July 1, 1980, Lhasa, Tibet. The sight that opened at their arrival in Lhasa was bewildering. Thousands of very emotional people, many crying tears of joy, were reaching out toward the delegation members. Some were trying to grab onto them, to get a piece of their clothing to keep as a relic. The leader of the third Fact Finding delegation was Jetsun Pema, the younger sister of the Dalai Lama. Incense welled up wherever she went, and people were asking for her blessing. Their delegation, representing their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama was a ray of hope and light the Tibetans so desperately needed...
Family and Childhood
Jetsun Pema was born on July 7 in 1940 in Takster village, Amdo in Tibet. Her name, Jetsun Pema means Virtuous Lotus in Tibetan, and it was given to her by her brother the Dalai Lama. Their parents Choekyong Tsering (Pala, father in Tibetan) and Dickyi Tsering (Amala, in Tibetan respectd mother) were farmers. Her mother Dickyi gave birth to 16 children of whom seven survived. Though initially just a simple farmers’ family, it was really an extraordinary family. This was because in addition to the Dalai Lama there were two more reincarnations recognized – their eldest brother Thubten Jigme Norbu (Takster Rinpoche), and their youngest brother Tenzin Choegyal (Ngari Rinpoche).
Tibetans believe in karma and reincarnation. In Central Asian Buddhist countries, it has been widely believed for the last millennium that Chenrezi, Avalokiteśvara, the bodhisattva of compassion, has a special relationship with the people of Tibet and intervenes in their fate by incarnating as benevolent rulers and teachers such as the Dalai Lamas. The Institution of the Dalai Lamas begun with the First Dalai Lama Gendün Drub in 1391.
Shortly after the death of the XIII Dalai Lama in 1933 december, the search for a new reincarnation began. When Lhamo Thondup was just two years old, some officials who were looking for a house with turquoise tiles – just as the Regent had seen in his vision – arrived at their home in Takster. After some tests and questioning, the two year old Lhamo was recognized as the reincarnation of the 13th Dalai Lama, Thubten Gyatso.
Pema´s older brother was formally recognized as the 14th Dalai Lama in 1939. In this year their family made a long and difficult journey (three months and thirteen days) to bring His Holiness to Lhasa. The journey lasted for three months and thirteen days. The official enthronement ceremony of His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama was held in Lhasa on 22 February 1940.
In her book (Tibet:My Story) Pema says that their parents felt very proud as it is a great honour for the family to have a son who is the Dalai Lama. Also, now they had become a part of a significant historical event for Tibet. However, regardless of this big honour, their parents always remained humble. In her book Tibet: My Story, Pema describes her parents as very humble, kind and compassionate people.
As the family arrived in Lhasa, the capital, the Tibetan government gave them everything they could possibly need and even dream of. They were built a special house with 60 rooms in vicinity of Potala Palace, the residence of the Dalai Lama. They also were assigned servants. Jetsun Pema spent a carefree childhood playing with children of her family, occasionally visiting the Dalai Lama in Potala or Norbulingka (the summer residence ot the Dalai Lama) with Amala. Their life became more challenging after their father passed away. Pema was then 7 years old. After that Amala became responsible for all aspects of their family affairs. Up until the age of 9 she, her nephew and niece and few local children were taught by a monk, their private tutor.
The first encounter with the Western world took place in 1947 when their family became friends with an Austrian mountaineer Heinrich Harrer. The young Austrian and his friend had escaped from an Indian prison and taken refuge in Tibet. His Holiness was 11 at the time he met Harrer who became one of his tutors and taught him about the outside world. The two remained friends until Harrer’s death in 2006. Many years later when Harrer had returned to Europe, he wrote a memoir of his time in Tibet “Seven years in Tibet.” This book was also screened as a very popular Hollywood movie, and Jetsun Pema played in the movie her mother Amala.
In 1949 the older sister of Jetsun Pema became ill, and Amala decided to send them together with Pema to India, so that her sister can get proper medical care. In India, Pema was enrolled at St Joseph's Convent in Kalimpong and later at Loreto Convent in Darjeeling. Both of these boarding schools were run by catholic nuns. In these boarding schools she learned to speak English and appreciate classical music.
The students were all from different religions – Buddhists, Hindus, Protestants, and Catholics. Jetsun Pema tells that relating to girls from other religions was easy to her as all religions stem from same values – goodness, compassion, desire for justice and truth. However, what was a bit difficult was that Catholicism is simply matter of faith. In Tibetan Buddhism, the student finds their way by questioning – finding a respected teacher, and having dialogue with them questions get answered. Her inter-faith experiences at Catholic schools became useful for a future that involved working with sponsors, teachers and aid works from around the world.
Because of the crisis in Tibet, and the worry for her family living there, the last years of studies in Loreto (1960-61) were emotionally very difficult for Jetsun Pema. However, the political situation also became a motivator to get a great education and use it to help the Tibetan cause after graduating.
In 1961, after completing her senior exams, she went to Switzerland and then to England to do further studies. She returned to India in April 1964 where her help was very much needed.
