On January 31, 2013 I participated in a panel discussion on “Ticking Time Bomb: The Ethnic Crisis Facing China’s New Leadership” in the Cannon House Office Building of the United States Congress in Washington, D.C. My co-panelists were Mr. Enghebatu Togochog, Director, Southern Mongolian Human Rights Information Center; Mr. Alim Seytoff, President, Uyghur American Association; and Dr. YANG Jianli, President, Citizen Power for China.
The discussion, organized by Citizen Power for China, was moderated by its Vice President, Dr. Lianchao Han.
I am giving below the text of my prepared statement (I based my remarks on this) and a video recording that are posted on the website of the International Campaign for Tibet.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Vice President, Special Programs of International Campaign for Tibet
January 31, 2013
I would like to address the topic of this discussion, “The Ethnic Crisis Facing China’s New Leadership,” in the context of the current critical situation in Tibet.
The problem in Tibet is a subject that the International Campaign for Tibet has, by its mandate, been seized with for the past 25 years. This is reflected in our two latest reports – “60 Years of Chinese Misrule/Arguing Cultural Genocide in Tibet” and “Storm in the Grasslands/Self-immolations in Tibet and Chinese policy”. The first report reveals that Chinese policies and practices of cultural repression and destruction are so systematic and persistent in Tibet, and their effects are so serious, that they contain elements of cultural genocide. The second report, particularly relevant to our discussions today, shows that the Chinese government has responded to the Tibetan self-immolations by intensifying the military build-up and very policies and approaches that are the root cause of the acts. The above reports are available for download from the ICT website (www.savetibet.org).
In his first speech after becoming the new head of the Chinese Communist Party on November 15, 2012, Xi Jinping said: “In the new situation, our Party faces many severe challenges.” In the same speech, Xi also said, “…Chinese people have opened up a good and beautiful home where all ethnic groups live in harmony and fostered an excellent culture that never fades.”
The self-immolations by Tibetans in Tibet is certainly one of the severe challenges that the new Chinese leadership is facing. They are clear indications of the depth of feelings among the Tibetan people at their current state of affairs. China’s hope of the issue of self-immolations by Tibetans fading away — as a result of a combination of threats, suppression and increased control — is not happening.
The following are some of the reasons why China’s misguided policies on Tibetans are leading to continued tension and possible crisis, contradicting any claims of “ethnic groups living in harmony.”
First, one of the possible solution choices that the Chinese leadership seem to have considered to resolve the Tibetan problem is doing away with the limited constitutional rights for what they call the minority nationalities. In an article in the official newspaper of the Central Party School, Xuexi Shibao (Study Times), in December 2011, Vice Minister Zhu Weiqun of the Central United Front Works Department essentially maintained that the current nationalities problems that China faces are on account of the separate policies for nationalities, and he suggests doing away with them, including on how ethnicity is identified on government-issued identity cards. Read the rest of this entry »
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on Buddhism in the Social Media Age
Bhuchung K. Tsering
January 27, 2013
The issue of the rapidly transforming social environment and how one adapts one’s spiritual and cultural outlook towards it is something that continues to challenge people of my generation and later. While growing up it was comparatively easy to change some beliefs that shaped the social behavior of our community. They include: making sure to place the broom on the ground rather than handing it directly to the other person; not whistling at night; spitting softly a few times into the hat before wearing it; spitting softly when sighting a shooting star at night, etc. I would also include not going along with the Buddhist cosmology about the “Ri Gyalpo Riyab” being the center of the universe, etc. Just recently, His Holiness the Dalai Lama referred to this while addressing the Mind & Life Conference in Dhoeguling Tibetan Settlement in South India.
I have also tried to find a balance between our core belief in the sanctity, not only of the scriptures but also of the very script in which it is written. Even today, while I do not have any qualms in using a newspaper (in any other languages) to wrap something or to wipe something, I would not dare to do so with printed materials in Tibetan. It is holy. I think there is a reason why the Bhutanese call classical Tibetan as “Choekay” or language of the scriptures. However, I cannot help in today’s times to avoid throwing printed materials in Tibetan into the trash. Similarly, every time we replace the prayer flags that flutter on the terrace of our office complex in Washington, D.C. there is a slight apprehension on how to dispose of the old ones.
