Sunday, April 30, 2006

Tibet: The Angst of Autonomy

Mcleodganj (Upper Dharamsala), India -- It's sometimes hard to separate the politics from the culture in this town which serves as the foreign home of the Tibetan government and thousands of exiled Tibetans.

Tibet through history had always been a separate sovereign nation, recognized and respected by the Chinese as such. But under Mao's rule the Chinese decided that this vast land, mineral rich and strategically valuable, really was a Chinese territory that needed to be brought back into the fold. So in 1949 they cranked up the Chairman's tanks and annexed Tibet militarily, destroying everything and everybody in their way.

Today, a hot topic in the struggle of the Tibetans to reclaim their homeland continues to be the Dalai Lama, and his views and actions. As both the spiritual and political leader of the Tibetan people, he is leading the campaign to regain their country from the Chinese.

But what does "regain" mean?

Rather than independence for Tibet (i.e., Tibet being its own nation), HHDL advocates a goal of autonomy for Tibet, envisioning it as an autonomous region within the People's Republic.

As of now, neither the independence or autonomy approaches is "on the table" with China, with whom attempts at negotiation have been frutiless. The Chinese (publicly) consider HHDL to be nothing more than a feudal lord who leads a band of superstitious backward people . . . and worse, he and his followers are noisy "splittists" out to destroy the People's Republic.

So in this real life drama there's the overwhelmingly mighty, militaristic world economy leader China vs. HHDL, armed with spiritual principles, trying to somehow get back what was taken from his people more than 50 years ago.

In Washington, D.C. last month, HHDL spoke to the issue of Tibetan autonomy: "Now, today, the common interest is more important than sovereignty. Tibet is a landlocked country, a large area, small population, very, very backward. We Tibetans want modernization. Therefore, in order to develop Tibet materially as a modern nation, Tibet must remain within the People's Republic of China. Provided Chinese give us a full guarantee of preservation of Tibetan culture, Tibetan environment, Tibetan spirituality, then it is of mutual benefit. [Besides] foreign affairs [and] defense [are] all the things which Tibetans can manage by themselves. Tibetans should have the full autonomy."

And so, wise and engaging, HHDL travels the world almost like a rock star, spreading his message to sold-out stadiums and university arenas, meeting with presidents, prime ministers and kings, hoping to elicit enough support that China will relax its chokehold grip.

He's working tirelessly, hoping that as China grows into an even more global ecomonic power, it may begin to listen to the "human rights" opinions of its trading partners (assuming they'd be brave enough to voice those opinions) as well as the voices of people around the world who understand that the very existence of the Tibetan people's unique, deeply beautiful traditions will disappear if the extermination of Tibetan religion and culture continues.

Yes, there has been some recent "rebuilding" of some of Tibet's Buddhist monasteries and temples destroyed by the Chinese, but these, along with the Tibetans' ancient-but-timely traditions, have been turned into little more than quaint "must-see" attractions along the government's mandated tourist routes.

HHDL's autonomy vision differs from that of many Tibetans, especially the youth, who point at HHDL's "middle view" goal of autonomy as falling way short of ensuring Tibet's preservation as a country, society and culture. It is independence they seek. And many of these hard-liners share the view that HHDL has been woefully ineffective in his dealings with China on their people's behalf.

Many pro-independence supporters believe the only way of achieving their goal is through violent insurrection. The outcome of that struggle, says HHDL, would be nothing more than the senseless and tragic death of all who follow that path, as well as renewed cruelty on the part of the People's Republic toward the Tibetan people.

And logic says he's right -- any number of Tibetan freedom fighters would be quickly crushed by the Chinese military and economic juggernaut.

Perhaps the hard-liners feel that violence, and resulting martyrdom, would somehow elicit a world response. But with worldwide economic purse-strings so dependent on China, how many countries would step up to aid the Tibetan fighters or the people they're fighting for? (Probably the same amount who have, to now, officially appealed to the Chinese goverment for Tibetan rights . . . none.)

Could there be independence without violence? Not likely. Does anyone really expect China to say, after 57 years of occupation, "ok, here's the strategically valuable, mineral-laden Tibetan plateau back, we're happy to reduce the geographic size of our country by almost 35%, sorry for the death and destruction . . . "?

So HHDL chooses the middle path between hard-line independence and complete capitualtion: negotiated autonomy. And in respect for his leadership the violent path has not yet been taken. But the rumblings, especially here in Dharamsala, remain consistent.

This is a sticky, heartbreaking situation and there's no easy solution for the Tibetan people. Time is not on their side. Everyday, occupied Tibet becomes less Tibetan and western influences move the Tibetan young away from the practices of their heritage.

For now, they look ahead to the Beijing Olympics, hoping that worldwide light will shine on their cause, and they count on HHDL to be around for many years to come, for without him they will be leaderless -- and worse, hopeless -- in their efforts.


The following was picked-up from a Tibetan news service and pretty much summarizes the reasons for shunning the "autonomy" approach. I've included it here (unedited) to foster better understanding of the issue(s).

By Tsoltim N. Shakabpa



1. Tibetans have no say nor any rights in the field of foreign affairs or
activities relating to Tibet, including all foreign military maneuvers.

2. Tibetans will have no U.N. representation nor any representation in
international bodies.

3. Tibetans cannot maintain a military force

4. If China goes to war with any country, Tibetans will be conscripted
to join the Chinese military. (In this event, Tibetans will be sent to the
forefront of the battlefield before China sends any Chinese soldiers).

5. Tibetans must use Chinese postage stamps for mailing purposes, and
parcels and letters going abroad will be subject to Chinese scrutiny
and controls.

6. All foreign travel by Tibetans will be controlled and restricted by
the Chinese.

7. Tibetans must carry Chinese passports when traveling abroad.

8. Tibetans will be restricted in carrying money abroad according to
Chinese regulations.

9. Visits from exile Tibetan relatives or friends living abroad will be
subject to Chinese control and regulations.

10. Foreign leaders and dignitaries of foreign countries can only be
invited to visit Tibet by China, not by Tibetans.

11. Tourists to Tibet will have to get Chinese visas, not Tibetan

12. Tibetan money will not be recognized by any nation.

13. Tibetans will never have direct use of foreign exchange nor access
to foreign exchange reserves as those will be controlled and managed by

14. Receipts of moneys or income from all foreign sources will be
subject to Chinese taxes and controls.

15. Dispatch of moneys and payment of any kind to foreign destinations
will be subject to Chinese control and restrictions.

16. Export of Tibetan goods and import of foreign goods into Tibet will
be managed and controlled by China.

17. Foreign investments in Tibet will be controlled by China.

18. If Tibet ever manufactures airplanes, those aircrafts will be
restricted from flying overseas.

19. Promotion of Tibetan culture and religion abroad will be subject to
Chinese scrutiny, control and regulations.

20. China will have full control over the flow of the Drichu and Machu
Rivers in Tibet, as China will claim they affect the Yangtse and Huang
Ho Rivers in China since the Drichu becomes the Yangtse in China and the
Machu becomes the Huang Ho in China. (Any such activity will affect the
Tibetan ecological and environmental system).

21. Most of the regions of Kham and Amdo of independent Tibet will
remain in China and not in autonomous Tibet.

22. China may use Tibetan land for military purposes and maneuvers as
they can claim it falls under protection against foreign enemies.

23. China will have the authority to impound or export from Tibet any
valuable Tibetan resources as they can claim it affects Tibet's foreign
welfare and affairs.

24. Tibetans may never plot against nor revolt against Chinese
authority as they will be considered traitorous activities and liable for execution.

25. Under the above circumstances, Tibetans will be prisoners in their
own land.

26. With "genuine" autonomy, unless the Tibetan Government-in-Exile's
negotiators can eliminate a good part of the above, Tibetans will still
be prisoners in their own land.

27. With independence, none of the above obstructions will exist and
Tibetans will be free to decide their own future.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

"Up by the River . . . "

Dharamsala (Himachal Pradesh), India – Hey it’s late Saturday afternoon, and although the various vendors and restaurants are open, all Tibetan government offices have been closed today and will close tomorrow also . . . weekends matter here.

So what do Tibetan monks do on Saturday? They hike up the trail a couple of kilometers to Bhagsunag, make their way over to the snowmelt-rushing Bhagsunag River and wash their clothes.

