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September 2000

In This Issue

from Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche

Longchen Nyingthik Ngöndro Retreat - Vajradhara Gonpa, April-May 2000





- Dalai Lama to Visit Australia in 2001
- Namkhai Nyingpo Rinpoche

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While attending the consecration ceremonies for Dzongsar Institute (reported in the previous issue of the Gentle Voice), Jagadhatri was deeply touched by the plight of Tibetans living in India. Here she gives an overview of their situation.

The heart of Bir Tibetan refugee colony springs from several monasteries. Though I'm not a Tibetophile, the archetype of a refugee and the feeling of homelessness, be it geo-political, cultural or spiritual, is a universal one that I identify with. Most of the 130,000 Tibetans outside of Tibet are living in exile in 60 settlements in India. Today still a quarter of Tibetans in India are not permanently re-settled.

In 1960 Tibetan refugees were provided with land by a generous Indian government and were provided with homes by kind-minded non-government organisations. At that time it was a situation of emergency so many had to do roadwork for a living; even the ministers of the new government-in-exile lived in huts. The first problem to face was economic, but to solve that alone would have jeopardised the Tibetan culture. With great wisdom and care His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Tibetans in exile worked on preserving all aspects of their unique tradition.

The settlements in southern India are large and organised officially as co-operative settlements. As a result there have been agricultural business opportunities for the Tibetan refugees in the south. In northern India settlements are smaller and located in remote, non-urban areas. As a result there are fewer agricultural and commercial opportunities. Bir colony is in northern India three hours drive from Dharamsala, the seat of the government-in-exile and the heart of the Tibetan people. As a demographic unit, the three settlements of Bir, Chauntra and Sherabling contain about 2,000 refugees.

Jetsun Pema-la, sister to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, heads the ministry of education. She's now undertaking the ultimate of projects - job creation for the graduates of the future. How courageous yet how necessary is her vision for not every graduate can escape to the more developed pastures of the West. In Bir economic opportunities arise from a handful of shops, a few carpet manufacturers, weaving and other handcraft cottage industries. Various non-government organisations have been helping step by step. For example, recently the Bir Sakya Lama Society requested and received funds from the Trans-Himalayan Aid Society (TRAS) to replace one old, wooden loom with a metal loom. TRAS had supplied the original looms many years ago. It's encouraging to see initiatives underway to provide job opportunities at home so that Bir's children don't have to yearn for employment abroad.

Nonetheless there are challenges to meet in the process of creating enterprises in Bir. One day while strolling down the main road in Bir village, I saw in the distance two boys from Bir Central running with a school wastepaper basket. They proudly and dutifully dumped its contents into the only visible stream that meandered across the village. In a flash they ran and disappeared back to school. When I reached the stream and saw the refuse from the whole village, the peaceful moment was shockingly interrupted by a vision of the future. Where to begin? What would be the point of explaining to two children, when there's an entire school, village and nation that needs to understand before it's too late? One answer could be community education programmes on the value of clean water and air.

Early education of Tibetan children is provided by the Tibetan Children's Village (TCV) and the Tibetan Central Schools. Between Bir and Sherabling is Suja School TCV, a facility that boards over 1,300 refugees. Most of the children at Suja have escaped across the Himalayas and have made the Tibetan Children's Village their home, school and community life. Bir Central is a small school going only to Class Eight and every student there is a day scholar from Bir colony. Chauntra Central has a mix of day scholars and boarders. Interestingly, most of the Chauntra school boarders are of Tibetan stock originally from Pemakoed in south-eastern Tibet; the families of these children re-settled on the other side of India in far-off Arunachal Pradesh and are among the poorest of all Tibetan refugees in India.

Dzongsar Institute for Advanced Studies of Buddhist Philosophy and Research is a world-class scholastic refuge for the older male youth. Its funds seem ever used for expansion of the student body so that no one who seeks study there has yet been turned away. Any potential space for a dining-hall for the 300 resident monks has been used instead for yet more dormitories being built on and off the institute grounds. Perhaps because of this continuous need for dormitories, the only administration office of this world-class institute exists in an open corridor of space. Clearly there's a need for additional funding to support an appropriate office with minimal but essential operating equipment. A few used laptops installed with useful accounting, spreadsheet and word-processing software with both Tibetan and English fonts would be a great start.