Learning About the Tibetan Culture

Tashi Delek (Hello)

It has been almost a week since I posted last and I apologize for the delay. I have been taking some time to get acquainted with the area and the new responsibilities of my internship. I will try to back track and give you a review of the things that have happened since last week.

I have a Tibetan man that I am working with to develop his ability for conversational English. The Tibetans have a very strong desire to learn English as well as practice the language every opportunity that comes their way. So my teacher at the University of Arkansas arranged to work with someone he knows. We get together almost everyday and work on conversation. In one week I have been approached by at least five Tibetans asking if I can teach them. Unfortunately with working at least 9 hours a day at the Tibetan Women’s Association for my internship it is difficult to take on anymore than the one student I already have. There of course some great organizations here which focus on teaching English. So I have also encouraged my student Tashi to enroll in the English classes at Louisiana Himalayan Association (LHA) for the daytimes when I am at my internship. LHA is a social work initiative with an affiliation to Tulane University in Louisiana. The man that I met at the agency is Neil and he holds a MSW from Tulane. For more information on LHA you can visit the website at www.lhainfo.org

On Thursday June 26th I was invited to attend a cultural event of a spiritual and political leader H.H. Gyalwang Karmapa. This was a very special invitation as it provides the insight to the spiritual values of the Buddhist culture. The Karmapa is said to be the third most important leader of the Tibetan people. The Karmapa recently spent time in the US and is highly regarded by Tibetans of the monastic community and also lay community. The day started with a ceremony at Gyuto Monastery and then moved to another monastery approximately two hours from Gyuto. First at Gyuto Monastery they served lunch to everyone who attended after a prayer session in the morning. In the picture you will see a lot of shots from the road because our taxi driver decided to take a short cut which allowed us to meet up with the Karmapa’s entourage and travel the rest of the way in his entourage. This was actually a lot of fun.

It was very exciting to see all the faces of the communities as we passed through many small villages on the way. I also had an opportunity to see the respect of the Indian communities as they bowed and showed respect to the Karmapa as he drove by. When we arrived at Drubten Pedme Gyeypai Gatsal Institute, another monastery, the nuns, monks and lay people welcomed him with cultural banners and music as they lined the walk way. It was very much a pomp and circumstance that you would see when someone like the president or the pope arrived in the US except obviously different cultural acknowledgments.

Everyone moved into the prayer hall where they participated in prayer and chants. Then they served rice and tea to everyone and H.H. the Karmapa addressed the crowd with thanks. There was about an hour break and then everyone reconvened for a two hour teaching from the leader. His talk was focused on the importance of choosing a teacher. This talk was very good but when speaking with my friends from the monastery Gyurmey and Pasang they commented that it was an easy teaching. I think because there were so many foreigners present he may have kept it more simple. I was most surprised when the Karmapa asked for the foreigners to come forward to receive a gift from him. What an amazing experience. Keep in mind this is someone the Dalai Lama looks to possibly take over for a time period when he passes on.

After the teaching there was cake served outside the prayer hall to all the attendees. The entertainment provided was from Taiwanese group who gave song and dance in honor of the Karmapa’s birthday. I learned that usually there would be Tibetan dance and music but due to the conditions in Tibet this is a year of mourning. This is a very important subject- the Tibetan people are not celebrating any of the traditions as usual because of the hundreds of lives that have been lost in Tibet this year since March 10th. The situation in Tibet is grave and many Tibetans have been killed for speaking out for freedom of religion, and other basic human rights. In addition there are hundreds maybe thousands that have been imprisoned since March 10th as political prisoners. They are faced with horrible conditions in the Chinese prisons and they need the global community to support the concerns of human rights violations.

Tomorrow I will be interviewing nuns from the “Drapchi 14” which is a group known as the singing nuns. This is the current project I am working on for the Tibetan Women’s Association. In conjunction with the TEXT project I have compiled a number of questions for the interview that will focus on their life in Tibet and their life in exile. I hope to provide more details to this project as it progresses.