On monastery grounds all seems so traditionally serious, but many of these monks are teenagers and young men in their twenties and thirties, and getting in the river water and washing their robes in the river is done respectfully, but is part frisky fun too.

They splash each other, sing as they scrub, soaping, soaking and then beating their wet saffron-colored robes on the rocks. (For those who wonder what, if anything is worn under those robes, at least for Saturdays I have the answer and its nothing exotic . . . jeans, running shorts, etc.)

I was up on the river after a hike through its canyon, and we had a ball. Lots of good conversation, many of the monks speak some English, having for years been here in Dharamsala where English language education is the "#1 encouraged worldly skill" within the Tibetan community.

As an American, they wanted my opinions on:

(1) the 2008 Olympics in Beijing (I told them it is unfortunate that China seems to be rewarded in such a way but hoped that the Olympics would bring a shining of the world’s light on China, which could only be a good thing regarding human rights, and maybe Tibet too),

(2) what is a democracy and which countries in the world are not democracies? . . . (this a result of HHDL’s long-time efforts to set up a democratic Tibetan government in exile which would be securely in place when he passes),

(3) had I been to Tibet? (no, I explained that I was originally going to go there last year but chose not to when I discovered that the only way to visit Tibet as a tourist was a member of a tour group that is under-the-thumb guided by Chinese govt.-controlled travel services – this brought about a sad string of comments about their lost homeland.)

(4) had I heard news of HHDL’s visit to South America? (I had, and pulled from my knapsack today’s Times of India newspaper which had a story about his doings in Chile that we read together.)

(5) what did I think of George Bush? (taking note of the group, I tried to give a “compassionate” assessment).

(6) can the Mets *really* beat out the Braves this year – no, they didn't really ask that . . . (but bernie the optimist in brooklyn thinks they can . . . me, i think not, uhh uhh -- it's the *mutts*, remember??).


Speaking of English language education, beginning on Monday and for the next seven weekdays I’ll be “holding” a two-hour English conversation class with a group of recently arrived Tibetan refugees at the Tibet Charity Multi-Education Center down the hill from the main temple. I have no idea how many students I’ll have, how old they’ll be or even what I’m going to do. I guess we’ll start talking and see where it goes. I do know we’re going to laugh a lot. And I'll probably learn a little Tibetan, too.

Have also been working English with Lobsang, the 28-year old manager of the guest house at which I’m staying . . we’re working on his pronunciation -- what we do is sit in the garden, he reads from a book and we go over some of the words and letter combinations he needs help with (“th” is tough).

So, after two full days up here, life in “Dhasa” is comfortable and good . . . I have a small but growing circle of friends with names like Lobsang, Jigme and Tsering, people I did not know two days ago, and feel I’m doing some “good” work from the heart while soaking up as much as I can of this incredibly rich Tibetan Buddhist culture that so values the virtues of “quiet mind” and joy.

(Btw, “Tsering” means “good healthy life” in Tibetan and is equivalent to “God Bless You” i.e., what one says to another following a sneeze.)

Happy days, Mark

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Arrived!! -- No moss growing between these toes . . .

Hello. This is the first "blog post" from current trip to India. Posts from last year's travels can be found in the April and May 2005 archives and there are also many "picked-up" articles of interest posted in the archives as well, all accessible from the menu to the left. Thanks -- Mark.

Dharamsala, India -- It's Thursday mid-afternoon (April 27) here, which is exactly nine and-a-half hours ahead of (i.e., later than) 5am Florida.

I've been here for about an hour, following a trip that began about 70 hours ago with a drive to Orlando airport early Monday morning.

Fly to NYC, layover, fly 14+ hours to Delhi (watched two sunsets from the plane window, one over NYC and the other over Kabul). Get to Delhi and layover in the thick brown choking capital city, overnight train to a Himalyan hill station called Pathankot, switch to a rickety old bus for a totally brain/bone/body-jarring five hour ride over, around and through the Kangra Valley, straining up very steep narrow dusty roads, lots of switchbacks, ruts and rocks.
(Many of the roads up here are dirt and they wash out each year in the summer monsoon rains . . . is too much to keep up with, so the roads getting steeper and bumpier has become a seasonal occurrence.)

So yeah, it's been a lot of rough travel, but here's the thing -- you get up here in the Himalaya and there's something in the air unlike anywhere else, almost like the air is ultra-oxygenated. You don't walk, you kind of hop/skip. The skies are no longer grey/brown, they are bright blue, with vivid sunlight. The refreshingly cool brezes carry the aroma of the pine and cedar forests. And looking to the north and east, there's a closeup gigantic wall reaching into the sky, sheer Himalyan mountains covered in white snow from their peaks about halfway down. Sheer delight.

After crazy/hectic Delhi, the quiet here is of lullaby character. With the Dalai Lama away, its (extra) very peaceful and uncrowded. Incredibly "soft" after Delhi.

The rest of today I'll rest and acclimate (am not sure what altitude we're at but it takes a little getting used to, especially since the town is built along a ridgetop and much walking is either up or down hill), And I'll begin preparing for the days ahead, during which I intend to "dive in" to the culture and practice of Tibetan Buddhism as observer, writer/reporter, student and participant.

(Following the Chinese invasion and subsequent occupation of Tibet in 1949, Dharamsala is the town that was "given" as a settlement to the Dalai Lama and his escaped/exiled Tibetan people by Indian Prime Minister Nehru in 1959. China and India weren't very friendly back in those days . . . today the pro-Tibetan energy flowing from Dharamsala remains a huge fly in the Communist Chinese ointment).

"Dhasa" as it's called here is now home to the Tibetan government in exile, the Tibetan medicine and astrological institute, a massive Tibetan archive/library and many other cultural centers as well as the Dalai Lama and approximately 15,000 Tibetan refugees, with more arriving on a regular basis.

So I've checked into my lodgings, a small guesthouse in McLeodGanj (upper Dharanmsala) that is owned by the Dalai Lama's personal secretary (here, as in Tibetan Buddhist circles everywhere, the Dalai Lama is called "His Holiness" -- in future writings I'll refer to him as HHDL). On my way to get a momo (Tibetan dumpling) lunch -- best deal in town, five of 'em w/hot chili sauce for 10 rupees (a quarter) -- I detoured into one of the many internet "cafes" to check in and write this (The typical Dhasa internet cafe is just a storefront and a row of computers, Starbucks et al hasn't gotten up here yet.)

One not-here-last-year thing I noticed was a large sign on the road leading up to the ridgetop, welcoming travellers to "the Little Lhasa of India" . . . it looks like the local PR folks have been working. (Lhasa was the center of the Tibetan governent and Buddhist religion in Tibet, and is now, many years after the occupation, in the process of becoming a major real-life Chinese theme park -- kind of like a government-controlled Jurassic Park with real Tibetans instead of dinosaurs.)

All jokes and sarcasm aside, it feels good to be here.

This place is important: if Tibetan Buddhism -- one of the world's richest and wisest spiritual paths -- is going to survive in the years ahead, the depth and degree to which it does will be a direct result of what happens here in Dharamsala, and the future is taking shape today. (More about this in writings to come.)


Also want to mention that a back-home local Orlando Sentinel columinist, Lauren Ritchie, wrote a column in today's(?) paper about this trip . . . she was on my "friends" email list and responded to email i sent out last week, you can read her column online at,0,3969136.column
Lauren is very widely read and respected, it's really heartening to have her take the interest she has in these travels and spread the word among the readers in Lake County (FL) . . . I am touched and most appreciative.

I also learned that Lauren scraped my headshot photo from the Times of Tibet website and published it in the paper with the column. Well, I was appreciative . . .

-- More soon. Thank you. Mark

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Tibetan Chic: Why Buddhism Is So Hot Right Now

UWS Centre for Cultural Research; Public release date: 20-Apr-2006

Madonna made those little red Kabbalah bracelets cool for five minutes, and Tom Cruise talked up Scientology, but Buddhism firmly remains the religion du jour for Westerners looking for respite from a greedy, violent and stressed out world, according to a University of Western Sydney expert.

Dr Cristina Rocha, an ARC postdoctoral fellow with the UWS Centre for Cultural Research, is the author of 'Zen in Brazil: The Quest for Cosmopolitan Modernity', being launched today.

Dr Rocha says increasing numbers of Australians, like those in other Western countries, are shying away from their religion of birth and instead adopting 'spiritualities of choice'."

