Waiting in Exile
How has a Tibetan community come to call Ithaca, New York home? Cornell student Daniel Bernstein produces this special episode in search of an answer. After learning that the North American branch of the Dalai Lama's personal monastery is in Ithaca, Bernstein took a deep dive into the history of Tibet that includes conversations with members of the Tibetan community in Ithaca, a visit to the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies, and an interview with Cornell professor Allen Carlson.
Thank you to the Ithaca Tibetan community for sharing their stories. And thank you to Daniel Bernstein for producing this episode with help from journalist Molly O'Toole in her fall 2021 class, "American Dream: Journalism, Politics, and Identity in U.S. Immigration Policy."
Daniel Bernstein '23 is a government major in Cornell University's College of Arts and Sciences, pursuing minors in history and Latin American studies. He has worked in journalism ever since becoming a founding editor of Colonial Elementary School's Colonial Times in the fourth grade, and today he serves as a columnist and senior editor for the Cornell Daily Sun. He hopes to continue telling meaningful stories about people, policy, and ideas throughout his career.
Allen Carlson, associate professor of government at Cornell University
Waiting at the Border podcast episode featuring journalist Molly O'Toole
Eat the Buddha: Life and Death in a Tibetan Town by Barbara Demick
Eleanor Paynter 00:05
Welcome to Migrations: A World on the Move, a series brought to you by Cornell University's Migrations initiative. I'm Eleanor Paynter, postdoctoral associate in Migrations and your host for this podcast that seeks to understand our world through the interconnected movements that shape it. This season, we're thinking about waiting - exploring experiences of migration through the lens of time. And for this episode, Waiting in Exile, I'm really happy that we're able to host a piece produced and narrated by Daniel Bernstein, a junior at Cornell, about how a Tibetan community has come to call Ithaca, New York home. And Daniel is actually here with me to help introduce the episode.
Daniel Bernstein 00:44
Hi, thank you for having me, Eleanor. I'm really excited to be here.
Eleanor Paynter 00:48
And can you situate a little bit yourself and your studies and how you came to produce this episode?
Daniel Bernstein 00:56
Sure. So I'm a junior government major in the College of Arts and Sciences at Cornell. I've been interested in journalism for a long time. I worked on my local paper in high school, I write columns for the Cornell Daily Sun. And last semester, I took a class on journalism and immigration policy with Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Molly O'Toole. And throughout the semester, we worked on a long journalism project, about something loosely related to immigration. And so I decided to work on ... do a sort of community profile on Ithaca's Tibetan community. For those who don't know, and you'll hear this later on in the episode, the North American branch of the Dalai Lama's personal monastery is in Ithaca, New York of all places. So the Dalai Lama has come to Ithaca multiple times. And I found this out at some point over the summer when I was actually living here in Ithaca. And I was just so fascinated about why come here, about this community in Ithaca, about how it's very small, but very tight knit. And so I decided I really wanted to learn more about it. Because I myself was very curious. And I also felt that it was something that people in my class, people at Cornell, people in Ithaca and around could appreciate hearing about and take something away from.
Eleanor Paynter 02:15
I love the way you tell the story of this community, because I think for listeners who are based locally here at Cornell, or in central New York, it tells us a lot about a space that we might think of in different ways that we might, you know, communities that we may or may not be aware of that we're sharing these spaces with, and that we may have interacted with in different ways. But the story that you tell also has, I think, a really broad significance as a story of exile and how people come to make their home, as you said, in what may seem like a kind of unexpected space. And in the story, as you tell it in the episode, you bring in a lot of different voices. So I'm curious to hear a little bit about how you connected with the community and how you thought about who you wanted to talk to to be able to tell the story.
