Lessons learned from my visit to Tibet – The truth behind the occupation
It was a cold morning in Tibet, sitting at the hotel restaurant and having my early morning breakfast with my Tibetan guide – plain toast, a piece of apple and tsampa. My mind was spinning with so much joy for being in Tibet, but also, overwhelmed for everything I had learned and seen in the past few days.
A few days taught me lessons of a lifetime and made me appreciate the opportunity to see the planet and to meet wonderful people who can share their stories, their lives and their experiences with me.
One of the lessons I learned is that Tibetan people are among the most devoted religious people I’ve ever met in my life, and their relationship of love and adoration to their spiritual guide, the Dalai Lama, is the most beautiful and genuine feeling.
Before I headed back to the airport to continue my trip in Nepal, I had one last question for my guide: – “If I have the chance to meet “His Holiness” what message would you like me to tell him?”
He seemed surprised by my question, but he didn’t hesitate to lean his body towards me and whisper his answer in my ear. It was simple, with only a few words, but with such strong feelings of hope and also sorrow, that it brought me to tears.
I know that most likely I won’t have the chance to meet Dalai Lama in person, but I could, at least, write him a compassionate letter and hoping that when you read this, you can have the same sense of compassion and respect for the wonderful people of Tibet.
Your Holiness - Dalai Lama the 14th
Just recently, I had the honor to visit your dear country, Tibet, and I am very pleased to share with you what I have seen, what my experiences were and how it made me feel. As a curious world traveler, who always dreamed of going to Tibet, today I understood deep inside that I had a purpose for visiting Tibet.
I want to start by saying that what I found in Tibet was a beautiful country, with beautiful people that hold an incredible religious devotion. I have traveled to over 40 countries in my life, and what I saw in Tibet, I have not found in any other place in the world.
The people in Tibet are the most friendly, kind, and giving people I have ever seen. I also like to describe the people of Tibet, as people of Strong Spirit, as I captured on this article. Their faith and devotion are stronger than I could imagine possible. At times I was brought to tears watching the demonstration of faith, which is passed on through generations. I could see the children following the religious beliefs of their parents and grandparents.
The few temples and monasteries that remain are peaceful places that hold a rich history and are still treated as holy sites by your people. I visited many of these places in Lhasa, and I was introduced to the Dalai Lamas 1, 2, 3, 4, 5….all the way to the 13th. This is when history starts to change, and we were not told anything further.
This is when I started to understand that your people are treated as prisoners inside their own country, and it is sad, and it broke my heart in so many ways.
I was told that a lot of things changed in Tibet since when Your Holiness had to leave, and your people are not allowed to talk about the 14th Dalai Lama or are not allowed to have any images, books or anything that mention your name. If they do, they can get in trouble.
But don’t worry, because your people have your image very alive in their minds and hearts. The fact that they cannot have your picture in their houses doesn’t change anything about how they feel about you. An image or a book are only material things. We can control material things, but we cannot control someone’s heart and mind; they are much bigger.
The Tibetan people are not allowed to have a passport, so they need to remain in their country and accept the lack of freedom.
If you work for the government, they do not allow you to go to temples, you must give up your faith and religious practice in order to keep your job. The government controls the religious in Tibet.
Upon my arrival in Lhasa, I was told by my guide that the camera I could see on the dashboard of the car pointing at us was placed by the military and they were observing our behavior and monitoring our conversations. We would need to be cautious about what we could ask, and not ask any questions about religion and especially, the government. It made me feel so uncomfortable.
But that was only the first of many times I would feel like that in Tibet. At the same time that it made me feel sorry for the people of Tibet, it made me appreciate the freedom I have living in America. The same freedom your beautiful people do not know under the current government.
Also, what I could observe while I was visiting your country, were many cameras hanging everywhere in the city, just monitoring people. It really broke my heart to see the contrast of people praying and seeing the military standing by their sides, holding heavy guns and making sure they do not do anything to show resistance.
People just want to pray and show devotion and I cannot imagine they would need to be monitored for praying!
In order to enter some of the streets, we had to go through a security area (just like the immigration at the airports) where they ask for your ID and scan your belongings and your body. I was told that a few years ago a tourist shouted “Free Tibet” in that same area, so now they have the security system to make sure if it happens again, they will identify the person who is committing a similar “crime”.
When visiting the remaining temples, I could see some images were all-new, replacing the ones that were destroyed by the Chinese. Also, some books and some sections of the temples and monasteries were rebuilt using Tibetan’s donation money, and it is all possible because your people are so giving and they will donate the little that they may have.
I felt the lack of freedom too when my mind was spinning with questions that I wanted to ask in order to learn more about Tibet history, but I was not allowed to ask. I kept many questions without answers still with me. But just by observing the Tibetan people I could still learn a lot.
My wish was to see Tibet as a free land of beautiful smiles and strong spirit. I wish you, Your Holiness could still be living among your people and sharing your teachings about love and compassion. I wish the world would be a peaceful place to live and that all the people would have the right to freedom.
Before I left Tibet, I asked one last question, and to be respectful, I said at the end of my question “You only answer if you can”. My question was, “If I meet with Dalai Lama, what should be my message to him?” and the answer that brought me to tears was: “Please tell him we are all waiting for him to come back home and that we miss and love him” – so this is my mission through this letter, to deliver this simple, but powerful message from your people to you.
They really love and miss you, and Tibet is not the same without your leadership and teaching. Your people wait for you, and their hope is still very alive inside their hearts. The lessons I learned after spending a few days in Tibet are that it doesn’t matter what is happening around you, how unfair things can be, or how they try to hurt you – be kind, have compassion and keep a smile on your face and your hopes alive.
These are lessons Your Holiness have taught all of us, and this is the legacy that each Tibetan holds in their hearts and minds for eternity.
Words of Compassion - Following Dalai Lama wise teaching:
“From the moment of birth, every human being wants happiness and does not want suffering. Neither social conditioning nor education nor ideology affects this. From the very core of our being, we simply desire contentment. I don't know whether the universe, with its countless galaxies, stars, and planets, has a deeper meaning or not, but at the very least, it is clear that we humans who live on this earth face the task of making a happy life for ourselves. Therefore, it is important to discover what will bring about the greatest degree of happiness. We should begin by removing the greatest hindrances to compassion: anger and hatred. As we all know, these are extremely powerful emotions and they can overwhelm our entire mind. Nevertheless, they can be controlled. If, however, they are not, these negative emotions will plague us - with no extra effort on their part! - and impede our quest for the happiness of a loving mind”
Following your wise teaching, I still try so hard to understand the real reason for the Chinese occupation in Tibet and to fill my heart with compassion, while I control my mind from any feelings of anger.
I love our Planet and I am so grateful I am on my mission to explore and to connect with the amazing people of the world.
TIBETAN BUDDHIST PRAYER
May you be at peace,
May your heart remain open.
May you awaken to the light of your own true nature.
May you be healed,
May you be a source of healing for all beings.
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"Tibet today is one of the most repressed and closed societies in the world"- Senator Robert Menendez, Chair of US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, 2012
China invaded Tibet in 1950. Inside its borders and across the world, Tibetans have never stopped believing Tibet is a nation. After more than 60 years of occupation, Tibetans still resist China's rule and defy its oppression.