Archive for the ‘Of People & Places’ Category
My Talk in Minnesota on Understanding the Reality in Tibet
March 31, 2013
A shortsighted and meaningless effort by the Chinese Consulate in Chicago to propagandize about Tibet at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis led to an opportunity for me to go there and share my views on Tibet. The Tibetan American Foundation of Minnesota, the Students for a Free Tibet, Tibetan Youth Congress and the Tibetan Women’s Association in Minnesota asked me to come and be a part of the activities to present the Tibetan viewpoint so that we could challenge the Chinese exhibition on Tibet that was being organized in the University.
So, I spoke on March 27, 2013 at the venue of the Tibetan people’s exhibition on Tibet at the University, which was next door to the one organized by the Chinese students and funded by the Chinese consulate (the story of how the Chinese had to cancel/withdraw their activities in the light of this Tibetan onslaught is a different story, some of which have appeared in the local newspaper, Star-Tribune). I titled my talk “Reality in Tibet Today.”
In my talk, I talked about the different aspects of the Tibetan issue, including political, environmental, human rights angle, and how His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan side had responded positively to Deng Xiaoping’s message that “other than the issue of independence everything else can be discussed and resolved.” I said His Holiness had not only presented his Middle Way Approach as a response but that he had also prepared the Tibetan people to accept that this was in the best interest of both the sides. I told of my own experience of interacting with ordinary Chinese and how we Tibetans have been educated by His Holiness to differentiate between Chinese Government and people and how we should be reaching out to the people. I said, however, the Chinese side had not fulfilled their part of the commitment made by Deng Xiaoping about everything else could be discussed and resolved. The Chinese side has also not prepared the Chinese people and instead is projecting the Tibetans as being against the Chinese people.
But this blog is about another talk that the organizers had arranged for me, which was to the Tibetan community. This took place on March 26, 2013. Despite it being a weekday and people had to go to work, there was a reasonable turnout of Tibetans, old and young. Read the rest of this entry »
Here is an analysis that I did on one aspect of the new leadership in Lhasa.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
March 19, 2013
The appointment of Jampa Phuntsok (Ch: Qiangba Puncog) as a Vice Chair of the National People’s Congress on March 14, 2013, completes an interesting development in the regional representation in the top Tibetan leadership in Lhasa. This new development could be said to have begun when Pema Thinley (Ch: Padma Choling) assumed the Governorship of the Tibet Autonomous Region in 2010; it is now the Chamdowas, the people from Chamdo (Ch: Qamdo) in Eastern Tibet, who hold all the highest Tibetan leadership positions in Lhasa and Beijing.
Earlier this year, we had Pema Thinley becoming the Chairman of the TAR People’s Congress; Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal (Ch: Pagbalha Geleg Namgyai) was reappointed as head of the TAR PPCC; and Lobsang Gyaltsen (Ch: Losang Jamcan) has become the new Governor of the TAR. Except for the top position of the Party Secretary, which continues to be in the hands of a non-Tibetan, these three positions are the highest in the region. All three individuals holding the positions are from present-day Chamdo Prefecture (Technically, Phakpalha was born in Lithang, but he is the recognized lama of Jampaling Monastery in Chamdo and is popularly known as Chamdo Phakpalha. Similarly Lobsang Gyaltsen was born in Dagyab, which is also in present-day Chamdo Prefecture). At the national level, Jampa Phuntsok has become the highest rank Tibetan official now and he is also from Chamdo.
The fact that they are all from Chamdo region could be coincidental, but if we look at popular perception of Tibetan history in modern times we see that there have been periods when elites from a particular area dominated the leadership positions in Lhasa. Read the rest of this entry »
An Outsider’s View of Bhutan’s Democratic Experiment
Bhuchung K. Tsering
March 16, 2013
With the announcement of April 23, 2013 as the date for elections to the National Council, exciting days are ahead for Bhutan as the country gears itself to its second general elections following democratization process of 2008. This time the situation has become more interesting in quite a few ways.
First, and the most important of all, is the birth of several political parties. In addition to the existing ruling Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) and the lone opposition, People’s Democratic Party (PDP), three more parties have registered themselves with the Election Commission of Bhutan. They are Druk Chirwang Tshogpa (DCT), Bhutan Kuen-Nyam Party (DKP), and Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT).
The very existence of more than two parties vying for seats means that there will be a vociferous attempt by the candidates to secure the vote. Additionally, the Bhutan Election Commission’s website lists a variety of voter awareness campaigns it has launched in order to evoke more participation from the citizens. These will all result in a more vocal campaign. As it is, even before the dates of the elections were set, and even before some of the parties were formally registered, we could see their active presence in the media. The Chief Election Commissioner of Bhutan, Dasho Kunzang Wangdi, himself is an active Twitter person (
@KunzangW) and uses the medium to generate greater awareness of the electoral process, including in responding to specific queries.
