24 January 2011

The Making of Modern Tibet

The title of this post is also a title of a book of the history of Tibet by A. Tom Grunfeld, four chapters of which I read for my prep class.  Here are some quotes from it and my thoughts:
The best single description of pre-1950 Tibetan society is "feudal."  The word is in quotes here only because it has been a catchword in the seemingly neverending political baffles over what Tibetan life used to be like . . . .  The term is used here simply because it is the adjective which comes closest to describing Tibetan society; the parallels between Tibet and medieval Europe are striking.
If I may refer to my learning journal entry six, this is exactly what my Tibetan teacher, whom we call TJ-la, said about his homeland.  If I combine this with arguments about the digital divide vs. the digital leapfrog (look for "W(h)ither the digital divide" in the bibliography) then I come to an interesting theory about the accelerating literacy rates in the Tibetan community.  Isn't it more significant when one thinks of modern Tibetan digital literacy in relation to their lives before 1950?  Perhaps one of the indicators I will be looking for is future shock, though I don't know how I will measure it.  I have the funny feeling that I came to this exact same conclusion elsewhere on my blog, but I don't remember where . . . .

 If conditions were so harsh, why was there general revolt of the serfs?  And why did so many hundreds of thousands of youths obligingly troop off to the monasteries and rarely leave?  The most frequently offered explanation is that the Tibetan people were "happy" and had no reason to rebel.  This argument may well confuse "happiness" with resignation.  Witnessing smiling faces and friendly people, which literally every traveler did, could as easily have been an indication of Tibetan stoicism . . . .  The belief in karma was a convincing argument for being content with one's present life for the benefit of one's future lives.  Karma was only one of the may religious concepts that reinforced the status quo.
Grunfeld's description of Tibetan history is, unfortunately, a negative one.  He disregards the distinct possibility of Tibetans actually possessing good qualities, a true religion, or minds as intelligent as his own.  Perhaps he is right in some cases, but he is unfair to continually depict Tibetans in a negative light. 

Fortunately, I think I will be able to avoid Grunfeld's pitfalls.  I have some Buddhist friends and a respect for Buddhist faith, and I think it likely that Tibetan culture is, in some respects, superior to my own.  I think that Norbu wanting to read both my project proposal and final paper will help me to be more open minded and objective in my writing--after all, I have a Tibetan audience!

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