Friends of Tibet Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

Friends of Tibet

10 Conversations

Tibet | Dalai Lama | Panchen Lama | Great Thirteenth Dalai Lama
Dharamsala | Lost Lhasa | Friends of Tibet
Ngawang Sangdrol | Tibetan Diaspora | Tibet on Film | The Monks of Drepung | Tibet's Warrior Nuns
Tibetan Children's Villages | Why the Chinese are There

Until quite recently, relatively few of the Earth's 6.2 billion or so people were worthy of being called friends of Tibet. For most of the half century of Tibet's occupation by the People's Republic of China the world has, in general, been content to look the other way. With information about the isolated and remote Himalayan country a monopoly of governments and media moguls - whose interests lay in being discreet about the tragic destruction of one of the world's most unique cultures - little was known about one of the 20th Century's greatest injustices, one which continues to this day.

In recent years, however, there has been a dramatic growth in awareness of Tibet, fueled by films such as Martin Scorcese's Kundun; the horrific amateur video footage of monks being beaten by soldiers during the Lhasa street protests of 1987; and, increasingly, by the near universal affection and respect afforded to the Dalai Lama, whose tireless devotion to dialogue and non-violent resolutions to conflict resulted in His Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Ordinary people around the globe are expressing their concern and demanding that their governments include human rights as a central theme in their dealings with China.

Hugh Richardson

Dr Hugh Richardson (1905 - 2000) was a British diplomat who served in India and Tibet. He was the first European to be permitted to reside in Lhasa, the Tibetan capital; where, against heavy odds, he succeeded in establishing close personal and professional ties. He made himself unpopular with his former political masters by speaking out against the Chinese invasion of Tibet, in Britain and at the United Nations. When most of the world turned its back on the plight of Tibet, he was one of the very few who refused to let political expediency subvert the true nature of the tragedy taking place in the Himalayas.

He is considered to be a uniquely qualified scholar of Tibetan culture, the author of a number of books including,

  • Tibet and Its History
  • A Cultural History of Tibet
  • A Corpus of Early Tibetan Inscriptions
  • Ceremonies of the Lhasa Year
  • High Peaks, Pure Earth: Collected Writings on Tibetan History and Culture

A member of Royal and Ancient Golf Club in his native St Andrews, Scotland, he was a keen gardener and a popular member of St Andrews society.

Robert AF Thurman

Robert Thurman is an interesting guy. He is a professor at Columbia University in New York City, where he occupies America's first chair of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies. And that's not all...

  • He was the first person in the West to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk.

  • He is a personal friend of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

  • He is a best selling author and lecturer in great demand.

  • And, as if that isn't enough, he is the father of the lovely and talented Uma Thurman, the famous actress.

Mr Thurman is a passionate advocate of Tibet, whose depth of feeling is as profound as his understanding of the subject. He has a remarkable gift for bringing the subtleties of the ancient culture alive and creating a meaningful connection to Tibet and its Buddhist tradition for his readers. His list of titles include,

  • Essential Tibetan Buddhism
  • The Tibetan Book of the Dead
  • The Central Philosophy of Tibet
  • Inner Revolution: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Real Happiness
  • Circling the Sacred Mountain: A Spiritual Adventure Through the Himalayas

He has also produced audio books, such as the wonderful The Jewel Tree of Tibet: The Enlightenment Engine of Tibetan Buddhism and the powerfully moving Making the World We Want. His mixed-media CD-rom Illuminated Tibet provides a good introduction to all aspects of Tibetan life.

Richard Gere

Actor Richard Gere is perhaps Tibet's most celebrated spokesperson, at least in North America. Celebrities, particularly Hollywood actors, have a repution for on-again-off-again enthusisiam more befitting Cretan acrobats than ambassadors of anything worth opening our hearts and our wallets for. In Mr Gere's case, this is entirely unjustified; far from seeking publicity through his association with the Tibetan cause, he has committed his time and resources in ways that are tangible but repay his generosity with very little acclaim.

The Gere Foundation channels funding to a variety of non-profit groups associated with the promotion of human rights goals, Tibet activism, and Buddhist teaching. Among them are,

The Gere foundation also helps to support Drepung and Ganden Monasteries, rebuilt in exile in India, and a host of other worthy recipients of his generosity, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.

Tibet House

Tibet House in New York City was founded jointly by Robert Thurman and Richard Gere in 1987. The purpose of the organization is threefold:

  • To promote Tibetan Buddhist culture as a vital component of an 'emerging global culture'

  • To preserve the art and artefacts of Tibet with a view to returning them one day to a free Tibet

  • To promote the spiritual teachings of Tibet, emphasizing their application to contemporary world problems.

Tibet House provides access to lectures by eminent Buddhist teachers, a continuing Tibetan Studies Program, a permanent art gallery and travelling exhibits, and a library. The highlight of its calendar is the annual benefit concert, featuring top contemporary performers and celebrity hosts, at New York's Carnegie Hall.

How to Befriend Tibet

There are, of course, many other famous friends of Tibet, including Pierce Brosnan (who recently founded a vocational school in Nepal for Tibetan refugees), Harrison Ford, and Sharon Stone. But it is quite easy for ordinary people, who may not have a lot of money to dispose of, to become friends of Tibet.

The easiest way is to learn about Tibet and decide for yourself what is really going on there, what is hype, and what constitutes a real human tragedy; make up your own mind about the situation there, being careful to judge the sources of the information you discover and the vested interests they might have in presenting information in a certain light. Discuss Tibet with other people in order to create a greater awareness of the issues, which have broad implications for everyone.

A surprisingly small amount of money can make an enormous difference in the lives of people in poorer parts of the world. There are a number of ways that you can help destitute Tibetan refugees by direct sponsorship through programmes like The Tibetan Nuns Project and the Tibetan Children's Villages. Many of them offer the secondary benefit of allowing you to develope a personal relationship with the person you sponsor.

Indian Friends

Amongst the oldest and dearest Friends of Tibet are the people of India, who have provided a refuge for more than 100,000 Tibetan refugees and given them the freedom to thrive in their country. Thanks to their generosity, the Tibetan exile community is considered a model of what human beings in distress are capable of achieving, given the opportunity. The energy and determination of Tibetans in exile, with the help of the government and people of India, have preserved many of the ancient treasures of Tibet from complete destruction and provided the rest of the world with an inspiring example of human resilience in the face of adversity.

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