Isabel Losada is the author of the The Battersea Park Road to Enlightenment and For Tibet, With Love: A Beginner’s Guide to Changing the World. For Tibet, With Love is an exploration of the old question ‘What can one person do to make a difference?’ as applied to the Chinese government’s policy on Tibet. Here Isabel Losada chooses her top 10 books on the subject of non-violence, the Dalai Lama and the Tibet.
1. The Story of My Experiments with Truth: An Autobiography by Mahatma Gandhi
We have to start here as even the Dalai Lama admits that Bapu has been an inspiration to him. As a young man, when Tibetans came to him demanding to be allowed to take up arms to protect Tibet the young Dalai Lama would imagine what Gandhi would have said to them. If you are weary of the war on terror, reading the life of Gandhi will restore your faith in mankind.
2. The Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
I wanted this on the list because of the common misconception that Mandela was violent. His fight against apartheid was non-violent for many years. They did eventually resort to bombing empty buildings – but never people. If you haven’t read this astoundingly inspiring autobiography – where have you been?
3. Freedom in Exile by the Dalai Lama
The first autobiography of the Dalai Lama, written when he was a young man who had recently been driven into exile. Full of passion and, rather ironically as it turned out, hope. What I love about this book is the way it weaves the recent history of Tibet (since about 1945) with the Dalai Lama’s personal story so I learned about Tibetan history but was gripped by the personal details. Like Mandela – an inspiring life. It’s amazing how many people read ‘little books of Buddhist sayings’ that have the Dalai Lama’s name on the cover and yet have no idea of the story of his life.
4. The Art of Happiness by the Dalai Lama with Howard Cutler
This has been compiled by a western psychiatrist Howard C Cutler in a series of long conversations with the Dalai Lama. I found Mr Cutler rather rambling but we all need to be reminded by His Holiness that peace has to be inside us before we can help anyone or anything. Happiness, personal responsibility, peace, empathy, compassion – wouldn’t it be good if these were on the curriculum in our schools as they are in the Tibetan monasteries?
5. The Dragon in the Land of Snows: The History of Modern Tibet since 1947 by Tsering Shakya
If you’ve ever wondered why the world stood by and let the Chinese communist party walk into Tibet and destroy this ancient and unique culture – read and be horrified. The British come off as particularly culpable as we had diplomatic representation in independent Tibet. We decided to ignore that fact as it was inconvenient for us. We are still ignoring it.
6. Eighteen Layers of Hell: Stories from the Chinese Gulag by Kate Saunders
It is hard to believe that institutionalised torture goes on today in China. But reading this book, which includes firsthand accounts of life in the Laogai (Chinese labour camps) and details of medieval forms of torture, will leave you in no doubt. A hard read but certainly one of the most important books that I’ve ever read. You will never again want to buy a single item that says ‘Made in China.’
7. The Hotel on the Roof of the World by Alec le Sueur
Very different from the book above, this is the light-hearted true story of the author’s five years running a hotel in Lhasa. It makes Fawlty Towers seem an oasis of calm. He unfolds his tale with genuine wit and compassion for all points of view.
8. The Search for the Panchen Lama by Dr Isabel Hilton
You may be amused to know that the atheist Chinese government apparently knows more about the recognition of reincarnations than the Dalai Lama. This is the tale of how a young boy believed by Tibetans to be an incarnation of wisdom was arrested at the age of six and hasn’t been seen since. He was detained because he was supposed to be the person responsible for identifying the next Dalai Lama. Instead there will now just be a mess, as the book explains.
9. The Dance of 17 Lives by Mick Brown
This is the story of the boy who got away. The other leading figure of Tibetan Buddhism, brought up under Chinese eyes to be loyal to the Chinese government, escaped over the mountains as a teenager and now lives in India. If you are sceptical about reincarnation, read journalist Mick Brown’s extraordinary book.
10. The Bradt Travel Guide to Tibet by Michael Buckley
If, like me, you decide that you want to travel to Tibet then you need the help of a really travel guide. Tibet is a very dangerous place to travel – if the altitude sickness doesn’t kill you then the roads probably will. This guide has all the usual things that you’d expect of a travel guide. It includes places to stay, cultural and historic information, maps and the best routes to take but the author of this guide has travelled in Tibet for over 10 years and knows his subject really well. Buying this guide may just save your life.