Buddhism is attractive because it provides a powerful antidote to the stress, greed and violence of today's world," says Dr Rocha.

"Buddhism is now the fastest growing religion in Australia, growing 80 per cent between the 1996 and 2001 census. Interestingly, this surge is not only due to migration, but also to large numbers of Australian's converting to Buddhism.

"People from Western cultures are drawn to Buddhism because it is seen as a 'feel good' spirituality -- not tied to a particular church or central leader -- and is associated with peace, love, happiness, justice and enlightenment.

"Westerners find it gives them tools to cope with the day-to-day, and helps them detach from the rampant consumerism and stresses of their busy lives." She says Western society's eagerness to embrace Buddhism stands in stark contrast to its misunderstanding, distrust and fear of a religion like Islam, which is labelled by Western media as 'violent' and linked to terrorism.

"One of the reasons for this is the fact the Dalai Lama received a Nobel peace prize in 1989 for his peaceful resistance against the Chinese invasion of Tibet," says Dr Rocha. Dr Rocha says Western society's flirtation with Buddhism was boosted in the 1960s, thanks to increased levels of migration and exposure to other cultures, and the flower-child generation's willingness to explore things spiritual and alternative.

However, it's grown into a full-blown love affair over the last few years, fuelled along by influential Hollywood stars, the media, and other Zen-loving celebrities. The fascination has even been given a label by commentators -- 'Tibetan chic'.

"Western culture's exposure to Buddhism is so much greater now. Books by the Dalai Lama are bestsellers, and people flock to see and hear him speak as he travels the world.

In recent years there have been many movies like 'The Little Buddha', 'Kundun', and 'Seven Years in Tibet', and non-Hollywood films like 'The Cup' and 'Samsra'," says Dr Rocha."

Celebrities like Richard Gere and the Beastie Boys have used their status to bring attention to the plight of Tibet and its struggle against China; and actress Uma Thurman's father, Robert, who is now a professor at Columbia University, was the first Western Tibetan Buddhist monk and an interpreter for the Dalai Lama.

"According to Dr Rocha, increasing numbers of Westerners today want to construct their own spiritual practice; a 'pick and mix' of religious elements that suit them best."

In contrast to Asia, the way Buddhism has been adopted in the West has meant that individualism is emphasised. Western followers regard meditation as the main practice of Buddhism," she says.

"Westerners see meditation as something you can do alone, any time, anywhere; as if there's no need for a temple, or a priest or monk. This enables an individual to embark on their own spiritual quest for enlightenment."

Dr Rocha says the extent of Buddhism's reach into other cultures is best illustrated by the Brazilian experience, which is the focus of her book.

"Brazil is one of the most predominantly Catholic countries on the planet, yet Buddhism has been experiencing a surge in popularity among the urban, cosmopolitan classes over a number of years," she says.

"In the 1990s, Buddhism in general, and Zen in particular, were adopted by national elites, the media and popular culture as a set of humanistic values to counter the rampant violence and crime in Brazilian society.

"'Zen in Brazil: The Quest for Cosmopolitan Modernity' will be launched tonight by Associate Professor Ghassan Hage, from the University of Sydney.

The launch is sponsored by the Japan Foundation and the UWS Centre for Cultural Research (CCR).

WHEN: Thursday 20 April 2006 TIME: 6.30pm WHERE: Japan Foundation, Chifley Plaza, Shop 23, Level 1, 2 Chifley Square, Sydney.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Giant Mao Statue Being Built in Tibet

Mao is still revered by many as the founder of modern China The Chinese authorities say they are putting up a huge statue of Chairman Mao Zedong in Tibet.

The 35-ton memorial is being built to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the former leader's death.

It is being erected in Gonggar County, near the Tibetan capital Lhasa, China's state-run news agency Xinhua said.

The statue will rise 7m from a 5m pedestal strengthened to withstand earthquakes. Mao Zedong ordered the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1950.

The statue will be the central landmark of Gonggar County's Shangcha square, which covers about 40,000 sq metres, and is scheduled for completion in July 2006. According to the Beijing authorities, the statue of Mao Zedong will be the largest of its kind in China and the first in Tibet.

Changsha, capital of Hunan province and Mao's hometown, has donated 6.5m yuan ($811,000; £461,000) towards the cost of the plaza and statue, Xinhua reported.

"Many Tibetan people suggested we should have a statue of Chairman Mao to show our gratitude," a local Communist Party official told Xinhua.

The BBC's Daniel Griffiths in China says the statue is likely to get a mixed reaction from many Tibetans.

From Beijing's perspective, the area has been part of China for centuries. But for many, the Chinese government is an occupying power which has shown scant regard for human rights or for Tibet's unique culture, our correspondent says.

Communist troops marched into Tibet in 1950. Nine years later, the region's spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, fled into exile along with tens of thousands of his followers after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

Since then, China has exerted tight control over the region and this new statue of Mao Zedong is another reminder of Beijing's influence there, our correspondent adds.

-- BBC News, April 16, 2006

Friday, April 14, 2006

Tibetan Medicine: One Woman's Story

By Katherine Russell Rich

The New York Times; June 8, 1999 -- Last fall, when Dr. Yeshi Dhonden, formerly the personal physician to the Dalai Lama, came to New York, a friend called me. "He's specializing in breast cancer treatment," she said.

"I think you should go see him." I was surprised. Not that the Tibetans were treating cancer, but that word of it hadn't got out on the cancer grapevine.

In 11 years as a breast cancer patient, I've watched as any hint, the slightest whisper, of a cure is instantly broadcast through the cancer community, thanks largely to the Internet. The on-line forums are giant bazaars that trade in information, some fantastically advanced, some fantastic. The headers on the bulletin boards could be an index to a book called "Every Oncological Proposition Ever Advanced": "Bone Marrow Transplant," "Shark Cartilage," "Be Careful of Your Bras, Ladies."

But I hadn't seen one that said "Tibetan Medicine." Later, after traveling to the Tibetan Medical Center in Dharamsala, India, I would discover why.

Wary of exploitation, the Tibetans are protective of their medical system, which is intricately linked to their culture. After centuries of fending off the Chinese, they are having no trouble dispatching the marauding vitamin companies that have come sniffing around, hoping to strike it rich with the next big alternative medicine trend.

There is another reason we're not seeing an abundance of cheesy advertisements for Tibetan medicine in the back of New Age magazines. It is gentle and slow-acting, entwined with Buddhist belief -- the precise opposite of the quick, magic medical fix that Americans prize (and which I was half hoping for when I made an appointment with Dr. Dhonden last fall).

With his shaved head and maroon robes, Dr. Dhonden looked wonderfully out of context in the basement of a dingy Manhattan apartment. The examination was brief. He took my pulse, examined the vial of urine I'd been instructed to bring and, through an interpreter, asked about my medical history, including a few oddly pointed questions. Did I make frequent trips to the bathroom at night? Strangely, I had just seen a doctor for that complaint.

He then listed foods to avoid (barbecue, sugar, cantaloupe); provided me with four varieties of brown herbal pills (one of which had the distinct aroma of a barnyard), and, on my way out, barked one final observation in Tibetan. "Doctor says there's something wrong with your liver," the interpreter translated.

"The Tibetans always say it's the liver," my dinner companion at a party that night scoffed. After thinking it over, I joined her in smirking.

At Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, where I was a patient, I was regularly scanned upside and down. If my liver was off, I would know. But the next week, when a technician phoned with the results of my monthly blood work, he said: "Don't worry. Everything's fine. Well, except for one of your liver functions. It's a little high."

I took the pills, and two months later, the test results were normal again.

Last month, when I was making plans to go to India with a friend, Connie Harris Nagle, I asked if she'd be interested in making the trek to the Tibetan Medical and Astrological Center in Dharamsala, the former British hill station where the Tibetan Government has established itself in exile. Ms. Nagle worked with Tibetan refugees for three years and is researching a book on Tibetan metaphor. She is also a breast cancer survivor.

"Let's go," she said.

Before departing, I made inquiries about Tibetan medicine with several Western doctors, a few of whom were advocates.

"It's one of the most profound medical healing systems on the planet, because its focus is so much on spiritual practice," said Woodson C. Merrell, a doctor who helped organize last year's First International Congress on Tibetan Medicine, in Washington, which drew specialists from about 20 countries to discuss aspects of the practice: herbology, meditation, moxibustion (the burning of herbs into acupressure points in the skin), spiritual right action (spiritually desirable behavior, according to Buddhist precept), subtle body channels that cannot be detected by modern science and incantations to the blue (the color of healing) Medicine Buddha, the particularly Tibetan incarnation of the deity.

