Archive for the ‘Tibetan Society’ 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 »
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,
Bhuchung K. Tsering
September 28, 2012
(I have made a correction here based on a reader feedback. Apparently Dorji from Gyatsa is not the same one as Dorji Cezhug and so I have deleted this photo and the name.)
The Chinese Communist Party has finally announced that its 18th Party
Congress will be held from November 8, 2012. I would, therefore, like to
look at its significance from a Tibetan point of view, but from a different
Of course, the new leadership of China that will come out of the 18th Party
Congress will determine the future direction of the country, which will have
an impact on the Tibetans. However, I would like to look at another aspect
of the issue; the nature of Tibetan presence in the highest echelons of the
Chinese Communist Party.
Reminding China about Mao and Tibet
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Growing up in the Tibetan community in Diaspora, among those things I learnt was the belief in a supernatural action that will finally lead to the triumph of the good over the evil.
Given the politically charged environment of our community, of course this thinking spilled over into the arena of Chinese attitude towards Tibetans. Mao Zedong (or as we came to know him as Mao Zhuxi, the latter being his rank in Chinese) symbolized to us the face of evil. Mao has a distinct mole above his chin. We children were told at that time that the mole will gradually move upward and when it enters his mouth, Mao will die, or something like that. Similarly, we were told of the mystical power of His Holiness the Dalai Lama; it went like this: he will not do it, but he has the capability of destroying all the Chinese by merely pressing his right palm over his left palm. That way, all Chinese will be on his right palm and they will be vanquished when he presses his palms, we were told. I did not have any reason not to believe such assertions.
Those were the days!
Today, Mao Zedong continues to have influence over China, as we saw in the developments relating to one of China’s next generation of leaders, Bo Xilai. Recently I was going through documents that had a reference to Mao’s thoughts on Tibet. I think given the current Chinese policies on Tibet, it will be worthwhile for the leaders in Beijing to consider what Mao told Chinese officials in the 1950s.These are related to the emotionally-charged issue of the Chinese authorities not allowing Tibetans to possess portraits of the Dalai Lama as well as about respect to Tibetan language and identity.
Mao refers to them in his conversation (relevant excerpts reproduced below) with Kunzig Panchen Rinpoche, the previous Panchen Lama, way back in 1955 and is quoted in A History of Modern Tibet, Melvyn C. Goldstein, Volume 2 The Calm Before the Storm, 1951-1955
Chairman Mao’s Conversation with Panchen Erdini
23 February 1955 (Tibetan calendar: First month, First day)
Panchen: When I went back to Tibet, the Dalai cared about me very much. Although we have had some trouble between each other, the problems have all been solved during this visit to Beijing. Read the rest of this entry »
I wrote this for the ICT blog and am sharing it here.
May 10, 2012
Now that the dust has somewhat settled on the Republican Party’s search for its presidential candidate, the time may be right to look at how the tiny Tibetan American community and Tibet supporters should be approaching the forthcoming American presidential elections.
The trend among new immigrants to the United States is to start with being a single-issue voter and gradually evolve into considering multiple issues as factors that will affect their voting pattern. Obviously, to Tibetan Americans, the issue of how a Democratic candidate (namely current President Barack Obama) or a Republican Candidate (Governor Mitt Romney) stands on Tibet will have considerable impact in who they vote for. I personally know of Tibetan Americans who profess being Democrats but nevertheless voted for President George W. Bush on account of his attitude towards Tibet.
In the Mitt Romney campaign website there is no specific reference to Tibet. However, there are two paragraphs on human rights under “China and East Asia” wherein it says, “Any serious U.S. policy toward China must confront the fact that China’s regime continues to deny its people basic political freedoms and human rights.” It continues, “A Romney administration will vigorously support and engage civil society groups within China that are promoting democratic reform, anti-corruption efforts, religious freedom, and women’s and minority rights.” It concludes, “Mitt Romney will seek to engage China, but will always stand up for those fighting for the freedoms we enjoy.”
