Wednesday, May 31, 2006

HHDL Says Independence Is Not in Tibet's Interest

The Times of India -- Wednesday, May 31, 2006

The Dalai Lama said Wednesday that independence for Tibet was not in the interest of the Himalayan region, which he said could benefit from China's economic growth if it remains part of the country.

But the Buddhist leader reiterated his demands for autonomy for the province of 6 million people to preserve its unique culture and the Buddhist tradition. He said that once the Tibet issue is solved to the satisfaction of its people, China's image abroad will improve.

"We are not seeking separation. Tibet is a landlocked country, materially very, very backward. We want modernization, for that reason if we remain with China we get more benefits than alone," he told the European Parliament's foreign affairs committee in Brussels, where he was also holding talks with other religious leaders and EU and Belgian officials.

"The economy is growing in China, and the effects have reached all parts of the country," he said. "Tibet is now also getting benefits. We are trying to materialize a meaningful autonomy."

The Dalai Lama fled his homeland during an anti-Chinese uprising in 1959 and now heads a government-in-exile based in northern India.

On Monday, China announced the appointment of a new top official in Tibet, with no sign of any changes to its tough policies toward the restive Himalayan territory. China maintains a heavy military presence in Tibet, after Communist troops occupied it in 1951.

Beijing claims the area has been its territory for centuries.

Many Tibetans say they were an independent country for most of their history. China berates the Dalai Lama as a separatist, but Chinese officials have held several rounds of meetings with his envoys since 2002.

The talks are believed to be focused on the Dalai Lama's calls for more autonomy to protect Tibet's unique Buddhist culture.

"Last year we renewed direct contact with the representatives of China; five round-table discussions took place. However, the government has not acknowledged that.

Inside Tibet there is no sign of improvement," the Dalai Lama said, adding that "democratic China is the only medicine for Tibet."

China Invites Oil Co's to Join Invasion of Tibet

The Guardian, UKTuesday, May 30, 2006

By Terry Macalister

The Chinese government is to woo foreign companies such as BP and Shell to explore for oil in Tibet.

The controversial move follows a failure by the partly state-owned PetroChina to realise Beijing's hopes that the disputed land could quickly become a major source of fuel for energy-starved China.

PetroChina is to oversee the opening up of 10 exploration blocks for foreign participation in the Qiantang basin, in the far north of Tibet. The company has asked its Daqing Oilfield subsidiary to prepare a package of data and bidding documents that it will present to foreign oil companies in the second half of this year.

PetroChina was unavailable for comment when contacted by the Guardian but company officials were quoted in the oil industry newspaper Upstream as saying: "The purpose of opening up Qiantang blocks is to protect our exploration rights in Tibet and accelerate the exploration at Qiantang."

Western oil majors are likely to tread warily, however. Tibet is seen by critics as subject to an illegal occupation by the Beijing government, which took control of the land by force in 1949 and which now describes it as an "autonomous" province of greater China.

"I cannot see BP or Shell getting involved, given the politics of Tibet," said Bruce Evers, an oil analyst with Investec Securities, "but some of the smaller independents could be interested."

The Free Tibet Campaign, which demands China's complete withdrawal, said oil companies should refuse any offer to drill in Tibet." No energy company should facilitate a process whereby Tibet's resources are utilised to satisfy China's voracious energy demands whilst Tibet remains illegally occupied and Tibetans are routinely denied participation in key decision-making surrounding any such project," said its spokesman, Matt Whitticase.

"The recent history of western investment in Tibet is littered with companies such as Australian mining company SinoGold and Holiday Inn, which have learned, to their reputational and financial cost, the risk of investing in occupied Tibet and have had to pull out."

Tibet has been seen by Beijing as a major new source of energy.

Qiantang alone is believed to hold up to 10bn tonnes of oil and gas equivalents. PetroChina has drilled its first full exploration well at Qiantang - 5,200 metres above sea level - but discovered the rig it used did not have the capacity to drill deep enough.

PetroChina has also found that the complex geology, huge expense and harsh weather conditions left it struggling to fulfil its promise to the ministry of land and resources to drill 10 wells over a three-year period.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Going on "retreat" from the retreat . . .

Dharamsala, India -- While on my trip I have been writing to my son John's 4th grade class, whom i went and spoke to about India earlier this year . . . as I understand it, John is the class "reporter" who gets to read my dispatches . . . Shannon Hamilton, the teacher, wrote that they are having a blast with this, and sent some class photos for me to share with my Tibetan "english conversation" class here . . . sent to the class this evening, the following pretty much sums up what I'm up to over the coming days, so I include it here . . . thanks for following along, is not such a "solo" trip being able to write to (and get email from) you . . . happy days, Mark


greetings to ms. shannon's incredibly wonderful and scholarly 4th grade class in longwood, florida.

it is now wednesday night here and today was an interesting day . . . it started off hot and sunny, but at around 2pm, the sky grew very very dark and a huge lightning and hail storm came from over the high mountains and pelted us with hail stones the size of oranges and huge drops of freezing cold rain.

it lasted for about 2 hours and when it was over the temperature had dropped by about 25 degrees. that is what it is like when you are so close to the high snowy mountains, the weather can change in a matter of minutes and the change can be very extreme.

this is the last email you will get from me for almost two weeks.

tomorrow i am going up into the pine forest above dharamsala to a tibetan buddhist meditation camp where for 10 days i will be "on retreat."

what does that mean?

it means i will be waking up each day at 6:00am, and learning about meditation, and the history, practice and wisdom of Tibetan Buddhism. there will be monks and nuns and maybe lamas (wise teacher-monks) there to instruct and teach us. i think there will be about 50(?) other people there, and i believe they will be from many different countries.

there will be no talking allowed, except during the times we are being taught. we will eat only vegetarian food (fruits, vegetables and grains). i believe men will sleep in one big room and the women in another.

everyone on retreat will be assigined a "job" that must be done on a daily basis, between the hours of noon and 1:30pm. doing one's work, and doing it well, is all part of the practice of the retreat.

because there are monks in training who live there, everyone will need to be respectful of the atmosphere, which is calm and peaceful. that means no Ipods or recorded music, and no reading materials that are not of the "dharma" -- Buddhist lifestyle.

i have been told that there is a tribe of people who live high in the mountains; they are called the Gaddi and legend has it that at night you can hear the spirits of the ancient Gaddi sheepherders calling for their lost sheep. the retreat camp i am going to is in one of the forests where the Gaddi people live.

the idea of a retreat is to be able to go to a place that is beautiful and serene, and have some quiet time. i have been told that sometimes very wonderful things can result from doing this, i will let you know when it is over on may 20.

i hope you have been enjoying the tales of my travels, it has been fun sharing my time in india with you. we talk about you all the time in my english class -- based on what they know of you, my tibetan students think american kids have a very fortunate life.

the world is very big and very mysterious, and there is much much more to see and learn than your tv sets or books can tell you about. i hope one day when you grow you will travel to the places your heart tells you to visit.

i will write to you when my retreat is completed, until then, tashi delek!!

(and remember to give your moms hugs and kisses on mother's day!!)

mark winwood
(john's dad)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Tibetan Medicine, Astrology and a 13-Year Old Boy

The Men-Tsee-Khang, also known as the Tibetan Medical & Astrological Institute of HH the Dalai Lama, is a cultural, educational and charitable institution that functions under the support and guidance of the Central Tibetan Administration (the Tibetan government in exile) and HHDL.

Established in 1961, the Institute’s primary objective is to preserve, practice and propagate the ancient systems of Tibetan medicine and astrology, both of which are deeply linked in relation to the well-being of each human being.

Traditional Tibetan medicine is a holistic system that takes into consideration the overall relationship between the mind, body, spirit and its outside environment. It looks at the balance of the three main body energies (in Tibetan: rLung, mKhris-pa and Bad-kan) which are the root cause of a healthy mind and inner and outer body, along with the five cosmic energies (earth, water, fire, air and space) that surround us in our external environment. When these energies are out of balance, our skin and bodies are prone to ill health.

Says HH Dalai Lama, “Tibetan medicine is deeply integrated with Buddhist practice and theory, which stresses the indivisible interdependence of mind, body and vitality. The ideal doctor is one who combines sound medical understanding with a strong realization of wisdom and compassion. I strongly believe that our medical system is one of the means by which we Tibetans can contribute to the well-being of others, even while we ourselves live as refugees.”