Daniel Bernstein 03:03
Right, yeah. So there's, there's a lot to unpack there. I mean, one thing that I try very clearly or try very hard in the episode to do is to say, "Tibetan Ithacans," because these people who are from Tibet who are living in Ithaca are very much Ithacans, they're very much part of this community. And I talked about this throughout the episode. But distinctly throughout the Tibetan diaspora, it has been a movement that has sort of been almost waiting to go home. And that is obviously the theme of this episode, right? Because Tibetan exile was never supposed to be permanent. And so we see this sort of question of maintaining one's culture and maintaining one's identity, when the temporary-ness of the exile is sort of ... the boundaries of that are sort of fading, you know. It's becoming, it's becoming seemingly more and more permanent. But to get back to the question of how did I sort of come come into contact with people is, I really sort of knew a little bit about the Tibetan community, not very much at all. I knew that there were Tibetan businesses, because I saw the, the Tibetan Momo Bar at the Ithaca Farmers Market, which makes great dumplings. And I had heard about this monastery. And so I googled Tibetan businesses in Ithaca. And I reached out to people and I reached out to the monastery. I reached out to a, to Kunga Delletsong who is quoted in the podcast, is just a local carpenter, who I found by googling Tibetan businesses in Ithaca. And what I was so lucky to find was that this community is so tight knit, it really feels like everyone knows everyone. So Kunga was able to put me in touch with Palden Osho, who is also quoted in the episode, and many other people could sort of frame all these ideas and historical contexts and community understandings for me.
Eleanor Paynter 05:09
Another of the themes that comes up in the episode that is, I think, particularly striking is that, of course, you are producing this during the pandemic. And so navigating, being able to connect with community that was, you know, that had lost access to particular spaces and practices and maybe had to shift the way that they were gathering over the last couple of years. Could you say a little bit more about how that also may affect the the way that you got to encounter people or the kind of story that you were able to tell?
Daniel Bernstein 05:42
Yeah, definitely. So when I first tried to reach out to the monastery, it was, it was entirely close to the public. That's what I found. It was, it was actually pretty funny. I called the monastery. And there I was told, "Closed to the public, you can't talk to anyone." And then I was told to contact the Tibetan Association of Ithaca. So I contacted the Tibetan Association of Ithaca. And I called up this number, and someone picks up. I go, "Hi, am I talking to someone at the Tibetan Association of Ithaca?" And they go, "We're closed to the public, you can't come." And it turns out, it's actually the same guy it was just a different phone number listed. So I actually talked to the same people because the monastery was originally closed. I became lucky though, because Kunga adult song, the person I mentioned, was actually working on projects for the monastery. And so because he was really involved in it, because like I said, this community is so tight knit, he was really involved. And he was working on building sort of shelf for the monastery. He was there all the time, he was going to have them taken out their garbage. And so he invited me in, and I got to go there and talk to him. And even though it was like, pretty difficult to originally get through to people at the monastery, I just so happened to find someone who is really involved there. And he was super kind and invited me in and I got to talk to people.
Eleanor Paynter 07:09
They seem really willing to share their stories.
Daniel Bernstein 07:11
Yeah, definitely. There's just like, such a, such a history to the Tibetan diaspora that's really, I think, important to understand, for understanding the community here. And I talked about that in the episode. But something that's really interesting is that everyone knows this history and can tell it, you know, like, it's, everyone understands what happened about the Dalai Lama and his flight and about moving to Northern India and the followings of the Tibetan diaspora, you know, people understand this history because it's their lives, and it's affected this community so impactfully.
Eleanor Paynter 07:54
And what's one thing that has, especially ... one thing in particular that's lasted with you from your experience of putting the story together that you hope might also last with listeners of the episode?
Daniel Bernstein 08:07
Sure, I guess one thing simply is that Tibetan noodles are the best noodles I've ever had. And so I go back all the time. And I bring my friends and I say, yeah, well worked on this podcast, you know, I had this food, I recorded the sound of them making the noodles in the kitchen. So you know, better be coming back. But I think something more sort of broadly is the idea of - and I touched on this earlier - of maintaining one's culture away from home. And I really think that's what this piece is about. I think this piece is about the preservation of culture and identity, when identity and culture feel so threatened. Because I think that is what we can take away from the story of the Tibetan diaspora. What we can take away from Tibetans in America, and here specifically in Ithaca is how a community can stay strong and defend their culture and identity when it is so attacked.
Eleanor Paynter 09:15
Thanks so much for sharing this episode with us, Daniel, and many things also to Molly O'Toole who listeners will remember from the first episode of the season also on waiting. And thanks also to the members of Ithaca's Tibetan community for sharing their experiences, and now I'll hand it over to Daniel.
