Archive for the ‘Tibetan Cultural World’ Category
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”?
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!
Heartwarming Tibetan story in the midst of saddening news
Bhuchung K. Tsering
At a time when one wakes up every day dreading another sad news of self-immolation coming from Tibet, I was glad to read a heartwarming news of a photo exhibition in Beijing — “Art Beyond Sight- Non Visual Photography”– by nine visually impaired (blind and partially sighted) Tibetan students from the Tibet Blind School.
The 30 photos at the exhibition depict results of a training these Tibetans received from the Beijing-based organization, One Plus One, in August 2012 in the art of non-visual photography. One Plus One’s mission is “Establishing a diverse society that is suited to the disabled.”
I saw a news clip today about the exhibition in Beijing and it was moving to see the emotions of an artist as well as an assistant, Drolma, who herself was blind, as they describe their feeling. I am reminded of the resilience of the Tibetan people in Tibet who are able to seize every and any opportunity to make themselves relevant.
One of the photos on display is “a Braille typed photo of the Potala Palace.” I think the photo on this information about the exhibition is taken by one of the Tibetans.
The Exhibition was held to coincide with the International Day of Persons with Disability 2012, “with the support of the French Embassy and the Belgian Development Cooperation, Handicap International together with One Plus One (Beijing) Disabled Persons’ Cultural Development Center and Tibet Blind Association.”
The head of the Tibet Blind Association, Mr. Siyong, had addressed the opening of the exhibition.
The Exhibition is on from December 3 to 7, 2012 at the following venue.
Beijing Yishu 8
N020(jia)Dong Huangchenggen Beijie,
Buddhist Tolerance or Apathy?
Bhuchung K. Tsering
September 23, 2012
Currently we are in the midst of seeing violent reactions in quite a few regions of the world to a video posted on YouTube that was derogatory of Islam’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad. Unfortunately, the impact of the reaction has not only been felt materially, but also in terms of loss of lives.
The people who have involved in these protest activities are said to be fundamentalists, but the number seems to be sizable and they do not seem to have any hesitation in coming out in such a radical manner to display their reaction. Even those who label themselves as moderate Muslims have been vocal in terming the film as anti-Islam, even as they criticize the violence by some of their fellow Muslims.
The Buddhist world, too, has its share of anti-Buddhist actions, the latest known being a series of shoes produced by Icon Shoes on which Buddhist images were reproduced. When Bhutanese and Tibetan Buddhists came to know of it, there were uncoordinated voicing of opinions online and petitions to Icon Shoes. Although Icon shoes chose not to respond to the individuals who wrote to them (the obvious reason seems to be that those of us who wrote to them do not fit their customer demographic and so they did not care) they nonetheless seem to have taken off some of the shoes from their online store. The reason why I said some of the shoes is because one style of the said series, “Thangka of the Buddha” namely Ballet Flat w/Removable Insole is still being put up for sale on Icon shoes website, as can be seen here, as of September 23, 2012. Could Icon Shoes be merely taking down some of the anti-Buddhist shoes from its online store while continuing to market them in other ways? Could it be doing this with the knowledge that it will not suffer any consequences under the hands of the Buddhist community? Read the rest of this entry »
Musing on Chinese Vice Minister Fu Ying’s message to Bhutan
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Bhutanese media have been reporting about the 20th round of talks between Bhutan and China taking place on August 10, 2012. Chinese Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ms Fu Ying, is said to be leading an eight-member delegation for the talks. Aimed to coincide with the talks, Bhutan’s Kuensel newspaper also carries a message from Vice Minister Fu Ying (see below).
I am intrigued by two things: one relating to the substance, and the other, to the process.
In terms of substance, Vice Minister Fu Ying would like Bhutan and China to “speed up border talks in the spirit of mutual understanding and accommodation, with a view to arriving at a fair and reasonable and mutually acceptable solution.” Indeed, given that the first round of talks started in April of 1984 (during the time of Lyonpo Dawa Tsering), the Chinese desire for a “speed up” is understandable. However, what is this “accommodation” about and who is to do that? Given that the head of the Chinese delegation is saying this, I guess the message is to Bhutan. I am sure the issue will be discussed by Bhutanese policy makers and the increasingly assertive media in Thimphu. They need to do that.
