Dominicans with the Dalai Lama
“Throughout human history, dictators and totalitarian governments have learned that there is nothing more powerful than a people’s yearning for freedom and dignity. While bodies may be enslaved or imprisoned, the human spirit can never be subjugated or defeated.”
These words, spoken by His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, the exiled spiritual leader of Tibet, portray a man and a beacon of hope in our world today. Almost 1.5 million Tibetans have died as a direct result of China’s violent occupation and genocidal policies following the 1949 invasion of the tiny, peaceful nation north of the Himalayas. More than 6,000 monasteries, temples and cultural centers have been destroyed since the Tibet uprising in 1959 which forced the Dalai Lama and 80,000 Tibetans to flee their homeland.
Today Tibetan jails are filled with Buddhist monks, nuns and lay people who have protested nonviolently against the occupation. More than 130,000 Tibetans have made the perilous trek across the Himalayas to flee the Chinese state-orchestrated violence, and China has shipped approximately 150,000 Chinese civilians and security forces into the Tibetan capital of Lhasa in order to further accomplish the program of cultural destruction. As a group of North American Benedictines remarked following their visit to Tibet in 1995, “In Lhasa there are three Chinese soldiers to every one Tibetan. Soldiers are everywhere . . . ”
In early February 1996 Dominicans Don Goergen, O.P., (former provincial of St. Albert Province, USA) and Brian Pierce, O.P. (St. Martin de Porres Province, working in Central America) had the chance to visit the headquarters of the Tibetan community in exile in Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India. In Dharamsala, under the spiritual leadership of H. H. the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan people and their government in exile continue to be a light of nonviolent resistance and hope. Don and Brian spent several days sharing in the life of the Tibetan monastics, as the Tibetan Parliament in exile met to outline the year’s political strategies. The two Dominicans were able to speak with the secretary of the Tibetan Cabinet one evening following a wonderful show of Tibetan music and dance.
Brian and Don were invited to join the monks of Namgyal Monastery one morning for their “puja” devotional chanting and prayers. Two other monasteries, including the Dolma Ling Nunnery, were also visited. The two Dominicans had the chance to talk with several young monks studying at the Institute of Buddhist dialectics where they study Buddhist philosophy and debate for approximately 8-10 years. The Institute’s Assistant Director, Ven. Kalsang Damdul, as well as the Deputy Secretary for the Ministry of Culture and Religion, Ven. Tenzin Topgyal, were both very helpful in showing the two Dominicans the many facets of life in exile for the people of Tibet. Worthy of note were the Norbuilingka Cultural Institute, the Tibetan Library and the Tibetan Medical Institute (which uses all natural medicines developed over centuries by Tibetan doctors).
The highlight of the week was, of course, the private audience with H. H. the Dalai Lama. He met the two Dominicans with warm embraces and with the words, “My Christian brothers.” In the spirit of the Benedictine and Trappist members of the Monastic Interreligious Dialogue (M.I.D.) who have visited over the years, Brian and Don shared their interest in strengthening the ties in the Buddhist-Christian dialogue and thanked His Holiness for being such a sign of courage and hope in the face of so much adversity. The Dalai Lama said that hope is the result of making continual positive efforts, even when those efforts, like the shoot of a small flower, are knocked down and trampled upon. He compared the Dominican charism of contemplation and action to the Buddhist path of inner practice leading to a life of compassion. His contagious laughter and his attitude of respect and openness to dialogue with the Chinese clearly come from a heart of flesh and deep compassion.
The Dominicans were encouraged by all to pray for a Free Tibet and to ask their government of pressure the Chinese government on the following points:
- establish diplomatic relations with H. H. the Dalai Lama;
- free all Tibetan political prisoners;
- cease the destruction of Tibetan culture and the importing of native Chinese into Tibet;
- stop the exploitation of Tibet’s mines and forests.
Please encourage local communities and provincial promoters of social justice to write respectful letters to their own governments and to : Li Peng Zongli, Guowuyuan, 9 Xihuang-chenggenbeijie, Beijingshi 100032, People’s Republic of China. Feel free to contact Brian or Don for further information. Or, for further information, write to Don J. Goergen, O.P. or Brian J. Pierce, O.P., International Campaign for Tibet Office, 1735 “I” Street N.W., Suite 615, Washington DC, 2006 (phone 202-785-1515; fax 202-785-4343). You could also consider sending copies of any letters to Ven. Tenzin Topgyal, Deputy Secretary, Dept. of Religious and Culture, Central Tibetan Administration, Gangchen-Kyishong Dharamsala, 176215, Distt. Kanqra, Himachal Pradesh, India.
Fact Sheet on Tibetan Persecution
- In 1949, one-hundred thousand Chinese troops invaded Tibet and quickly defeated Tibet’s small, poorly-trained army.
- In 1959 Tibetans rose up against the Chinese, but the uprising was brutally crushed. 80,000 Tibetans fled to India along with the Dalai Lama — their spiritual and political leader. They are still waiting to return after more than 35 years.
- China has destroyed most of Tibet’s ancient culture and heritage during the last twenty years, and is still crushing Tibetan culture through limits on language, monastic membership, jobs and education for Tibetan natives.
- Over 1.2 million Tibetans — one-fifth of the country’s population (6 million) — died as a direct result of China’s policies; many more languished in prisons and labor camps; and more than 6, 000 monasteries, temples and other cultural and historical buildings were demolished and their contents pillaged.
- In 1995 the situation in Tibet is tense. The influx of Chinese increases: peaceful demonstrations in Lhasa and elsewhere take place despite the strong and often violent reaction of Chinese security forces. Hundreds of Tibetans are imprisoned for their political or religious activities.
- In 1994 Asia Watch reported that the proportion of ‘counter revolutionaries’ to common criminals in Tibetan jails today is 21 times higher than in China proper. Torture is carried out regularly on detainees. Tibetans are rarely permitted to leave the country, and access to Tibet by exiled Tibetans is limited.
- In Lhasa, the Capitol of Tibet, there are an estimated 60,000 Tibetans and approximately 150,000 Chinese civilians and security forces. The Chinese import native Chinese into Tibet in order to dwarf the native population and hasten its extermination.
- China has aggressively mined the mineral ores, stripped the forests and dumped nuclear waste in the delicate soil of the ‘roof of the world’.
- In 1995 the exiled population is more than a total of 131,000 — 100,000 in India (including 10,000 monks and nuns) — 25,000 in Nepal — 2,000 in Bhutan — 2,000 in Switzerland — 600 in Canada — 1,500 in USA.
A letter was just received from Amnesty International asking that people write petitions on behalf of a Buddhist nun from Tibet who has been imprisoned since October 14, 1989. They refer to allegations that she has been tortured while in prison. She was imprisoned for her nonviolent expression of support for Tibetan independence and her sentence was extended while in prison. they ask that people write to: Li Peng Zongli, Guowuyuan, 9 Xihuang-chenggenbeijie, Beijingshi 10032, People’s Republic of China.