Field Study Group Redirected to India, Worked With Tibetan Refugees
Students studied the preservation of Tibetan arts and culture in Dharamsala, India, and attended a teaching by the Dalai Lama
October 3, 2015
In the spring of 2015 a group of seven BYU students and art education faculty members Mark Graham and Tara Carpenter were stopped in New York en route to Nepal. A deadly earthquake had struck Nepal near its capital city of Kathmandu, effectively postponing their field study. The group extended the first two legs of their trip in New York and then Amsterdam while awaiting the final verdict: the damage in Nepal was too great; they would not be able to complete their trip as planned.
As a result the group, which had planned to spend only the end of their field study in India, flew directly to northern India from Amsterdam.
They ended up in McLeod Ganj, a suburb of the Dalai Lama’s primary residence in Dharamsala, with no itinerary. “We would wander, go through town, talk to people,” Carpenter said. “Really amazing things just kind of happened.”
“Really amazing things just kind of happened”
One of those amazing things was an opportunity to attend a teaching at the Gyoko Temple by the 14th Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader for Tibetan Buddhists and worldwide advocate for compassion. On another day Tibetan monks led the group in an intimate tour of the prayer and study rooms inside the large temple complex. These same monks discussed art, religion and theology with the BYU students at the Institute of Buddhist Dialectics. The monks shared their experiences studying Buddhism and living a monastic life, and the BYU students shared their monastic experiences as Mormon missionaries.
“It was very fortunate that we were able to get access to some of these places,” Graham said. “We had diverse and very unusual experiences—very out of the ordinary—just because of the people we were able to meet. We developed relationships with monks and people in the schools, so the students had a really inside experience with people in these communities.”
The art education group visited both Indian and Tibetan schools near Dharamsala, where they observed and interacted with local teachers. They were granted access to the preparation and viewing of a cultural performance festival put on by the Tibetan Children’s Village School, which exists to care for and educate children who were orphaned or separated from their families while escaping Chinese-occupied Tibet. According to Graham, their field work with this school provided unique insights into Tibetan culture and the community’s effort to preserve and teach their artistic and spiritual traditions.
“It is a heartbreaking testimony of their faith and devotion to their culture that parents in Tibet often sent their children to India to live apart from the rest of their family in order to keep their Tibetan culture alive
“It is a heartbreaking testimony of their faith and devotion to their culture that parents in Tibet often sent their children to India to live apart from the rest of their family in order to keep their Tibetan culture alive,” Graham said.
In addition to visiting local schools, the field study group visited the local cooperative paper-making mill and textile weaving community, which were established to maintain Tibetan arts and culture and to employ newly arriving refugees.
Both graduate and undergraduate students who participated developed research questions prior to the India trip and collected information while there. Graham noted that students learned how to document and make sense of their observations. Photographs and reflections were also published in a book, The Fringe of Nirvana.