"In the West, we have organ-based disease categories," said Dr. Mehmet Oz, a co-founder of Complementary Care Services at New York Presbyterian Hospital.

"Their treatment is systemic. They don't just give everyone with diabetes the same herbs. Treatment is very different, depending on a person's 'humor,' on whether they have an imbalance of what they designate wind, bile or phlegm.' "

I also met a doctor who was not a wholesale proponent of Tibetan medicine. "People romanticize natural remedies," said Dr. Richard A. Friedman, the director of psychopharmacology at the New York Weill Cornell Center of New York Presbyterian Hospital.

"They think that if it goes under the rubric of 'natural,' it must be good. But nature also brings tornadoes," Dr. Friedman said, adding that "with untested natural treatments, there can be a big problem with drug interactions."

I also visited the one Tibetan doctor in New York, Choeying Phuntsok, a consultant at the Meridian Medical Center on East 30th Street in Manhattan.

"All disease is caused by ignorance," he said, when the conversation took a philosophical turn. "As long as you haven't achieved enlightenment, you're going to be driven by anger, ignorance and desire. Those three act on phlegm, bile and wind to produce illness."

And I phoned two educated observers. "Once all the legalities are sorted out, Tibetan medicine could be a very interesting boom," said Robert Thurman, the professor of Indo-Tibetan studies at Columbia University. Eliot Tokar, a lecturer on Tibetan medicine, said woefully: "It's the last great product line. The Gold Rush is starting. And as with any gold rush, it's bound to leave a few holes in the ground."

Any prospectors will have to contend with the trip to Dharamsala, which is winding, long and wearying. There are no flights in, no airport. After landing in Delhi at 10 P.M., we scrambled to board a bus leaving at 1 A.M., then sat bolt upright through the night as our driver, a washcloth draped over his head, sang loud Hindu chants and kept time with the horn.

Through my window, smeared with the coconut hair oil of previous passengers, I could make out many holes in the ground, although they seemed like the product of disrepair, rather than any stampede. A few cradled nesting sacred cows.

Eight hours later, after crossing the Punjab, we reached our terminus, Jalandhar. It was another three hours before we arrived at the foothills of the Himalayas, and Dharamsala.

Tibet was known as the "country of medicine," Terry Clifford notes in her book "Tibetan Buddhist Medicine and Psychiatry" (Weiser), and it doesn't take long in Dharamsala to realize that the exiles have reconstructed as much of the old country as possible.

Once your eyes have adjusted to the astonishing color and sights -- monkeys perched on low-slung roofs, maroon-and-orange robed monks dodging rickshaws -- you notice the signs everywhere for medical practices: Delek Western-style hospital, Dr. Sant Marwah Clinic.

They're scattered up and down the hilly roads that lead to Men-Tsee-Khan, the sprawling white Tibetan Medical and Astrological complex that was founded in 1961 by the Dalai Lama. From our lodgings at the placid Kashmir Cottage, run by the Dalai Lama's younger brother, we could see the white prayer flags that fluttered from the roof.

The pungent smell of herbs drying, combined with the altitude, made me light-headed on our first morning's tour, through the room where our astrologers filled orders for star charts, through the clinic where nuns and students lined up beside a condom dispenser for free consultations, in the plain, sea-green ward where six men lay on cots.

One's eyes were yellow with hepatitis. Another, a boy who had recently escaped from Tibet, was shaking with abdominal pain. "Doctor's planning to keep him for nine days," our guide, Tseten Dorjee, the assistant to the clinic's director, said. "If he doesn't get better, we'll move him across the street to Delek hospital."

"But what if it's appendicitis?" my friend whispered, and lagging behind, we considered the advantages of Western medicine.

The tour ended in Dorjee's office. On the computer behind him, three ovals with the Dalai Lama's face swirled on the screen saver. We talked about how knockoff artists were peddling bootleg "precious pills," the highly valued Tibetan mixtures of as many as 153 herbs and minerals, including gold. To try and thwart them, Men-Tsee Khan had begun stamping all containers with holograms of the myroban plant, Dorjee said.

He pulled out a notebook fat with requests from drug and vitamin companies. So far, one pharmaceutical firm, Padma A.G., a Swiss concern, was making headway. Otherwise, "We say, 'Send us proposal,' " he said. "We say, 'We have to look into the legalities.'

"There are not enough herbs for ourselves," he continued. "How can we collaborate with them?"
On the way out, we met with Tenzin Choedrak, the Dalai Lama's current personal physician.
Dr. Choedrak, 73, was stooped and looked frail. He had a cauliflower nose, bunched and flat. For 22 years, he had been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese. After he escaped, he lectured about how he had survived psychologically.

We spoke briefly, then made plans to meet the next morning for a medical consultation.
We arrived at 9. Outside, children shrieked in the courtyard.

Inside, the air smelled like cloves.

From his daybed, Dr. Choedrak motioned me to sit, clasped my wrist.

"How long you stay?" he asked through the interpreter, and for a moment, I was worried that he was considering sending me to the ward. His voice was shaky, but the pressure of his fingers on my wrist was surprisingly firm.

No sweet, no sour, no meat, the interpreter informed me, before handing over packets of herbs, including one that contained six silk-wrapped precious pills. "To prevent chemicals and for sleep and for blood purification," she explained. "And to improve energy. Your hemoglobin is low." I raised one eyebrow.

At Sloan Kettering, they'd just recently detected mild anemia.

In context, the experience was impressive. But later I found myself reflecting on whether Tibetan medicine could be transported out of context, to the United States. One night we had dinner with Jempa Kalsan, the center's senior astrologer. "I forecast best time for treatment, when the best time to pick herbs is," he said, and I tried to imagine what the Food and Drug Administration's position on medical astrology would be.

But the differences between East and West became most apparent to me one afternoon during a conversation with Nawang Dorjee, a Fulbright scholar, director of education at the Tibetan Children's Village in Dharamsala, and an old friend of my travel mate's from her Tibetan Refugee Project days.

"When I was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago," Connie said, catching Dorjee up on her life, "I went to a Tibetan doctor. 'Prepare for your death,' he told me. 'Prepare for your death!' But I've been fine."

"Oh, that's so Tibetan," Dorjee, who is not related to Tseten Dorjee, said, smiling. "What he meant was, stop collecting bad deeds. Start praying. Be at peace -- because we believe in reincarnation. Become ready for your next life."

Not bad advice, we agreed.

"But can you imagine a doctor at Sloan-Kettering telling a patient that: 'Prepare for your death?' " I said, and the image made us laugh so hard we doubled over.

"Prepare for your death" became a running punch line for the rest of the trip. "Prepare for your death!" one of us would say, and the other would collapse in laughter.

And maybe it was the pills, or maybe the magnificent rise of the Himalayas above us, but funny thing was, we both agreed, we'd never felt more alive.

Copyright, The New York Times

In China: Web Users Urged to Help Chinese Censors

China's Official Internet Industry Group Calls on Members to Help Government Censor Subversive Content

BEIJING, Friday, April 14, 2006 (AP) -- China's official Internet industry association is calling on its members to help the government suppress material deemed subversive or immoral.

"Unhealthy information" online has harmed Chinese children and threatens social stability, the Internet Society of China said in a statement. The 5-year-old group is the government-sanctioned association for Internet service providers and Chinese Web sites.

"We should run our business in a civilized way," said the statement issued Wednesday and reported by the government's Xinhua News Agency. "We should not produce, disseminate and spread information that harms state security, social stability and information that violates laws and regulations and social morality."

The group called for its 2,600 member companies to supervise content, delete "unhealthy" information and oppose acts that undermine "Internet civilization," Xinhua said.

China's communist government encourages Internet use for education and business but tries to block access to sensitive material. The country has the world's second-largest Internet population after the United States with 110 million people online.

The Internet Society statement didn't give any examples of material that members should suppress or say what prompted the appeal. Chinese online filters have blocked access to foreign sites about Tibet, China's pro-democracy movement, human rights and the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement.

The government also launches frequent crackdowns on China-based sites with sexually oriented material. The release of the society's statement coincided with a visit to Beijing by the chief executive of Google Inc., who defended the search engine's decision to cooperate with government censorship.

