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Thousands fast for Tibet

By Petra Wijnsema and Dominic Lowe

Dharamsala - More than three thousand Tibetan exiles and their supporters packed the Tsuglagkhang Temple in Mcleod Ganj on August 30, for a 12-hour fast and prayer service, to draw attention to the suffering in Tibet.

The floors of the two main temples were a sea of saffron and orange as shaven headed monks and nuns swayed in somber prayer. Outside in the temple forecourt local Tibetans of all ages sat on the floor, spinning prayer wheels and reciting mantras. Supporters of the Tibetan cause from around the world also joined in the prayers and fasting.

They prayed from 7am to 7pm, for the well-being and long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for world peace and for freedom from oppression in China, Tibet and elsewhere. Concerns about the health of His Holiness the Dali Lama added to the serious mood. He had been unexpectedly rushed to hospital in Mumbai the previous evening, but was said to be fasting from his bed.

The Prime Minister of the Tibetan Government in Exile, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, led prayers for those suffering in Tibet and urged all Tibetans to maintain their commitment to the non-violent methods of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This is not a protest led by hatred, rancour and anger, but by the teachings of the Lord Buddha to refrain from harming others and do everything to benefit others with love and compassion, he said. Rinpoche concluded his speech by saying he hoped that non-violent actions would help to change the minds of the Chinese authorities, and make them more compassionate.

For once on a Saturday, the streets of Dharamsala were almost completely deserted, as many others who couldnt make it to the temple fasted in their homes, in schools, in monasteries and in nunneries. The offices of the Tibetan Government, schools and Tibetan shops were closed.

Ellen Spiesens, a 23 year old anthropology student from Belgium, joined the fast because she wanted to support the Tibetan community in exile. I have been living here for two months now and I want to participate wherever I can. Ive heard that the people here really appreciate it if westerners participate in protests and activities, she said.

Many people leaving the temple in the evening spoke of how moved they had been by the experience. Michelle Hanley, of Ireland, said: It was impressive to see how many people from the community came out and committed to the whole day. And it was good to get the opportunity to show support for the Tibetan people at such a difficult time for them.

Im tired, hungry and cold, but Im very glad I did it, Ellen Spiesens said at the end of the day. The experience had helped to remind her that she was lucky to be able to eat whenever she was hungry and increased her feeling of solidarity and respect for the nuns and monks who do it more often.

This article was published in the September 2008 issue of Contact Magazine, a Dharamsala community publication.

Check out the following link for pictures of Dharamsala:

Impressions of life in the Tibetan community in exile, Dharamsala, Northern India (Dutch)