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Understanding Phunwang

Understanding Phunwang

Bhuchung K. Tsering

 

This photo was posted on one of the Tibetan websites.

This photo was posted on one of the Tibetan websites.

On March 30, 2014 we saw the passing away of Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal, a formidable figure in Tibetan history. This blog is about the reaction by the Tibetan community about him.

In December 2009, following the passing away of Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, I wrote,

“If we were to choose the three most prominent Tibetan personalities in Tibet in the post-1959 period, Kasur Ngapo would be one of them. The other two would be the previous Panchen Lama and Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal. All three of them came in the same time in history but under different circumstances. Within the Tibetan society, at different times in history there have been different opinions about the three personalities.

“The Panchen Lama has, however, made it abundantly clear at all times that he has been striving for the benefit of the Tibetan people. In particular, his position, as spelled out in writing, includes his 70,000 character petition to the Chinese government on the plight of the Tibetan people and his public talks given in the 1980s. Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal has also made his position clear through the book, “A Tibetan Revolutionary” as well as through his petitions to the Chinese government in recent times.”

For the past several days, I have been reading the reaction of the Tibetan people outside of Tibet, written in Tibetan as well as English. While the majority of them were positive about Phunwang’s legacy, there were some who were vociferously negative, including calling him a traitor.
How do we judge an individual whose background itself was part of the complex history of Tibet? Even the simple fact that Phunwang, although being a Tibetan, could only enter the territory governed by the then Tibetan Government in the 1950s after seeking its prior permission is part of this complexity.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has talked about his personal interaction with Phunwang, both while in Tibet and even after coming to India (via telephone conversations, which might be news to some) and has drawn a conclusion of his legacy; offering admiration at Phunwang’s dedication to the Tibetan people.

Irrespective of how one might interpret Phunwang’s initial involvement in the Tibetan-Chinese relationship, it is certainly true that from among the Tibetans in Tibet, after the former Panchen Lama, it was Phunwang who raised the strongest voice (until his death) for the Tibetan people with the Chinese leaders.

What do Tibetans in Tibet think about Phunwang?

It seems there have been lots of posting on Weibo by young Tibetans about Phunwang, many calling him a “witness to history.” There were also reports of mourning for him in Tibet.

I looked at some of the web portals from Tibet that is accessible to those of us outside. A posting in Tibetan on one website said,

“In short, Bawa Phuntsok Wangyal’s entire life was endowed with a thousand rays, making sincere and courageous efforts at all levels for the development and enrichment of his fatherland, the Land of Snow Mountains, transforming it into a modern Land of Snows while overcoming different challenges. It is a lesson that the latter generation needs to learn and understand.”

Another website, posted a poem that Phunwang had written, which said the following, among others:

“I lost freedom for the sake of freedom

Although devoid of freedom, (I) have freedom”

There was a posting on the website, www.tibetcul.com that had Phunwang’s biography and also had comments from readers, both positive as well as criticism, which were more general than specific.

A posting in the New Youth website said:

“There is no way history will forget you. Each of the footprints that you have left on the snow is a stone pillar left in the minds of the Tibetans.“

Tibetan writer Woeser’s shared her views on Phunwang to Radio Free Asia’s Tibetan service in which she called him a “Lapchen ki Mina” (a personality with great stature) and said all his life he had worked for the interest of his people, sacrificing his personal interest.

She said the youth in Tibet had great respect for Phunwang, calling herself as being among those who were greatly inspired by his life.

Therefore, it may be that those of us living in freedom need to pause before passing judgment on Phunwang la based on our cursory understanding and try to see why our brethren in Tibet admire him.

Tibetan Americans make their presence in Washington, D.C.

Tibetan Americans make their presence in Washington, D.C.

Bhuchung K. Tsering

May 19, 2013

Partial view of the Tibetan contingent at the Asian American Parade in Washington, D.C.

Partial view of the Tibetan contingent at the Asian American Parade in Washington, D.C.

