On this day, February 27, in 2009, Tapey, a Tibetan monk, committed self-immolation in Tibet and since then 127 Tibetans have self-immolated in different parts of Tibet and China, with the common message of yearning for the return of their revered leader, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and for freedom, including religious freedom, in Tibet.
Today, the United States released its annual report on the state of human rights for 2013 all over the world; on Tibet they found that the Chinese Government “engaged in the severe repression of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of China’s ethnic Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, and movement.”
The above convey the gravity of the current situation of the Tibetan people in Tibet. The Dalai Lama has been leaving no stone unturned in his endeavor not only to look after the present and the future spiritual and social welfare of the Tibetan people, but also to make Buddhism relevant to the 21st century.
During the visit of His Holiness to Washington, D.C. and California in February 2014 (as I write this he is on his way to Minnesota to continue his effort), while there was widespread positive response from the American public, there were also some people in California who organized protests under the banner of “International Shugden Community”. Read More…
About a Tibetan at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Those who are familiar with the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., particularly its Asian Division, would be aware of its documents on Tibet, whose Tibetan-language collection is said to be one of the largest in the West. The collection ranges from Tibetan Buddhist scriptures to a Tibetan Almanac of 1762. It is interesting that this almanac is for the Water Horse Year in the thirteenth Rabjung cycle and is part of the Rockhill Tibetan Collection. William Rockhill was an American diplomat who had a good collection of Tibetan materials during his time in China in the early 20th century.
As the Library of Congress itself explains, “The Tibetan collection of the Library of Congress began in 1901 with a presentation of 57 xylographs and eight manuscripts acquired by William Woodville Rockhill, U.S. Minister to China, during his travels in Mongolia and Tibet from 1888 to 1892. Between 1901 and 1928 approximately 920 original xylographs and manuscripts were acquired for the Library primarily by Rockhill, Berthold Laufer, and Joseph Rock. Currently, the collection is one of the largest in the West, consisting of approximately 9,000 volumes, made up of hundreds of individual titles.”
However, there is a Tibetan in the Library of Congress about whom you may not have heard. Even I, who have been visiting the Library of Congress of and on for the past several years knew of the Tibetan just recently. He is in the Library’s Thomas Jefferson Building, one of the buildings near the Capitol.
This Tibetan is one of the 33 “ethnological heads” that are serving as keystone ornaments on the first story and is located on the West front , facing the Capitol.
I will let the Library of Congress expand on this.
“One of the Jefferson Building’s most striking exterior features are the thirty-three ethnological heads that surround it, serving as keystone ornaments of the first story windows. Otis T. Mason, curator of the Department of Ethnology in the National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution, was the special advisor for this project. In Herbert Small’s 1897 Handbook of the New Library of Congress, this undertaking is described as “the first instance of a comprehensive attempt to make ethnological science contribute to the architectural decoration of an important public building.”
“The heads themselves, created by William Boyd and Henry Jackson Ellicott, were based on information provided by Professor Mason. The list of the races represented, as described by Small, and the location of the keystones follow.
Starting at the north end of the front entrance pavilion, the first head is that of a Russian Slav, located beneath the portico bust of Demosthenes. Continuing across the west front, the heads are: Blonde European; Brunette European; Modern Greek; Persian (Iranian);
On the south side: Circassian; Hindu; Hungarian (Magyar); Semite, or Jew; Arab (Bedouin); Turk
On the east side: Modern Egyptian (Hamite); Abyssinian; Malay; Polynesian; Australian; Negrito (Indian Archipeligo); Sudan Negro; Akka (Dwarf African Negro); Fuegian; Botocudo (South America); Pueblo Indian (Zunis of New Mexico);
On the north side: Esquimaux; Plains Indians (Sioux, Cheyenne, Comanche); Samoyede (Finn); Korean; Japanese; Ainu (northern Japan);
On the west front: Burman; Tibetan; Chinese”
Whether or not this “Tibetan” resembles a Tibetan, I am still wondering why a Tibetan was chosen to be part of the Library of Congress’s “ethonological science” collection. Also, I wonder what the background story is and who was the Tibetan model.
