01.06.2013 Buddhism

Give Back to Tibet

As the Dalai Lama visits Australia this month, Jeremy Ball calls on us all to translate our love for His Holiness into tangible support for Tibet

Tibet is burning. The torment of the collective Tibetan soul is being expressed in the extreme tragedy of self immolations. In the last three years, 119 Tibetans have set themselves alight in a very typical Tibetan protest demonstrating the deep pain and frustration in their soul but without any desire to inflict pain on even their captors.
As His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, graces our shores once more I could easily and happily write an article celebrating his virtues, but instead this article is a call for Australians to rise and meet the gift that is being given to them.

There comes a time in everyone's spiritual path and any path we take in life, be it career or family, where we no longer expect to be spoon fed and taken care of but when we become a leader in our own right. No longer the apprentice chef but the leader of the kitchen, no longer the student but the teacher, no longer the child but the parent.

And it is with this in mind that I turn my passionate urgings tinged with anger on my fellow countrymen who gorge themselves in the luxury of receiving teachings and blessings from the presence of the Dalai Lama, surely one of the most noble beings to grace this Earth at this time. But once the feast is over they do nothing to support or protect the culture that gave birth to the Dalai Lama. We are all happy to pick the fruit but how many turn and care for the tree that raised it.

We flatter ourselves at how special we are to sit in our comfy seats and receive these blessings but do we reflect on the hundreds of years of work and struggle that it took to create Tibet and the office of the Dalai Lama, to create a society and culture to be a womb for this level of Divinity. For the last 60 years, that tree has been facing unbelievable trials and torture. Even as you read this article, Tibetans are being tortured and suffering under severe oppression.

How many of us, after we have read a book by the Dalai Lama or hung some prayer flags or dinged a singing bowl, give a thought beyond our own spiritual materialism and self aggrandisement, to do something practical to support the many mothers in Tibet whose sons languish in Chinese jails facing frequent beatings and worse. Or the young children crossing the roof of the world in sub zero temperatures, avoiding snipers, not knowing if they will find freedom, or if they will see their family again. Or, in fact, all Tibetans living under the dread of the constant surveillance, informers and oppression.

I have had the great blessing over the past 12 years to befriend many Tibetan people; most of my best friends now are from Tibet. I entered Tibet in 2001 for the first time with entirely selfish motives. I was too troubled with my own suffering to be able to spare a thought for those outside my skin.

But the love and respect and offering of simple human dignity I received opened a path of healing for me. My eyes began to open and I saw that the very people who were helping me had circumstances many times tougher than my own, from the basics of getting food to sustain their bodies to the suffering of the recent past in their family lines ravaged by the Red Army and secret police, to the continued harassment and genocide.

But this is in the Tibetan psyche; you will rarely find a Tibetan asking for help; they are only too willing to lend a hand but they will not ask. This does not mean they do not want help or that the nation does not require outside assistance but Tibetans won't put a burden on another person.

Let me tell you one story. It was the deepest instruction to my being and one that I reflect on often and still brings a tear to my eye.
In 2011, I travelled to Amdo to attend my friend's wedding. He comes from a part of Tibet that faces some of the strongest oppression. Like all Tibetans who have escaped to the West he faces hours of interrogation each time he returns and it is only possible to return once you have a passport from a country that wields influence in Beijing, a country the Communist Party doesn't want to upset for fear of losing public respect and valuable trade. He comes from a traditional Tibetan rural village which now has many Chinese families sent in to colonise the locals. In true Tibetan custom, several hundred people attended the wedding feast, all of them Tibetan except one obviously Chinese adolescent who kept walking up on stage and taking the microphone. After a few moments' analysis, it was obvious the young man had a mental impediment. The Tibetans were so kind to him, they would let him have a few moments' fun and then pass the microphone to the next person in the proceedings and sure enough the boy would come up again and again. I asked the groom who this boy was and I was told he was Chinese and lived in the village. His own family was embarrassed by him and his fellow countrymen often beat and ridiculed him so he hung out with Tibetans, who, it was obvious to me, accepted him as family. His plate was never empty, his glass was ever full and most importantly his heart was filled with love.

They do this to the son of their captors! And it is so genuine it is so natural for them.

As Tibetans get to know you better, only when they know you are a true friend and only when you ask will they tell you the trials they have been under. My son went through a phase of loving Star Wars as all young boys do, and I bought him a plastic light sabre that was brandished on the trees in our garden all the time. When my Tibetan friend came round, my son hid behind the door and jumped out from behind it flashing the light sabre at him. My friend calmly and still trying to have fun with my son, recoiled as he remembered being stunned with a very similar looking weapon and a cattle prod while imprisoned in Tibet for attempting to flee to India to see the Dalai Lama. Until I heard that I had no idea how this person who brought such joy into my household had suffered, and for no crime except a world gone mad. He went on to share a little of the beatings and other stories, all the while careful not to upset us or lay his burdens at my door.

My mind turns to my dear friend now working as a casual labourer in Australia who once was a well respected scholar, writer and teacher until he dared to question the laws forbidding him to teach Tibetan culture and history to his students. For the crime of putting up a poster expressing his sentiments, he spent seven years in jail in squalor, sleeping on stone floors in a room with many men and no toilet, eating food fit for the compost bin. If he were not educated, with people in the world outside campaigning for him (the International Campaign for Tibet), it is highly unlikely he would have lived let alone have finally gained his freedom.

Most of my Tibetan friends, who have been caught by Chinese police and escaped, have teeth missing and scars. Frequently, they are beaten until they pass out. The clever ones learnt to fake passing out to minimise the beating. Yet another friend whose father has been very ill for some time, has only been able to return to see him recently. While he waited because it was simply unsafe for him to return home, I could see the pain and anguish he experienced not knowing whether he would set eyes on his father again.

Yet another friend suffers for his music, which is his lifeblood, his soul. First, he was banned from playing folk tunes, then music in public and now wherever he moves, he and his new neighbours receive a visit from the secret police. He faces the choice of living without music or starving his soul.

So please go and see His Holiness, please open yourself up to receive the grace that streams through him, but don't just take. Help bring the music back to Tibet to liberate her people. Support the Tibet Action Group, International Campaign for Tibet, the Tibetan Transit School and many other incredible organisations. Befriend a Tibetan and help them recreate the family they have left behind. And tell your MPs and government no more - these people are our friends and what they bring to us is far more valuable than commodities.

The power of vox populi has already been seen here in Australia when the University of Sydney hastily rescheduled a talk to students by the Dalai Lama in June after an earlier cancellation of his planned appearance provoked an outcry. People took a stand.

So let us all uphold the people and guardians of peace in Tibet. If we stand by while their light is snuffed out, we are as guilty as those who stood by while their neighbours with yellow stars pinned to their breast were taken away on trains. Let us use our liberty to stand up and protect the liberty of others not just in hanging a prayer flag, but also in some significant practical way.

Jeremy Ball

At 26, following a “shamanic intervention”, Jeremy closed his business and left London to visit sacred sites and elders, later creating Transformational Tours and SacredFire.

When not roaming mother earth, you will find Jeremy at home in Byron Bay's hinterland, playing with his children and planning the next adventure. jeremy@transformationaltours.com.au