Activists have criticized Mountain View, Calif.-based Google for blocking access to banned material from its Chinese-language site,

"We believe that the decision that we made to follow the law in China was absolutely the right one," Google CEO Eric Schmidt said Wednesday (April 12, 2006) at a news conference.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is not the "Panchen Lama" : UN Expert

[Phayul, Thursday, April 13, 2006 21:25]

By Ngawang C. Drakmargyapa

United Nations, Geneva, 13 April 2006 -- China claimed to a UN rights expert that Gedhun Choekyi is not the "Panchen Lama" but merely an ordinary Tibetan child.

This official communication from Beijing is seen in the latest report by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief to the UN Commission on Human Rights which held its last meeting on 27 March, after sixty years of existence.

On 9 June 2005, Ms. Asma Jahangir from Pakistan, the UN expert on religious freedom, in a letter to the Chinese authorities underlining the tenth anniversary of the disappearance of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima expressed the concern "about the grave interference with the freedom of belief of the Tibetan Buddhists who have the right to determine their clergy in accordance with their own rites and who have been deprived of their religious leader."

According to Ms. Jahangir's report made now available on the website of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (, on 7 September 2005, China responded that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, "is in good health and just like other children, is leading a normal, happy life and receiving a good cultural education."

However, China failed to elaborate what this "good cultural education" meant.

In her observation on the case of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, regarded as the Eleventh Panchen Lama of Tibet by Tibetan Buddhist all over the world, Ms. Jahangir reminded to the Chinese authorities that the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child remained concern that it "has not yet been possible to have this information (provided by China on Gedhun Choekyi Nyima to the Committee) confirmed by an independent expert.

"The Committee on the Rights of the Child while reviewing China's second periodic report in September 2005 called upon China to receive an independent expert to visit Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. However, China avoids concrete answer to the appeal and recently filed its candidacy for one of the thirteen Asian seats in the new UN Human Rights Council.

Since 1997, China has failed to provide written document as demanded by the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances of the Commission on Human Rights to support China's claim that Gedhun Choekyi Nyima and his family wished not to be disturbed by outsiders.

The Working Group again visited the case of the Eleventh Panchen Lama's disappearance at its meeting in Bangkok last June, sources at the Office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights say. The Group considers the case of Gedhun Choekyi Nyima as one of its outstanding ones to be resolved.

The Working Group stated that it "would appreciate being provided by the Government of China with documents supporting its statement that he and his parents had appealed to the Government for protection and at present are "leading normal lives and enjoying perfect health."

The UN expert mandate on religious freedom of the Commission on Human Rights when held by Mr. Abdelfattah Amor of Tunisia, became the first UN human rights expert in history to be received by China on a fact-finding mission in November 1994 which included a stop-over in Lhasa.

In the fact-finding report Mr. Amor told the Commission that he "noted the extremely devout attitude perceptible in Tibet, the full scale and extent of which has not, perhaps, been sufficiently appreciated so far. This factor must be taken into account when analysing the religious situation in Tibet."

Gedhun Choekyi Nyima's case was also raised to the Chinese authorities by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Louise Arbour, when she paid an official visit to China last August.Ngawang C. Drakmargyapon can be reached at

"Panchen Lama" Makes Rare Public Appearance

HANGZHOU, CHINA: 13 April 2006 (AP) -- China's controversial choice for a Tibetan holy figure made his first major appearance before an international audience Thursday, saying Tibetan Buddhists should be patriotic and "defend the nation."

Gyaltsen Norbu, 16, is the second-highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism and a key figure in the struggle for the religion's future that pits China's officially atheistic communist regime against supporters of the exiled Dalai Lama.

Norbu is believed to live in Beijing amid intense secrecy and is almost never seen in public.

He was seated onstage at the opening of the five-day World Buddhist Forum, a gathering of about 1,000 monks, nuns and scholars from more than 30 countries that China is using to showcase its cultural diplomacy and its willingness to use traditional beliefs to ease social tensions.

The tall, thin teenager delivered a 10-minute speech in Tibetan that, according to an official translation, dwelt on Buddhism's responsibility to foster patriotism and national unity.

"Defending the nation and working for the people is a solemn commitment Buddhism has made to the nation and society," Norbu said.

He praised his predecessor, who was imprisoned for years after openly criticizing Beijing's politics in Tibet, for having made "outstanding contributions to the unity of the country and the solidarity of the people."

It was believed to be the first time Norbu took part in an international religious gathering, an apparent sign that Beijing is seeking greater acceptance for its choice of the Panchen Lama. Scores of police and plainclothes security agents guarded the hall where Norbu was speaking.

Beijing installed Norbu as the 11th Panchen Lama in 1995, rejecting another boy chosen by the Dalai Lama. That other boy, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, has not been seen in public since and Chinese officials refuse to say where he is.

The opening ceremony of the World Buddhist Forum in the resort city of Hangzhou southwest of Shanghai featured speeches by Chinese officials heralding the country's social progress under communist rule. Monks and nuns stood silently against a backdrop of a huge picture of Buddha flanked by the five-color Buddhist flag.

Officials said Wednesday that the Dalai Lama -- the world's most famous Buddhist person -- wasn't welcome.

"The Dalai Lama is not purely a religious figure," said Qi Xiaofei, a Communist Party official who is vice-director of the State Administration for Religious Affairs.

"He is also a saboteur of ethnic unity and a pursuer of splittism, so his presence here would have constituted an inharmonious voice when what we're seeking is harmony," Qi said.

Qi's comments echoed China's long-standing rejection of the Dalai Lama, who fled to India in 1959 following an abortive uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet. China claims the Dalai Lama's recognition of a new Panchen Lama violated traditional codes that had at times given the Chinese emperor a role in that process.

Supporters of the Dalai Lama deny that, saying Beijing was angered by what it saw as open defiance. Since the Panchen and Dalai lamas play a major role in recognizing each other's successors, Beijing's influence over the Panchen Lama potentially gives it additional leverage over a future Dalai Lama.

A spokesman for the Dalai Lama on Thursday again rejected Beijing's right to make the final decision on reincarnations.

"Reincarnation is a religious belief and it cannot be decided by an administrative office," Thubten Samphel said by telephone from the Tibetan government-in-exile's headquarters in the northern Indian town of Dharmsala. China maintains strict controls over all religions and the rules are especially tight in Tibet, where Buddhism is an integral part of the restive Himalayan region's separate identity.

While China has allowed the rebuilding of many of the thousands of temples destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, monasteries, temples, mosques and churches are still barred from operating schools, hospitals or other civic institutions.

The restrictions remain despite China's increased willingness to give religion its due as a way of promoting stability in times of rapid social and economic change. Experts say Beijing especially favors Buddhism and Confucianism because, unlike Christianity, they are viewed as homegrown and not threatening to authority.

Among the hand-picked attendees at the conference, one Tibetan monk praised the regime for its greater tolerance."Things are more open and Buddhism is now developing very fast in China," said Saichun Lodan, dressed like Norbu in deep red robes with a saffron lining.

Of the young Panchen's speech, he said: "He's studying very hard and growing very well."

Monday, April 10, 2006

India to Tibet via Rail?

By Zhang Liuhao
Shanghai Daily; 2006-04-10

CHINA is planning to extend the newly-built rail link between Qinghai and Tibet to India, as part of efforts to boost its connection with the world, Wen Wei Po newspaper said today, citing a State Council official.

Besides connecting to southern Asia, the country is also considering the construction of international railways in south China's Yunnan Province to link it to Southeast Asia; in northeast China to connect with Russia's railway network; and in northwestern Xinjiang to stretch into Russia in the 11th Five-Year Plan and in the future, the Hong Kong-based newspaper said.

The international rail links are expected to step up China's policy of opening up, solving the transport problem that curbs further cooperation with neighboring countries in energy and mineral resources.

"Considering the stable relations between Tibet and neighboring countries as well as their economic development, it is very necessary to pave tracks into South Asian countries," said State Council official Hu Changshun.

The Qinghai-Tibet railway will be extended south to Shigatse and will then connect with India's railway network. It will link China to southern Asia and also for southern Asian countries to link the world, Hu added.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Tibetan Traditional Astronomy Rivals West in Lunar Forecasts

Shanghai Daily -- April 6, 2006.

WHAT is Mercury's rotating speed this year and how it will affect the climate of Earth with its given position in the zodiac?

