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Anjali Rao 13:09:53
Hello, and welcome to the love of yoga podcast presented by the accessible yoga Association. I'm your host, Anjali Rao. The love of yoga podcast connects to the expansiveness of the teachings of yoga, through provocative conversations with yoga scholars changemakers and thought leaders. Our intention is to provide avenues of access for yoga practitioners who are seeking to embody these teachings for personal and social transformation.
Hello, and welcome to the love of yoga Podcast. I'm Anjali Rao, your host, and with me is a very special guest, Chemi Lhamo who is joining you're from Toronto, Canada. Welcome to me, and I'm so very excited to have you here with us. TV and I met at the Mexico retreat for Queer and Trans and BIPOC, folks, which was a very special time. And I've always been inspired by what she does, and the ways in which you show up to me. So I'm really excited for you to talk about your work your background for the folks who are listening. And just a brief introduction. And I wanted to share your work in your own words in a few moments. But a few words of introduction here. For those of you who don't know, Chemi Lhamo is a human rights activist, a community organizer, one of the key youth leaders of Free Tibet movement, Canadian representative for the International Tibet networks steering committee, and has a long list of accomplishments to her name, has been featured as a youth icon, speaker at the Oslo forum, and the list goes on has been a candidate for the Council of Toronto. So Chemi, you are so you know, a bright shining star. And I'm so very excited to have this conversation with you when we've had many wonderful conversations in Mexico. And that's why I wanted to kind of bring you on, so that the listeners get a glimpse of the work the very important work that you're doing. So a very warm welcome again, to you to me. And can you share a little bit more about your background and your work?
Chemi Lhamo 13:12:31
Sure, well, first and foremost, thank you so much for that very kind introduction. It's an honor and pleasure to be here on this podcast specifically because it's you Anjali, so much love for you. And I know we've only recently met but feels like we've known each other for ages before. And were in many ways karmically linked. And so it's a pleasure to be here. In terms of my work, I would call myself a community organizer, and solely a community organizer beyond all of the other titles because I organize because there's always an urgency and need to organize, because of the lack of resources in our communities. Because of the way the system is even built. The system was never built for us. And so it continues to oppress and exist in ways that creates more barriers for people that live at the margins of our societies. So I feel that there's always a need to organize, to always agitate, activate and advocate for the people that deserve much more. And so I organized and this specific part of community is important to me, because it is really the community that raised me. So I feel like that's what I know the best, because they are me, and I'm them I feel. And so I continue to organize with community and that's what I ultimately do. The rest is just titles and spaces that I've been able to navigate because of, in many ways my privilege of being able to grow up in the west and also have my grounding in and being born in the east.
Anjali Rao 13:14:12
That's wonderful. And when you say community organizing, where are you organizing, how are you organizing? Can you share a little bit more Robots that?
Unknown Speaker 13:14:20
Yeah, for sure. Well, first and foremost, I was born and raised in India till I was about 11. I am of Tibetan descent and Tibetan. But since 1959, when Tibet was illegally occupied by the Chinese occupation, my grandparents fled to India on foot walking over the Himalayas into Nepal than India, and moved multiple times to be able to just survive. I come from three generations of people that have been stateless. So even though we were born in India, we don't get citizenship. So we're stateless people. And so the struggle and our very existence is very political. So there is that political organizing, when I talk when I talk about human rights when we talk about displacement, statelessness, exile hood, the idea and concept of home. So that type of organizing, is what I do. And that's not necessarily a passion, but rather a way of life for me, for as long as people are not free in this world, I think I will continue to be a community organizer in that sense. But locally, here in Toronto, growing up here, I also realized that, although I come with so much pain and trauma of being displaced, so much of that pain also exists here in people that have grown up here, because they don't feel like they belong. So many people are suffering from loneliness. And so I realized that, you know, there's all these other systemic barriers, like housing issues, climate issues, that affect everybody's lives, that I started to organize locally here with neutral aides and talking about, you know, how racism, sexism, and such impacts our society and ultimately, people to be able to live a dignity, a dignified life. So little bit of both have very local and very global. And that's how I sort of live my life. I really
Anjali Rao 13:16:12
like to trade off the sense of belonging that you brought up, because that's something that I've been pondering as well, like, how do we cultivate a sense of belonging in our communities, be it virtual, or, you know, interpersonal. So I want to go back to what you shared about that sense of belonging. And I think that's a threat that you bring to your climate justice work, as well as, you know, housing, justice, and all of that. So can you speak a little bit more about that, because for you and me, perhaps, who are immigrants, you know, it's, it's something that is a part of our experience, to cultivate a sense of belonging, and then there is that, that is that connection that we then take to build movements or be a part of movements that are bigger and larger, like climate justice, and housing justice? So can you just share a little bit about that?
