So many stories have been written and so many different views have been expressed on the situation in Tibet. The region truly exists in a grey space, that is incredibly difficult to definitively pin down. Is the Dalai Lama simply a feudalistic overlord hungry for total autonomy? Or is he, in fact compassion incarnate, as so many of the Tibetan people, and in particular the elders, believe? There have been several reports on Tibet’s apparent modernization following the forced exile of the Dalai Lama: modernization that brings with it over crowding, pollution, criminal elements, and very base desires that destroy the sanctity of a peaceful society (desires which I admit I wholeheartedly partake in). Many in the west, are flocking to the east for a taste of their philosophy and way of life, because they have fallen victim to the lack of fulfillment that a life dominated by consumerism and meaningless facades provides. It is obvious that certain traditional powers in the West are using the situation in Tibet to undermine China’s rapid progress on the world stage, in particular by pointing to human rights violations. But China is so preoccupied with its ideas of progress that it cannot, or chooses not to, see that the issue here is simply a difference in values- that is to say in what people desire out of life. To me, Tibet is the last stronghold of a non-materialistic, non-consumerist society; a tiny speck on the map of the world that has managed to avoid the technology fueled madness we have all been consumed by. Victor Hugo would have seen China as the embodiment of the middle class; a country, proud of its progress and one that is obsessed with reaching the highest of strata so that maybe one day it can forget its supposedly backward roots. These very roots are what the Tibetan Buddhists embrace- to them, embracing the mystical, helping those in need, devotion, piety and striving for inner balance is what is most important – as opposed to having the latest cell phone or being able to buy Nike shoes or Starbucks coffee in their own town. But the question remains, when so many other groups are fighting for sovereignty within larger countries, why should the cries of Tibetans be considered any more or less valid than theirs.
The young refugees hopping the border between China and India are not necessarily running away from physical violence or torture but are being sent away by their parents because of an ideological fear. These parents are scared that once all the bright lights and fancy cars replace the oil lamps and sand beaten paths of their homeland, their children will no longer be free of the crippling desire for what they see as meaningless material gain. They’re scared that sending their children to Chinese run schools would leave them intellectually deficient in anything outside of the Chinese mindset. The Tibetan children’s village in Dharamsala, known as Norbulinka, is a wonderful centre for learning, and upon visiting the village,the surrounding libraries, and archives can one truly understand the vast deeply rich culture of Tibetans. This is what parents want their children to know and this is what they believe will help them make their own decisions and not be unwillingly swayed by external pressures. The older Tibetan generations feel the Chinese are brainwashing their youngsters and drawing them away from their culture by enticing them with shiny modern temptations. One can however see the parents as over protective and ignorant of a Chinese view that might not be as biased and destructive as they believe it to be.
Tibet, is by no means a utopia where everyone is at one with themselves. People often think all Tibetans are those red robed, shaved head proponents of peace and nirvana, but they are actually just people and like people everywhere else in the world they want to find fulfillment in their lives, find love, have a family and to be happy. There is one telling difference however, at least in the older generation, they unlike most of the world are not trying to etch their name in history or become great movie stars or multi-millionaires. Their desires are much more personal and intimate, and I honestly believe they are much more fulfilling. Of course, some people claim the real reason behind the outcry is the Tibetan upper classes fear that they won’t be able to enjoy the elitist pleasures they have under the Dalai Lama’s rule. But commercializing the society is not going to bring about a balance between the social classes; if anything it will just widen the divide.
Alas, I feel that the recent slander against the Dalai Lama has caused him to lose his place within the minds of Tibet’s up and coming generation. He no longer cuts the figure he once did. Even Tibetans, now feel that he is conspiring against his own people to control them and hold back the development that will in fact ‘liberate’ them. It could be said that this so called development has left the over populated, over stressed, grossly unemployed, and increasingly unequal western world quite far from what I would call liberated. I have just returned from a trip to McLeod Ganj, the adopted home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government, and after reading countless articles and interviews regarding the situation I felt obligated, no, compelled to write what I know. I volunteered at a community café with several Tibetan refugees and listened to their stories and their aspirations for the future. I can honestly tell you that I have never met nicer and more honest people. They are honest in an incredibly innocent and disarming way, and I learnt that they were all just trying to find a nice girl, a decent room to rent, and a new motorbike to ride up and down the mountain. And this truly made me believe that although the spectacle of the world lies in the differences between its cultures, the miracle of it exists in the similarities between people; their desires, their confusion, their hopes and their fears.