Monday, March 17, 2008
I took an essay writing course in university where I was assigned with a paper that required a focus on a current affair that included interviews. I chose the topic of Tibet, a topic that was initially met with skepticism from my professor who believed that I actually just had a thing for Brad Pitt (which I didn't, by the way). I had long been interested in Tibetan Buddhism and the struggle for a free Tibet and wanted to use the research paper as an opportunity to gain a better understanding about the situation. At the time, I was working at the front counter of an alteration shop where all of the seamstresses were Chinese. They were very lovely ladies, well educated and extremely kind and funny. When I approached them for an interview concerning their opinion of Tibet though, I was met with resistance. Why would I want to write about that backwards place? they asked. Eventually, I managed to pry their honest opinions from them. I was shown a viewpoint drastically different from my own. They considered the Tibetans to be dirty illiterates, and even followed the party-line by referring to them as barbarians. I was surprised because none of my co-workers expressed any allegiance to their homeland and most of them considered themselves very open-minded liberals. Yet still this deep-seeded prejudice existed. I was grateful for their candid perspective as it helped me to understand the cruel intentions and practices against the Tibetans by the Communist Chinese since their takeover in the 1950s.
I would continue to research Tibetan Buddhism and culture throughout my undergraduate studies. Jason and I met because of his Free Tibet tee-shirt and eventually we both took refuge in a Karma Kagyu practice center. Through our sangha, we have had the privilege to know many Tibetan refugees. They are among the kindest people I have ever encountered. They have been through an incredible amount but can still laugh so easily. Simply being in their presence can center you and readjust your perspective. Just read the biography of our teacher, the Venerable Bardor Tulku Rimpoche, and consider that he is perhaps the most amazing human I have ever met. Tibetan Buddhists deem the hardships imposed on them by the Communist Chinese to be more than the apparent turmoil. They consider it an opportunity for others to learn of the Dharma.
And yet despite my knowledge, I was still shocked and appalled to hear about the recent crackdown on Tibetan protesters. My feelings were put into words by Scott Simon in this piece on NPR's Weekend Edition. It is very rare to hear such a perspective in the media, especially since the U.S. is now so indebted to China. His Holiness the Dalai Lama's response to this recent conflict was to plea for non-violence from both the Chinese in their armored tanks and the protesters led by Buddhist monks. There are images on the news of protesters tipping over vehicles and breaking the windows of shops and banks. These images are being used by the Chinese government to portray the protesters as being low and mean rebels. The Chinese government, like other totalitarian regimes, were quick to declare such "rebels" as terrorists under the precedent of the War on Terror. Reports from the other side tell of streets being lined with armed soldiers and tanks. Tanks brought in to stop groups of people whose mightiest weapon are the rocks found on the street and their sheer determination. Personally, the situation and H.H. the Dalai Lama's request are both very inspiring. To extend compassion and loving-kindness to those who on a superficial level strive to be your worst enemy is the very essence of Buddhism. It gives me something to strive towards, to meditate on. The Communist Chinese are Mara, and the Tibetans are Buddha meditating under the bodhi tree. As for the protesters, for them I am now declaring a personal boycott of all things Made In China (like this family) as well as giving a percentage of our meager income to the International Campaign for TIbet. Anything related to the 2008 Summer Olympics is also banned. It's really easy to justify buying cheap goods when you are living on a tight budget, yet the true expense is being carried on the backs of those oppressed by the Chinese government. In general we are very wary of any Chinese made goods but now is the time for vigilance. Opening up China for trade has thus far failed to deliver any higher standard of human rights to the masses as was hoped. All it did was feed the dragon.
Edited to add:Comprehensive catalog of links concerning the protests