My thoughts after reading Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s “A Home in Tibet”
Bhuchung K. Tsering
In the post 1959-Tibetan society, belonging and identity play a critical role in shaping the psyche of the Tibetan people. For Tibetans of the pre-1959 generation, the sense of belonging is more dominant; they have memory of their lives in Tibet before the Chinese and are clear about where they belong. For example, for Tibetans who had escaped out of Tibet in and after 1959, a critical reason for wanting to regain their homeland is because they “belong” there and would like to return, mentioned in Tibetan simply as, “Bod la lok.”
For the post-1959 generation of Tibetans, the sense of identity plays an equal if not greater role. Those who have been born and brought up in Tibet are overwhelmed by the direct and indirect attempts to provide them with a “Chinese identity.”
Those of this generation in exile are constantly posed with the question of self-identity; what is our identity? Who am I? Do we belong to something? This sense is all pervasive among the younger generation of Tibetans; it does not matter whether they are stateless, refugees, or individuals who have acquired citizenship of other countries. All acquired identities were subordinate to the dominant perception that “I am a Tibetan.”
These Tibetans nevertheless are undergoing the same experience of exploration of their own roots, both literally and psychologically. They have found different ways of expressing their feelings; in the immediate post 1959 period direct political activism was the dominant approach. The young Tibetans are also taught to identify themselves with Tibet in all aspects of their upbringing. Among the first song and dance routine that a majority of Tibetans in exile learnt was one popularly referred to as “Sildan Gangri’ that begins like this: “Surrounded by cool snow mountains; is the pure land of Tibet.”
Tsering Wangmo Dhompa’s “A Home in Tibet” is, to me, an encapsulation of these two types of mindsets among Tibetans. Through her mother’s story she expands on the quest for belonging while her own story is that of searching for her identity.
In the prologue, Tsering Wangmo writes about her mother, “All of her exile life she waited to return home. She spoke of exile as something that would be expunged over time. When this is over, we can go home.”
But as she details, her mother passed away in a tragic road accident and was not able to fulfill her aspiration of returning to her homeland.
Therefore, Tsering Wangmo’s journey to what is essentially her mother’s homeland in Tibet (because she herself was born in exile) is both a search for her own roots as well as fulfilling the unfulfilled desire of her mother. Read More…
Here is my reaction (originally posted on the blog of International Campaign for Tibet) to this Chinese official’s rhetoric on Tibet.
My Tryst with the Poet Nissim Ezekiel
Bhuchung K. Tsering
I first came to know of Nissim Ezekiel when his poem, Night of the Scorpion, was part of the syllabus in my school. At that time I was struck by two things; first the simplicity of the language that brought clarity to the message; and secondly the realization that people could survive even after a scorpion sting. Until reading it, I somehow had this understanding that a scorpion sting was always lethal.
Here is a taste of the poem describing the situation just after the scorpion had stung the mother’s toe:
With candles and with lanterns
throwing giant scorpion shadows
on the mud-baked walls
they searched for him: he was not found.
They clicked their tongues.
With every movement that the scorpion made his poison moved in Mother’s blood, they said.
In any case, I read more about Mr. Ezekiel thereafter. While in college in India in the early 1980s, I reached out to Mr. Ezekiel, both to get his counsel on my personal career as well as to understand his thoughts on Tibetan-Chinese relationship.
He was kind enough to respond, mostly through the familiar Indian postal department’s yellowish postcards. We even kept a steady communication thereafter; he shared his thoughts about what certain developments on the Tibet front would be seen from the eyes of the international community and also offered space in the Freedom First, a liberal monthly, which he was editing then.
Beginning with an article on “The Tragedy of the Tibetan People” in Freedom First’s October 1981 issue, I had the privilege of writing a few articles for the magazine.
