Listen, Learn, Love
A Journey Solely Centered Around the Discovery of Others
I’m sixteen, young, adventurous and filled with a deep interest in the lives and cultures of others, particularly those in Asia. My journey of self, and worldly discovery began when I was enticed by the magnificent idea of travelling to India to teach Tibetan monks English; oblivious that Tibetans formed part of an ethnicity separate from those I was aware of.
I had many sleepless nights and was thrilled as we arrived, looking forward to meeting the monks, being in my first foreign country, as well as seeing and exploring various monasteries. As odd as it might seem, beforehand, I’d regularly dreamt of performing, as well as experiencing the art of Kung Fu, all of this alongside diligent monks sworn to silence. I’d gathered most of my preconceptions and connotations surrounding monks from the television and movies I had been watching, and so I found that later throughout my journey, my naivety would be erased and I would leave India with a sense of worldliness.
I felt ever more so cosmopolitan, as my limited experience with regard to travelling, having seen more than just variant ethnic groups and alternative geography. My ignorance shocked me, and I felt abashed; thereafter decidedly opening myself to be enriched by people, culture, history, and language. To only incite my growing interest and enthusiasm, I was glad to have been privileged enough to become acquainted with a Tibetan community in exile, of whose life stories I was able to hear. Some of which answered the question as to why the community was now in India instead of Tibet, a country alien to my knowledge, a country lost in the mountains.
During the course of my expedition, alongside some valuable companions, I was treated with knowledge that most refer to books or the Internet for:
In 1950, Tibet was invaded, resulting in the Tibetan people, as well as His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, being forced to flee via the Himalayan Mountains en route to India in order to preserve their identity, as well as sanctity as Tibetans. Those who were sadly unable to make it to India remained in Tibet to fight in vain for what was supposed to be their human right: freedom.
One particular occasion for which I feel great empathy, surrounds the return of the 14th Dalai Lama to Tibet. Conditions were fast deteriorating, seeing as nothing was being done about the dire circumstances, so people inside and outside Tibet had begun turning to self-immolation as of April 27th 1998. The toll of these killings and sacrifices was at a steep, as well as an ever-climbing number of 143. To this day this number includes: former monks and nuns, monks, nuns, and civilians in the Tibetan community. As a human being one cannot help but wonder what drives a human being to want to die like that. I had never before been encountered with such raw reality, I felt greatly moved, angered and frustrated. Why are such current affairs not explicitly being made known?
We then participated in a unified march around Dharamsala acknowledging those who had recently self-immolated. I heard first-hand tales of strife, as well as life’s difficulty, all in all encapsulating the story of the lives of the people I had met. I came face to face with their valiant fight for freedom, as well as enlightenment. Having met Tibetan political prisoners, many government officials, including Sikyong Political Leader, Dr Lobsang Sangay, we discussed varied topics, all centered around Tibet and the Tibetan people. I gathered great insight after one another’s views were put forward, and committed myself, along with other students, to doing everything in our power to aid the Tibetan people. I then enrolled to be a part of Students for a Free Tibet to be able to take part in their multiple campaigns, one of which focused on an important Lama known as the Panchen Lama, Gendun Choekyi Nyima, the worlds youngest political leader, Tibet’s stolen child, the 11th reincarnation that had been abducted at the age of 6, as from May 17th 1995. It soon dawned on me that this Lama has been missing since before I was born, and I couldn’t fathom why, for simply being the succeeding reincarnation. This deeply saddened me.
The monks, nuns and community were eager and ready to learn, and when teaching them I attained levels of immeasurable pleasure. They wanted to learn, and this was a breath of fresh air. Being only sixteen, while teaching people from three to twenty years older than myself, I felt there would be some sort of disconnect with regard to the natural strata and order of things; after all: aren’t those who are older supposed to be the educators?
My companions and I were looked to as ‘wise’, and ‘knowledgeable’; reason being we were able to speak English. I thought it strange how, having grown up where almost everyone I knew could speak some English, seeing as it is one of the three most spoken South African languages, that one would be thought of as being wise for possessing a skill that is often not thought of as an ‘ability’ per se.
My age was soon discovered through trial and error, and I couldn’t help but giggle at some of the utterly outrageous guesses ranging from eighteen to somewhere in my mid-twenties. It was not long before I adopted the nickname: “Little Teacher”. This was fitting, seeing as I had been gifted with South African size-two-shoe-fitting feet, and low suspension. There are a million memorable moments one wants to share from this extraordinary journey, such as the time a companion and I had people swarm around us to look at and feel our braids with curiosity and fascination for its similarity to the Tibetan nomadic hairstyle.
I left India changed, definitely for the better and have come back worldlier and more mature. My journey was educational, spiritual, inspiring, and enlightening, having learnt much about Meditation and Buddhism as well, ranging to Buddhist philosophy from a monk my companions and I were intrigued by for his Buddha like resemblance and American-Canadian accent. We couldn’t help but stare. Upon my return, I had greatly been influenced by the Tibetans and strived to look at life in a similar mindset, and I was humbled when I started to realize that other people have bigger problems in comparison to my own. I keep in contact with my newly found friends, or rather, family as they continue to help me grow and they’re always offering their advice when I’m stuck at a crossroad. It was an honour to represent myself as a part of the South African youth, and I felt proud of what South Africa had achieved thus far in terms of peace, and the well-being of its people. I remember asking if they ever felt as though their country would be lost forever, and the ever hopeful and inspiring answer was simple: ‘No’.
From a single recipe of hope, determination, as well as faith, great things can come. If South Africa was able to move forward, from utter darkness, having been cut-off by the rest of the world, to become something truly great, why can’t Tibet? In order for us to progress, people need to care, but how can they if they don’t know? We need to use our freedom to help give freedom. We have the freedom of expression, and we should use it to get the word out on any given situation.
Having encountered such an optimistic, conservative, compassionate, happy and inspiring community that draws their strength from varies elements and ordeals, especially His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, one cannot help but buildup the courage to stand with this pro-justice cause centered around peace and truth; be it through discussions to make people aware of the cause and circumstances, sharing videos that explain what is constantly occurring inside and outside Tibet, reading a book written by Tibetan authors about their experiences, wearing clothing items that represent the cause, obtaining the solidarity alliance blue book that allows you to offer donations, signing a petition or, like me, simply requesting and encouraging people to take on this journey that started of as a sweet 16 birthday party equivalent. Open yourself up to being enriched and made aware of what is happening in other countries.
Put in practice the teachings of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama that encompass love, compassion, tolerance and peace; all things in need of restoration on our Earth. “We all want happiness, no one wants suffering’’. These words resonate with me everyday.
To a Free and peaceful Tibet. Om Ma Ni Pedme Hum (May peace prevail on Earth).
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