Building the Tibet in Exile
As a response to the People's Republic of China's invasion of Tibet in 1949-50, The Dalai Lama assumed full political duties on 17 November 1950, at the age of 15. Tensions between the communists and Tibetans kept growing culminating with National Uprising in 1959. On March 17 of 1959 the Dalai Lama together with their family succeeded to flee to India.
Upon their arrival in India, the Dalai Lama, and the exiled Tibetan government received a lot of help from Indian government, and they were directed to settle in Dharamsala. Together they had to build up the whole infrastructure in a way that would allow them to preserve Tibetan culture and nation. About 80 000 Tibetans followed through the Himalayas their much loved spiritual leader to find freedom in India during 1959-1960. Together with the government in exile, His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama, and his family had become the breathing apparatus of their nation.
Under the direction of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Nursery was established in 1960 to take care of the 51 ill and malnourished Tibetan refugee children in India. Pema´s older sister Tsering Dolma had been in charge of the children in exile up until her death in 1964. She had created from scratch the system for refugee children that enabled them to survive, receive medical care, and later schooling within the environment of love and caring. After Tsering Dolma´s death His Holiness asked Jetsun Pema, 24 at the time, to take care of the nursery.
The children kept flowing in, and the village had to be reorganized to cope now with 800 children. Gradually, with more help from Indian government and through cooperation with / and aid from international organizations, sponsorships of children, and with lots of hard work the conditions of the village improved. Pema asked Heinrich Harrer to ask Dr Hermann Gmeiner, the president of SOS Kinderdorf, to help the Tibetan refugees. With their help children’s home was built, and SOS Kinderdorf also agreed to sponsor children. As of 1972, the TCV is officially affiliated to SOS Kinderdorf International, Vienna, Austria.
Under her 42-year leadership Nursery evolved into Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) and has expanded and grown into one of the most successful flourishing educational institutions in exile. More than 40000 students have passed through Tibetan Children village. Jetsun Pema, has travelled widely to speak about the Tibetans and her work at the Tibetan Children’s Villages.
Next to her very busy professional life of building up and running the TCV, Pema also was married twice and raised three children of her own.
Where does peace begin?
In the end of 1970 China changed its strategy and relaxed its grip on Tibet, and was open for a dialogue with Tibetan leaders. As a result the Dalai Lama sent between 1979-1980 three fact finding delegations to Tibet with the aim of finding out the situation of Tibet now.
Dalai Lama appointed his younger sister to be the leader of the third fact finding delegation with an aim to investigate the state of education in their homeland. The delegation arrived in Lhasa July 1, 1980. Defying military orders and government directives, and putting their lives in danger, thousands of people surrounded the delegation to greet them with outpouring emotions. Twenty years of communist doctrine had not broken their faith and devotion towards the Dalai Lama. The delegation became painfully aware how much their fellow Tibetans had suffered, and how much they yearned for cultural and spiritual freedom. They returned to Dharamsala with 7000 letters, mainly to the Dalai Lama, that painted a sad picture of Tibet after the communist cultural revolution.
The destruction of Tibet’s culture and oppression of its people was brutal during the twenty years following the uprising. 1.2 million Tibetans died as a result of China’s policies, many people were put in prisons and labour camps, and more than 6000 monasteries, temples and other cultural and historic buildings were destroyed and their contents pillaged.
The relations with China continue to be challenging. Though, Pema has always been a big supporter of his older brother´s no-violent approach. She thinks that it is the best solution for all people, no matter which country. In her book she says:
"It is first of all necessary to understand that peace is not a geographical or physical concept: it must first of all exist in people´s hearts and minds. It must therefore be taught to children so that they may learn to live in peace. I am convinced that education is the means by which we can attain this objective. I try to put this into practice in the TCV. ”
More than a political and historical account of one country, the Tibetan story is an inspiring story of power of love and compassion – one family´s love for their nation and country, and this nation´s unbreakable faith and love for their spiritual leader. It is awe-inspiring that under these extremely difficult circumstances, continued cruelty and atrocities, the Tibetan leaders have always stood firm by their Buddhist values of love, peace, and compassion, never losing faith in justice and goodness of human nature.
Jetsun Pema has won many international awards for her efforts in promoting peace, education, and women´s rights, but most of all for her dedication and service for the education and welfare of the Tibetan refugee children in India. Among other awards she received the "Mother of Tibet" Award in 1995, Medal of UNESCO in 1999, "Women of Courage" Award - Italy in 2002, "Mother’s of Earth" Award - Italy in 2006, and the "Human Rights Hero Award" - Italy in 2010.
Jetsun Pema “Tibet: My Story”. Element Books Limited 1997
GEO Das neue Bild der Erde. Nr 12/December 1981
Different Internet resources.
ABOUT THIS BLOG
Welcome! :) My name is Monika. I am interested in beauty, art, different cultures, and good stories. I have always been fascinated with semiotics and symbols, and how people of different cultures interpret them.