Freedom For The Tibetans Essay, Research Paper
On June 13th The Tibetan Freedom Festival will take place in four cities around the globe simultaneously – Tokyo, Chicago, Amsterdam and Sydney. This momentous event is a musical festival with a serious edge, promoting awareness of the Tibetan cause, both the political status of this nominal region of China, and the nonviolent ethos that makes their fight for freedom so unique. Sebastian Edwards looks at the significance of the festival and the emergence of an international movement driving forward the cause of the Tibetan people.
From Dream to Reality For centuries, art and politics have mingled in varying degrees, for a variety of reasons, with a variety of results. But when art and politics are fused together in just the right way, and for just the right reasons, the combination is a potent one. The Tibetan Freedom Festival is perhaps the most inspiring contemporary incarnation of this potential force. It has advanced its cause of nonviolence, freedom, and justice around the world, defying the view of the 1990s as “apathetic” and “anti-political.”
Since it was first held in San Francisco in 1996, the Festival has become an annual event. Its evolution into a four-location, global festival of such a size reflects the worldwide surge in interest in Tibet that has emerged over the last few years. It all began as the distant dream of twenty-something musicians, as one of them, Erin Potts, now the festival’s Executive Director, describes: “While eating at a Tibetan restaurant one night, Adam [Yauch, of the Beastie Boys] and I began dreaming about the possibility of putting on a massive concert to raise awareness of the occupation of Tibet. Two and a half years later, we stood on a giant stage looking out over the 50,000 faces at the first Tibetan Freedom Concert. Only 21 years old at the time, my cohorts and I were novices who had no idea what we were doing. Nor did we know the impact that this event would have on the struggle to free Tibet. With a tiny staff and many volunteers we managed to pull it off. At the end of the two day event our concert has played for over 100,000 people in Golden Gate Park and concert-goers, volunteers, artists and press had all learned a thing or two about Tibet.”
The organization behind the Festival is the Milarepa Fund, founded by Potts and Yauch in 1994. It is a non-profit organization, “dedicated to the promotion of universal compassion and nonviolence.” It is named after Jetsun Milarepa, an eleventh century Tibetan poet, musician, and meditation master. Burdened by his evil past of revenging his cruel uncle’s mistreatment by murdering the man’s friends and family, Milarepa went on, in the Fund’s words, “to find enlightenment in only one lifetime.” Yet he decided to pass up nirvana, “until all sentient beings had become enlightened. As a poet and musician, Milarepa chose to guide through song, and he is highlighted as an example of how anyone can achieve enlightenment through hard work and perseverance, despite his or her past. He shows us that we can all transform our hearts.”
As Adam Yauch has explained, the Tibetan cause, while being only one of many possible avenues for involvement in human rights causes around the world, has a particularly poignant quality that required him to take it up as his own. “Maybe it’s because the Tibetan people are so peaceful and won’t fight back. Maybe seeing films of Tibetan monks and nuns, who have taken vows not to harm another living creature, being beaten was what got to me. Or maybe it’s that I’ve met some of these people and see how happy they are, despite what’s going on – laughing all the time, without the same agenda of worries that so many of us carry in our modern society.” Perhaps most importantly for Yauch, “It’s that I see their society as an example of how people can live in peace working towards enlightenment. An example or blueprint of a way that a culture can operate in harmony with itself and the land.”
Since 1959, the Tibetan people have struggled almost exclusively nonviolently against the Chinese government’s occupation, calling on all diplomatic and compassionate remedies at their disposal. Lobbying, demonstrating and going on hunger strike have been the basis of their struggle and, according to the Dalai Lama, this struggle includes the Chinese as well, many of whom also suffer at the hands of the Chinese government. That’s why the Tibetan freedom movement should not be seen as “anti-Chinese”; in fact, it is “pro-humanity” in the widest sense. Although hundreds of thousands of Tibetans have been imprisoned or killed by the Chinese police, “the Dalai Lama continues to regard the Chinese as his greatest teachers.” This example of adherence to nonviolence in the face of exile, persecution, and even death, sets an startlingly pure example. “There is nothing more honorable, effective and healthy than compassionate nonviolence in response to human error and brutality,” says the Fund.
Nonviolence: A Way of Life in the Face of Death At the heart of the Tibetan philosophy is the conviction that violence only breeds more violence, and historically has never been a long-term remedy for peace. Religions, although unfortunately often the catalysts of conflict, at their heart almost unanimously preach nonviolence as a cornerstone of their belief. But as is all too obvious, these beliefs are often betrayed by the very people who claim to espouse them through their religions. Such contradictions form the crux of the Dalai Lama’s observation that, “for a person who cherishes compassion and love, the practice of tolerance is essential; and for that, an enemy is indispensable.”
It is always instructive to listen to the words of those who have actually experienced suffering directly, for their intimacy with pain and torment gives them an unusual clarity and profound ring of truth. Palden Gyatso-la, a Tibetan Buddhist monk who survived thirty three years of torture and imprisonment in the Chinese Gulag, speaks with an authority earned the hardest way imaginable. In spite of his treatment at the hands of his torturers, he displays an unwillingness to be reduced to their mentality that is almost miraculous. Reflecting upon the first Tibetan Freedom Concert in San Francisco, a day which he said he had been praying for during his long, torturous imprisonment, Gyatso-la observes that the faith required to create such public events is always rooted in our own personal belief in ourselves as people capable of changing the world, however large or small the change may be, and these changes require a positive outlook regardless of one’s circumstances. As he passionately proclaims, “If we continue to insist on truth, we begin to possess a sort of power that in the end is stronger than any violence we will come up against. And this has given us hope and laughter where it seems there shouldn’t be any.”