Today, protests were expected to erupt across Tibet as the Olympic torch passed through the Central Asian region. A last-minute cancellation, however, now has the Tibetan leg of the relay on hold. Political activists had been preparing for major actions intended to draw attention to China’s ongoing human rights abuses at the “roof of the world.”
Inside a small apartment in North San Antonio, a young Tibetan Lama spoke with me about growing up as an exile in India, the struggles of the Tibetan people, and Buddhism’s place in the West.
Lama Passang Gelek, a member of the Gelupga path, one of four streams of Tibetan Buddhism (that happens to include His Holiness the Dalai Lama), lives and teaches in San Antonio. His current residency is co-sponsored by the PeaceCENTER of San Antonio, which is screening a film this weekend about Tibet at the Jump-Start Theater, to be followed by a Q&A with Lama Passang. (Info at salsa.net/peace.)
China invaded Tibet in 1959. Since that time an estimated 1.2 million Tibetans have been killed as a result of the invasion and continuing occupation, according to the Government of Tibet in Exile.
Have you been to Tibet?
No I have not seen my home country at all. It’s very hard for someone like me to get into Tibet. You have to have a passport, a Chinese passport from India … It’s hard to get.
What do people tell you today? Obviously the period in the ’50s when the Chinese came was very, very turbulent. Since that time, do you believe conditions have improved?
Improved in some ways, I’d say yes; improved in some ways, I’d say no. Things have been modernized a little bit ... But the point is that people are still not happy. They are not happy under the Chinese-government policy. That is the point, I think. As long as people are happy, then it is OK with us. But people are not happy. They are not satisfied. They don’t enjoy religious freedom, political freedom, freedom of speech, freedom of expression, and so forth. So this is the problem we still have in Tibet.
We just saw in Myanmar monks demonstrating to change and reform the country.
If `Tibetans` do that and do stand against and protest against their policy, they get arrested and then they will be lost. You won’t have any information about where they are or how long they’re going to be imprisoned and what kind of treatment they’re going to have. You don’t get this information. That’s why I said you don’t have human rights as well as democratic freedoms like they claim that they have in Tibet.
The point is, the Tibetan people, they are religious people, and they love their religion and their culture, their Buddhist culture. They love it very much. So when they are not allowed to have freedoms in that regard … they are unhappy.
Still, the Tibetans have a government in exile with His Holiness the Dalai Lama. And some activists want him to go farther to encourage more protest, but he’s been very cautious.
We have some young Tibetans that we call Tibetan Youth Congress. They seek and they want total freedom — independence. The policy that His Holiness has adopted is the middle way, self-rule, an autonomous region. There’s a little bit of compromise in self-rule. He wants to build Tibet as a peaceful autonomy with a five-point peace plan. To remake Tibet as a zone of peace. Demilitarization. Disarmament. No military force. No weapons. We don’t want these things. We don’t believe in these things.
Also, he wants environmental protection in Tibet. It was very well protected before.
We know that environment is very, very crucial for our survival as well. So we don’t destroy our environment. Since Tibet got occupied by Communists they started exploiting our environment … using the land to produce this metal and dumping this metal and nuclear waste.
So they do a lot of their dumping, they take it to Tibet?
That’s some information I read sometimes in Tibet political news. I have not seen it with my eyes, but that’s what I read. These activities pollute the environment in Tibet and also it pollutes the rivers. There are five or six major rivers that run into neighboring countries …
When Chinese, they do population transfer. They send a lot of people to Tibet. They settle down into Tibet. As a result, the Chinese population now outnumbers the Tibetan people. The Tibetan people have already become a minority in their own country.
The Soviets under Stalin did a lot of that.
Yes. The Communists, they applied this policy to some other countries, with the Mongolians, with some other countries they did that. They are doing that. It’s a cultural genocide.
Is that their hope, that the Tibetan people will be washed away in time?
I think so. Gradually, the Chinese people will keep increasing. Also, they will get totally mingled with the Tibetans, as well. Gradually, we will be lost. This is their Final Solution, I guess, to clean the race.
What can people in San Antonio do to encourage or assist the Tibetan people in the effort for autonomy in China?
I think the people in San Antonio, people in general, people of the world, they can write their application or their petition to their state or their leader. Many of the Tibetan supporters, they have been doing this in many ways. San Antonio people can do that, too.
We have no sense of resentment `against` Chinese people in general. What we are against, we are against the Communist political leaders’ policy — their unfair policy. That’s the one thing we don’t accept. •