Anyone interested in the contemporary history of Tibet would know Prof. Tsering Shakya. He currently teaches at the University of British Columbia. His “The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947″ is essential reading for an understanding of the status of Tibet and of the complex Tibetan-Chinese relationship.
Some years back, I had the opportunity to watch a video recording of a lecture he gave at the University of California in Berkeley on the intriguing topic: “Tibet: Does History Matter?” It was more than an hour long but it was a pleasure getting his incisive view on the issue. Yesterday, as I was returning home from work this lecture by him came back in my mind. It could be that I was reminded of it as I was coming after hearing a panel discussion organized by ICT on “Buddhism as a bridge between China and Tibet?” with Prof. Gray Tuttle, Professor of Modern Tibetan Studies, Columbia University, being one of the panelists. Prof. Tuttle’s book, “Tibetan Buddhists in the Making of Modern China” is self-explanatory and goes deep into history in making his case of this special relationship.
Therefore, I just had to find this lecture by Prof. Tsering Shakya to share with you all. I give below UC Berkeley’s description of the lecture.
“Tsering Shakya, University of British Columbia
“Tibet: Does History Matter?
“Public Lecture from the “Tibetan Religion and State in the 17th and 18th Centuries: Tibetan, Chinese, and Mongolian Perspectives” conference
Friday, May 5, 2006, 7:00 pm
“In this lecture, Professor Shakya compares Tibetan histories — folk and scholarly, religious and secular, Chinese and Tibetan, local and exiled — to examine the process of selective remembering and evaluate how historical accounts reflect and construct different images of Tibet. He concludes that for people whose history is denied, history does indeed matter, because it is intrinsically tied to the formation of individual and national identities, to issues of justice, and to their precarious futures.
“Tsering Shakya is Canadian Research Chair in Religion and Contemporary Society in Asia at the University of British Columbia. His primary research interests are the political, cultural, and literary histories of twentieth-century Tibet. His publications include Fire Under the Snow: The Testimony of a Tibetan Prisoner (1997) and The Dragon in the Land of Snows: A History of Modern Tibet Since 1947 (1999). He also co-edited the first anthology of modern Tibetan short stories and poems, Song of the Snow Lion, New Writings from Tibet (2000) and Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital 1936-1947 (2003).”
I confess that I have been bitten by the Twitter bug. It is not as bad as the Swine Flu or even the seasonal flu. There is no shot to be taken, except for the pot shots that one could take on others.
I succumbed to it some months back and began tweeting about this and that. In the process, I had an epiphanic moment during which I realized that if I had to venture into this somewhat egoistical adventure I might make it useful to myself. It was thus that I changed from tweeting in English to doing so in Tibetan so as to encourage myself to practice the language better.
I don’t know whether I am the first one in tweeting in Tibetan (see my ego here), but the experience has been worthwhile. Tibetan is a formal language, at least to me, and trying to express my informal trivial experiences in 140 words or less has been interesting, to say the least. I even have the chance to see how Tweeter computes 140 words in Tibetan. They seem to look at every consonant and vowel as a word.
Those of you who can read and write in Tibetan, please take a look at my tweeting and let me know what you think.
Being a Buddhist it was natural for me to wonder what would the Buddha think about tweeting. Lo and behold, someone has already blogged on this on the Huffington Post.
This individual quotes some words that are ascribed to the Buddha. Whether or not he said these is something that I cannot confirm but I tend to subscribe to some of them that I have copied below.
“Never allow yourself to envy others. For you will lose sight of the truth that way.”
“Better than a thousand senseless verses is one that brings the hearer peace.”
“The one who talks of the path but never walks it is like a cowman counting cattle of others but who has none of his own.”
“The conquest of oneself is better than the conquest of all others.”
Be that as it may, I wonder how involved are the Tibetans in Tibet. I have heard of tweeting in Chinese, which has been having some impact in the Chinese society. Could there be Tibetans in Tibet or China who tweet in Tibetan? Do you know of any?
A new head of the Geluk lineage of Tibetan Buddhism has taken over the position. On October 26, 2009, the 102nd Gaden Tripa Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu had his Sarjel (first audience) with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala, according to the Voice of Tibet radio. It reports that His Holiness the Dalai Lama took the opportunity to talk about the new Gaden Tripa during an event at Norbulingka Institute in Dharamsala to mark the release of a set of his biographies.
His Holiness said the 102nd Gaden Tripa, who is from Ladakh, is a dedicated individual who has done much for the Buddha Dharma. He said Rinpoche had kept aloof from party politics and is respected by everyone in Ladakh.
