01 April 2011

History of Tibet

Reading Thomas Laird's The Story of Tibet was probably the best idea I ever had.  The book is an interesting combination of history, culture, and folklore told through the eyes of the 14th Dalai Lama.  Certainly the book takes a Tibetan rather than Chinese perspective when it comes to that conflict, but I think the stance toward Tibet's political status is appropriately moderate rather than offensive. 

As an American, it is intriguing to read a book that delves more deeply than I have ever gone into Asian history.  I know quite a bit about the history of the Western world and the Middle East, but the histories of China, Mongolia, India, and Tibet have not been part of my education until now.  There is an entire hemisphere of the world about which I know very little, and I am fascinated to learn more about it now.  Here is a beautiful excerpt:
The First Dalai Lama had already founded Tashilunpo, and his master Tsongkhapa had been dead for decades.  "The First Dalai Lama was getting old," the current Dalai Lama said, "around eighty-two.  One day he was explaining the Buddhist scriptures, as he did every day.  Then with a deep sigh he said, 'Now I am near to dying.'  One disciple responded, 'Now according to your past indications, you are going to go to the Pure Land of the Buddhas.'
"'No,' the First Dalai Lama said.  'I have no wish for that.  My only wish is to take rebirth wherever there are more problems and suffering.'
"This is wonderful," the Dalai Lama told me, looking up with a smile of radiant happiness.  "Many years ago I read this and was really impressed."  He spoke softly, reverentially, as he continued.  "I wept when I read this the first time.  His way of thinking, (it) deeply influenced my mind.  I prefer rebirth in this world continuously.  Many lamas would prefer to take rebirth in Shambhala (a near-heaven realm), but not me.  My strong feelings about this were influenced by what I read long ago in the biography of the First Dalai Lama."
Though I don't know if or how I will incorporate this into my project, it is valuable to know the Dalai Lama's values.  I have come to respect him much more as I have read the history of Tibet through his words.

1 comment:

  1. Your experience with Tibetan history reminds me of what hooked me early on when preparing for my first India Field Study. There was a book called India: A History that I read for my book review. It was big and heavy and quite long (and it made me feel like Hermione Granger every time I cited India: A History), but it got me realizing for the first time how big of a land and culture I had undertaken to study. U.S. history is a minor blip compared to what other cultures are founded on.