The spurt of political parties is matched by comparatively more assertive Bhutanese public, as reflected in the media. I believe for the first ever elections in 2008, the Bhutanese public gave some grace period to politicians as they were undergoing the experience for the first time. In fact, the authorities had to conduct a mock election in 2007 to sensitize the public and aspiring candidates, and educate them about the new process. Today, the Bhutanese public has become more experienced and more demanding. I have seen quite a few editorials and interviews with spokespersons of the political parties, both in the print media and on BBS, Bhutan’s lone TV channel, and it is clear people want clear answers to frank questions.
In the process, a few challenges to the Bhutanese political system can be observed. Read the rest of this entry »
Mind Your Language, in Tibetan
Bhuchung K. Tsering
March 6, 2013
Oftentimes, we take things for granted without really taking the time to look deeper into them. Take language for instance; in this case the Tibetan language. There are some phrases that we use in our daily conversation without taking second thoughts as we know the approximate meaning. But what is the etymology and how did these phrases evolve? I am sure linguists would have some answer.
གཅིག་མཇུག་གཉིས་མཐུད་ is a simple example. It literally means “the second connected to the end of the first” or “one after another.” But what about ཏན་ཏན་ཏིག་ཏིག་ The meaning here is “to be certain.” ཏན་ཏན་ repeats a homophone of a word that means stable, which has the connotative meaning of certainty. But what is ཏིག་ཏིག་
Then whenever we want to emphasize something to be done we talk of
ཡིན་གཅིག་མིན་གཉིས་ But the literal meaning seems to be “yes, one; no two.” Could this be it or am I missing something?
The third example would be ཁ་ཡོད་ལག་ཡོད། which means something concrete or practical. The literal meaning here is “within the mouth, within the hand.”
The last one that I want to raise here is ཁ་ཙ་དགོས་ཐུག་ which describes a critical or urgent situation. Could the literal meaning really be something like “the mouth’s vein touching the need”?
I contributed the following to the International Campaign for Tibet’s blog as I feel there is a need for the Vatican to look at the Tibetan issue from a different angle.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
March 1, 2013
On March 1, 2013, Catholics throughout the world started the day with a new experience, one that none of them had experienced in their lifetime; being without their spiritual leader the Pope, not because he had passed away, but because he had undertaken the papal version of the royal abdication. The Tibetan people had somewhat similar yet different kind of experience in 2011. While the Pope resigned from his spiritual duties now, the Dalai Lama had withdrawn himself from his temporal authorities then.
As the process begins for the search and election of a new Pope, among those watching the development closely will be the government of the People’s Republic of China. One of the unresolved religious issue in China today is the status of its estimated 12 million Catholics, which is having political and cultural implications. The Communist Government of China, despite being atheists, has been wanting to control the affairs of the Catholics and in the process giving them the false choice of obeying either the Vatican or Beijing on matters relating to their spiritual affairs. The Chinese Government has come out with different initiatives codifying the Church, creating in the process virtually two Catholic churches in China; the government-approved one and the underground one that has been showing its resilience for the past many years. The issue is further complicated by the fact that the Vatican has diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not with China.
The Vatican’s ties with China will be one of the issues confronting the new Pope, just as it was with previous Popes. In fact, there are reports saying that one of the ardent wishes of Pope John Paul II had been to “set foot on Chinese soil, kiss the ground and personally embrace the Chinese people.” Observers had also expected Pope Benedict XVI to make progress on ties with China. Pope Benedict XVI had even created a special Commission tasked to help the Vatican examine the issue of relationship with China.
Over the years, both the Vatican and China have sent feelers to each other in their effort to test the situation for improvement of their relations. But there have been no concrete outcomes.
As we await the new Holy Father, it might be worthwhile for the Vatican to look at the ongoing challenge the Tibetan Buddhists are facing in their relations with China to get an indication of whether there are any chances for a forward movement.
The Chinese authorities have been implementing a policy on Tibetan Buddhists, very much similar to the one on the Catholics, to either choose their spiritual tradition and leader, the Dalai Lama, or conform with Chinese government-approved procedures. As long as this mindset is not changed there cannot be any progress. Read the rest of this entry »
Yesterday, February 20, 2013, I participated in a discussion on the Talk of the Nation program on America’s National Public Radio (NPR). Below is the transcript of the same as posted on NPR’s website. You can also listen to the audio recording here. I thought Michael Biggs from Oxford succinctly put the development in Tibet in the broader context of self-immolation as a form of protest.
February 20, 2013
More than 100 Tibetans have set themselves on fire since 2009 to protest Chinese rule, according to Tibetan advocacy groups. Self-immolations in Tunisia and Vietnam also gained international attention, but the motives and effectiveness of the practice are widely debated.
