21 March 2011

The Story of Tibet

I am reading a remarkable book by Thomas Laird called The Story of Tibet: Conversations with the Dalai Lama.  Laird is a journalist who had been living in Nepal for 30 years at the time that he received permission to interview His Holiness the Dalai Lama one-on-one in Dharamsala, India in 2006.  The result was the beginning of "a popular history of Tibet, something that has not been done with a Dalai Lama since the 1600s" (from the book jacket).  Laird records the events of the interview along with the Dalai Lama Tenzin Gyatso's recollections, his summaries of Tibetan history and mythology, and his philosophical reflections. 
I decided that this book would be perfect for broadening my understanding of Tibetan culture, both historically and currently.  The majority of the text is historical, but it is told through the lenses of both Thomas Laird and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.  It thus represents a modern and subjective interpretation of the history, one that reveals the current Tibetan culture at the same time since it is the product of Tibet's spiritual and political leader.  I am learning more about Tibetan Buddhism, politics, and thought.

Here is a significant excerpt:
On one occasion, I asked him to talk about the importance of the Potala, which I saw as one of the most significant symbols of the Tibetan nation.  

He looked at me blankly.  "It's just a building," he shrugged with a small laugh. [...] "For someone who has trained his mind, the Potala is still just a building.  Meditation is not a philosophy; it is a technique to develop that type of attitude, detachment." (6)
Dalai LamaIn many ways, His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the embodiment of Tibetan culture.  I imagine that his opinion of digital media will be a significant factor in the opinions of teachers and administrators at the TCV in Dharamsala.  Perhaps the Dalai Lama represents not just Tibetan culture but modern Tibetan culture as it makes its way into the digital age.  After all, I anticipate that since the Dalai Lama himself is involved in the digital renaissance, computers and internet won't be seen as at all hostile to Tibetan cultural preservation.  

Photo credit thriol, Jan Michael Ihl

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