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Tibetan Cultural World

In the broadest terms this includes all those communities which share the Tibetan culture.

Tasks before the Re-Elected Sikyong

Reposting this from the blog of the International Campaign for Tibet.

 

Tasks before the Re-Elected Sikyong

Bhuchung K. Tsering

https://weblog.savetibet.org

 

On April 27, 2016, the Tibetan Election Commission announced the results of the Sikyong and parliamentary elections < http://tibet.net/2016/04/final-results-of-sikyong-and-tibetan-parliamentary-elections-declared/&gt;.  Except in the case of some members of parliament, for the Sikyong and some other MPs, the results were already known and this is a mere formality.

There have been some discussions about the degeneration of the Tibetan society in diaspora in the months leading to the elections, with now even the politicians realizing their shortsightedness.  There have been some damage but all is not lost in the broader scheme of things.  In the past when there were concerns about his devolution of authority, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had said it is better that the people tread on this path of self-reliance while he was still active as he can then provide guidance if things go astray.  Therefore, the recent development was something that would have happened at any time given the nature of the system and it was good that it happened now while corrective measures can be taken.

In any case, I wrote the following after the previous election cycle in 2011. Upon re-reading it, other than there being a change in the nomenclature from “Kalon Tripa” to “Sikyong” the rest of my assertion continues to be valid for the new administration under Sikyong Lobsang Sangay.  Therefore, I am reposting it.

 

Message from the Tibetan Elections

Bhuchung K. Tsering

April 27, 2011

 

 

Today, the Tibetan Election Commission in Dharamsala, India, announced the results of the general elections held on March 20, 2011 to elect the Kalon Tripa, the Chairman of the Tibetan Cabinet, and members of the Tibetan Parliament.  As pointed out in the statement our organization issued today, congratulations are due not just to the winners but also to all the Tibetan people who participated in this historic democratic process. Above all, this is yet another testimony to the foresight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his several decades-long efforts at democratizing the Tibetan governances system.

When campaigning began for the present election cycle in 2009, I wrote the following about what the next Kalon Tripa’s responsibilities would be.

“The next Kalon Tripa should devote his or her time and effort to the consolidation of the Tibetan community, becoming their spokesperson and look into creation of a system providing a continuation of leadership.

 

“There are three main ways to implement this provision of political leadership.

“First, the position needs to understand that the basis of the Tibetan people’s support to the leadership currently is the historical role of the institution of the Dalai Lamas. The next Kalon Tripa needs to work on a strategy to continuing this relationship and to strengthen the institution to prepare for any and all eventualities. Continue reading “Tasks before the Re-Elected Sikyong”

An Appeal for Civility in Tibetan Elections

An Appeal for Civility in Tibetan Elections

Bhuchung K. Tsering

democracy

Now that the Tibetan Election Commission has announced the candidates for the forthcoming elections to the post of Sikyong and for parliamentarians, campaigning, which had been going on ever before that, is taking a more aggressive turn.

This is good for the strengthening of Tibetan democracy. As voters we need to know the person we wish to elect. For candidates, it is their responsibility to see that the voters are clearly informed of what they stand for and what they aspire to deliver once in office. Thus, campaigning becomes the main vehicle to do this.

However, a better democracy is one where there is positive campaigning. Unfortunately, during this election cycle we are noticing a growing trend in negative campaigning by the candidates, both directly and indirectly through surrogates. More alarming is the use of surrogates (oftentimes anonymous) to launch vitriolic attacks through acerbic and malicious assertions against some candidates.

The growth of social media and the somewhat superficial coverage of developments by some section of the traditional media are providing fuel for this, leading to confusion and commotion rather than clarity.

This is a dangerous development that might lead to wounds and divisions in the small society that might not heal even after the elections are over. Lately, whenever I speak with another Tibetan there is frustration with the current tenor of campaign rhetoric and a concern about where this situation might be leading us.

