What is happiness? For me it is going back to Lhasa, where I have been away from for a long time, eating tsampa my mother kneaded, embracing my bright-eyed little niece, polishing the purified water bowl in the family altar room or enjoying the balmy sunlight on the balcony, being watched by the family’s shepherd dog, whose barking almost makes one go deaf. Happiness can also be found in the nights of the cold season, falling asleep to the authentic fragrance from Mindroling Monastery − at these moments I felt happiness, the simple happiness of someone living far away from home.
The young poet, Gade Tsering, who lives in Amdo, recently wrote about happiness in one of his poems. The title of the poem is “I am Tibetan”. He didn’t only write: “in this despotic winter, I composed this poem”, having lost both his parents, he also wrote: “I encountered my parents in my dream, it was a moment of happiness. I truly believe that at that instant, it really didn’t hurt”. This bilingual poet also wrote: “when I spoke my mother tongue, I truly believe that at that instant, I felt peaceful, and experienced happiness”. This is a feeling that derives from life experience; this kind of happiness is personal, with tears in one’s eyes.
On the first day of the Losar Year of the Tiger, when I went to Jokhang Temple to pay homage to the Buddha, the sky was still dark before daybreak. I hadn’t thought that the religious crowd praying to Buddha would be that large; there was a jostling and long-winding queue, I simply cannot describe how many Tibetans there were from near and far.
I don’t know from what time they had gathered together at this place, step by step approaching the comforting and popular Jowo Rinpoche. Based on my past experience that I would always spend the New Year’s eve at the Jokhang, I have often seen such scenes of an excited mass of bobbing heads, of moving human shadows, of thundering human voices, with the Jowo Rinpoche, having experienced many vicissitudes of life, watching the devout crowd in golden radiant light. True, this is a moment of happiness. Witnessing such a scene, one could even see affection on the faces of the most heartless people; they would even hide the daggers, which they carried in their hands behind their backs.
But this time, I could only experience such scenes in my memory. I had already queued for almost 4 hours, but the first gate of the Jokhang was still far away and I had something to do at home, so I could only turn back half way. Anyway, I had already felt the pulsation of my fellow people. Yet, I am not talking about those old and young people wearing sheepskin gowns, woollen clothes from Tibet or fashionable clothes from the metropolis, I am also not talking about those herdswomen in front of me who braided their hair into many small plaits, I am talking about those people who are dressed in green and dark blue army uniforms and those who wear plain clothes but are assigned special tasks. There are so many of these people, is it to the extent that every person praying has one armed police closely watching and guarding over them?
However, for example, the Tibetan New Year’s celebration broadcast on TV a few days ago, was nothing but red. All programmes were excessively conveying one main message: happiness. Of course this happiness was also red, the red of the Five-Starred red flag, it was China Red. Moreover, on and off the stage, the rosy cheeks of the hosts and the actors, of the officials and the carefully selected audience were beaming with happy smiles, simply creating an atmosphere of happiness that Tibet has never before experienced in its history. One of the performances gave people goosebumps of happiness. A group of actresses wearing Tibetan dresses was facing a group of actors singing with great affection: “Ya, laso, the smiling faces of the soldiers…” The charm of the full femininity of the performance flooded the entire city of Lhasa with a false sense of happiness, but in reality it can’t endure even a gun held in one hostile soldier’s hands.
Hasn’t this happiness befallen us through the shadow of weapons? Can this happiness really exist simply by forcing people to speak it out? I have previously discussed these topics with my religious teacher. He calmly said in the manner of a practising Buddhist: “real happiness is inner happiness, and inner happiness cannot be obtained through money, it can neither be obtained through lies and even less through the oppression with weapons.” He paused, straightened his robes and continued meaningfully: “however, happiness is what everybody is striving for.”
Lhasa, February16, 2010
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