These days, Dharamsala feels alternately like a temple and the seat of
revolution. At times it feels like both. Every morning, thousands of Tibetans,
young and old, those born in Tibet and those born in exile, march down the hill
from the market of McLoed Ganj, shouting in English for justice and human
rights, for the help of the UN, for the long life of the Dalai Lama. Today,
their shouts are mingled with the moan of long horns blasting out from a nearby
They have been marching every day since March 10th and they never seem
to tire. Each evening around dusk, thousands more walk through McLeod all
carrying candles and chanting the bodhisattva prayer--
May I become enlightened to end the suffering of all sentient
beings--in Tibetan over and over again. This prayer has become the anthem of
Dharamsala. You hear it muttered from old women, belted out by toddlers, and
chanted by monks through loud speakers: May I become enlightened to end the
suffering of all sentient beings.
The evening marchers end up at the Tsuglakhang; the temple located
right in front of the Dalai Lama's private residence, to assemble in what
is essentially the Dalai Lama's front yard. They shout freedom slogans and
Bod Gyalo!!! (Victory to Tibet) at the top of their
lungs for twenty minutes, while young boisterous monks with Free Tibet
scrawled across their foreheads in red paint, wave giant Tibetan flags to rally
the crowd. The red, yellow and blue of Tibetan flags are everywhere, and a
feeling that must accompany all revolutions of past times--a feeling of
passion, resolve, and the sting of injustice--stirs the air.
And then, suddenly, all you can hear is the sound of a baby crying as
the crowd sit and perform silent prayers for their countrymen.
The evening ends with everyone singing a song that was composed after
the 1959 uprising in Lhasa against the Chinese occupation.
It's stirring and evocative, and even if you don't speak the
language, its hard not to feel moved.
One evening at the temple, the monks of Kirti monastery in Amdo,
Tibet, the site of huge demonstrations in recent days, brought a CD of photos
of the bodies of Tibetans who eyewitnesses say had been shot by Chinese police.
The photos were displayed on a large plasma television on the steps in front of
the temple. A more placid group of seven robed monks sat in front of the screen
and prayed. With
hands folded at their chests, the images of bloodied and mangled bodies
filled with bullet holes flashing before their eyes, many now wet with tears,
5,000 people joined in. One young monk told me later that he saw the dead body
of his cousin on the screen. He hadn't known that he'd been killed.
Now these photos and other images coming out of Tibet have been put up
on flyers on the outside of the temple wall, directly opposite a tent filled
with hunger strikers. On their way back home, people pass candles over the
photos of the disfigured and bloody bodies and speak in hushed voices.
Opposite, the hunger strikers continue to chant prayers and mantras all day and
all through the night.
Tibetans seem to be able to hold, without contradiction, many
different ways of expressing their grief, and their concern for and solidarity
with the people in Tibet; to wave banners and shout until their throats are
sore, and to sit and pray with heartfelt devotion to the Buddhas that, one day,
may they become like them for the sake of all.
Yesterday, I heard about a different kind of demonstration organized
by the monks of the Buddhist Dialectic School. No face paint, no red bandanas,
no hand-made placards reading Shame on China. They shaved their heads clean,
put on the outer yellow robe normally only worn for religious teachings, and
walked slowly, heads down, single file through the town, chanting the refuge
prayer in Pali. Buddham sharanam ghachamay/dhammam sharanam gacchami/sangham
sharanan gachhani/ahimsa ahimsa.
A reporter asked the monks why they were wearing the yellow robe.
The monk replied, "We are monks but we are also human beings. We
are not immune to anger. Wearing the yellow robe reminds us to subdue our
At an intersection, the monks met up with a few thousand demonstrators
led by angry young men with Tibetan flags draped around their shoulders,
shouting anti-Chinese slogans and punching their fists into the air. The monks
kept walking and chanting. At the point where the two groups met, the
demonstrators fell silent
and stood aside to let the monks pass, forming two lines on either side of
the street. They brought their palms together at their hearts and bowed their
heads. Many began to cry. The monks kept walking and chanting. Buddham sharanam
ghachamay. After the monks had passed, the demonstrators picked up their flags
and placards and fell in behind them chanting another slogan; May I become
enlightened to end the suffering of all sentient beings.
What we do echoes in Eternity...