Another substance issue is the reference to Tibet in Vice Minister Fu Ying’s message. She says, “We count on Bhutan’s continued support on matters bearing on the vital interests of China, such as those relating to Taiwan and Tibet.” I will just increase the suspense by saying that watchers of China will notice that this formulation is somewhat different from those done with many other countries. I am sure there is a message here.
In terms of the process, may be I need to search better, but there is no reference at all in the Chinese media about this 20th round of talks with Bhutan. In fact, the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website has no announcement about any visit by Vice Minister Fu Ying to Bhutan, even in its Diplomatic Agenda section, that lists the activities of China’s foreign ministry officials. I don’t know what this means, or I may just be paranoid.
Lastly, Vice Minister Fu Ying may be hinting at India when she says, “Friendship between China and Bhutan will not hurt anyone’s interests.” Whether it will hurt India or not, if Bhutan is not careful, it might certainly hurt the interest of the Bhutanese people.
Take a lesson from modern Tibetan history, my Drukpa friends!
Kuensel, August 9, 2012
It is a great pleasure for me to make my first ever visit to the Kingdom of Bhutan, a member of the big Asian family, known around the world for its beautiful landscape, rich cultural heritage and friendly people. As Bhutan’s biggest neighbor, we are glad to see Bhutan enjoying economic growth, social stability and rising international standing under the leadership of His Majesty the King and the Royal Government of Bhutan. And many more Chinese people got an opportunity to know Bhutan better last year through the Royal wedding, which was widely reported in China. Bhutan set a new image for itself as a dynamic, promising and happy Kingdom.
China and Bhutan share a long history of exchanges and much culture affinity, and each has worked hard to explore its own way of development. The Gross National Happiness concept Bhutan has proposed is gaining popularity worldwide. On its part China is committed to peaceful development. We follow foreign policy of developing friendships and partnerships with our neighbors. The Chinese people have nothing but friendly sentiments towards the people of Bhutan. In fact, like me, many of them are curious about “Druk Tsendhen-the thunder dragon Kingdom.”
China-Bhutan relations have come a long way in the past 30 years. The two countries have conducted 19 rounds of border talks and reached much common understanding on addressing the boundary issue and advancing China-Bhutan relations. Many Chinese people wrote to the Chinese Foreign Ministry suggesting that China should establish diplomatic relations with our friendly neighbor Bhutan. Some business people also called for setting up direct trade links between the two countries. Many Chinese tourists would be eager to travel to Bhutan if there would be direct flight connections.
About six weeks ago Premier Wen Jiabao and Prime Minister Jigme Thinley met for a historic, first-time meeting between the two countries at the head of government level in Rio de Janeiro on the sidelines of the Rio+20 summit. The two leaders reached new and important common understanding on the development of China-Bhutan relations.
While the world around us is undergoing enormous changes, peace, development and cooperation remain the aspiration of most countries. Those with foresight would always follow the main trend of the times. A look around the region would suggest that in the era of common development of Asia, it is time for China and Bhutan to build bridges of friendship and cooperation.
China respects the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Bhutan, as well as Bhutan’s social system and path of development chosen by Bhutan in light of your national conditions. We respect Bhutan’s cultural traditions and its independent and peaceful foreign policy. We count on Bhutan’s continued support on matters bearing on the vital interests of China, such as those relating to Taiwan and Tibet.
We took note of the fact that Bhutan is increasing its international exchanges. We are willing to work with Bhutan towards early establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
The border dispute between the two countries does not cover a wide area. The two sides should speed up border talks in the spirit of mutual understanding and accommodation, with a view to arriving at a fair and reasonable and mutually acceptable solution. This will contribute to peace and stability in our border areas.
We are ready to encourage Chinese businesses to expand their exports to Bhutan and welcome more people-to-people exchanges and tourism, which will help increase the mutual knowledge and friendship between our two people. We believe that Bhutan is well – placed to grasp the opportunity of the development of China and India and benefit from the great historical renaissance of Asia. Maximizing these opportunities will help Bhutan open up a new era of development.
I heard an interesting folk tale in Bhutan. It was about four harmonious brothers, partridge, rabbit, monkey and elephant helping and supporting each other and finally fulfilling their wishes together. Friendship between China and Bhutan will not hurt anyone’s interests. China wants to be Bhutan’s amiable and trustworthy friend. We want to extend a hand of friendship and work together with Bhutan for the benefit of our two people.