Daniel Bernstein 09:58
You’re listening to audio from a Tibetan celebration organized by the Tibetan Association of Ithaca, New York. There are 16 people dancing in a circle, 9 women, followed by 7 men. A crowd is watching. They’re in an open room, with colored prayer flags and other decorations hanging across the ceiling. Behind the dancers, on the back wall, is a shrine to the Dalai Lama, next to which hangs an American flag.
The audio, however, comes from 2015, and unfortunately there are no big celebrations happening this year. Normally, the Tibetan community gets together frequently: there are big parties on the second Saturday of every month, celebrations of holidays like Tibet Day, the March 10 uprising, or the Dalai Lama’s birthday. People bring food, they sing and dance and pray. It’s a whole family affair, and almost every Tibetan family in Ithaca comes. Since COVID-19 began, however, there hasn’t been as much organized. But the pandemic has not defeated Tibetan culture in Ithaca.
In the Tibetan Plateau, claimed by China to make up its Southwestern corner, there’s a nation almost 1,000 square miles large, with high plains and massive crystal-clear lakes, seemingly walled off from the world by the Himalayas, and smothered by the big blue sky. But its government isn’t there. The Dalai Lama, the spiritual and political leader of Tibet, is in exile in India. Today, it’s estimated that there are only between 5 and 7 million Tibetans in China and hundreds of thousands in exile, according to Minority Rights Group International. Ever since the Chinese occupied Tibet, Tibetans have been forced out—in fear of the suppression of their religion and their culture.
In her poem, “Immigrant,” Ithaca-based poet Judith Bernal writes:
“Our village had twenty streets. In New York,
suddenly, a thousand times twenty.
I’m twelve, walk everywhere. That first year,
I knit the old world into winter coats.”
Tibet is knitted into the winter coats of this community of Ithacans. These Tibetan exiles and their descendants maintain the traditions, culture, and spirituality of Tibet, and they stay close: they gather frequently, support each other’s businesses, and it feels like everyone knows each other personally. But they aren’t just Tibetans, they’re Ithacans, too: their kids go to Ithaca schools, they’re at the Farmers Market, they play soccer in local leagues. Ithaca can often feel like the middle of nowhere. It’s commonly called “10 square miles surrounded by reality,” a catchphrase first coined by Peter Hansen in the Ithaca Journal in 1993 that’s become a badge of pride for the city. But reality, in all its vastness, can make the small Finger Lakes town feel almost isolated.
So it begs the question: how did a strong Tibetan community form here of all places? Why Ithaca? What makes this city a good home for its Tibetan community? For that matter, what makes any city home, especially for immigrants in search of a new one? And for a people so removed from their homeland, for a culture and religion forced into exile for so many decades: how do Tibetans in Ithaca remain Tibetan? And how do they fit in as Ithacans?
To begin to answer these questions, we have to first ask ourselves about why Tibetans might leave in the first place. I sat down with Allen Carlson, an associate professor in Cornell University’s government department to talk about the Tibetan diaspora. Professor Carlson is involved with Cornell’s China and Asia-Pacific Studies Program, and is one of Cornell’s foremost experts on Tibet.
Allen Carlson 13:55
As it became clear that the relationship of the new Chinese government was going to be an acrimonious one, we began to have Tibetans leaving the PRC, because they had concerns about their personal safety and the real influx, though, doesn't occur until 1959. This is obviously when the Dalai Lama leaves China. For what's now been the last time and really before that the numbers in the diaspora or Tibetans in exile was pretty limited. It's after ’59, that number jumps off. And there continues to be a flow that varies a little bit, year in year out, I don't think it's quite what it was now, because of restrictions and tighter controls over the border. All along, those Tibetans had thought that they were—that this was a temporary exile.
Daniel Bernstein 14:54
He’s talking here about the start of the Tibetan diaspora. In 1950, the Chinese government began to occupy Tibet, in what they called liberation. In 1951, a Tibetan delegation was invited to Beijing and was bullied into signing away its independence, according to Eat the Buddha, a book by Barbara Demick. According to Professor Carlson, however, it wasn’t until 1959, when the Dalai Lama escaped, that Tibetans really began to make their exodus.