Unknown Speaker 13:17:16
Well, belonging, I think comes from when you understand your own existence in this world, and sort of your own role. And that comes from introspection, and reflection upon your own existence, I think, being able to situate yourself and center and ground oneself, then you understand where and how you belong. And for us as humans, I think, you know, connections are always there. We don't exist in individuality. In as an individual only, we exist within communities, we exist within social settings. And we ultimately arise because of dependencies. So this concept called dependent origination comes about, because there is causes and conditions that come together, this conversation would not be happening if we didn't meet in Mexico, and I wouldn't have even come to Mexico of 1000s of other things didn't happen, you know, and so, all of the things that happen in everyday life, I think we need to remind ourselves that they they're not just happening on its own, it's millions of causes and conditions that come together. And when we realize that beauty and magic, I think there's automatic sense of belonging, because you realize that you're not talking about just you, you you, it's more about us, and even you that you think so selfishly about is actually very much connected to other ideas. It's your family, your community, your people, your home, who you share with your workplace that you share with everything is shared. And I think that's ultimately the reminder that we need when when we feel like we don't belong is that we actually need to redefine ourselves and understand what do we mean by when I say like, my name, Chewy, Chewy, doesn't exist if I wasn't even labeled by by parents attended, maybe, you know, so this attachment to the self I think needs to be really rejected. can be understood. And then when we do that, or when we do a little bit of reflection, automatically, I think you gain a sense of belonging or a love for something that's beyond just yourself.
Anjali Rao 13:19:30
Beautiful. And I also want to like, go back to the story that you shared about your grandparents who might, you know, what went to India where to leave Tibet. So something more about the Free Tibet movement, because I really want to highlight this particular struggle, which is a human rights struggles. So could you talk more about that, please?
Unknown Speaker 13:19:54
For sure. Well, as I said, 1959 was the day that the Chinese government have taken over our country, which has a, you know, historically been an independent country has a distinct language, and culture and rich tradition, which, of course, also includes yoga, meditation and Buddhism. Since 1959, the situation inside of Tibet has only worsened. It's gotten even worse in 2008, when the Beijing Olympics was held the Summer Olympics. Since then, it's just been a complete lockdown. It's so hard for us to even find information. And there was a time in the 70s and 80s, when there was this whole hippies movement, you know, all of the West wanted to talk about how they wanted to Free Tibet, and there was even a Beastie Boys Free Tibet concert, where, you know, like, everyone is waving a Tibetan flag. And everybody knew about the Tibetan situation. Nowadays, we don't hear about it as much. And that's because Chinese government has understood that when Tibet is able to get the center stage of attention in the international world of human rights, that people want to take action. And so what they did was they cut it off completely, and it's been a complete lockdown, where information cannot get out. So it's so hard to get information, let alone be in the news. If you don't have information, what do you present, you need to be able to show how many people are struggling, how many people how many children are there, you know, a stolen from our parents. And so, only recently, we've been able to put out a report that talked about colonial state run boarding schools that the Chinese government has implemented in the last 10 years. So children as young as even three years old, had been stripped away from their parents, five days a week to go to colonial state run boarding schools. They're teaching Tibetan children to no longer speak Tibetan, for sure. They're teaching them how to speak read and write Chinese, but not only read spoken by Chinese, but also to think and dream. They're using these new psychological techniques to positively reinforce a Chinese identity in Tibetan children. So much so that an expert has recently told us firsthand that within three months, he saw his niece and nephews not being able to talk to their grandparents. Within three months, these are three year old kids that we're talking about. And so this type of, you know, and it's not new news, when we live in the West, especially for me, like in Canada, we've heard about the horror stories of residential schools, they're finding the, you know, the graves, the unmarked graves of young. First Nation, matey. And anyway, children hear that were buried, even alive. When that is something that we agreed about and say never again, it's happening right now, as we speak inside of Tibet, to our next generation, the Chinese government is understood that they cannot erase the identity and the Tibetans that are currently living. So what they're doing is now uprooting the new generation that will carry on our struggle for us. And so that's their technique, new technique, which has been clearly working