As an ethnographer, having conducted participant observation in McLeod Ganj, I have had the advantage of exploring the various reasons for why migrants (refugees, exiles, students) have established a residence there. What I had noticed rather immediately was that people were attracted to the myriad of educational opportunities that are offered. For one, I know of many who came here from Tibet, Burma, South Korea to learn English while it becomes a valuable tool in the modern global age. They say to get a good job nowadays one must learn at least a modicum of English--hence the pursuit. But the question is now: what are many of these students going to do after they master English? That is, to put it more broadly, what is one's dream for the future?
The dreams of what these students want to do vary. One student mentioned that he wanted to be a politician or a 'businessman' who sells designer clothes. Another student contemplated the possibility of building a school and becoming a teacher in the village where she grew up. Not just any education, but a 'Tibetan education.' What this means, as another student chimed, is to "learn Tibetan culture and history." One could ask why--apparently, from what I understand, those born and raised in Tibet do not get a proper education on Tibetan culture. Instead, they learn the Chinese language, the Chinese style of dress, the Chinese way of interacting, and so on. It is only natural, I suppose, to want to learn all of that which makes up one's historical identity, viz culture. And more: many wish to move abroad, to some country in the West, make some money, and send back a substantial portion of it to their family. Like what many individuals from the Asian countries are doing today, 'Tibetan itinerants' aspire to rebuild the homeland--to actualize the Shangri-La--after they have acquired some cultural capital.
Now are of these dreams imbricated within the horizon of a global-integrated world? The answer is no. One particular monk said that he wished to meditate in a cave in Tibet. Another said that he dreams about having all the refugees return home. And still another dreams about creating an online network that will teach people about the political tension happening in Tibet.
But what is unanimous about all of these responses, unless the students are from somewhere else, is that these students wish to return to Tibet. As I understand it, Tibet is not just any place, less so a frontier for opportunists, it is, rather, a sacred site. A prophetic space where almost everyone wishes to return to someday. My 'host father' said it best, "we are guests here in India. By being guests, we have the expectation that we will get to return home one day." Truly this is one observation that has been quite durable. That life in India is temporary. When I asked my interlocutor about what he would do if he got the chance to move back to Tibet, he said resoundingly, "If it was a free country...Of course I would!!"
Perhaps one could say then that one's dream for the future is not only imbibed by what we have to do in order to survive economically, but what we have to do to in order to contribute to those we call our friends and family--to our culture, as it were. Preserving one's culture, as Tenzin told me, means to learn the language, and to learn the language means to learn Buddhism, and finally, to learn Buddhism means to learn the art of loving. As cultures shift with every generation, we will see the passing away of old customs, inevitably so. But in McLeod Ganj, the place where preservation and authenticity is prized over all else, the dream for Shambhala is ever resting in the light of everyone's vision. And so with every step, the students at the Tibetan Hope Center stay committed to the prophetic image of a world, a culture, that is suffused with love and compassion.