Vice Foreign Minister of China
Power of the Man on the Moon in Tibet
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Although NASA or any other space organizations have not announced any fresh attempt to send another human being to the moon, there is a man on the moon, and this has become an issue for China. Yes, China has lunar ambitions, but that is not the reason why it sees this report of a man on the moon as a problem. The issue is literally something beyond our world; power of faith over which China’s space research laboratories (or the politburo) do not have any control.
I am referring to the report from Tibet that an individual has sighted an image resembling that of His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the moon. According to the Central Tibetan Administration’s website, www.tibet.net, the individual – 20 year old Phurbu Namgyal—residing near Lhasa reportedly told his friends “that if someone gazes at the night sky one can see His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the moon.”
Now, the moon is not just a beautiful object to behold on a clear bright night, but for someone with a bit of imagination it can also be a source of fascination. The rabbit on the moon is a universally accepted image, but there are those who see images of other things or people. As a child I used to partake in a harmless ritual where we children would stand and stare intensely at our shadows on a moonlit night. Then if we look up to the sky suddenly we would even “see” the form of a human being there.
More to the point, we Tibetans are from a cultural environment in which we can see visions in lakes or locate spirits in trees. Therefore, the idea of someone seeing an image on the moon did not come as a surprise to me. In fact, it seemed logical that given the Tibetan people’s faith in His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the lack of opportunity for them to see him in person (or even in portraits), his is the image that people will project on the moon, a virtual presence, if you will.
Of course, those who do not believe in religion will see such things as superstition and even objectionable. One might conclude from this that since the Chinese Communists do not believe in religion, it is from this angle that they have the problem with ‘backward” Tibetans seeing stuffs on the moon. But of course that is not the reason. I have no hesitation in saying that the Chinese authorities would not have cared a wee bit if this same Tibetan reported seeing a Yak, Steve Jobs or even the Apple logo on a waxing or a waning moon (or a partially-eclipsed moon). I think they would even have welcomed if this person had reported seeing the four leaders of modern China, the same people whose portraits have been made obligatory decoration in Tibetan monasteries.
But the issue of course is that it is none of these images that the Tibetan reported seeing. It was the image of the Dalai Lama and therein lay the problem. Seeing an image on the moon could be ordinarily ascribed to eye fatigue and blurred vision that could be corrected by a good night’s rest. But the Comrade who reportedly detained the individual seeing the image knew that for a Tibetan to see the image of the Dalai Lama on a heavenly body has much greater significance.
The crux of the matter is this: China has been trying for so many decades to win over the Tibetan people through economic incentives and political coercion. In the process they have been making the case that the Communist Party is the Tibetan people’s new deity. “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” sort of commandment. Unfortunately for China, what they could not achieve, the power of faith of the Tibetan people, combined (I think) with some atmospheric disturbance on the surface of the moon, made it possible for the Dalai Lama to land on the moon. I guess that just as the Chinese people had to “Learn from Lei Feng” at one time, now they should “Learn from the Man on the Moon.”
On January 6, 2012 I had the privilege of attending a very moving tribute to the late Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic held at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) here in Washington, D.C. The National Endowment for Democracy, in cooperation with the Embassy of the Czech Republic, Washington, DC and the Vaclav Havel Library, Prague, Czech Republic, called it a Memorial Tribute honoring the life and work of Vaclav Havel.
I know something about President Havel having read about his thoughts there and there; I even had the honor of seeing him at a Tibet conference in Prague some years back. However, the greatness of an individual may be seen as much as from what he or she has said to how these have impacted people. The testimonies by different individuals at the event: from NED President Carl Gershman to former secretary of state Madeleine Albright; from political and human rights activists in China, Ethiopia, Syria, Cuba and East Turkestan to Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi, were enough reasons to know why President Havel has been given a high moral position by the international community. There was even a statement by President Barack Obama that testified to this.
Personally, of course, I was very moved by how His Holiness the Dalai Lama expanded on his relationship with President Havel, in a message (see text below) to the event that was read by Mr. Gershman. Indeed, His Holiness summed up the feelings of people by recalling “President Vaclav Havel’s fundamental humanity and integrity and reflect that, in his consistent concern for the welfare of others, this was a man who lived a truly meaningful life.”