because now there's no Tibetan schools inside of Tibet that can teach Tibetan, all of them have closed. And that's one aspect. And then the other one is what we spoke about last time, I believe, the DNA sampling blood collection, so more than 1.2 million Tibetans have been forced, really have been forced to give their blood samples and DNA samples to the Chinese government. And that's actually being done with these DNA kits that are sold to China by an American company. So you know, all of these workings of our capitalistic society, our society that is very much complicit in the violence that is happening all across the world, is allowing for a genocide allowing for the erasure of my people. And so yeah, the situation has only been worse. And for me, I come from three generations of statelessness. I've never seen Tibet. I would love to go home and I'd love to be able to tell people what Tibet looks like. The first thing that people say to me when I say I'm cheating My name is Jimmy, they say, where's that name? Sam. It's Tibetan name. So I've heard so much about Tibet, you know, how is it? They asked me right away? And, and I'm dumbfounded, you know, I, I'm not usually short of words as you can tell I can I love to talk. But whenever somebody asks me about Tibet, I am not able to say much, because there is that is exactly what the colonial body Chinese government has done is to eradicate and sever the ties to from the people to their land. And so I wish this upon nobody, and I must continue to fight for the freedom of all people.
Anjali Rao 13:25:00
Well, thank you, thank you for sharing that. And, you know, we are I'm with you, we are with you in solidarity. And that's why I wanted to, you know, have this be front and center as much as we can, this this movement to feed Tibetan, learn and hear about your struggles of the peoples of Tibet, who have been displaced generationally. So thank you for sharing that to me. And, you know, I also want to talk about people are learning about Tibetan Buddhism, not specifically from Tibetan Buddhists, they are learning from pretty much white practitioners and scholars or philosophers. So I wanted to like just go back to that conversation that we've had about, you know, cultural appropriation, when it comes to Tibetan, Buddhist and yogic practices. Can you share a little bit about that, please?
Unknown Speaker 13:26:08
For sure, I think. First and foremost, it's important to emphasize the motivation and intention behind this social conversation about specifically cultural appropriation in regards to our tradition. The root and the foundation of this conversation is rooted in this idea of making sure that anyone who has access to these teachings has access to the real teachings, you know, so that it benefits people. Yes, there's this concept of agency and ownership and who gets the credit. I agree, that's all very relevant, especially for someone for the Tibetan people while we're going through, you know, erasure. But even before that, for me comes the fact that whoever's getting these teachings and receiving these teachings from sources that are not the really trained and really Tibetan Buddhists themselves, is that the students who are receiving these teachings are not getting getting the real deal. They're being, you know, they're getting the fake deal, they're getting sold out, or they're getting, you know, and it's not going to help them in a long term, because Tibetan Buddhism and yoga, because independent Buddhism, we talk a lot about meditation, and for us, the word meditation is equivalent to yoga. So yoga itself is a Sanskrit word. And for us, we don't have an equivalent, the equivalent that's closest to it, from my understanding is the word Gong Gong is to meditate. And the word Gong comes from the word Calm, calm is to condition is the condition and what do you condition you condition your mind, you condition your body? How do you do that? You do that through various aspects, right, and the body conditioning is nowadays known in the world as sort of yoga, that has been completely reduced in the west, to stretching and bodily movements, but for us gone is to condition is to condition the mind is to train our mind. And that is done through body speech in mind, etc. So all of it ultimately, is to be able to come closer to the truth, that is the true motivation of practicing practicing yoga. But in the West, what has happened is when there is this cultural appropriation, when there's this dilution of the wisdom, ancient practices, is that the students are not no longer receiving the rich wisdom that allows them to come closer to the truth, rather, they're getting basic techniques that are just helping them how to manage temporarily for a day or two to feel better, but that's not the real reason that we've been we as an art people have been practicing this ancient tradition. And so I think, ultimately, the consequences of these types of appropriation is very It's very severe because one, the people that are receiving it do not get what they're really seeking or to the people who are from the traditions are no longer getting the credit or the benefits from it. And so ultimately, it makes me question who's who's a benefit? Is it the person that is, you know, selling it, and making a profit out of it, I actually feel bad for them, because I think even they're not benefiting because if you are truly a practitioner, then karma is going to bite you in the bum. So it's a