Pushing a free Tibet

Scott Gordon

You will not see this in Borders or Barnes & Noble,” TseringPhuri says, gesturing toward a shelf full of books on Tibet,Buddhism and the Dalai Lama.

Because U.S. companies won’t distribute certain Tibetan booksprinted on low-quality material in India, Phuri must buy the booksdirectly from Indian publishers. In his quiet storefront near theFoster St. El station, Phuri also sells rugs, audio cassettes,videotapes and Tibetan decorations and gifts.

Phuri founded TIBETgift, 827 Foster St., in 2002 as an extensionof his TIBETcenter, at 6703 N. Paulina Ave., in Chicago.

Since Phuri spends part of his day working at TIBETcenter,TIBETgift is open in the afternoons, from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Mondaythrough Saturday. TIBETgift serves as a retail store but, moreimportantly, as a space where the Center can hold its lectures,classes and events.

“Interest is growing tremendously, even in the Midwest,” saysPhuri, who frequently hosts documentary screenings, Tibetanlanguage classes and lectures by Tibet scholars and Buddhistauthorities.

Most of the store’s business comes from people who attend eventsthere, Phuri says. Very few customers are students, but someNorthwestern students come to buy books on Buddhism for certainclasses.

Being involved with the Tibetan cause enables Phuri to help outstudent human-rights groups. He says students who start such groupsare dedicated but don’t know how to get started, so he helps themcontact the right organizations and people. Groups he’s helpedinclude Loyola University Students for a Free Tibet and NU’schapter of Amnesty International.

NU’s Amnesty International chapter president Austin Harvey saysPhuri works with the chapter to inform students about Tibet.

“I think it’s great that a place like that exists in Evanston,”says Harvey, a Communication senior. “I think it’s off the beatenpath and that it has a lot of unique things available that youcan’t get anywhere else in Evanston.”

FROM TIBET TO EVANSTON

Phuri was born in a small village in Tibet — a westernterritory of China. When he was six years old, he fled Tibet withhis family for Nepal. He later earned a degree in commerce fromMadras Christian College in India.

Before immigrating to the United States in 1998, Phuri alreadywas spreading knowledge of Tibet. As director of the TibetanMedical and Astrological Institute, Phuri spent three yearsteaching Tibetan practices in India, where 100,000 Tibetanexpatriates live.

For 15 years before that he was a managing trustee of the DalaiLama’s Charitable Trust, an organization that raises money andfinds jobs for Tibetans around the world.

“Suppose I just work and on weekends I may do something aboutTibet,” Phuri says. “On weekdays I may talk to my colleagues aboutTibet — if they’re willing to listen.”

Otherwise, there’s little opportunity to promote the causeoutside of working for it. Spreading information about Tibet hasgradually increased pressure on the Chinese government to recognizeTibet as independent, Phuri says. Even scholars in China arebeginning to sympathize with Tibet — “Chinese are basicallyBuddhists at heart,” he adds.

GARNERING SUPPORT

Phuri says the Chinese government’s view on Tibet used to be,”when the Dalai Lama dies, the issue will die.” But now, Phurithinks the Chinese want to solve the problem while the Dalai Lamais alive, because he keeps Tibetan resistance at a nonviolent,rational pitch.

The U.S. was initially concerned about Tibet in the early 1960s,Phuri says. But he thinks the concern had more to do with combatingcommunism than with aiding Tibet’s people. In recent yearsWesterners have learned more about Tibetan culture and offered”qualitative, more valuable support” for the cause.

Currently, most governments recognize Chinese sovereignty overTibet, but human-rights groups and officials around the world havegrown to believe that China rules Tibet brutally andoppressively.

“We have the people’s support,” Phuri says, “and that’s forcingthe government and senate to do something.”