These are the questions facing Ceyang, a 21-year-old Tibetan woman, and her 39 Tibetan classmates at the training school of traditional Tibetan astronomy.

According to traditional Tibetan astronomy, a unit of time is based on breathing of an adult, so one day is a cycle of 60 hours, instead of the universally recognized 24 hours. And both the universe and the human body are composed of five elements - water, wood, gold, fire and earth - and changes of these elements exert varying influences on human health.

Pu Qung, head of the teaching office with the three-year training school of traditional Tibetan astronomy affiliated to the Tibetan Medical College, said traditional astronomy is a branch of Tibetan medical science.

"I believe Tibetan medicine emphasizes clinical treatment, while traditional Tibetan astronomy lays the stress on preventive medicine, and on harmony between nature and mankind," he said.

Traditional Tibetan astronomers, whose number is declining, are still highly regarded. Many farmers and herdsmen turn to them for advice on marriages, funerals, planting, herding, and ailments.

Tibet has colleges of higher learning that are dedicated to mass training of Tibetan medicine professionals. But for traditional Tibetan astronomy, education was restricted to apprenticeship, which is not conducive to keeping Tibetan culture alive, he said.

The Tibetan Medical College is the only modern academy of higher learning for Tibetan medicine, and only students in their fourth year at the college can take courses in traditional Tibetan astronomy.

Last summer, the college inaugurated the training school as the only legal establishment to offer academic diplomas in traditional Tibetan astronomy.

Norbu Toinzhub, in charge of the training school, is proud that aided by a wooden "sand" table and a short piece of wire, traditional Tibetan astronomers can calculate the timing for cosmic phenomena such as solar or lunar eclipses in roughly same time period as scientists with modern technology.

A prediction according to the Tibetan calendar, compiled by the Tibetan Medical College, says a lunar eclipse will take place at 2:05am, Beijing time, on September 8 and will end at 3:37am that day. The forecast for the end of the eclipse is just one minute off, compared with calculations made with telescopes and computers, said Chinese astronomers.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

"Westerners Are Too Self-Absorbed"

The Daily Telegraphy, London -- 01 April 2006

By Alice Thomson

Tsering Wangmo is shaking uncontrollably as tears pour down her cheeks. Still sobbing, she pulls up her top and slowly turns around to show me a fretwork of scars. They criss-cross her body from shoulders to waist.

"My crime," she explains when she is calmer, "was to be found by the police with a picture of the Dalai Lama. I was dragged through the streets of Lhasa by my hair, beaten with electric prongs, then thrown into jail for three years."

"Whoever shows you greatest kindness, they are your family."

Her waterlogged, open-air prison in Tibet was shared with around 1,000 other women. "We were tortured, raped, hung upside down for hours," she says. "Many died." On her release, she discovered that her husband had been forced to marry a Chinese woman, so she took her children and fled barefoot across the Himalayas to find solace with the Dalai Lama.

She is one of thousands of Tibetans who have made the trek to Dharmsala, an old British hill station in northern India, to seek safety with their exiled leader.

Here, they are joined by hundreds of Westerners who come, clutching their Lonely Planet guides, for a glimpse of their guru. While Tsering turns her prayer-wheel in the refugee centre, a rotund Austrian biscuit heiress called Heidi Gudrun is staying in a deluxe suite at one of the new hotels that has sprung up nearby to cater for well-heeled travellers.

Heidi seems just as miserable as Tsering - but for a vastly different reason. "For 15 years, I have tried to lose weight," she says. "I have lost two husbands, I have had my stomach stapled - the Dalai Lama is my last hope."

It is the peculiar fate of this Dalai Lama that he serves as a guru for overweight biscuit heiresses as well as a living god to 10 million Tibetan Buddhists.

His status as a deity dates back to when he was two. The monks who found him playing in a farmyard in north-eastern Tibet brought him to the capital of Lhasa, where he was pronounced the 14th reincarnation of Buddha after correctly pointing to his predecessor's drinking bowl and false teeth in the Potala Palace.

Forty-eight years have now elapsed since he was forced to flee Lhasa for the safety of India.

During that period, more than a million Tibetans have been killed by the Chinese because of their refusal to stop worshipping the Lord of Compassion, and more than 5,000 temples have been destroyed. Tibetans who shout his name in the marketplaces risk having their tongues ripped out.

In the West, the 70-year-old Dalai Lama can fill Wembley faster than Coldplay. There are films about his life, his image is on yoga mats and he has guest-edited French Vogue. His books on how to achieve happiness have topped the New York Times bestseller list.

Teaching the virtues of compassion, kindness and tolerance to both East and West must make for a complicated, exhausting life.

At 8am, as I walk past the yak-tea stalls to his bungalow - the Heavenly Abode - people are already queueing in the drizzle to catch a glimpse of his Holiness. The Dalai Lama has been awake since 3.30am, praying and ordaining monks in the temple.

My first glimpse of the living god comes as a short, squat man runs through the rain from his garden into his sitting-room, his maroon robes flapping behind him. The broad face, set into permanent laughter-lines, is unmistakable. He is chuckling.

The white-painted room contains a man-sized bronze Buddha and a sofa and two armchairs that look as if they might have come from John Lewis's furniture department.

After I have offered the Dalai Lama the traditional kurta (a white scarf to bless), he throws himself into one of the chairs and stretches out his feet.

"At least monks don't need hair-dryers," he says, chortling. His readiness to break into laughter is his most striking characteristic: his laugh is uncontainable and uncontrollable, ricocheting around the room even when he is discussing atrocities.

"What shall we talk about today?" he asks, rubbing his hands together as I tell him about my meetings with Tsering and Heidi. He chooses to discuss the West before Tibet.

"It is fascinating," he says, speaking in slightly stilted English. "In the West, you have bigger homes, yet smaller families; you have endless conveniences - yet you never seem to have any time. You can travel anywhere in the world, yet you don't bother to cross the road to meet your neighbours; you have more food than you could possibly eat, yet that makes women like Heidi miserable."

The West's big problem, he believes, is that people have become too self-absorbed. "I don't think people have become more selfish, but their lives have become easier and that has spoilt them. They have less resilience, they expect more, they constantly compare themselves to others and they have too much choice - which brings no real freedom."

He has lived as a monk since childhood, but the Dalai Lama views marriage as one of the chief ways of finding happiness. "Too many people in the West have given up on marriage. They don't understand that it is about developing a mutual admiration of someone, a deep respect and trust and awareness of another human's needs," he says. "The new easy-come, easy-go relationships give us more freedom - but less contentment."

Although he is known for his tolerant, humane views, he is a surprisingly harsh critic of homosexuality. If you are a Buddhist, he says, it is wrong. "Full stop."

No way round it.

"A gay couple came to see me, seeking my support and blessing. I had to explain our teachings. Another lady introduced another woman as her wife - astonishing. It is the same with a husband and wife using certain sexual practices. Using the other two holes is wrong."

At this point, he looks across at his interpreter - who seems mainly redundant - to check that he has been using the right English words to discuss this delicate matter. The interpreter gives a barely perceptible nod.

"A Western friend asked me what harm could there be between consenting adults having oral sex, if they enjoyed it," the Dalai Lama continues, warming to his theme. "But the purpose of sex is reproduction, according to Buddhism. The other holes don't create life. I don't mind - but I can't condone this way of life."

He laughs when I change the subject and talk about the West's attempts to become more spiritual through yoga, massage and acupuncture. "These are just physical activities," he says. "To be happier, you must spend less time plotting your life and be more accepting."

The Dalai Lama has been criticised for becoming too obsessed with the fripperies of the West: he is too much in awe of celebrities, say his detractors, and too keen to appear in glossy magazines -- he has even been pictured in Hello!, alongside the Duchess of York.

"Some say I am a good person, some say I am a charlatan -- I am just a monk," he says, smiling broadly. "I never asked people like Richard Gere to come, but it is foolish to stop them. I have Tibetans, Indians, backpackers, Aids patients, religious people, politicians, actors and princesses. My attitude is to give everyone some of my time. If I can contribute in any way to their happiness, that makes me happy."

Many of the Western women who queue up to be blessed, he says, have told him they feel they can talk to him about anything.

"I see women who have had abortions because they thought a child would ruin their lives. A baby seemed unbearable - yet now they are older, they are unable to conceive. I feel so sorry for them."