Some people might feel that I am making a mountain of a molehill today, but that is for good reason.  The Tibetan American community in the Washington, D.C. area has finally made its presence felt in the Asian American community in this region. On May 18, 2013, the Capital Area Tibetan Association participated in the 8th Annual National Asian Heritage Festival  that was held in the heart of Washington, D.C., in close proximity to the United States Congress and the White House.

Since May is designated Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month, the Asia Heritage Foundation (AHF) organizes events during this month to “share, celebrate, and promote the diversity of Asian heritage and culture through the arts, traditions, education, cuisine, and way of life represented in the Washington DC Metropolitan area.”

Even though Washington, D.C. has seen much grander Tibet-related events, whether it is the many days of the Kalachakra teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2011, the Congressional Gold Medal event in 2007 or the Smithsonian Folklife Festival devoted to Tibet 2000, yesterday’s event, Feista Asia Street Fair, was in a different framework; it placed the Tibetan community in the Asian American family here.

And, it was certainly a coming out party of sort. The Tibetan troupe was selected the “grand champion” among the participants in the Cultural Parade that marked the formal beginning of the fair.  Coincidently, during the line up for the parade, the Tibetan group became placed after the Nepali group and before the Chinese group; symbolizing the geographical locations of the homeland of the three communities.  The Nepalese were pleased to see the Tibetans and there were several rounds of discussions in the Nepali language as well as singing of Nepali songs by Tibetans on the sidelines of the events. Among the Chinese participants there were some who joined the Tibetans, including in the traditional circle dance, but there were some who seem somewhat bewildered by the Tibetan presence this time.

The Tibetan adults performed a lively “Gyalshay” dance while the youngsters had an active “Droshey”, a ceremonial drum dance. They both represented the two generations of Tibetan Americans well and were well received by the audience.

In addition to CATA’s presence, there was a Tibetan from Maryland who had a stall, Dorjebajra Tibet Shop. There was a Nepali restaurant from Maryland that had a stall selling momos among others.

As we participated in the parade and mingled with the crowd subsequently, there was a feeling among the Tibetans that we certainly did not lag behind in terms of cultural richness or presence.

A small step by the Tibetan community in the Washington, D.C., but a giant leap for the Tibetan American community here; can I say this?

Taking Life in Stride

Every Monday, I look forward to reading Metropolitan Diary in The New York Times. It is a compilation of impressions sent in by readers relating to their life in the Big Apple. Oftentimes, there are items about overheard conversations in a bus or a subway that make you chuckle. Reading them makes one have a new appreciation of life in a hectic city like New York.

Many years back, I got sort of addicted to what can only be termed the Indian version of “Metropolitan Diary.” While working for the Indian Express newspaper, I took a liking for its “middles” as well as “Monday Diary.” The newspaper had on its Editorial page, between the main article and the Letters to the editor, a short item that looked at life’s vicissitudes. The items were mainly contributed by readers with a retired army officer residing in the Delhi University area being a very frequent contributor.

Similarly, the Indian Express also carried a section on Mondays, simply called “Monday Diary” that addressed a somewhat similar theme. I recall contributing materials to this section, including about a man that I used to observe in Delhi University area who would distribute flour or grains along roadsides, obviously meant for the ants. I also remember writing about the interesting case of Tibetan doctors having to consume alcohol while preparing a specific Tibetan precious pill that contained mercury (while being detoxified) so that they would not be affected by it.

I think sometimes we need to sit back and take life in its own stride.

The Dalai Lama’s thoughts on the future of Buddhism

His Holiness the Dalai Lama has provided much food for thought to the Buddhist community in this address to the Global Buddhist Congregation in New Delhi on November 30, 2011.

 

U.S. Cogress discusses Tibet Earthquake Solidarity Resolution

Following is the full text of the proceedings in the United States House of Representatives on May 19, 2010 when it debated and passed a resolution expressing solidarity with the victims of the earthquake in Kyegudo in Tibet.

