Friday, April 27, 2007

Uphill climb

Zoning out
Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh

Wow, the past 2 weeks since the Vipassana retreat have gone in a sort of twilight zone. I did so much in the previous 2 months, I could hardly do anything these past few days. I decided to give myself a few "slop days."

The Dalai Lama left for his dates in Kinnaur, and then, America (he will be there twice this year) on Saturday morning. He'll be back in the Big D on May 15, and will give teachings on the 19th for a few days.

People complain about the heat here now, but that is a joke. It's nothing! Highs are in the high 70s F or so. That is positively chilly compared to all the Aprils I sweated in the south, or even right now in Rishikesh.

The Panchen Lama's birthday observation was weird. It was so decentralized here in Dharamsala, which is where I figured it would be most together. There were speeches at the Temple, all in Tibetan. No media were invited. There was a conference down at the government offices; again, no public invites. Far too much stuff around here seems to be preaching to the choir.

There was a "marathon" which seemed a strangely appropriate metaphor. Lots of Tibetan, and a few western, young people ran laps around the town, supposedly in honour of the Panchen Lama. What did it mean? Did they have sponsors and collect money as marathons usually do? Did they even tell the media? If not, what was the point of such an event? Running around in circles - the metaphor was all too obvious.

Delhi, London, Tel Aviv, Bangalore, Bhopal and other cities seem to have been much more active in their observation. And of course, there's the brave kids who got arrested in "Chinese" Mt Everest - the first of what I hope will be many protests of the Beijing Olympics (I don't want a boycott; I want people to use the opportunity to speak up).

I have been working hard lately on the 50 Million Missing project - we now have over 225 members and over 1000 photos. But that means a lot of screen-time and I am fried. Here are a few more photos from the past weeks. Enjoy....

Oh, and I managed to put a few videos (of the hundreds I have) up on my YouTube site.
It just takes so darn long for them to upload!

Oh crap, the net place is closing now. If you want to see more photos, go to my page.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Free This Child.

Today is Free Panchen Lama Day. --Who?
Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh, India

Okay, you Gereheads and groupies. I know I promised the photos of His Silverheadedness Richard Gere last week.

Well, I finally uploaded them today! See Gerespotting, below!
Feringhee: The India Diaries: Gerespotting


Today's installment really isn't a blog. It's a political op-ed piece. Robert will hate it. But, I feel it's important. All over town the Tibetan Women's Association and others are gearing up for the Panchen Lama's birthday, tomorrow. Here is the piece I published about it, on Newsvine.

At right is the only available photo of the Panchen Lama, taken when he was six years old. Today, he is eighteen. He has not been seen for twelve years.

Imagine, as a six-year-old, being recognized by the Dalai Lama as the incarnation of a revered Tibetan lama.

What a great honour! Your family is so proud. Your whole community celebrates!

Then, a few months later, imagine being kidnapped (along with your parents) by a communist government, known for its brutality to its own citizens. You live the next 12 years under house arrest, and don't know where your parents are.

The months run into years. Perhaps you don't even know that it is your 18th birthday.

If only you could know that across the world, particularly in India, people are pasting up your photo, shouting your name, holding protests and candlelight vigils.

The only photo ever released of you - as a ruddy-cheeked five year old with a shock of black hair - adorns walls, stickers and flyers all over Delhi, Dharamsala, Bhopal, and other cities.

You spend your 18th birthday in silence and solitude as thousands, far away, chant your name.

Tomorrow (April 25) is the birthday of the Panchen Lama.

Gendun Chokyi Nyima, aka the "Panchen Lama," was, at the time of his disappearance by the Chinese Government, the world's youngest political prisoner. His only crime is that he was recognized as the incarnation of an historically powerful Tibetan lama - one who was traditionally instrumental in identifying successive Dalai Lamas. Therein lies Gendun's worth to the Chinese government.

Traditionally, only the Panchen Lama can truly identify a newly incarnated Dalai Lama. This is their way of preventing the lineage of Dalai Lamas, and thus, genuine Tibetan Buddhism itself, from continuing.

