I was talking with two of my friends from the Seattle area Tibetan community recently, telling them how much I’d like to visit Tibet. In particular, I told my friends, there is a Tibetan Buddhist monastery called Rongbuk (I have seen it in pictures) right at the base of the amazing north wall of Mt. Everest. I would like to sit there at the monastery, I said, perhaps listening to Tibetan monks chant their mantras, and look up at the highest mountain on our planet, the peak the Tibetans call Chomolunga, “Goddess Mother of the World.”
My friends grew very quiet and seemed sad. “We miss our country very much,” one of them said, and I saw that she had tears in her eyes. “My home village is not far from the Rongbuk Monastery. I cannot call there and talk with my family; the Chinese will not allow my calls.” Looking at me, my friend added: “Even you, an American, could not go there now. The Chinese have closed Tibet to tourists.”
I felt guilty and selfish for talking about my dream trip the way I had. I know my friends well (though I was unaware that the one had grown up near Rongbuk.) I know they miss Tibet. If I never get to travel to the Rongbuk Monastery, well, so be it. I can go to India, or Nepal, or Bhutan. There are beautiful mountains and peaceful monasteries there. But if my friends can’t visit or even telephone Tibet, they have no contact with family, or friends, or their history.
I spent all day Saturday and Sunday last weekend with the Seattle Tibetans at their monastery as they (and a few of their American friends) did a Tibetan Buddhist practice called “Nyung Nes” (which roughly translates to “less remaining.”) Through repeated recitations of prayers, mantras, chanting, and silent meditation, the practitioners worked to reduce or eliminate negative thoughts and emotions. Interestingly, the lama leading the practice stressed again and again that the prayers were being offered selflessly, for the benefit of others, not for those in the monastery that day.
It was an amazing thing to see and to photograph, so, for me personally, Saturday and Sunday were full and intense.
Monday morning dawned, and I realized: I may never get to Tibet, but my life is richer for having known Tibetans.