Tag Archives: Buddhist

Quotes from His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama

These words are from the leader of Himalayan Buddhism, a man who describes himself as ‘a simple Buddhist monk’. They had resonance for us, so we wanted to share them with you.

“This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

“I believe all suffering is caused by ignorance. People inflict pain on others in the selfish pursuit of their happiness or satisfaction. Yet true happiness comes from a sense of peace and contentment, which in turn must be achieved through the cultivation of altruism, of love and compassion, and elimination of ignorance, selfishness, and greed.”

“I believe that the very purpose of life is to be happy. From the very core of our being, we desire contentment. In my own limited experience I have found that the more we care for the happiness of others, the greater is our own sense of well-being. Cultivating a close, warmhearted feeling for others automatically puts the mind at ease. It helps remove whatever fears or insecurities we may have and gives us the strength to cope with any obstacles we encounter. It is the principal source of success in life. Since we are not solely material creatures, it is a mistake to place all our hopes for happiness on external development alone. The key is to develop inner peace.”

“For those who may not find happiness to exercise religious faith, its okay to remain a radical atheist, it’s absolutely an individual right, but the important thing is with a compassionate heart — then no problem.”

“In the practice of tolerance, one’s enemy is the best teacher.”

“Nowadays the world is becoming increasingly materialistic, and mankind is reaching toward the very zenith of external progress, driven by an insatiable desire for power and vast possessions. Yet by this vain striving for perfection in a world where everything is relative, they wander even further away from inward peace and happiness of the mind.”

“I truly believe that individuals can make a difference in society. Since periods of change such as the present one come so rarely in human history, it is up to each of us to make the best use of our time to help create a happier world.”

“Every day, think as you wake up,
Today I am fortunate to have woken up,
I am alive, I have a precious human life,
I am not going to waste it,
I am going to use all my energies to develop myself,
To expand my heart out to others,
To achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings,
I am going to have kind thoughts towards others,
I am not going to get angry,
or think badly about others
I am going to benefit others as much as I can”

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.”

“If you have fear of some pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry.”

“Be kind whenever possible…It is always possible.”

Tibet

Over the last month we’ve spent a lot of time in northern India, especially in the cities of Leh (in Ladakh) and McLeod Ganj (in Himachal Pradesh). These areas are home to many thousands of Tibetan refugees who escaped persecution by the Chinese and have been granted asylum in India.

China began to send people into Tibet in 1949, soon after the World War II, under the guise of providing assistance to this remote nation. Until this time Tibet was a sovereign mountain kingdom, whose geography and leadership kept it generally isolated from the rest of the world. Tibet was politically naïve and accepted Chinese assistance grudgingly until it became obvious that China had intentions to colonize. For China, the country of Tibet was a huge new land area rich in mineral resources into which they could expand. Tibet was hopelessly unequipped to repel the invaders, and in 1959 Tibet’s religious and political leader, the Dalai Lama, was forced to escape over the border into India. Since then over 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed. Move than 250,000 Tibetans came to India at that time or in the period since then. They escape through the Himalayan mountains, usually in winter when snow, cold, and elevation make it difficult for Chinese troops to seal the border. The combination of the natural elements and border patrols make this a life threatening journey.

Here’s a picture of the Dalai Lama – yes, I took it! (Another story…)

McLeod Ganj is the home of the Tibetan government in exile, and they have a parliament that meets twice a year there. It is also the temporary home of the Dalai Lama, until he can once again return to Potala Palace in Lhasa. This year is the 50th anniversary of Tibetan exile. For many years cries of “Free Tibet” were heard in the Western World, but this cause has recently lost both momentum and fashionability, particularly as the Chinese have become a world economic powerhouse and other countries are hesitant to challenge them over human rights abuses.

Since they occupied Tibet, China has actively pursued their policy of “cultural revolution”. They have destroyed over 700 ancient Tibetan monasteries and Buddhist temples, including their libraries and works of art. Tibetan people were forced to change their customs, including personal things like cutting their long hair, and others as petty as switching from their traditional wooden bowls and spoons to another style. There has been a massive movement of Chinese citizens into Tibet so that now there are more Chinese in Lhasa than Tibetans. This dilutes the Tibetan population, watering down its culture and influence.

