Friday, June 30, 2006

HHDL Urges "Wait and See" on Beijing-Tibet Railroad

Deutsche Presse-Agentur; June 29, 2006

As activists call for a boycott of China's controversial railway to Tibet, the Dalai Lama has urged Tibetans to "wait and see" what benefits the new line might bring to them, a spokesman for the Tibetan spiritual leader said on Wednesday.

The Dalai Lama welcomes the building of the world's highest railway, "conditioned on the fact that the railroad will bring benefit to the majority of Tibetans," said Thubten Samphel, the information secretary for the Central Tibetan Administration.

"We would need to wait and see what use the Chinese authorities make of the railway line," Thubtan Samphel told Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

"Our concern is that the railroad might facilitate the transportation of increasing numbers of Chinese settlers onto the Tibetan plateau," he said.

The 2,000-kilometre rail link to Lhasa, the capital of China's Tibet region, makes it possible to travel from Beijing to Lhasa by train in just 48 hours.

Construction began in 2001 on the section to Lhasa from the remote town of Golmud, 1,142 kilometres to the north. The new stretch extends an older 714-kilometre line to Golmud from Xining, the capital of China's Qinghai province. About 80 per cent of the line is over 4,000 metres high, with some 550 kilometres of track resting on permanently frozen ground.

Its highest point, at the Tanggula Pass, is 5,072 metres above sea level. The 33-billion-yuan (4.1 billion dollar) project could play a key role in helping China's ruling Communist Party to integrate the region, where most Tibetans favour independence, with the rest of the country.

Tibetan exile groups and other critics say it will only hasten China's economic and cultural assimilation of Tibet. They say an influx of ethnically Chinese migrants is likely to follow the opening of the line, as happened after China completed a rail link to its mainly Moslem, far western city of Kashgar in December 1999.

The Dalai Lama fled to India in 1959 after an abortive uprising against the occupation of Tibet by Chinese troops since 1951.

He and his followers promote a "middle way" of avoiding direct confrontation with China, but more outspoken Tibetan groups are urging a complete boycott of the railway.

The London-based Free Tibet Campaign, Students for a Free Tibet and other Indian-based groups argue that the main purposes of the railway are to increase the number of Chinese settlers in Tibet, strengthen China's military presence and exploit natural resources.

"Tibetans inside and outside Tibet see the railway project as the last step in China's efforts to consolidate its political, economic and military power over Tibet," said the Free Tibet Campaign, which is urging tourists to boycott the line.

"A symbol of China's occupation of Tibet, the railway will change Tibet's unique cultural and natural landscape forever and lead to what the Dalai Lama described as 'cultural genocide'," it said.

In China's one-party state, Tibetans had no say in the decision to build the railway. Many analysts and Tibetan exiles believe that most Tibetans would prefer to have improved road links to Nepal and India.

The Communist Party sees the railway as part of a long-term socio-economic "liberation" of Tibetans from "feudal theocracy".

It claims that more than 90 per cent of the region's 2.7 million people are Tibetan, but this figure does not include hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops and migrant workers, none of whom are counted as permanent residents of the region.

"The railway is a landmark project of China in implementing the grand strategy of exploring the western region," foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu said last week. "It is of great significance for the development of Tibet Autonomous Region," Jiang said.

"It will fundamentally change its backward transportation, raise the living standards of the people of various ethnic groups there, and accelerate the development of tourism there."

The first passenger train will set off from Beijing on July 1 carrying a few hundred tourists, journalists and Chinese officials to the most heavily controlled region of China.

Tibet is the only region for which foreigners need a separate permit, in addition to a Chinese visa, and the only one that foreign journalists and diplomats are not allowed to visit without special permission.

Foreign tourists must join expensive tours to get their permits, and most of the tourists' cash is shared between foreign and Chinese state-run tour operators.

Firms in the United States, Britain and other countries are already offering tours including the "great railway journey" to Lhasa for prices from about 3,000 dollars to 9,000 dollars per person.

Tibetan groups in India, London and other Western cities plan to hold more protests to coincide with the opening of the line and are urging tour operators and individual tourists to boycott the railway.

But the Dalai Lama and the official Tibetan exile leadership remain optimistic that tourism can benefit ordinary Tibetans. "Our position is that we welcome tourism in Tibet," Thubten Samphel said, adding that visiting the region allows an "opportunity for foreigners to see the real conditions in Tibet."

