The people of Tibet need help now

Sunday marks the most important date for all Tibetans; those inside Tibet as well as those in diaspora across the globe.

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Watch a Tibetan Wheel of Life mandala take form

Tenzin Wangdu Thokme, L, and Ven. Lama Losang Samten, R. Photo: Xeni Jardin.

I traveled to Santa Barbara this week to observe the Santa Barbara Tibet Summit, and the creation of a Tibetan sand mandala under the direction of Ven. lama Lobsang Samten.

Above, a short video I shot yesterday on my iPhone in which Samten explains some of the history and symbolism behind the "Wheel of Life" mandala, which is based in a very old tradition but also encompasses some newer creative elements.

It was a beautiful thing to see and hear, over the course of days. The chakpur, those conical metal tools you see in the video that they use to "paint" with the sand, make a raspy percussive rhythmic sound. It's hypnotic. When you can hear that you've achieved just the right pace and rhythm with that sound, one monk said, you know your mind has reached a meditative state of emptiness, and that is where you're supposed to be when you are creating the mandala.

The environment was reverent but there was also some goofing around, as evidenced in the photo below, in which Ven. Thepo Rinpoche takes an iPad snapshot of Samten's head. Yes, some monks carry iPads and iPhones and other gadgets, and they sometimes use them in interesting ways.

"His bald head is a mandala!" Thepo-la said as he snapped the picture. And then they both cracked up.

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China wants to name Dalai Lama's successor. Dalai Lama: "LOL!"

Snip from a Globe and Mail article quoting HH the Dalai Lama: “It is quite strange – as non-believers, totally non-believers, atheists – showing interest about reincarnation. I jokingly tell them: In order to be involved in my reincarnation, firstly, they should accept Buddhism. Or religion. Or Buddhism. Then they should recognize Chairman Mao Zedong’s reincarnation. Deng Xiaopeng’s reincarnation. Then, they have reason to show some interest about the Dalai Lama’s reincarnation. Otherwise, nonsense!” (via @markkersten)

China detains Tibetans returning from Buddhist festival, arrests devotee who sees vision of Dalai Lama in the Moon

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama speaks during a teaching session on the first day of the Kalachakra festival in the eastern Indian city of Bodhgaya January 1, 2012. The Kalachakra is a 10-day festival comprising Buddha teachings and meditations, taking place at Bodhgaya where Buddha is said to have gained enlightenment. REUTERS/Jitendra Prakash

Ed Wong in the New York Times writes about reports that hundreds of Tibetan Buddhists who attended the Kalachakra ceremony in January in India have been detained without charge by Chinese security officers upon returning to China-controlled Tibet.

This is the first time that the Chinese authorities have detained large numbers of Tibetan pilgrims returning from the ceremony, held regularly in India among other places. Many of the pilgrims are elderly and have been detained for more than two months in central Tibet, or what China calls the Tibet Autonomous Region. The detainees are being interrogated and undergoing patriotic re-education classes, and have been ordered to denounce the Dalai Lama, who presided over the ceremony, known as the Kalachakra, say people who have researched the detentions. The detainees are being held at hotels, schools and military training centers or bases; some are being forced to pay for their lodging and meals.

Full story is here (via NgawangYonten).

Meanwhile, the desperate protest-suicides continue. 33 Tibetans have self-immolated in protest of Chinese rule since 2009, according to the Tibetan government in exile. And on April 8, a 26 year old Tibetan man in India jumped to his death in the river Ganges, a few days after texting to a friend, “It is my personal decision... Free Tibet.” According to reports, Dhondup Phuntsok was wearing a ‘Free Tibet' t-shirt.

“Ruby di, sorry I lied actually I want to do it myself and it is my personal decision whatsoever the consequences maybe tonight,” Dhondup Phuntsok texted Ruby of Ganasamnnay, an Indian organisation that works for Tibetan refugees. “This is just me and myself. I will delete all the phone numbers from my cell so that no one gets disturbed if I am caught in this act…Free Tibet,” Dhondup Phuntsok wrote.

“I want to tell my people that writing free Tibet at the gate of the consulate is a better way to protest than self-immolating oneself,” Dhonduo Phuntsok further wrote.

And today, news that China is punishing devotees who see visions of the Dalai Lama in the moon.

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Monk and Tiger share a meal

Here is the most wonderful photograph you'll ever see of a Buddhist monk sharing food with a tiger. Shot by photographer Wojtek Kalka at the Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, Thailand.

Worth noting: animal rights advocates do not think the temple itself is wonderful, as the afore-linked Wikipedia entry explains, because the big cats there are kept in abusive conditions. (via Bill Gross)

Exiled Tibetans hold memorial for self-immolators protesting Chinese military rule

Photo: David Huang

This morning, a demonstration took place in McLeod Ganj, a quiet Northern Indian village adjacent to the home of the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. In this town on the southern end of the Himalayas, young Tibetan exiles staged a memorial for Tibetans inside China-controlled Tibet who have burned themselves alive in recent months.

11 have self-immolated since February 2009. Most are teenagers or in their early twenties. The youngest was 17. It is an expression of despair, and an act of protest against increasingly harsh Chinese military crackdown on ethnic Tibetan cultural, religious, and social systems. For a list of the names, dates, and locations, read on (and there is more background at standupfortibet.org).

The demonstration was organized by Students for a Free Tibet and Regional Tibetan Youth Congress, Dharamsala.

Oxblood Ruffin was at the demonstration. He tells Boing Boing,

It was a very moving demonstration. Young monks carried a graphic banner with flames in the background and the text, Tibetans are dying for freedom. They were accompanied by demonstrators wearing masks of world leaders.

It would be a little dramatic to say things have come to a head. But there's a definite shift, and I suspect that the recent spate of self-immolations will continue. The desperation is palpable, and there seems to be a sense of, "What have we got to lose?"

The Chinese are playing this off as though the Dalai Lama is running around with a lighter and inciting the monks to kill themselves. But that couldn't be further from the truth. Tibetans are very depressed about what's going on. But their is a quiet respect for what the monks have done. It's viewed as the supreme sacrifice for the Tibetan people.

Below, photos, and a press release issued today by organizers.

Photo: David Huang

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