[Congressional Record: May 19, 2010 (House)]
[Page H3613-H3615]
From the Congressional Record Online via GPO Access [wais.access.gpo.gov]
[DOCID:cr19my10-113]                         

   EXPRESSING CONDOLENCES TO CHINA FOR TRAGIC EARTHQUAKE IN QINGHAI 
                                PROVINCE

  Mr. McMAHON. Madam Speaker, I move to suspend the rules and agree to 
the resolution (H. Res. 1324) expressing condolences and sympathies for 
the people of China following the tragic earthquake in the Qinghai 
province of the Peoples Republic of China on April 14, 2010.
  The Clerk read the title of the resolution.
  The text of the resolution is as follows:

                              H. Res. 1324

       Whereas, on April 14, 2010, an earthquake measuring 6.9 on 
     the Richter scale struck the Qinghai province of southwest 
     China;
       Whereas the China Earthquake Networks Administration 
     confirmed the earthquake struck in Yushu County, a remote and 
     mountainous area sparsely populated by farmers and herdsmen;
       Whereas the population of Yushu County is overwhelmingly 
     poor, with rural residents earning an average of $342 a year, 
     largely from agriculture;
       Whereas at least 18 aftershocks measuring more than 6.0 on 
     the Richter scale followed the quake throughout the day in 
     the seismically active zone;
       Whereas over 2,000 people have been killed and over 10,000 
     injured, numbers that are feared to climb;
       Whereas an unknown number of individuals remain buried in 
     debris as soldiers work around the clock to dig them out by 
     hand;
       Whereas at least 40 people remain trapped under a collapsed 
     office building that houses the local Departments of Commerce 
     and Industry of the Peoples Republic of China and many 
     children and young adults still lie beneath the rubble of 
     collapsed primary and vocational schools;
       Whereas officials expect the death toll will rise because 
     rescue efforts are stymied by a lack of heavy equipment and 
     the mountainous terrain;
       Whereas medical supplies and tents are also in short 
     supply;
       Whereas China Central Television and the Red Cross Society 
     of China estimate that 90 percent of homes and 70 percent of 
     schools in the region have been destroyed;
       Whereas the region that includes Yushu County is located on 
     the Tibetan plateau, and many villages sit well above 16,000 
     feet, with freezing temperatures not uncommon in mid-April;
       Whereas by the evening of April 14, 2010, temperatures in 
     the county seat had already reached 27 degrees Fahrenheit;
       Whereas thousands of Tibetan monks, many of whom traveled 
     long distances from other Tibetan areas, have played a vital 
     role in relief efforts, providing food and assistance, and 
     tending to the basic and spiritual needs of the victims;
       Whereas in order to prevent a flood, workers are racing to 
     release water from a reservoir in the disaster area after 
     discovering that a crack had formed in the dam due to the 
     earthquake;
       Whereas many survivors have already fled to the surrounding 
     mountains, amid fears that a nearby dam could be ruptured by 
     the aftershocks hitting the area;
       Whereas news media reported that 700 paramilitary officers 
     are already working in the quake zone and that more than 
     4,000 others will be sent to assist in search and rescue 
     efforts;
       Whereas the Civil Affairs Ministry said it would also send 
     5,000 tents and 100,000 coats and blankets; and
       Whereas the international community is sending much needed 
     supplies and supporting local Chinese relief efforts: Now, 
     therefore, be it
       Resolved, That the House of Representatives--
       (1) expresses its deepest condolences and sympathies for 
     the loss of life and the physical and psychological damage 
     caused by the earthquake of April 14, 2010;
       (2) expresses solidarity with the people of the Qinghai 
     province, Tibetan-Americans, Chinese-Americans, and all those 
     who have lost loved ones or have otherwise been affected by 
     the tragedy, including rescue and humanitarian workers;
       (3) reaffirms the United States pledge, issued by Secretary 
     of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, to stand ready to assist the 
     people of China during this difficult period; and

[[Page H3614]]

       (4) expresses support for the recovery and long-term 
     reconstruction needs of the residents of the areas affected 
     by the earthquake, including the restoration of monasteries 
     and other Tibetan Buddhist sites that are integral to the 
     preservation of Tibetan culture and religious traditions.