Palden Oshoe 15:20
That's when people start to, like, secure his palace, the summer palace Norbulingka, people around, knowing that now His Holiness will be captured. So everybody's starts to surround that place. And then it was in the middle of night when he disguised himself as an ordinary person, and then cut through the crowd and left Tibet. And Chinese would say they're still assuming that he's still there. But the next day, he wasn't there. They started bombarding, thinking that he could have been killed among the many Tibetans.
Daniel Bernstein 16:03
This is the voice of Palden Oshoe, a Tibetan Ithacan who works at Ithaca’s Namgyal Monastery and serves as the President of the Tibetan Association of Ithaca. He was born in Bhutan, attended Monastic training in India, and moved to Ithaca in 1994 to work for the Monastery. He’s been here ever since.
He’s now telling the story of the Dalai Lama’s escape. In March of 1959, his Holiness was in his summer palace, The Norbulingka, three miles south of Lhasa, the capital of Tibet. The palace was surrounded by Tibetans protecting him from the threat of the Red Army; the Chinese military at that time was stationed in the tens of thousands in and around Lhasa, according to Escape from the Land of the Snows, a book by Stephen Talty about the Dalai Lama’s flight. In the middle of the night, he left, and made his way to Dharamshala, a city in the North of India, where he still resides now, and where Oshoe lived for many years of his life. Many Tibetans followed him, in fact. Out of the 6 or so million Tibetans in Tibet, around 80,000 escaped to India following the Dalai Lama that year, according to the International Campaign to Save Tibet. Talty writes that with the flee, “Tibet, in a way, vanished from Tibet.”
Palden Oshoe 17:06
People gradually, you know, discover that his Holiness has left, okay. Then, of course, they feel like if he leaves, then who else would love to stay back in Tibet, okay. And that would mean that either you stay back with your family, with the rest of your family, or you just go together, or just follow him blindly. So that's when people start to leave.
Daniel Bernstein 17:27
With the permission of Indian Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, Dharamshala quickly became a fairly large Tibetan exile community, and the seat of the Tibetan exile government. A northern city at the foothills of the Himalayas, it was fairly unoccupied by Indians and pretty geographically similar to much of Tibet. It was a natural fit, but it isn’t the only place Tibetans went.
After the Dalai Lama’s great escape, the Chinese government began to crack down on Tibetans leaving. So escapees went wherever they could: there were large camps of refugee communities formed in Nepal that are still there today, and many others, including Oshoe’s family, escaped through South Tibet into Bhutan. His father, an artist who worked with the Dalai Lama himself, was even arrested, and had to escape without knowing if he’d see his family again.
Palden Oshoe 18:10
He was relatively, because of his skill, his artist skill, he was very revered, as a good, very special person. So then the Chinese started coming and he was arrested in the middle of the night. And then he was, you know, kept under watch. And then it was the middle of the night, and he must have gone through several days without his family. And then, my dear father, somehow, there was one Chinese translator, who helped my father, he told him, now it's about time you could leave, if you leave it will be ideal time, because the rest of the Chinese who were there, the guards were all kind of drunk in the middle of the night. So he told him, leave right now. But then, you know, he had to leave the rest of the family. So he was like, stuck in between, right, you can imagine. And he said, Now, the only option is he better leave. And he left by himself. And then suddenly, he heard the Chinese army around yelling like “Where is he?”, you know, in the middle of the night. And he hid under something, and they couldn't find him luckily! And he somehow was able to escape them. But then his wife, two wives, right, and kids were all there at home. But then afterwards, my mother, my two mothers, but my true mother as well as two sons, somehow, they were able to escape. And then, so, the south of Tibet is close to Bhutan, and as he started to head south, my father's somehow, miraculously, he heard something, like a cow-bell-thing. And he thought that this could be regular, Bhutanese in their area, but it turned out that it was his wife and his two sons! So he can’t imagine what he is seeing in front of his eyes!
Daniel Bernstein 20:14
Since then, there have been different waves of Tibetan immigration out of the region. It’s largely dependent on Chinese policy; crack downs from the Chinese government slowed down immigration after the first wave following the Dalai Lama’s escape, and it wasn’t until the Deng Xiaoping era in the late ’70s and early ’80s that migration really began again so strongly. From the ’80s to around 2000, a few thousand Tibetans left each year. In the early 1990s, in the wake of the Tiananmen Square Massacre and increased pressure from the Chinese government, the United States sought to welcome Tibetan refugees. Around this time, the U.S. offered a lottery program for 1,000 of them to come here. Major American cities were selected as resettlement communities: Minneapolis, Portland, and Salt Lake—and, somehow, Ithaca. Now, Tibetans are everywhere. Everywhere, it feels, but Tibet.