It appears that President Havel’s interest in Tibet was not just his solidarity with the struggle of the Tibetan people. He also seemed to have been interested in Tibetan spiritualism, if I can call it that. Here is how John Keane, author of “Vaclav Havel: A Political Tragedy in Six Acts” puts it:
“Havel told a television interviewer curious about his recent introduction to the Czech edition of The Tibetan Book of the Dead (Bardo Thotrol). ‘We know about death. We know that we all die, and that this [knowledge] distinguishes us from other beings,’ he continued, before drawing his key conclusion; ‘The individual must first of all think about if and why s/he either acts only within a given time on earth or tries to behave, as Masaryk said, sub species aeternitatis, that is, reckon upon eternity when acting, as if everything is being recorded and evaluated [Zhodnoceni], and as if each one of our actions may or may not be an event that can for ever change the universe.’ “
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s message at Vaclav Havel’s Memorial Tribute In Washington DC
With the death of my dear friend Vaclav Havel, the world has lost a great leader, whose steadfast and unflinching determination played a key role in establishing freedom and democracy in what was then Czechoslovakia.
Gentle, honest, humble and full of humour, he was motivated by the idea that truth must ultimately prevail. It was this insistence on the truth that got him into trouble with the authorities when he was young. The same quality inspired his people to choose him to be the President when they threw off totalitarianism during the Velvet Revolution, which Havel led with an extraordinary display of people power.
His abiding concern for human rights meant that once in a position of authority himself he did not indulge in rancour or vengeance, but instead worked to bring about reconciliation. He was also a strong advocate of the Tibetan people’s right to justice and freedom. Not content with articulating his support in words, he also marched to show solidarity with Tibetans.
Charter 77, the Human Rights charter he co-authored, had far-reaching ramifications in his homeland and even further afield, inspiring, more recently, Charter 08 in China. Like a true friend he went to great lengths to defend its author, Chinese human rights activist, Liu Xiaobo. Indeed, I am told that 6th January marks the anniversary of his launch of the successful campaign to give Liu Xiaobo the Nobel Peace Prize.
When he established Forum 2000, it was on the principle that it would be good if informed and concerned people, from different continents, different cultures, from different religious circles, but also from different disciplines of human knowledge could come together to talk calmly with each other. This, it seems to me, is the most appropriate way to promote democracy in non-democratic countries and to support respect for human rights and religious, culture and ethnic tolerance in young democracies. I have assured the Forum 2000 foundation that I shall be very happy to do whatever I can to contribute to its work and keep alive the spirit of freedom that Vaclav Havel made such efforts to promote.
President Havel honoured me with an invitation to visit Czechoslovakia in February 1990, apparently his first foreign guest, soon after he became president of the country. I will never forget the emotional crowd who greeted me, men and women jubilant in their new-found freedom. President Havel himself impressed me as being utterly free of pretence and on the many occasions that we met overt the years, he remained a true champion of human rights and freedom everywhere. On that first evening of our meeting, he told me how much he identified with one of my predecessors, the Sixth Dalai Lama, who had a reputation for worldliness and literary flair. Most recently, I was touched that he made time for us to meet once more, in spite of his failing health, on International Human Rights Day, a week before he died. Since this time I seem to have been his last foreign visitor, I cannot help thinking that from a spiritual point of view there was a strong connection between us.
On the occasion of this service of remembrance in Washington, I would like to recall with admiration President Vaclav Havel’s fundamental humanity and integrity and reflect that, in his consistent concern for the welfare of others, this was a man who lived a truly meaningful life.
In October 2011, my alma mater, Central School for Tibetans in Darjeeling celebrated its 50th year of existence. It was organized by the school’s alumni association. I sent the following impression that was published in the souvenir magazine on the occasion. If you have been to Darjeeling you will recognize some of the locales or the individuals that I have mentioned here. Enjoy!!
My Days at Central School for Tibetans, Darjeeling
Bhuchung K. Tsering
How could one talk about a school where one had merely been for less than two calendar years, but which had much impact on the development of one’s personality? This is the issue that confronted me when I got the pleasant communication from Tsetan Phuntsok la, my former classmate at the Central School for Tibetans in Darjeeling and the General Secretary of its Alumni Association, inviting me to share my thoughts as the school celebrates its Golden Jubilee Anniversary.
The other day my son took down the “best boy” medal that lie hanging on the wall inquiring about the name “Darjeeling” on it. I had to explain that it meant a place in India where I had gone to school in the late 1970s during which I had been honored with the medal. This incident also reminded me of my days in the school.