bad case for everybody when you're not true to the teachings. And cultural appropriation, you know, of our traditions, is something that I don't even need to speak about, because it's left, right and center in the world of West. Where can you go to a yoga center and see a person of color? Where do you see actually Tibetans teaching Tibetan Buddhism in these centers, very rare. There are tons of Tibetan Buddhist departments in universities around the world. And I've probably seen only one head of department in the world that has been a Tibetan. And that person happens to be the principal translator of His Holiness, the Dalai Lama. And so he's like, of the most highest stature, and possibly has been given the, you know, stature of a director in a university. But that's the only place that I've seen a Tibetan head of director. Apart from that, it's always been a white person.
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Anjali Rao 13:32:16
So, Jimmy, good thread of, you know, the erasure of Tibetan culture back in Tibet, and how that has carried forward in so many ways here, while we have Tibetan Buddhism being appropriated and practiced so broadly by Western practitioners without centering Tibetan Buddhists themselves, I mean, we have talked a lot, a lot about this, back in Mexico, so I wanted to just make, you know, have that part of the conversation here as well, because we see this whole thread of how erasure happens and how it is taken forward in western, especially yoga spaces. So can you just talk a little bit about that, please?
Unknown Speaker 13:33:07
Yeah. It's no doubt that the Tibetan people are facing the eradication and erasure inside their own homeland and Tibet. But that erasure, of course, continues as the people first and foremost have been displaced from their own homeland. But secondly, live in societies where the West in the powerful are the ones in power, the oppressors are the colonial bodies have decided to pick and choose what is cute and, you know, Celeborn profitable out of our culture, and completely make, you know, millions and millions, billions of profit out of our culture, but without giving any sort of credit to the people themselves. And, and, you know, for me, as long as you are able to do it correctly, as long as it benefits others because our culture and tradition is rooted in benefiting others, it's all about the benefit of sentient beings. So that they can, you know, liberate themselves from samsara, and that is the goal. So if they're able to do that for the benefit of sentient beings, then sure but they're not, they're selling it. And not only are they selling it, they're selling a fake version of it. Why? Because they have themselves not getting caught in trade. We have monks who trained for 22 years to be able to get their doctorate degree. And then here in the West, I see professors at universities that are teaching but in Buddhism, that of that all they have in their bio is that they went to India and they were a monk for three years. And now they're teaching, like, Excuse me, and three years of monks studies, you only learn how the basics of dialectic debate. And that took us six years to study in the West. Here you are saying your accomplishment is being a monk for three years, like that's not going to do it. And everyone is using our great teachers names, which you know, is not necessarily true, because just because you're associated with a big Academy doesn't mean that you studied under the, you know, the Dalai Lama, or the Karmapa, or the veteran mama. But everyone's by almost always says something about His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, which I think is very ironic and funny. But at the end of the day, you see how the Tibetan people have not only been at a disadvantage historically and systemically, but even just existing in the West for them is that they're at a disadvantage, because they're being sold their own culture, I remember taking a Tibetan language class at the University of Toronto, having to pay $700 for a course for one semester, but to be taught by a white professor, who couldn't even pronounce the letters properly. And I'm there like what a joke, but I need this degree. And you know, this course to be able to help me get into my master's program for whatever else I wanted to get into. And so these, the system has been built in such a way that we have to dilute our own culture and learn the white ways of explaining our own traditions, so that we could get a degree or a piece of paper that says that you're certified. And that I think, you know, the same thing and yoga, it's like all of these trainings and requirements that you need to do but all to be learning from a, you know, a, from a person that has not been trained by the real tradition, or the roots. And why is that? And I think it really take a revolution of people that are constantly asking these questions and not just asking the questions to the people who are, you know, white, it's also challenging, you know, the whiteness that exists within ourselves, the internalized whiteness, the internalized dynamics and structures of power that we have within ourselves. And I see that even within me, because, in many ways, I'm so much so privileged and have access to power by have having grown up in the West, and even having access to post secondary education. And so it's constantly challenging these systems of oppression within ourselves, and of course, externally.
