About three years ago, Tibetan Buddhist monks visited my Asian history class at UC Irvine. For me, it was in that moment that a simple history lesson and the complicated reality of Tibet intersected. I knew that many activists and celebrities had rallied for the Free Tibet movement, but only when I saw those monks did I learn why the politics of Tibet struck a nerve in the world community.
There sat a handful of monks, lecturing in front of the class in Tibetan. A translator delivered the story of Tibet’s unified seventh- to ninth-century empire, whose primary export was, simply, peace. In the context of Tibet’s religious and cultural past, it wasn’t surprising then that many Tibetans peacefully fled to India 60 years ago when the Chinese invaded. Since then, Chinese have occupied the country and the government is attempting to cleanse the region of all Tibetan culture. All the while, the country’s political and religious leader, the Dalai Lama, urges Tibetans to remain peaceful and never fight back.
After the lecture, the monks from the Gaden Shartse Monastery in India presented Tibetan cultural and artistic workshops. The sand mandalas were a highlight. Monks worked for hours over the course of several days to create colorful Buddha-inspired ritual diagrams, only to sweep them away later. The process was a manifestation of an earlier lecture on how nothing is permanent.
Seeing the monks is a great joy whether you’re Buddhist, non-Buddhist or even nonreligious. They enjoyed striking up a conversation with anyone willing to talk about or debate anything. One monk noted that part of his curriculum in the monastery is to engage in conversations for hours every day. I highly recommend attending one of their lectures as they tour the Sacramento area for more than a month. Visit www.gadenshartsecf.org for the complete schedule.