I'm from the United States, and was born in Baltimore. My dad was a travel journalist and he started me traveling when I was very young. I started studying Dharma about twelve years ago. I run my own businesses, designed a fashion line, just wrote a book, and do marketing consulting, journalism, and modeling. About a year and a half ago, I came over to India to do some volunteer work, and started to spend all of my afternoons up here in Dharamsala. I started to work with the Hope Center, and loved it, so I started my own NGO to support youth-run nonprofits that are India-based that are helping the Tibetan community. Now, I spend at least six months out of the year living here in Dharamsala, teaching and working.
TPI: And how about the completion of your education?
Miss Heidi Minx: I completed a Bachelor's degree, with concentrations in Cultural Anthropology, Sociology and Art.
TPI: So, how are you involved with the Tibetan issue?
Well, right now, I'm involved by trying to raise as much awareness as possible. In the United States, most of my friends are musicians, and there are a lot of young people that are influenced by their music. We're recording a CD right now, Jailhouse Records, and it's really to educate young people. And in the meantime, I've also started to connect with a lot of the more established Tibetan support groups: International Campaign for Tibet, the Tibet House. I had a conversation with Ganden Thurman, and it really solidified [the importance of] raising awareness for Tibet in a country where most people don't know where Tibet is on a map or know who a Tibetan is-what's the music, what's the culture. So, that's really the Tibet House's aim, but it's also my aim.
While I'm living here, I do a lot of blogging and a lot of video interviews with my friends to show what they're doing, what their political situation is, why they live in exile, and really work to introduce my friends here to my friends on the other side of the world, to show a personal connection. I also try to do as much as possible to support the arts; the Cultural Revolution was a catastrophe, and so much art was lost...I've built websites for the Institute of Tibetan Thangka Art, which is free to its students for five years; for the thangka artist here, Tashi Darjee. Through projects like that, and through the Hope Center, building them websites, helping them raise awareness, and have a face on a more global platform.
Personally, my background is very rock and roll, and punk rock-most of my friends grew up on the streets-so, we never had a problem if we saw something was wrong, saying it; and growing up on the East Coast and growing up in a democracy where you're taught to say exactly what you want, and if something is wrong, you're taught to question it. That, combined with the Buddhist teaching of "question everything, and test it, and make sure that it's right, and correct, and true."
So encouraging social responsibility among young people is really important [to me]. I think the younger generation is very aware right now about what older generations have done that have put us in a bad state-be it the environment, be it the economy-and that young people are becoming more and more aware, even if it's just small things like remembering to recycle...and I also think that some of the generation above mine, maybe the Baby Boomer generation, as it's called in the US, is leading for social responsibility. You've got George Clooney really using his voice to raise awareness for Darfur, you've got Bono working hard for AIDS awareness, and I think celebrities are starting to tie in more and more to social causes, which is extremely important.
I know that there are millions of people in the world that know so much more about dharma than I do. And I'm not gonna say I'm the perfect Buddhist, and I wake up and I meditate every morning-because I don't. But, what I do know is that I try to consider everybody else before myself, and that I think action "off of the mat"-it's a little key phrase that so many Western Buddhists use-I think that putting compassion into action is the most important thing.
TPI: So, yesterday was the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women. Based on your experience with Tibetan women here in the exile community, what do you think about their equality?
I think in different places, there are so many different answers, and it depends on society. There shouldn't be violence against anyone. I remember on March 12th of this year, when it was the 50th anniversary of the Tibetan women's uprising, TWA did their event at the temple. There was a movie that was screened, and in it the Dalai Lama made a great comment. He said, "I think the Tibetan women were the first feminists...and we've never recognized them as being any different from our men. In fact, there's no reason that the next Dalai Lama cannot be a woman."
So, to that end, I don't see many restrictions on a man can do this, but a woman cannot. I was never brought up to believe that a man can do anything that a woman cannot do, and frankly, there wouldn't be any men without women.
One of the most disturbing things to me is, I remember reading one book that talks about the sterilization and one-child policy in China, and how it's affecting so many of the Tibetan women. And while it exists throughout China, the policy specifically against Tibetan women is such cultural genocide that it's insane...I don't understand why, if there should only be one child...after the one child, why isn't the Chinese [or Tibetan] man given a vasectomy? Why is it the woman?
TPI: So what do you say about equality in exile? Is it exactly equal, 90%, 80%...?
Most of my friends that live here, who have come into exile, are young girls who are living by themselves, going to classes...really pursuing their education. And I see my young friends here that all get along together really well, both [genders] sitting in classes together."
I think maybe I want to say 80% though, because I do still see some shyness. I lot of the nuns, I find, are very shy, and don't come to class. I don't have enough experience to say, "Is that the nunneries not encouraging them to come to the classes?"-or is that out of shyness?
I think, more than anything, it is not inequality; it is a cultural shyness that sometimes will hold women back because of their own accord.
In terms of violence against women, from my own experience, I have not seen domestic abuse here like I have in the United States. I think in general there is much more respect for women.
TPI: Especially from the Dalai Lama.
TPI: So, why do you find it important to teach English to Tibetans?
I think that English has somehow become a very international language. In almost every country in the world, English classes are available, and people can speak it. So, there are several reasons. One is that it will enable them to get jobs and work if they choose to leave Dharamsala.
The second is that there's no reason why people should not be able to tell their stories. My friend Wen, who runs Common Ground Café, holds the same opinion that when people talk, one-on-one, and share their stories, two things happen: you believe them or you think they're lying; but when you become a personal judge, and you watch their body language, then you believe, and then you begin to question, why did this happen, and how did it happen, and what can I do?
So, cultural interchange is crucial to solving problems, and it's something that the Dalai Lama often said started this problem: that Tibet did not have cultural interchange back in the 40s and 50s. So, teaching English I think for that reason is very important, and it's also why I'm learning Tibetan right now, so that I can be a better teacher, and I can understand my students.
Lastly, with teaching at IBD (Institute of Buddhist Dialectics), I see that so many Geshes are part of the IBD language program. The Dalai Lama wanted the Geshes to learn either English or Chinese to be able to continue to spread Tibetan dharma. And I think that spreading dharma is extremely important.
TPI: So, last last question. You said that you are funding or helping to financially support Tibetan NGOs?
I work hard in the US to raise funds. I have my own NGO status in the United States and I work to raise money to be able to put towards small projects here in the community, whether it's paying for ITTA's website, for Tashi's website, for the Hope Center's website. I work with Kyipa at Jamtse in Action, and we funded two trips for the elders at Jampaling to be able to have a private audience with His Holiness the Karmapa. There's another project that I'm working on right now with a nonprofit based in California, called SamaSource, to bring an outsource work center here into the community.
I try to cap my projects at $200, but I try to fund small things that will enable small NGOs to grow. For the Hope Center, I worked for printing and designing, helping them design all their postcards and their brochures. So, they had things to sell, to be able to sustain income. So it's not so much check writing-that's not the motive-it's more being able to put money towards different small projects in the community, and sometimes it's just using my skills. I think I helped six different NGOs fill out their Rowel Fund applications.
TPI: And sorry, I forgot. Can you tell us about your tattoos?
I started getting tattoos when I was 17, before it was popular. I've always used it as a way to express my beliefs. The Dharma tattoos started about ten years ago. I have "Om Ma Ni Padme Hum" on my chest, the Tibetan flag on my arm...
TPI: Do the tattoos protect you?
I'm not sure if it protects me-I think maybe that's just good karma.
Interviewed by YC. Dhardhowa, editor for The Tibet Post International