  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to the rule, the gentleman from New 
York (Mr. McMahon) and the gentleman from Texas (Mr. Poe) each will 
control 20 minutes.
  The Chair recognizes the gentleman from New York.

                             General Leave

  Mr. McMAHON. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members 
may have 5 legislative days to revise and extend their remarks and 
include extraneous material on the resolution under consideration.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the 
gentleman from New York?
  There was no objection.
  Mr. McMAHON. Madam Speaker, I rise in strong support of this 
resolution. I thank my colleague, Congressman Manzullo of Illinois, for 
his support, and yield myself such time as I may consume.
  Madam Speaker, on April 14, 2010, an earthquake measuring 6.9 on the 
Richter scale struck the Qinghai province of southwest China. With over 
18 aftershocks measuring more than 6.0 on the Richter scale, the 
devastation and suffering that followed was immeasurable. The 
earthquake killed over 2,000 residents of Yushu Tibetan Autonomous 
Prefecture, which is 97 percent Tibetan and has been a cradle for 
Tibetan culture and religion for centuries. Furthermore, in the 
aftermath of the quake, countless schools, government buildings, and 
local monasteries stood in ruins.
  First on the scene were local Tibetan Buddhist monks who worked in 
very treacherous conditions to stabilize schools, clinics, and homes to 
rescue survivors. These monks, many working in their robes with the 
most basic of tools, worked for hours without breaking until heavy 
machinery could be moved in. They were joined in their efforts by local 
and national Chinese authorities who worked in conjunction with the 
community groups on search and rescue and now join in the rebuilding.
  The worst-hit town of Kyegu still contains over 100,000 homeless 
residents, on top of the 20,000 migrants, described as ``mostly herders 
and farmers,'' already living there. Yet, 5 weeks after the earthquake, 
we are seeing the silver lining, as plans to reconstruct all of Kyegu, 
including the destroyed Buddhist holy sites, and build new homes for 
those who tragically lost their own, take place.
  On May 1, 2010, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao announced a plan to 
rebuild Kyegu in an ``eco-friendly'' manner during a meeting on 
postdisaster rehabilitation and reconstruction. I commend the Chinese 
government's efforts to rehabilitate and modernize the region, but 
encourage them also to include the local Tibetan population in their 
reconstruction plans, given the distinctiveness of the region as a 
center of Tibetan culture.
  On behalf of the over 50,000 Chinese Americans who reside in my 
congressional district, I express my condolences for all the people of 
the Qinghai province, Tibetan Americans, Chinese Americans, and all 
those who have lost loved ones or are otherwise affected by this 
tragedy, including rescue and humanitarian workers. I also want to 
commend Ambassador Huntsmann, who presented a check for $100,000 to the 
Chinese Red Cross Society for their efforts to rebuild after the 
Qinghai earthquake. Ambassador Huntsmann's remarks demonstrated that we 
stand with the Chinese people to rebuild Qinghai and further develop 
stronger ties between our two nations.
  Madam Speaker, I reserve the balance of my time.
  Mr. POE of Texas. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may 
consume.
  I rise in support of this resolution addressing the tragic earthquake 
which took over 2,000 lives and left over 10,000 injured when it struck 
on April 14, 2010. I would, however, like to mention an omission in the 
official American response to this tragedy--one that is only partially 
rectified in the wording of this resolution. The epicenter of the 
earthquake struck on the Tibetan plateau and the vast majority of 
victims were from Tibet. Yet the message of condolence issued in the 
name of the Secretary of State on April 15, while ``offering thoughts 
and prayers for the people of China on this difficult day,'' made no 
mention of the thousands of Tibetans who lost their lives, their homes, 
and their places of worship. Madam Speaker, political correctness has 
no place when addressing human tragedy, no matter where it occurs in 
the world.
  While we mourn the death of both Tibetans and the Chinese migrant 
workers who were in the area, we should not ignore the fact that this 
was one more blow to the Tibetan heartland. The damage to Tibetan 
monasteries caused by this earthquake is only the latest event in the 
sad chapter of the devastation of this culture over the past half 
century.
  The war waged against Tibetan culture began with the Chinese People's 
Liberation Army invasion of the Tibetan plateau in 1959. It continued 
in the frenzy of fanatic young Red Guards smashing statues of Buddha 
and assaulting monks and nuns during the infamous ``Cultural 
Revolution.'' It continued right up until 2 years ago, when Beijing 
cracked down once again on dissent by rounding up Tibetan political 
prisoners and in closing the monasteries. It has been the United 
States' stated policy since the passage almost a decade ago of our late 
colleague, Tom Lantos' Tibetan Policy Act, to work to protect the 
Tibetan culture, language, and their religion. Yet the administration 
was noticeably silent regarding this latest blow to Tibetan culture and 
regarding the massive loss of their lives. The Dalai Lama, recipient of 
the Congressional Gold Medal, addressed this tragic earthquake with 
these words of appeals. He said, ``To fulfill the wishes of many of the 
people there, I am eager to go there myself to offer them comfort.''
  I submit for the Record the brief remarks the Dalai Lama made on 
April 14 and April 17, 2010.

