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Dalai Lama: My Dream for Tibet's Freedom

Thubten Jigme Norbu, the older brother of H.H. the Dalai Lama,

was interviewed by Consul B. John Zavrel in Niagara Falls on March 29, 1997


A group of Tibetans, led by the 75-year old Thubten Jigme Norbu, the older brother of H.H. the Dalai Lama arrived in the United States on their 600-mile march to protest the continuing occupation of Tibet by China. The 1997 March for Tibet's Independence, which started on March 10, 1997 in Toronto, Canada will be passing through Niagara Falls, Rochester, Syracuse, Ithaca, Binghamton, Honesdale, Montclair, and will arrive at the United Nations in New York City on June 14, 1997.

The United States have been long-time supporters of the Tibetan struggle for freedom and independence. President Bill Clinton received His Holiness the Dalai Lama in the White House several years ago.


Four decades occupied by China - Over 17% of Tibetans killed - 6,000 monasteries destroyed - Genocide by Chinese continues - Appeal to the world community for help - Give us genuine self rule autonomy


Professor Norbu, when did you leave Tibet?

I left Tibet in 1951. The Chinese invasion took place in July, 1949. In 1951 I came to central Tibet, to Lhasa. While I was in Lhasa, the Chinese forced the Tibetan delegation to sign the Seventeen-Point Agreement. That is when I decided I had better get out of Tibet, so I escaped to India.

I lived in India for 6 or 7 months, and later spent some time in England. Then I came to the United States, where I lived until 1952. In that year I went to Japan to attend a Buddhist conference. While there, my travel document expired, and I had no passport and I couldn't leave the country because nobody would give me visa!

So I applied for an immigrant visa to the United States. The World Council of Churches helped me, and in 1955 I came to the United States. First I lived in New York; then, in 1965 I was invited to teach at the Indiana University and I took the opportunity. From 1965 to 1987 I lectured there on Tibetan Studies -- on the Tibetan culture, Tibetan history, Tibetan folklore, and the Tibetan language. In 1987 I retired, and continue to live in Indiana.


So, you have been away from Tibet over four decades, and you cannot go back?

No, I cannot go back. I visited Tibet once in 1980, invited by the Chinese government there. Then when in 1982 I asked for a visa to go there again to visit my cousins and friends there, the Chinese refused the visa. The reason why they refused the visa, they said, "when you came to visit China, we tried our best to treat you our well, but when you returned to the United States, you talked about the bad Chinese, you talk about Tibetan independence, and that's why we will not give you a visa.


Professor, is there a difference between the Tibetans and the Chinese? Are they similar or are they quite different people?

Oh, they are completely different people! Our way of life is different, our habits are different, our way of eating is different, and language of course is completely different. We have a spoken language, and a written language which comes from the Indian script Sanskrit -- we have nothing to do with the Chinese!

The Chinese say that we are part of China -- that's a complete lie! We were not part of China at any time, in any way . During the first few years the Chinese line was that Tibet should be part of China because a Tibetan Emperor had once married a Chinese princess! If that kind of reasoning were valid, what would happen in Europe where the royal families had so many intermarriages?

They also said that our religion was not a good thing; later, that we are part of China bacause of Genghis Khan. They talk about the time when the Mongols came to Tibet and subdued it. The Genghis Khan and the Mongols controlled Tibet, but they never incorporated Tibet into China! If that kind of reasoning were correct, then America should belong to England!

We had our own government before the Chinese took over. We had our theocratic government led by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. We had our National Assembly, we had our own army. We also had our own currency, gold and silver coins, as well as paper money. We had our own postal system, our own stamps...you see, before the Chinese invasion we had nothing to do with the Chinese!

Now, I still strongly believe that Tibet belongs to the Tibetans. Tibet does not belong to the Chinese or anybody else! I firmly believe that.

And then the Chinese said what they did when they invaded Tibet, that they "liberated" us! They liberate the Tibetans? We do not need to be "liberated" from anything! You know, we were very peaceful, very happy people under the government of His Holiness. And His Holiness is both politically and religiously the country's leader. Under his government, under that system, we were very happy, we were free. Not just the human beings, but I think even animals used to be much happier...nobody was hunting them, nobody was killing them.

So what did the Chinese bring us? The Chinese brought many disasters and great sorrows to the Tibetan people. Where is the liberation?

Now, all of Tibet became a prison!