Michael Biggs, lecturer in sociology, University of Oxford
Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program, Columbia University
Bhuchung Tsering, vice president for special programs, International Campaign for Tibet
NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I’m Neal Conan in Washington. A grim milestone last week in Tibet: Over the past four years, more than 100 people have now set themselves on fire to protest Chinese rule. According to the campaign, International Campaign for Tibet, at least 85 died following their protest.
The practice of political suicide is not new. During the Vietnam War, a horrified world saw pictures of Buddhist monk Thich Quang Duc sitting calmly as his body burned in a public square in Saigon. Two years ago, the self-immolation of Tunisian fruit seller Mohamed Bouazizi inspired protests that developed into the Arab Spring.
Thus far, more than 100 such acts appears to have effected little change in China. Later in the program, we’ll talk about the anatomy of a successful movie trailer, but first self-immolation and politics. We begin with Michael Biggs, a sociologist at the University of Oxford. He joins us from BBC Studios there. Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL BIGGS: Hello.
CONAN: And I have to ask you, I know you’ve looked into it – why – and it’s hard to answer this question – why does someone set themselves afire, kill themselves, to effect change and harming only themselves?
BIGGS: Well, I think we can distinguish two different motivations, although they’re often combined in a single action. So one motivation is to show a distant audience, an audience far away that doesn’t understand your situation just how badly your group is or your group of people is suffering.
So in the example from Saigon in 1963 that you mentioned, the aim was very much to speak to an American audience, to show the American public just what was going on in South Vietnam under the government that was sponsored by the United States.
And so the idea is to speak to, to address and to get the attention of a very distant audience. That’s the first sort of motivation. The second motivation is to strengthen the resolve of your fellow people. So now you’re directing your action, or your action is mainly intended for your local audience. But you’re wanting to say, you know, we need to show greater resolve, and I’m willing to kill myself, and so I hope that my fellows will be willing to perhaps take part in the street demonstrations or to do some other more modest action for our collective cause.
CONAN: I read in a piece you wrote for Foreign Policy titled “Ultimate Sacrifice” that in fact this act has caused the definition of the word immolation to change.
BIGGS: Yes, I mean classically immolation means sacrifice. I mean, the etymology is sacrifice. And yet since the 1960s it’s now come more and more to be used to mean death by fire or a fiery death.
CONAN: And fire, why – this – is the act augmented by choosing such a painful death?
BIGGS: Yes, I think it’s obviously – partly we can find earlier examples of suicide protests, earlier in the 20th century. So for example in Japan, Japanese people protesting against the exclusion of Japanese from the United States in 1924, they committed suicide by disemboweling themselves, the sort of traditional Japanese seppuku. So we find suicide protests earlier, and it’s really this action in 1963 that attaches suicide protest with fire and that now most cases, the vast majority of cases of suicide protest are carried out by fire.
It’s partly because of this terrible – the fact that it’s a very painful death. It’s also a very visually – you can capture this on film and you can show a picture of this in a way you can’t show a picture of someone being disemboweled. So it’s a very kind of tele-visual protest.
And also, it also has a kind of cultural resonance in some cultures in the way that fire is purifying. So for us, I think, in the Christian tradition or the Western tradition, fire is often kind of horrifying. But of course in Buddhist or Hindu traditions fire has much more a positive resonance of something that’s purifying and holy.
CONAN: You wrote in that piece that the monk in Saigon in 1963, that changed things. Among those horrified by it was President Kennedy.
BIGGS: Yes, exactly, yes. He realized that the effect on American public opinion, also global public opinion – remember, of course, the United States was in a Cold War, and this was terribly bad publicity for the Western side. If you say, you know, that here’s our great democracy in South Vietnam, and yet a Buddhist monk is willing to set himself on fire to protest against religious persecution, then that’s very, very bad for – it was used by the communists as propaganda, and of course it was very bad for the West.
So the feeling was we have to make sure this regime changes.
CONAN: And it did, in an American-sponsored coup just a couple months later.
BIGGS: Yes, exactly, yes. So that’s a very clear connection between the action, these actions – and of course there were lots of other protests going on as well, street demonstrations and so on, by monks, and that very clearly and quickly led to the overthrow of the government.
CONAN: Yet we have in the case of Tibet over 100 now, and as mentioned, very little change.
BIGGS: Yes, I think that the situations are very, very different because of course the – well, the Tibetan cause already has considerable amount of sympathy among the Western public. But of course there’s nothing that Western governments can do or want to do in forcing China. China is a major power, and you cannot boss China around like the United States bossed South Vietnam around.
CONAN: And also those images, they do get out to the West, but they are not seen in China.
