Positive thinking and a bit of luck got me to Aspen Thursday afternoon for a three-day Celebration of Tibetan Culture presented by the Aspen Institute in collaboration with the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture. A dizzying number of scholars, (okay, maybe it's the altitude or more likely it's the heady subject matter...) practitioners and tradition-bearers are in the mountain town to share their wisdom on the historical and philosophical significance of Tibet and its impact on current and future global issues.
His Holiness Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, is scheduled to speak Friday and Saturday. In the meanwhile, conversations have touched on mandalas, meditation, the science of happiness, enlightenment, climate change, the Olympics, and a concern over whether the U.S. can do more harm than good by pushing the Chinese into a corner.
The symposium opened with a prayer chanted by Drepung Loseling Monks dressed in their deep reddish rose-colored robes and bright ochre helmet-like headdresses with crescent shaped peaks. Symposium Co-chair Margot Pritzker offered a 100 percent guarantee that symposium participants would leave transformed. Immediately thereafter, the first group of conversants began to transform us.
Sogyal Rinpoche, world-renowned Buddhist teacher and author from Tibet, and Robert Thurman, Columbia University Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies and author of Why the Dalai Lama Matters spoke about Tibet's unique Buddhist heritage.
Ambassador Jeffrey A. Bader, the director of the John L. Thornton China Center and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, moderated the evening session. An effort to focus on the future of Tibet, "rather than argue about the past," suggested Ambassador Bader set the diplomatic tone for the plenary session with Shi Yinhong, Professor of International Relations and director of Center for American Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing, Lodi Gyaltsen Gyari, Special Envoy of the Dalai Lama to China and Chairman of the Conservancy for Tibetan Art and Culture, Orville Schell, professor and dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley and author of 14 books -- nine about China, and symposium co-chair, Richard Blum.
It was important to have someone from China on the podium to shed light on the opposition to the Dalai Lama. His unpopular stance was met two times by hissing from one of the 200 people in the audience. The takeaway from stage said that Professor Shi's presence was a positive step toward negotiating Tibet's future and that his commentary in Aspen was much less harsh than what they'd heard in China. Blum was a bit less optimistic but hoped that after the Olympics there will be improvements. "It has to do with human rights and decency," said Blum.
More to come.