Wednesday, August 27, 2014


A few nights ago, Michelle came over for awhile. We started talking about a book I had just recently started reading (The Open Road by Pico Iyer), which is a sort of biography of the Dalai Lama. Michelle started asking me about the Dalai Lama—who he is, what he does, how the role of “Dalai Lama” becomes assigned to him, etc.
Emily was in the next room putting Emerson down for the night. When she came back, the conversation naturally--obviously--drifted into a discussion about the "Tibet Question" (you know: all those “Free Tibet” bumper stickers you see, what they mean, why it matters).
Michelle and Emily continued to ask questions, and I answered them the best I could. I’ve researched quite a bit about the Tibet Question and certainly have an opinion about it; I was able to answer most of the questions with at least moderate confidence.
But of course there are always other truths out there, other stories I haven’t heard, other perspectives that I haven’t considered.
About a year and a half ago, I became deeply interested in Tibet. Certainly it’s become my "dream trip" to go there.
But I’ve become a bit worried about taking that trip. Not because it’s particularly unsafe—Tibet has a very good reputation with handling foreign tourists. Rather, it’s because I’m worried Tibet won’t be what my mind has painted it up to be.
When I first started learning about Tibet, it was this land of old ways, of mysticism, of a deep reverence for the universe. The more I read about it, however, the more I come to understand that those things are slowly disappearing, that the old ways, the mysticism, the reverence are all fading, nearing the end of their millennia-old lives.
I’m not really interested in taking a political stance on the Tibet question. (Actually, I am rather interested in that—but not here, now, in this context.)
What I am interested in, however, is that the Tibetan past is losing its place in history. We can blame this on the Chinese, or on the Tibetans, or on any number of other people or things or forces. But no matter who is doing it, or how, or why, the fact is: to erase the past is to erase pieces of the present. Isn’t it?
If this moment is the total sum of every single other moment before it, then you cannot remove pieces of the past without removing pieces of the present as well.
Yes, I still very much want to visit Tibet. And in my imagination, Tibet is still in sync with its history. But in the books I read, Tibet is losing touch with its past. In my imagination, visiting Tibet is possible. In the books I read, this is not possible—at least, it is not possible to visit that Tibet.
Or perhaps I should say: time is running out. Because once that Tibet loses its place in history, there is no recovering it.
There is a difference between progress—which is the stated goal of the Chinese—and reverence—which is the goal of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan Buddhists. Which is better? Which is more important?
Each has their pro’s and con’s; there is no doubt of that. To deny progress is to move backwards. As Joseph Campbell said, “By going backwards, you throw yourself out of sync with history.” But then again, to deny—or to erase, or to belittle—history is to deconstruct the present.
Either way, it is clear that the Tibet that interests me, that I fell in love with from a distance, is slipping away.

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