1975: Introducing the Tibetan People to the World

Dr Kazuko Tatsumura Hillyer with His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the latter’s residence in Dharamsala in Sept 2019.

By Dr Kazuko Tatsumura Hillyer | New York | 17 July 2020.

Ever since I met the Dalai Lama in 1972, I’ve come to love the Tibetan people. With great pains, I introduced the Tibetan “Folk Opera” to the world in 1975 (see 5th story). For the first time ever, Tibetans left their community to travel to the West. Twenty-four performers came to tour Europe and America for the very first time. With a great deal of difficulty, I created a wonderful plan for them to perform for two weeks in four countries: Vienna in Austria followed by the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. 

However, as soon as they arrived in these countries, the Chinese government began to pressure and oppose in each country. The performances in Europe were then cancelled, one after another. For three years, we had used much time and resources to book great theatres, with a lot of publicity, to sell the tickets. 

At that time, no one in the West knew much about Tibet. I had borrowed a lot of money to arrange the tour and, with the cancellation of our shows and ticket sales cut off, suddenly I had no income to repay the debt. 

I thought I must cancel all the performances in the US and Canada and send the troupe back to Dharamsala. But then I recalled how happy His Holiness the Dalai Lama was when I promised this tour to him and decided to push forward in spite of the cost or sacrifice it requires.

I worried that performances in the US and Canada might be in danger as well. I called the US Department of State at midnight to get emergency visas for the troupe. I instructed the director of the troupe, ‘Be sure to go to the embassy at 9:00 a.m. 

Tomorrow, get everyone’s visa and disappear immediately. Don’t say anything. Hide there for a while in the mountains of Switzerland!” 

Sure enough, after nine o’clock European time on the same day, I got a call at my New York office. I was asked, “Please get them to return to the embassy because there is a problem with their visas.” I pretended not to know what was going on and said, “I don’t know where they went. I can’t contact them.” 

What luck! If we had been one day later, they would not have been able to travel to the US at all. And if they arrived at JFK International Airport, they would have stood out. So, I finally changed their schedule. Finally, they were able to enter the US after entering the country on foot from Canada, through Niagara Falls. 

The performances were a great success everywhere, but Chinese sympathizers were creating huge disturbances and demonstrations before each performance. 

The troupe worked hard to get to New York City in a small bus and the performance there was a great success. Yet, by the time we arrived in New York, I was down to my last dime; I was broke and had to borrow money just to feed them! All in all, however, we survived and the performances were a success.

Ever since I met the Dalai Lama, I’ve been helping Tibetan orphans. 

Four compassionate graduates of Manjushree now in university sponsoring and teaching a totally blind junior student finishing senior high school.

I’ve always wondered how Tibetan children are born with such a “compassionate spirit.” I asked His Holiness once and he answered, “As soon as the Tibetan mother gets pregnant, she begins to study and pray as hard as she can, hoping to create the most compassionate human being possible. That’s the Tibetan mother’s duty.” 

His Holiness speaks of preserving Tibetan culture, but what is the most unique aspect of this culture? I believe it is Compassion, a unique ability to put ‘others before self,’ and this is what I believe the Dalai Lama desires to preserve. 

Today, this culture of ‘others before self’ is sadly disappearing in Japan. During and after the War this feeling was still common in Japan, too. Recently, this spirit came out again after the Great Northern Japan Earthquake. I lived through the war and remember those times well. When I look at the Tibetan people, I remember the hardships of post-war Japan when everyone endured such a hard life together. 

There is a study that states that the DNA of Tibetan and Japanese men have much in common. Is this the way we are connected? Deep down, I know that the relationship between Tibetans and Japanese is close and that there is a nature among Tibetans that Japanese people have had in the past. About 200,000 Tibetans are living in exile across the world and doing their best. There are six to seven million Tibetans in China. These are all people without a country. Ironically, I believe these stateless people will one day save our Human Race. 

Tibetans are smart and wonderful. Japanese used to have these same characteristics but have slowly lost them due to economic greed. So many Tibetans think of helping others because they have a Compassion for Humanity. I wish and hope the Tibetan people will become leaders for our world. 

His Holiness the Dalai Lama is, of course, not anymore just a leader for the Tibetan people or leader for Buddhism in the world. He has transcended all boundaries to be a true leader of Humanity.

Though Tibetans may no longer have their own nation, this does not matter as they have ‘heart’ as Human Beings, so I believe Tibetans may be able to accomplish what the Japanese have not yet done.

The author is a renowned international philanthropist as well as a successful businesswoman. She has been instrumental in assisting many worthy organizations. Her tireless life-long work in the philanthropic field is vast and well known, ranging from a movement she spearheaded to save New York City`s historic Beacon Theatre from demolition, founding “Save the Boat People”, an organization devoted to the plight of the Asian refugees, building a School for Manjushree Tibetan Orphanage in the Himalayas among others.

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