The Tibetan society is moving to a new stage of assessing the candidates, from that of regionalism and factionalism to one of individual worth. Among those standing up for elections to the Tibetan Parliament, for example, there are many well-meaning ones (I personally know some of them) who have been in the service of the community in different capacity. The nature of the elections is such that not everyone will be elected. Therefore, it should not be that the shortsighted and ill informed utterances of a few lead to the discouragement of people from serving the community in the future. While the Sikyong position has some perks (notwithstanding the somewhat puny remuneration), the parliamentarians for the most part have to devote personal time, energy and resources to their new responsibility in addition to doing their routine jobs.

Therefore, the candidates and the voters have responsibilities to alter the situation and not let it go out of control. There is a need for political civility.

Separate Personalities from Issues

The candidates and voters should bear in mind that our focus should be on issues and not on personalities. We should have frank exchanges of views on the position of the candidates on issues, whether they are as fundamental as the resolution of the Tibetan issue or day-to-day matter like social development programs. But we should stop disseminating information that is personal attacks against particular candidates. It is the right of the voters to support any particular candidate but we do not have the right to malign others. We also should not encourage the candidates to ‘hit each other below the belts’ just because we think that will score a point.

Speak the Truth

Tough questions need to be posed, whether by voters or the media. But everything has to be based on facts and not on hearsay, rumors or half-truths. I myself have seen a few documents circulating out there that are based on ignorance and also have no bearing to the issue. I am told on WeChat or Facebook there are more such destructive assertions being made of specific individuals.

Don’t pull a fast one

I would particularly urge the candidates not to try pulling a fast one to be elected and in the process harm the broader community. In other words, they should not miss the wood for the trees.

Talking about “The Meaning of Civility”, two professors at the University of Colorado had this to say: “The most destructive confrontation process, escalation, arises when accidental or intentional provocations beget greater counter-provocations in an intensifying cycle that transforms a substantive debate characterized by honest problem solving into one in which mutual hatred becomes the primary motive. De-escalation and escalation avoidance strategies are needed to limit this problem.”

I think the candidates should strive to do this. They should not dent  the bus of democracy just to be elected and in the process make it useless to the voters who are the passengers.

To put it in another way, the elections are not a one-night stand. There is the day after that we have to live with and it should not be the case that we have a splitting headache to deal with then.

A Tale of Two Elections, Tibetan and American

A Tale of Two Elections, Tibetan and American

Bhuchung K. Tsering
January 30, 2016

In February, two elections that I am following closely will take interesting turns. One of them is of course the American presidential elections and the Iowa caucuses of both the Democratic and Republican parties on February 1 might give us a clearer idea of who the likely candidate is or in the case of the Republican Party, whether Donald Trump has any future.
What the caucuses essentially do is to empower the people at the local level to select their choice for presidential candidate and also to appoint their delegates that will take the process to the next level, eventually leading to delegates to the two conventions that will formally select the respective party’s candidate.

The process in the caucuses is not uniform though. In Iowa, the Republicans will have the people write down their choices, while in the case of the Democrats, the people will physically align themselves with groups that support a particular candidate.

So, next week we will have some clarity.

The other election is that of the Tibetans in diaspora. An interesting border-less democracy is in action as the small Tibetan communities in exile, spread over more than 30 countries, is in the process of choosing their Sikyong (political head) and members of the Tibetan Parliament.

Tibetan election is a two stage process and it began in October 2015 when primary elections were held to nominate candidates. In between and before that there have been hectic campaigning, both direct and indirect ones. Now on February 3, the Tibetan Election Commission will announce the list of final candidates. We will then see the campaigning becoming fiercer.
I had the opportunity to watch one of the debates among those vying for the North American seats to the Tibetan Parliament. I am told there will be a debate between the Sikyong candidates soon. One thing is clear: we are slowly seeing a change in the attitude of the candidates; from that of being modest and humble to one of projecting oneself as better than the rest.

