Studying Buddhism Alongside Tibetans Provides Lesson in Struggling for Ideals

By Diana Rowe, The Emory Wheel, Feb 27, 2007

Dharmsala, India -- Sonam Tseten, born in Tibet and now living in India, visited the Institute for Buddhist Dialects (IBD) Saturday night to debut his premier movie, "Tsampa to Pizza." (Tsampa is roasted barley flour, the traditional staple of Tibet.) The film targets Tibetan youth living in exile and seeks to inspire their repressed nationalism.

Despite the often-corny dialogue and low-quality production value, the film raises awareness of the disheartening reality in which Tibetan youth find themselves and calls for them to take a more defiant stand in the struggle to reclaim their occupied country.

Since the Chinese invasion in 1949, more than 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a direct result of the occupation, and more than 130,000 were forced into exile. Even today, one in seven Tibetans has been tortured in Chinese prisons while living in Tibet.

Many Tibetan youth have spent the majority of their lives outside the country of their culture. They are pulled between the traditions of their past and the surroundings of their present.

In order to be successful in India, they must speak Hindi and English. In order to preserve their heritage, they must speak Tibetan. They live in a world with an overwhelming bombardment of Western and Indian influences hurled at them in the form of clothes, music, language and lifestyle.

At the same time, they bear the pressures and expectations of the older Tibetan generation to preserve their traditions and gain independence.

But this older generation, which lived in Tibet before the invasion, is dying off.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the uniting factor among the Tibetans in exile, but he will not live forever. When he dies, the current generation will be responsible for carrying the burden and leading the fight for their country.

It would be easy to feel apathetic in the harshness of the situation. The Tibetans have fought for more than 50 years to reach a solution to the Tibet Question. What more can they possibly do?

It would be like me trying to save the environment or end the conflict in the Holy Land.

Yet that doesn't mean a person can shy away from such daunting tasks, and many Tibetan youth are embracing the mission.

At IBD I am surrounded by astounding and passionate young adults who fight to preserve their culture. They are studying Tibetan in a university the Indian government does not recognize, forcing many of them to work toward a second degree after they graduate or even while attending IBD.

The majority of the students made the 28-day trek across Tibet and into Nepal in order to receive a Tibetan education.

Youdon, my roommate, fled Tibet at age 13. She made the decision without telling a single member of her family. Her group traveled by night to avoid being spotted by the Chinese army. There were times when she had to go without food for up to three days. She says she did it because she wanted to learn about her heritage and to be nearer to His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

This group of people manages to succeed when all factors are working against them. The Tibetan people can serve as an inspiration to us in so many ways.

Ultimately, they are a lesson to fight for what you believe in, no matter what the challenge is.