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Asia, North America
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Tibet, USA, China, Exile
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The Tibetan community in exile in the United States is struggling to preserve its cultural and religious identity and also remain committed to the ongoing political struggle to free Tibet.
Sumit Dayal

2006 — student runner-up

When the iron bird flies in the sky and horses run on wheels, the Tibetan people will be scattered cross the earth, and the Buddha dharma will spread to the land of the red-faced man.   -Padmasambhava, eighth Buddhist saint

With 700 Tibetan Buddhist centers worldwide and 40 in  New York City alone, Tibetan religion appears to be flourish in the West. But despite the relatively successful efforts of His Holiness the Dali Lama and his government’s efforts to preserve Tibetan Buddhism and culture in exile, increasing numbers of Tibetans seeking political asylum in the United States have created a new set of challenges for Tibet’s cultural conservationists.

Like any immigrant group, most Tibetans living in New York are preoccupied with making ends meet and improving their living situation. Many feel strongly about remaining connected to their culture, but without religious institutions or a strong monastic base, which have traditionally been the backbone of Tibetan religion and society, this is not easily accomplished. I intend to use photography and writing as tools to document how Tibetans in New York are trying to balance their socio-cultural needs with their personal aspirations.

Many of the young generation Tibetans were born, raised and educated in secular societies outside Tibet. They feel that Tibetans in Exile are drifting away from their culture and religion in order to adapt to the west. Two Tibetan Families and four Tibetan individuals have agreed to let me photograph and interview them inside their homes. The focus of my pictures will be Choeshums (altars), Thangkas (Tibetan Paintings) and other elements in confined spaces of their New York apartments. These traditional elements enable them to incorporate religious practices into their daily lives without the external structure of a religious community.

Another important aspect of the Tibetan lives in exile is commitment towards the freedom struggle against the Chinese regime in Tibet. On December 10 2005, I documented the ‘Free Tibet March’ in New York that was held to mark the International Human Rights Day.

Political ideologies are shifting and the new generation Tibetans are beginning to question what the nonviolence movement has achieved for the Tibetan cause. There’s a huge debate going on about whether religion is good for society. Some think that religion is the reason that they lost their country, since religion stops secular institutions from developing and impedes nation building. 

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