Since President Obama had already served a term and been a Senator before that, we have records of his position on Tibet. If you visit the website of the International Campaign for Tibet, you will get an idea of how he has approached different aspects of the Tibetan issue, both when he was a Senator and as the President (please see our compilation of Obama Administration Statements on Tibet.)
Additionally, as yet, it is only President Obama who has responded to a questionnaire on Tibet that ICT had sent to potential presidential candidates some time back. (Tibetan Americans and ICT members may want to encourage Mitt Romney to respond to the questionnaire. The ICT questionnaire web page provides links to Governor Romney’s webmail, Facebook and Twitter sites). In his response to the questionnaire, President Obama says, “As President, I have strongly supported the preservation of the unique religious, cultural, and linguistic traditions of Tibet and the Tibetan people throughout the world.” He adds that “I have met with His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama at the White House twice since taking office, in 2010 and 2011, and I commended his commitment to nonviolence and dialogue with China and his pursuit of the “Middle Way” approach.”
The Obama Campaign website interestingly has a section targeted at Asian Americans & Pacific Islanders. May be this is an area that those Tibetan Americans for whom multiple issues will be a factor in their voting decision should be looking at, too. Whatever it may be, I hope to see the Tibetan American community becoming more proactive during this election and to strengthen the case that United States’ interest in Tibet is American interest, too.
Just before the weekend, we had the good news of the award of the 2012 Templeton Prize to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Announcing the award, Dr. John M. Templeton, Jr., president and chairman of the John Templeton Foundation and son of the late Prize founder, said, “The Dalai Lama offers a universal voice of compassion underpinned by a love and respect for spiritually relevant scientific research that centers on every single human being.”
The nine Prize judges, “who represent a wide range of disciplines, cultures and religious traditions” have recognized the Dalai Lama’s “remarkable record of intellectual, moral and spiritual innovations.” According to the Templeton Prize authorities, “the judges evaluate – independently of each other – typically 15 to 20 nominated candidates each year and then individually submit separate ballots – from which a tally then determines the selection of each year’s Laureate.”
They have announced that the Prize will be presented to the Dalai Lama at a ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London on May 14, 2012. A news conference with the Dalai Lama will precede the ceremony. Both events will be webcast live at www.templetonprize.org
In a video message to the Prize authorities, the Dalai Lama responded “in the humble style that has become his signature.” He said, “When I heard today your decision to give me this quite famous award, I really felt this is another sign of recognition about my little service to humanity, mainly nonviolence and unity around different religious traditions.”
There is a statement by The Right Reverend Michael Colclough, Canon Pastor at St. Paul’s Cathedral, on the Templeton Prize website welcoming the prize to the Dalai Lama. He says, “A non-violent voice of peace and reason in a calamitous world, the Dalai Lama represents core values cherished by many different faiths. The award of the Templeton Prize to the Dalai Lama under the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral will be a reminder that working towards peace and harmony is a practical and spiritual challenge to all faith communities.”
Valued at £1.1 million (about $1.7 million or €1.3 million), the prize is the world’s largest annual monetary award given to an individual and honors a living person who has made exceptional contributions to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.
One can read about the award and watch video recordings related to it on http://www.templetonprize.org. I guess some times the best response to a baseless allegation is recognition by the international community. You know what I mean, eh?
Bhuchung K. Tsering
December 2, 2011
Yesterday, i.e. December 1, 2011, I was reading an article in People’s Daily by “renowned Tibetologist” Li Decheng concerning self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet in which he says these actions are against “core Buddhist code of ethics.” He further says, “In Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, scripture has never encouraged killings and suicide, nor has Buddhist dogma incited others to carry out killings or commit suicide.” I have no hesitation in saying I agree with him here.
It does not take knowledge of rocket science to understand that “Not to kill” is a precept closely connected with Buddhism. Since Li Decheng has brought it up, I wanted to expand on this issue as it relates to the Tibetans. As Li Decheng is a “renowned religion expert,” as the Chinese media puts it, he should certainly be aware of the social conditions of Tibetan Buddhism and the Tibetan society in which it flourishes. But before I dwell on that, let us briefly look at the Chinese society at large. Read the rest of this entry »