22.07.2014 Spirituality

Leaving Fear Behind

Jeremy Ball pays tribute to Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen jailed for publicising his countrymen's suffering

One of my great heroes, amateur filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, was released from a Chinese prison on June 5 after being imprisoned in 2008 for filming without the permission of the authorities. Dhondup was enraged by how China was allowed to host the 2008 Olympics despite going back on all the pledges it had made to improve human rights in order to host the world's major international event. So he taught himself to use a video camera to record the views of his fellow Tibetans in order to show the world the truth of life under Chinese occupation.

We have all felt peer pressure during our lives and many of us would have held our tongue rather than speak against a bully. But imagine if your whole life is lived with the threat of incarceration in the most inhospitable of prisons for merely voicing an opinion or performing a daily practice as your family members had done for many years. Imagine for a moment if Australia was invaded by an alien force and that cricket was universally banned - carrying a bat and ball would mean imprisonment or beating, a picture of Ricky Ponting on your wall at home would be highly illegal and your house could be searched at a moment's notice with dire consequences if you had a hidden picture of this batting great. Eavesdroppers listened in to your phone calls and your neighbours and family members were watched and followed. Woe betide you if you ever tried to assemble a village team and set up some stumps in the village square.

Now what if it were not just a sport or pastime but the very thing that makes you tick - your culture and your very way of being - and imagine if dozens of your friends and relatives had their lives ruined or taken from them due to the vicious implementation of this new rule.

Think how this would dry you up inside and how hollow and helpless you would feel when the only thing that kept you alive, that gave you hope, was exactly what was being taken away - your secret practice and connection to it. Now you are touching just the outer kernel of the pain felt by the vast majority of Tibetans in their own land (and almost all First Nations people in Australia). Add to this the worst kind of physical intimidation and threat of violence to your family and we are getting there.

Despite all of this, Dhondup spoke up. He and his assistant Golog Jigme set out on a tour of Eastern Tibet with a simple video camera to record what was in the hearts of their countrymen and women. Their intention was to share with the world a sip of their pain so it could no longer ignore them; that people may for a moment stop devouring the planet and notice their brothers and sisters clinging to the high mountains in Tibet and reach out in camaraderie.

Despite knowing the likely repercussions and given the opportunity to speak with their faces masked or off camera, many Tibetans chose to risk their livelihoods and lives by speaking up. Many were moved when they heard the Dalai Lama might view the film. As one man said, "Even if I had to sacrifice my life for this message to be seen by the Dalai Lama, I agree with and welcome this chance."

The danger they face is no exaggeration. I have met people in Tibet who are constantly prevented by Chinese authorities from being employed or housed or have their business closed down simply because they are known to be against the regime or have visited Dharamsala, home to the Dalai Lama. I have close friends who have teeth missing and scars on their bodies from time in Chinese prisons for putting up pro Tibet posters and seeking to escape their country for some relief from the oppression. I have a close friend who, when he saw my son playing with his plastic light sabre, recoiled in memory of the daily attacks and electric shocks from a cattle prod in a Chinese jail. He quickly learnt to fake passing out so he would only be shocked once, a very painful experience - Darth Vader is alive and kicking in the Chinese "stalag" institutions on the Tibetan plateau.

Despite all of this, Dhondup and Jigme risked all to voice the inner pain and many nomads and simple Tibetans added their voice to this document. From this a short film Leaving Fear Behind was smuggled out to the West alerting us to the truth of the pain of Tibetans, not just through statistics but their own voices. Watching it is a heart wrenching affair as Tibetans, among the least sentimental people in the world, candidly share their pain.

Describing the circumstances in which they live two men say:

"I feel uncertain as though I am wandering in the dark and don't know where it is safe to step."

"The situation is hopeless. I feel exhausted. It's as though I were walking alone, with no destination, endlessly."

Nomads are being forced off land their ancestors have lived on for hundreds of years. "The Chinese say that if Tibetans live high up in the mountains it's not convenient transport-wise and makes life difficult and, for example, makes it hard for children to go to school. That's the kind of thing they say. That's what they say but it's really not right. The reason why they don't say the truth is because our land is very valuable and rich in natural resources. Because they want these resources, they use nice words and cheat us, like you'd cheat children, to make us move."

And a monk speaking on religious freedom:

"They say that there is freedom of religion in Tibet. There is no freedom at all. The main reason is that the Dalai Lama is not here. He's the most precious for all Tibetans. If he and the Panchen Lama were in Tibet, all beings would benefit. The local authorities and governors are being taken to China and are being told to publicly announce that they don't wish for the Dalai Lama's return. They are paid a lot of money in exchange. They have to guarantee their loyalty by signing a document with their fingerprints. They have to show how much they are against the Dalai Lama."

This is sadly familiar to us in Australia with the settlement of this land and the genocide waged, both intentionally and by passive acceptance, on our own First Nations people. We have all turned a blind eye to immoral activities due to fear or for our own benefit. But to do it to this extent, to leave this much suffering in our wake is obscene. Please watch the film on you tube, not as entertainment or information gathering, but as a call to your heart to stand up to the forces that wreak such pain and havoc.

But the good news is that due to the watchful eye of organisations around the world and the pressure people put on their own governments to demand China release Dhondup, he was kept alive and has now been released. One such organisation is the Australia Tibet Council (www.atc.org.au) which welcomes your support.

Dhondup Wangchen felt passionately enough to risk his own life and, at the very least, torture and separation from his family, wife and young children. He served almost six years in prison under tough conditions and now thanks to global campaigners is free. He will rejoin his family, now living in San Francisco. Don't think your voice doesn't count.

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