Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Professor Doug Colbert – Visit with the Karmapa Lama/Class Discussions in Dharamsala

I thought you would like to see the picture we took today when we visited the Karmapa, the head lama of the Kagyud sect of Tibetan Buddhism. He only had time for a photo-op but I think you'll agree it was definitely worthwhile to see him. I had a chance to say a few words like, "Good to see you again," and he nodded and agreed. I told him, "I teach International Human Rights and these are my faculty colleagues and students." I also told him, "You are looking fine but a bit older than the last time I saw you," and the Karmapa replied, "You think so? You think I am looking okay?" I said absolutely and then the Karmapa turned to Professor Ved Nanda who had more to say. Students were slightly disappointed that they didn’t have a chance to speak to him, but seemed pleased at having met him. We then visited Norbulingka and the Transit School. What an afternoon!

I love Dharamsala. My mornings are lovely. My walk/jog around the monastery is accompanied by a variety of old and young, monks and nuns, all going to the same morning service where they will celebrate the new day by singing and then throwing powder in the air. As the only jogger, I am definitely the strange bird in the crowd, but am welcomed as much as any outsider could expect. Afterwards, I continue on my run, finding it impossible to continue up a very long, steep hill before finally catching my breath enough to resume running, while always appreciating what I have just experienced. I then return for a sumptuous breakfast at one of the most special and loveliest of hotels, the Tibetan Chonor House, where I am staying once again in the Wild Animals room. I then join my morning class which has been engaged in discussions about U.S. and India policy and human rights practices. Class conversations are lively and informative, as students exchange ideas about subjects ranging from the prohibition against torture, and the economic and social rights of children, women and working people. It is never easy for a national of any country to discover their country has violated a treaty agreement or not ratified several of the main human rights treaties. U.S. students pondered the meaning of their government being one of only two countries that failed to ratify the Covenant on the Rights of the Child, as one example; Indian students reflected on their progressive constitution and activist judicial branch, while wondering whether the problems of child labor and illiteracy are intractable or will, one day, be eliminated.

Today, though, the conversation shifted to China. I had taken students to the Tibet Museum yesterday where they absorbed the moving photographs and accounts of the Tibetan struggle for independence. They saw a powerful, 90-minute movie which detailed and revealed the brutality of China's army and repressive political system toward the Tibetan people. I expect that explains the students' reaction in class today where I used Professor Richard Klein's article on cultural relativism as a way to explain China and the "Asian way" of respecting human rights. I was met with very strong resistance and was placed in the situation of presenting China's position, at least to the best of my abilities. Tomorrow, I hope to persuade the students of the importance of learning the other side of the argument, especially where they are convinced there is only one right side. Tomorrow we have a Tibetan NGO coming to class and a representative of the Youth Congress, too. I’ll keep you informed.

By Professor Doug Colbert, Touro Law Summer Abroad Program in India

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