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TIBET: Enduring Spirit, Exploited Land

Tibet As a Living Model


As we revisit the issue, "Why care about Tibet?", Tibetans stand at a critical juncture in history. They may become a casualty of China's modern development process, remaining a fragmented ethnic minority, or they may regain their independence and provide hope for the world as a culture with an immense spiritual abundance and an earth-based wisdom. The choices mark an unprecedented opportunity for a solution that would benefit all nations.


Until the seventeenth century, Tibet was a rather bellicose, militaristic country. Under and following the Fifth Dalai Lama, "The Great Fifth," the monasteries increased their power over the military leadership and the feudal landlords. Monasteries became more like educational institutions than sanctuaries for withdrawal from society. Directing the spiritual life of the Tibetan people, both rural and urban, they became the dominating influence. In the West "outer modernity" is the principle influence: secularism, materialism, cosmopolitanism, technology, economic growth, and so on. In contrast the Tibetan Buddhist dogma stresses what Professor Robert Thurman calls "inner modernity." According to Professor Thurman, Tibet's "modernity is her conquest of the realms of the individual mind through a refined technology of self-perfecting education and contemplation...."4

An ordained monk in the Tibetan tradition, Professor Thurman regards Tibetan teachings as imperative for survival in a world unable to deal with rapid change and environmental catastrophes. The preservation of Tibet ensures that this knowledge is available to guide humanity through the trials of the present and those sure to come.


The global agenda for the twenty-first century requires a principled, environmental ethic that respects diversity in nature and improves the chances for subsequent generations. It values native wisdom, recognizing cultures which have survived by living in harmony with nature.

In order to achieve this vision, human beings need to stop thinking of themselves as the apex of the natural world and instead view themselves as responsible participants in nature. The relationship between human beings and their environment requires that neither nature nor mankind be the loser. Our views then shift from a mechanistic world-view to a holistic perspective based on understanding the living systems we depend upon for our survival.

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