Buddhism came to me as a philosophical interest in the teachings of the maters. I spent sixteen days practicing in a monastery. For me Buddhism is not only a religion, it is a definite way to exist and function in the world. I has a proven worth, and this appeals to me. In Poland, there is a small percentage of Buddhists, as it is primarily a Catholic country. But there are a few Buddhist monasteries, including one near Warsaw which collaborates with a Tibetan monastery from which monks and nuns will visit Poland in June. After what I saw in Tibet, following the realizations I came to there, I began to engage in activism. My friend and I organized a demonstration in front of the Chinese consulate in Gdansk. We were recruited by Save Tibet, based in Warsaw, to organize larger events.
When I was in Tibet three years ago, it was rather peaceful but very much overcome by poverty. I came to the realization that Tibet is godly but not human. It is godly because there you can discover many wonderful things: beautiful mountains, lakes; inhuman because the earth is un-fertile, the hunger is horrifying, and there are no people. All day you drive in the car. There is no other way to travel in Tibet. You have to hire a jeep and in a whole day's travel there is nothing, absolutely nothing; to live there seems nearly impossible. It is different in the forests or near Everest Base Camp, as those areas are touristic but, further into Tibet, there is nothing to eat and people chew dried meat to deceive their stomachs.
In fact there was no sense in stopping there. Children asked us for money, but it is not possible to eat money. I learned how little worth currency has there. It was a playful situation: we were leaving Everest Base Camp and joined two other jeeps. One was filled with wealthy Americans and the other with affluent Israelis. On the trail we stopped for the night at the one hotel; you could hardly call its conditions at all. The Americans slept there because their dollars had no meaning, and could not ask for anything better because nothing else was there. What I saw in Tibet was a poverty which overwhelmed me, a poverty tainted with hopelessness; you can do nothing, no one goes there as the altitude is high, neither Chinese settlers nor tourists can live well there.
For a long time I could not understand what had happened in Tibet during the last fifty years. I learned that the Chinese government had forbidden religious ceremonies and arrested Tibetans who attempted to worship. I did not see violent conflict with my own eyes but I traveled in utterly uninhabited terrain and attended a meeting of activists in the forest, including members of Free Tibet, university students, and a Chinese nun who was studying Tibetan who introduced my friend and I to a group of revolutionaries. I was told that in a place near to where I was, in Dingri, western Tibet, two Tibetans had been shot while attempting to cross the border into Nepal, although I cannot confirm this. I lived in Lhasa for quite some time, in the Tibetan quarter, and was fortunate enough to immerse myself in the Tibetan way of life.
A little further down is a part more modern, more Chinese, which did not interest me. My friend and I frequently criticized the Chinese influence which had infiltrated the region. The Chinese nun told us, 'Do not say Chinese. Say Communists. The communists destroyed Chinese monasteries in the same way, and in the same way murdered Chinese Buddhist figures. There is a difference.' I could feel the Tibetan culture in the atmosphere. The Chinese quarters are more luxurious, with banks and skyscrapers. The streets were filled with stalls. The Tibetans there, they were pilgrims. I went to Tibet to fulfill my dreams of encircling Mount Kailash. Tibetans are very generous, but I do not think they are happy. I have been in many parts of Asia; I have seen poverty in India and Cambodia, but it was nothing in comparison with Tibet.
For many years Poland was in a similar situation, divided by Russian and Prussian influence. It did not exist as a nation although the Polish heritage had been in existence for a long time and carried in everyone's hearts. My grandmother demonstrated for freedom of speech as a child. Poland became independent only after the first World War. Before that time, we Poles could only hold our culture in our hearts and not in our country, which was not on any map. Everyone dressed, sang, prayed and conversed in accordance with Polish tradition to keep the culture alive. Due to this, our citizens have been involved in Tibetan issues, and much is said and done for the cause. We believe that each nation has the right to exist - this applies to every person of every culture. Now I speak of all people: we are all responsible for what has happened in Tibet.
A culture was destroyed in front of our eyes. No great catastrophe is needed to make this apparent. If you would like experience Tibetan culture, you must visit India. In Tibet, traces of the Tibetan culture are difficult to find. Of course there are monasteries, but not many, because most were destroyed. Witnesses give varying reports on how much destruction occurred, what remains of the monuments, and how many thousands of monasteries were robbed. I was there during the pre-Olympic period. The Chinese were handling preparations and attempted to skew public opinion. When I returned from the forest, I saw a model of Potala Palace in Tianamen Square. Chinese people with flags photographed themselves against the extraordinary setting.
Tibetans need to maintain the belief that their culture is worth preserving, or there will be no Tibet. As many tourists as possible should visit the land. When I returned to Poland after spending sixteen days in Tibet, Amnesty International and the University of Gdansk organized a conference. Films and photographs were presented, but everyone who had experienced aspects of Tibetan culture spoke of exile, of India, and not of Tibet. A significant number of participants revealed that they would not travel to Tibet in protest because everything is by the Chinese and for the Chinese. But contact with Tibetans residing in their homeland, however the oppression, is essential. In Tibet I saw a lack of freedom, of faith, of hope in anything better. Foreigners must visit the less developed areas. The people there need money and food; the stores have empty shelves. For tourists, there is nothing to buy; this is the fundamental problem.
Everyone speaks of the Tibet which is here in India and not there, and there the situation is dire. The Tibetan Government-in-Exile is struggling for the middle-way approach but, for the majority of people, Tibet is an ideal. It is not a country because the country does not exist. People all over the world are united by the ideal, and those who believe in human rights and freedom are inspired by it. Tibetans envision a utopia, and while this vision exists, Tibet also exists. We are all responsible for Tibet's demise. We should have protested earlier; if diplomats do not address the issue, protests alone will not be effective. At the moment I organize peaceful demonstrations and meditation sessions for Tibet, and I feel that I am accomplishing more than screaming to deaf ears. The Olympics still went on. In Tibet, the only places where it is possible to hear fragments of Tibetan songs and operas are underground establishments; my curiosity once brought me to one of these. How Chinese culture has overshadowed the Tibetans in their own land!
On my way to Mount Kailash I wrote these haikus in the jeep:
On the breath of the world
Saturate with colors
Slip over valleys
Edited by YC. Dhardhowa, editor for The Tibet Post International