My Home in the Himalayas: A Letter From A Tibetan Monk
By Yeshe Nyima
A major center for Tibetans living in exile is McLeod Ganj, a small village of around 10,000 people of both Indian and Tibetan descent. It is located just north of Dharamsala in the Northern Indian province of Himachal Pradesh, not far from the Himalaya ranges. Most importantly, it is the seat of the Tibetan Government-in-exile and the current residence of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama.
McLeod Ganj is also the arrival point in India for Tibetans who have fled their homeland after having survived the treacherous trek across the Himalaya and into Nepal.
I arrived in McLeod Ganj with my Uncle in 1987. I was 13 years old and had been a monk since the age of 9. My family decided that I should leave Tibet in order to pursue my religious education.
I was not in McLeod for long. From the refugee center, my Uncle and I went south to the Tibetan monastery of Drepung–the largest monastery in exile– where I stayed for 13 years before returning to McLeod to continue my advanced studies.
At Drepung, I was able to pursue my religious studies and maintain my vows as a monk. I was free from the persecution and ridicule of the Chinese Government who consider religion as “poisoning the mind.”
In 1999, 2474 Tibetans fled Tibet, 1,115 of which were children under the age of 18. Most of them come to India to maintain their cultural rights and to be educated in Tibetan schools. (Annual Report 1999, Human Rights Violation in Tibet) In India today, there are approximately 120,000 Tibetans. Over 20,000 are monks and 3000 are nuns.
In the monasteries and nunneries of India, the foundation of the Buddhist religion–the “three jewels”–is maintained. The first of these jewels is Buddha–one who has completely purified himself of all faults and delusions and perfected all knowledge and wisdom.
The second is Dharma–Buddha’s teachings that allow one to be released from life’s suffering–and the third is Sangha, the monastic spiritual community that works for and provides guidance to all sentient beings. In India, the principles of Buddhism are openly practiced, unlike the current situation in Tibet.
The spiritual leader of Tibet, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso works tirelessly, in a peaceful and compassionate manner, to educate the world community on the sad plight of the Tibetans under Chinese occupation. At the same time, he is available to his community to greet all new refugees and give Buddhist teachings to his people and world visitors.
He has also been recently joined by His Holiness The Karmapa, whose presence in India has strengthened the Tibetan people’s hope for a free Tibet. This is especially important to Tibetan people because he leads the Karma Kagyu sect.
H.H. The Karmapa is actually the very first reincarnate Lama of Tibet, a disciple of Gampopa who was Milarepa’s main student (about 1000 years ago). He is also an emanation of Chenrezig, the Bodhisattva of compassion (like the Dalai Lama.
Both are held with the same respect, yet the Karmapa’s history of reincarnation in Tibet is longer). He is the only Lama that predicts his future rebirth in a letter. Right now, he is only 14 years old, but his voice resonates with the majesty of an ancient wisdom.
Over the years, many Tibetan organizations have been established at McLeod to work at a local and international level. Organizations such as the Tibetan Youth Centre for Human Rights & Democracy, The Tibetan Youth Congress, The Tibetan Women’s Association and Tibetan Freedom Movement are all working to highlight the situation in Tibet and provide support to all Tibetans.
Many Foreign Volunteers
Locally, Tibetan schools, medical centers, welfare offices, the Tibetan Performing Arts Center (TIPA) and a recently opened Tibetan museum give support to the community and maintain Tibetan art and culture. In particular, the Norbulinka Institute is a center for training in traditional Tibetan arts and culture, such as thangka painting, carpet weaving and Tibetan history and language.
Many foreign volunteers assist these organizations and institutions. Through refuge in India, the Tibetan people have an opportunity to rebuild their lives and maintain their Tibetan nationalism and traditions that are so intrinsically linked to their religious practices.
Although as refugees, Tibetans are a minority group and often have difficulty in getting work and further education in India outside of their community. But, it is the compassionate hearts of the Tibetan people that enable them to continue with life in an optimistic way even after the trauma and hardship they have endured–leaving their homeland and their families, often after escaping from imprisonment and torture by the Chinese Government.
I am hopeful of support for my country, Tibet, from the many other countries of the world, so that one day soon I will be able to return home to see my parents and continue my life as a Tibetan in Tibet.
My wish is for Tibet to be free and for all Tibetans to live in a democratic society of autonomous rule. I hope to travel to the United States at the end of this year to share my knowledge with others and to spread the teachings of Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan medicine and astrology. But whether in the West or here in India, I will continue to work to support my country and my religion.
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