There are a couple of hundred people around to ask, to get some insight, some emotional response, some fill-a-column-with-one-thousand-words of the plight of an oppressed people. But, they are singing with the joy of gathering, of seeing friends and family and neighbors that they haven't seen for some time. They are singing with a resolve that says we do this today, because here we have today. They are singing with hope in their hearts. Their collective heart.
These eyes were able to see this, recognize this, marvel at this..even through the mist that drifted around the face on a sunniest of days.
This past weekend, we (The Mama Bird and The Little Man and myself) drove up to Goshen to wander the 'ol feet around Tibet Fest 6. A weekend gathering "to raise awareness of the plight of Tibet, to raise funds and to provide a platform whereby Tibetans can promote and preserve their endangered culture by sharing it." (description from the Tibet Fest website - http://tibet-fest.co.nr/)
Not to go into the long history, but for a glimpse, call it thus - in 1959, the Chinese Army invaded Tibet. Many Tibetans fled, many stayed. Since that time, there has been a circular and rising and lulling debate over whether Tibet has forever been her own country or was just a portion of China.
Personally, the history goes not quite so far back on the world's calendar, although relative to the timeline of these typing fingers, we might consider it way back. In 1997 studies took me, gracefully and thankfully and blessedly, to the Central Institute for Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS - now the Central University of Tibetan Studies) in Sarnath, Utter Pradesh, India.
Sure, time was spent studying with the monks, but time also was spent studying with the people. Be it the burning ghats on the Ganges, the coin-flip of living-dying during a rickshaw ride into the city of light (for to die in Varanassi is to reach enlightenment - why, then, dodge the bullet car coming at us?), or hearing the stories of students whose families had not been able to leave, some might say escape (which might change "able" to "wanting") their homeland.
(An aside, although one that will be important later - while at the Institute, a handful of students helped as our translators. Most of the students, however, did not want to interact with us. The student body there, for the most part, saw itself as the last bastion of cultural preservation of the people of Tibet. They had seen how the West had embraced Tibetan Buddhism and thought said opening of the gates was eroding the nature and nuance of their culture. They wanted to lessen the outside impact, nurture their history, and thus stayed isolated from our group.)
So, to simply say we went this past weekend to wander the 'ol feet around...is not explaining the entire story.
It was the people. It is always the people. The places are nice. The scenery is interesting. But travel is to meet, and be greeted, and to understand. Or, as was learned in those few weeks in India, that in many cases one must realize that there is no understanding, truly, to be had...but to at least find a way to feel. To feel kinship. Feel compassion. Let's call it an auxiliary noble truth with e three-fold path.
It is unlikely that many of us have stories of receiving letters from family back home...and to find that the envelope has been opened and resealed and to have two thirds of the letter blacked out by thick marker because what has been written, is something the government doesn't want known.
It is unlikely that many of us, when asked about our homeland, speak guardedly, reservedly, because to meet a stranger, who is asking about your homeland...is just that, a stranger. And the government is known to have spies who will turn you in at the turn of a phrase and leave you turning in the screws of one of the most degrading prisons in the world (and while that was an experience with Burmese and not Tibetan monks, their stories are not at all dis-similar).
It is unlikely, that any of us, not born in the dust and colors and songs and swaddles of any culture can weep, truly weep, when a gifting of 300 rupees is enough money to take you on the pilgrimage trip to receive a teaching from your spiritual leader.
Such a trip, an unforgettable trek, brought to the forefront the fact that no matter how much this vibration inside wanted to don the saffron and ochre and be a Tibetan Buddhist monk...there was a nuance that could never be known...and in that turn, a realization, that there would be far more purpose in going back stateside.
Thus telling these stories to any whose ears turned in a direction perpendicular to these lips. Thus being out on the streets calling for a Free Tibet. Thus watching the Hollywood celebristatusquo pick up (and eventually lift away from) Tibet as their cause celebre (pun entirely impossible to escape).
Thus time passing and life drifts...call this a full circle, albeit yet another cycle in samsara. One, that the wish to step off of, is about far more than one's self.
It is all well and good to integrate into another society, but what is lost - how the color of the land affects the intonation of the alphabet, why the climate come the winter allows for the blankets to be designed just so, why the geography and mechanism of travel has created the natural rhythm in song - all these peripherals help define the edges of a culture - and when the location changes, so too must the history.
Fifteen years have now passed and the landscape of the world has changed. China has opened its locked bronze doors just enough to allow a trickle of billions of drops of money together with a flood of Western desiration, mixed with the relocation of millions of Chinese into Lhasa which betrays a glacial and thus nearly undetectable aroma of genetic cleansing...
Even the Tibetan people themselves are changing. Years ago there was not so much the call, from the youth, that the Dalai Lama's compromise for autonomy, rather than independence, should go unheeded, and that autonomy is not enough. Over the weekend there was a heretofore-unfamiliar-to-these-older-ears call to machination, but little in the way of tangible, graspable, action to take. Not criticism as much as an observation that often the heart needs a focus, so as to make dreams come true. This is the same for any rise, where simple rebellion actually transcends and matures and becomes truthful, fruitful, revolution.
Maybe there's a solution in finding land elsewhere, a homeland moved, and even though that changes the dust and colors and songs and swaddles...is it at least something?
Maybe there is a strange bedfellow to be courted and romanced between the Pro-Tibet movement call of not purchasing anything in China and the US faction who is vocal about not wanting jobs to leave the country?
There is no maybe in the drift that one has to wonder in what possible scenario would China ever agree to give the lands back to the Tibetans.
Yet, maybe full independence is still possible. Maybe a new Chinese leader will rise, one who feels, who holds hope and heart, and will provide for the people of Tibet their lands once more. In this case, all the activism in the world is no match for the simple truth of time, passing.
It is, after all, a difficult task when told the best action, is inaction. Goodness knows that such a bent is antithesis to the modus operandi of this country.
An answer to the question we came in on ("an" answer for there truly is no "the answer" and the concept of solution is even more intricate), however (and by answer there's but reference to a seed planted - the inevitable dichotomous leaves poking through, the growth, the fruit) came a few hours later.
It was The Mama Bird who first answered the posited question from earlier in the day with "You carry the country within you wherever you go." And to a point, we agree - but for all of the gypsy in any soul, there's something to be said for having a place one knows that they can gather in peace, without question, without suspicion, without second thought.
Thus, it was in the afternoon, when glancing over at the gazebo, and seeing Lama Pema Wangdak giving a teaching to a group made up of thirty or so Westerners, that one sees passing on knowledge, to share song, to open up the doors and pull back the curtain just a little bit, is enough to sturdy the tentpoles. The question then begs - but is that enough to then turn such temporary shelters into cornerstones and thousand-year temples, later on.
Being on the outside, it is difficult to say whether or not one ought take that chance. Some say "change or die". That might be a bit extreme. Some would say "Assimilate is death". Yet change comes to us all.
And so, in gathering, in the connection and cohesion of the tribes, is what is lost, lessened? And is it acceptable, when the alternative, is so much worse?
Is Tibet Fest, really, Tibet, herself, in an everchanging, and thus everlastingly reincarnating, form?
What then is the role of one who feels, and feels strongly about such an injustice, when the nature of life is change, but one's human nature is neither to be passive nor patient, and to stay balanced while so passionate seems a contradiction...but must, somehow, be possible?
What would it be like to sing a national anthem when raising a flag for a country that no longer exists? I suppose it is always possible I may learn before these days end. Impermanence reaches us all, eventually. No matter how stoic and stolid any think they've become.
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