It is true that the Chinese have invested heavily in Tibet, building factories and schools, but these are Chinese factories and schools, and people who work or study there do so in a Chinese fashion (e.g. speaking the Chinese language, learning Chinese and not Tibetan history, etc.) Tibetans are subjected to strong prejudice making it difficult to find work, do business, or even go shopping, further encouraging them to suppress their language and traditional culture. Tibetan Buddhism, once the cornerstone of everything in Tibet, is no longer pervasive throughout society. Tibetans are under heavy government surveillance, and are regularly thrown into prison for being suspected of subversion, thereby suppressing even peaceful protest.

The combination of these things is resulting in the cultural genocide of the Tibetan people.

Here is an outrageous example of the vindictiveness of China’s control. Tibetans, like Hindus and Sikhs, believe in reincarnation, namely that after a person dies, he or she is reincarnated into the body of a newborn child. Given this, important people like the Dalai Lama can be identified in their next life after a long and complicated search process. The current Dalai Lama is in his fourteenth reincarnation. The Panchen Lama, the second highest Lama in Tibetan Buddhism, is in his tenth reincarnation and was born in 1989 in Tibet. He and the Dalai Lama have worked closely for centuries, with the Panchen Lama providing leadership during the period when the Dalai Lama dies, is reincarnated, and grows up. In 1995 the Panchen Lama was identified and confirmed by the Dalai Lama. Soon afterwards he and his family disappeared. The Chinese, in an effort to exercise control over Tibetan Buddhists and the Dalai Lama, took him away, and if he is still alive, are denying him the training in Buddhist philosophy that is necessary for him to resume the important and sacred position he has held in his nine previous lives. At the age of six, he became the world’s youngest political prisoner.

Here are some Tibetan Buddhist monks in India, including a group of novices.

While in McLeod Ganj, we volunteered in conversation classes with several people who had escaped from Tibet. Patrick met with a young man who had been in India for a few years. He is one of eighteen brothers and sisters. His brother and sister are both in prison in Tibet – he for raising a Tibetan flag, and she for communicating with her brother in India, the young man Patrick spoke with. They talked about a range of subjects, including some difficult ones that Patrick raised like, “Do you think that Tibetans can ever evict the Chinese without fighting?” His answer was surprising and appeared to demonstrate a much deeper understanding. He said that both Tibetans and Chinese wanted the same thing, “Happiness”. Patrick was surprised to hear that he intended to return to Tibet, and that he’d already tried once. His reasoning was that if the Tibetans departed, soon there would be no Tibet left to return to. People needed to stay there to maintain their culture and traditional way of life, to say nothing of their claim to their ancient land.

Diane met with two Tibetan Buddhist nuns, Lamdon (38) and Ngawang, both with shaved heads and wearing burgundy robes, and a young woman Sonam who shared a room with them. At first Diane was apprehensive, because she didn’t know what she was going to talk about for two hours with people who had come from extremely different cultures and had painful pasts. Initially the conversation started off with simple things like “Where are you from?”, “How long have you been traveling?”, etc. Lamdon did most of the talking, but her English wasn’t very good. Sonam shared a room with the two nuns, spoke better English and would bridge the communication gap for the nuns when needed. They made tea on an electric cook top that they had in their room.

Lamdon told the story of how she came to McLeod Ganj. After a brief show trial where she had no representation, Lamdon went to prison for two years in Tibet for being involved in a political protest. In prison she was beaten and her blood harvested. Prisoners in China undergo forced blood donations because rates of voluntary donation are low in China. When Diane heard this she started to cry, then Lamdon started to cry and got up and left the room. Ngawang told Diane, “Don’t cry” and offered her a tissue. Diane asked if the Lamdon would be OK, and she nodded. Diane was concerned that Lamdon felt that she had to tell her story, causing her re-live horrific past experiences. Eventually Lamdon returned and continued. After prison, she became a nun and studied in Tibet for two years. She decided to leave and walk to Nepal when the Chinese destroyed the monastery where she lived. Her family is all still in Tibet.

Sonam came to India with her aunt using a Chinese passport, something that most Tibetans cannot obtain. They are a people without citizenship. Their country no longer controls any territory and is not recognized by many other governments, to appease the Chinese. India offers them refugee status, but they are not Indian citizens. Sonam’s uncle is in prison in Tibet for making the film “Leaving Fear Behind” (www.leavingfearbehind.com)

The nuns both seemed genuinely pleased that Diane spent time with them, thanked her for coming, and asked her to come back again.

Speaking with Tibetan refugees directly affected by the theft of their country, systematic destruction of their culture, and mistreatment by the Chinese had a great impact on us. Surprisingly, like the young man Patrick spoke with, the
women didn’t appear to harbour malice toward the Chinese. In an amazingly Buddhist perspective, their outlook was of patience and empathy.

