Published: June 17th 2012June 9th 2012
Tibetans are very patriotic
The past few weeks have been really intense...I knew how much Dharamsala had to offer and made sure not too miss my chance this year to soak it all up! And it didn't dissapoint. I got to study all the things I wanted to learn about and even had time in between courses to take a few hikes up into the mountains. I was even fortunate enough to be here when the Dalai Lama himself came to give teacihngs in his temple. How special to be in his hometown to hear him speak. I was able to attend 2 different teachings of his on Buddhism. He spoke in Tibetan so I had to listen through a translator but every now and then I could here his adorable, childish giggle. You would never know he was in his 70s by the sound and tone of his voice. The first teaching was for a small audience of students, which i was only able to listen to from outside. But at the end when he left the building, I was able to stand within a foot of his path. He walked right by me, smiling and waving at everyone. It didn't even matter that
I wasn't in the room whole he was speaking and couldn't listen to his teachings direcly from him...just being in his presence and seeing him in front of me is incredible. Its hard to explain but he just makes you feel happy.
His message is to live with peace in your heart and compassion for all living beings. A Tibetan friend told me he often gives advice to the Tibetan people on how to conduct themselves. It involves treating all people equally and even having compassion for animals. He once asked them not to harm animals because they want happiness, just like we do. And he asked that Tibetan people stop wearing animal fur to stay warm. They immediately burned their fur coats! They have so much respect for the Dalai Lama that they will listen to any advice he gives them. I wonder what that's like to have a leader that warants that much respect. Although that also requires having a leader who's message is worth listening to...I don't know of too many of those.
At Tushita (the meditation center) I heard of a British woman who is only the second westerner to become an ordained Buddhist
nun. She felt her whole life that she had a connection to Buddhism and moved to India at 21 (in the 60s) to study further with a lama (it means teaher in Tibetan). She was lucky enough to find him after only a few years and has been studying ever since. To further her practice, she spent 12 years living in a cave in the himalayas....3 years in complete isolation. I got to attend her teaching last week and by some luck, got to meet her. She has a shaved head, as all nuns and monks do and is in her 70s now, but she is radiant and joyful. Cracking jokes and interacting with the children in the audience...there were a few! I actually felt like a little, excited kid when I came face to face with her as she was leaving. As I bowed to her (as a sign of respect), she reached out and touched my hands. When I told my mom this she joked that when I was younger we were groupies of my figure skating idols, as a teenager we stalked celebrities and now as an adult I am a groupie of nuns and monks! I
for 2 Tibetan boys who set themselves on fire
just can't explain the look of pure joy on their faces at all times. But it makes you want to be around them.
What I really didn't expect from this town was to feel such a connection to the Tibetan people I befriended. Almost every afternoon for the last 3 weeks I have spent a few hours chatting with Tibetan men. I never intended to commit to a daily conversation class, but every time they asked if I could come back I said yes and I found myself planning my day around it. I was meant to help them practice their English but in the end I learnt so much more than I could have taught them! There were times when I was the only "teacher" and I sat in a cirlce with 5 of them talking openly about everything from being gay to the differences between family values in Tibet versus the west and to infidelity in marriage! Although the men that were monks didn't have so much to say about the last topic, but the married ones did! They opened up to me about their thoughts, their confusion about our culture and their hopes for Tibet's future.
They know a suprising amount about the western world considering their English is very basic and their ability to read the news is minimal. When there were multiple teachers, we would pair up and sit one on one, or even 2 or 3 foreigners to a Tibetan. I often ended up sitting with a charming, adorable 34 year old man, who grabbed me every class because he said he had an easy time understanding my accent. Imagine, someone had an easy time understanding me...I guess I was speaking slowly! So I actually talked with him almost daily and ended up developing a great relationship with him that made me feel like I was really helping his progress. We had a great connection that allowed me to interpret his broken English well. It got to the point where when there were others around he would look to me to explain his thoughts if he couldnt formulate sentences for the others to follow. Or if he didn't understand them he would ask me to "translate" into easier English. As time went on, I felt comfortable correcting his grammar or pronunciation and he appreciated it. Throughout the weeks he also shared with me
what it was like to make the month long journey walking through the himalayas around Chinese checkpoints to escape to India, where he and his wife had to rely on the hospitality of villagers to feed them. Otherwise they would go days without eating. He shared his experiences in prison (this was a class specifically for poltiical prisoners so they had all spent time in prison...most for protesting against the government)...he walked back to Tibet (illegally) with hopes of inspiring Tibetans, by bringing a Tibetan flag with the intention of Putting it on top of a holy mountain. Although he never got the chance, because he was arrested for just havin the flag and sentenced to 3 years in prisn. After which, he had to again escape and walk back through the himalayas to Nepal, where he called his wife and got picked up to be taken back to India. He was beaten so badly in prison he is now deaf in one ear and has bad liver problems. What we talked about most was his passion for the freedom of the country. He hopes one day he will be able to go back with his family and live there. But he is aware of how hard it is for the situation to get better and thinks the only solution is for the Chinese people to speak up and force the government to change. He knows how impossible it is for other governments to fight the Chinese. But according to his friends in Tibet, who he speaks to regularly, people there are not happy and their freedom is being taken away more and more. And more recenlty China has put a ban on all foreign travel to Tibet, so very few peope are actually able to see what life is really like there. I think speaking to Tibetans who have contacts there is really the only way to undestand their side of the story. Some journalists heard my friend's story and put together a short documentary that I helped him to upload to youtube. If you'd like to see it (it's only 3 minutes) go to
Aside from those incredible men from the class, I've met many local Tibetans and Indians here. They are what truly make this place special. They are friendly and smily all day and just want you to be happy as well. When I go into a restaurant and ask to use the bathroom (without eating there) they always reply by saying "ya why not". I want to tell them, because in Canada you can't use the bathroom anywhere without buying something! But they act as though it's so obvious, why couldn't you use the toilet?!! If you spend any time in their shop...or even if they just see u walk by their shop a few times, you are suddenly their friend and they say hi every time they see you. I bought a shirt in a shop that I then walked past everyday on my way to the conversation class. The guy that sold it to me always waved and asked me to come in for a chat. He didn't try to sell me anything, I'd already shopped! He just wanted to talk.
Another guy who's shop I've never even been inside of sees me walk by everyday and asks me why I'm always rushing by and don't ever stop to have chai with him. He says relationships are the most important thing so he doesn't understand why I don't take the time to cultivate ours!
These people are so incredible and make me happy to be here everyday. I dont' think I've felt this way anywhere else in the world. It baffles me that Tibetans, who are the most peaceful people Ive' ever met are living in such horrible conditions inside their own country and are forced to run away and live in exile around the world.
If only there was something that could be done.