                  [From dalailama.com, Apr. 14, 2010]

His Holiness Offers His Condolences to the Victims of the Earthquake in 
                                Kyigudo

       I am deeply saddened by the loss of life and property as a 
     result of the earthquake that struck Kyigudo (Chinese--Yushu) 
     this morning.
       We pray for those who have lost their lives in this tragedy 
     and their families and others who have been affected. A 
     special prayer service is being held at the main temple 
     (Tsuglagkhang) here at Dharamsala on their behalf.
       It is my hope that all possible assistance and relief work 
     will reach these people. I am also exploring how I, too, can 
     contribute to these efforts.
                                  ____

                  [From dalailama.com, Apr. 17, 2010]

  His Holiness the Dalai Lama Eager To Visit Earthquake Affected Area

       As I mentioned briefly soon after I heard the news, I was 
     deeply saddened by the effects of the devastating earthquake 
     in the Yushu Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture (Tibetan: Kyigudo) 
     of Qinghai Province which resulted in the tragic loss of many 
     lives, a great number of injured and severe loss of property. 
     Because of the physical distance between us, at present I am 
     unable to comfort those directly affected, but I would like 
     them to know I am praying for them.
       I commend the monastic community, young people and many 
     other individuals from nearby areas for their good 
     neighbourly support and assistance to the families of those 
     who have lost everything. May your exemplary compassion 
     continue to grow. This kind of voluntary work in the service 
     of others really puts the bodhisattva aspiration into 
     practice.
       I also applaud the Chinese authorities for visiting the 
     affected areas, especially Prime Minister Wen Jiabao, who has 
     not only personally offered comfort to the affected 
     communities, but has also overseen the relief work. I am very 
     appreciative too that the media have been free to report on 
     the tragedy and its aftermath.
       In 2008, when a similar earthquake struck Sichuan, Chinese 
     central and local government leaders and auxiliary 
     authorities took great pains to provide relief, allow free 
     access to the media, as well as clearing the way for 
     international relief agencies to provide assistance as 
     required. I applauded these positive moves then and appeal 
     for such ease of access on this occasion too.
       The Tibetan community in exile would like to offer whatever 
     support and assistance it can towards the relief work. We 
     hope to be able to do this through the proper and appropriate 
     channels as soon as possible.
       When Sichuan was rocked by an earthquake two years ago, I 
     wished to visit the affected areas to pray and comfort the 
     people there, but I was unable to do so. However, when Taiwan 
     was struck by a typhoon last year, I was able to visit the 
     affected families