This time, social media is an integral part of the campaign vehicles. Of course, Facebook seems to be the preferred medium although I am told there are several WeChat groups that dedicate time and efforts to discussing the potentials of the Sikyong candidates.
American political campaigning is taking a nasty turn currently. I hope the Tibetan campaigning can avoid that while being forthright about differences in positions. The jury is out on that.

The Re-transformation of Samdhong Rinpoche

The Re-transformation of Samdhong Rinpoche
Bhuchung K Tsering

The other day I was watching this video of Samdhong Rinpoche’s commentary on the iconic Tibetan Buddhist scripture Lojong Tsig-gyema (བློ་སྦྱོང་ཚིགས་བརྒྱད་མ། Eight Verses of Training of the Mind) by the 11th century master Langri Tangpa. In eight short verses Langri Tangpa shows the path to inner transformation of an individual, and, when practiced, helps you in becoming a better person.

But this blog piece is about another transformation, rather re-transformation i.e. the person of Samdhong Rinpoche.

To date, those who follow the issue of Tibetan culture and politics have seen two faces of Samdhong Rinpoche. For much of the initial post 1959 period, Rinpoche was an academician, beginning with teaching in, and administering, some of the Central Schools for Tibetans in India. Thereafter, he made his mark as the head of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (renamed now as Central University of Tibetan Studies) in Sarnath. This university continues to be the premier institute for Tibetan Buddhist studies internationally. His stint at the university also led to his fame as a scholar with the title of “Prof.” attached to his name that has become to symbolize the same.

I have not had the privilege of being a student of Rinpoche, but many of my friends and colleagues have, and they are all bonded by their common reverence to him.

After Rinpoche was nominated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to be a member of the Tibetan Parliament in 1991, we saw another aspect of him, that of a political leader. He has been one of the key personalities who have assisted His Holiness in shaping Tibetan democracy, whether it was drafting of the Charter of the Tibetans in Exile or restructuring the working of the Tibetan Parliament or the Kashag, of which he was the head until his retirement in 2011.

We are now seeing another face of Samdhong Rinpoche; that of a lama. In sooth, his very name indicates that he is a lama and generally would have developed spiritually as a Buddhist master. So, it is just a re-transformation, if you will. Continue reading “The Re-transformation of Samdhong Rinpoche”

Why do the Bhutanese Names of the Days of the Week differ from that of the Tibetan?

Why do the Bhutanese Names of the Days of the Week differ from that of the Tibetan?

Bhuchung K. Tsering

 

Screen Shot 2015-03-21 at 11.29.54 AM

Let us talk about the days of the week now, specifically as Tibetans and Bhutanese refer to them. The reason why I am saying this is because of an interesting difference. Let me preface this by saying that in general, Bhutanese, Tibetans and, for that matter, many communities in the Himalayan region share a similar culture. Therefore, while Tibetans, Ladakhis, Sikkimese, etc., have the same names for the days of week, in the Bhutanese case, even though the names themselves are the same, they refer to days different to ours.

Overall, our culture follows a lunisolar calendar with the calculations involving both the sun and the moon. Then, similar to the ancient Greek and Hindu systems (the Chinese used to have a ten-day week and switched to a seven-day week in the seventh century, but refer to the days by number only), we have a system of naming the days after the Sun, the moon, and some planets. These are ཉི་མ། Sun (Sunday) Nyima; ཟླ་བ། Moon (Monday) Dawa; མིག་དམར། Mars (Tuesday) Migmar; ལྷག་པ། Mercury (Wednesday) Lhakpa; ཕུར་བུ། Jupiter (Thursday) Phurbu; པ་སངས། Venus (Friday) Passang; and སྤེན་པ། Saturn (Saturday) Penpa. Also, even the term for the day (གཟའ་) is the same one for a planet.

Our cultural brethren in the Indian and Nepalese Himalaya region as well as Mongolia (classical tradition) follow the above system of naming the days of the week.

