Message from the Director

Welcome to the website for The TEXT Program. Here, you can view interviews from Tibetans who are currently living in exile in India, look at photographs from our trips, and learn how, as an Arkansas student, you can participate in this vital oral-history project.

The TEXT Program has become for me a labor of love. I met Geshe Dorjee, the Tibetan monk who co-directs The TEXT Program, in 2004. I had traveled to Toronto to hear a weeklong series of teachings from the Dalai Lama, and my friend who was traveling with me recognized Geshe in the arena where His Holiness was teaching. Geshe, years earlier, had been to Fayetteville with the Mystical Arts of Tibet and had received a key to the city from our mayor. My friend recognized him, and I’m glad he did.

So when I brought Geshe to The University of Arkansas to teach full-time in 2006, it was a homecoming for him. But Geshe, like many Tibetans, has had several homes. He was born in Tibet, but raised in Bhutan and India, where he joined Drepung Loseling Monastery as a teen-ager. Geshe and I went back to India in the summer of 2007 to see if a student trip through the Tibetan settlements would be feasible. I knew with Geshe and his friends as our guide, we would have unparalleled access to places few Westerners would be able to visit.

But I wanted to do more than simply escort our students through India. I wanted them to witness the resiliency of the Tibetan people; I hoped that they would learn first-hand something about nonviolence from a few of the world’s most skillful practitioners of that imperiled practice (and re-discover, in the process, their own country’s similar tradition); and I believed that they would come away with a unique perspective on immigration and life in exile, two concerns that Tibetans have bravely confronted for over 50 years now.

But I did not know how I might accomplish all of this.

Then I met an elderly Tibetan in Majnu Ka Tilla, the Tibetan refugee settlement in Delhi, and he began telling me, through a translator, the story of his escape in 1959 over the Himalayan Mountains, his arrival in Dharamsala, his ultimate audience with the Dalai Lama, and his life in exile in India. His reflections on the great hardships he had suffered were unlike anything I had ever heard in America: unconcerned with his own welfare, he continually bowed and prayed for the Dalai Lama to have a long and healthy life and for all living things to be free of suffering. He wasn’t a monk; he wasn’t a philosopher; he was an old Tibetan living out the rest of his life in India and bearing the Chinese no ill will.

I wanted a tape recorder.

And then, after several frantic conversations with my wife, I knew what I would do. I would return with students, tape recorders, and cameras, and we would start preserving these remarkable stories of survival, tolerance, and compassion. And I would put my students on the front lines, so that they would have the same experience that I was having.

And The TEXT Program was born. I hope you will consider taking part in this remarkable oral-history project.

— Sidney Burris, Director