A word about Tibet

I will admit it. I am not an expert on Tibet. However, I have studied about Tibet and spent a few days there this past spring. Here is what I know about the situation there:

Lhasa, capital of the Tibetan Autonomous Region, is experiencing a renaissance. When we were there last spring, the streets were clean, there was bustling traffic, people moved about freely. As we drove through the streets, we saw Buddhist pilgrims who were coming on foot to the main temple from places that were so far away that the treks took close to a year. We saw monks walking on the streets and in the many temples and monasteries. Religious items were on sale and prayer wheels lined the streets that surrounded the largest of the temples in Lhasa. People walking around the temple would spin them as they went by, thereby repeating a prayer said earlier in the day.

In addition to its airport, Lhasa has recently been linked to the rest of China by a fabulous railway that travels 1110 kilometers (over 600 miles) between Qinghai and Lhasa, crossing the frozen tundra at enormous altitudes while preserving the wildlife.

While in Lhasa we went to a monastery where there were tens and maybe over a hundred young monks dressed in their crimson robes outside in the shade of trees debating and trying to understand the holy ideas- one questioning the other in pairs of two or three. It was like nothing so much as an active yeshiva where the men were studying with their “chevrusa.”

In a tiny village outside of Lhasa, we asked a local family to allow us to come into their home. Outside in the courtyard of the U-shaped home, the woman was boiling water using a solar reflector. Inside was a fairly primitive kitchen with a large water container and with preserved meat and cheeses hanging from the ceiling, a few sleeping rooms, and a living room with a large screen TV and a DVD. And yes, there was a satellite dish outside. There was no bathroom in the house, entertainment having won the battle of priorities…

In Lhasa, there are luxury hotels. Our hotel was exquisite. Our hallway was decorated with highly polished woods and there were showcases with local artifacts in them. As we walked down the hallway, the lights would increase in intensity in front of us and dim behind us. Every room had a computer and free 24 hour internet access. When the computer in my room gave me trouble, they simply replaced it.

The man at the hotel who we interfaced with about the cooking and set-up was a very young man who had been trained in the hotel business and did all he could to please us going so far as to put plastic wrap over each of the 27 placemats we used at each meal! He had grown up in Lhasa, but was looking forward to going to Shanghai and learning more about the hotel business and then returning to Lhasa to manage one of the luxury hotels. He spoke of hope and a bright future.

Was every Tibetan we saw happy? I don’t know. I do know that they smiled and were friendly and did not seem to be suffering. Economically, they have never been in better shape. How many of them really want the Dalai Lama to come back to be not just the spiritual leader but also the political leader of Tibet is completely unclear to me.

The Chinese have taken pains to allow people to worship as they wish. They have created a magnificent Tibetan Museum in Lhasa.

And now that the Tibetan monks have started rioting, the people of the world have a knee-jerk response “the Chinese need to give Tibet its independence.”” The Dalai Lama refuses to tell his people to stop rioting, but he fears a bloodbath and “cultural genocide.” Were the Chinese to leave Tibet, would the people be better off? I seriously doubt it. Now they are enjoying the fruits of Chinese prosperity. They have limited ability to provide food for themselves because of their harsh winters and short growing season.

I don’t know what is right, but I do know that a lot of people who know less than I do are very sure. Just as they are sure that Israel should just give up its land because the Arabs are rioting and lobbing rockets into our civilian populations. They are so sure. They can’t find Israel on a map. They have no idea of the size of our country or the population. They don’t know that ceding land here is not possible when those who would take it are bent on killing our population.

It’s so easy to know what’s right when you are ignorant.

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  1. Gerald Ford says

    Thank you again for such thoughtful insight. (I’m the counselor in Sugar Land, Texas, from the old days on the Psychology list-serv) Your statement, about those who know less being so sure, brings to mind so many issues about life and the people we see in our offices. There is the step-parent who is sure they know so much more about how their step-child should have been raised. There is the observer of the broken marriage who knows exactly how they would handle the problems of another person’s marriage. In larger contexts, like the life of nations, we see the same reckless not-knowing that doesn’t seem to slow the process down.
    Thank you again for your posts. They are encouraging to both mind and spirit.

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