Recently, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has drawn our attention to another aspect of social development that needs the attention of the Buddhist practitioners. Understanding how small the world has grown in time and space with social media development, Rinpoche has a message to those serious students who consider themselves practitioners of Vajrayana, Ngaglam. Rather than trying to paraphrase Rinpoche, I am taking the liberty of reproducing his message that is posted on his Facebook page.
By the way, Rinpoche has not updated his Twitter page
@khyentsenorbu for awhile. As a Twitter person, I wish he would do that.
SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES FOR SO-CALLED VAJRAYANA STUDENTS
If you think or believe that you are a student of Vajrayana—whether or not that’s true is another matter—but as long as you think you are a Vajrayana practitioner, it becomes your responsibility to protect this profound tradition.
It’s important to maintain secrecy in the Vajrayana. The Vajrayana is called ‘the secret mantra yana’ because it is intended to be practiced in secrecy. It is not secret because there is something to hide, but in order to protect the practitioner from the pitfalls and downfalls that ego can bring to the practice. In particular, practitioners tend to fall prey to “spiritual materialism,” where their practice becomes just another fashion statement intended to adorn their egos and make them feel important, or have them feel that they’re part of a ‘cool’ social tribe, rather than to tame and transform their minds. When practiced in this way, the Vajrayana path becomes worse than useless.
Also, the Vajrayana teachings are ‘hidden’ in the sense that their meaning is not apparent to someone who has not received the appropriate teachings. It’s like a foreign language. Because some of the imagery and symbolism can seem strange or even violent to the uninitiated, it’s generally recommended to keep it hidden so that it doesn’t put off newer practitioners, who might develop wrong views about the Buddhist path in general and the Vajrayana path in particular.
While posting on social media, please bear in mind that you are not only posting for your own reading pleasure, but to the whole wide world who most likely don’t share your amusement over crazy photos, nor your peculiar adoration and fantasies of certain personalities you call as guru.
Given this, here are some suggestions I offer fellow so-called Vajrayana students about how you can protect yourself—both by avoiding embarrassment and by protecting your Dharma practice—and also protect the profound Vajrayana tradition:
(1) Maintain the secrecy of the Vajrayana (this includes secrecy about your guru, your practice, tantric images, empowerments you have received, teachings you have attended, etc.)
- Don’t post tantric images: If you think posting provocative tantric images (such as images of deities with multiple arms, animal heads, those in union, and wrathful deities) makes you important, you probably don’t understand their meaning.
- Don’t post mantras and seed syllables: If you think mantras and seed syllables should be posted on Facebook as mood enhancement and self-improvement aids, a makeover or haircut might do a better job.
- Don’t talk about your empowerments: If you think images from your weekend Vajrayana empowerment are worthy of being posted up next to photos of your cat on Facebook, you should send your cat to Nepal for enthronement. Unless you have obtained permission from the teacher, do not post any photo, video or audio
recording of Vajrayana empowerments, teachings or mantras. – Don’t talk about profound/secret teachings you may have received: Some
people seem to find it fashionable to hang words like “Dzogchen” and “Mahamudra” in their mouths. If you have received profound instructions, it is good to follow those instructions and keep them to yourself.
(2) Avoid giving in to the temptations of spiritual materialism and using Dharma in service of your ego (do not attempt to show off about your guru, your understanding, your practice etc. Likewise, do not speak badly of other practitioners or paths.)
- Don’t share your experiences and so-called attainments: If you think declaring what you think you have attained is worthwhile, you may have been busy bolstering your delusion. Trying to impress others with your practice is not part of the practice. Try to be genuine and humble. Nobody cares about your experiences in meditation, even if they include visions of buddhas, unicorns or rainbows. If you think you are free of self deception, go ahead, think again.