Everywhere people watch each other, the Chinese watch the Tibetans. So many people were executed by the Chinese, so many people perished! At any time the Chinese can they pull any Tibetan out of his home, day or night, throw them in the prison, and after that, no mercy, just execute them!

Since the Chinese invasion over 1 million Tibetans were murdered by the Chinese!


How many people lived in Tibet before the invasion?

Six million Tibetans lived in Tibet before the invasion. So it was over 17% of the entire population of Tibet that the Chinese killed! We cannot keep quiet about what has happened to the Tibetans!

For example, in the Amdo region of northeast Tibet, of the 100,000 people of the nomadic Golok tribe who lived there before the invasion, as of 1979 there were left only 4,700 survivors!

I know that there used to be thousands of monasteries in Tibet.

Before the Cultural Revolution, the Chinese destroyed all our historical sites -- temples, monasteries, museums. They completely destroyed over 6,000 monasteries and historical sites!

And what happened to all the monks who used to live there?

Oh, my -- the Chinese put all the monks into labor camps -- some in Tibet, some in the Chinese Turkistan area, in the Mongol border area. People died in prison like flies.


 Mountain sanctuary, Tirdrom in central Tibet.


Something else I have read, Professor, about Lhasa. The news said that the Tibetan population is getting displaced by the Chinese -- that the Chinese are filling up Lhasa with their people and that they want to make it all Chinese. How bad is this situation?

This is a very bad, a very serious situation. So many Chinese immigrants came to Tibet, and to our other cities. All the better jobs go to the Chinese settlers.

At this time, in Lhasa City, there is only 1 Tibetan for every 6 Chinese.

Today, Tibetans are a minority in their own country. Tibetans cannot find any jobs, since the Chinese took them all. The best job a Tibetan can get is as a truck driver!

What the Chinese are really doing in Tibet is a genocide against our people and our culture.


What does the world say to this tragedy? We haven't heard recently much about Tibet in the United States media, be it newspapers or television.

The reason why is because China is such a large, powerful country. I think that many governments think, "let us do business with China, let us get new contracts, make a lot of money!" But I don't know if they will ever actually get the money. It is a big question mark! But I think that this is completely wrong. Nowadays, you go to a store -- any store -- and you buy an alarm clock, telephone, coffee maker, anything -- all is "Made in China".

I think that economically, China is influencing the Western world too much. You buy all this "Made in China" merchandise, but it is produced by prison labor. Those people work day and night, slave labor, and also underage labor, young children! I think that people in the West should think about what they buy. And they should think, "Am I happy using this kind of product?"


What has happened to the environment in Tibet after the Chinese invasion? I know what happened in Europe...we had the Russians there. There was destruction, air pollution, dead forests, polluted rivers, etc. What happened in your country?

Exactly the same thing. Even worse, I would say. All the monasteries, temples, historical sites -- all were destroyed by the Chinese. The woods in the mountains were deforested -- and all the wood taken to China! Not to be used for building in Tibet, but all taken to China! Also many minerals silver, gold, lead, etc. -- all this is being taken to China.


So they are in effect looting the country for the natural resources?

Yes, they are looting the country! Yes, yes. And they are building dams and destroying all the lakes in the process. We used to have many waterbirds -- and the Chinese shot them and now they are extinct! Now you do not see them in Tibet at all.

For instance, when I was in Tibet in 1980, I never saw a wild yak. Before the Chinese came, the yaks used to cover entire slopes of the mountains. And we used to have in Tibet many wild horses, wild antelopes, wild sheep and deer -- the Chinese destroyed them all! It is all so terrible, done by this ruthless Chinese government, by these ruthless people.

There is no way the Tibetans can keep quiet about this. We must inform people about this, the Chinese must hear it!

The Chinese say that the Tibetans are now so happy after the invasion. But it is not the truth! And the Tibetans will not accept this. Since 1987 the Tibetans tried so many peaceful demonstrations, but the Chinese answered only by putting everybody to ruin, and they killed so many of us! All the world knows about it!


Professor, in 1989 His Holiness was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. That was an important international gesture of support for independence of Tibet. And somewhat earlier, in 1987 His Holiness came up with the Five Point Peace Plan. What can you comment on the plan?

So many Chinese immigrants are coming to Tibet -- taking all of our land, all our culture. Something must be done fast. So His Holiness proposed the Five Point Peace Plan, but up to now, the Chinese have never answered in any way.

