After visiting Tibet a number of times and sadly realizing that more of the culture exists outside of the country than in it, I felt compelled to document the Tibetan life in exile as it evolves and flourishes. For more than two decades it has become an ongoing project of passion for me, first as the basis of my master thesis in Visual Anthropology at UC Berkeley and then as the subject of my first two books, “The Spirit of Tibet, Portraits of a Culture in Exile” and “The Dalai Lama: A Simple Monk,”
Following the 1959 uprising against the Chinese in Tibet, more than 130,000 Tibetans followed their spiritual and political leader, the Dalai Lama, into exile and built 57 refugee settlements throughout the neighboring countries of India, Nepal and Bhutan. Since the initial exodus from their country, Tibetans have fought to preserve their unique culture and identity. Monks, lay people, parents and children arrived in India and Nepal with precious few belongings and have since managed to rebuild productive lives for themselves. In this sense, Tibetan refugees have managed more than mere survival. They have created a Tibet in exile that is in many ways more truly Tibetan than their occupied homeland.
Tibetan culture has much to offer the modern world. It is a final repository of the 2,500-year-old Buddhist tradition which has virtually vanished from its Indian homeland. The value of this philosophy is shown by the way the Tibetans have survived the ordeal of exile with humor and determination, and with their perspective intact. Their inner strength and courage when faced with the loss of everything they have ever known is inspiring. It is their spirit that keeps them alive. There is a growing nationalistic pride among the new generation of Tibetans who struggle with Western influences, yet still, in their own words, “have Tibetan hearts.”