I want to take a moment, since there are so many new people finding out about Restored Voice Project, to talk about this project’s scope and mission.
Restored Voice Project seeks to empower these women, who have been silenced by the Chinese authorities (and whose kindred and kin are still being silenced), by giving them a chance to finally share their perspectives. What’s happening in Tibet is happening to Tibetans, and yet the story we hear is moderated by the Han Chinese. It’s a Tibetan story told by non-Tibetans, in our mainstream media.
Often, in reading the nuns’ TNP bios, I encountered a familiar sentiment at the end of their abbreviated life story:
“The West needs to remember what is going on in Tibet…”
“I want to learn English so that I can tell the world about Tibet…”
“I am going to be a teacher, so that I can go back to Tibet and teach in my village, where there was no school… I will keep fighting peacefully for Tibet to be free….”
“I am going to learn English because the world cannot forget about what is happening in Tibet…”(*)
Now, decades since the Chinese invaded, we still haven’t heard from these women, and most of us don’t even know they exist. Why not?
First, it’s a big world. There is always a lot going on. There is always a lot to care about. That’s why it’s important for each and every one of us to “brighten our own corner,” as my late grandmother Evelyn used to say. When I learned about these women and they inspired me, I realized that this was a small something I could do, for a particular “corner” of my fellow human beings. And all of you, who read this and feel connected, feel that this is a book that you would like to read – by supporting this project, you are helping me and the nuns brighten this corner (by the way, haven’t supported yet but been meaning to? Don’t forget that 50% of any proceeds made by the finished project goes to the nuns themselves).
Second, we all know that China is powerful, and its grip extends to almost every major economy on this planet. It’s no secret that Chinese officials are not fans of dissent or questioning (even when it’s on American soil!), and while it’s been made very clear by human rights organizations that the Tibetan occupation classifies as a mass genocide, one that matches in intensity and scope with the 1994 Rwandan genocide and, yes, the Holocaust, somehow the political world has kept very quiet about it. Somehow.
And third – in terms of logistics – the city outside of which these women live is remote. Dharamsala has no airport of its own, and is not even accessible by train. While it is an incredible hub for Tibetan spirituality, art, politics, and living, the nunneries are not exactly in the international media’s spotlight. And, let’s not forget, we don’t usually hear about the nuns. We hear about the monks.
Tibetan society is an old one, and while there are many wonderful examples of amazing Tibetan women throughout ancient and modern history (Yeshe Tsogyal, Ama Adhe, and Ani Pachen are good places to start), women are explicitly not as powerful and central as men in spiritual hierarchy. That same Buddhist idea that a woman cannot achieve enlightenment carried over from the Indian Motherland to the Roof of the World. Shame and dirtiness associated with women’s bodies seems to be an inescapable echo in all of our world’s major religions, if you look back far enough. And Tibetan Buddhism is, as an ancient religion, no exception.
The women to be featured in this book need a chance to be heard. Not only as Tibetan refugees, but as Tibetan refugee women. These women have always been present and powerful contributors to their culture and collective spirituality. I want to help this undercurrent become a visible one. The women at the Dolma Ling and Geden Choeling nunneries have so much to teach us – and via that teaching, they will have a chance to deliver their own lives in their own words, and to tell the story of the Chinese occupation as they experienced it. If you look around in our text books and current news – particularly in China – these narratives have been absent.
In conclusion: this is not just a project for academics. This is not just a project for people who love reading human stories. This will be a book for anyone interested in female empowerment, culture, politics, spirituality and religion, the illumination of the mostly hidden, recent past, and the understanding of the present. Strength. Wisdom. Bravery. Defiance. In true liberal arts fashion, this project intentionally applies and is relevant to numerous disciplines – because, thanks to my education and my own spirituality, I don’t see people, places, or events as isolated from each other. The nuns and Lord Buddha would agree – and so would my professors.
*As with any quotes I offer from the nuns’ bios from Tibetan Nuns Project, these must remain anonymous. They are from the catalogues of the nuns who are supported by TNP.