Despite Chinese controls, some tourists are able to stay in Tibetan-run hotels and spend money at small shops and restaurants, he said. "There is some degree of filtering of tourism to ordinary Tibetans."

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Uneasy Wait for the First Railway in Tibet

Published in the Swedish newspaper Dagens Nyheter, June 28, 2006
By Torbjörn Petersson (Translated from Swedish into English by Monica Masuda)

LHASA, June 26, 2006 -- A Tibetan villager, hardly above school age, is putting down the last stones in order on the embankment a few dozen of kilometres away from Lhasa waiting for the train.

He turns around, laughing at the camera. Maybe he is satisfied with his daily wage of 30 SEK (Swedish Kroner, 30 = $4.00 USD) as a temporary railroad worker. He should have been going to school instead.

Soon the train will come to Lhasa, and this part of the world will be changed forever.

Young Tibetans risk becoming second-class citizens since they lack education. Most of the higher education is done in Chinese.

From July 1st, the highest situated railroad will open. From Peking in the east, trains will roll over the high plateau in Qinghai to the roof of the world and mountain passes at an altitude of 5000 m into Tibet, leading to a transformation which, according to the Communist Party in Peking, will give Tibet better communications, protect the environment, lower the prices on goods, and make Tibet richer.

Critics abroad argue that the railway is just one more means for China to strengthen her control over Tibet, increase the Han Chinese population (the majority people in China), and strangle the Tibetan identity.

They say that the trains are the greatest threat against Tibetan culture and religion so far.

The Tibetans themselves prefer to keep silent when the railway crops up. Criticism against the railway is a delicate matter since this is a high-priority project from above.

The issue of the railway to Tibet is so delicate that the Chinese authorities, in spite of several inquiries during half a year in connection with this article, refused to give interviews.

I was also forbidden to stay in the area near the new railway station in Lhasa, but soon delegations of journalists will be led in groups to Tibet, and then they will see that the station is a large red building with white wings, its architecture inspired by the Potala palace, the wonder of Lhasa high up on a cliff which was the Dalai Lama's home in the past.

The design has annoyed some Tibetans. They feel deprived of their most famous symbol which has now become a sign of the union between China and Tibet.

The new station at the village of Moga fifty kilometres north from Lhasa, has also been drawn with the palace of Tibet's spiritual leader as a model.

Over a cup of yak butter tea, 57-year-old farmer Lobsang Tsewang tells how the adult male population in the village became navvies: "They needed people who could help with the railway construction. We were quarrying stone and transported stone with tractors and built up the embankment during four years. This raised the income in the village."

Recently when a test train came roaring on the rail, he went out to watch it pass by, and says that it felt very special. He had only seen trains on TV before. "I'm glad that the railway comes. It attracts people, and then we can open restaurants and make business," he says, while three persons from the nearest party committee are listening and a pleasant woman from the authority in Lhasa interprets into English. (One more official from the large municipality is present, monitoring the interview.)

Through the window behind Lobsang Tsewang's back, you can see majestic mountain peaks and wilderness. Tibet is magical.

Maybe he really believes in the train and the future. Maybe Lobsang Tsewang is hoping for possibilities, though the entire village had to be torn down and rebuilt higher up on the mountain slope since it would otherwise had been squeezed between the highway and the railroad.

With all the people from the authorities in the same room, it would be impossible for him to say anything critical. Every family received 20 000 SEK ($2,750 USD) as a compensation from the authorities, and his neighbour, Tashi Lundrup, took his savings, borrowed the rest, and built a new house for 60 000 SEK. "I'm not worried about the loans. With the railway, new possibilities open up. We will sell Tibetan clothes and handicraft to the tourists. The entire village will collect money and buy a car so we can transport tourists," he says optimistically.

In the village of Moga, the scenery is fascinating, the air is clear, but who will get off the train so near Lhasa and buy Tibetan handicraft? Who will eat at Lobsang Tsewangs rented restaurant and go by car with Tashi Lundrup?

These men are hardworking Tibetan farmers, as is three quarters of Tibet's population. But they lack education and do not stand a chance in the competition when one more million of tourists, most of them Chinese, will come to Lhasa every year.

It's enough to look around in Lhasa to see who is making money, and who has the greatest chances in the future: the Han Chinese immigrants.