Allen Carlson 21:02
There have been ebbs and flows in the numbers of Tibetans coming out of China, again, largely consistent with, during periods of more assimilationist policies, more Tibetans have come out. I do think in the last few years that things have changed. Remember, now we're getting to a situation where the number of living Tibetans, who remember what life was like before, when the Dalai Lama was in Tibet, are really dwindling. It's been a long time. And so one of the challenges for the diaspora where you're focusing in Dharamshala, that makes sense, but one of the challenges for Tibetans in the diaspora has been this kind of question of cultural preservation. As now, India still has the vast majority of Tibetans [outside of Tibet]. But there are populations scattered around the globe as well in Europe and the United States, here in Ithaca. And I know from talking to people in that community, that they're really kind of facing this challenge of okay, what is it to be Tibetan if we're outside of Tibet for this long? How do we preserve the culture? How do we preserve the language? How do we preserve the religion?
Daniel Bernstein 22:17
The exile of Tibetans from Tibet, especially in its beginning, may have been thought of as temporary. But it’s been so long for many Tibetans that the prospects of return are slim. And being so far from home, the preservation of culture, language, and religion is paramount to the Tibetan diaspora. It’s also one of the main goals of Ithaca’s Tibetan community. It’s why there are so many get-togethers and potlucks, or weekly language classes for children. The group that organizes these events, and the community center that hosts them, work together to achieve this goal of preservation: that is, the Tibetan Association of Ithaca, and the Namgyal Monastery.
It was in 1992 that the Namgyal Monastery Institute of Buddhist Studies came to Ithaca. It serves as a cultural center for the city’s Tibetan community and a quiet place of solace and prayer. But what makes it more special is its sister monastery: Ithaca’s Tibetan monastery is the North American branch of the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamshala, which is the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery.
Yep. You heard that right. The North American seat of the Dalai Lama’s personal monastery is here in Ithaca, middle of nowhere, upstate New York.
Back in the 1970s, a local author and artist named Sidney Piburn had met and befriended the Dalai Lama himself. They met at the Namgyal Monastery in Dharamshala. The two stayed close, and in 1979, his Holiness made his first trip to the United States— and he came to Ithaca. A little over 10 year later, when Ithaca was chosen as a resettlement community for Tibetan refugees, Piburn, with the help of some other Ithacans and a Tibetan Monk, the Venerable Pema Losang Chogyen, pushed for the foundation of the Namgyal branch here in Ithaca. The Dalai Lama approved and it opened up in an old red house with yellow trimming downtown that actually almost looks like a little monastery. It’s right by the creek that runs perpendicular to North Aurora Street.
Kunga Delotsang 24:34
So they had a house that had like, you know, normal, like a house with the kitchen and stuffs right downtown. And that's where they had the monks, a couple monks there and then they have a meditation, like I said, you know, every night like 45 minutes meditation, and then every other week they have classes for the students. They can come and take the class: a Buddhism class or Tibetan language class.
Daniel Bernstein 25:01
You’re listening to the voice of Kunga Delotsang. He’s lived in Ithaca for about 25 years now, and he works as a carpenter for his own business, Himalayan Cedar, named for the wood of a common tree back home in Tibet. He helps out at the monastery with their trash and recycling, and was nice enough to show me around. It’s no longer on North Aurora Street; now, the Monastery has its own large property — 28 acres— about three miles south of downtown Ithaca. It’s laid out on a big grass lawn nestled in woods, with multiple buildings including housing for monks and a shrine room right in the center of the complex. From above, the property resembles a mandala, which is a complex Tibetan form of artwork. It’s quiet and peaceful, which is why he invited me there to record our conversation.
Delotsang has been working on a cabinet set for the altar in the shrine room that will serve as a seat for eight statues of medicine Buddhas. Because the monastery has been pretty empty since the start of the pandemic—save for the monks who call it home—he’s been able to work on the cabinet set there. He’s actually somewhat commandeered the dining hall: instead of tables and chairs, it’s filled with tools and wood slats on saw horses. This is where we talked.