It is more than 30 years since I had graduated from CST Darjeeling and if I were to visit the school once again, on account of the generation shift, only a building and a few friends who are now teaching there would be my connection to my days as a student there. But there are some memories that will continue to remain and impact my life.
Having to leave my hometown of Bylakuppe in South India to travel all the way to Darjeeling in East India was a rite of passage of sort. Traveling alone, when barely 17 years old, changing trains (without any reserved seating at anytime) from Bangalore to Madras to Calcutta to New Jalpaiguri, taking the “toy train” from there to Darjeeling before taking that hike across Chowrasta on the Mall to the school on the other side of the Gangchen Hill was certainly training enough to me as I began my schooling there.
The academic education itself was nothing to write home (or to post it on Twitter or Facebook, which are more likely in today’s world) about. But a school, and in particular a boarding school like CST Darjeeling, provides equally more meaningful education outside of the classroom. My batch was the first in the new 10+2 system of education that was introduced and so our class consisted of students from different Tibetan schools in India who brought their respective experiences along. My interaction with my classmates, our interaction with our teachers and school management (particularly when the students took up certain causes against some teachers and management at one time) all taught me important lessons of growing up and facing the real world. The personal dedication of Jamchen Rinpoche, our School Rector, was something that left a mark in me even though people said he was a better teacher than a Rector.
Along the way, we had fun in school. I felt proud to have been able to represent my school at an Elocution Contest held one year in the GDNS Hall in town and winning the first place. (I think I spoke on the topic, “If I were a writer.”)
I also learnt to get used to the hard deep fried bread for breakfast every day. Supplementing our regular school meals with Maila Daju’s Alu Bujia that we would go to buy from his residence in the school compound in the evening was something that I still recall. I think Maila Daju was an all purpose staff of the school and selling the snacks was the side business of his wife. Similarly, I also remember occasionally being able to get “special diet” slips from “Amchi la,” our nurse in the school clinic, which enabled me to get eggs with my food.
I remember the time we had when we could go to town occasionally, including eating at the ABC restaurant or seeing a movie either at the Capitol or the Rink theatre (Actually, I can only remember the effort we had to make to get a ticket at the counter than any movies that I saw there).
I also had the exhilarating experience of seeing my name in print for the first time when a letter to the editor that I sent appeared in the now defunct “Youth Times” magazine.
We did have our challenges but somehow found ways to tackle them in our own ways.
Today’s generation of students have a totally different set of challenges. The physical facilities have greatly improved, as I can see from the information on the Alumni Association website. Whether it is new buildings, computers, clothes or what have you, today’s students in Darjeeling would be enjoying much better facilities than what we had during our days.
To the students who have the privilege of being part of CST Darjeeling today, I would like to say the following. Enjoy your time. Study you must, but do not look at it as a chore or interpret it only to mean learning the textbooks. Be adventurous so that you will be able to have a wider perspective. Do not be satisfied with mere bookish knowledge but go beyond. During our days there was no proper library in the school itself and I would take the time and the opportunity to visit the Deshbandhu District Library on the Mall or the Hayden Hall in town. Take the time to read magazines, novels, fiction or non-fiction, in addition to your text books (one of my favourite pastime was rummaging through the books at a used books stall in the Chowk Bazaar area). Learn to indulge in critical analysis, more so if you are interested in English literature so that a story is not just a story but also consist of plots, characters and themes.
Above all, spend a minute to ask yourself this question, “Where will I be 10 years from now?” This process will help you plan ahead. During our days we did not have the luxury of planning our career. Today’s students can do that and should do so.
Play pranks if that will help you expand your horizon, but follow school discipline. I have had my share of this. In fact I still recall a time during a parent-teacher interaction at my other school, CST Bylakuppe, when the Principal mentioned to the whole school that while I was good in studies I was also good in being naughty. That made my father offer the suggestion (unthinkable in present situation but familiar then) to the teacher to ‘kindly beat him if he does not listen…”
Above all, count your blessings. Do not take the school, its infrastructure, etc. for granted but know that they have all come about because of a combination of factors. Be ever grateful to those who have made this possible.
On its golden jubilee anniversary, I offer my humble gratitude and greetings to all those teachers and staff of the CST Darjeeling who contributed in making people like me what we are today, and to those who continue to mould the present generation of students.
