Last weekend, two important and interesting events took place in two of the major Tibetan Buddhist monasteries that have been re-established in South India. New abbots of Drepung Gomang and Gaden Shartse monasteries have been enthroned on July 25 and 26 (corresponding to the 4th and the fifth day of the sixth Tibetan month).
Khen Rinpoche Yonten Dhamchoe was born in Amdo in Tibet in 1940 and came into exile in 1959. He was among the first 60 monks of Drepung Gomang who took the arduous task of re-establishing the monastery in Mundgod in South India. He received his Geshe Lharampa title in 1984 after a successful completion of the highest level of examinations under the Gelug lineage system.
Khen Rinpoche Changchup Choeden was born in northern India in 1966. Having joined Gaden Shartse in 1979 he received his Geshe Lharampa title in 1997. He has traveled widely and is certainly a “modern” monk. He has his own website and a blog, which gives interesting information about his thinking and activities.
He is said to be conversant in Chinese after having stayed in Taiwan for awhile.
According to information on the Gomang website, “The Abbot (Khen Rinpoche) term is of six year and after every six years, a list of nominees for new Abbot is gathered from the monks during the congregation and that is submitted to His Holiness the Dalai Lama via Dept of Religion and Culture.” His Holiness then makes the formal appointment based on the recommendations submitted to him.
While the change of guard at the monasteries have been something that has been happening regularly, this time we see something that indicates both continuity and change, socially speaking. One abbot is older, was born in Tibet and came to exile as an adult. He has experience of life both in Tibet and in exile. He can be considered to have had a traditional upbringing and thus represents the “continuity” part. The other abbot is comparatively young. He is the first among those Tibetans born in exile who have been appointed to such a high position in the history of the three “seats” of Sera, Drepung and Gaden monastic universities. He would represent the “change” part.
After reading his blog postings and hearing him in his initial radio interview, following his enthronement, I can see that Khen Rinpoche Changchup Choeden wants to bring new thinking into the way an abbot handles the responsibilities of the monasteries.
I only wish that in his busy schedule he will find time to update his website and his blog posting. I have enjoyed reading his blog as they give a good insight into his thinking.
I had a very Buddhistic (karmic?) feeling while surfing the internet today. Something that I had written about many years back (1993) came back to me through the power of the internet. Interestingly, the topic of my writeup was, what else, the entrance of Tibet into the electronic age.
It was an article that I wrote for the Tibetan Bulletin, the official journal of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, on the introduction of email to the Tibetan community in Dharamsala in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The article was republished by GASSHO, Electronic Journal of DharmaNet International and the Global Online Sangha.
Some of the individuals mentioned in this article are no longer holding the position mentioned here. One of them has passed away. But it made interesting reading (am I being narcisstic?) to see the experience of the people as Dharamsala entered the email world.
When the email experience began in Dharamsala, it was a comparatively slow and patience-trying dial up service. Today, we are going beyond broadband.
This one is for all the internet-savvy young Tibetans out there.
DHARAMSALA GOES E-MAILING
by Bhuchung K. Tsering
After several years of feasibility study, the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala is finally on E-Mail.
Many years back I remember watching a film of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Mongolia and the republics of Tuva, Buryatia and Kalmykia in the Russian Federation. I was amazed by the intensity of the devotion of the people of Mongolia, Tuva, Kalmykia and Buryatia towards His Holiness. I still remember one footage shot from the window of the plane, in which His Holiness was travelling, (I think) that showed a panoramic view of the ground where countless people had gathered in great anticipation of the Dalai Lama.
Just some days back, I had the opportunity to watch the recording of a function held in New Delhi on July 6 to celebrate the 74th birthday of the Dalai Lama.
What was special here was that this function was held by representatives of the peoples of the Himalayan region in India. In attendance were the chief ministers of the state of Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh (who took the opportunity to announce an important conference on the environment in August), ministers from Sikkim and Jammu & Kashmir, prominent lamas from these regions (including the Jangtse Choeje who is from Ladakh, Tsona Gontse Rinpoche who is from Arunachal Pradesh, Lochen Rinpoche who is from Himachal Pradesh. These are some of the lamas that I could recognize but there sure were more than them in attendance.), etc. Also in attendance were Members of Parliament from these areas as well as many people from throughout the Indian Himalayas. Former Indian President A.B.J Kalam presided over the function and gave a thoughtful address.
I was again struck by the devotion of these people, whether they were politicians, members of the clergy or the several performing artistes who made musical offerings to His Holiness.
A similar scene prevailed in late 1985 when I was on duty in Bodh Gaya where His Holiness bestowed the Kalachakra Initiations. I could see people from Bhutan, Nepal, the Indian Himalayas as well as the many foreigners who had gathered there to get blessings from this one individual, the Dalai Lama.
These developments made me, an ethnic Tibetan, take a deeper look at my identification of the Dalai Lama. We Tibetans have rightfully been claiming the institution of the Dalai Lamas as ours without any second thought. There is basic truth in this because the institution took birth in Tibet. However, what many of us may be overlooking is the undeniable fact that the Dalai Lamas, specifically the present 14th incarnation, have grown beyond their Tibetan identity. Followers of Tibetan Buddhism wherever they may be residing or whatever their nationality have some claim, if not equal to the Tibetans, towards identifying the Dalai Lama with their own communities.
