Exactly one year ago, I was in Darjeeling, in the northeast of India. The beautiful town sits on a high ridge and (as you can probably guess) is surrounded by tea plantations. One foggy day I walked down to the Tibetan Refugee Center and finally learned what all those “Free Tibet” bumper stickers are about. China invaded the peaceful, Buddhist country of Tibet in the late 1950′s. They overtook its government, destroyed over 6,000 monasteries, and forced the Dalai Lama and millions of others to leave their homeland and seek refuge in the mountains of India and Nepal. In the process, over a million people were killed.
A small sign outside the the Refugee Center reads, “Made possible with funds provided by the U.S. Government.” Seeing that sign was the first time in my many years of travel that I really felt a sense of pride in seeing the results of the American government’s involvements abroad. (Yay! Finally I won’t have to tell people I’m Canadian!) Inside the Center was a dorm where the refugees lived, and factories where they made the scarves, carpets, and handicrafts that were sold in the complex’s shop. I spoke with an old Tibetan man as he put the finishing touches on a carpet. He had a terribly sad story about his experience during the Chinese invasion. His whole family was killed, and he was forced to flee his homeland to avoid meeting the same fate. As the Buddha taught, happiness only comes with forgiveness, and he has completely forgiven the individuals who killed his family. He lives a modest life, but the key is that he is alive and he is happy. He won the war.