On Saturday June 28th I had the privilege to participate in a leadership workshop sponsored by the Tibetan Women’s Association. This workshop focused on the empowerment of women. The presenters were two amazing US citizens Ambassador John McDonald and Dr. Eileen Borris. All I can say is WOW I had no idea I would be sitting in a room with such quality leaders from the US and also from the Tibetan community. First I would like to give a little information on Ambassador John McDonald. He is a US diplomat first appointed by President Jimmy Carter. He has worked in UN affairs and is a major peace keeper. He has been working all over the world as a conflict resolution specialist. Ambassador McDonald has been working on a project known as the Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy for over sixteen years. For more information please visit the website at www.imtd.org

At the workshop there was diversity in representation from western countries as well as many women leaders of the Tibetan community. It was such a great experience and the workshops dealt with qualities make a good leader. Also in the afternoon the workshop switched topics and dealt with Trauma, Healing and Reconciliation. It was at this time that the discussion opened up for the women to share their personal experiences of trauma and how they have dealt with it in their lives. I heard stories of the long journey over from Tibet and what emotions were experienced as a young child that felt abandoned because their parents sent them into exile. It was also addressed that their spiritual development was the means in which brought them comfort and understanding of why their parents sent them to India. I also heard a young women talk about how one time the local India population became outraged at the Tibetan community and broke into their homes. The main discussion presented by Dr. Borris is the importance of telling your story and having it heard. The steps to healing start with telling the story. It made me think about how important it is to sit and listen to the Tibetans tell about their time in Tibet, their escape and the hardships they endured in getting to India and also their longing for a return to their family and home in Tibet. I believe that I am right where I am called to be with regards to my future as a social worker in the global community. My first lesson is to sit and listen to the people and then try to give a place for their stories to be heard.

I would like to thank you all for your time in reading about their stories and your continued support for the Tibetan cause. Please check out the photos on the photobucket site to see the cultural celebration and also the pictures of the magnificent women that attended the leadership workshop.


Also a big thanks to the Tibetan Women’s Association and all the Tibetans for their time in sharing with me.

Thu jeche (thank you),


As always thanks for overlooking any typos or grammar errors.


Partial Review of TEXT Project

Tashi Delek (Hello)

Well it has been very difficult to concentrate on updating the blog and when I tried recently it did not go through. So I apologize to all who have been checking in regularly especially my Dad. Love you.

This is a partial review of travels and studies thus far.

I first need to explain that the program I have been involved with since June 7th has been called TEXT (Tibetans in Exile Today) headed by professor Sidney Burris and Geshe Thupten Dorjee. The program is facilitated through the University of Arkansas and is focused on taking the oral history of elder Tibetans living in exile in India. The project involves recording video interviews with Tibetans in India who remember life in Tibet before 1959 and before the Chinese Communist invasion. A permanent online archive will be established where these interviews will be housed and made available to the public. These stories are important to the preservation of the Tibetan culture and to the continued development of awareness for the Tibetan cause.

Traditions of Tibetans

The Tibetan culture places importance on Buddhism and is an important part of most all Tibetans. The Dalai Lama is a political and spiritual leader and has been in exile since 1959 due to religious persecution from the Chinese Communist Government. It is difficult for me to go into the extensive history of Tibet but I encourage all of you to learn more about the atrocities that have occurred since the Chinese invasion of 1949. The threat of cultural genocide, due to the death of 1.2 million Tibetans at the hands of the Chinese Communist government is a growing concern. Tibetans have faced human rights abuses such as loss of freedom of religion, loss of free speech, loss of employment opportunities and loss of cultural values due to re-education of communist propaganda. This is only a few of the Human Rights violations that are being committed. I will do my best to share more details with you but for now I will share the travels.

First in Delhi we were met by friends of Geshe la my teacher. A very special person named Pachen has been with us and responsible for travel arrangements and coordinating important interviews. He is very famous in the Tibetan community as he is known as the Voice of Tibet and broadcasts a very import radio show. Please take a moment and google if you are interested. We were also met by Tibetan monk Pema Rinchen who is a chant master but more importantly he is a good friend of Geshe Dorjee.

Tibetan Protest March In Delhi

In Delhi we attended a hunger strike where Tibetans have been doing a relay strike since March 14, 2008. Tibetans have been non-violently protesting the actions of the Chinese Communist Government for years and now there is a great opportunity to raise global awareness of the concerns due to the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. China made agreements to address human rights violations in order to house the Olympics. There is growing concern since March 10, 2008 that human rights violations are not being addressed and the restrictions on Tibetans in Tibet is worsening. The global community cannot be certain at this time because the media has been restricted in Tibet and only approved, escorted journalist are allowed in. So the hunger strike is occurring in different Tibetan communities in exile and we have visited the site in Delhi and Dharamsala. We interviewed elders and youth to hear their stories of how they desire to visit family members they have not seen many years and to visit their homeland. We cannot know the yearning they must have to live a life of freedom we so often take for granted, yet they work as a community of people that take care of one another and people of their host country. You will see in the photos a large soup kitchen set up on the streets of Delhi managed by the Tibetan Women’s Association, where they fed the hungry and homeless. It was an amazing site to see people with so little giving so much to others. The Tibetan Buddhist culture places great emphasis on Love and Compassion for All Sentient Beings and it is prevalent in their actions towards others.