[[Page H3615]]

     and pray with them for those who had perished in that 
     disaster. In providing some solace to the people concerned, I 
     was happy to be able to do something useful.
       This time the location of the earthquake, Kyigudo (Chinese: 
     Yushu), lies in Qinghai Province, which happens to be where 
     both the late Panchen Lama and I were born. To fulfill the 
     wishes of many of the people there, I am eager to go there 
     myself to offer them comfort.
       In conclusion, I appeal to governments, international aid 
     organisations and other agencies to extend whatever 
     assistance they can to enable the families of those 
     devastated by this tragedy to rebuild their lives. At the 
     same time, I also call on the survivors of this catastrophe 
     to recognise what has happened as the workings of karma and 
     to transform this adversity into something positive, keeping 
     their hopes up and meeting setbacks with courage as they 
     struggle to restore what they have lost. Once again, I pray 
     for those who have lost their lives as well as for the well 
     being of those who have survived.

  I call upon the administration to hear the cries of the Tibetan 
victims of this tragic national disaster and to advocate for a visit by 
their spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. I urge Beijing leadership to 
show some mercy and allow a visit to the earthquake area by the Dalai 
Lama as well--a location very near the site where he was actually born. 
Only when their spiritual leader is allowed to come and offer solace to 
their grief and suffering can the Tibetan victims of this national 
tragic disaster truly begin to heal.
  Madam Speaker, I yield back the balance of my time.
  Mr. McMAHON. Madam Speaker, I yield myself such time as I may 
consume.
  Just to continue on a point that I failed to mention, the issue of 
the Tibetan people is, of course, very near and dear to me as well. I 
have in my district the only Tibetan cultural museum in North America. 
And it's a site that we have worked with and honored for years--the 
importance of the Tibetan people, their culture, and what it means to 
the whole world, and that they are allowed to continue to survive and 
flourish in this world. And so on many points I agree with the 
gentleman from Texas.
  I have no further requests for time, and yield back the balance of my 
time.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. The question is on the motion offered by the 
gentleman from New York (Mr. McMahon) that the House suspend the rules 
and agree to the resolution, H. Res. 1324.
  The question was taken.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. In the opinion of the Chair, two-thirds 
being in the affirmative, the ayes have it.
  Mr. McMAHON. Madam Speaker, I object to the vote on the ground that a 
quorum is not present and make the point of order that a quorum is not 
present.
  The SPEAKER pro tempore. Pursuant to clause 8 of rule XX and the 
Chair's prior announcement, further proceedings on this motion will be 
postponed.
  The point of no quorum is considered withdrawn.

                          ____________________

SAARC: Why Tibet matters to Southasia

SAARC summit in Thimphu on April 29, 2010 www.kuenselonline.com

I have been closely following the ongoing South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in Bhutan. While it is yet another attempt by the South Asian nations to redefine themselves and to find ways to work together, it is even more valuable opportunity for Bhutan to showcase itself to the world.

Whatever be the case, I am reproducing below an article that I wrote for the Nepal-based magazine Himal South Asia in 2007 relating to SAARC.

Why Tibet matters to Southasia

By Bhuchung K Tsering
Himal South Asia, April 2007

When reports about the possible entry of China into SAARC first appeared a few years back, quite a few eyebrows went up. When China was subsequently  given observer status to the organisation in 2005, some wondered whether SAARC would now be used as a forum for a proxy India-China battle towards regional dominance. As a Tibetan living in Southasia, China’s connection with SAARC has long held a particular interest for this writer. And indeed, if there is any direct relevance to China’s involvement in SAARC, it is due to Tibet. In terms of physical geography alone, the main connection between today’s People’s Republic of China and Southasia is through Tibet.
But what has SAARC got to do with Tibet? Historically, Tibet and the Tibetan people have looked to the south for our spiritual and cultural heritage – to countries, including India, Bangladesh and Nepal. But this is not necessarily  why the rest of the Southasian countries should pay attention to Tibet. The political path on the plateau and beyond is taking its own route.