They need to discover an inner strength, he tells them. "The West is now quite weak - it can't cope with adversity and it has little compassion for others. People are like plants - they can develop ways of countering negative forces. If people took more responsibility for their own problems, they would become more self-confident."

He does not believe that you have to be religious in order to have a meaningful life. "But you have to have morals, to strive for basic, good human qualities. I don't want to convert people to Buddhism - all major religions, when understood properly, have the same potential for good."

Yet while he has been sitting in his bungalow in the Himalayas, religion has turned ugly, with fanatics stirring up hatred, "Fundamentalism is terrifying because it is based purely on emotion, rather than intelligence. It prevents followers from thinking as individuals and about the good of the world," he says.

An avid listener of the BBC World Service (as well as of many soaps), he was horrified to hear about Britain's "home-grown" suicide bombers. "In any country or society, there will be rich, poor, different races, different religions - but this is all secondary. Your country should be your common ground.

"This new terrorism has been brewing for many years. Much of it is caused by jealousy and frustration at the West because it looks so highly developed and successful on television. Leaders in the East use religion to counter that, to bind these countries together."

Terrorists, he warns, must be treated humanely. "Otherwise, the problem will escalate. If there is one Bin Laden killed today, soon there will be 10 Bin Ladens. Awesome. Ten Bin Ladens killed, the hatred is spread; 100 bombed, and 1,000 lose members of their families."

So does he think the war in Iraq was wrong?

"The method was very violent. Violence is always unpredictable -- it can produce a lot of problems," says the Dalai Lama, whose religion forbids him from killing so much as a mosquito. It is pointless pressing him further: despite his outward simplicity, he has considerable diplomatic skills when it comes to issues that are best not confronted head-on by an exile who relies on the world to protect him from the Chinese.

Recently, I tell him, Tony Blair said that God would judge him on his decision to go to war with Iraq. The Dalai Lama snorts and swings his Dr Martens-clad feet in amusement. "Surely, history will judge. Buddha was always against violence, but I don't know about God."

Mr Blair's pronouncement seems to fascinate him, and he teases away at the subject: "During the Second World War, Churchill prayed. That's fine. But God should be above politics and political decision-making -- he is like the Queen."

This is a typical pronouncement: oblique, mischievous, yet leaving you in no doubt that he does not fully approve of Mr Blair dragging the Almighty into global politics.

The Dalai Lama is no innocent when it comes to realpolitik: he regularly chats to Nelson Mandela, debates ethical issues with the Pope, and knows many world leaders personally through his attempts to highlight the Tibetan cause. Although he appears not to approve of the war in Iraq, he nevertheless admires President Bush.

"He is very straightforward," says the Dalai Lama - and it's clear that this is high praise indeed. "On our first visit, I was faced with a large plate of biscuits. President Bush immediately offered me his favourites, and after that, we got on fine. On my next visit, he didn't mind when I was blunt about the war. By my third visit, I was ushering him into the Oval Office. I was astonished by his grasp of Buddhism."

On Mr Blair, the Dalai Lama is less forthcoming. When I ask what he thinks of the Prime Minister, he replies: "He smiles a lot." Oddly, this doesn't come out sounding like a compliment, and he refuses to elaborate, ducking expertly into another subject. Now, John Major - he'd like to meet him, he says. "I saw him on television - he looks rather gentle."

The Dalai Lama believes that the British should look to the Archbishop of Canterbury, whom he admires, for spiritual and moral guidance.

But the Church of England, I say, seems tied up in the tortuous question of whether it should accept homosexual priests. And when the Archbishop visited Darfur, he did not exactly dwell on the subject of genocide; nor have Western leaders in general.

"Sometimes," says the Dalai Lama, "situations are unbearable -- it is easier for the world to turn a blind eye."

But wasn't he angry when the West refused to do anything while Tibetans were being slaughtered by the Chinese? "We need to prevent these genocides happening in the first place. In Africa, it is due to many factors: local leaders are obsessed with guns, and weapons are encouraged by the West. Education should be pushed instead. Hunger and drought also cause problems. These countries have become independent only in the last few decades -- they are still learning. Religious leaders need to show them the way."

He is curiously reticent about discussing Tibet, insisting that he doesn't want to focus on his own problems. "Some nomads still have a very low standard of life," he says finally. "There are more cars, better medical facilities and schools - but you only benefit if you are Chinese."

I keep thinking of Tsering and what she has been through. And surely the Dalai Lama must feel guilty that so many are suffering in his name while he flies around the world, meeting the great and the good.

"Buddhists are taught that if there is something you can do about a situation, you must do it immediately. But if there is nothing you can do, you can't worry - that is indulgent."

Anger, he says, is definitely not the answer. "Anger prevents you making good decisions. I need to remain calm and stable. It happened -- I am sorry. I will be here for her [Tsering], but it is her religion that will give her the strength to continue."

Nor does he feel he should have stayed in Tibet to protest with his people. "In Tibet, I would have been a prisoner, a puppet leader. But it doesn't mean I ever forget about Tibet. I never stop thinking about it, and I tell the refugees that if they can, they must return one day or the Chinese will have won."

He has written dozens of books on happiness -- but can exiles ever be happy? "I was happiest in my childhood when my mother smiled, or my teacher let me off lessons. But as an adult, life without challenges is meaningless. Now, I feel happy because my flowers are growing in this rain even though I know that, at the same time, my country is facing elimination."

I ask if his tours and books have made him rich. "Everyone thinks I am. Even my friends. But the money goes to the Tibetan cause [for refugees, such as Tsering]. I get 25 rupees [about 32p] a day from the Indian government. My senior officials get 75. We don't get fat."

Like all Tibetan monks, he eats an early breakfast, then lunch and no supper. "My younger brother, who lives with me, teases me and says I rise so early only to get to the table first because I am so greedy. I eat what I am offered. It's the pig diet - a little bit of everything: porridge, meat, Tibetan dumplings, vegetables.

"That is what your girl Heidi should do. No faddy diets. It is a waste of life to be always thinking about the next meal if you don't have to."

The Dalai Lama's way of life is frugal - but not punishing. He doesn't have to squash into economy seats when he takes off on his global tours, for example. "If I fly abroad, I fly business class - or my robes engulf everyone," he explains. "But first class is an outrageous luxury."

His only other indulgence is watchstraps. "I love them. My glasses, my shoes, my robes are always the same. The watchstrap, I change - I collect them."

But he would hate to own anything else. "It is too exhausting. After a recent earthquake, my bungalow needed rebuilding. I said I could spend 20 lakhs [about £25,800], but soon the bills were going up. Just the foundations cost 30 lakhs. I finally said: 'Enough. I will live in half a house.' It made me understand your Western frustrations."

Nor does he mind that he has never married. "When I was young, inside the Potala Palace, it was almost like a prison with my tutor. I used to wish I could be like the food sellers below my window. If I hadn't been chosen, I might have become an engineer. I love mechanics. I might have stayed on the farm and married my neighbour. We would both be old now.

"But it wouldn't be an easier life. I would be worrying about dying before her, leaving her alone, about my children. In some ways, being a monk is simpler."

Not just a monk but a living god. Does he worry about the hardships that will face his next reincarnation, who will have to stand up to the Chinese while still a child? "If I die today, the lamas are already discussing the 15th Dalai Lama. I hope he returns to Tibet, even if I can't.

"But the Tibetans always say: wherever you feel most comfortable, that is your home. Whoever shows you greatest kindness and comfort, they are your family. So I am happy to die in India."

Exiled Tibetans in India to Adopt Organic Farming -- March 31, 2006

Tibetans in India is to take up organic farming according to the decision taken by the Tibetan government in exile, which is based in the hill town of Dharmasala.

'Under an integrated development programme by 2007, $25 million will be spent on organic fertilisers,' said a spokesman of the Tibetan government led by the Dalai Lama.

There are over 100,000 Tibetan refugees living in India and some of them have taken around 20,000 acres of farmland on lease in several parts of India, including Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka.

Tibetans are not allowed to own land in India.

'Even though there is a sharp rise in the production of crops due to the use of chemical fertilisers, we all know the damage caused to the environment by chemicals,' said the spokesman.

'The huge benefits to all by adopting organic fertilisers is a well known fact now,' he said.

Tibetan refugees grow several crops on leased land provided by the Indian government, including wheat, rice, corn and linseed.

The first wave of Tibetan refugees fled Tibet in 1959 along with their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, after a failed uprising against Chinese occupation.

