Real Tibet dream comes when you meet his Holiness because then -- it's
actualized. And that's what happened to me. I saw the Dalai Lama but he's
also this extraordinary man, extraordinary professor, extraordinary father,
extraordinary friend -- all of that. It really shows you there's a way of
making this work, of using his system, a religious psychological philosophical
system that can really transform everything. The dream really becomes kind of
wonderful because it's possible to actualize it.
q: And is the dream more than sort of a personal salvation? I mean for you
does it have an element of the world?
a: I must say whenever I talk about Tibet or when I write about it --I
realized when I was writing the introduction to my photo book, it was really
about this sense of universal responsibility, that's what his Holiness talks
about, that's what the Buddha talked about.
In the end, that's the freeing mechanism -- is being selfless and it's
acknowledging infinite universes of suffering beings, where our little selves
compared to them are nothing. That all of our energy should be in sacrifice
and services. Suffering at least. Untold universe is filled with suffering
beings. That's the way out, our own cage.
q: You said to me last time we talked that by saving Tibet, in effect you
felt you were saving yourself.
a: No question about it. I mean it's very symbiotic the whole structure of
this and the political situation in Tibet, the incredible suffering of the
people of Tibet works symbolically but also works in a very fundamental real
All the work that all of us have done in the West to help Tibetan culture is
ultimately been about our own transcendence no question about it. and in saving
Tibet you save the possibility that we are all brothers, sisters. Even the
Chinese and the Tibetans are brothers and sisters ... something he freely
acknowledges and he interesting calls them their older brother. And maybe
their older brother should take care of their younger brother a little bit
better. An interesting way to see it. And see it compassionately. But, it's
a sense of responsibility.
q: What is the allure of Tibet? I want to read you something -- This is this
wonderful book, The Myth of Shangri-La . And he says in a sense Tibet's
a peripheral place, but it gave permission for many Europeans and Americans to
use it as an imaginative escape, as a sort of time-out, a relaxation from rigid
rational censorship as with dreams issues that are central to everyday life
emerged symbolically and is striking, unashamed naiveté.
a: Yeah, but I think what's interesting about the present Tibet is that it
bridges the dreamlike and the utterly real. There's two sides of the coin, the
dream side and the real side and -- they coexist in Tibet in the present
probably more than any other time and in many ways more so for us in the West
than for Tibetans themselves.
As usual with a powerful culture when another culture is in ......, they take
it more seriously than the host culture does. Western Buddhists in many ways
are much serious Buddhists than Tibetans are. I remember-- I think I told you
this before the story many years ago we were trying to figure out how to make
the Tibetan issue vital, capture the imagination of American public, touch
their hearts. And we'd found a way in Central America to make that
[issue]vibrant and meaningful. And personal.
So I was trying to do the same thing with Tibet and we were having a lot of
trouble and a film that I had done many years ago I met Roger .... who has
totally the wrong politics but he's a very good media consultant. So I said,
explain the problem we're having. And he said, oh, it's very simple you see,
you've got human rights and meditation and they don't go together. You can't
jive one with the other and it's confusing and disorienting.
And it's true, that's part of the problem but it's also part of our mission is
to bring those two things together and the key to that is universal
responsibility is that I can transcend all of this only by going through it,
only by helping my brother, not feel his suffering. Help him through it to
achieve some modicum of happiness or at least be on a path towards that is a
way that I'm released. Now the Tibetan situation right now is pretty amazing
because they are the repository of all this extraordinary wisdom, at the time
their libraries have been destroyed almost entirely by the Chinese. Bits and
pieces of books come in from nomads and all over Asia, it's extraordinary to
see these libraries come piece together.
q: So why should Americans care about Tibet?
a: Well I think on a simple ecological level that the diversity of this
planet is important for our survival, that all of our different cultures,
people are important to the health of the whole the same way that a species of
animal should be saved and at a simple ecology level. Obviously on other
levels this kind of suffering and abuse of people can exist anywhere or
eventually or eventually we're all in danger. We have basic human rights. Bill
of Human Rights that's been signed by most of the countries on this planet and
there's a reason for that -- is that we will not allow people to be treated
less than this. These certain things are not acceptable to civilization today.
q: Beyond that sort of basic humanitarian impulse, what is it that is so
intriguing about Tibet? Westerners have always been intrigued and projected
What's the dream?
a: Release. Light. Happiness. I would say that the West is very young,
it's very corrupt. We're not very wise. And I think we're hopeful that there
is a place that is ancient and wise and open and filled with light.
q: Are we right in assuming that Tibet is that, or was that?
a: I think it was a noble experiment in that direction for sure. And that
wasn't perfect, there was no way it was perfect. It was run by human beings
but I think it was a system that was an experiment of extraordinary courage
where institutions were created to foster great human beings, loving human
beings, responsible human beings. So the institutions were large. The
monasteries were large. They were large in mind, they were large physically
very different than our institutions where we kind of create small institutions
and we take our best people and make them smaller so that they will fit that
institution, the job descriptions. So I think it was a incredibly courageous
thing that they tried. The total embrace of Buddhism that happened from the
eight century on created a unique society, a unique civilization.
q: This idea of --when we imagine Tibet in the West and when we see all these
movies that are coming out--what is really our desire? What are we projecting
onto this subject?
a: Well I know for myself, my brother,-- we went very far away from where
we came from. I think he and I both went as far away from home as we possibly
could and I think you have to do that to eventually come home whole, healed.
