Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Tibet, or not Tibet

Lecture asks, 'Why is Tibet so cool?'


Orville Schell

What do Richard Gere, the Chinese Red Army and countless Tibetan flag flyers all have in common? These days, it seems everyone wants a piece of Tibet.

This Monday night at 7 p.m., Orville Schell will discuss these themes in his lecture, "Virtual Tibet," at The Community Library in Ketchum. When not working as the dean of the School of Journalism at the University of California-Berkley, Schell is an author, commentator and active observer of modern China. He is also a frequent contributor to shows such as PBS's "Frontline" and "60 Minutes."

Schell will touch on themes from his book, "Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-la from the Himalayas to Hollywood." The lecture will explore the West's deepening fascination with Tibet and how this phenomenon relates to China's unpopular occupation of the high Himalayan country.

For Schell, the West's obsession with Tibet is a backlash against its own spiritually devoid practices.

"I think the West, trapped as it is in its own post-industrial culture, really misses the idea that there is some place apart from all the getting and the earning and the commerce, where there's a different currency—a spiritual currency."

This trend towards idealizing Tibet is, based on this argument, an outgrowth of a teaching basic to Buddhists. Americans, Schell is saying, are caught up in the wheel of samsara, the Buddhist concept of a ceaseless cycle of birth, suffering, death and rebirth. In samsara, human beings are trapped by the suffering inherent to their striving and competition.

The fact that Hollywood is home to some of Tibet's most vocal supporters adds an ironic twist to America's infatuation. The loudest cries for this return to a place of spiritual balance are coming from an industry often concerned, above all else, with superficial acquisitions.

"Virtual Tibet" is part of a series, "The Art of Tibet," being produced by the Sun Valley Center for the Arts. The lecture is free. For more information, call Britt Udesen, director of humanities and education for the Center, at 726-9491.

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