Remember "Free Nelson Mandela"? Eventually it worked, didn't it? Why can't we at least try to do the same thing with the Panchen Lama - the world's youngest political prisoner?

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Celebrity cameo!
Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh

I just met Richard Gere and he is really cool. He and Robert Thurman (Uma Thurman's dad) were here for a scientific conference with the Dalai Lama and 11 top neuroscientists, cosmologists, astronomers, physicists and psychologists. The conference is called "The Universe in a Single Atom," which is the name of one of the Dalai Lama's many books. The Dalai Lama has always maintained a keen interest in science. It was a pretty amazing conference, covering the confluence between Buddhism and its traditions of "mind training" and modern science's technological manipulations of consciousness.

Richard Gere had just walked out of the Dalai Lama's residence and was having coffee at Ten Yang, my regular hangout, with Matthew Ricard (a French Buddhist monk and Tibetan translator) and Jeremy Russell (another Tibetan translator).

My friend Victoria had sent him some material about her current project, "Stand For Tibet." So we boldly went up to the table at an opportune moment and asked whether he had a chance to review it.

Amazingly, he had read the whole thing and gave Victoria very valueable, detailed feedback about her project. He lamented the relative uselessness of the United Nations regarding the Tibetan issue ("They won't do anything - I mean, they won't even let me be an International Ambassador for fear of offending China") and suggested that, since "face" and "honour" mean so much to the Chinese, that an appeal to their global-image-conscious side would be an effective approach.

Richard then graciously posed for photos with the Ten Yang coffee shop employees, who are Tibetan. When a few excited westerners started snapping his photo, he smiled at first, then gently said, "Okay, enough. I'm trying to talk with friends," and smiled.

The Gere Foundation literally paid for all the paving and sewage and drains on Temple Road here. He is quite the local patron saint/hero.

In case you're wondering, he looks great in person, with a huge crop of thick silvery hair, glasses, and somewhat pinkish (sunburned?) complexion. I have a photo I snapped of him walking down the street with 2 friends and promise I will post it tomorrow!

--A week later: Okay, the photo is here, you Gere-heads!!! and in case you can't get enough, here are 2 more random ones...he is a normal person who walks
down the street dodging garbage and cows (we are in India) like everyone else!

Bad looks = Good luck
Looking like hell must be my good-luck charm for meeting famous people. As luck would have it, this morning I tumbled out of bed with no time to brush my teeth or hair or even wash my face. Naturally, this would be the day I would meet Richard Gere in a coffee shop. The first time I shook the Dalai Lama's hand, I hadn't showered and was wearing an inside-out shirt (!), and when I met Sakya Trizin, head of the Sakya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, I had not showered or even looked in a mirror all day.

Maybe unpretentiousness attracts good fortune, and auspicious beings....

Silent Treatment

Closed for Vipassana
Dharamsala, Himachal Pradesh

Sorry for my lengthy absence. I have been away at a 12-day silent meditation retreat in Dharamkot. The Vipassana program is well-known. The program requires that you sit for 10-12 hours every day in a darkened room, meditating with about 75 other people.

Speaking or even eye contact with other students is not allowed. There was a beautiful bunch of dogs roaming the grounds that became my therapists for the 12 days.

I can just say it was very worthwhile, very effective and very, very difficult. I almost walked out several times during the first five days. It was really, really annoying that every Indian TV commercial I'd heard in the past month played continually in my head. On the last day, it was even worse - my mental DJ was playing "Living Next Door to Alice."

Death Wish

I have been missing all the fun. While I was in the 12-day Vipassana retreat, HH the Dalai Lama received
death threats from the militant Islamic, Pakistan-based group Lashkar E Toiba ("Army of the Pure").

Needless to say, security around His Holiness has been stepped up.

What does need to be said is exactly what LeT is upset about. The Dalai Lama has gone out of his way, for years now, to deliver the message that "all Islamic people are not extremists, and we shouldn't generalize on the basis of the behaviour of a few."

Read the full story here.

Pro-Tibet activists took out a protest march here on Tuesday against the reported threat to the life of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.

...Reports galore in the media about a possible assassination attempt on the Dalai Lama by Pakistan based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT).