For centuries, Tibetan Buddhists have practiced a unique brand of Buddhism in their high-altitude corner of the Far East, remote from contact with most outsiders until fairly recently. Even though Tibet has been under the thumb of various Chinese ruling powers for hundreds of years, the region exercised some degree of autonomy until the Chinese assumed direct control of the area in 1951. A CIA-backed rebellion led by Tibetan leaders was defeated in 1959, causing the 14th Dalai Lama and his government to flee to India, where they exist today as a government-in-exile.
At 40 years old, Namkha Rinpoche is a relatively young Tibetan Lama, who bases his spiritual and Tibetan freedom efforts out of Switzerland. After organizing a series of prayer festivals for the Dalai Lama in 1998, Rinpoche narrowly escaped being jailed by Chinese police. A relative who worked for the police informed him that he was going to be arrested, and he fled to Nepal. In recent years, Rinpoche said that thousands of Tibetan students have been jailed by the Chinese government for their participation in protests against Chinese repression of Tibetan language and culture. One of Rinpoche’s cousins was imprisoned for his role in the demonstrations. “When he was in jail, the Chinese police cut off his arms and legs in front of his friends and family to scare people and make sure they don’t do the same,” he said.
Rinpoche works closely with the Dalai Lama to bring spirituality and the Tibetan struggle to the forefront of world consciousness. “I want people to have the same richness inside as they have outside,” he said. To achieve that, he tells people to have patience, be compassionate, and to be satisfied with what they have. He maintains that while Buddhist teachings will always play a major role in Tibetan customs and culture, it should now be up to the people to decide if they want spiritual leaders to play a role in the governance of Tibet. “I hope that all of the world’s democratic countries will stand for Tibet, and stand for human rights by asking the Chinese government to have talks with Tibet.”
Namkha Rinpoche will be in Santa Barbara from June 30 until July 6. For more information, call 964-7836 or visit namkha.org.