He was born in Tibet, lived in Dharamshala, and moved to New York in the ‘90s. Delotsang doesn’t sit on the board of the Monastery nor does he serve with the Tibetan Association—he’s an ordinary member of the Tibetan community—but still the monastery holds great significance for him. It’s part of what’s made Ithaca a great place for him.
Kunga Delotsang 26:21
So for me, this is great for Ithaca, we have a great community, a place we can gather, they let us father over here. So we use this as a place where we can meditate and pray and stuff. But um, as far as for me Ithaca: it's a great place. It's beautiful with nature And then when I first moved over here, when I first came to the states I used to live in Westchester, Ossining, so it's just me and my wife and I had the kids. At the time it’s like I got here 1996. So it's a new city, right now a lot of Tibetans but at the time, not that many Tibetans there in westchester. I'm so isolated, and I'm just in the woods and my kids. So I wanted to have my kids to be closer to the whole community, you know, so they can feel a little culture and stuff. So then my wife, she went to Ithaca college. And then we come up over here and I found out the monastery is here. And that’s why I like the monastery, and also this Tibetan community here a little bit because like 1000 Tibetans who got immigrated to the state, and Ithaca was part of that, so I kind of liked it. And also, this reminds me, Ithaca reminds me of Dharamshala and when I was living in India. People are so friendly in this great little community place, so I loved it.
Daniel Bernstein 27:58
The Monastery serves as a center for Ithaca’s Tibetan community. It hosts events and classes, prayers and meditations. Here in Ithaca, it’s a stronghold of Tibetan culture abroad, which is so frequently under attack at home on the plateau. And the guards of the fort that preserves Tibetan culture are the community themselves, which is tight-knit, led by the Tibetan Association of Ithaca.
[Sounds of food cooking.]
This sound comes from the Tibetan Momo Bar, a restaurant downtown on the Ithaca Commons. It’s one of many Tibetan-owned businesses in the Ithaca area, a list that also includes a Tibetan gift shop on the Commons, and Himalayan Cedar, Delotsang’s carpentry business. Oshoe says that there’s a bit fewer than 20 Tibetan families living in Ithaca. In the grand scheme of things, it’s really not that many people. You wouldn’t really say that Ithaca has a big Tibetan community, but it is strong: they gather frequently, run successful local businesses, and everyone seems to know everyone.
Palden Oshoe 28:56
Our community is such strongly knit community. Okay, it's a small, but really vibrant in the sense that we really like to get, everybody loves to get together as often as possible. It's a fun time. It's almost like we miss each other all the time.
Daniel Bernstein 29:14
The Tibetan Association, of which Oshoe is the President, is in part to thank: The group includes almost every Tibetan family in the city, and it’s who organizes get-togethers, celebrations, or even protests.
In March 2016, over 50 Tibetan Ithacans marched through the Commons on the 57th anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day, marking the Chinese takeover of Tibet in 1959. They were protesting Chinese abuses in Tibet that are still occurring now.
The grand question posed by Carlson of cultural preservation in a thought-to-be-temporary-but-really-quite-permanent exile doesn’t seem to be weighing so heavily on Tibetan Ithacans.
And on top of maintaining their own culture, Tibetans in Ithaca are also Ithacans.
Palden Oshoe 30:00
We’re local, local Ithacans. We’ve become local, right? Now, been here for long enough. We have fully blended into the community now, although we may have our own, you know, community, but we are really a powerful integral part of Ithaca. Of course, and Ithaca is such a peaceful place, really, unlike many other places, it's really such a peaceful place and seeing—except, the only problem is the summer humidity and long winter!
Daniel Bernstein 30:30
Delotsang plays in the Ithaca United Soccer league every Sunday during the fall.
Kunga Delotsang 30:35
So we have, actually, a clubhouse in Lansing. So we're going to go every Sunday morning. That's my Sunday. Saturday I usually work at my house and then Sunday I go there and we play games. After games, we watch games. Yes, watch games together. So we have the clubhouse so it's cool. So yeah, a lot of those guys from Cornell, professors, and we have like all kinds of people like all internationals, yeah.
Daniel Bernstein 31:02
For many Tibetan Ithacans, moving to Ithaca was never just about the Monastery or the Tibetan community—it was always about being a part of Ithaca, too. Even from the founding of the Monastery, part of its mission was to give back to this city.
