“It says something about the world that we live in that six people set themselves on fire in just about as many days to protest their diminishing freedoms and it barely captures any attention at all.” (Link to Source)
I have been studying Tibetan culture and religion for over two months now, I have lived with a Tibetan family in Kathmandu and one in Tsum Valley, I am currently living twenty minutes away from the home of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama and the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile, and I know more Tibetan language than probably 99.9% of Americans (granted, it’s still not much). After all this, I can feel myself making the steady transition from student and scholar to fledgling activist who is indignant and inexpressibly sad about the current plight of the Tibetan people.
Over 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a direct result of the Chinese invasion and countless others have been tortured for sins as simple as having a picture of the Dalai Lama or a Tibetan flag. The repression continues to this day in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. Since January of this year, 55 ordinary Tibetans have set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule and call for the return of their charismatic spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. Six Tibetans have self-immolated in the past week, the youngest of whom was a fifteen-year-old monk. The Chinese government blames the Dalai Lama for encouraging these gruesome protests, a claim that holds no basis in truth, as it is commonly known that the Tibetan leader is an international promoter of peace and non-violence.
I do not claim to be an authority on Tibet or its history of conflict with China, but I do claim to be someone who knows Tibetans and genuinely wants them to have justice, in some form or another. Whether there’s hope for Tibet or not, I don’t know, but I do know that it would be a mighty consolation to Tibetans if the world perked its ears up and just listened for a change. Because if there was as much compassion and kindness out there as there is in most Tibetans, we wouldn’t be discussing this issue right now. Tibetans wouldn’t feel they had to sacrifice their precious human lives to make their voices heard.
It is hard to look at the world and allow oneself to care about all the suffering, all the pain, all the instances of death and torture and hatred. We are, after all, only one person, and we all have our own troubles and hurts to address. However, it’s my experience and understanding of this world, so far, that love and sadness are mutually inclusive. The feeling of genuine sadness is strikingly similar to the feeling of love. Not pitying sadness, not superficial distress, but real, uninhibited empathy. I think making a positive difference in the world starts simply with letting oneself feel that authentic, vulnerable emotion.
The profound suffering in the world is bigger than our individual fear, anxiety, or inhibition. But our capacity for love and compassion is more powerful than anything, if we could only unlock it. Tibetan Buddhism is the most eloquent elaboration of these thoughts and the reason the resilient Tibetan people continue to live as refugees with laughter, love and a fabulous sense of humor. My plea is a tiny microcosm of the silenced cry of those who have died to bring light to the situation in Tibet. Learn about Tibet, let yourself feel for Tibet, for the suffering of those who have crossed the menacing Himalayas in the name of freedom and for those who remain under a regime that denies their faith and culture. For that matter, if Tibet doesn’t strike a chord, let yourself feel vulnerable and open and sad for anything. Feeling genuinely is the prerequisite for acting compassionately. And you can quote me on that.
“Your work is to discover your world and then with all your heart give yourself to it.”