BIGGS: Yes, exactly, and so China can censor at least the majority of the Han – the local majority population, the Han Chinese, from seeing these. And even if they did see them, I’m not entirely sure that – I mean Chinese nationalism is very strong, and so I’m not sure that they would garner such great sympathy. But that’s of course speculative.
But it’s not – you know, it’s certainly not the case that the Tibetans have been trying to speak directly to the Chinese public, or the majority Chinese public.
CONAN: Joining us now to talk about Tibet is Robert Barnett, director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University, author of a number of books, including “Lhasa: Streets with Memories.” Thanks very much for being with us today.
ROBERT BARNETT: My pleasure.
CONAN: And what’s the cause of this recent wave, the past four years of these horrible protests?
BARNETT: Well there’s of course a long history of 60 years of rather troubled rule by China in Tibet in which the Chinese have been really rather aggressive in trying to persuade Tibetans that they are Chinese and a part of China. It hasn’t really worked. But the thing that seems to spark this in an area which had been relatively calm for some 30 years was a decision in about 1998 to ban the photographs of the Dalai Lama and quietly to ban worship of him.
This had already been done in western Tibet a few years earlier, but from ’98 they began to push this idea, this policy across the eastern areas which had been much more relaxed after the death of Mao and where people had been allowed to practice religion, at least to a considerable extent.
So a very big change there in religious policy, particularly about the Dalai Lama and a number of other issues: nomads being made to settle; language, Tibetan language being gradually withdrawn from schools; very strong controls on information and travel; these kinds of issues as well. But I think the religious question is primary.
CONAN: Those of us in the West might see this as a sign of despair. Do you find that to be accurate?
BARNETT: It’s hard to say. I mean I think that we have to listen carefully to what Michael said about this being a way to try to reach the ears of important people. Of course Westerners and exiles tend to see it as trying to reach the ears of the international community, but I think as Michael explained it’s really about trying to get the Chinese leadership to pay attention to what’s happening in their far-flung western areas.
And this may be a way to also – I don’t know if it’s to rally the community, I don’t think that’s an intention of these immolators, but it’s a way to express a real commitment to their cultural and religious ideals. It’s probably not thought through as a deliberate strategy. It just makes huge sense within the terms of traditional Buddhism, the idea of self-sacrifice for a noble cause, that’s very strong in Buddhism, and the idea that there is something here that’s been threatened: the culture, the language, the religion, and the nation, really, by current Chinese policy.
But it’s not a clear political movement or a specific strategy.
CONAN: We mentioned there had been little change. There’s been little reform. There has been a change, and that has been, of late, a crackdown by the Chinese government.
BARNETT: Yes, it’s very interesting. In the first like year and a half or so of these terrible self-immolations in Tibet, the Chinese officials were very uncertain about how to proceed. But the realized very quickly they shouldn’t criticize monks, and instead they started to say that the monks, most of the first year, the first 40 cases or so were monks or nuns or former monks.
And they didn’t criticize them, but they criticized the people around them, who they accused of helping them. And they regarded the immolators as, quote, innocents. But recently, in the last two and a half months, they’ve very radically changed this approach and begun to arrest almost anybody they can find in some areas who they can accuse of inciting immolations.
It seems to be anybody who expresses the idea that an immolation is justified in Buddhism or is noble. These people seem to be arrested in some areas. It’s not the same in every area, but it’s – they’re offering large amounts of money for information about immolators. One person has already received a suspended death sentence for supposedly inciting immolation.
It looks to me that he just expressed support for the notion and said the people who’d done it were heroic. So we’ve moved into a very aggressive phase here, trying to contain this wave.
CONAN: Michael Biggs, let me ask you. As Robert Barnett just mentioned, the first 40 or so were monks or nuns or ex-monks. Now it has begun to widen. There are people from all walks of life who’ve now become immolators in Tibet. What’s the significance of that?
BIGGS: Well, I suppose it shows the incredibly, the incredibly positive resonance that these actions have with the general public, with the general Tibetan people. And we find a similar pattern in South Vietnam, where first of all it was monks, and then ordinary lay people began to copy the action as well. So I think it shows just how not popular but how much symbolic resonance this action has with the ordinary people, who see this as a, you know, exemplary action by monks; a few brave people who are not monks will try to imitate and strengthen the cause by following in the same, in their footsteps.
CONAN: We’re talking about self-immolation. Our guests: Robert Barnett, he is the director of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University; Michael Biggs is also with us, you just heard him, a sociologist who studies social movements and collective protests at the University of Oxford. Stay with us. When we come back, we’ll get to the Tibetan perspective. I’m Neal Conan. It’s the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. I’m Neal Conan. When Thich Quang Duc self-immolated in Vietnam in 1963, journalist David Halberstam was there. In his book “The Making of a Quagmire,” he remembered that day. Please note the description is graphic.