For example, I have read reports of the people in the Tuva Republic organizing prayer ceremony or carving the sacred six-syllable mantra on a mountain in Tuva (The mantra took one month to build and is 120-metres-long, 20-metres-high), for the long life of His Holiness.
Bhuchung K Tsering
Last weekend, while the Tibetans all over the world were preparing to celebrate the joyous occasion of the birthday of H.H. the Dalai Lama, news came out of Eastern Turkestan, called Xinjiang by China, about protests by the Uyghurs (Uighur) there and the subsequent Chinese crackdown that has resulted in the death of many people, both Chinese and Uyghurs. While China has acknowledged the death of over 150 people, Uyghur sources say many more have died, and several more detained.
Coming in the wake of what happened in Tibet last year, this development should be a wake up call to the Chinese Government on its overall policies relating to people like the Uyghurs and the Tibetans, who are considered minorities in China. The one message from the Uyghur people this time is that those policies have failed and the Chinese Government needs to understand that.
In the era of digital television, the radio may appear to have been given a back seat. However, in the heavily vehicle-dependent societies, short wave radios have given way to FM and AM car radios, which have a captured audience, unless someone is playing CD or an audio tape.
In the English-speaking Tibetan community, if you will, BBC World Service radio broadcasts, used to be a part of the daily life of the individuals, until the early 1990s. A joke used to go around (may be I am making this up) that an official of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile in Dharamsala was so addicted to the BBC World Service that he would neglect listening to any local radio or TV broadcasts. At one time he returned from an official trip to a nearby town complaining that the entire town was closed because of a “bandh” that he was not aware of. A friend of his responded that this was because he only listened to BBC as the local radio and TV had broadcast news about the strike in that town. Be that as it may, even His Holiness the Dalai Lama has publicly said that BBC was one of the stations that he listened to on a daily basis.
Among the many BBC journalists, the name of Mark Tully is someone that is familiar to many of us. He reported for BBC for countless years from New Delhi. While serving in Dharamsala, I was assigned to accompany him at one time when he came up to Dharamsala to interview the Dalai Lama. I don’t expect him to remember me, but I just wanted to put it out there. Similar to most of the Tibetan refugees, he too has come to adopt India as his second home.
Even after retirement, Mark Tully has continued to do programs for BBC. This weekend BBC radio is broadcasting an interview with the Dalai Lama by Mark Tully. I am giving here the announcement.
Happy Listening for those of us who still resort to the radio for news.
In conversation with the Dalai Lama
Mark Tully meets the 14th Dalai Lama
The Dalai Lama is an extraordinary figure on the international scene. The temporal leader of Tibet in exile, he is also revered as a spiritual leader, not only by his own countrymen, but by Buddhists all over the world. He is a figure held in respect by both spiritual and political leaders of other faiths too.
In an exclusive interview Sir Mark Tully talks to His Holiness the Dalai Lama about the way he manages to match the temporal with the spiritual in his personal and his public life.
Heart and Soul: In Conversation with The Dalai Lama – this weekend
All time are in GMT
I have learnt about yet another sad news about the passing away of an eminent individual, who made a distinct mark in the world of Tibetan studies. Mr. Sonam T. Kazi, a scholar on Dzogchen and who served as aide to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for over 13 years, passed away in mid-June. His cremation took place on June 22, 2009, after he was in meditation poise for seven days, according to a source. He was 84.
While I am not capable of talking about his spiritual expertise (he has written quite a bit on Dzogchen), I have always been fascinated by individuals like him who play critical roles in political developments as assistants to the major players. Since March 1959, when he was sent by the Government of India to receive His Holiness the Dalai Lama when he crossed over into Indian territory from Tibet, Yapa la, as he is known to Sikkimese and Tibetans, in his own words “was attached to H.H. the Fourteenth Dalai Lama as his Chief Interpreter for thirteen years in Dharamsala, until 1972.”
Even before 1959, Yapa la had interaction with the Dalai Lama in Tibet, which he had visited a few times, as official of British Indian Government. You can read about his experience in a remark he made in London in 1994. Yapa la was there when Indian Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru hosted a lunch attended by visiting Chinese Premier Chou En Lai, the Dalai Lama and the Panchen Lama. You can see him, in his young self, in the news clip of the first meeting between Pandit Nehru and the Dalai Lama, after his escape, which took place in Mussoorie on April 30, 1959. He is handing over a khata to the Prime Minister that is offered to His Holiness.
Thomas Merton also talks about meeting Yapa la during his travel to Dharamsala in 1968. He writes, “We had walked up, Harold and I, to Upper Dharamsala by the back road to McLeod Ganj, which is where the Dalai Lama lives. It is really the top of the mountain we are on now. Suddenly we were in a Tibetan village with a new, spanking white chorten in the middle of it. There we met Sonam Kazi, who was expecting us to come by bus.” In another noting, Merton recalls, “The Dalai Lama told me that Sonam Kazi knew all about Dzogchen and could help me, which of course he already has.”