The Gaden Tripa is an appointed position and is the highest position in the Gelug lineage. The 102nd Gaden Tripa Thubten Nyima Lungtok Tenzin Norbu was born in Ladakh in 1937. At the age of four, he was recognized as the reincarnation of the Se Rinpoche of Rizong monastery and thereafter came to be popularly known as Rizong Rinpoche.
He had his initial education in Ladakh, and, as is the practice among Himalayan Buddhists, in 1945, he was sent to Tibet for further Buddhist studies in the monastic institutes there. His education was interrupted following the Chinese occupation of Tibet in 1959 and he continued the same among the Tibetan refugee community in India. He gradually rose up in the heierarchy and in 1984, His Holiness the Dalai Lama appointed him as the abbot of Drepung Loseling Monastic University.
On September 1, 1995, he was appointed to the position of Jangtse Choeje, the second highest position in the Gelug lineage. A detailed biography can be seen at the website of Loseling Monastery.
Well known American TV personality, Jay Leno, who retired from the late night TV comedy show, The Tonight Show, early this year, began appearing in another show since September 14 named “The Jay Leno Show.” I want to believe that I have a sense of humor and like watching his programs. The new show is a light, entertaining show and captures Jay Leno’s typical personality. It is shown earlier in the night than similar programs on TV and so the show’s promoters say that it “becomes the first-ever entertainment program to be stripped across primetime on broadcast network television.”
However, it was only after my colleague Tencho Gyatso la mentioned about a “Tibetan design” on the new show’s set that I took a closer look the next time round. Lo and behold running as backdrops on two sides on the stage are sets of what we Tibetans would call double dorjees (crossed thunderbolts).
The Production Designer of the new studio layout is Brandt Daniels and he is shown on this video giving a tour of the same. The double dorjees can be seen clearly and at one stage he is specifically asked what these were. (This appears around 1:03 on the time). To my surprise, the designer merely said it was some “architectural elements” which blended the old and the new. Could it be a coincidence that the design that he came out as a blend of the old and the new came similar to the double dorjees. You be the judge.
I have just come across the following interesting footage on YouTube depicting Tibetans in the Indian town of Kalimpong that borders Tibet. It is said to be from 1957 and by the look of how the people dress and the conditions in the streets, etc., it does look like it is from around that time.
The person who posted it has the name “norsangnkunsang” and the video does not have any sound. I particularly liked the playful nature of the two traders as they did a mock sword fighting. They seem to be playing with real Tibetan swords and appeared risky to me.
I come from the part of Tibet that is very near Kalimpong and my Father used to do petty trades in Kalimpong prior to the Chinese arrival. May be at another time and place one of the traders could have been me.
Even before reading this posting some may take issue with the term “diplomatic corps” for without having a “sovereign status” how can there be such Tibetan officials?
However, there are more than a dozen or so Tibetan officials posted by Dharamsala in different parts of the world who, despite not having any status under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations of 1961, still perform almost all of the five sub-clauses under Article 1 of the convention relating to “functions of a diplomatic mission.”
The five sub-clauses are:
(a) representing the sending State in the receiving State;
(b) protecting in the receiving State the interests of the sending State
and of its nationals, within the limits permitted by international law;
(c) negotiating with the Government of the receiving State;
(d) ascertaining by all lawful means conditions and developments in the
receiving State, and reporting thereon to the Government of the sending State;
(e) promoting friendly relations between the sending State and the receiving State, and developing their economic, cultural and scientific relations.
I was reminded of this upon reading today’s news about the meeting of the heads of Offices of Tibet (as most of these Tibetan offices outside of India are called) in Dharamsala today.
The news said, “The meeting’s agenda includes how to enhance better coordination among the offices of Tibet, promotion of Tibetan religion and culture and follow up action on the Chinese-Tibetan conference held in Geneva in August this year.” It will be interesting to see the outcome of discussions on these issues as many eyes, particularly that of Beijing, would be focused on them. Beijing would no doubt be interested in how the Chinese outreach aspect of the issue will be followed up.
Be that as it may, many of these officials run offices that have three or four staff members only, but building on the goodwill that is there (primarily on account of the historical international interest in exotic Tibet, the very many visits of H.H. the Dalai Lama, and the continued plight of the Tibetans in Tibet) in all the countries they are posted in these individuals promote the brand image of Tibet, as Tibetans see it. In general, I know for sure that many diplomats of countries that have some sort of relations with the Tibetan people are often amazed at the way these Offices of Tibet are able to get things done, whether with the government or the civil society of their host countries.