Jammu and Kashmir

After some great machinations in Shimla, we finally agreed on our approach to head further north.

India’s northernmost state ‘Jammu and Kashmir’ extends north from the rest of the country into a volatile region bordered by Pakistan to the West and Tibet (part of China) to the North. This state is composed of three separate regions – Hindu Jammu, Muslim Kashmir, and Buddhist Ladakh. Many people in the Kashmir region are seeking independence from India. The Pakistan government, also Muslim, supports this to free their Muslim brethren from Hindu oppression and presumably so that an independent Kashmir would be free to join Pakistan. The border between India and Pakistan has been in dispute since the two countries received independence from Britain and were partitioned. In fact, it isn’t even referred to as a ‘border’, but a ‘line of control’, based on who currently controls which parts of the disputed territory. There has been constant bickering and battling between the two countries for the past 50 years.

Jammu and Kashmir has pretty much been off limits to travelers for the past 20 years due to open or clandestine (i.e. terrorist) warfare in the region. The border between India and Pakistan is porous due to the nomadic people who traverse the high mountain passes. The quality of relations between India and Pakistan changes like the seasons, and security in the region changes like the weather. As we considered going to Kashmir, we monitored the situation closely, reviewing national and regional newspapers on the Internet.

In the past there have been attacks on the public and tourists including bombing of public places, trains, buses, etc. In the week prior to our departure, there were daily incidents between rebels and Indian police and military. The rebel strategy seems to currently be focused on agencies of the Indian government, rather than the public or tourists, but this can change quickly, and there is always a risk of getting caught in the cross-fire.

Indian newspapers are obsessed with the acrimonious relationship between the two countries. They report the daily events of border ‘skirmishes’ (i.e. battles), terrorist attacks, and body counts. The Canadian government has recommended a total travel ban for this region. Unfortunately, the Great Himalayan Circuit of Northern India circles through Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh. Skipping Kashmir necessitates either retracing difficult mountainous terrain (days of travel on bad buses) or resorting to expensive and difficult-to-book flights.

For this reason and that fact that it contains some of the most spectacular landscapes on the planet, some travelers choose to brave the Kashmir region. After much debate, we decided to skip the majority of Jammu and Kashmir (the western side of the state), and instead fly from Jammu’s southernmost city (also called Jammu) to the city of Leh, located in the far north of Ladakh, which makes up the eastern side of the state. Leh is the capital of Ladakh, which is relatively untouched by the violence in Jammu and Kashmir. From here, we could travel south by bus, avoiding most of the hot areas.

To get from Shimla to Jammu, we took a five hour bus ride down the twisting mountain roads to the city of Chandigarh, where we’d been for a day the previous week. For some reason, Indian people seem susceptible to car sickness, and the bus stopped frequently when people walked forward with clear plastic bags of vomit to through out the door.

In Chandigarh, we managed to find a night bus to Jammu, that would arrive a few hours before our flight departed, avoiding the need to spend any more time in Jammu than necessary. We booked a sleeper compartment, which is a small box for two people installed above the seats. The sleeper is equipped with two vertical bars at about chest and knee position to prevent us from rolling off as the bus rocks and rolls, a lovely vinyl sleeping surface, and a curtain to provide some limited privacy. The bus was air-conditioned, with small circular ducts like the ones on airplanes, and which dripped water onto Patrick throughout the night.

The bus dropped us off in Jammu just after dawn, at the side of a road nothing like a bus station. We caught an auto-rickshaw to the airport, which looked nothing like an airport. From the road, all that was visible was high cement walls and gates, crash barriers, spike belts, police, and guns. Seated in front of this fortress, were four young women from Israel, who were scheduled to take the same flight, departing at 9:20 AM. It was currently 6:00 AM, and the airport apparently didn’t open until 8:00 AM. So we sat outside like ducks (sitting ducks, get it?) for two hours.

When we were finally let in, we went through the most rigourous airport security that we’ve experienced. Before boarding the plane, our bags were x-rayed and sealed, we went through three metal detectors, and we were each physically searched four times. No cabin baggage was permitted, and we had to identify our bags immediately before boarding the plane, so that only the bags of those boarding made it onto the plane.

Thankfully, the flight to Leh was uneventful. The landing was exciting as the plane circled close to the mountains to lose the altitude necessary to drop into the airstrip. After a short bus ride to the terminal, we filled out foreigner registration forms (necessary all over India), and received an exception from the Swine Flu screening process due to the fact we’ve been in India for over six weeks.

More on Ladakh in our next installment…