Palden Oshoe 31:16
One of the people who was responsible for supporting this kind of a project, they told His Holiness the Dalai Lama once when he or she met him that it is not, you know, we invite Tibetans here so that Tibetans get benefitted entrepreneurs get benefited. They said, no it’s the Tibetan people, who when they get here, because out of the sense of kindness, you know, they bring positive energy towards the people here.
Daniel Bernstein 31:44
And Ithaca has largely welcomed Tibetans’ positive energy. When it’s open to the public, the Namgyal Monastery hosts classes, meditations sessions, and celebrations that include all varieties of Ithacans. The Momo Bar has become a staple of the Farmers Market. The Tibetan community is a part of this city, and this city has been embraced by the community.
I recently went on a trip to the Namgyal Monastery in Ithaca with Cornell University’s Tibet Initiative for a meditation session and conversation. Somehow, I actually ended up giving everyone a ride: four Tibetan Cornell students. Three undergrad Tibetan-Americans, and one graduate student, an international student whose home is in India. It was a rainy day. When we arrived, we met with Geshe Lobsang Dhondup, a monk, who sat and talked with us.
He didn’t actually speak too much English, so Tenzin Wangyal, the graduate student from India, acted as our translator the best he could—his Tibetan wasn’t perfect, and occasionally he would have to ask the monk for clarifications to help his translations, but he portrayed the message of Buddhist Dharma reflected by the conversation.
We were on cushions, sitting in the shrine room. To my left was Delotsang’s finished cabinet set, upon which sat the medicine Buddhas. You could hear the rain falling on the roof of the monastery. We talked mainly about the concept of Anger.
Tenzin Wangyal 32:53
The thing is, Imagine if our monk here is angry. He was a really angry person, temperamental person. No one here would say that, “Oh, he's so angry, he's a very good person.” Like it just doesn't make sense. We will not consider him as a good person.
Daniel Bernstein 33:29
We talked for around two hours, discussing the concept of rejecting anger. This is so crucial to Tibetan culture, spirituality, and politics. In rejecting anger one finds the positive energy that Oshoe was talking about.
Refugees often struggle with safety and acceptance. When one leaves their country out of fear of danger, the fighting doesn’t stop after crossing the border. There’s a constant attack of one’s identity. Who are you, when it feels like your home is unsafe, or when you’re in a new, sometimes unknown place? The attacks aren’t always internal; refugees are too often subject to discrimination and inequality, in the U.S. and beyond.
For Tibetans, their home was taken from them and they were expelled. To operate as a society in exile, and to preserve culture, language, and religion away from the Plateau, they always have to be defending their identity.
But overwhelmingly, as I’ve learned from studying Tibetan history, talking to Tibetans, and participating in the meditation session, the Tibetan response to an attack is peace. Anger is rejected, and positive energy is embraced.
Here in Ithaca, where an outsider might never expect, the battle wages on. But perhaps we see a model of a community that serves as an example of how best to win. Tibetans in Ithaca maintain their culture, and proudly so, and they also proudly wear the badge of being Ithacan.
There’s a lot of gratefulness involved, and Oshoe asked me specifically to include how grateful he is. But this community and the city exist symbiotically: Ithaca offers a home, and the Tibetan community gives in return its life and culture.
Eleanor Paynter 36:40
Thanks to Daniel Bernstein for this episode, and thank you for listening to Migrations: A World on the Move, a podcast by Global Cornell's Migrations Global Grand Challenge, a cross-disciplinary multispecies initiative that studies how the movements of people, animals, microbes, resources, ideas, and more shape our world. You can learn more about the initiative at migrations.cornell.edu where you can also find relevant links from this episode. Follow us on Twitter at @CornellMig. This podcast is hosted by Eleanor Paynter, Migrations postdoctoral associate with the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies and produced by Megan DeMint. Much of the podcast was produced at Cornell University on the traditional homelands of the Gayogo̱hó꞉nǫ', the Cayuga Nation, and we recognize the nation sovereignty and the indigenous peoples who have lived and continue to live on this land. Our music is “Basically Really” by Steve Fawcett. Migrations: A World on the Move is on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and Stitcher.