Dharamshala: - Symbols elected to articulate or answer the weight of a massive wrong might not at first glance appear to volunteer much to the cause of a people seeking the restitution of their homeland and the redeeming of their independence - but if a particular symbol of freedom were to be cast successfully into a vibrant visible form, and the tangible form was pervaded of enough meaning and inherent power - if it were to have the singular capacity in its manifestation to stop someone in their tracks, that symbol might very well take on the life-affirming force of a vivid talisman informed of a universal sentiment.
Its arrival on the Tibetan scene welcomed and deeply associated to, not just by their specific group, but also if the symbol is a sensitively layered and potent creation designed in every aspect as a vocal piece for freedom, and if the object is worthily contained of enough magnetism and charisma in that respect, its brought forward existence might easily become a celebrated affair appreciated by an ever widening body of people.
In that case the true value of the symbol’s worth in being transformed from an idea to a tangible reality is not under question. It has something of a vibrant inevitability and a quality of insistent life attached to it that is all of its own; and the urgent voice to the realization of its physical creation speaks out worthily, over and beyond the measure of its material cost. Symbols of this special kind, backed by the heart of a people, are destined to become a tangible beacon proclaiming their service to a particular reality in plain public sight. If they truly have enough grit at the heart of them, and if they have enough emotive power backing them too, they may even gain the fortunate distinction of becoming unusually famous and even extraordinary visual objects of collective regard.
They can only perform this alchemy successfully if primarily both the object’s outward visible form, and the symbol’s inward intensity of deep sentiment accorded to it, are both synchronized and touched unlimitedly at the very heart of their expression by the participation of a radical empathy and the good pulse of something that originates from our share in the universal spirit. The freedom and destiny of Tibet is by no means an isolated, forgettable or other-worldly matter! It is no exaggeration to say that the freedom of Tibet concerns anybody and everybody today who is vitally alive to preserving and defending the issues of human rights, free speech and the core validity of democracy in our time.
With this consideration in mind, I humbly venture to propose that the foundation of a Dharma site and the creation of a Tibetan Liberty Bell – if the concept and its implementation is seized soon enough - may well combine to raise a place of special note, and the bell by its own strength become one those aforementioned extraordinary symbols that capture the imagination with great impact. If the architecture, features and the considered placement of the bell are boldly inspired in their choice, the entity of the Tibetan Liberty Bell will but gain in great esteem, and be well versed in every way to articulate expansively the living attributes of non-violence, though still defiant resistance and dignified grace under pressure that are a key part of the Tibetan ethos. The Tibetan Liberty Bell’s arrival within the Tibetan community, if inaugurated on the 6th July by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, would seize all the witnessing hearts on that very day with great significance and evoke the unprecedented moment in a poignant and remarkable event of lasting influence!
So what might it look like, this Tibetan Liberty Bell? And where might it best be located?
To answer the second part of the enquiry first: the bell and its structure must, without any reservation whatsoever, sit squarely in the grounds at the Main temple in Dharamshala! There on the paved grounds, directly in front of the office, is a location too perfectly appropriate for words! The area is ample and the monument site would in no way crowd the space unduly or intrude on any of the existing structures that would be adjacent to it – not even a single tree in the area need be removed from its present place! There in that secure spot, the Tibetan Liberty Bell will enjoy its highest prominence in the Tibetan community.
In addition to this consideration, its instalment there in a place of special focus would place its notable presence within fine, accessible sight from the higher quarters attached to the larger complex at the back of the office - One might easily imagine that His Holiness the Dalai Lama, might possibly pause from the affairs of his busy agenda to stand poised at an upper window; there taking marked note of the substantial arrival of the Liberty Bell, whose presence is now ornamenting and lending a decided air of gravitas to the grounds of the temple. There is no question that this place, and this place alone, is the only and the best location - An undisturbed place, according the monument safety from petty vandalism, and the bell’s maximal felt presence kept right at the very hub of Tibetan activity and interest.
So imagine a pink-sandstone arch – precisely the same stone chosen by H.H. Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche to realize his vision of the construction of the many stupas that now grace every place associated with the life of Lord Buddha – both splendid and yet austerely simple in design. The arch stands on a circular platform bearing the voluminous design of the Dharma Wheel, and the outer surface of the meter high foundation wall is clad in a deep green, reflective stone overlay. Around the circumference of the wall are the eight auspicious symbols of Tibetan lore.
A judicious selection of texts, invocations and symbolic characters are carved about the arch’s columns. And it is there, at the high-point of the sweeping arch we are contemplating, that it suddenly departs from the more benign and restrained expressions of its iconography, and takes on an altogether more formidable and challenging aspect at its central highpoint, in the glowering shape and fearsome lineaments of ‘Mahakala’. He growls in confederate protection – a jet-black face, three wild eyes, sharply gaping fanged-mouth and flurrying headdress of grimacing skulls - the undisputed tantric guardian and defender of Buddhist religion since antiquity.
The Mongol Emperor himself, Kublai Khan, who on the esteemed advice of his Tibetan spiritual mentor, Phags-pa, duly elected to pay homage to the tutelary power of this deity in support of his eventually successful bid to overthrow Song China! How apt now that the potent and prescient visage of the earth-shaking Tantric deity should grace it’s fearsome presence - allied now to the present-day Tibetan imperative to overcome the oppressive grip of the Chinese regime – to pose conspicuously at the central high-spot of the Liberty Arch!
Shifting the focus of our vision directly below the savage face of the tutelary deity, we notice there is attached there, a hefty chain of sturdiest-link, whose plain function it is to bear the austerely beautiful, imposing shape of a voluminous, yet decidedly quiescent bell. There is no doubt that this is the massive and unmistakable singular presence of the Tibetan Liberty bell. A tremendous object that compels the eye and manifestly rules the whole of its space with a special sense of order and meaning that immediately communicates itself to the onlooker.
The bell is deeply, deeply silent!
Picture now this bell in its formidable expression of compelling sobriety, some twelve feet high and resounding – auspiciously- to the mind’s eye with an almost palpable edge of latent power. There is much of a confiding gravitas and a great sense of significance informing its solemn presence, for the bell was inaugurated on the birthday of His Holiness, by his hand; and the love and the hopes for his people reside not only in his heart, but also to some degree in vital expression here.
On one side of the bell is a memorably striking depiction of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama : His Holiness is observed seated cross-legged in a serene pose expressive of an implacable inner strength and radiant contemplation that is true of his reputation as long-time spiritual head of Tibet. Hovering above his right shoulder – relevantly, as we shall see - is a depiction of the risen sun, while just above his left shoulder is the correlating form of the freshly arrived crescent moon. Further to this and adding to the pictorial vision most strikingly, is appearing in exalting ascendance above the crown of the Dalai Lama’s head, an unfolding column of combining visages that appear from the deepest root of his meditation and reveal his identity unmistakably as none other than the incarnated Avalokiteshvara: the Bodhisattva of Compassion. Directly below the venerable form of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is inscribed: “ There are three things that cannot be hidden : the sun, the moon and the truth.”
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and does not necessarily reflects the editorial policy of The Tibet Post International.
Part II to be continued soon.