Even today, as he just visited Taiwan, His Holiness did not even speak about independence for Tibet -- he always suggests, use the "Middle Way". He asks China, "Give us genuine self-rule autonomy" -- that is His Holiness' wish. He is just trying to save some of our people, save some of our culture.


What was the response from the governments of the other countries? United States, Germany, etc. In the United States -- the Congress supported it, and also in Germany there was support for His Holiness' plan. Friends in Germany hoped to have His Holiness as guest at the Nörvenich Castle, they planned to have an exhibition about the art and culture of Tibet. The Chinese intervened and His Holiness could not come to Germany. So that was a great disappointment for many friends.

Yes, yes. Anytime His Holiness goes anywhere, the Chinese always protest. It is a terrible thing what they are doing. His Holiness never says bad things about China, he always says we must learn from our enemy. He is a marvellous person. He always says, "It's all right, it's all right; we will talk and we will solve the problems".

With the world situation being what it is, I think that we Tibetans are very lucky to have such a leader.


It is 6 million Tibetans against 1 billion Chinese. So few against so many...the Tibetan people really need help from other countries.

Very true. That's why I came for this walk-- to meet people, to share our sorrows with the world community and to tell China that we are not accepting what they are doing in Tibet. The world must find out what is happening there! But I think that we have hope. His Holiness guides us in his peaceful way. With justice and compassion, we must continue in a peaceful way, and we will win back our country.

I think that the 21st century belongs to the world community. In the new century it will be very important to protect everyone's rights. It is the most important thing, and we only ask for our rights. This is our Tibet! China, leave us alone, don't bother us, leave us alone!

I hope that some day the world will help us. As you said, a few million Tibetans against a billion Chinese -- it is a very difficult situation. But with our peaceful way and the world's community's compassion and sense of justice, we will regain our freedom.

That's what we hope.

The way the world political situation is now in the West, many politicinas are afraid to support your cause. There isn't much written in the newspapers, so it comes down to the ordinary people. What can they do to help promote your cause?

I think that the important thing is that everyone has a responsibility. We are asking only for our rights. I think that the world should support us. People should write to their governments and to their representatives about our suffering and about our desire for freedom and peace. I'm not asking this for myself; there are 6 million people suffering in Tibet.

As we are sitting here, in Tibet many people are suffering in jail, many are being executed at this moment. I think that the people of the world cannot close their eyes to this injustice, they should do something to help. We are all human beings--and human beings must help other human beings. There is no reason why some human beings must suffer.


Professor, there is so much suffering in Tibet; for the people of the Western World it is very hard to understand His Holiness's attitude of non-violence. Tibetans have suffered so much, so many of them were killed, so many are in prison. Are most Tibetans still true to this philosophy of non-violence?

Buddhism came to Tibet around the 8th century , and we Tibetans have always lived in this philosophy of non-violence. We used to be very happy people. So many Indian philosophical ideas were brought to Tibet; our people and our leaders all live by this creed of non-vilolence and peace. The practice of non-violence is a wonderful thing, and I myself fully believe in it. This is very important. If you use violence, you will suffer again and again. People will continue to suffer.


In yoga philosophy, we speak of the practice of non-harming any living beings in thought, word, and deed. I think it is important to observe non-violence on all three of these levels.

That's right. You know, His Holiness says, "If you can help somebody, that's great. Just don't try to harm anybody". I think that this is a wonderful philosophy.


What about the young people in you country? This oppression must be very hard especially on them, the way life has been in Tibet for so many years.

Yes - over 40 some years. In every family in Tibet, they all had some disaster -- a parent killed, a brother killed, children killed. Some younger people are getting tired of waiting. But still, Buddhism, His Holiness' wisdom prevail most of the time.

Definitely, most of the people follow the policy of non-violence that His Holiness preaches.


Is His Holiness pursuing any new diplomatic initiatives at this time?

I think he is always trying to make contact with the Chinese, but they keep the door closed. He has always has said, "we can come up and talk with no preconditions". We must talk, but China has a such ruthless government that they never think this way.


Do you see any changes for the better happening in China in the near future?

We all believe that change is always there. How -- we do not know. But definitely, there will be change. Whatever a superpower's strength may be, at a certain point it reaches an apex, and then it will fall. And Buddhism also teaches that change is very important. Everything is impermanent. So definitely the situation will change, but I don't know when or how.


What is the attitude of the average Chinese people toward Tibetans? Surely, they don't all approve of what their government is doing in Tibet.