Peking pumps in large sums as grants and investments. The railroad cost in all 40 billion SEK ($5.4 billion USD).

New roads, houses, and factories are built. According to Chinese statistics, the BNP per capita in Tibet has increased to 8000 SEK ($1,090 USD). T

The Communist Party is often emphasizing the economical development and can not understand why the Tibetans are so ungrateful, when the Party is proved to have lifted Tibet out of deepest poverty.

"Only under the leadership of the Communist Party in Tibet able to enjoy the prosperity and development of today", it was written in the People's Daily last year on the occasion of the 40 year anniversary of Tibet becoming an autonomous region.

Chinese troops entered Tibet in 1950. Nine years later, the Dalai Lama fled to India. In 1965, the partial self-government was introduced, a self-government of which no trace can be seen by International Campaign for Tibet and other organisations.

Last year, tea houses and vegetable stands on the other side of the street from the Potala Palace were torn down and replaced by a vast square.

A Chinese monument is towering just opposite to the palace. The text on it reads, "the liberation of Tibet was done in a peaceful way" as if to deny that 1.2 million Tibetans died at the hands of the Chinese conquerors.

If you disregard the magnificent position, the clean air and the monasteries, large parts of Lhasa today look like any other Chinese town.

In the city center there are the same type of buildings, Sichuan restaurants, karaoke bars and brothels. In the fine shops along the main street you see Chinese faces. They come from east and central China and moved to Lhasa since they saw the chances to do business. They have education, and money for investments.

The Tibetans are more often sitting in the tea houses and move around in the poorer parts of Lhasa. They are pilgrims in the temples and, following the tradition, they walk around holy places clockwise in ritual rounds.

Very few of them have any knowledge of trade and industry. Only 15 percent have finished high school or more, as compared to half of the Han Chinese. Forty percent can not read.

Critics are concerned that the railroad will now increase the share of Han Chinese in Tibet. They point out what happened when the railroad to Inner Mongolia was ready in the 1920's: the Han Chinese population increased fivefold in 20 years.

A similar development occurred when the railroad to Manchuria in north China was ready. Also in Xinjiang in Western China, the share of Han Chinese grew rapidly since a railroad was constructed.

With the train, also copper, gold, cobalt and other minerals can be quarried in Tibet and transported to the expansive east coast of China.

Moreover, the railroad is of strategic importance. With the train, China can quickly send troops and material to Tibet if necessary. The Indian border will be reinforced.

Deng Xiaoping said that China would open to the world in 1978. Now, Tibet must become a part of the world. The railroad can develop the economy in Tibet, but it brings both good things and bad things, says Pingsto Tashi, at the Dunlong local authority west of Lhasa.

"It all depends on how we in the local authorities are able to balance the development in the interest of Tibet. Laws must be made for people from other places who want to come here and stay for a long time," he says.

It is not sure that the local authorities will have the influence he believes.

In Lhasa, officials go on saying that 90 percent of the population is Tibetan. "Impossible. It feels more as if it already is 60 percent Han Chinese and 40 percent Tibetans", says a man from the town of Nagqu, who is visiting Lhasa to purchase Tibetan herbs to be used for the fabrication of traditional medications.

The same answer is given by some other Lhasa inhabitants at other occasions.The man from Nagqu I met one afternoon at a table at a tea house. He is cautious when commenting on the railway, but gradually it shows what he really thinks.

"They say that the train will make everything better, but I don't know," he begins. "Even if we didn't get a railway, we would be satisfied," he says ten minutes later. At last he says, "We Tibetans are worried that more thieves will come here by the railway. We ourselves always go by bus. This turns out to be a common answer in Lhasa. Many people are afraid that the train will bring too many new people to Tibet."

But all Tibetans are not against the railway. At a roof terrace in Lhasa, one evening, sits a man in monk robes, a living Buddha - a title he was given at the age of three. He belongs to one of approximately 2,700 temples, and his high position makes him unexpectedly outspoken. But in the beginning, he sounds like a Peking official.

"The train is good. It gives Tibet cheaper goods. If Tibet would become an independent country, how would it be able to support itself? In the past there was only bread made from barley and yak butter tea. Now there are lots of other foods, but it all comes from India, China, and Nepal," he says.

At 16, he went by foot for 35 days to get out of China and enter India. He wanted to study Buddhism with the Dalai Lama - banished by the Chinese - as a model. After five years, he returned.