Tibet fulfills that for me. My unconscious which may be connected to other
people's collective unconscious, I don't know. In that same way.
q: Is it an escape for you in a way?
a: It's probably both. I escape to something and I'm escaping from
something, ultimately I get back to where I came from with open heart and some
wisdom hopefully and process.
q: And why can't we do this with our own religion? Our own traditions?
a: Well I think most of our religious institutions are pretty corrupt so
they're not reliable. I think the Christian religion that I was brought up
with has very little to do with Christ, really and more an institutions that
have built up around the church.
I think they're good hearted, I think they've lost kind of the possibilities
that were there in the early church and a kind of courageousness I'm sure that
was there philosophically and psychologically in the early church. I mean these
guys were very courageous. Saints, mediators in the Christian religion as well
as Hinduism and the Buddhists, these are very courageous people. The
institutions obviously are created by people who weren't as courageous as that
need the safety to fall back on of the structure.
q: What do you think the effect is going to be of all of these films that are
a: Well, I mean this is going to be a real ... both of these films started
with terrific scripts, very serious people serious directors, serious actors,
serious technicians -- good budgets -- do anything that you want with these
films. I think the expectation is very high for anyone who's been associated
with the Tibetans and wants the best for the Tibetans, wants more for the
Tibetans and protect them in some way. I think all that's possible. -- I
think an example would be the Killing Fields. Incredibly powerful wonderful
film that came really after it was too late in many ways.
These stories -- both of them are historical. They take place in the late 40s
and through the 50s, tell the old story of Chinese invasion and what the values
and the cultures of Tibet was before the invasion and-- they're doing the
script anyhow includes what's happened since to some extent up until the Dalai
Lama escaped in exile in 1959.
q: Do you think they're going to make the issues jump the firewall into some
new dimension that will have political ...
a: Well I think it does but again they're movies and movies open and then
other movies open. And I think it's the danger of mass media --it's on
television and you click to the next station, you've seen that already. If it
becomes too easy, if the experience of Tibet becomes subjectified too much I
think in an entertainment way ultimately there will be ground lost.
But again these are serious pieces of work and they'll generate a lot of talk,
the Chinese will be very upset, both these films and all of the press around
them and that will generate a lot of real politic I think.
q: What should the Chinese do?
a: Actually I'd rather not say because they might actually do it. I love
what they're doing now, because they do it all wrong.
q: And if they did it right what would they--
a: It's actually very simple and the Tibetans have gotten around to this,
his Holiness is speaking about this for many years. They just have to behave
truthfully and honestly even for their own self-preservation to deal honestly
with the Tibetans and realize that they can be their close friends instead of
their subjects. It's better for them.
They don't have to have 600,000 troops in Tibet. They don't have to be
subsidizing all these settlers who've come in -- seven, eight million Chinese
settlers have been subsidized to come into Tibet. And they have a friendly
happy people living there and as the Dalai Lama has been saying for a long time
the Chinese can have control of international relations, that's not an issue
here. The issue is the survival of Tibetan cultural, survival of people. To
raise them from being second or third class citizens in their own country --
and it was their own country until 19 -- till the 50s, till the invasion and
his Holiness leaving in '59.
q: So what should Clinton do? Clinton's going to meet with the President of
China. What should he do?
a: Every successful negotiation that I know of with China has been based
on clarity. Just being clear. This what we expect. We won't accept less and
do it in a fair way. You know if it isn't about invading countries, it's about
dealing concretely, honestly, clearly, trade was a very important way to deal
with China. Clinton threw that away and he did it in a very callous way, in a
very dangerous way, put a lot of human rights people in jeopardy and it was a
very wrong thing to do. He's going to have negative karma from that choice.
And I'm sorry but it was the wrong approach, China laughed about it I'm sure
that we've got a very weak man over there, we can run this guy you know and as
we've seen in the last election, dumping money into the elections, they're
dealing with systems which don't have any strong center to them.
q: Principle in a sense is running right into commerce here isn't it? And I
think it would be fair to say that commerce is triumphing. Expedience.
a: Yeah and it's unfortunate too. I could understand it more if we were
not going well in this country and we really need that market badly but we're
the richest country in the world. There's no one even close to us right now. We
can afford actually to be more moral than we normally would. We can actually
afford it now and why we don't it's shortsighted. All these decisions are
shortsighted. You know I prefer those kind of decisions that Native Americans
made which were I think you have to consider the seventh generation when a
major decision was being made. How will it affect them. Not just us or even our
children but seven generations down the line.
q: Not the next quarter?
a: No, not the next quarter, the next day, the stock market the next day.
q: What's going to happen to the government in exile?