I am in my “pre-teen” in terms of my “Twitter year” and enjoying the experience. Many of my friends and colleagues have expressed their surprise at my not having a Facebook page (For the record, I do have one but do not do anything with it). Those who “facebook” swear by its usefulness in reaching out to the wider social world. It has also been used during the Tibetan elections of 2010-2011. However, even though Facebook may be good, I have decided that it is not my cup of tea.
On the other hand, if you handle it well, Twitter has the advantage of enabling you to be constantly in an interactive conversation. One can moderate how this conversation will go by selecting who one follows. For example, my primary interest is in Tibet, Bhutan and the United States. Accordingly, I @bhuchungtsering have chosen to follow individuals who enable me to follow developments on these fronts. Additionally, language-wise, I have opted to tweet primarily in Tibetan (this also made me limit my following). This is for two reasons. I am constantly aware of the question of my individual identity, and language being the path towards strengthening it. I know my weakness in Tibetan and so this is a way to challenge myself to improve my command over the language. My friends and followers do seem to feel that I show improvement on this front. The second reason is to encourage my fellow Tibetans, particularly the younger ones some of whom feel learning Tibetan has no relevance to today’s modernized world. By showing that Tibetan can be used on as modern a channel as Twitter or in my blog (I have a blog both in English and Tibetan) I am making an effort to let them know that twitting in Tibetan is fun.
Obviously, since tweeting in Tibetan is almost all done by Tibetans, I can’t name each and everyone of them. But I do enjoy reading the postings by @Chungtse, a Tibetan writer and scholar (whose day job is with the Department of Education in Dharamsala). I also follow the comments by @Toyikadom, who is a parliamentarian and who has a knack for looking at developments. I also follow some Tibetan journalists, including @MyYak and @Sherabt, as well as civil servants like @yidingneng, @kalsangt and @tenzinsewo. Then there are monks like @rasaphonya and @shaalenbu. They are all quite active in tweeting in Tibetan.
There are some Tibetans who tweet from Tibet and I value their postings, which are not only informative but also meaningful. I admire the effort they put in being on this social network in comparison to those of us who are in the free world who just have to think of having an access to a computer and internet connection, and nothing else.
As for Bhutan, I have always had a fascination for this brother country of ours. I come from a place in Tibet that is on the other side of Jomo Lhari, the mountain that is sacred to both Tibetans and Bhutanese. I am also fasicinated by how the Bhutanese society is trying to preserve and protect its identity while keeping up with the times. While the the modern history of Tibet and the Tibetan people have been wakeup calls to Bhutan in many ways, I see there are lessons from Bhutan for the Tibetans in diaspora, too. I maintain communication with some Bhutanese in order to exchange views and provide an “outsider’s” perspective of developments in the Bhutanese society.
I follow quite some Bhutanese. There is @tsheringtobgay, who is a parliamentarian (he is in fact the opposition leader there) who constantly uses twitter for his political advocacy. Then there is writer @SonamOngmo, who is a passionate Bhutanese and takes every opportunity to espouse the rights of Bhutanese citizens. Among the younger generation, I keenly follow the tweets of @yiwangpindarica, whose postings give me much insight into the mindset of the new generation of Bhutanese. She is a journalist and has an interesting outlook on happenings around her. I follow @URangdol, for his forthright and candid take on things Bhutan, big and small. He is a student in Bangkok, I think.
Unfortunately, I am yet to come across a Bhutanese who has opted to tweet in Dzongkha although there are some who do write an occasional word or two, whether it is a mantra or even their name. I have conveyed my views to some of them that using Dzongkha on such fora as Twitter and Blogs may be a way to promote their language to the younger generation.
While I have met some Westerners who have told me they read my tweets in Tibetan, the only “inji” who occasionally tweet in Tibetan may be @AmaliaSings, “American singer of Tibetan music.”
The above are some of the twitter handles that I have been following for a long time. In recent times more people have started tweeting in Tibetan, which is a welcome development. Also, if you look at the list of individuals that I follow there are officials, political activists (@tendor), scholars (@lhatseri ), IT Geeks (@phuntsokdorjee), monks, etc. They do not tweet regularly in Tibetan, though.
All in all, the Twitter provides all of us a level playing field irrespective of our individual status and we can indulge in spontaneous conversations across time zones.