Besides farming, Tibetans are also engaged as traders and shopkeepers in several cities and towns of India.

"Song of Sadness" from Drapchi Prison

International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) -- March 31, 2006

The release of 34-year old Tibetan nun Phuntsog Nyidron into exile in the United States on March 15 marks the end of the imprisonment in Tibet for a courageous and determined group of women who became known as the "singing nuns" of Drapchi prison (Tibet Autonomous Region Prison).

All of the nuns were imprisoned while in their teens or twenties for peaceful protests against Chinese rule over Tibet, and all of them suffered beating, torture and solitary confinement during their imprisonment. They were known as the "singing nuns" after they secretly recorded songs about the Dalai Lama and Tibet's future on a tape cassette that was smuggled out of prison and reached the West.

ICT has obtained a copy of the court document from Tibet which gives details of the sentences and "counter-revolutionary crimes" of the 14 singing nuns, which is made publicly available for the first time (see below).

The document makes it clear that the nuns' non-violent acts of defiance and continued comradeship and loyalty to the Dalai Lama in prison were regarded by the authorities as threats to the Chinese state.

Former Drapchi cell-mates and friends Phuntsog Nyidron and Ngawang Sangdrol were reunited on Phuntsog Nyidron's release to the U.S. on March 15, 2006. Thirty-four year old Phuntsog Nyidron, who has suffered from ill-health following torture while in custody, was accompanied by a U.S. Embassy official on the flight and released into ICT's care on arrival.

The court document states that Phuntsog Nyidron, a former chant-mistress from Mechungri nunnery who served 15 years in prison, was one of the "main criminals" among the group of nuns who recorded the songs.

The court hearing, which was presided over by three Tibetan judges, stated that the 14 nuns recorded "the reactionary song: "The Chinese have taken Tibet, our home/Tibetans are locked away in prison/Oh, fellow Tibetans, please come here/Buddhism's holy land will be free soon".

The nuns' defense that recording the songs in their cells was intended "to commemorate their lives [together] in prison" was rejected by the court, according to the sentencing document, which is dated September 22, 1993.

The judges conclude that the 14 nuns had "recorded reactionary 'Tibetan independence' songs in an attitude of counter-revolutionary arrogance" and with "the aim of countering the revolution". It states that "their behavior was criminal" and 'their attitude to confession was abominable", and details the extended sentences imposed on each prisoner.

The longest extended sentence of eight years was handed down to Phuntsog Nyidron, who was already serving a nine-year sentence. Ngawang Sangdrol, her former cell-mate, who was 16 at the time, had her sentence extended by six years, and served 11 years of a sentence that was approximately 21 years, before her release and departure to the U.S. in 2003.

Former Garu nun Ngawang Sangdrol, who is now studying English in New York, said: "We recorded the songs because we wanted our families to know that we were still alive, and we wanted Tibetan people to know about our situation and our love for our country. We hoped it would reach our families, but we didn't know for sure. I had no idea until I arrived in America that people all over the world heard those songs while we were still in prison. Now, it makes me feel so sad to listen to the recording, because I remember our friends in prison who died."

In February 1994, a year after the new sentences for the tape recording were handed down, Garu nun Gyaltsen Kelsang collapsed after a session of military drills enforced by the authorities as punishment for the nuns and other prisoners at Drapchi. Gyaltsen Kelsang was hospitalized, suffering from paralysis in her legs, and released on medical parole in December 2004. She died at home two months later, at the age of 26.

In June 1998, five nuns died in Drapchi after five weeks of severe maltreatment following peaceful protests at the prison a month earlier. All of the nuns were close comrades, ranging in age from 19 to 25 at detention, and all of them had been imprisoned for peaceful resistance to Chinese rule in Tibet. Their names were Drugkyi Pema (lay name Dekyi Yangzom); Tsultrim Zangmo (layname: Choekyi); Lobsang Wangmo (layname: Tsamchoe Drolkar); Tashi Lhamo (lay name Yudron) and Khedron Yonten (lay name: Tsering Drolkar).

In June 1998, five nuns died at Drapchi Prison after weeks of torture.

The Drapchi nuns were known for their comradeship and solidarity, and sometimes put their own lives in danger to protect their friends and cell mates.

Ngawang Sangdrol recalls the aftermath of the May 1998 protests in Drapchi, when all of the prisoners were severely beaten and tortured after they protested about the raising of the Chinese flag, and shouted slogans in support of the Dalai Lama.

She said: "At one point several guards were kicking me in the head and beating my body with batons and I fell unconscious. Later, I heard that another nun, Phuntsog Peyang, had thrown herself on top of me to protect me from the beating, thinking that I would be killed. She was then beaten badly herself. Phuntsog probably saved my life."

The nuns' determination and refusal to submit to prison officials is noted in the sentencing document, which describes their "attitude to confession" as "abominable".

Phuntsog Nyidron, who was one of the most senior of the group of Drapchi nuns in age, and highly respected by the others for her religious devotion and scholarly nature, said last week: "During my time in prison, although the Chinese government made it difficult for me both physically and mentally, I did not waver at all in my initial motivation. At times when I underwent unimaginable torture, my determination to struggle for Tibetan independence became stronger. After 15 years in prison, I owe my freedom firstly to the grace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and also to those countries who have shown their concern for the Tibetan political prisoners by putting pressure on the Chinese government."

Criminal sentencing document of the Drapchi singing nuns

Prisoners in Tibet and China are generally given copies of relevant legal documents, especially sentencing documents, which inmates often keep with them while imprisoned or send home to their families. They provide "proof" of charges, length of punishment, and post-release conditions.

These documents have become more difficult to obtain in recent years given the risks that former prisoners face in bringing them into exile, and also because a substantial number of the documents were destroyed during a period of tightened security in Rukhag (Unit) 3 of Drapchi Prison, which housed female political prisoners, after the May 1998 protests.

The report 'Rukhag 3: The Nuns of Drapchi Prison' by Steven D Marshall, quotes two of the nuns, Choeying Gyaltsen and Choeying Kunsang, as saying: "In 1998 they came to collect all books, letters and sentence documents from our rooms, and they burned them . . . Some nuns had their sentence documents hidden in their pillow, but they searched mattresses and pillows as well, and all sentence documents were confiscated . . . [The documents were burned] in the kitchen" (Tibet Information Network, 2000). The nuns clearly appreciated the importance of the documents: Another nun said: "[The sentence document] contained clearly what they had said and what we had said. [ . . . ] It was confiscated from us [ . . . ] and they burned it. Ours was in Tibetan, it was very clear, otherwise these would have been very important to keep."

"I looked out from Drapchi prison" and other song lyrics by the Drapchi 14

A recording of the songs sung by Phuntsog Nyidron, Ngawang Sangdrol and the other nuns was smuggled out of prison and to the West, where it was made into the CD Seeing Nothing but the Sky available from Free Tibet Campaign. Following is an extract of lyrics.

We've Sung a Song of Sadness
We've sung a song of sadness
We've sung it from Drapchi prison
Like the happy and joyful snow mountains
We've sung this song for the sake of freedom
Previously, a spiritual realm of dharma
Now, is changed to a barbaric prison ground.
Even at the cost of our lives, we Tibetans,
Will never lose our courage.
O, what a sad fate we Tibetans have!
To be tortured mercilessly by barbarians
We don't have freedom
Under the yoke of these barbarians

I looked out from Drapchi Prison
I looked out from Drapchi prison
There was nothing to see but sky
The clouds that gather in sky,
We thought, if only these were our parents.
We fellow prisoners
[Like] flowers in Norbulingka,
Even if we're beaten by frost and hail,
Our joined hands will not be separated.
The white cloud from the east
Is not a patch that is sewn
A time will come when the sun will emerge
From the cloud
And shine clearly
Our hearts are not sad;
Why should we be sad?
Even if the sun doesn't shine during the day
There will be the moon at night
E ven if the sun doesn't shine during the day
There will be the moon at night

"May No Others Suffer Like This"
Song of sadness in our hearts
We sing this to our brothers and friends
What we Tibetans feel in this darkness will pass
The food does not sustain body or soul
Beatings impossible to forget
This suffering inflicted upon us
May no others suffer like this
In the heavenly realm, the land of snows
Land of unending peace and blessings
May Avalokiteshvara Tenzin Gyatso2
Reign supreme throughout all eternity