Flames were coming from a human being. His body was slowly withering and shriveling up, his head blackening and charring. In the air was the smell of burning flesh. Human beings burn surprisingly quickly, Halberstam wrote. Behind me I could hear the sobbing of the Vietnamese who were now gathering. I was too shocked to cry, too confused to take notes or ask questions, too bewildered even to think.
Today we’re talking about recent self-immolations, more than 100 in Tibet in the last four years now. Michael Biggs of the University of Oxford and Robert Barnett of the Modern Tibet Studies Program at Columbia University are our guests. Joining us now is Bhuchung Tsering, vice president for special programs at the International Campaign for Tibet. He’s been kind enough to join us here in Studio 3A. Welcome to the program.
BHUCHUNG TSERING: My pleasure.
CONAN: And I – what’s been the response to these immolations among Tibetans?
TSERING: I think there are two broad responses, and we’re talking about Tibetans in the free world, not inside Tibet. First is the strong emotional connection that people have sort of got upon learning from these reports, these emotional connections both of sorrow that yet another Tibetan has died, just like in the case of yesterday, and at the same time admiring their courage of willingness to do the utmost for the sake of their people. So that’s one aspect of it.
The other aspect is to say what is there that we can do outside that really you cannot at all match what the people inside Tibet have done but that can really help change the situation for the people inside Tibet to no longer have to do those things. Read the rest of this entry »
VOA and China’s Latest Narrative on Tibet
Bhuchung K. Tsering
I am glad the Voice of America has lost no time in challenging the Chinese Government’s accusation that it is encouraging Tibetans to self-immolate. On February 6, 2013 VOA released a video and written statement in which its Director David Ensor said the allegations were “totally false and called on China Daily and CCTV to retract their stories.”
China first made this allegation in a TV report on its Chinese language television channel (CCTV 4) on February 5, 2013. An edited English version was broadcast on February 6, 2013 in English on CCTV 9. Xinhua also released reports based on the TV report.
These reports are but the latest attempt by the Chinese authorities to change the narrative relating to the spate of Tibetan self-immolations.
China is increasingly finding it difficult to justify its harsh crackdown on the Tibetan people. The Chinese security forces have no legal justification in taking the entire Tibetan people to ransom and denying them even the limited rights enshrined in China’s own constitution. China is punishing the entire Tibetan people even as it wants the world to believe that only “A few individuals with a strong sense of extreme nationalism showed sympathy with the self-immolators.” (Xinhua report of February 7, 2013 quoting Lu Benqian, Qinghai’s deputy police chief. ) Therefore, they have started what virtually seems to be a conspiracy theory.
There is a historical consistency in this Chinese strategy of blaming others for developments in Tibet. Initially, the Chinese Communists blamed “Western imperialist forces” of encouraging the Tibetans. In the post-1959 period, they have experimented with putting the blame on everything that happened in Tibet to “the splittists”, “Dalai Clique” Tibetan Youth Congress, etc. The much-maligned Cultural Revolution provided a slight change in the narrative. The Communist leaders found a new “other” to be blamed for everything bad that took place in Tibet during the period, as they did in the case of China, too. Since it serves their conspiracy theory and narrative, the Chinese Government does not hesitate to use the term “Tibetan Government-in-Exile” in its reports about the involvement of Tibetans abroad although they are the first to deny that such an entity does exist or is legal.
Therefore, it is not a surprise that in the course of the self-immolations, the Chinese Government had no qualms in blaming Tibetans outside for what is essentially a result of its misguided policies in Tibet.
The latest report by China has blamed the free Tibetan-language media, including VOA, that exist outside of Tibet, for virtually spreading propaganda in Tibet. This is ironical, if not laughable. VOA is right to be incensed by this Chinese allegation.
The Chinese don’t get it. Since they control all media in China, the Chinese authorities may be assuming that all the Tibetan-language media in the free world are under the control of the Tibetan leadership in exile. The CCTV documentary shows footages (I wonder what the rules say about copyright in such usage, but that is an aside!) from VOA TV’s Kunleng program as well as the websites maintained by other Tibet-related media houses.
As part of my work, I closely monitor Tibetan-language media, both those in Tibet and outside of it. They all do a commendable job of “serving as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news” (as the VOA’s Charter says). The information about the self-immolations is a case in point. News about these were broken by the free Tibetan language media like VOA, RFA, VOT (as well as Tibet Times, Tibet Express, Phayul, etc.) while the CCTV and Xinhua continued to maintain silence for a considerable period of time. As VOA Director Ensor said in his statement, “We report them. We certainly don’t encourage them,” It was only when China realized that it was losing control over the narrative that it began to acknowledge the self-immolations.
VOA’s Tibetan Service chief, Losang Gyatso, has “also denied that any news reports were influenced by the Dalai Lama or the Tibetan government in exile. He noted that VOA Tibetan’s news reports often present the views of Chinese officials.”
