Seven Years in Tibet

I have just finished reading Heinrich Harrer’s Seven Years in Tibet, an astonishing look at Tibet through the eyes of an exiled Australian during and after World War II.

I have long had a fascination with Tibet, especially the Chinese occupation, which to me, with my limited understanding of the situation, seems completely unfair and hugely oppressive. The book gives fantastic insights into life in Tibet, before the people – including the Dali Lama – fled and before their ancient customs and traditions were lost to the Chinese.

When visiting Nepal a month or so ago I was fascinated by the Tibetan people there. Nepal has hundreds of thousands of Tibetan refugees. At the stupas around Kathmandu I saw many hundreds of pilgrims devoting their time and prayers to Buddha. I have long wanted to visit Tibet, but fear I would be disappointed by the forced Chinese influence. But, I have decided than on my next visit to this area of Asia I will visit Tibet and I will visit Daramasala in India, in the hope of receiving a blessing from his Holiness the Dali Lama.

I’m not a politician, so I wont get into those matters, but here is a passage that related to things I have experience recently, so much so that I though I would reproduce it (without permission, sorry HaperCollins)

“Beggars take up their station by the Cathedral door. They know very well that man is charitable and considerate when he is in the presence of God. In Tibet, as in most other places, beggars are a public nuisance. While I was building my dam the Government determined to put the sturdy beggars to work. They rounded up the thousands of beggars of Lhasa and picked out seven hundred men who were fit for employment. These were put on the job and received food and pay for their work. On the next day only half of them turned up and a few days later they were all absent. It is not a lack of work or dire necessity that makes these people beggars, nor, in most cases, bodily infirmity. It is pure laziness.”

Beggars are very common in Nepal and India, and whilst some are clearly inflicted so that they cannot work, others to me seemed to simply be playing the game. The same is true in my homeland of England. The social security system there is excellent, and no one need go without food, money to live or shelter – including nationals and refugees of other nations who are visiting the UK. Yet you’ll see beggars in most major towns, and thousands in London. An Australian guy (Australians seem to love attacking other nations, especially Brits) once made some damming comments about the homeless people in London, saying ‘You Brits treat your homeless people very badly’. This confused me. I am fairly aware of the benefits they are entitled to. I wish I was quicker thinking as I would have asked this chap what steps Australia had taken to ensuring the Aboriginal people of Australia have their land and rights restored, since Australia’s independence from Britain. Because, when I was in Australia the Aboriginals seemed to have a pretty bad deal to me.

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