Thursday, February 19, 2009

there will be no new year this year

normally this time of year my tibetan neighbors here in dharamsala would be joyfully cooking, cleaning and beginning their rounds of friendly visits to share in welcoming the new year, which begins next wednesday according to the tibetan lunar calendar. and i would be preparing for a long hiatus from opportunities to study or read texts with my tibetan teachers. but this year, my teachers have told me it is fine to continue meeting to work together and for class next week. i do notice a good deal of the house-cleaning that accompanies this holiday, but otherwise, tibetans are not celebrating the new year this year. as they explain, it just would not be appropriate to adopt a festive tone when so many tibetans were killed this past year, and so many more are still captive in prison in tibet. from today's ny times article, it seems tibetans within tibet are under pressure from the chinese government authorities to put on their happy faces and go on with business - or holiday - as usual. most are unlikely to do so, by all accounts.

and here, tibetans in exile are free to celebrate or commemorate as they see fit. given the choice, the period is being marked with peace marches, hunger strikes and a general preference to honor the sacrifices made by those within tibet, rather than enjoy the taste of their own freedom in exile.

this upcoming year is particularly poignant for tibetans because it marks 50 years since their country was lost to them, with the invasion of communist forces in 1959. after 50 years of unswerving commitment to non-violence as the path to recovering their country, this path thus far has not yielded a single substantial concession from those who continue to occupy tibet and run it as if it were their own - which indeed it has effectively become. reflecting the lack of success of the earlier policy, his holiness the dalai lama urged tibetans to adopt a so-called 'middle way' path in which they relinquish their demands for independence for tibet and seek instead a more modest state of autonomy in which chinese remains formal dominion over tibet, but tibetans are granted autonomy in practice of religion, and follow their own internal policies - a bit like the relation of the 50 states to the federal government in the us. this too has been rejected wholesale by the chinese officials. in rueful acknowledgment of the lack of progress towards even these more modest goals, earlier this year tibetan refugees from around the world assembled to vote to decide if they would continue to respect the middle way path suggested by his holiness the dalai lama. the result of that vote was to affirm the collective tibetan determination to maintain non-violence as the cornerstone of their response to the chinese oppression within tibet, and to continue to wait for a softening of policies in china.

even the hunger strikes reflect the combined principles of fierce determination and gentle wisdom. those who refuse food and drink to express their solidarity with those in prison and to register their protest of the situation in tibet do not strike to the death. rather, people come and fast together for a few days, and then yield their place to others willing to make this symbolic sacrifice of their temporary well-being, but wise enough to do so without sacrificing their lives.

photo of tibetan nuns on hunger strike by getty images

1 comment:

Luminata said...

It'll be better one day. I just know it!