- Don’t boast about your guru: No matter how great you think your guru is, it would probably serve better for you to keep your devotion to yourself. Remember that being buddhist is not joining a cult. If you think your guru is better than another’s, you probably think your equanimity and pure perception are better than another’s.
- Don’t attempt to share your so-called wisdom: If you think receiving profound teachings gives you license to proclaim them, you will probably only display your ignorance. Before you “share” a quote from the Buddha or from any of your teachers, take a moment to think if they really said those words, and who the audience was meant to be.
- Don’t confuse Buddhism with non-Buddhist ideas: No matter how inspired you might be of rainbows and orbs, and how convinced you are about the end of the world, try not to mix your own fantasies/idiosyncracies with Buddhism.
- Be respectful to others: Without Theravada and Mahayana as foundation, there would be no Vajrayana. It would be completely foolish of Vajrayana practitioners to look down on or show disdain towards Theravada and Mahayana. If you think attacking other buddhists will improve Buddhism, do a service for Buddhism, take aim at your own ego and biasedness instead.
- Don’t create disharmony: Try to be the one who brings harmony into the sangha community with your online chatter, instead of trouble and disputes.
- Always be mindful of your motivation: Please do not attempt to display “crazy wisdom” behaviors online, just inspire others to have a good heart. If you think you are posting something out of compassion, try first to make sure you are doing no harm. Whenever you can’t let go of the itch to post something, make sure that it helps whoever who reads it and the Dharma.
New Year, Several Tibetan Thoughts
Bhuchung K. Tsering
The first day of 2013 began for me on a somber note. I got up early in the morning to attend the cremation of Kalon Trisur Sonam Topgyal, who had passed away two days back. I am writing this after coming back from the cremation ground.
My life serving the Central Tibetan Administration began under his wings as he was the Secretary of the Information Office (later renamed Department of Information & International Relations) when I joined it in the 1980s. He rose up through the ranks retiring after having served as the Chairman of the Cabinet (Kalon Tripa).
He was an embodiment of a people’s leader; very ordinary. He didn’t care about being perceived as being clumsy. When in office, he would often be seen sitting with one of his legs lifted up with the feet placed on the thigh of the other. There was a time when he took snuff and he would use any available piece of waste paper around him to cough out his phlegm in the midst of meetings and continue with the deliberations as if that was nothing abnormal.
But these did not take away the fact that he was a scholar first. His depth of knowledge was incredible. He was not only well versed on Tibetan historical and cultural matters, but also very much aware of the domestic Tibetan politics. One would often find Tibetan experts, whether resident in Dharamsala or visiting from outside, coming to consult him.
He was also a social reformer. He was one of the prominent Tibetans of his generation who contributed to significant social and political movements, whether it was the establishment of the news magazine in Tibetan, Sheja, or the founding of the Tibetan Youth Congress. Sheja contributed greatly in expanding the mental horizon of the literate Tibetan by exposing them to non-Tibetan news as well as scientific developments. Of course, history has shown TYC’s impact on our society.
As I sat among the many people gathered beside the pyre this morning, while the monastic community chanted prayers, I began introspecting. His passing away and the approach of the New Year were symbolic of the passing away of one generation of Tibetans and the place being taken by another generation. Just a few days back another former Tibetan official, Jampa Kalden la, passed away, making this symbolism strong.
Just the other day, I tweeted that the year 2012 was Annus Horribilis for Tibetans. The developments in Tibet, specifically the spate of self-immolations, placed the Tibetan people on an emotional roller coaster. We are still in the process of understanding the implications and what they mean for the future direction of the Tibetan movement.
The Tibetan experience at people’s democracy became one year old and this is also giving the Tibetan people much food for thought. The people are in the process of determining a new way of approaching the Tibetan leadership; from that of reverence (on account of the leadership’s direct connection with H.H. the Dalai Lama) of the past to critical analysis of each and every action, accompanied by call for accountability to the people.
The world is changing; Tibet is changing; the situation around us is changing. I think the time has come for us to change our mindset. Happy 2013 everybody!