But it is not the time to rest on our laurels. One additional challenge to these officials today is China’s offensive international strategy on Tibet. Today, the Chinese Government is also trying to get some space in the international arena to their version of Tibet. Thus, while in the past any report of a “Tibetan delegation” or “Tibetan festival” or even “Tibetan performance” in any country could be safely assumed to be from the Tibetan exile community, today there is a 50-50 chance that these could be Tibetans no doubt, but sent by the Chinese authorities. Obviously, these Tibetan brethren do not have any leeway but to represent the wishes of the political leadership in China.
During one of his talks in Vancouver, Canada, recently, His Holiness the Dalai Lama emphasized the need for people to adapt to the reality of the situation, to formulate an appropriate approach, and to act accordingly. That needs to be the mantra not only of the Tibetan diplomatic corps, but also of all people concerned with Tibet in general.
One of the consistent themes that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has been touching upon during his just-concluded visit to the United States and Canada is the fact that his efforts on the promotion of compassion, promotion of human values, religious harmony, and non-violence are all based on Indian classical thoughts. At several occasions, His Holiness called himself only as a messenger of these thoughts that Indian masters of the past had formulated.
I thought His Holiness was in a subtle way drawing the attention of the world to the greatness of India and the perspective that it needs to adopt to that country with great potential.
When expanding on his commitment to promote human values and religious harmony, His Holiness always mentions the need for the promotion of secular ethics, which he said transcends religions while not negating them. Here he always referred to the Constitution of India, in which an integral part is emphasis. The preamble of the Indian Constitution lays it out clearly by saying, “We, The People of India, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a Sovereign Socialist, Secular, Democratic Republic…”
His Holiness points out that the Indian interpretation of the term “secularism” is different from the conventional western understanding where religion is kept out of the equation. In the Indian context, His Holiness said that secularism had the understanding of respecting all religious tradition. I tried looking up on the discussions on secularism in India and found that indeed there was this line of thinking among Indian scholars. One scholar affirsm that in India, “Secularism is thus more than a passive attitude of religious tolerance. It is a positive concept of equal treatment of all religions.” Another says, “…the Indian concept of secularism demands acceptance of the values of other religions while permitting the individual to believe in the values of his own religion.”
His Holiness the messenger of India also had a message for the religious leaders in India. At one occasion, he said that the messenger was doing his best in conveying the message to the international community and that the very many religious leaders in India also need to be more proactive in promoting the basic Indian thoughts on promotion of human values, religious harmony and secularism.
On October 1, 2009, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her appointment of Under Secretary Maria Otero to the post of the US Special Coordinator for Tibetan Issues.
So, with her appointment, the Obama Administration has now all its officials in place who would be involved in formulating and implementing its Tibet policies. Appointment of such a senior official to the post is an indication that President Obama and Secretary Clinton intends to give serious attention to the Tibetan issue. The theme of “change” that President Obama has brought to his new Administration will be tested in the months to come.
The first indicator will be the sort of message President Obama conveys to Chinese President Hu Jintao on Tibet when they meet in Beijing in November. More importantly, what will the Administration do to the reaction it gets from the Chinese officials on Tibet? Special Coordinator Otero must certainly be seized of this challenge as she starts her formal role. The American public will surely be watching, not to speak of the Tibetan people.
But there is hope. I have been joking that President Obama’s name sounds similar to the Tibetan name for the Buddha Amitabha, which is Opakme. That is a good sign because Amitabha is considered a principal figure in the Chinese Buddhist pantheon, specifically in the Dhakpay Shingkham or Pure Land tradition. I hope the President shares the wisdom of the Buddha of Infinite Light and enable the Chinese leaders to see clear light.
Seriously, I hope the Chinese leadership also realizes that this is an opportunity for them to embrace the “change” theme. They need to change their outlook on Tibet and adopt a positive approach that complements the new image of a new China that they are trying to project to the world.
It was interesting to see the State Department’s announcement of the Special Coordinator for Tibet on October 1, the National Day of China. Was there a message there? In any case, I was watching on TV the parade that took place in Beijing to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Day. Is it just my perception or did all the top leaders who were watching the parade at the Tiananmen Square in Beijing really look gloomy? Somehow the celebratory atmosphere was missing.
I tried to look for Tibetan presence. There was Ragdi (or Raidi) sitting all by himself (from the TV angle of course) in a Chuba ornamented with animal skin. There were Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal and Lekchok, officials from the Tibet Autonomous Region, in suits and sitting around the same table. They both looked gloomy.
Among the performers were Tibetan drummers and dancers. Among the singers was the recognizable face of Tseten Dolma, who has made a lucrative career out of singing “patriotic” songs supporting the Communist Party and the Chinese Government’s policies. It seems that Tseten Dolma is the highest paid person in the TAR. She sang a Chinese song and so I was not able to understand the lyrics.