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Buddhadharma : Spring 2008
buddhadharma| 53 |spring 2008 Maoist insurgency in Nepal, its recent “accom- modation” with the government, and I suddenly see the possibility of a closed Nepalese border and Tibetans with nowhere to run. Being here makes the dharma lessons seem even more urgent. The Tibetans carry with them a thousand years of intensive Buddhist practice. Now it’s being applied to a distressingly difficult set of choices. I ask myself, what if my enemies were implacable and their weapons beyond my resources? If I were tricked, betrayed, surprised, and hurt, forced into a permanent alarm and alert? Enticed by rage and grief? Demoralized and exhausted? How would I fight back? Would I fight back? What does “fight” mean? Is this only a Tibetan problem? Or could Americans, obsessed with the harm brought on us by 9/11, have some- thing to learn here too? The Tibetans have straggled in, sick and trau- matized, in small groups, over the last half cen- tury. When they arrived, they had two choices: either fall apart altogether or devise an organized social welfare system intent on ensuring their continued existence as a culture and a people. In 1960, still recovering from his dangerous escape, the Dalai Lama asked his sister Jetsun Pema to begin a school for traumatized refugee children. The boy who survived the assault at Nagpa Pass, for instance, might be sent from the Refugee Cen- ter to one of the schools of the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV). At the upper school, where orphaned grade schoolers are educated, giggling youngsters throw themselves into our arms and scream with delight as we twirl them. A chorus of warbling song emerges from a concrete-block meeting hall. We ask a young woman in attendance what she is doing there, and she tells us that she is a TCV graduate who got an education degree so she could come back here and help. Most of the children, she says, are sponsored by Western donors. At the lower school, a boarding school for Tibetan children whose parents can afford the modest tuition, we are shown classrooms where students lean over old wooden desks, like those in American schools a century ago, and copy equa- tions and geometry lessons from blackboards. I am startled to hear a burst of perfect British English from a tall Tibetan teacher. I’m told that he actu- ally speaks no Tibetan. Born in Britain, he came to TCV as a volunteer to teach students English drama. He and several students are busy rehears- ing a production of Romeo and Juliet. In the library, which doubles as a computer center, Dhargyal La, the librarian, shows us racks of Penguin Readers, English texts so heavily used they are flaking apart like the Dead Sea Scrolls. Overwhelmed, we offer to find replacements. The impulse to help is powerful. In the adult school, the director has such a stalwart military bearing that we ask his history. He explains that he was one of the CIA-trained courTesYofTIbeTAnchILdren’svILLAGePhoTo:MohAncorsIGLIA;(InseT)courTesYofTIbeTAnchILdren’svILLAGe The Dalai Lama with a group of children at the Tibetan Children’s Village summer camp. The suffering of Tibetans is both a challenge and a teaching. They carry with them a thousand years of intensive Buddhist practice, and now it’s being applied to a distressingly difficult set of choices.