So the main work of the Men-Tsee-Khang is preparing new doctors to work in the more than 40 branch clinics it operates in India and Nepal. The clinics provide health care to thousands of Tibetans, Indians and foreign patients, (regardless of color or caste) and free health care is given to the poor and needy, monks and nuns and all new arrivals from Tibet.

The main facility is located in Dharamsala. Both the medical (traditional Tibetan medicine and surgery) and astrological programs are rigorous five-year disciplines. To date, 235 medical and astrological students have been trained under its wing.

Even though the cost to produce traditional Tibetan medicines are quite high, the cost to patients is kept very low to assure accessibility for all who seek care under the holistic Tibetan system of health and medicine.

The Men-Tsee-Khang derives some income from the products it produces (Tibetan medicinal and non-medicinal products under the brand name of Sorig), however it depends greatly on the generosity of individuals and Tibet support groups.

All Men-Tsee-Khang staff members and their families live in dormitory-style housing within the grounds of the Tibetan government “complex” and housing, childcare and other resources are provided to all employees and families. Economically, the Men-Tsee-Khang can only offer very modest salary and wages to staff and employees, who work long hours providing education to the students and medicinal products to be used by those in need.

To ensure that the children of the Men-Tse-Khang employees receive adequate medicine, food, clothing and school supplies, a sponsorship program has been set up.

Under the program, individuals willing to sponsor a Men-Tsee-Khang child donate $20(US) per month, to a particular child, and those funds are placed in account for the child, to be used for his or her benefit. Sponsors receive photos of the child and the ability to communicate with that child (via mail or email to the Men-Tsee-Khang office).

Most children in the sponsorship program are between the ages of five and 13 years old.


This morning I met for the first time the Tibetan child I am sponsoring, he is 13 years old and his name is Tenzin Yonzen. I am sponsoring him for several reasons, relevant here is that this is my small way of supporting the important work the Men-Tsee-Khang does.

Tenzin came to my guest house to meet me this morning with his mother and father, both of whom are Men-Tsee-Khang employees. It was warm this morning and they walked up a very steep hill to get to my guest house, yet had big smiles as they approached.

Tenzin was wearing a San Francisco Giants baseball shirt, blue jeans and white basketball sneakers. He is a 6th grade student at the Tibetan Children’s Village school in lower Dharamsala.

I told him about my children, some around the same age, and he smiled at the idea of having friends in America.

He was a little shy, and spoke very softly. Even though he was very respectful and quiet, keeping his hands folded in front of him, I could see his spark. His father told me that he loves to play both basketball and football (soccer). In school he is studying English, mathematics, science and social studies.

Tenzin is the oldest of three children, both of his sisters, of whom I was given photos, are currently sponsored. The three of them are beautiful, in that glowing way that all Tibetan children seem to be.

His parents were very appreciative, and we had a very happy time together, getting to know one another, taking photos, etc.

After about 20 minutes they left, Tenzin needed to be back in school, there are exams coming next week and he needs to review his lessons.

Before leaving I taught him the American tradition of “high-five” and we slapped fives with gusto. We made plans to see one another after my meditation retreat is over in ten days, at which time I will be the visitor, traveling down to Tenzin’s school.

After we said goodbye and they walked away down the path, I watched them, feeling the joy that comes from the gratitude of being able to be a part of this . . . and noticed Tenzin, who had been so reserved and mature in our meeting, hopping and skipping in front of his parents, just a happy little kid. It made me smile, inside and out.

So what is about this place that makes it so special to me? It’s a question I ask myself several times each day, and it was recently posed to me by Lauren back home in Florida.

When you are here you never lose touch with the fact that you are in India, in the Himalayas, our true earthly mythical paradise. Incredibly beautiful, transcendently splendorous, the peaks soar high . . . mysterious and immense, touching a sense of solitude, spiritual quest and raw eternal power that penetrates deeply into a place beyond which our sense of understanding can reach.

Add to the mix the magic of the Tibetan people who live here . . . who through tremendous hardship have retained poise, beauty, dignity and spiritual calm. It is not an exaggeration to consider them as members of the last real living “wisdom” civilization.

