At a Glance:
Ani Yangchen was staying at GuChuSum when I met her – a home and rehabilitation and education center for ex-political prisoners. Hers is the first interview I conducted with an individual who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Chinese.
In Yangchen, I found a spritely, cheerful woman, someone I was eager to get to know as a friend. Picture a tiny Üstang woman in her sixties with freckles dusting their way across her nose from cheek to cheek. Her eyes reminded me of light green granite – jade and brown and gray mingled together in a sharp, sparkling way. Her shoulders were squared, her expression light and untroubled. I never could have guessed her past, had I not known. She keeps a journal with her so that whenever she remembers a species of flower from her homeland, she can draw and describe it, to remember later.
As her siblings have children in Tibet, a photo would not have been wise. But she “has many pet names,” as she put it, and said that using “Yangchen” would be fine. She expressed to me that winter was her favorite season, and so now that she’s moved away from Dharamsala to a snow-less place with no winter, I feature my shots of the snowy Dhauladhar mountain range that surrounds Dharamsala as her anonymous pictures.
Here are Yangchen’s thoughts on Dharamsala, the Tibetan culture and the ways it can grow, education, and women:
From my point of view, Tibetans are generally kind-hearted and good-natured in helping others and our own, due to Buddhism as our religion and culture as well. Whether it is through our work or in hard times – even if we face severe hardship, we don’t show it on our faces. We sing and live. But also, I think that foreigners are really good people too, because they don’t only look amongst themselves. Instead, they help outsiders in any way possible, helping the poor – and for refugees like us, they support us immensely. So in this way, I think that they do more than what we do.
In my opinion, I think both the foreign way of life and the Tibetans’ way are really good. Tibetans train their minds for inner peace. In foreign countries, although one doesn’t practice that, through one’s outward expressions – as in, helping via one’s intellectual skills, education and support groups, in any way they are capable – one truly works hard to reach contentment for all. Life is dependence and being depended upon; it’s interdependent in nature. We Tibetans train our minds for inner peace so as to aid each other. And in the Westerners’ case, they help each other to gain inner peace.
“Even if we [Tibetans] face
severe hardship, we don’t
show it on our faces.
We sing and live.”
For example: Valente, Richard. There are many teachers like him. They are not at all rich themselves, but they come here and teach us whatever they know and have learned, with dedication. And I feel, oh… we are Buddhists and we are supposed to help people, but we can’t help in any grand way such as this with what little we know. And they’re helping so much, although they don’t know our values of helping others. In fact, they did not learn this from Buddhism, they don’t have pre-requisite Buddhist training – but they help so much, so it’s strange.
So, I think that Tibetans ought to be helping each other actively. We can look at these examples, and it changes our behavior. It inspires us. Why shouldn’t we be doing more? The act of manifesting one’s beliefs is very great. For us – Tibetans – in reality, sometimes even when we know something in our mind and heart, it is very difficult to materialize it. But for Westerners, they put into action what their heart desires. And that determination and strength is very surprising. And that feeling of fulfillment is beyond imagination.
Talking about education, if I stayed back in Tibet, I would have never received any. Coming here, I got this opportunity – although I was hospitalized for three years when I arrived, as I was sick. I have made my way through almost all the Buddhist studies. I have learned everything about Tibetan language and literature, and I have studied Tibetan Buddhist debate. But English was new for me. There aren’t any specific classes here at GuChuSum; I take up the English at Lha when volunteer teachers are available.
“In Tibet, the girls were given
the opportunity to learn second –
boys got it first. The fact that
women are behind has nothing
to do with the girls’ work ethics…
I think the problem is about
access to opportunity or not.”
The Dalai Lama’s push for the Geshema degree is wonderful. In May, 2013, the Geshema exam will be held, so there will definitely be a Geshema. All the Buddhist traditions are open to it. For me, right now, my turn has not yet come. But my senior classmates will be appearing for the exams.
Actually, in Tibet, the girls were given the opportunity to learn only second – boys got it first. The fact that women are behind has nothing to do with the girls’ work ethics. If they had had the opportunity earlier, I think they would be equal to the boys. These days, both young girls and boys have equal opportunities for education, and we can see their growth happening equally. And those boys who studied earlier have studied, and those boys who have lagged behind have lagged behind. Now, these days, there are equal opportunities for debate and education for both kushok and ani. Ani have a sharper brain and monks are more hard-working. During my stay at gompa, my teachers told us that girls are more astute – but the down side is, we forget very quickly. Boys are very hardworking and have good methods in studying so that they don’t forget as fast and as easily. I experienced it and my teachers say the same too. But in the end, when it comes to the main thing, we reach our aims equally. So, I think the problem is about access to opportunity or not, and that is why the difference is there today.
Hm… Women’s empowerment and peace? Yes, women are important to the world.
We conducted our interview around this time, as I asked her about her own mother and family. At the end of the interview, I asked if she had any suggestions for my improvement, as I had only interviewed two women so far. This was her response:
Since this is my first time in such an interview, I don’t have any professional suggestions. But I pray and hope you will attain your heart’s desires and succeed in what you are doing in this journey. You are truly good, and I appreciate it. And I am very happy and thankful for what you’re doing. I really appreciate it, from the bottom of my heart. Thu je che. What you’re doing offers genuine help for a truthful cause, so I am more than happy to share my story with you.