I just finished Patrick French's wonderful, "hopeless, hopeful," book, Tibet, Tibet: A Personal History of a Lost Land. I'm still reeling.
I read the last 50 pages today (I prefer reading books in large chunks, as opposed to small bites - I lose my place in the ethos of a book if I split things too finely). The end of Tibet, Tibet is depressing on a national level but hopeful on a personal level - the strength and general goodness of the Tibetan people is reaffirmed at the same time a hopeless prognosis for Tibet's nationhood is given, unless the entire Chinese regime changes drastically.
French was able to review some documents in Dharamsala in an effort to come to a better understanding of the actual Tibetan death toll since the beginning of Chinese rule. As he realized that the "official" number (1.2 million) is built on straw-frame statistics, he wondered if he should keep his findings to himself. He then said:
"But I knew, after everything I had seen in Tibet, that truth was more important than continuing to back the cause in its present form. More realism was needed, not less, when it came to Tibet. It was a land that had suffered for to long from the well-intentioned projections of visiting foreigners."
It seems that his sad prognosis is driven from a true sense of compassion and altruism towards the Tibetan people, one that recognizes the faults and problems of the people while still cherishing them as human beings. I still believe in "the mind's Tibet," "a lasting romantic vision... of a lost land, a place of dreams, a place to feel at home," (French 300) but in the same way I still believe in the American dream and the Zion yet to come. America is screwed up, and so is the Church, and so is Tibet, but there is strength and goodness and meaning in all of these places.* The places are symbolic, but the people are real, and it's worth loving and fighting for both.
The project I am doing in Bylakuppe is apolitical, as far as parties and policies are concerned. The negotiation of culture through art is, however, part of what I believe to be a much more lasting and meaningful form of politics. As I have said before, it is indicative that the Dalai Lama set up the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts in Dharamsala before he set down plans for the rebuilding of Tibet's most sacred monasteries. You can kill the Tibetans in Tibet with some ease - even a tulku goes down with a gunshot - but the Tibet that lives in Tibetans, as romanticized as it may be, is much tougher to kill. If Tibet ever becomes its own place again, it will be due more to cultural heritage preservation and innovation than mere political posturing.
* The Church as "place" is an interesting idea, and deserves further exploration. Any takers?