Since 2002, there have been five rounds of discussions between envoys of the Dalai  Lama and representatives of the Chinese government on the future of Tibet.  As the Dalai Lama’s special envoy, Lodi Gyari, said in recent testimony  before the US Congress, “We have now reached the stage where if
there is the political will on both sides, we have an opportunity to finally resolve this  issue.” So, we now just need the Chinese leadership to appreciate the vision  and initiative of the Dalai Lama. Of course, a resolution of the Tibetan issue will certainly contribute to peace and stability in other parts of Southasia, as well.
However, Tibet should matter to Southasia because of its trade possibilities, as well as its strategic and environmentally sensitive location. At one time, within living memory, there was a robust trade relationship between Tibet and its southern neighbours – Nepal, Bhutan and  India. A revival of such relations has considerable potential for helping to speed up the rising Southasian economy. If there is truth to the belief that China is a vast market able to be tapped, Southasia is well placed to do so  through Tibet.
Second, the management of Tibet’s rich water resources and environment will  have a long-term impact on the region as a whole. Critically, analysts speculate that the next big global crisis will be on the sharing of water resources. A report from 2000 by the Asian Development Bank on the “looming water crisis” found that globally, “The demand for freshwater increased sixfold between 1900 and 1995, twice the rate of population growth.”
Further, “The most accessible water is that which flows in river channels or is stored in freshwater lakes and reservoirs.” In the Subcontinent, most of  the major rivers have their source in Tibet. According to the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, “A substantial proportion of river flows in Tibet are stable or base flows coming from groundwater and glacial sources.” Thus, the impact of changes in Tibet’s glacial reserves – through  either climate change or more direct human intervention – will affect  regions far beyond Tibet.
Already some Southasian countries are experiencing the negative impact of improper management of Tibetan river systems. Frequent flooding of the Yarlung Tsangpo (Brahmaputra) continues to have devastating results in India and Bangladesh. According to a 2004 report, “The Brahmaputra is mainly responsible for the annual floods that hit the eastern region of the Subcontinent. Estimates say that [2004's] floods, the worst in a decade, claimed close to 2000 lives in Bangladesh and in the eastern Indian tates of Bihar, West Bengal and Assam. Millions of people lost their homes in the region that includes the foothills of Nepal.” The report continued, “International agencies once again began discussing the need for a regional approach of water-resource management of the Himalayan rivers that flow through China, India, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh.”
When reports appeared in 2006 about China building a dam on the Yarlung Tsangpo, strong reactions immediately arose from Assam and Arunachal Pradesh, which would be directly impacted by the move. China subsequently denied having any such plan, but the impact that the handling of Tibet’s rivers will have on downstream countries was crystal clear. Now that China has an observer status with SAARC, the countries of Southasia have an increased need, but also a crucial ability, to pay direct attention to the situation in Tibet – environmental, political and social. Indeed Southasia as a whole now has both the increased impetus and leverage to call for the opening up of Tibet, both physically and psychologically, to the southern neighbours.

Thoughts on a Snowy Night

It has been some time since I posted something on my English blog. During this period I had traveled to India and China accompanying the envoys of H.H. the Dalai Lama to continue the talks with the Chinese leadership. Upon our return Special Envoy Lodi Gyari released a statement.

A welcome development that I could see in Dharamsala this time was the expansion of internet connectivity. While broadband has expanded, WiFi seems to a given now in Mcleod Ganj and Gangkyi areas, and this has enabled more people to participate in the internet world. Personally, these developments enabled me to tweet regularly while I was in India. As I mentioned on this site earlier, I have been tweeting in Tibetan for some time, just as a way to personally improve my command over the language as well as to push the limit in terms of its usage in a modern technological setting. You can see my tweets here.

