Over dinner one evening last year I discovered that friend of mine had been to Tibet. He ended up in Lhasa, through strange serendipity. He and his girlfriend were given 24 hours to leave China and the only transport they could find and afford was a large blue truck travelling across the border, they initially thought that it was going in to Nepal. The convoy was headed to Tibet, luck indeed. In Lhasa while on a tour of the Potala palace a monk furtively pressed into his hand a small gift wrapped in a piece of saffron silk, he tried to open it but the monk became fearful and indicated that he should wait to unwrap the object. When he was outside and opened the gift It was a photo of the Dalai Lama. This was a risky act, If caught with this photo the monk would face severe punishment, yet his devotion to his holiness was greater than his fear. I have an irrational jealousy about this story and the stamp in his passport, I nurse a deep desire to travel to Tibet and experience her at first hand. Regretfully the Tibet of today is not the land of romanticised serenity that the early 20th century writers so vividly describe, the place that Alexandra David Neel, Walter Evan Wentz or Charles Bell visited no longer exists in fact never did at least for the general population. The Tibet that existed before the 1959 invasion was a Feudal theocracy dominated by medieval potentates, the lay classes obliged to pay tithe to the great monasteries, and the denizens of the monasteries exercising unequal demand on them most of the time.
The Tibet of today is uneasy, oppressed again, the increasing influx of Han Chinese out numbering the native population, human rights violation a daily occurrence. Paul Armstrong adequately address the questions regarding China's reprehensible treatment of Tibet and her people in his article for CNN 23rd November. The system of theocratic feudalism that was present before the Chinese invasion was anachronistic and rife with corruption, it needed to be redressed. The systematic destruction of Tibetan culture by the Chinese since 1959 is intentional genocide. The increasing number and youth of Tibetans setting themselves alight has raised world attention to their situation. Since 2009 at least 80 Tibetans have self immolated in protest over the oppressive and illegal occupation of Tibet by China, many calling for long life for the 14th Dalai lama and his return to Tibet.
I have been deeply saddened by the self immolation's and puzzled that there has been no direct call by the 14th Dalai Lama for Tibetans to stop the practice. His holiness has remained silent. Armstrong makes the point that it was the self immolation of a street vendor that ignited the Arab spring, yet 25 immolation in November has not changed a thing in Tibet.
The head of the largest sect Karma Kagyu, the 17th Karmapa has directly called for Tibetans to stop the practice of self immolation(Guardian.uk 2011-11-10). I have looked to see if I can find the same direct call for Tibetans to stop the practice from the 14th Dalia lama but all I find is silence on the matter. Dalai lama means “ocean of compassion” I want to believe that this man is able to see that the self immolation of young Tibetans is not acceptable, and expect that he directly call for Tibetans to stop doing it. My fear is that he is, trapped in his 9th century world view and the feudal privilege that comes with his position, I have found this to be a prevalent position among the few exiled high lamas I've met. Will he call for an end to the self immolation's, it affords his cause political gain so we wait and watch, but at what cost? I hope that I am incorrect and have missed the statement, nothing will make me happier than to be proved wrong.
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