Tibetan society is a Buddhist society centred around its monasteries. There are four major sects (the Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya and Gelug schools), and their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama occupies the position of the highest leader, transcending the sects.
When I ask, “What kind of work do you usually do?” he says, “Something like freelancing.” In addition to his regular work, he undertakes volunteer work – arranging means of transportation, as well as arranging medical care for people in need.
Medical care in India hasn’t reached remote rural areas.
There are cases where patients need treatment (especially surgical treatment) in the Delhi metropolis.
When he is contacted with the information that someone requires treatment, usually he and his friends arrange the surgery.
When there is not enough time before the surgery, or when there is not enough funds in reserve, they request affluent people (mostly those in Europe and America) to donate the funds, or as they rebuild the reserve, he works with Geshe Pema Dorjee – a Tibetan Buddhist Monk (who is also Mr. Choedak’s former teacher) – to raise the funds. Then they arrange the surgery in Delhi, and even care for the patient on behalf of their family.
To cite a recent example, there was a case in Tawang (a town in Arunachal Pradesh near the border of China and Bhutan) of a young girl who had a major spinal illness. “Screws (metal fittings) are placed in the spine. The special operation to embed the screwbolt is expensive at a government hospital and even more so at a private hospital. For that patient’s family, it is an amount that they simply cannot pay.”
The roots of a second-generation exile
Mr. Choedak, a Tibetan who grew up without treading on the soil of his homeland, told me the story of his father.
“My father was a soldier who fought as a guerrilla.” Born in the Amdo region of Tibet adjoining China, Mr. Choedak’s father volunteered to become a guerrilla. “At the time, my father was married… he had a wife, but he left his home to fight for the survival of the country. It was a tense period of attacking and defending. Gradually, pushing towards the south, he came out in India. As a result, he wasn’t able to go back.”
Many of the Tibetans currently living in India are people whose grandparents or parents chose the path of exile and escaped from their homeland of Tibet turning violently oppressive. And the numbers of Tibetans who are now braving danger and coming here on exile do not cease.
There are two things Mr. Choedak remembers from what his father taught him.
“One – the Chinese are the enemy.”
“This was something peculiar to my father’s time (he was in the foremost line of battle with China close to the border), so it can’t be helped”, he says. “The brainwashing, which I was made to listen to since I was a child till my ears hurt, took time to undo.”
The second is “Listen to the Dalai Lama”, he says.
“What is the Dalai Lama to you and the Tibetan people?” I asked. “Buddhism… he is the same as the teachings of the Buddha”, he said.
A torn family
There is another sad story regarding his father.
Mr. Choedak’s father passed away in March 1991. Then, two months later, an exile from Tibet sought out the house and came to hand over the letter kept in his custody. It was from his father’s former wife. It had “Please come back. I am waiting for you” written inside, he said.
Mr. Choedak’s father and mother met in India, became a family and had four children. There was no way for his former wife left behind in Tibet to know that.
Mr. Choedak’s family in India addressed a letter to his father’s former wife, writing that his father had passed away, and that he had a family here as well, and sent it with an accompanying image, but there was no reply since then.
“It was probably a shock for her, having waited for so long”, he remarked sadly.
On the present situation of Tibet
The 14th Dalai Lama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 and has been sending messages to the people in various countries of the West since then. He is being protected by India because of his influence due to his international standing.
The title of the Dalai Lama is inherited not through a bloodline, but according to a cycle of reincarnation. “I wonder what will happen to the next Dalai Lama?”
“The 14th Dalai Lama will turn 82 this year. What will happen after this?… it is really worrying. The 14th Dalai Lama just recently declared that he will be reincarnated outside of Tibet (presently a part of China). (*1) So that China doesn’t use the next Dalai Lama politically.”
The Tibetan government is conducting itself in exile at Dharamshala in the state of Himachal Pradesh, India. It is unknown when even India, because of its relations with China, will change its stand. The position that Tibetans hold in India is a balance struck because of the presence of the present Dalai Lama.
What will happen to the Tibetan people?
“As long as we have our culture, we’ll be alright. I think we can preserve our culture”, Mr. Choedak said earnestly.
There is no freedom in their homeland of Tibet. Because of the ruthless suppression the people face for acting as Tibetans, their culture faces a crisis of annihilation.
The key to survival is the Tibetan people living in exile outside their homeland.
(*1) In Tibetan Buddhist High Priest Geshe Pema Dorjee, the title “Geshe” refers to the highest academic degree in Tibetan Buddhism.
Images | Text : Yoko Kobayashi (translated by Aumurto)
Story 1 : Majnu Ka Tilla – Tibetan Refugee Colony in North Delhi.
Story 2 : Tibetan Refugees in India – To preserve their culture and identity.
This post is also available in Japanese.