Anjali Rao 13:37:20
Absolutely. And I also see that, you know, I don't see anyone who is purportedly proclaiming themselves to be experts in Tibetan Buddhism, standing up or centering people who are working in Free Tibet movement, like there is no conversation about that. So I think that's something that is definitely needed, when we're talking about spiritual traditions coming from a source culture to really address the suffering of the people from that land. And I don't see that happening at all. And that's why I think we do continuously like people, center people like you who are doing the work, who are coming from that land, and who are doing the work, who are being a part of the voice about the struggles that Tibetan people face. And I want to also go back to your thing about residential schools. I mean, that really got me because it is about children being affected and how the Chinese government is sort of brainwashing, literally and figuratively, doing that. So is there anything that you can share about how we can do anything? I mean, it seems like a big thing, right? Because the Chinese government is so powerful. So what do we do here from the west? How can we support people back there?
Unknown Speaker 13:38:48
Well, first and foremost, we need access to Tibet, we have not been able to send a set of journalists or even independent researchers, even the UN, you know, we had the UN High Commissioner Michelle bachelor who recently visited China, and she barely even went to the east Turkestan region to talk about the concentration camps, which they have. We all have proof that there's millions of them in those camps. And she barely even mentioned them. And Tibet, she didn't even know In the world, since she had been the High Commissioner, she had not even mentioned. So just recently she stepped down, which is good news because we all rallied against it, and said that she has no right being a human human rights High Commissioner, if she goes, visits China, and still does not talk about Tibet, there's even when we've given you all of this proof, so organizing is always taking place on our end, whether it is in un, whether it is in our respective countries, so we're lobbying our governments to talk about being able to even access to it, we want to see an independent investigation take place right now. 800,000 to a million Tibetan children are in these colonial state round boarding schools. That number we actually got from the Chinese census. So we have no idea how much work they're hiding. How many dependents are even included in the Chinese census? Right. So there's tons more I'm sure that we've not even been able to access. And so this starts from just bare, just being able to enter Tibet, Tibetans should be able to enter Tibet, Tibetans, who live inside of Tibet should be able to leave, that's not even happening happening right now. Right. And so the bare minimum is to be able to have that independent research take place in a month have unfettered access for journalists, to be able to go there. And that can be done through international support and lobbying. Right now, the report for the colonial state or in boarding schools has been out since last December. So please share that. We've also done petitions to calling for the colonial state run boarding schools to close completely to shut them down. And with the DNA sampling, there's the American company called Thermo Fisher, which is actually based in Boston, Massachusetts, like, it's ridiculous to think that there's an American company selling these DNA kits to China, who's collecting threatened blood without their permission. And China is on on its way to create one of the largest banks of DNA samples. So this is not just danger for Tibetans, it's dangerous for the rest of the world. And yeah, so there's a stake for everybody to be able to say Thermo Fisher, what the hell are you doing? You're an American company, you don't even need that market. You can you can make money from elsewhere, whatever else needs to be done. But you do not need to stoop this low. What happened to your equity, diversity, and you know, Edi sort of plans and commitments, where are your moral standards, these are things that you can you as an American or Western can hold Thermo Fisher accountable for. And so we have also have a petition for Thermo Fisher. Last time, we did a whole concert on our SFT students were free to bet Instagram, and people were able to go and sign the petition, we had 1000s of people who signed it. And one of our colleagues actually went into Thermo Fisher office to drop the petition signatures. So we will call for more actions. Just follow us. There's various Tibetan organizations that are doing wonderful work all throughout, and happy to send a list of them to you later on unreleased. It can be a follow up. Absolutely. And
Anjali Rao 13:42:37
I will definitely share the organization's as well as the petition for Thermo Fisher. So thank you for sharing that to me. You know, all this work that you're doing and just in the middle of so much of suffering, really and displacement, how do you stay centered? Because I have met you. So I know that I think for a person so young, and you are you are remarkably centered? What's your What's the secret to me?
