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Tibetan traditions, stories in Whistler

Wisdom, tradition and the story behind the pictures

Who: Victor Chan and Brian Harris

What: Himalayan Visions

Where: MY Millennium Place

When: Saturday, Jan. 29, 7:30 p.m.

Tickets: $15 through Ticketmaster or at the door

In a world where everything, particularly technology, is changing so fast how do we preserve parts of our culture that won’t move with the times?

On a continent where basketball players can earn tens of millions, how do people justify charitable jobs that are often thankless?

And what does it really mean to be "inward looking" and "selfless"?

These questions are generally not daily concerns for most North Americans, but for Tibetans they are vital issues, which are affecting thousand year old traditions.

In an effort to describe some of what Tibetans are facing and to highlight how many of these issues are relevant in our lives, Victor Chan and Brian Harris will be making presentations in a show called Himalayan Visions at Maurice Young Millennium Place on Saturday.

Chan is renown for organizing the Dalai Lama’s visit to Vancouver last year, which also involved Nobel Peace Prize laureates Shirin Ebadi and Desmond Tutu.

Chan, who works in B.C. at the Asian Institute of Research, first met with Tibet’s spiritual leader after being kidnapped in Afghanistan. One of his "kidnapped" companions was a student of Tibetan Buddhism and was on her way to interview the exiled Dalai Lama in northern India. Chan followed her and then from 1984 to 1988, he made 11 return trips to Tibet, which resulted in a huge book, entitled Tibet Handbook: A Pilgrimage Guide. This year Chan has released another book about the Dalai Lama, entitled Wisdom and Forgiveness.

Like Chan, Brian Harris has spent a lot of time in Tibet but he has recorded his experiences with a camera. Harris loves photography but is equally passionate about telling the stories behind his pictures.

"I think what happens is that because we live in a society and a culture that doesn’t have many of their (Tibetan) traditional qualities and values, we tend to look on these cultures with rose-coloured glasses and actually miss a lot of the really profound beauty of it," said Harris.

Harris is also a charity worker for Seva and has made a decision to live his life according to Buddhist traditions, which include a tradition based on giving.

Seva is an organization that restores eyesight to people living in the second and Third World. Harris has raised approximately $500,000 for Seva through his photography.

"In the show I try to talk about the other side of the picture to bring out a more complex understanding of society," he said.

One of the sub-texts of Harris’s presentation is that many Tibetan traditions are disappearing.

"If we only go back 50 years, a Tibetan child would be born into a family and in those days one in every three boys would become a monk," said Harris. "So there were thousands of monasteries in Tibet and most things in Tibet has a religious meaning.

"But in the last 50 years some profound things have occurred; such as the Chinese Cultural Revolution and the almost complete imposition of ideologies and a kind of technological phenomena which changes people’s perspectives of where they are in the cosmos.

"There’s no doubt that their traditional culture is almost gone."