Marieke ten Wolde's blog

Documentary photography, and other things interesting enough to bother you with

Posts Tagged ‘Dalai Lama

Have you seen him?

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‘Have you see him?’, an urgent whisper, ‘Did you see him’? Or rather Him with capital letter: Him, His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

I got this question so often from Tibetans in Tibet: ‘Did I see him, did I meet him, did I go to India’, because I could, if only I would take the effort, and they can’t. The Tibetans asking me would do virtually anything to be able to see him. For me it would be relatively easy, and I never did. They certainly would not understand, in stead they just reassure me that one day I might be lucky. And I have to admit that after I while I did not understand myself either, why did I never go to hear the Dalai Lama speak?

So a little over a week ago that lucky day came, the Dalai Lama was in the Netherlands and I went to his lectures. I tried to take it in, I laughed about the mischief with the hats, wondered about the shoes under the chair, did all the things those other 11,000 people who were there did as well. It was inspiring: a 79-year-old man in red robes sitting on a chair speaking a mix of Tibetan and English for an audience relying on a translator for both languages. Without a show, without special effects, he held us all captive for many hours. Amazing.

I had heard what it would be like and even most of what he taught I had read numerous times already. Still it was special. So I am very glad I could be there.

And I was sad, as I thought of all those people who would so much like to meet him and can’t. Also because it is unlikely this will happen in the foreseeable future; if the Dalai Lama is able to sell out a sports stadium in the Netherlands with 11,000 people, imagine what would happen if he visited Tibet or even Hong Kong. Crowd control would be impossible and I would be very surprised if the authorities would even consider to take that risk. Of course the politicised context around the Dalai lama does not help either.

But there are more lamas, very popular lamas living in Tibet with sometimes hundreds of thousand followers. Yesterday I stumbled upon an article about Khenpo Sodargye Rinpoche a lama from Larung Gar (a very large monastic settlement in the Kham/Tibet) in People Weekly.

china weekly2

Although he also taught in the US, Germany etc, most ‘westerners’ will not have heard of him, but in China he has 1.5 million Weibo followers.  Most of the communication is in Chinese but there is a nice English language website and even a Facebook account.

It is lamas like Sodargye Rinpoche that keep Tibetan Buddhism alive inside Tibet and spread it beyond Tibet into China. And it is good to see that there is an interest and appreciation for their work in China, as this article shows clearly. Something the Dalai Lama himself mentioned a few times to the Dutch reporters asking him about the repression of Tibetan Buddhism in Tibet.


Written by Marieke ten Wolde

May 21, 2014 at 21:16

Mixed Messages and Photos of the Dalai Lama

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Two weeks ago there was all of a sudden the happy news that Tibetans could own and show photos of the Dalai Lama (see here), that Tibetans would be allowed to display these publicly and revere the Dalai Lama.
Although this was not confirmed from official sites it was a hopeful sign. But only 2 weeks later Tibetans celebrating the birthday of the Dalai Lama in Tawu (Sichuan) were shot at.
Then 3 days later the news came out that China might be loosening grip on Tibet and maybe even reopen conversations with the Dalai Lama, a change in policy which was welcomed in many publications but then immediately denied by authorities in China.

I am confused by this, and I am even more confused by all the interpretations of these news events in the press. For a few days it felt like the Kremlin watchers from the cold war had turned their interest towards Tibet. Still I am happy with every sliver of good news and any indication of a change.

With regards to photos of the Dalai Lama there seems to be a big divide between the official policy and what has been happening. Even Kumbum monastery, frequented by thousands of tourists each year and generally considered quite tightly monitored, had a photo of the Dalai Lama openly on display. The photo was of a very young Dalai Lama and therefore hardly recognizable for me (I am ashamed to admit I had to ask the monk in charge), but still many people came to show their respect despite the many CCTV cameras pointed at the photo.

I took the above picture in Gandze in 2010. There is not just one picture of the Dalai Lama, and not just a very young Dalai Lama, but the whole temple was covered with them. I also visited this temple in 2001, at that time it was empty without any visitors and the monks told disillusioned stories about the Cultural Revolution when the temple was used as a granary. But in 2010 the temple was very busy with a constant stream of people filling the butter lamps and leaving donations.

Not all had improved the monks had become a lot less talkative, when I tried to ask them about the photos, my questions just made them very nervous, like my camera did. But, although they did not want to admit it, I am sure that the newfound popularity of this temple had one very obvious reason. The cynic in me thought it was a rather risky marketing strategy, the optimist in me saw some change for the better.

Thinking about it a bit more I also start to understand why the authorities in China are so cautious around any statements with regards to allowing these photos. The eagerness of the Tibetans to resume public devotion of the Dalai Lama and other high lama’s, even after all those years since they left, could easily surprise them.

Written by Marieke ten Wolde

July 19, 2013 at 11:00

Photos of the Dalai Lama

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Road side prayer wheel in small temple in Gandze Prefecture (Sichuan)


Farmers house in Gandze prefecture (Sichuan)

Imagine thousands of people gathering in the streets of a remote Tibetan town, the woman beautifully dressed  in their chuba’s (long coats), the old people spinning their prayer wheels and the young man fierce in their leather jackets and sunglasses, on their adorned motor cycles carrying large pictures of the Dalai Lama.

Does it sound like a dream? It is not!

A couple of days ago I found this very nice story on the internet (check it out here) about the installation of a new Tulku (lama) in a monastery near Batang (Gandze prefecture, Sichuan). Thousands of Tibetans took part in the ceremony and many displayed large photos of the Dalai Lama.

In that area photos of the Dalai Lama can be found everywhere in houses, temples and monasteries, but I never saw them openly displayed in the streets. Maybe that is forbidden, I do not know, but I am sure that in Sichuan it is not forbidden to own pictures of the Dalai Lama, like it is in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR).

It is important to realise that Tibet is more than just the Tibet Autonomous Region (with Lhasa as the capital), the Tibetan area is spread over 5 Chinese provinces: the TAR, a large part of Sichuan, Qinghai and Gansu and in the north-western part of Yunnan. The TAR is the most strictly monitored, such large crowds gathered to celebrate their Buddhist belief would never be allowed and photos of the Dalai Lama are strictly forbidden.

In the other Tibetan areas though, the situation is slightly more relaxed and it is quite easy to buy photos of the Dalai Lama. But seeing them shown so openly in such a large display of devotion, is very rare and it must have been a magnificent sight.

I wish I could have been there.

Tent near Yushu (Qinghai)

Written by Marieke ten Wolde

September 14, 2012 at 08:30