The following is written by Buckley resident and White River High School student Natalie Gomez, who recently returned from India on a trip to meet the Dalai Lama:
For the majority of people, India is not high on their list of countries to visit, and admittedly, it wasn’t for me either. But now, it is on the top of my list of countries to return to.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to travel with a delegation of business leaders, educators, and other industry professionals to Dharamsala, India, to learn from the Tibetan community in exile about compassion. The trip was led in partnership by the Office of Lieutenant Governor Cyrus Habib and the Association of Washington Generals with the overarching name, “Compassion 2020”. The delegation wanted to include the next generation of leaders on this journey so that together we could experience compassion and bring what we’ve learned back to our state.
For those who are unfamiliar with the Tibetan diaspora, on January 1, 1950, The People’s Republic of China claimed sovereignty over Tibet and announced that it intended to intervene both politically and militarily in the country. By October 7, 1950, Chinese troops invaded Tibet, beginning a long and grueling disaster that would lead to the displacement of millions of Tibetans. As a result, by 1959 tensions between the two nations had worsened and the world-renowned religious leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, had fled to northern India. A tragedy like this devastates communities, but what is remarkable is how the Tibetan community continues to promote the Buddhist ideologies of non-violence, compassion, and secular ethics.
For the 15,000 or more Tibetans that live in Dharamsala, India, life has been about preserving culture, rehabilitation, and educating the rest of the world about the Tibetan diaspora. All of this was evident at our first destination: The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), the governing body for the Tibetan nation. Although in exile, the CTA has been able to facilitate the safe transition of Tibetans into exiled life as well as work to restore conditions in Tibet so that someday, they may return home. As we met with the members of The Parliament in Exile, we were reminded of our potential and ability to spread the word about the Tibetan diaspora in our communities back home. In fact, that was their primary wish for us.
Additionally, the manner in which members of the CTA would speak about the Chinese was in a non-hostile and non-violent way. This was the moment I realized that non-violence must be conveyed in both actions and words. This is a principle that should be ingrained in our society, but isn’t. Following this visit, I am now more conscious about how I speak about others and to others, especially in politics. When we talk about each other as humans first, that is when we start to see our similarities and will be able to compromise and reason with one another.
A delegation favorite included a visit to the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV). What we witnessed was a such a warm, caring, and compassionate haven for Tibetan children. But we were not only there to observe; we brought gifts. Carried in a suitcase, the delegation brought stuffed teddy bears made by inmates in The Washington State Penitentiary. When the Compassion Scholars were told that we had the honor of handing out the teddy bears, I was at a loss for words. TCV selected 50 students who had been away from their parents the longest and would likely appreciate the gift the most. As we passed out the bears to the children, they smiled, laughed, played and happily accepted the gifts. We didn’t have to understand the language to recognize the impact that this would have on them.
When the gift giving was over, we posed for a picture on a small hillside with the students. We were all smiling and looking at the camera when the students began to sing to us in Tibetan. As we sat among the singing students, they hugged us, thanked us, and made our hearts melt. By the end of the song, I was moved to tears. If everyone could take the time to care for the children of the world and show the same compassion to others that we wish to have shown to us, then I know the world could be a more kind and caring place.
On the eve of our meeting with His Holiness, my fellow Compassion scholars and I were incredibly nervous to go to sleep that night, knowing that when we awoke, we were going to meet the Dalai Lama. In the moments before he walked in the room, everyone quieted and the delegation all shared a similar feeling: the Dalai Lama was coming. It was as if his presence had entered the room to greet us before he had. The meeting with His Holiness was unforgettable; to be in his peaceful presence and listen to his teachings was an honor and privilege that few in our country will get to experience. In particular, the promotion of harmony, non-violence, and a sense of oneness are lessons that His Holiness reiterated throughout the discussion. I noticed that these teachings were cohesive with the Buddhist teaching that Anger is self-destructive. When we are angry at ourselves and at others we cannot have the compassion necessary to sustain a content community.
During the meeting, I had the opportunity to ask the Dalai Lama about compassion in relation to the issue of homelessness, which I recognize is an ongoing struggle in our community today. His response was that we need to spread compassion in our community as well as the understanding that we are the same human being. Furthermore, when another human being is experiencing something as debilitating as homelessness, it is our responsibility to help in the ways we are able to. I will cherish this meeting for the rest of my life and I will use what I learned in India about compassion for others and embed it into my life and service to others, starting with my compassion project.
It would seem fitting that the compassion scholars have been tasked with implementing compassion projects in our own communities, supported by the Office of the Lieutenant Governor and the Association of Washington Generals. Looking into the future, I am ready and excited to begin work on my compassion project which will center around the issue of homelessness in our area, and to bring the meaning of compassion to more people in the community.