Preserving the Culture

Transmitting Culture

In exile, Tibetans have built over three hundred monasteries and close to a hundred schools. These are sanctuaries of our culture. Even though the dream of a free independent Tibet may not be very realistic at this time, many Tibetans feel that what is even more precious and certainly more realistic, is trying to keep the distinct Tibetan identity intact and then making efforts to transmit our culture with its spiritual values down to the children.

In this field, the Tibetan refugee schools in exile have played and continue to play a significant role. Tibetan schools in exile operate within the broad framework of its host countries in Nepal and especially in India. Yet, within those contrasts, Tibetan educators and administrators have striven and found ways to use the school system to help transmit the culture to the children.

Early in the nineties, Tibetan educators adopted a policy that may be termed as the Tibetanization of education. Simply put, Tibetan educators decided to switch the medium of instruction from English to Tibetan at the primary school level. Realizing the importance of transmitting our culture to the children, this was a conscious effort to use the schools to help in this task.

This switch entailed developing our own curriculum and printing books in all subjects in Tibetan and then training teachers to teach in this medium. This was no small task for an exiled community, but spearheaded by the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) group of schools, Tibetan educators embraced this policy and we’ve made significant strides. In time, aside from textbooks, colorful children’s literature has also been developed. Check out this beautiful collection from the Sambhota Tibetan Schools, Society, Dharamsala, India:

Most of the larger Tibetan schools in exile are residential boarding schools. These invariably have a religious teacher who grounds them into our spiritual tradition. Buddhism is so steeped into Tibetan lives so that sometimes it is difficult to separate Tibetan and Mahayana Buddhist cultures.
Tibetan schools also have Tibetan Music, Dance, and Drama as part of their school curriculum. Performing Arts is an important part of our culture. In exile, Tibetans have tried to recreate some key cultural institutions. One of them is the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). Based in Dharamsala, TIPA artists have been showcasing Tibetan performing art across the globe. Many of the teachers who teach Tibetan Dance and Music in our schools are graduates of this amazing institution. More information on TIPA is available at
What seems essential to help the Tibetan Dance & Music programs to succeed is the availability of the traditional musical instruments and the really colorful dance and drama costumes. Transmitting the Tibetan culture to the children in exile is a challenging task. In India, Tibetans are surrounded by a billion Indians and India has vast powers of assimilation. In the past several invaders had come to conquer the land, only to be ultimately assimilated into the mosaic of India. So a hundred thousand Tibetans can so easily be swept away in this tide of assimilation.
There are many things that Tibetan children find attractive in exile – Bollywood, Hollywood, and Youtube are huge attractions. So, in a way, our cultural programs are competing with these attractions for our children’s interest. That is why we have to try and make our programs as attractive as we can.
Fortunately, it does seem like when programs are run well with the needed resources, they are successful. At Kyitsel-ling Tibetan Children’s Education Center, N India, the children enjoy them. They like to rehearse their dances, learn the traditional musical instruments and when we have TCEF groups visit them, they put on wonderful concerts for us. What is perhaps most important is that the children really seem to be animated and happy during these performances.

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Cultural Tours

Tibetan Butter Scupture

The situation for Tibetans – both in Tibet and in exile is not improving. The economic boom in China has not trickled down to Tibetans in Tibet who continue to be marginalized. News of oppressions, crackdowns and Tibetan discontent continue. The spate of self immolations in Tibet show how desperate the Tibetans are.

Many Tibetans and Tibet supporters believe that the best hope for Tibet lies in a dialogue between HH The Dalai Lama and the Chinese leadership. However, in this move towards a solution, in this journey towards hope, HH the Dalai Lama has walked many miles of compromises. When HH accepted the Chinese demand of acceding to the question of Tibetan independence, he not only shocked segments of the Tibetan population, but he surprised the Chinese leadership also. In return, His Holiness expressed a genuine hope to transform Tibet into a zone of peace and for the Tibetan people to have a limited autonomy to pursue their lives, their religion and their culture as they saw fit – within the framework of the constitution of the Peoples Republic of China. Disappointingly, the Chinese leadership quickly labeled this as a call for ‘independence under a garb’.

Sand Mandala Presentation

Since then many rounds of talks have taken place between representatives of HH The Dalai Lama and the Chinese leadership. Nothing substantive has come out of these talks and Tibetans are fast losing hope and patience with the process because every year that passes with ‘non action’ is damaging to Tibet and its culture. With each passing year more ethnic Han Chinese are pushed into the plateau and Tibetans continue to be marginalized in their own country. Also, with every passing year, Tibet and its culture fade just that much away from global consciousness and that is a real concern.

His Holiness The Dalai Lama makes a huge difference. His incessant travels is the biggest source of strength for Tibetans. Single handedly, his teachings and talks do more to keep Tibet and its culture in people’s consciousness than all the rest of the world put together. No matter, how bleak the situation looks at the present, as long as Tibet remain alive in people’s hearts and minds there is hope that future favorable winds may light up the embers of hope.

Tibetan Thangka Painting

As a US nonprofit, we believe that the best we can help preserve Tibetan culture is by facilitating and providing platforms for Tibetans to share their unique culture with the people in the West, thereby educating and raising awareness of it. Our overall goal is to keep the Tibetan people and culture fresh in people’s consciousness.