However, in the case of Bhutan, I notice that “Sun” day begins on Saturday and moves on to the rest of the week. Accordingly, as can be seen from the above calendar, the Bhutanese days of the week are: ཟླ་བ། (Sunday) Dawa; མིག་དམར། (Monday) Migmar; ལྷག་པ། (Tuesday) Lhakpa; ཕུར་བུ། (Wednesday) Phurbu; པ་སངས། (Thursday) Passang; སྤེན་པ། Venus (Friday) Penpa; and ཉི་མ། (Saturday) Nyima.

Therefore, I wonder what is the origin for this Bhutanese system of naming days of the week like this!

If Indian PM Modi goes to Mount Kailash in Tibet, it will be more than a pilgrimage

If Indian PM Modi goes to Mount Kailash in Tibet, it will be more than a pilgrimage

 Bhuchung K. Tsering

As I write this, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is about to leave for China on a trip that might result in Mr. Narendra Modi making another history by being the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the sacred Mt. Kailash (གངས་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ revered by Bonpos, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains) in Tibet.

 

"Kailash north" by I, Ondřej Žváček. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons
“Kailash north” by I, Ondřej Žváček. Licensed under CC BY 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons

If everything goes as per speculation, Mr. Modi will be visiting Mt. Kailash in the second week of May this year and he is likely to follow the route through Nathu La (agreed to during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India visit) on the border of Sikkim and Tibet.

This development is interesting. Of course, Mr. Modi, being a devout Hindu, has been on a pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash many years back. But then he was not the Prime Minister of India. Although the nature of the proposed visit is not clear, but being a Prime Minister there cannot be any visit that will not have political significance. More so because Mt. Kailash is in Tibet and that has me wondering what the implication is on India, China and Tibet.

Before I try to comment on the implications, some history. Mr. Modi will be the second Indian Prime Minister to be visiting Tibet. In September 1958, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made overnight sojourn in Tibet on his way to Bhutan. In his letter to the chief ministers of India from Gangtok on September 16, 1958, Mr. Nehru explains this: “… the easiest route to Paro, the summer capital of Bhutan, goes from the Nathu La and crosses a small corner of Tibet. Thus, I shall have a brief glimpse of Tibet and I shall spend a night at Yatung, which is about sixteen miles across the border.”

 

PM Nehru with some Tibetan Lamas at Indian Residency at Dromo/Yatung on Sept. 29, 1958. Photo Division Govt. of India
PM Nehru with some Tibetan Lamas at Indian Residency at Dromo/Yatung on Sept. 29, 1958. Photo Division Govt. of India

Continue reading “If Indian PM Modi goes to Mount Kailash in Tibet, it will be more than a pilgrimage”

Sakya Trizin announces historic changes in the lineage’s succession system

Sakya Trizin announces historic changes in the lineage’s succession system

Bhuchung K. Tsering

The head of Sakya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, the Sakya Kyabgon also known as Sakya Trizin (Throne holder of Sakya), has announced major and historic changes to the system of heading the lineage. Traditionally, the title of Sakya Trizin is passed between the two Palaces, known as Dolma Phodrang and Phuntsok Phodrang, that are descendants of the founder of the lineage. The present Sakya Trizin is from Dolma Phodrang while the head of the Phuntsok Phodrang currently resides in the United States. The title is held for lifetime.

In an address to the gathering on December 11, 2014 at the Sakya Monlam, the Sakya Trizin announced an agreement reached between the two Palaces that said in the future all sons of the two families will be eligible to lead the lineage, based on seniority and the required spiritual educational qualification. The title will be held for a period of three years and transferred thereafter to the next senior son.

The Sakya Trizin said the agreement was reached between the two Sakya masters on May 8, 2014 and subsequently, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was informed and gave his support and blessings to this.

The Sakya Trizin announced that the new system would be implemented from 2017.

Here is a video of the Sakya Trizin making the announcement.

The Dalai Lama and 25 Years after the Nobel Peace Prize

The Dalai Lama and 25 Years after the Nobel Peace Prize

Bhuchung K. Tsering

Weblog.savetibet.org

December 10, 2014

On December 10, 2014, lovers of peace, friends, well-wishers and followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama celebrate the 25th anniversary of the bestowal of the Nobel Peace Prize to him.  His Holiness is of course is in Rome to participate in the Nobel Peace Laureates Summit, which has now been relocated there.