I know this for fact because both VOA and RFA are based in Washington, D.C. whenever they are aware of Chinese officials giving a press conference on Tibet here, they make attempts to cover these events. However, on several instances it is the Chinese Embassy that indulge in racial discrimination by denying Tibetan-language media access to such events even as they allow others, including Chinese-American journalists, to cover them.
The latest Chinese narrative needs to be seen in the context of the international community’s assertion (see statements by the United Nations, United States, the European Union, etc.) that China needs to address the “deep underlying issues” in Tibet that are the cause of the self-immolations and not to use “heavy security measures and suppression of human rights.” It is China’s attempt to justify its violation of the fundamental rights of the Tibetan people.
China’s baseless allegation against VOA and other media is already starting a discussion on how the United States Government should look at its liberal policy of allowing the Chinese Government’s media to have a free hand in the United States. Currently, both CCTV and Xinhua are expanding their capacities in this country. China Daily has started an American edition. In the days to come I won’t be surprised if discussions touches on their activities.
As it is on February 7, 2013, State Department Spokesperson Victoria Nuland responded to a question about the Chinese accusation saying, “obviously VOA has made clear that they were not involved, and we support VOA in that statement.” She further said that she expected this issue to be taken up at the official level with the Chinese. Nuland also reiterated the U.S. position that “there are deep grievances within the Tibetan population which are not being addressed openly and through dialogue by the Chinese Government.”
Be that as it may be, I think the Chinese leadership needs to realize that such conspiracy theories are not the solution. The solution could begin with China’s Tibet-policy makers really following some recent advices by their new leaders, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang.
Xinhua has quoted Xi Jinping telling at a Chinese New Year event on February 7, 2013 that Chinese leaders needed to “be more tolerant of criticism and receptive to the views of non-communists.” “The CPC [Chinese Communist Party] should be able to put up with sharp criticism, correct mistakes if it has committed them and avoid them if it has not,” Xi is said to have added. Xi further said, “Non-CPC personages should meanwhile have the courage to tell the truth, speak words jarring on the ear, and truthfully reflect public aspirations.”
What the Tibetans have been doing is just that.
Meanwhile, China’s potential Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said (this week) following a meeting with disadvantaged Mongols in Inner Mongolia: “You are living in bad conditions and we really feel sorry.” Will China have the courage to say that to the Tibetans?
May be we should watch VOA to get the answer!
On January 31, 2013 I participated in a panel discussion on “Ticking Time Bomb: The Ethnic Crisis Facing China’s New Leadership” in the Cannon House Office Building of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. My co-panelists were Mr. Enghebatu Togochog, Director, Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center; Mr. Alim Seytoff, President, Uyghur American Association; and Dr. YANG Jianli, President, Citizen Power for China.
The discussion, organized by Citizen Power for China, was moderated by its Vice President, Dr. Lianchao Han.
I am giving below the text of my prepared statement (I based my remarks on this) and a video recording that are posted on the website of the International Campaign for Tibet.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Vice President, Special Programs of International Campaign for Tibet
January 31, 2013
I would like to address the topic of this discussion, “The Ethnic Crisis Facing China’s New Leadership,” in the context of the current critical situation in Tibet.
The problem in Tibet is a subject that the International Campaign for Tibet has, by its mandate, been seized with for the past 25 years. This is reflected in our two latest reports – “60 Years of Chinese Misrule/Arguing Cultural Genocide in Tibet” and “Storm in the Grasslands/Self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese policy”. The first report reveals that Chinese policies and practices of cultural repression and destruction are so systematic and persistent in Tibet, and their effects are so serious, that they contain elements of cultural genocide. The second report, particularly relevant to our discussions today, shows that the Chinese government has responded to the Tibetan self-immolations by intensifying the military build-up and very policies and approaches that are the root cause of the acts. The above reports are available for download from the ICT website (www.savetibet.org).
In his first speech after becoming the new head of the Chinese Communist Party on November 15, 2012, Xi Jinping said: “In the new situation, our Party faces many severe challenges.” In the same speech, Xi also said, “…Chinese people have opened up a good and beautiful home where all ethnic groups live in harmony and fostered an excellent culture that never fades.”
The self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet is certainly one of the severe challenges that the new Chinese leadership is facing. They are clear indications of the depth of feelings among the Tibetan people at their current state of affairs. China’s hope of the issue of self-immolations by Tibetans fading away — as a result of a combination of threats, suppression and increased control — is not happening.
The following are some of the reasons why China’s misguided policies on Tibetans are leading to continued tension and possible crisis, contradicting any claims of “ethnic groups living in harmony.”