Definitely. Look, we are on this 600-mile march to the United Nations. Some Chinese from Malaysia, from Formosa-Taiwan have come to walk with us. So you cannot say that all Chinese are bad. There are so many good Chinese, and so many bad Chinese. Tibetans the same way: there are good Tibetans and there are some bad Tibetans, too. The important thing is that because of this ruthless Chinese government, their propaganda movies, lies, leaflets, etc....people do not know how Tibetans really are. What kind of Chinese go to Tibet? Only the military and card-carrying communists.


Recently, I read a fascinating book by Heinrich Harrer, Seven Years in Tibet, and I have heard that a film was going to be produced based on the book.

Yes, he is such a lovely man. They already finished the film in Argentina. Probably at the end of this year -- this fall, hopefully -- it will be in the movie-theaters, also in America.


I understand that the Chinese government would not allow any part of the filming to be done in Tibet.

That's right! Actually, some of the members of our march are in the film. In 1997, probably 3 movies about Tibet will come out. One, about His Holiness in his young years, covering the time until 1959; "Seven Years in Tibet", and another film about a Tibetan singer. We must inform the world who we are, because people do not know it. Tibet is so far away, so isolated.


I think that various cultural exchanges are very important. And we would like to see more cultural exhibitions about the Tibetan people, their music and art, etc. Is anything like that being done at this time?

In San Francisco and New York City there was a Tibetan Art Exhibit. Tibetan works of art were put together from collections in Europe, Russia, from some private collections. I think it was also shown in Germany last year.


Last year, I have seen a wonderful, larger-than-life bust of His Holiness in an art Museum in Germany. A very good likeness.

Oh yes? Great, great.


What can you tell us something about the culture of Tibet?

Our culture is based on the ancient beliefs of Bon, and on Buddhism imported from India. Our daily life is based on these two: we are Bon believers and Buddhist believers. We take the best of the two religions, and our culture is based on that.


I have seen some interesting sculptures from bronze which were made in Tibet, and also some tankas. What are those?

Tankas, you are talking about religious art. There are so many tankas. Also in many temples, whole walls 30 - 40 yards long, used to be paintings. The Chinese completely destroyed all this.


Much of Tibetan art surely used to be in the art collection of the Potala Palace. What happened to those works of art?

I think that most of it China took away. Now, today you can see in Peking, in what they call "People's Palace" and in its library all the good works of art which they stole from Tibet. So you can see that's why I said earlier: all that belongs to the Tibetan people, we must get it back. The Chinese stole all this art, all these ancient books and manuscripts. They are not works of China! They belongs to us!


Please tell us more about the Potala Palace.

Well, it is an enormous building. 13 stories high, more than 1,100 rooms. It has so many large rooms, His Holiness' apartment, ceremonial halls. Also monasteries, many temples, and quite a few tombs of the previous Dalai Lamas.

Government offices used to be located there: various ministries, the Dalai Lama's secretariat, the treasury, etc. It is a huge place. Often people talk abot the Seven Wonders of the World. I think that Potala must have been one of the Seven Wonders of the World!

But now it is changed so much. The Chinese made it into a museum, just for the tourists. The Chinese are only interested in making money. It used to be such a wonderful place. Even in the monasteries -- you go there, and see people wearing a monk's robe. But actually they are not monks -- they are lay people, who put on the robes only for tourists. Even here this ruthless Chinese government cheats the people and lies to them!


View of the Potala Palace in Lhasa



What is the most imortant temple in Lhasa?

That's the Jokhang.


Is it still in operation?

Well, it looks like it is in operation, but you can go there only at certain times. In the old days, anybody could go there at any time, burn some incense, walk around, meditate.

There used to be so many statues, built in the 8th, 9th centuries -- these statues have been all destroyed by the Chinese. Now they just have replicas there.


You mentioned that the Tibetan people like to meditate, to pray, they like to go on pilgrimages. Pilgrimages is not something that we are very familiar with in America, it is not so much part of culture.

You see, Tibetans from all over the country go on pilgrimages. We think that Lhasa is to us what Mecca is to the Muslims: at least once in lifetime they go to Mecca. And exactly in the same way Lhasa is important to the Tibetans. People may spend several years on a pilgrimage. For instance, from my home town, it is about 1,000 miles to Lhasa. And the people go there. In the old days, there were no airplanes, no cars, no railroad. I myself once went on a pilgrimage, and took a horse with me -- in 111 days I did it -- and it was just wonderful. We used to prepare all the food ourselves and for our animals, we carried it together ... that was in 1942 or 1943. Usually a large group cannot travel together; there is no habitation; the northen plateau has high passes, say around 12,000 to 13,000 feet. We had to cross rivers, Yantze, etc. Four of Asia's great rivers start in Tibet...