After Delhi we traveled to Mondgod which is where the Drepung Loseling Monastery is located. Geshe Thupten Dorjee honorary teacher of the year at U of A grew up here after his family escaped Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. He is highly educated and is very well respected at this large monastery. We were given a most grand tour of which westerners are not usually exposed to and assisted by Tibetan monks Phuntsok Tsondu, Nyima Norbu (who met us at the airport) and Pema Rinchen. There are no words to express the amazing experience of being in the massive prayer hall with all the monks chanting and signing. We were provided the opportunity to participate in an unbelievable ceremony that I will forever remember. We interviewed some very influential teachers of the Buddhist philosophy who shared their stories and insights. One message I think was very important and I have heard the Dalai Lama express it as well is that it is important to keep one’s faith and converting to Buddhism is not the goal. The goal is to share the philosophy that can assist in developing a harmonious world though love and compassion for all sentient beings. Geshe Choedar Gyatso expressed the importance of diversity in religion in the world. I think it important to inform you of the level of respect Buddhists have for others and their faiths.

Leann with teacher

It was in this Tibetan Community at Camp 3 that we started the new pilot program for the Tibetan Children’s Heritage. You will see pictures where we met with two teachers who will benefit from the Pennies for Partnerships fund raiser and the 40 children who will also benefit from the efforts of Jigme Paljor and Karma Tsomo. Mr. Paljor teachers the older students and Ms. Tsomo teaches 5th grade and under. Subjects taught are English, Tibetan, and Hindi languages along with Science, Social Studies and Mathematics. Grades 1-5 have art class with an emphasis on Tibetan Culture and grades 6-8 are taught tailoring and carpentry. Grades above eight are focused on curriculum to prepare them for higher education and they focus on reading, writing and conversation. When we discussed the needs of the children the teachers expressed the need for books, notebooks, comics, and cushions to sit on. The children also need raincoats because they do not have a bus service and all of them walk to school. Some of their families are farmers so they walk a pretty good distance. The money raised for the pilot program will be overseen by Phuntsok Tsondu of Minyak Khangstan in Mondgod and Geshe Thupten Dorjee of Fayetteville, Arkansas. It is important that the monks oversee this project to ensure the money is managed properly.

It was very difficult to leave the Drepung Loseling Monastery because it is such a magical place where the vibe is positive and people are really nice and friendly. They are very gracious to see the support of westerners for they desire so much to return to their homeland. Through the efforts of the global community and support for the Dalai Lama this can be made possible.

Please check out the photo page at photobucket.


Please copy and paste the link above, or click, and hopefully you will see some amazing pictures from India and the Tibetan community.

Also again here is my Flickr page, also with photos:


A Big thanks to my friend Daniel Gold who is assisting from afar with posting the photos on my blog. As an administrator of the site he is awesome. FYI Dgold..tha same login and password is used on photobucket. I appreciate you.

Thanks to all of you and your prayers and support. Thug jeche (thank you)


PS. I saw the Dalai Lama the other day.

Please excuse any typos I was in a hurry!!!!!

Things to Come

Tashe Delek- Hello

Plans are in the works for the India-Tibetan social work experience.

Stop by again soon. I am looking forward to engaging you in the social work journey to little Lhasa, a town  nestled in the Himalaya Mountain foothills, the town of Dharamsala, India, home to 8000 Tibetan exiles. I hope to share with you the details of the resilience expressed by the spiritual people of the Tibetan heritage. I also hope to share with you stories of self-determination and continued hope for freedom for Tibetans to fully live with their cultural values of ancient history.

Please come back and visit soon and learn details of the “Pennies for Partnership” campaign.Proceeds from the “Pennies for Partnership” will assist educational programs for children in refugee camps and support the Tibetan Womens Association economic development programs.

Prayer Wheels Dharamsala

Thug-jeche (thank you),