Ditching the concrete jungle of London this summer, I ventured out to Nepal to teach English to monks. After a glorious twenty-hour flight, followed by a seven-hour tourist bus to Pokhara, I arrived at the Pema Ts’al Monastic Institute.
The beautiful Pema Ts’al is situated on a peaceful hilltop in Pokhara near the famous Fewa Lake with perfect views of the snow-capped peak of Fishtail Mountain. This magical place seemed like an oasis in the middle of the frantic routine of Western life. I went to the monastery expecting to educate the young monks but found the roles reversed as they gave me an insight into the history of Tibet and how the time to free Tibet has long passed. The hope is now to save Tibet.
Talking to the monks and the staff in the Monastery, I learnt that since 2009, 121 Tibetans have self-immolated in an effort to call for the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet, and for the independence of the nation. Even on the day of my arrival at Pema Ts’al, news broke that a Tibetan monk had self-immolated in Kathmandu showing that these problems are very current and real.
Since 2009, 121 Tibetans have self-immolated to call for the return of the Dalai Lama, and for the independence of the nation.
Thousands of Tibetans followed in the footsteps of the Dalai Lama as he fled Tibet, and many have now settled as refugees in neighbouring countries such as Nepal and India but are still declined citizenship. Even those born in Nepal are not classed as citizens of the country but are instead issued refugee cards. I had always been aware of the situation in Tibet, but it wasn’t really until I arrived at Pema Ts’al that the magnitude of Tibet’s diminishing culture became apparent.
On the third day of my visit, the volunteers were fortunate enough to have a talk with His Eminence Abhaya Vajra Rinpoche from one of the oldest Sakya families. We learnt that it is now superfluous to free a nation that has become too reliant on the influences from the Chinese government, where in helping to pave roads and improve infrastructure, they argue that their presence helps the nation.
We cannot afford for the culture and tradition of such an enriched nation to be wiped out.
But does the loss of culture, the death of Tibetans, or destruction of monasteries validate the invasion? With incentives from the Chinese government for Han Chinese migrants to move into Tibet and marry into Tibetan families, Tibetans are becoming a minority in their own country, making the desire to save and preserve their culture even stronger.
This preservation has become one of the main purposes of the monastery. The monks are taught about their culture and also educated in subjects such as maths, English, Nepali, science, social issues, and philosophy. Over 6,000 monasteries were destroyed after the invasion, but that in no way signifies the end of Tibetan Buddhism or the Buddhist faith.
It wasn’t until I arrived at Pema Ts’al that the magnitude of Tibet’s diminishing culture became apparent.
I was at Pema Ts’al for two weeks; not nearly enough time. At weekends, we joined the monks by the fresh river and waterfall, and got involved in the ensuing clay fights. I, as a teacher, could only participate as a target. We also visited the Tibetan refugee camps surrounding the monastery where you can walk around and talk to locals, learn about their history and purchase beautiful Tibetan jewellery.
The Tibetan culture is under threat but it is thanks to places such as Pema Ts’al Monastic Institute that their traditions are being kept alive. The work that they do in housing, educating and teaching the young monks core Tibetan values ensures the continuation of their culture.
Yes, there are still many issues to overcome, but the plight is not over. We cannot afford for the culture and tradition of such an enriched nation to be wiped out. I saw first-hand at Pema Ts’al the beauty of Tibet and their tenacity for keeping this culture alive. The battle for preservation is strong, proving that the fight to save Tibet will never cease.