Unknown Speaker 13:43:11
There is no secret I have, I'm always grateful and indebted to the people that have raised me, I think, anyone and everyone that has come into contact within the environments that I've shared, and, you know, just our ancestors, everybody, I am very indebted and grateful to everybody, because I really do believe that I'm a product of my environment and my people that have raised me and so really goes back to community. I define my sense of self, actually, through my community. And so through that I'm able to, in many ways, selfishly navigate the world to accomplish things that will allow me to do more good, hopefully. And, yeah, and I'm always trying to learn more, because I feel like growing up in the West, we've been taught a lot. Indirectly we've learned and picked up habits that do not benefit us in any way. A and N actually force us to think in a very self grasping self cherishing and a very self centered attitude in the West. And not just in the West, I think just modernization. People like to equate modernization with modernization. Yeah, as and also as cooler, you know, it's just seemed cooler to be more modern and more Western. Like, actually, no, let's, let's really look into that and see whether or not we are happy when we do that. And, you know, it's very easy for when you're angry, or when you have deep attachment. It's like, so easy for things to be reminded again, and again, like when you see something that reminds you of that person that you're angry at, like anger just comes through, but good qualities and love and compassion, and these things need to be practiced, these things need to be conditioned, going back to the Word of calm and gum, it needs to be conditioned. And we need to create those environments. And so for me, I've been able to cultivate those environments, because of my community, because of my parents, because of my ancestors and people that I continue to meet like you and everyone else in Mexico and all across the world, in my organizing spaces. I'm forever indebted and grateful to them, because it's a harsh world that is constantly telling you to that you're not enough and that you need to be more selfish to be able to survive in this cruel world. But I think otherwise, it really isn't. It's easy for all these negative emotions to arise for a reason. But if we continue to condition our minds and create the spaces where we want to thrive in, it's hard. But the fruits and the results of it is very beautiful, and allows you to navigate world a little bit more at ease, I think.
Anjali Rao 13:46:15
Beautiful is that I don't think there is anything else that I need to add to what you have said. How else can we support you what you know, I think you're one of the shining stars in the world right now. And I only wish the best for you. Because the best for you means the best for the world, really, because we need more people like you who are doing the work in all the ways. How can we support you
Unknown Speaker 13:46:41
in your path? Thank you for asking. I think first and foremost, you can support me by defining yourself for you. And not speaking just to you and delete your listeners, I think taking care of yourself and being able to really reflect on who you are, where you come from being able to ground and center yourselves. Because if we all do our part of recognizing who we are and what purpose we have in our in this world, whatever that may be, I think the world would be a better place. If we Yeah, the world would be a better place if we all just understood ourselves better. And, and then I think we can work towards making sure that all of the inequities do not exist anymore, and we're no longer living in such a neoliberal capitalistic society. But that's all possible when we understand ourselves. And we're kinder to ourselves, and the people that we're surrounded by, and really does start at home, wherever home may be, that we practice. And since this is the love of yoga podcast, you know, with your practice of yoga, and who you share with and the spaces that you occupy, even your mindset, constantly decolonizing constantly asking the questions. I think that's how you can support me, I think we're all in this together and know that you're never alone.
Anjali Rao 13:48:21
Beautifully said, Thank you so much. And I so look forward to seeing you grow, shine brighter, shine your light, far and wide. And we'll definitely be sharing a lot of the information in terms of actions that we can take in solidarity with the Free Tibet movement. And again, thank you so much to me for being here and having this conversation
Unknown Speaker 13:48:49
with me. Thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.
Anjali Rao 13:49:02
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Transcribed by https://otter.ai