"Life is Suffering": Exile, Suffering, and Cure in Tibetan Narratives from Dharamsala
This project examines how Tibetans living in Dharamsala construct Buddhism as mediating suffering, and focuses on the deferral of personal suffering in their narratives. It builds on a prior iteration which involved fieldwork in Dharamsala, a paper about how Buddhism helps to mitigate suffering in exile, and problematizes many aspects of that paper as well as two popular assumptions: "All Tibetans are Buddhists," and "All Tibetans are Peaceful." It also challenges the universalizing claim of the field of Narrative Medicine that illness and suffering must be told and narrated in order for them to be ameliorated. Ethnographic fieldwork was conducted for this project in Dharamsala in 2013 and 2014. Informational interviews were conducted among the medical, literary, and youth activist communities in Dharamsala. Life histories of the ill, the elderly, and ex-political prisoners were taken. Two primary health care institutions were engaged: Delek Hospital, a Western biomedical hospital, and the Men Tsee Khang institute for Tibetan Medicine. Primary sources include protest pamphlets published by the Gu Chum Sum Movement for Ex-Political Prisoners which are analyzed as a genre of narrative production. The discussion commences with an observation of the parallel phenomenon of distancing from mythology and spirit in the Tibetan Medicine, Buddhist, and literary communities. In tearing down mythologized conceptions of Tibet in modernity, however, there has been in its place the circumscribing of the myth of the Tibetan self. In particular, this is a construction of selfhood that defers personal suffering in favor of emphasizing the suffering of Tibet. The deferral of personal suffering in favor of testifying on behalf of others is also reflected in the genre of testimony production on political pamphlets. Suffering is mediated by conceptions of selfhood, suffering, and karma as collective in Tibetan society, as well as through the perception of suffering lands: the Tibetan Autonomous Region as suffering under Chinese desecration, and the conception of Dharamsala as a pathogenic source of illness and suffering. These deferrals of personal suffering rest on the assumption that exile is temporary and, most significantly, on the people's proximity to the fourteenth Dalai Lama. Noting these potential deferral expirations, I end with the question of what mitigates expired deferrals of suffering.