It is a cliché to say what a difference 25 years can make. But in the case of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, these two and a half decades have indeed cemented his place as a statesman and a conscience of the world.  Today, the Dalai Lama and peace/compassion have virtually become synonymous.

In 1989, I was working in Dharamsala and so was part of the collective Tibetan rejoicing of the event.  We, at least I, then interpreted the prize solely in the context of Tibet, and Tibet alone.  We saw this as Tibet’s day in the sun. Fast forward to 2014 and  I reread His Holiness’ acceptance speech (of December 10, 1989) as well as his Nobel lecture (of December 11, 1989), and the Presentation Speech by Mr. Egil Aarvik, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.  I now have a fresh perspective of the expanse of the Dalai Lama’s impact.

His Holiness’ remarks in Oslo in 1989 appear to me as the germinating ground for the philosophy for which he has become well-known today.  This includes his dialogue with the scientific community, his adherence to nonviolence, and, above all, his three main commitments: promotion of human values, promotion of religious harmony and promotion of Tibetan culture.

Let me expand. Continue reading “The Dalai Lama and 25 Years after the Nobel Peace Prize”

Mind Your Tibetan Language

Mind Your Tibetan Language

Bhuchung K. Tsering

During the ongoing Tibetan parliament session when the work report of the Department of Education was being discussed there were some discussion on an issue that comes up frequently in the Tibetan society; the need to preserve and promote the purity of the Tibetan language. In the parliament, specific incidents involving parent-child interaction as well as specific words were highlighted in this discussion to stress the importance.

While I am all out for Tibetans, both students and non-students, to be fluent in the Tibetan language, I wonder whether we are missing the wood for the trees when we assume that usage of non-Tibetan words along with Tibetan may be the main impediment. I fear by doing so, we may not be tackling the real problem in promoting the better usage of Tibetan among the younger generation.

In general, if we look at the history of development of major world languages we can see that they have all benefitted from welcoming foreign words that have eventually become an integral part. We are all familiar with the English language, which has taken much from other languages, mainly European but also Hindi, too. A common example would be “jungle” for “forest”. What we know of as the English language today has imported much from German, French, Hindi, Latin, etc. Similarly, from the little that I know of, incorporating words from the Persian languages has also enriched some Asian languages.

Therefore, I do not see it as a negative solely because Tibetans use additional foreign words. In fact, if we are objecting to a word merely because it is non-Tibetan, then we may become guilty of an isolationist position. Also, if we have to strictly go by this rule then I wonder how the usage of the mantras in Sanskrit that is prevalent in the Tibetan Buddhist prayers can be explained. Should we not be striving to recite them purely in Tibetan?

I am of the opinion that for certain technical terms that do not have a Tibetan equivalent as yet, we might want to see if we can incorporate the foreign terms that are already there. A case in point would be “email” which has more or less become an international word. And, didn’t Thakjug clearly say, “If the symbols are correct, but if it is difficult to pronounce, then use the one that is easier to pronounce.”

However, I would object to usage of certain Chinese terms that have political implications e.g. using Zhongguo for China rather than Gyanak.

The real problem, as I see it, in the challenge to children embracing the Tibetan language fully could be because to them it is a buyer’s market. On a daily basis they have a plethora of choice, whether print, radio, TV or film, in other languages that might appeal to them rather than in Tibetan. The little that is out there in Tibetan, methinks, still is not up to the mark in becoming attractive and child friendly. There are hardly any cartoon or films for children in the Tibetan languages; the few magazines that are out there highlighted as being for children uses terms that are not age appropriate, thus defeating the very purpose for which they are being published.

Therefore, when children are provided with these many choices how can they resist being influenced by other languages, whether, English, Nepali, German, Chinese, French or whatever.

These are my thoughts on a Saturday evening.

 

 

 

 

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