Letter from Dharmsala (Tibet)

This email was forwarded to me by Claudio (of Sacred Radiance) from a friend of his. Its real presence and humanity moved me enough to include here.


These days, Dharamsala feels alternately like a temple and the seat of revolution. At times it feels like both. Every morning, thousands of Tibetans, young and old, those born in Tibet and those born in exile, march down the hill from the market of McLoed Ganj, shouting in English for justice and human rights, for the help of the UN, for the long life of the Dalai Lama. Today, their shouts are mingled with the moan of long horns blasting out from a nearby monastery.

golden-buddha-custom.jpgThey have been marching every day since March 10th and they never seem to tire. Each evening around dusk, thousands more walk through McLeod all carrying candles and chanting the bodhisattva prayer– May I become enlightened to end the suffering of all sentient beings–in Tibetan over and over again. This prayer has become the anthem of Dharamsala. You hear it muttered from old women, belted out by toddlers, and chanted by monks through loud speakers: May I become enlightened to end the suffering of all sentient beings.

The evening marchers end up at the Tsuglakhang; the temple located right in front of the Dalai Lama’s private residence, to assemble in what is essentially the Dalai Lama’s front yard. They shout freedom slogans and Bod Gyalo!!! (Victory to Tibet) at the top of their lungs for twenty minutes, while young boisterous monks with Free Tibet scrawled across their foreheads in red paint, wave giant Tibetan flags to rally the crowd. The red, yellow and blue of Tibetan flags are everywhere, and a feeling that must accompany all revolutions of past times–a feeling of passion, resolve, and the sting of injustice–stirs the air.

And then, suddenly, all you can hear is the sound of a baby crying as the crowd sit and perform silent prayers for their countrymen. The evening ends with everyone singing a song that was composed after the 1959 uprising in Lhasa against the Chinese occupation. It’s stirring and evocative, and even if you don’t speak the language, its hard not to feel moved.

One evening at the temple, the monks of Kirti monastery in Amdo, Tibet, the site of huge demonstrations in recent days, brought a CD of photos of the bodies of Tibetans who eyewitnesses say had been shot by Chinese police. The photos were displayed on a large plasma television on the steps in front of the temple. A more placid group of seven robed monks sat in front of the screen and prayed. With hands folded at their chests, the images of bloodied and mangled bodies filled with bullet holes flashing before their eyes, many now wet with tears, 5,000 people joined in. One young monk told me later that he saw the dead body of his cousin on the screen. He hadn’t known that he’d been killed.

Now these photos and other images coming out of Tibet have been put up on flyers on the outside of the temple wall, directly opposite a tent filled with hunger strikers. On their way back home, people pass candles over the photos of the disfigured and bloody bodies and speak in hushed voices. Opposite, the hunger strikers continue to chant prayers and mantras all day and all through the night.


Tibetans seem to be able to hold, without contradiction, many different ways of expressing their grief, and their concern for and solidarity with the people in Tibet; to wave banners and shout until their throats are sore, and to sit and pray with heartfelt devotion to the Buddhas that, one day, may they become like them for the sake of all.

Yesterday, I heard about a different kind of demonstration organized by the monks of the Buddhist Dialectic School. No face paint, no red bandanas, no hand-made placards reading Shame on China. They shaved their heads clean, put on the outer yellow robe normally only worn for religious teachings, and walked slowly, heads down, single file through the town, chanting the refuge prayer in Pali. Buddham sharanam ghachamay/dhammam sharanam gacchami/sangham sharanan gachhani/ahimsa ahimsa.

A reporter asked the monks why they were wearing the yellow robe. The monk replied, “We are monks but we are also human beings. We are not immune to anger. Wearing the yellow robe reminds us to subdue our negative emotions.”

At an intersection, the monks met up with a few thousand demonstrators led by angry young men with Tibetan flags draped around their shoulders, shouting anti-Chinese slogans and punching their fists into the air. The monks kept walking and chanting. At the point where the two groups met, the demonstrators fell silent and stood aside to let the monks pass, forming two lines on either side of the street. They brought their palms together at their hearts and bowed their heads. Many began to cry. The monks kept walking and chanting. Buddham sharanam ghachamay. After the monks had passed, the demonstrators picked up their flags and placards and fell in behind them chanting another slogan; May I become enlightened to end the suffering of all sentient beings.





  1. Rachael · March 27, 2008

    Hey this is cool. Thanks Peregrin. It reminds me that I shouldn’t be so cranky so often.

  2. David · March 27, 2008

    Quite inspiring indeed 😀

  3. Meagan · April 1, 2008

    Thanks for posting this. I am in Dharamsala right now, and your friend’s description is so accurate. It gives a human face to those headlines and the hype. I believe it’s important to supplement the news with the individual human experience, so I’m glad you posted this. I’m trying to do that with my own blog as well.

  4. Peregrin · April 1, 2008

    Thanks for the feedback Meagan. I posted the letter for exactly the reasons you give. Any links to material on your own Blog that shows the human reality would be greatly appreciated 🙂


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