a: We got very good news today... Secretary Albright today announced that
there would be a position. Unclear exactly what that position is. But someone
in the State Department I believe who will be assigned to be the liaison
between US Government and the Tibetan people--not through China but
specifically to the Tibetans. That's an extraordinary breakthrough.
q: What do you think will happen when his Holiness dies to the movement
outside of Tibet?
a: It's really unclear -- I know his Holiness is answer of that. I think
he realizes that he's going to have to live as long as he possibly can to
mostly through compassion for the rest of us and stick around. To him I don't
think it makes much difference one way or the other. I think he's transcended
so much stuff -- I think there are Tibetans who have emerged, Loti Gary for
instance is -- wonderful, extraordinary, talented, capable person who's
emerged. I think the secular community of the exile community of Tibetans is
going to have to emerge in a much stronger way. And they've been going through
their growing pains, learning about democracy, learning about how to do things
My own opinion is they have their own system yet to evolve, it will be
something fresh like the original Tibet was something fresh, something new,
something original. And to be part of the world which they never wanted to be
part of and jealously guarded their society in solitude as that all changes
obliviously the whole system has to change. Nothing can go back to the way it
was and everything is always in a state of change and chaos -- no question
q: I mean do you think Tibet may lose some its allure and fascination as it
becomes more open and more mundane and more accessible?
a: Sure. Yeah. Of course it will. That's All right. I've been around
the scene long enough to see a lot of rather immature people who're drawn to
the Tibetan scene through open heart of wanting to just get out of whatever
suffering they're in but loading up projections on the Tibetans in ways that
are totally unfair. Expecting them to be superhuman which they're not.
They're just like us-- you go into a Tibetan monastery and you have nasty
Tibetans, you have really great ones, you have sweet ones, you have bitter
ones, you have the whole thing. The petty thieves. I would think it's the
same as anywhere else in the world. But I think they codified it as something
extraordinary. And I think they've been able to hold onto that in exile. When
you see the exiled community, know them, love them, embrace them as they
embrace you and go to Tibet and see what's happened to the Tibetans there it's
heartbreaking to see what they've lost but you also see what they have gained.
They create what they have in exile. It has taken them 13, 1400 years.
q: Well you've been to China -- and what do you think the Chinese see when
they look at Tibet?
a: Well, I'll tell you a story--many years ago I was in a demonstration in
New York in front of United Nations and it was on March 10th demonstrations and
every year there's demonstrations, all over the world in the Tibetan community
commemorating an uprising in 1959, March 10th against the Chinese and it was
unsuccessful and tens of thousands of Tibetans were machine-gunned in the
streets of Lhasa and all over Tibet eventually .
There was a demonstration and I had left and I got in a cab and I looked at
the license there and it was a Chinese person, cabdriver and he asked me where
I had come from and I said I just came from a demonstration for Tibetan freedom
and he said, oh the Tibetans -- and I said what's wrong? He said oh they're
terrible people, kill their children and they cut them up and have children's
bones all over the place and they're you know murdering brutal awful people.
I got very angry, I said what are you talking about? He said oh it is, and
it's absolutely true. I said how long have you been over here and he said I've
been over here two years. From where? From Beijing. And I said where did you
learn this? He said we learned it in school. They taught us that they're
q: There are obviously two completely different sort of notions of liberation
at work , here aren't they? The one is -- killer landlords-- and on the
Tibetan side is this notion of spiritual liberation -- interior liberation.
And do you think there is any --
a: I don't think there was every any respect. Certainly since the time of
Mao for the Tibetans, none at all. Certainly in older times, not even that long
ago, a hundred years ago, Tibet was definitely Tibet, China was definitely
China. Mongolia was Mongolia. Manchuria was Manchuria and these cultures
controlled each other at various times. The borders shifted. Power struggles
were intense and at any one time the Tibetans were on top, the Chinese were on
top, the Mongolians were on top and this goes back now 1500 years.... this
Since the Communist takeover, the irony being that possibly in some real sense
Mao and the communists thought they were liberating the Tibetans. And I would
allow for that possibility that it was a genuine revolution that they were
involved in but they totally misread the Tibetan people. The Tibetan people
were OK with their system. They were fine with it. Even the poor people were
fine with it. There was no starvation in Tibet. Starvation didn't come until
the Chinese came to Tibet and they forced them to grow their own kind of crops
and feed hundreds of thousands of troops.
And then little by little they took all of the jobs, they took the schools
over. They gave nothing back and marginalized in every possible way the
Tibetans and as you see it now, you go through the streets of Lhasa and the
young people are very different sort than one finds outside. A lot of
drinking, drugs, everyone plays a kind of strange pool on the side of the
roads. There are no jobs, there are no opportunities, there's no education for
them and they live through close to three generations now of children being
taken away and educated as Chinese of forced abortions of policies that were
intended for the Chinese back in China that didn't work at all for the
Tibetans, had nothing to do with the Tibetans. It's not an overpopulated
place. There were perhaps six or seven million Tibetans in an area that was
larger than Western Europe. The Chinese had no concept. And it got worse and
worse. So now they consider it some very barren Alaska or Siberia to them and
it's a hardship gig for anyone who's sent there. High-paying but you want to
go home, you want to make your money and go home.