First, one of the possible solution choices that the Chinese leadership seem to have considered to resolve the Tibetan problem is doing away with the limited constitutional rights for what they call the minority nationalities. In an article in the official newspaper of the Central Party School, Xuexi Shibao (Study Times), in December 2011, Vice Minister Zhu Weiqun of the Central United Front Works Department essentially maintained that the current nationalities problems that China faces are on account of the separate policies for nationalities, and he suggests doing away with them, including on how ethnicity is identified on government-issued identity cards. Read the rest of this entry »
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on Buddhism in the Social Media Age
Bhuchung K. Tsering
January 27, 2013
The issue of the rapidly transforming social environment and how one adapts one’s spiritual and cultural outlook towards it is something that continues to challenge people of my generation and later. While growing up it was comparatively easy to change some beliefs that shaped the social behavior of our community. They include: making sure to place the broom on the ground rather than handing it directly to the other person; not whistling at night; spitting softly a few times into the hat before wearing it; spitting softly when sighting a shooting star at night, etc. I would also include not going along with the Buddhist cosmology about the “Ri Gyalpo Riyab” being the center of the universe, etc. Just recently, His Holiness the Dalai Lama referred to this while addressing the Mind & Life Conference in Dhoeguling Tibetan Settlement in South India.
I have also tried to find a balance between our core belief in the sanctity, not only of the scriptures but also of the very script in which it is written. Even today, while I do not have any qualms in using a newspaper (in any other languages) to wrap something or to wipe something, I would not dare to do so with printed materials in Tibetan. It is holy. I think there is a reason why the Bhutanese call classical Tibetan as “Choekay” or language of the scriptures. However, I cannot help in today’s times to avoid throwing printed materials in Tibetan into the trash. Similarly, every time we replace the prayer flags that flutter on the terrace of our office complex in Washington, D.C. there is a slight apprehension on how to dispose of the old ones.
Recently, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has drawn our attention to another aspect of social development that needs the attention of the Buddhist practitioners. Understanding how small the world has grown in time and space with social media development, Rinpoche has a message to those serious students who consider themselves practitioners of Vajrayana, Ngaglam. Rather than trying to paraphrase Rinpoche, I am taking the liberty of reproducing his message that is posted on his Facebook page.
By the way, Rinpoche has not updated his Twitter page
@khyentsenorbu for awhile. As a Twitter person, I wish he would do that.
SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES FOR SO-CALLED VAJRAYANA STUDENTS
If you think or believe that you are a student of Vajrayana—whether or not that’s true is another matter—but as long as you think you are a Vajrayana practitioner, it becomes your responsibility to protect this profound tradition.
It’s important to maintain secrecy in the Vajrayana. The Vajrayana is called ‘the secret mantra yana’ because it is intended to be practiced in secrecy. It is not secret because there is something to hide, but in order to protect the practitioner from the pitfalls and downfalls that ego can bring to the practice. In particular, practitioners tend to fall prey to “spiritual materialism,” where their practice becomes just another fashion statement intended to adorn their egos and make them feel important, or have them feel that they’re part of a ‘cool’ social tribe, rather than to tame and transform their minds. When practiced in this way, the Vajrayana path becomes worse than useless.
Also, the Vajrayana teachings are ‘hidden’ in the sense that their meaning is not apparent to someone who has not received the appropriate teachings. It’s like a foreign language. Because some of the imagery and symbolism can seem strange or even violent to the uninitiated, it’s generally recommended to keep it hidden so that it doesn’t put off newer practitioners, who might develop wrong views about the Buddhist path in general and the Vajrayana path in particular.
While posting on social media, please bear in mind that you are not only posting for your own reading pleasure, but to the whole wide world who most likely don’t share your amusement over crazy photos, nor your peculiar adoration and fantasies of certain personalities you call as guru.
Given this, here are some suggestions I offer fellow so-called Vajrayana students about how you can protect yourself—both by avoiding embarrassment and by protecting your Dharma practice—and also protect the profound Vajrayana tradition:
(1) Maintain the secrecy of the Vajrayana (this includes secrecy about your guru, your practice, tantric images, empowerments you have received, teachings you have attended, etc.)
- Don’t post tantric images: If you think posting provocative tantric images (such as images of deities with multiple arms, animal heads, those in union, and wrathful deities) makes you important, you probably don’t understand their meaning.
- Don’t post mantras and seed syllables: If you think mantras and seed syllables should be posted on Facebook as mood enhancement and self-improvement aids, a makeover or haircut might do a better job.
- Don’t talk about your empowerments: If you think images from your weekend Vajrayana empowerment are worthy of being posted up next to photos of your cat on Facebook, you should send your cat to Nepal for enthronement. Unless you have obtained permission from the teacher, do not post any photo, video or audio
recording of Vajrayana empowerments, teachings or mantras. – Don’t talk about profound/secret teachings you may have received: Some
people seem to find it fashionable to hang words like “Dzogchen” and “Mahamudra” in their mouths. If you have received profound instructions, it is good to follow those instructions and keep them to yourself.