Were the rivers quite wide there? And how did you get across?

Oh yes, they are very wide. You get across by swimming on horseback. Sometimes you see only the horse's nose sticking out of the water. I crossed it twice -- and it was wonderful. That kind of life is so nice. Well, you have a little problem on rainy days, or on snow days in the high mountains. It is very cold there. And on our present walk, we arrive in the United States from Toronto, and everybody thinks it is cold here. But I often think how in Tibet we had torn shoes, torn clothes, and we traveled in 30 - 60 degrees below zero. But in the United States we have the best boots, the best clothes, the best food -- what do we have to worry about?


A summer festival at Chongra in eastern Tibet, where families gather from the surrounding areas.



One of the very special places for pilgrimage in Tibet are Mount Kailas and Lake Manasovar. Can you tell us something about them?

Actually, I have never been there myself. Mount Kailas is very sacred both to Hindus and the Buddhists. In this book you have here, My Tibet by the Dalai Lama, there are some great photographs of of both.

There is another picture there that I like very much ... of the panda. Do you know that it is a Tibetan animal? The Chinese liars say that it is a Chinese animal and give it as a "friendship gift!" Look, here is the picture and see what his Holiness says about it: "The panda is actually a Tibetan animal. Its original range overlapped the traditional eastern border of China and Tibet. The local people in those regions are mostly Tibetan. Some of the captive pandas should be named Tashi or Tsering instead of Ling-ling or Mei-mei."


Professor, in the Five Point Peace Plan, His Holiness had also a proposal to establish Tibet as a "sanctuary of peace". This is how he describes it: "It is my dream that the entire Tibetan Plateau should become a free refuge where humanity and nature can live in peace and in harmonious balance. It would be a place where people from all over the world could come to seek the true meaning of peace within themselves, away from the tensions and pressures of much of the rest of the world. Tibet could indeed become a creative center for the promotion and development of peace. The Tibetan Plateau would be transformed into the world's largest natural park or biosphere. Strict laws would be enforced to protect wildlife and plant life; the exploitation of natural resouces would be carefully regulated so as not to damage relevant ecosystems; and a policy of sustaining development would be adopted in populated areas". How was this idea accepted worldwide?

I think that many legislators accepted it in principle. There are so many Chinese immigrants in Tibet, that I think His Holiness' proposal is the best solution, before it is too late.


His Holiness the Dalai Lama.



The words of His Holiness, "Tibet's unique history and spiritual heritage make it suitable to act as a "sanctuary of peace at the heart of Asia. In the future, Tibet need no longer be an occupied land, oppressed by force, scarred by suffering. It can become a free haven where humanity and nature live in harmonious balance". These are very special thoughts, and in them one can see the goodness of His Holiness, and his compassion for all the people. What can you tell us about His Holiness -- you have known him for so many years, very closely as his older brother.

I think that he is a marvellous human being. He has a big heart, a heart for everybody. Not just for friends. He says "We can learn from our enemies". Again, this is a Buddhist idea. He has compassion for all the people.


Where does he now spend most of his time?

In exile in Dharmasala, India. Since received the Nobel Peace Prize, so many people want to see him, invite him to teach. In India, he often goes to all the Tibetan settlements there. And the people of the Western World want him to come to conferences, etc. So, he is very busy.


It is hard to see how he can find enough time to continue his own spiritual and meditation practice, when he has all these demanding engagements and official duties.

Yes, yes. That's what I asked him myself when I was with him in Japan a few years ago. There are so many people coming, and he has so little time to sleep, so I said, "How can you manage all this?", and he said, "It's all right, it's all right, I can manage". He is really an amazing person.


When is His Holiness going to visit the United States again?

I understand that he will visit in May. He is going to New York City, Washington, D.C. and after that he will go to Los Angeles.


His Holiness said, "all the 6 million Tibetans should be on the list of endangered species. This struggle is my first responsibility". I fully agree with this, Professor Norbu, and many people all over the world feel the same way. We wish you and your people success in your quest for freedom, and may His Holiness return back to Lhasa very soon and may God be with you.


Thank you, thank you very much.



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