"I hope, I do really hope that the Dalai Lama will return to Tibet and conduct ceremonies here before he passes away. The Dalai Lama has said that he will live for 120 years, so I have good hope. But everything depends on China's attitude," he says.

When he is talking about his belief, it becomes clear what is going on in Tibet. The railway has its advantages and disadvantages, but it is not the Tibetans who were given the choice.

"The situation of the Tibetans is above all about the lack of possibilities to choose one's own future," says Kate Saunders, International Campaign for Tibet, on the phone from London.

Typically, the only one who dares to criticize the railroad openly during one week in Lhasa, is a newly settled man from central China. Mr Wang, who is a manager leasing rooms at a small shabby hotel in central Lhasa, is not impressed.

He says, "the train is not good. With the train, Lhasa will be more like any other place, and Lhasa ceases to be Lhasa."

Enormous construction 5072 m above sea level.

The railroad from Golmud to Lhasa spans over 1142 km and runs through frozen tundra and ice on the high plateau of Qinghai and Tibet, and has been a technological challenge for China to build.

This is the highest railroad in the world -- at its highest, 5072 m above sea level -- and the first railroad to connect Tibet with the east and central parts of China. The travel from Peking to Lhasa is done in wagons with regulated air pressure as in aircrafts, takes 48 hours, and costs less than 400 crowns for the cheapest seat.

Soon before the opening, Wu Zhiwang, an expert on frozen soil at the Academy of Social Studies, warns that the global heating will become a threat to the railroad within ten years.

After 30 years of research in Qinghai and Tibet, the expert claims that he can see indications that large areas in Tibet and Qinghai will sink since the soil is not as frozen as before.

When frozen soil rapidly thaws, instability increases and geological problems arise, which in turn will affect the new railroad, Wu said to the New China news agency earlier this year.

Earlier, experts have estimated that the railroad would remain unaffected by the global heating for 50 years.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Tibet to Win Trade as Pass to India Repoens

Note: the following news article reflects decidedly Chinese spin, published in the govt.-controlled "China Daily" newspaper. It is curious they have chosen July 6 -- the Dalai Lama's birthday and a day of great celebration throughout Tibetan settlements -- as the day to officially reopen the pass, no doubt to great (and conflicting) fanfare. -- mw


China Daily; 2006-06-20 -- China and India have agreed to reopen border trade at the Nathula Pass in the Himalayas on July 6 for the first time in 44 years.

The accord is expected to give a major boost to trade between the two countries, officials said yesterday following a final agreement reached by the two countries on Sunday in Lhasa, capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

The pass accounted for 80 percent of the total border trade between China and India in the early 1900s. It was closed in 1962 because of border conflicts.

"The reopening of border trade will help end economic isolation in this area and play a key role in boosting the market economy there," said Hao Peng, vice chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region.

"It will also boost the transport, construction and service industries, paving the way for a major trade route that connects China and south Asia."

The Nathula Pass is 4,545 meters above sea level on the border between Tibet's Xigaze and India's state of Sikkim.

The resumption of border trade reflects the improvement in ties between China and India, said Professor Liu Jiangyong of the Institute of International Studies at Beijing-based Qinghua University. He noted that China and India worked out a border accord last year.

This year has been set aside as the year of Sino-Indian friendship. China and India signed a memorandum of understanding on the resumption of border trade at the Nathula Pass in 2004.

China's State Council approved a plan for the construction of border trade markets in Xigaze's Yadong County the following year.

Trade between China and India amounted to US $18.7 billion in 2005, up 37.5 percent from the previous year, according to the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. (!!- mw)

The volume is expected to exceed US$20 billion this year.

China and India trade now mostly by sea.

Tibet imports from and exports to India via Tianjin, a port city in China's north that is thousands of kilometers away. Tibet is expected to benefit greatly from the resumption of border trade at the pass.

"If only 10 percent of Sino-Indian trade goes through the pass it means at least more than US$1 billion," Hao said.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

HHDL Denied Visa

The Korea Times; Monday, June 19, 2006

NEW YORK - When does a Nobel Prize-winning peace activist become an "undesirable?''

Last week, 22 of 28 Nobel Peace Prize winners gathered in South Korea for the 2006 Gwangju (Kwangju) Summit of Nobel Peace Laureates.

