, pride, jealousy, etc. are subdued and transformed into more positive behavior. This I have found to be some of the most effective political work I have done.

But still these past few days I have felt like a coward. Afraid to act, to write, to sign petitions, to send messages to those in power. I walk past the hunger strikers outside His Holiness the Dalai Lama's temple and see in their eyes that some of them would starve to death for freedom. They won't, though, since His Holiness strongly discourages harming others. And this includes themselves. I wonder what I would starve to death for.

In Tibet, it is far worse than starving. The accounts we read daily have come out of Tibet via mobile phones and at tremendous risk to the caller. I think of the bravery of those who have stood up in Tibet to raise awareness to the Tibetan plight. Risking execution, beatings, imprisonment and torture, these individuals blaze more brightly for me than any Olympic torch. Of what truly do I have to be afraid?

I follow the news from around the world. I am stunned to read what Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Thomas Christensen said in response to whether the U.S. would boycott the Olympics, that the "Olympics are an opportunity for China to show progress on human rights..." I wonder what the International Olympics Committee president Jacques Rogge and his committee were thinking in 2001 when they selected China for the 2008 site. The very Olympic charter states that it holds "a view to promoting a peaceful society concerned with the preservation of human dignity." Where is the peace and "human dignity" for Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the young Panchen Lama, and his family disappeared several years ago in China? I want to ask the committee how they would define the words "human rights."

Who are the brave among these people who can stop worshiping money and power over basic human values?

Congressperson Nancy Pelosi is brave. I watched her arrive with an American delegation. One of her delegation has even attended Buddhist lectures I give in Delhi. I stood with the Tibetans who waved Indian, Tibetan and American flags. I thought there is so much these three entities could do together right now in the name of courage and freedom. What will it take?

I sometimes wish there was a large oil reserve in the center of Tibet.

Economic sanctions brought South Africa to its knees. And what better time to put pressure on China with the Olympics just around the corner. What countries will go this distance? What about one in particular whose very national anthem proclaims freedom and bravery.

Finally, I phone Tenzin Thakla, the head of security for the Tibetan government-in-exile. I tell him a bit about my background and ask him how I can be most helpful. "You are from a free country," he says. I mention how some of my friends involved with news agencies in the States have asked me to write something. "Write," he adds. So I break out of my cowardice and write.

And ask the world not to let this cause go the way of the Burmese one or to fester like the issues facing Darfur. The Olympics presents an opportunity for dialogue to begin between China and the Tibetan government. While I am not interested in thwarting the Chinese efforts this August, it is time to say enough. The Olympic torch was lit on March 24. May we ensure that it is a time we do not let the light go out on the Tibetans.

***

If You Want to Stand Up for Tibet, Help the Organization, Loving Kindness Peaceful Youth

On Friday 28th March 2008, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, the Dalai Lama spoke directly about the troubles in Tibet, asking all supporters worldwide to help in any way they can, providing that this happens in a strictly non-violent way. He explained that this is a moment of crisis, and that it is all of us, rather than just the Tibetans in exile, who have the potential to shift the situation.

So a new project has been created... STAND UP FOR TIBET! Basically...

We all want to stand up for Tibet. So let's do it, literally.

How do I get involved?
The concept is simple and everyone can be involved ... Any age, any culture, any faith ...
1.Every day, commit to simply standing up. Just for a moment, a second, a minute ... however long you want.
2.Get hold of a Tibetan flag (print one out, draw it, buy a flag etc) OR write Tibet on yourself, or on a piece of paper and hold it up.
3.Then take a picture of yourself (or with your group of friends/family) ... With your camera, webcam, phone... Whatever.
(just make sure its a picture of you and you have either a Tibetan flag or the word "Tibet" somewhere in the image)

Quietly or noisily. Get creative and think big! Get out on the streets, in schools, on trains and buses, in the workplace, at football games, in bars and restaurants. Be visible, newsworthy, fun and contagious.

Then what do I do with the image?...

Simply email it to Loving Kindness Peaceful Youth: standupfortibet@lkpy.org OR Text it to us: +61 447 036 542

What will happen then?...

The images will be posted on the LKPY website (in the projects section under the new project "stand up for Tibet") They will also be posted on our facebook page (lkpy world) Then once we collect large numbers of images we are going to use them to help support Tibet!

Get the message out there ...

We need to get the message out there ... We need to make our feelings public throughout the world, and we need millions of people to join in! March 31st has been designated an international day of action by the International Tibet Support Network. Will you stand up that day, wherever you happen to be? And then continue, as long as the situation lasts?

We have the capacity to reach hundred of thousands of people. Each one of us knows someone we can forward this to or has access to a database. Can you circulate this email ASAP so it can reach everyone for March 31st! And attached is a poster... Print it out, plaster it everywhere... Lets get the message out there!

And remember ...

They say a waterfall starts from just one drop of water ... LKPY says peace starts from just one person! YOU can help to start the waterfall of peace in Tibet ... STAND UP FOR TIBET!

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