{2:42 minutes to read}

This spring, I realized a lifelong dream of visiting the sacred and ancient land of Tibet. As a mahayana buddhist, I always wanted to see the spiritual heartland of Tibetan buddhism. I flew to Beijing and took trains west, across China all the way to Lhasa, the capital of Tibet, and then also to Shigatse, the second biggest city in the region. Having studied Chinese and Tibetan history in depth over the last quarter-century, I was not surprised by what I saw on my trip. That being said, it was still profoundly upsetting and shocking to witness the systematic oppression of the Tibetan people that is occurring in the supposedly “Autonomous Region of Tibet”.

Essentially an agrarian and pacifist culture which dates back several millennia, Tibetans are being forced to abandon their agrarian lifestyle, relocate to cities where they have no applicable skills, and can be closely monitored. Their free speech is suppressed and public demonstrations over the last decade have been forcibly and violently suppressed. What has happened has not been released to global media.The Beauty, Mystery & Anguish of Tibet Seen Firsthand

I saw these realities with my own eyes, beginning with the 32-hour train journey which took me from X’ian to Lhasa, on the train line built in 2007 by the PRC government. Essentially there were almost no nomads to be found, and the huge military base outside of Lhasa made a not-so-subtle statement: “We are here and we are not going anywhere.”

What about pictures of the spiritual leader of all Tibetan buddhists and many Buddhists worldwide, the Dalai Lama? Nowhere to be seen since they are banned. No ability to pay homage to your spiritual leader in your home country may seem alien to many people unfamiliar with the plight of the Tibetan people.

The reality is that the Dalai Lama was forced to flee his native Tibet in 1959, when Tibet was “liberated” by the PRC, i.e. invaded. Since then, Tibetans basic rights have been minimized over time, a systematic oppression which is also considered by the U.S. government to be persecution, and may qualify Tibetans in the U.S. for political asylum.  

For example, there are controls on how people can move through the capital city of Lhasa, especially the ancient city, where the Tibetans traditionally live . Security checkpoints are located in strategic places, like the Jokhang Temple, or near the Potala Palace, which are the two main areas of worship and the spiritual centers of a proud people.  Tibetans are made to go through metal detectors and are then patted down both when they go in and when they come out. Even though they reside in that part of the city, they must go through the checkpoints every time they circulate through those areas. It’s a part of their daily lives.

The government also controls how fast cars can go when travelling between the two main cities with an endless number of checkpoints, to discourage movement between different parts of the region.  People of Tibetan ethnicity are also either being denied the privilege of getting a passport, or are having their current passports revoked. Without a valid passport, the Tibetan people cannot leave the country, and are trapped.

At SMA we aim to help Tibetans and legitimate political asylum-seekers from other countries looking to better their lives outside of the PRC and other countries where they are being systematically persecuted. As a person who has always empathized with the Tibetan people and followed the teachings of the spiritual Buddhist path, it is heartbreaking to see the reality of their situation: A quickly diminishing glimmer of hope of being able to return to their origins, to have the basic human freedoms so many people around the world take for granted.

The least I can do is help them in my own way to live in the U.S., where at least they can live with all the basic human rights and be able to express themselves and live with dignity.

Please contact us anytime with any questions about possible asylum questions. We are here to help.