Thursday, June 30, 2011

India Program Recap from Professor Douglas Colbert

I arrived in Dharamsala two days ahead of the students. My 15-year old daughter, Abi, and I had left Shimla where we had been holding our law classes for two weeks in our charming Oberoi hotel. Abi had a return flight home that night from Delhi. We traveled by car right after my morning class ended and eight hours later, we had arrived. Abi had become another of the faculty kids who loved her three weeks in India. She attended class every day, liked learning about international human rights, loved the many India desserts, enjoyed the long walks and jogs in the woods, discovered the beauty of India fashion, and fit in beautifully with the law students. I definitely found myself missing her as soon as she disappeared in the airport.

The next day, I flew to Dharamsala along with my colleague, Paul Kibel, who teaches International Environmental Law. I had been warned years ago during my first trip here not to fly to Dharamsala, but the Kingfisher flight was excellent and I highly recommend it. I have always found Dharamsala the highlight of Touro's India program and this year was no exception. From the moment Paul and I arrived, I felt the huge difference of being here. For me, the Tibetan struggle for self-determination and freedom provides an excellent opportunity for teaching and learning. I invited two Tibetan political prisoners to class and the Convention Against Torture took on added meaning. We viewed a documentary about the 2008 Uprising in Tibet against Chinese rule and the Political Convenant and issue of freedom rights became more clear to students and faculty. I have enjoyed this group of law students tremendously.

They are a great group of people to spend time with and have shown time and again that they are a mature, responsible, fun and interesting group. Of the 23 law students, we have 4 law students from Calcutta's law school and 19 from U.S. law schools. I sense that most of the students find Dharamsala to be a very special place, too. Not that they did not enjoy Shimla, which is a beautiful hill station town in the lower Himalayas. It is an easy transition for students to spend time in Shimla first after arriving, and I took advantage of our India hosts to invite an NGO to discuss India's pressing human rights issues and to witness human rights issues in the places we visited. Yet while I praise Shimla's beauty and thank our wonderful friends in Shimla, I find the Dharamsala experience incredibly interesting and thought provoking. Here we see two conflicting cultures: the Tibetans and monks who are searching for a way to return to their country and to hold onto their culture and religion live on one side of town; on the other are the Westerners who seek to find escape from the material and maddening world we live. I find myself fascinated with interviewing young Israeli soldiers who have just completed their three-year tour and who want to find ways to regain their bearings again after a war experience in which they retell many human rights situations.

This week in Dharamsala, we had the great fortune of gaining a personal meeting with His Holiness, the Dalai Lama.

After our meeting, we attended the Dalai Lama's outside teaching where more than 10,000 attended. Though I found the commentary and translation difficult to follow for the first hour, I soon began to rely on my neighbors who had studied Buddhism for years to make more sense of the scripture. By the second day, I heard the Dalai Lama send a message that certainly rings true for myself and my U.S. friends and colleagues: he encouraged us to use our intelligence and knowledge to help people and all sentient beings, to rid ourselves of the feelings of negativity that interfere with this purpose and path of life, and to see our inter-dependence with others to overcome our self-centered orientation. I began thinking about the legal profession and how it would transform itself to an organization that served all people's legal needs, that is those who cannot afford private counsel. I began imagining the different public view of lawyers if we re-dedicated ourselves to fulfilling the lawyer's pro bono ethical duty. What a difference that would make in the lives of ordinary people's access to justice.

I found the highlight of this year's learning experience was meeting Tibet's new Prime Minister, Lobsang Sangay. I remember reading the announcement in the New York Times, maybe a month before we left for India. I immediately contacted the director of this year's Touro Law program, Professor Marjorie Silver and suggested we invite him to class. Marjorie contacted our India colleague, Trisha Sharma,
who had the fortune of meeting the Prime Minister at an India function. I had already reached out to Lobsang through email and persuaded my Baltimore colleague to interview him on a public radio program. By the time we arrived in Dharamsala, we had exchanged several messages and Trisha had arranged for the Prime Minister to speak to our group, who were joined by another interesting group of people from India and other countries who were studying Buddhism.

The Tibetan people have chosen well. Prime Minster Sangay, who spent the past 16 years earning different degrees at Harvard Law School presents the ideal image of a people's leader who combines knowledge, intelligence, wit, charm, humor, passion and commitment to meet the huge challenge Tibetans face today. He was impressive in so many ways for engaging his audience while giving a history lesson of his country, by accepting questions from everyone who raised their hand, by giving attention to every person who spoke, by integrating many questions into one comprehensive and informative response, and by joking about the serious matter of what lies ahead for the Tibetan people. Indeed, at one point, the Prime Minister told of his time in Boston only to face the unfriendly comment from someone with a Yankees baseball cap, "Are you a Red Sox fan?" Defending his cherished Red Sox, the Prime Minister began by expressing some negativity toward the Yankees as any baseball fan might, then turned to me (he had asked that I moderate the discussion): "Doug, that was not very Buddhist like, was it?" "No,, I answered gently, "His Holiness would want you to show more generosity of spirit," Sangay then praised the Yankees for their many baseball skills, while adding that the Red Sox also possessed great skills. He used the metaphor of the underdog Red Sox winning a World Series a few years ago for the first time in nearly 100 years with the uphill climb of Gandhi defeating the British against overwhelming odds, and Mandela defeating South African apartheid and escaping from Robbins Island. "We Tibetans have only a tiny chance, too, but what if we were able to succeed. Think of the difference it would make for World Peace." Showing his humility at all times, the Prime Minster explained that he accepted this difficult position of succeeding the Dalai Lama as Prime Minister because "It's my Karma. We all have a job to do. I will do the best I can. I promise I will show no lack of perseverance or will."

I think all of us who were present left feeling certain that Tibetans have chosen a wise and confident leader, someone who will enormous appeal to the Tibetan people, and who will succeed famously before English-speaking audiences.

Professor Douglas Colbert

1 comment:

  1. Sounds Amazing! Can't wait to go for this.