One of the best ways we do this is to organize and invite the visit of Tibetan artists to share their art and culture with interested audiences here in the United States. Over the past decade, we’ve facilitated the visit of Tibetan monks, Thankga artists, folk dancers, sand mandala and butter sculpture artists. These tours provide the artists and our foundation wonderful platforms to share Tibetan culture and to talk about all things Tibetan – including the education needs of Tibetan children in exile.

The last two years have been particularly satisfying. Our cultural tours with Ven. Ngawang Chojor the master Tibetan sand mandala creator and Lama Paljor who did a series of Tibetan butter sculptor demonstrations have been very well received. We’ve toured seven states and shared our art and culture at very close quarters to at least ten thousand very interested persons. It has truly been a joy and privilege to engage audiences of all ages, to field questions that relate to all aspects of Tibet, to see children draw Tibetan prayer flags and auspicious symbols and over all just to see so much appreciation and interest in the Tibetan culture.

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TCEF Presentations

TCEF’s Executive Director is a native Tibetan. Our program manager and several board members have traveled extensively in India and know the Tibetan people and their culture at close quarters. We’ve done well over a hundred presentations all over the country sharing whatever we know about Tibet and Tibetans. Many of our presentations have been in Montana and surrounding states of Idaho, Wyoming and North Dakota that traditionally do not have much exposure to Tibet and Tibetan culture.

TCEF insiders refer to some of our tours as Momo Road Shows because of the delicious Tibetan momos we enticed people to come to our events. These tours are really Tibet Awareness Tours because the over all focus of our presentations have always been on Tibet, the Tibetan issue, the preservation of the culture and the education of its children.

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TCEF Montana Events

Helena, the capital of Montana is slowly also becoming a capital for Tibetan awareness here in the Northwest of America. Apart from visits from Tibetan artists, Helena has several regular Tibetan events that are fairly well known. For several years now, the Tibetan Losar celebrations at the Covenant Church has been a regular item on our calendar. The Feathered Pipe Ranch now hosts our annual Saga Dawa prayer gatherings where we put up new Tibetan prayer flags and re charge our spiritual batteries. More recently, we celebrated the Tibetan Culture in Montana event at the new Montana Wilderness Center.

Apart from these regular events, we’ve done events around inspirational Tibetan movies. A few years back we organized a Tibetan film festival here in Helena that was very well received.

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His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama

The best hope for all Tibetans continue to be His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama. The deep respect that all Tibetans have for him unites us. His wisdom and statesmanship have guided the Tibetan movement along a peaceful path that has not only won His Holiness the Nobel Prize for Peace but also the admiration of the world.  His unceasing efforts on behalf of the Tibetans and his international stature as a man of peace has kept the Tibet question alive. Although he recently devolved his political powers to an elected leader for the Tibetans, His Holiness will continue to unite, inspire and guide all Tibetans.

The bravery, unwavering belief in His Holiness The Dalai Lama and the spirit of the Tibetans in Tibet is another huge source of hope. The majority of the reports from Tibet suggest that the years of occupation has not diminished the spirit of the Tibetans. They continue to challenge repression and moves to undermine their religious and cultural freedom with both determination and bravery. The spirit of the Tibetans it seems continues to be strong.

In exile, Tibetans under the leadership of HH The Dalai Lama have made efforts to retain their identity, build institutions in exile and keep the culture strong. Although India has vast powers of assimilation, the Tibetans in their settlements have kept their identity and culture alive and vibrant. Led by HH The Dalai Lama, Tibetan spiritual masters and other cultural ambassadors have toured the West extensively and exposed the unique Tibetan spiritual heritage and culture to people in the West.

Tibetan Students

The Tibetan culture premised on compassion is another huge source of hope for itssurvival. In today’s world of competition and conflicts, a culture that teaches its children to pray for the welfare of all sentient beings has a unique place. Just as the Amazon forests are invaluable to the world for our source of oxygen, we believe that the Tibetan culture is equally vital for being an oasis of spirituality.

Finally, the educational institutions that Tibetans have built for their children in exile andthe education they offer to the children are a huge source of hope. A key component of keeping Tibet and its culture alive is to provide Tibetan children with an education that grounds them in their culture while at the same time providing them the tools to succeed in today’s world. Tibetan education in exile does that TCEF is proud to be a part of that story.

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First Refugee Camps

In 1949, China started the invasion of Tibet. It culminated with the flight of HH The Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet into exile in India in 1959.  Nearly a 100,000 Tibetans followed and every year hundreds of Tibetans continue to risk their lives crossing the Himalayas seeking political, cultural and spiritual freedom.

Tibetans were welcomed and granted refuge status in India. It is here they set up their democratically elected Government in Exile. The Tibet struggle continues based solidly in the tenants of non violence.

On the way to India

A 2008 conference of Tibetan leaders chose to support the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach. Tibetans voted to continue working for the liberation of Tibet through non violent strategies despite the many human rights violations and cultural oppression of Tibetans in Tibet.

Tibetan culture in Tibet is critically threatened. This culture based on loving kindness and compassion survives in exile, though influenced by the culture of the host countries. It is of great benefit to the world that this culture survive.

Support of the Tibetan people and their cultural preservation through programs such as TCEF gives support and hope to the Tibetan people.

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