Winners from Kenya, Russia, Guatemala, Iran, East Timor, and the United Kingdom have accepted invitations, as have representatives from Nobel-winning organizations, such as Amnesty International, the International Red Cross, and the American Friends Service Committee.

The Dalai Lama, however, couldn't attend.

Not because he wasn't invited, or because he had other plans: like those other laureates, the Dalai Lama, winner of the 1989 award, had also accepted an invitation from the Kim Dae-jung Presidential Library to a summit about peace on the Korean Peninsula and in all of East Asia.

But the South Korean government has refused to grant him a visa, letting politics trump its own peace initiatives.

As a Foreign Ministry official told Human Rights Watch, "Considering various factors, for now, we decided the Dalai Lama's visit to South Korea is not desirable.''

The government of South Korea, sensitive to the wishes of China, has consistently refused the Dalai Lama entry to its territory.

In 2000, for example, a committee of private citizens representing 73 religious and civic organizations invited the Dalai Lama to visit in November. The South Korean government was in no way involved. After the Chinese embassy in Seoul made known its displeasure, a representative of the South Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade met with group members and asked that they postpone the suggested visit until 2001. That visit never took place; nor did one proposed by the student council of Seoul National University that same year.

The Dalai Lama had planned to deliver a speech at the university on peace and non-violence. But, said a Foreign Ministry official, "His visit would not be beneficial to the country's national interest.''

For many, the Dalai Lama is not only a desired visitor but an emblem of their desire for peace.

How ironic, then, that he was prevented from contributing last week to a gathering dedicated in part to "reaffirm democracy and human rights as universal values of human kind and the foundation of peace around the world.''

The Dalai Lama has a long history of promoting core human rights values, among them the unfettered exchange of ideas central to the Kwangju conference agenda.

For decades he has attempted to find a "middle way'' through the thicket of conflicting Tibetan and Chinese visions for Tibet -- a well-documented example of his search for peaceful solutions to long-standing problems, one of the conference's themes.

China, which for years has adamantly opposed criticism of its policies toward Tibet and the Dalai Lama, seeing it as interference in its internal affairs, has not hesitated to interfere in the internal affairs of other states with respect to the Dalai Lama.

Beijing has consistently warned that states permitting even private visits by the Dalai Lama risk Chinese retribution. And he threats work. Private visits are generally limited to participation in religious gatherings or academic seminars.

If government officials are involved, topics such as Tibetan independence or China's policies are typically omitted from the agenda.

And, absurdity of absurdities, the 2000 Millennium World Peace Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders in New York left the Dalai Lama off the invitation list of more than 1,000 for fear of offending China.

To their credit, several states and multi-lateral organizations have ignored China's warnings.

In early June 2006, European Union leaders brushed aside China's objections and met the Dalai Lama in Brussels. He has also recently traveled to Argentina, Chile, and Peru.

The U.S. has hosted the Dalai Lama on many occasions, as has Japan. Switzerland went ahead with a visit in 2005; Mexico, Russia, and South Africa received him the previous year. And this list is far from exhaustive.

It is too late for South Korea to reverse its stand. But it is not too late for those attending the Kwangju conference, as well as those who had to refuse the invitation, to publicly air their displeasure with South Korea's stance, and with all countries bowing to similar pressures.

Kim Dae-jung, a former president, a Nobel laureate, and a conference convener, should organize such an effort. By making this public statement, Nobel Peace laureates would reiterate their commitment to the free exchange of ideas and invite all those equally committed to join with them.

Written by Mickey Spiegel, a China researcher at Human Rights Watch in NYC.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

Pass at Roof of World "Opens" After 44 Years

By Oliver August (in Beijing)

Times on Line; June 16, 2006 -- The only direct land link between India and China -- a Himalayan pass mapped by a British expedition a century ago -- is to be reopened this month for the first time in 44 years.

The 14,400ft Nathula Pass -- used by Colonel Francis Younghusband to lead a British invasion force to Tibet in 1904 -- has been closed since the Sino-Indian border war in 1962. Its reopening marks a belated thaw between the two old enemies who have recently become business rivals.

For the past 44 years the only traffic across the pass has been a weekly mail run. Letters written by Tibetan herders on both sides are exchanged by postmen who meet at the top of the pass.

"The area is deserted at the moment. Few wanted to live there," said Zhang Minqiu, a professor of international relations at Peking University. "Now that is changing, supported by the two governments."

And yet, old animosities die hard.

