Interview with a Tibetan Monk

Hundreds of thousands of Tibetan Monks, Nuns and lay people have escaped over the mountains into exile since the Chinese invasion in order to get a proper education. Many of them feel that after learning, it is their duty to help preserve the unique Tibetan culture and traditions so that when the Tibetans go home again, they can teach in Tibet and help revive what has been destroyed.

By Joe Mickey - Tibetan Photo Project

A group of Tibetan monks and Lamas touring the United States provided an opportunity for a first hand look at how Tibetans in exile view the loss of their homeland to occupation by the Communist Government of China and the prospects of returning home.

In Tibetan Society, the position of a Tibetan Monk or Lama is usually determined at an early age (The current Fourteenth Dalai Lama is considered both the secular and spiritual head of Tibet and was recognized at the age of 4. He was located in the village of Takster in Tibet by monks following a series of visions and signs after the death of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama.) The position of Lama is believed to be gained through the work and deeds of past lives and is therefore highly respected in Tibetan Culture.

Lama Agha is 29 years old. At the time of this interview, he was on his third cultural tour of the United States. During the interview, Lama Agha was very impressive as he answered with an exceptional clarity and in assured style. His answers seemed to begin without hesitation. It was as if his first word were the next word in the sentence containing the question. This is consistent with his advanced Buddhist training to be in the current moment.

The Tibetan monk answered questions speaking through interpreter Tenzin Norbu, the director of the cultural tour.

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Interview with Lama Agha

Q: Under what conditions did you leave Tibet?

Lama Agha: I left Tibet at the age of 13. The only education provided by the Chinese was indoctrination. I could not read or write. Through relatives in India, my parents learned that I could get an education only if I left Tibet.

The Chinese sometimes give permits to older people to leave Tibet because they come back. They do not give permits to young people so I had to escape through the mountains. That took two months. My parents felt that as Tibetans we had a moral responsibility to learn Tibetan traditions.

Q: How much are you in touch with developments in Tibet and those of China?

Lama Agha: I cannot keep in touch that much. Most Tibetan language newspapers in India only come out once a month or once every two weeks. We have access to the Internet once in awhile-on tour. There are some contacts that are made through people who travel to Tibet. But no, we cannot follow the subtle point.

Q: The occupation by China has been more than 40 years, nearly a generation. Some Chinese have been born in Tibet and some Tibetans have been born in India. What would Tibetans in exile face if they could return to Tibet?

Lama Agha:: In 40 years, there has been much culture damage. As Tibetans in exile, we are able to preserve the Tibetan culture. What I hope is that Tibet would be a peaceful, compassionate, and loving country. There is a real danger they may loose their culture. Through contacts in the country, we encourage that Tibetans retain their culture, and hope very hard that they still feel as Tibetans.

Q: If the current situation were to go on a long time before it changes how would Tibetans in exile return with the original culture when they may be returning to a country where they could be a minority.

Lama Agha:: We will have to send Tibetans to revive the culture. We will have to teach. Tibetans in exile feel it is their responsibility to maintain the culture of Tibet that existed before the Communist Chinese came.

Q: Reports have said that the Chinese are rebuilding some of the monasteries. How does this make you feel?

Lama Agha:: It is superficial. The Communist Chinese do this because they are very embarrassed. They only build the building. They don't give human rights or the right education inside the building to study properly. The Communist Chinese rebuild the buildings only for propaganda.

Q: What do Americans have to gain from working to save Tibet?

Lama Agha:: For last 40, 50 years teachers, monks, nuns, lamas have formed centers or traveled to the United States. Quite many Americans have benefited from their teachings. Tibetan culture has tremendous potential to contribute to every culture, make it more peaceful. Many people will benefit from saving Tibetan culture, medicine and teachings of compassion and love. Tibetans can also gain... from the modern exchange and technology.

This tour has been for the last 10, 15 years. Not many people come at first. After 10 years, people are more receptive because they have seen and realized the value of our culture towards compassion, loving and a peaceful world. More people are becoming involved. They are very interested in meeting a Tibetan monk.

Q: The introduction of Tibetan cultural programs raises the interest in the Buddhist religion. This is a very complex religion. Where should Americans start if they develop an interest in the Buddhist religion?

Lama Agha:: Maybe better to follow one's own heritage. Religion is to help you have a happy mind and that is possible through each religion. Each religion suits a different mind. Like food, for some sweet; for some sour. Religion is food for the mind. To understand the profound and higher practices, one has to give up one's present life and go and study.

More articles in the 'Tibetan Monk' series coming soon...

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