Norbu struck by vehicle during most recent ‘Tibetan Freedom’ walk
By Roger Bianchini
Warren County Report
We were distressed to hear of the death of Jigme K. Norbu, the nephew of the Dalai Lama, on Feb. 14. Norbu, who passed through Front Royal during an earlier Tibetan rights walk, was killed when he was struck by a vehicle while walking along the southbound side of State A1A near Palm Coast in northeastern Florida.
According to a local source close to the regional Buddhist community, Norbu, 45, was in the first day of a planned 300-mile walk from St. Augustine to West Palm Beach. She said Norbu had decided to push on later into the night in an attempt to keep on his planned schedule for his latest walk to raise public awareness of the plight of the Tibetan people under Chinese rule.
“Yes, it is true unfortunately,” Tempa Tshering, a representative of the Dalai Lama in New Delhi, India, where a Tibetan government in exile is based, told CNN.
An online report by Lisa Flam at AOL News states Norbu was struck by an SUV driven by 31-year-old Keith O’Dell. O’Dell was questioned but not charged, according to Flam’s post.
Norbu’s home base was Bloomington, Indiana. He was the son of the Dalai Lama’s late older brother, Taktser Rinpoche. Rinpoche died in 2008, and was a high-ranking Buddhist religious official in his own right when the Chinese invaded Tibet.
Rinpoche fled his homeland with his brother, the Dalai Lama, and other Tibetans in the face of the Communist Chinese military assault of 1959. Between 1959 and 1960 a reported 80,000 Tibetans followed The Dalai Lama out of their homeland. Today an estimated 128,000 to 150,000 Tibetans live in exile.
The Dalai Lama and his associates’ experience of the historical epoch of Chinese intervention in Tibet has been recounted in numerous documentary and creative Hollywood films, most notably Martin Scorcese’s “Kundun” and “Seven Years in Tibet”, the latter which starred Brad Pitt as a German engineer “tutoring” the young Dalai Lama while living isolated in the Tibetan holy city of Lhasa in the years prior to the Chinese invasion.
To accommodate conflicts in our work schedule, Lucky Star Lounge co-owner Shawn Patterson interviewed Jigme Norbu for Warren County Report during his dinner stop at her East Main Street, Front Royal restaurant during Norbu’s 900-mile “Walk for Tibetan Independence” in April 2009. Norbu was then in the midst of a nine-week walk from Indianapolis, Indiana to U.N. Headquarter in New York City. During his April 2009 interview Norbu commented on how well he had been treated by average Americans he had met during that walk.
“Especially out in the rural country where they come out and give me water, food, even money, and the truck drivers along the way as well. So, it has really showed me how kind American people are … They’d say it was great what we’re doing. You know this is not just for the Tibetan issue. We are doing it for the universal issue of world peace and human rights.”
Norbu expressed a belief in the basic humanity of all peoples but worried over the influence of governments and personal apathy in how nations interact with each other.
“We have nothing against the Chinese people. They’re human beings just like us. It’s the Communist policies we are totally against. And I think the world should know clearly that this has been going on for so long and that Americans should wake up and realize, even though I know America deals with China, that we are feeding that sleeping giant,” Norbu said of America’s growing economic relationship with China while the Tibetan people remain oppressed.
“So it’s something that we have an obligation not only to protect our Tibetan people, but the world. I think no country should experience what we went through. So we have this opportunity to meet great people and good people. To come in here and make new friends who give us support and give us the strength to continue on with what we need to do to accomplish our goal. And that goal is to hopefully one day to see our country become independent. That’s our determination and that’s our goal.”
Talk without results
Norbu’s fellow traveler during that 2009 walk, 66-year-old Tibetan Wangchuk Dorjee, expressed mixed emotions about potential results from the Dalai Lama’s ongoing negotiations with the Chinese for a return of some political, cultural and religious autonomy for his people.
“There are positive signs. You know the last few years his Holiness’s envoys have had a dialogue with the Chinese government a few times. That is kind of a positive, I feel that way. But at the same time while the dialogue is there – not very much has become of it. The Tibetans have tried to speak up about their rights and point of view. But when they do that they are put in jail or are killed and all sorts of unbelievable things are done. It is very, very bad.”
A future without hope?
By coincidence as I helped Patterson prepare our story on Norbu and his 2009 walk, I had just finished a re-read of George Orwell’s dark vision of a totalitarian future, “1984”. Norbu and Dorjee’s observations about Tibet’s current plight mixed with Orwell’s dark vision of mankind’s future, a future it seems the Tibetan people and others on our planet already experience on a daily basis. I suggested we end her story with a reference to the lasting warning to humanity Orwell gave us in 1948, perhaps not coincidentally the transposed final two digits of his book’s title. Patterson agreed and to close that story we quoted from perhaps “1984’s” most frightening passage, as the Party spokesman O’Brien explains the Party’s view of the flow of history to Winston as he is tortured into total submission to the state and its symbolic figurehead, Big Brother.
“Always there will be the intoxication of power, constantly increasing and constantly growing subtler. Always at every moment, there will be the thrill of victory, the sensation of trampling on an enemy who is helpless. If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.”
Jigme Norbu walked to remove that boot from the face of the Tibetan people – and perhaps also to make us all ponder how far our own faces are from the sole of that boot as it is allowed to crush the spirit of others we share this planet with.
On Feb. 14th Norbu’s walk ended on the side of a dark, Florida highway – or did it?
A national/world version of this story appears in The Huffington Post.