Bhuchung K Tsering
December 12, 2012
On December 10, 2012, China’s official CCTV broadcast a discussion on Tibetan self-immolation on its Dialogue program. It was titled, “Realities in Tibet,” and obviously, the aim was to drive the narrative on the issue in the way the Chinese Government wanted: to place the self-immolation in the context of crime and to justify any action that the Chinese Government takes on individuals they deem to be involved in supporting them. The two experts who were in the panel — Victor Gao Zhikai, a CCTV current affairs commentator, and Liu Huawen from the Institute of International Law of the Chinese Academy of Social Science — made the point that the self-immolators were innocent and victims of people who had “whitewashed their mind” and that these people were committing crimes and need to be punished. There was a reference to the recently promulgated ordinance that made incitement to self-immolations a criminal act. These messages were emphasized by the captions that appeared on the screen, which included “Self-immolation incited by Dalai Lama group” and “Inciting Self-immolation is murder” (interestingly these captions appeared before the experts even made their comments indicating that the message was being coordinated beforehand, no surprise there, though!).
I believe this program was a result of the continued self-immolations by Tibetans and indications of increasing international opinion that the Chinese Government’s policies were the causes. These are indicated by the statements, specifically by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and the United States Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues, Maria Otero, (there was a reference to her recent statement although it was attributed by the host to a “Deputy Assistant Secretary of State” instead of her rank as an Under Secretary).
It is not that the Chinese Government has not spoken about the self-immolations. In addition to the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson’s several remarks, there have been remarks by officials in Lhasa as well as Beijing. CCTV itself did a documentary that was broadcast only on its English channel. But these were all official lines and the Chinese Government realizes that the Chinese people as well as the international community do not place any value to such official utterances. They therefore wanted experts to weigh in on the matter so that their narrative is established through a different channel.
Having watched the broadcast, I feel that beneath this official narrative a different voice was coming out from the discussions, which seems to be just closer to the reality of the situation regarding the Tibetan self-immolations. Even as the experts were vociferously seeking to project the official narrative, they presented the issue as being “complicated” and “complex.” They also made two interesting points: i) In a country as large as China, it is natural and even logical to have some grievances; the Government need to make sure there are channels whereby people can use legitimate and legal means to give expression to their grievances, and ii) the right to defend themselves (who are considered criminals) was a human right that needed to be guaranteed.
These points are relevant to the discussions about Tibetan self-immolations. Whether the self-immolators were led by others (as the Chinese narrative wants people to believe) or they undertook the action on their own freewill, the fact that there must be some reasons behind these is clear. So if there are grievances among the Tibetan people, they need to find a way to channel them and for the Chinese Government to address them. Secondly, as we see China undertaking the misguided policy of intimidation as a way to deal with the self-immolations, the point that those people being accused of wrong doing should have a fair trial and the right to defense is integral to the process.
Therefore, even if the Chinese Government feels that “Western Media Reports Tibet with colored Glasses”(which was one of the captions that came up near the end of the Dialogue program, although the experts did not touch on this issue) I hope they will pay heed to these Chinese experts that they themselves have encouraged to speak.
As an aside, this program also included footage of an interview with and Indian scholar, Prof. M. D Nalapat of Manipal University in Karnataka. I was taken aback to find his superficial response to some of the questions by the host. He could have been more forthright than the Chinese experts about the underlying Tibetan grievances because he knows something about Tibet. I thought the Chinese experts were more thought-provoking than him. To be fair, this interview was pre-recorded and so what was broadcast may not be everything that Prof. Nalapat said.
In any case, I hope China’s CCTV will encourage real discussions on the realities in Tibet. I can only agree with the host who said, “We really need to know what is the reality facing them (Tibetans) to understand the real story.” This will be good for Tibet and good for the People’s Republic of China. After all, if CCTV has “80 million subscribers around the world” they will know the difference between official propaganda and expert views, irrespective of how these are presented.
Also, I want to believe that China’s CCTV discussing the situation in Tibet on World Human Rights Day was not a coincidence!