The only direct air link between the Indian and Chinese capitals is operated by Ethiopian Airlines. As military tensions between the neighbours slowly fade, commercial interests along the former Silk Road are reawakening.

North Indian companies have long pushed their government to find a land route to booming China. Delhi took up the issue with Beijing. After initial scepticism the Chinese Government agreed to the border opening as part of its plan to boost the Tibetan economy.

A railway route to Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, from the Chinese city of Golmud in Qinghai province, will be opened next month.

Experts are talking about an eventual rail link all the way to Delhi. Long-term strategists in both countries are hoping for a return to the economic status of the 1750s when China and India produced 57 per cent of global manufacturing output, not least due to their trade with each other.

According to the Commerce Ministry, the land border will be opened around June 30.

"The date, however, is subject to change considering the high altitude of Nathula and the proneness of the route to climatic vagaries including landslides," a spokesman said.

The dispatch of a British expeditionary force to Tibet in 1904 was triggered by suspicions that Russian spies were infiltrating the area as part of the Great Game -- the 19th-century battle for influence between the two European powers.

Lord Curzon, Viceroy of India, feared that Russia might be able to take over Tibet because the weak imperial Chinese Government could no longer impose its will on far-flung territories.

After long discussions with London and protests from Russia, Curzon instructed Younghusband, an explorer and mystic, to assemble a force to negotiate with Tibetan rulers directly. The force consisted of 1,200 soldiers, four artillery pieces, two Maxim guns, 16,000 pack animals and 10,000 coolies.

Conditions on the "roof of the world" were terrible. The air was thin and temperatures well below zero. Soldiers used pencils to write because their ink froze. Subalterns kept Maxim gun parts warm in their beds.

But this was nothing compared with what awaited 900 Tibetans. They were mown down by the Maxims when the two sides faced off after the arrest of supposed British spies.

Younghusband's foray into Tibet was eventually deemed a failure. The threat from Russia never materialised and no British agent was permanently installed in Lhasa.

Younghusband did, however, change century-old trade routes across the Himalayas.

Before 1904 and after 1962, the main southern access point to Tibet was further west via the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu. Mule trains carrying wool, gold dust, animal pelts and silk used the route, as have tourists in the past few years.


(Edited extract from "The Epic of Mount Everest" by Sir Francis Younghusband.)


"The Expedition climbed, in pouring rain, to the Jelep Pass, 14,390 feet, and from there looked down into Tibetan territory -- though not into what is geographically Tibet, for they were not yet over the main watershed but were looking into the Chumbi Valley, on the Indian side.

It began its ascent of the main Chumbi Valley towards Phari and the plateau of Tibet proper.

The path lay close beside the clear rushing river. Soon the trees became scantier. The hill-sides became purple with the little rhododendron, which covered the hillsides like purple heather.

After eight miles the country changed completely in character. The gorges and deep, richly-wooded valleys were left behind. And the Expedition came out on to the open plain of Phari - the real Tibet.

And there, standing sentinel over the entrance, was the great peak Chomolhari, 23,930 feet in height - so sharp and bold and rugged in its outline."

(Note: Chomolhari means "mountain of the goddess in the Tibetan language. Its height has been officially measured at 23,997 feet. It was first ascended in 1937 by (Englishman) Spenser Chapman and Dawa Lama, a Sherpa. Sitting on the Bhutan-Tibet border, Chomolhari's coordinates are 27 degrees 50 minutes North, 89 degrees, 16 minutes East. -- mw)

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Small Paws on the Path to PHR*?

By Linda Morris

Sydney Morning Herald; June 13, 2006 -- There were purebreds and mongrels, shaggy dogs and short-haired cats, divas and ruffians.

And, to the amazement of their owners, barely a bark or paw-swipe in protest as the saffron-robed Tibetan Buddhist master came to help family pets on the path to enlightenment.

Care for all living things is a central tenet of Buddhism and, in an inner-city bayside park yesterday, Lama Zopa Rinpoche, who counts the Dalai Lama as a teacher, blessed about 100 cats, dogs, even mice and mudcrabs.

"Animals don't have as many opportunities as humans to attain happiness,"said Lama Zopa, who believes animal blessings are a way for Buddhists to generate compassion and collect merit.

Lama Zopa advises pet owners that it is not enough to just provide comfort for their animals and suggests taking them around holy objects, reciting prayers in their ears and blessing their food.