(2) Avoid giving in to the temptations of spiritual materialism and using Dharma in service of your ego (do not attempt to show off about your guru, your understanding, your practice etc. Likewise, do not speak badly of other practitioners or paths.)
- Don’t share your experiences and so-called attainments: If you think declaring what you think you have attained is worthwhile, you may have been busy bolstering your delusion. Trying to impress others with your practice is not part of the practice. Try to be genuine and humble. Nobody cares about your experiences in meditation, even if they include visions of buddhas, unicorns or rainbows. If you think you are free of self deception, go ahead, think again.
- Don’t boast about your guru: No matter how great you think your guru is, it would probably serve better for you to keep your devotion to yourself. Remember that being buddhist is not joining a cult. If you think your guru is better than another’s, you probably think your equanimity and pure perception are better than another’s.
- Don’t attempt to share your so-called wisdom: If you think receiving profound teachings gives you license to proclaim them, you will probably only display your ignorance. Before you “share” a quote from the Buddha or from any of your teachers, take a moment to think if they really said those words, and who the audience was meant to be.
- Don’t confuse Buddhism with non-Buddhist ideas: No matter how inspired you might be of rainbows and orbs, and how convinced you are about the end of the world, try not to mix your own fantasies/idiosyncracies with Buddhism.
- Be respectful to others: Without Theravada and Mahayana as foundation, there would be no Vajrayana. It would be completely foolish of Vajrayana practitioners to look down on or show disdain towards Theravada and Mahayana. If you think attacking other buddhists will improve Buddhism, do a service for Buddhism, take aim at your own ego and biasedness instead.
- Don’t create disharmony: Try to be the one who brings harmony into the sangha community with your online chatter, instead of trouble and disputes.
- Always be mindful of your motivation: Please do not attempt to display “crazy wisdom” behaviors online, just inspire others to have a good heart. If you think you are posting something out of compassion, try first to make sure you are doing no harm. Whenever you can’t let go of the itch to post something, make sure that it helps whoever who reads it and the Dharma.
New Year, Several Tibetan Thoughts
Bhuchung K. Tsering
The first day of 2013 began for me on a somber note. I got up early in the morning to attend the cremation of Kalon Trisur Sonam Topgyal, who had passed away two days back. I am writing this after coming back from the cremation ground.
My life serving the Central Tibetan Administration began under his wings as he was the Secretary of the Information Office (later renamed Department of Information & International Relations) when I joined it in the 1980s. He rose up through the ranks retiring after having served as the Chairman of the Cabinet (Kalon Tripa).
He was an embodiment of a people’s leader; very ordinary. He didn’t care about being perceived as being clumsy. When in office, he would often be seen sitting with one of his legs lifted up with the feet placed on the thigh of the other. There was a time when he took snuff and he would use any available piece of waste paper around him to cough out his phlegm in the midst of meetings and continue with the deliberations as if that was nothing abnormal.
But these did not take away the fact that he was a scholar first. His depth of knowledge was incredible. He was not only well versed on Tibetan historical and cultural matters, but also very much aware of the domestic Tibetan politics. One would often find Tibetan experts, whether resident in Dharamsala or visiting from outside, coming to consult him.
He was also a social reformer. He was one of the prominent Tibetans of his generation who contributed to significant social and political movements, whether it was the establishment of the news magazine in Tibetan, Sheja, or the founding of the Tibetan Youth Congress. Sheja contributed greatly in expanding the mental horizon of the literate Tibetan by exposing them to non-Tibetan news as well as scientific developments. Of course, history has shown TYC’s impact on our society.
As I sat among the many people gathered beside the pyre this morning, while the monastic community chanted prayers, I began introspecting. His passing away and the approach of the New Year were symbolic of the passing away of one generation of Tibetans and the place being taken by another generation. Just a few days back another former Tibetan official, Jampa Kalden la, passed away, making this symbolism strong.
Just the other day, I tweeted that the year 2012 was Annus Horribilis for Tibetans. The developments in Tibet, specifically the spate of self-immolations, placed the Tibetan people on an emotional roller coaster. We are still in the process of understanding the implications and what they mean for the future direction of the Tibetan movement.
The Tibetan experience at people’s democracy became one year old and this is also giving the Tibetan people much food for thought. The people are in the process of determining a new way of approaching the Tibetan leadership; from that of reverence (on account of the leadership’s direct connection with H.H. the Dalai Lama) of the past to critical analysis of each and every action, accompanied by call for accountability to the people.
The world is changing; Tibet is changing; the situation around us is changing. I think the time has come for us to change our mindset. Happy 2013 everybody!