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A History of the Milarepa Fund
The Milarepa Fund was officially started in May of 1994, the very same month that the Beastie Boys released Ill Communication. The concept for the Milarepa Fund actually came about a year earlier. In 1993 while the band was still involved in the recording process, the decision was made that a certain amount of the album's royalty profits should be set aside to benefit the Tibetan Monks who had been sampled on two songs: "Shambala" and "Bodhisattva Vow". The organization was to be named after Tibetan saint Jetsun Milarepa who had enlightened people through his music. Adam Yauch soon realized that the Milarepa Fund could be larger and more successful if other people with nonviolent beliefs were to come together and contribute to the organization. Yauch would go on then to enlist the help of Erin Potts, who was responsible for a great deal of the day to day aspects of the organization.
Years ago, only a handful of people could point out the small country of Tibet on a map and even fewer knew of the harsh struggle the Tibetans were facing day by day with the Chinese occupation. Today, more people (along with the United States and other country's governments) know of the monstrocities occuring in Tibet, but few have had the compassion or courage to speak out against it. This created a obstacle for Potts and Yauch to overcome, because it was difficult to build support for a place that people had not given much thought to previously. The Milarepa Fund took advantage of the fact that the Beastie Boys were co-headlining the 1994 Lollapalooza Tour. They decided to tag along on the tour, setting up information tents in each city and in the process, formed the model for how future educational seminars would be conducted. Those who took the time to read through the Milarepa Fund's pamphlets soon discovered that the organization was not just about Tibet - it was about beliefs that were applicable on a worldwide scale.
Tibetan Freedom Concert 1996 Press Conference
Tibetan Freedom Concert Display

Pamphlets were just part of the educational process with the aid of Ian C. Rogers and Brad S. Benjamin, Milarepa.org took its message of nonviolence online. The following is an excerpt from one of the earliest versions of Milarepa.org:

"Regardless of their philosophical, political, or spiritual beliefs, most people know that compassion and a responsibility towards others are essential for building a healthy society. The Tibetan people's struggle for freedom is the embodiment of a compassionate effort towards a strong community. In spite of the great political and spiritual upheaval caused by the Chinese invasion, the Tibetans have sustained their cultural celebration of non-violence and universal responsibility. The growing attention towards their plight shows the global desire to shift from physical, economic and military dominance to the use of compassion as a means to achieve change.

Central to any widespread change are young people. Youth form a creative, energetic, idealistic, determined and intelligent force and given the resources, we are capable of using the tools of our culture to amass a widespread movement for change. As an organization, the Milarepa Fund actively supports the social change that the Tibetan struggle embodies, and we support the youth of the world who represent a powerful vehicle to achieve that change."

The importance of the Milarepa Fund to the Beastie Boys became very apparent by 1995. While some fans had embraced all aspects of beastiemania from Mike D's involvement in X-Large to Yauch's interest in Tibet, there were others like Brent Williams who felt the band's side projects were interfering with their ability to be musicians. Brent's concerns were printed in the letters section of Grand Royal Magazine issue #5. He was not alone; soon others began to harbor animosity towards the Milarepa Fund. Beastie Boys related message boards and the mailing lists were full of people pointing the finger of blame at the organization for the 4 years it took for the Beastie Boys to release Hello Nasty.

It was true that between 1994 and 1998 the Beastie Boys had spent a great deal of effort and time organizing three huge Tibetan Freedom Concerts in the United States, but the trio of two-day long shows that were held each year in June brought in fans from around the country. Where as in the past with Lollapalooza, the information booths had been set up around the concert; the benefit concerts were set up with awareness and information as the centerpieces. The 1996 Tibetan Freedom Concert was held in San Francisco's Golden Gate Park and is considered by many to be the single greatest cultural event of modern rock history. Milarepa had enormous success with the event and brought in proceeds that would later be distributed to many like-minded organizations.

Prayer Wheel at a Tibetan Freedom Concert
Information Booth
Using funds raised during the summer’s benefit concerts, the Milarepa Fund sponsored the “Free Tibet Tour” which took place in the fall of 1996. The idea for the tour came out of a meeting that the Students for a Free Tibet had held. So joining forces with both Students for a Free Tibet and the International Campaign for Tibet, the Milarepa staff took off on the road. From one side of the United States to the other, they carried the cry for Tibetan independence to colleges, universities, and high schools from the 18th of October to the 17th of November. Milarepa staff member Jon Voss said the following about his experience while on the road. “The tour featured education booths, Tibetan music and dance performances, an activist resource center for the signing of petitions, multi-media exhibits on the message of non-violence, a training workshop on lobbying local, state and federal government leaders, an economic action camp to encourage consumer activism, and interfaith meetings between members of different religious groups interested in working religious freedom in Tibet.” For those that were not able to make it to San Francisco that summer, the Free Tibet Tour was the next best thing.

In 1997 the Milarepa Fund hosted the second annual Tibetan Freedom concert at Randall’s Island, New York. Again, fans turned out in droves to see two days of solid entertainment while being immersed in Tibetan culture. It was decided upon fairly early that the third Tibetan Freedom Concert (1998) would take place in Washington DC. On the Monday following the two day benefit, concert goers were encouraged to meet on the lawn in front of the Capitol Building. Cable news station C-Span covered every minute of the Free Tibet Rally and it appeared as though the nation’s law makers were finally taking notice.

Sadly the fourth Tibetan Freedom Concert (1999) did not draw the media attention of the three previous benefits. The roster of performers was fantastic, but small compared to the legendary line-ups of years gone by. Instead of having the single benefit in the United States, the talent was divided up among shows on three continents. After taking a year off (2000), a fifth Tibetan Freedom Concert had been planned for the summer of 2001. Destined to be held in the United Kingdom, British fans were heart-broken when word came out that the benefit had been canceled. Fans at the time were anxious to hear the Beastie Boys perform “Alive” in concert, but would end up waiting until October 28th, 2001 for that to become a reality.

Following the disastrous events in September, the Milarepa Fund helped organize the back to back performances which were held in New York’s Hammerstein Ballroom on October 28th and 29th, 2001. The Beastie Boys headlined both shows and proceeds raised from the concerts went to benefit an organization called New Yorkers Against Violence. Both shows were overwhelming successes and helped many fans get through an emotionally trying time.

1998 Tibetan Freedom Rally, Washington DC
Tibetan Freedom Rally
The Milarepa Fund continues spread the message of nonviolence online, while often being the first place Beastie Boys announcements are made. For example, if Adam Yauch happens to be scheduled as a rally speaker somewhere in the United States the Milarepa.org site will be the first to announce it. Besides fairly frequent updates, the site also boasts a politically charged message board that encourages its participants to talk through issues that are affecting the world in which we live. For those that want to financially support the Milarepa Fund, the organization offers different levels of contribution to mesh with budgets which may vary from wealthy rock star to the starving college student.

Relevant Links:

milarepa.org

 


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