Buddhists from Sydney's Vajrayana Institute, sponsors of the lama's visit, have rescued crabs from fishmarkets as well as sheep destined for slaughter.

During Lama Zopa's Sydney visit they are also helping to raise funds for the lama's new animal sanctuary, which is to be built near the Kopan Monastery in Nepal.

Buddhism is now the fastest-growing religion in Australia, with migration and conversions almost doubling its numbers between the 1996 and 2001 census according to Dr Cristina Rocha, a postdoctoral fellow with the University of Western Sydney's Centre for Cultural Research and the author of a new book, Zen in Brazil.

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

"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 said animal blessings came from the idea that all sentient beings are in this world of suffering and need to hear the word of the teachings of the Buddha to be liberated.

In addition, in Tibetan Buddhism there is a belief in rebirth -- that is, that humans can be reborn as either humans or animals.

"Being compassionate towards animals is just a logical consequence," DrRocha said.

"Although the sanctuary is intended for animals that would otherwise be killed, Westerners welcome the blessing of their pets as a way of giving them tranquillity and/or spiritual protection, something they themselves seek in Buddhism.

"I guess the desire for blessings comes from the close identification and love between the owners and their pets."

(*) PHR = Precious Human Rebirth

Thursday, June 01, 2006

HHDL's Varanasi Connection

By Aarti Aggarwal

The Times of India: Thursday, June 01, 2006

VARANASI -- What do the Dalai Lama's ornate robes, kimkhabs used in Hollywood costumes, the rich brocades adorning Tibetan monastries in India and abroad and exquisite dragon fabrics available across Buddhist centres have in common?


Amazing but true. The source of all this fabric is temple city of Benaras.

Badruddin Ansari is a dealer in Tibetan brocades and has the unique distinction of being the only dealer all over India supplying handloom fabric for thankas , the cloth used for dresses adorned during religious practices and also the fabric required for the thrones.

"The clothes worn by Dalai Lama too are also supplied by us," he tells proudly. He gets orders to create fabric with exact specifications right from the width, colours and motifs.

A number of these designs come from the antiques in the Potala Palace at Lhasa in Tibet.

For instance, the thankas hung in the monasteries are eight to 10 feet long with the width ranging between 24 inches to 29 inches. Only three colours -- namely blue, red and yellow are used with intricate patterns.

The fabric used for throne has special squares of 29 inches by 29 inches with meenakari work. Here usage of five colours is allowed which includes green and white along with three common colours of thankas he added.

Though the maroon or saffron coloured cloth is normally worn by Buddhists, they also adorn themselves in specific clothes for their religious ceremonies. Different kinds of patterns are weaved on fabrics to be used for this purpose.

In fire dance, a special kind of dress with dragon work is worn. It is exported to European countries too. In old times it was sent to China via Kalimpong (Sikkim) on mules, Badruddin remembers nostalgically.

How the tables have turned. Today even though China is producing Tibetan brocades, Dalai Lama and his followers do not like to wear clothes made in China because of political reasons.

Hence Badruddin is witnessing an increase in demand for the handloom fabric with zari work, known as kimkhabs. He already has 100 looms catering to the Tibetan requirements and now plans to expand even further.

"We weave these fabrics with the ancestral art inherited through generations. These brocades require extremely intricate work and depending on orders are even weaved in real gold. Only a few immensely talented craftsmen weave this kind of cloth. Hence we pay double wages as compared to a craftsman weaving a saree," he added.

A traditional family of weavers, their great grandfather was awarded by British government in 1886 for the supply of kimkhabs to Tibet and China during an exhibition at London. Their family continued the production of Tibetan kimkhabs even during the turmoil in Tibet.

During these tumultuous times, Badruddin's father started the production of sarees along with their ancestral work. History repeated itself exactly 100 years later when their family won the national award for sarees in the Year of Handloom, 1986.

Tibetan brocades however remain their first priority.

A decade ago they exported their Tibetan brocade fabric for two Hollywood movies shot in Ethiopia. These included Seven Days In Tibet which dealt with Dalai Lama's exile to India and the second named Kundun which featured the religious practices of the Buddhists.

Recently, Badruddin participated in 17th Home Furnishing Fair at Japan and was amazed with the response in Japan to the Tibetan brocades. Japanese people touched the fabric created for the throne with extreme respect while paying obeisance to it.