So, the land and the people come together here on a ridgetop named Dharamsala, and if you are open to the spell they weave, you find yourself in a place where your mind cannot help but dance, and your heart cannot help but release its abundant happiness.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

The Roof of the World

Mcleodganj (Upper Dharamsala), India -- Earlier today I was in the Bookworm bookstore, speaking to Tibetan ex-freedom fighting guerilla Lhasang Tsering about the "save" Tibet vs "free" Tibet issue, and the subject of Tibetan Plateau ecology came up.

He was explaining how China's Three Gorges Dam on the Yangste River, scheduled to be completed in 2009, is, according to plan, going to create a 350-mile long reservoir containing 1.39 trillion cubic feet of water.

A body of water that size is going to affect the temperature, he said, which will have an enormous effect on the monsoon winds, which will likely create devastating environmental damage throughout Asia, especially on fragile Tibet.

"While everyone focuses on the Dalai Lama and his policy of negotiation for Tibet, the Chinese are working on a project that will destroy Tibet as we've known it. There will be a hole in the roof of the world," he said.

As I repeated the phrase "roof of the world," he looked at me and wistfully smiled.

"Look up there," he said, eyes dancing as he pointed to the snowy top of the Dhauladhar range that rises high and steep above Dharamsala.

"The top of that beautiful mountain is 14,000 feet. In Tibet, the valley floors are at 15,000 feet."


Tibetan Film Fest: 14 Films, 7 Nights

The second annual Tibetan Film Festival kicked off in Mcleod Ganj last night before a sold-out Community Center audience.

Mcleod Ganj, otherwise known as “upper Dharamsala,” is the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government, as well as thousands of Tibetans living in exile from their native Tibet. Deeply rich in Tibetan Buddhist culture, it is also a destination for “dharma” travelers worldwide.

It's good that many of the folks in the multi-national audience are yoga practitioners, because the place was crowded, and with no seats everyone was squeezed together cross-legged on the astroturf floor. My sore knees nothwithstanding, it all just adds to the ambiance of the event.

The festival, organized by Lobsang Wangyal (who serves as its director), will run for seven consecutive evenings, with two new films being screened each night.

Of the 14 included films, eight were made by Tibetans, one was made with Tibetan involvement, and the rest are critically acclaimed international films, sharing concerns and interests common to the Tibetan community and its supporters.

“Film has magic, as well as power and joy, of course. Tibetans are now increasingly catching up with this medium,” said Wangyal.

“This film festival is independent with no affiliation to any government or other organization. Neither is it registered, or does it seek fame or recognition. It should be known that the films are screened purely for creating awareness, and sharing concerns about what matters in our lives, art and entertainment,” he added.

Of the films being screened, one of them, Water, has become a controversy on the subcontinent, coming under extreme pressure from the Indian government as well as fundamental groups. Made by Indian filmmaker Deepa Mehta, the film -- which author Salman Rushdie has called “magnificent” -- examines the severe injustices that women suffer in yesterday's (and still today's) India.

Set in the 1930’s during the rise of independence struggles against British colonial rule, Water examines the plight of a group of widows forced into poverty at a temple in the holy city of Varanasi (formerly Benares). It focuses on a relationship between one of the widows, who wants to escape the social restrictions imposed on widows, and a man from a lower caste who is a follower of Mahatma Gandhi.

Other films include Tibetan-made Travellers & Magicians (seen last night and truly wonderful) and House of Flying Daggers by Chinese filmmaker Zhang Yimou.

Why include a Chinese film in a Tibetan film festival in Dharamsala, where anti-Chinese feelings are so strong?

“It’s not about politics, it’s about the art,” said Wangyal. “Zhang Yimou is a great director and this film is beautiful. It will give the audience goosebumps.”

The festival runs through May 7 and begins at 7:00pm each night. Admission is 50 rps per night and if you're a "must-have popcorn" type when you're at the movies, you're out of luck here . . . but yes, veggie momos (Tibetan dumplings) and mineral water are available at the front door.

A real community-gathering event, the Tibetan Film Festival is great fun in a terrific setting.

More information at