I write this while contemplating the recent protests surrounding the Olympic torch runs through San Francisco, London, Paris, and Olympia, as well as the recent images of protests inside Tibet and Nepal and scenes of French, British, Greek, and Nepalese police beating and arresting protestors. Not to mention the Chinese police and security forces shooting live ammunition into a unarmed crowd.
Having traveled in Tibet and the Everest region of Nepal, I have witnessed first hand the effect of China's suppression of Tibetan freedoms. Deep within the Potala Palace I encountered a monk who was somewhat more forward than the others; the Tibetans faded away as he approached me. "What do you think of China's policies in Tibet?" he asked. "Do you have any images of the Dalai Lama?" I was warned about spies and transplants in the monasteries but thought this was farfetched conspiracy-theory nonsense. But here I was being quizzed by an obvious Party member. One Tibetan monk said to me, "Welcome home," while still another said, "Please do not forget us--you are our benefactors." I saw a Chinese solider strike an old man with his rifle for asking for alms. I also witnessed an arrest take place close to the Barkhor market: heavily armed People's Liberation Army (PLA) soldiers dragging a Tibetan into a truck that quickly sped away. I was surprised at the presence of Marlboro, Coca-Cola, and Pabst Blue Ribbon, as well as a Peugeot dealership--the early signs of a new cultural dominance approved of by the Chinese to assimilate to global standards. What the Tibetan people have endured since the Chinese "liberation" of Tibet has been truly shameful, especially the destruction of monasteries, the imprisonment of monks, nuns and counter-revolutionaries, and the estimated 1.2 million deaths related to the invasion and "Great Leap Forward" cultural revolution since 1950. (Please read Palden Gyatso's book Autobiography of a Tibetan Monk for a first-hand account of his incarceration in a Chinese gulag. What the monks and nuns had to endure is beyond comprehension--psychological degradation, humiliation, and torture.
As has been well-documented, the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa for India where he established the Tibetan government in exile. Since then he has attempted to negotiate with the Chinese government to open a dialogue to heal the wounds and allow Tibetans to practice their beliefs and culture without threat.
But ultimately the question is: Why is Tibet relevant? Spirituality is the highest commodity Tibet has to offer, an intangible yet highly needed commodity that is sadly lacking in today's media-fueled dog-eat-dog world, where we hunt the cool and the new cultural must-have. Tibet is symbolic of our spiritual crisis, a need to turn inwards for a solution. The consumer animal has had its fill and the populace demands a more enlightened world.
Consider the Buddhist history in music: D.T. Suzuki, Zen spokesman-author-practitioner, influences Alan Watts, Beat generation holy man-poet-Zen master, who then influences Jack Keroauc, who in turn influences Alan Ginsberg, Bob Dylan, and John Lennon. The sociopolitical movement explodes freedom of speech, civil rights, sexual equality. That freedom of ideas really began with the Beats and Berkeley in the late '50s and spread like wildfire. Now we are reaping the fallout of a society devoid of moderation; it's moral standards in the gutter. Are there any brakes on this vehicle? Have we gone too far (many would say yes), filling our guts full of Prozac and other psychotropics, anesthetized on the Internet? Natural resources are at straining point. What possible counterbalance can there be? Certainly awareness, non-violence, and religious and racial tolerance are all values taught by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. When was the last religious crusade or violent act claimed or instigated by a Buddhist group?
I feel the best means of protest are peaceful and non-violent. We have to consider embracing the Chinese as our brothers and sisters and work with them to achieve a sucessful outcome. I would like to propose that we adopt the Tibetan flag as the international banner of free speech, free thought, religious and racial tolerance for all.