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,
The following writeup of mine was posted on the International Campaign for Tibet’s blog.
November 16, 2012
A preliminary look at the outcome of the much-hyped 18th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, which was held from November 8 to 14, 2012, shows that Tibetans should not expect much under the new leadership, unless, saner thoughts prevail.
Here are a few reasons for this.
Although we saw “political structural reform” as one of the buzz-phrases at the Congress, there was no indication that this reform would apply to communities that the People’s Republic of China proclaims as its ‘ethnic minorities.’ And, even as “scientific outlook on development” was incorporated into the Party’s Constitution, we found nothing to indicate that a “people first” spirit would be applied to Tibetans when it comes to matters relating to their destiny. A statement after the first meeting of the new Politburo on November 16, 2012, said: “The foremost political task is to concentrate the mind of the Party, the nation and people of all ethnic backgrounds onto the congress’s spirit…” But the spirit of the Congress is only to consider the economic side of the equation, namely “the building of a moderately prosperous society in all respects.” As the spirit of Tibetans is in crisis, with 74 confirmed incidents of self-immolation, this is a tragically narrow approach.
Another indication that Tibetans are given lesser weightage is the decrease in the number of Tibetans in the Party’s 18th Central Committee. In the past few Party Congresses, there were at least two Tibetans among the 200 plus members of the Committee. This time only one Tibetan is included. He is Pema Thinley, the current head of the Tibet Autonomous Region Government, and he was a member of the official Chinese delegation during the eighth round of discussions with the Dalai Lama’s envoys in 20087. If members of the Central Committee are ‘elected,’ then the reduced weightage it is an indication about the thinking of the majority Chinese members; if they were ‘selected,’ then it reflects the thinking of the Party itself. To be noted, there are four Tibetans who serve as alternate members in the Central Committee, the largest number we have had to date.
Speaking of representation, the most visible position that an ‘ethnic minority’ secured this time is that of being a member of the Secretariat of the Central Committee. This honor is bestowed on Yang Jing, a Mongolian. He already serves as the Minister in the State Ethnic Affairs Commission and a Vice Minister of the Central United Front Work Department. Otherwise, no ‘ethnic minority’ finds a place among the deputy secretaries, or standing committee members of the 18th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection], or the 25-member Politburo, not to talk of its Standing Committee. Read the rest of this entry »
Bhutan’s The Raven: Birth of a Pathfinder
Bhuchung K. Tsering
In the past several days, I have been going through the first issue of The Raven, the latest journal to enter Bhutan’s media world.
When working in Dharamsala in the late 1980s, one of my reading materials of interest was Kuensel, which was then the only newspaper from Drukyul i.e. Bhutan, the land of our cultural cousins. Our office used to receive both the English edition as well as the Dzongkha edition, the content of which I would try to make out through my Tibetan lens.
Since then much river has passed through Paro Chu, and today there is a plethora of media outlets in Bhutan: print, radio and TV. The call for permission for private TV stations, if allowed, will be an interesting turn in the country’s media history.
Currently, the newspapers are primarily in the English language (reflecting the educational background of the leadership as well as the elites of the society) with the obligatory section or edition in Dzongkha.
Before the democratization of Bhutan’s political system some years back, the media played more of an information dissemination role. This could be clearly seen from the content of Kuensel of those years. But in recent years, Bhutan’s English language media is aggressively assuming its role of a watchdog, much to the chagrin of the establishment. This has even led to discussions about the need of a media vision, one that establishes the identity and role of modern Bhutan’s media.
It is in the midst of such a development that The Raven has made its entrance in Bhutan. The slick looking magazine has a lofty mission; Sonam Ongmo, Editor-at-Large, explains this in her Letter from the Editor in the maiden issue, by saying, “But the goal of The Raven is not to focus on our differences, because people have different tastes, preferences, likes and dislikes, as there are more than one way of looking at things. We will instead focus on the things we agree on; the universal values that bring us together as humans.”
Read the rest of this entry »