I have also been posting on my Tibetan blog, which you can see here.

Anyway, on my return to the United States this time, there was a snowy reception, which has continued to this day.

The Dalai Lama of the Himalayas

Many years back I remember watching a film of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s visit to Mongolia and the republics of Tuva, Buryatia and Kalmykia in the Russian Federation.  I was amazed by the intensity of the devotion of the people of Mongolia, Tuva, Kalmykia and Buryatia towards His Holiness.  I still remember one footage shot from the window of the plane, in which His Holiness was travelling, (I think) that showed a panoramic view of the ground where countless people had gathered in great anticipation of the Dalai Lama.

People of Tuva Republic in the Russian Federation praying for the Dalai Lama

People of Tuva Republic in the Russian Federation praying for the Dalai Lama

Just some days back, I had the opportunity to watch the recording of a function held in New Delhi on July 6 to celebrate the 74th birthday of the Dalai Lama.

What was special here was that this function was held by representatives of the peoples of the Himalayan region in India.  In attendance were the chief ministers of the state of Arunachal Pradesh and Himachal Pradesh (who took the opportunity to announce an important conference on the environment in August), ministers from Sikkim and Jammu & Kashmir, prominent lamas from these regions (including the Jangtse Choeje who is from Ladakh, Tsona Gontse Rinpoche who is from Arunachal Pradesh, Lochen Rinpoche who is from Himachal Pradesh. These are some of the lamas that I could recognize but there sure were more than them in attendance.), etc. Also in attendance were Members of Parliament from these areas as well as many people from throughout the Indian Himalayas. Former Indian President A.B.J Kalam presided over the function and gave a thoughtful address.

I was again struck by the devotion of these people, whether they were politicians, members of the clergy or the several performing artistes who made musical offerings to His Holiness.

A similar scene prevailed in late 1985 when I was on duty in Bodh Gaya where His Holiness bestowed the Kalachakra Initiations.  I could see people from Bhutan, Nepal, the Indian Himalayas as well as the many foreigners who had gathered there to get blessings from this one individual, the Dalai Lama.

These developments made me, an ethnic Tibetan, take a deeper look at my identification of the Dalai Lama. We Tibetans have rightfully been claiming the institution of the Dalai Lamas as ours without any second thought.  There is basic truth in this because the institution took birth in Tibet.  However, what many of us may be overlooking is the undeniable fact that the Dalai Lamas, specifically the present 14th incarnation, have grown beyond their Tibetan identity.  Followers of Tibetan Buddhism wherever they may be residing or whatever their nationality have some claim, if not equal to the Tibetans, towards identifying the Dalai Lama with their own communities.

For example, I have read reports of the people in the Tuva Republic organizing prayer ceremony or carving the sacred six-syllable mantra on a mountain in Tuva (The mantra took one month to build and is 120-metres-long, 20-metres-high), for the long life of His Holiness.

Tibetan Environment in New York

The Asia Soceity in New York City is having a day-long conference today (January 16) on “Meltdown: The Impact of Climate Change on the Tibetan Plateau.” This is but the latest indication about the significance of the environment in Tibet to the region and the world. The conference features “IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri, distinguished glaciologists Lonnie Thompson and Yao Tandong, environmental experts from China, the UK, the US, Australia and the Tibetan Autonomous Region, as well as mountaineer and filmmaker David Breashears.” It seems there are some Tibetan speakers, too.

Some of my colleagues have gone up to New York to attend this and I am looking forward to their impression. Taking this opportunity I am posting here a paper that I prepared (I was then working in Dharamsala at the Tibetan Department of Information & International Relations) in 1993 on Tibetan environment that was presented at a conference in France.

An analysis of environment and development issues in Tibet
By Bhuchung K. Tsering
(Paper presented at the International conference on the state of environment in Tibet: III Pole, Environment & People of Tibet, Paris. September 30 to October 1, 1993)
Read More…

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