Mr. Ezekiel passed away in 2004 and I will always be grateful for the brief period of interaction that I have had with him.
In the years thereafter the liberal group of writers, artists, and scholars in Bombay (now Mumbai) to which Mr. Ezekiel belonged has continued their interest in Tibet, hosting events and raising the awareness among the people there.
Physical Demise of The Tibet Mirror Press in Kalimpong
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Just as the shops run by “kayens” that have historically catered to the Tibetan traders, there is another landmark in the Indian border town of Kalimpong that is dear to the Tibetan people; Babu Tharchin’s Tibet Mirror Press. It is from this small nondescript place on Rishi Road that Bapu Tharchin attempted to create a literary revolution in Tibet through the publication of the only Tibetan language newspaper, Yulchog Sosoi Sargyur Melong, (Wylie: yul phyogs so so’i gsar ‘gyur gyi me long, i.e. Mirror on the news from the respective countries, given in English as just Tibet Mirror). In the post 1959 period, books published by it have also contributed to the revival of Tibetan language, literature and grammar among the Tibetan speaking community outside of Tibet. Although Babu Tharchin and his Tibet Mirror Press did not hide their Christian missionary zeal and objective yet these did not hinder them from embracing the Tibetan Buddhist community in their natural setting.
Like other Tibetans, I have a reverence for Babu Tharchin although I have not been lucky enough to meet him when he was alive. In the late 1970s I had the opportunity to have a peek at this historical site, while on a visit to my relatives in Kalimpong. In between I had the opportunity to read the three-volume biography of Babu Tharchin, The Life and Times of a True Son of Tibet, Gergan Dorje Tharchin, by H. Louis Fader and also reviewed one of them for The Tibet Journal.
Earlier in 2013, in yet another brief visit to Kalimpong, I went to look the place up. Unfortunately, “modernization” had taken over and all I could find was a sign beside an empty plot where the press stood. I don’t know when exactly the physical structure was demolished but as I did a touristy thing of having a photo taken of myself beside the sign, I had a feeling of sadness.
Here are some photos, the first one is by me and the other two from the informative website about Kalimpong that gives you a glimpse of the Tibet Mirror Press in the past. I can only echo the feeling of the writer on http://www.kalimpong.info who said, “It is a pity that Kalimpong’s rich and colorful history has been reduced to this.”
Mind Your Language, in Tibetan
Bhuchung K. Tsering
March 6, 2013
Oftentimes, we take things for granted without really taking the time to look deeper into them. Take language for instance; in this case the Tibetan language. There are some phrases that we use in our daily conversation without taking second thoughts as we know the approximate meaning. But what is the etymology and how did these phrases evolve? I am sure linguists would have some answer.
གཅིག་མཇུག་གཉིས་མཐུད་ is a simple example. It literally means “the second connected to the end of the first” or “one after another.” But what about ཏན་ཏན་ཏིག་ཏིག་ The meaning here is “to be certain.” ཏན་ཏན་ repeats a homophone of a word that means stable, which has the connotative meaning of certainty. But what is ཏིག་ཏིག་
Then whenever we want to emphasize something to be done we talk of
ཡིན་གཅིག་མིན་གཉིས་ But the literal meaning seems to be “yes, one; no two.” Could this be it or am I missing something?
The third example would be ཁ་ཡོད་ལག་ཡོད། which means something concrete or practical. The literal meaning here is “within the mouth, within the hand.”
The last one that I want to raise here is ཁ་ཙ་དགོས་ཐུག་ which describes a critical or urgent situation. Could the literal meaning really be something like “the mouth’s vein touching the need”?
Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche on Buddhism in the Social Media Age
Bhuchung K. Tsering
January 27, 2013
The issue of the rapidly transforming social environment and how one adapts one’s spiritual and cultural outlook towards it is something that continues to challenge people of my generation and later. While growing up it was comparatively easy to change some beliefs that shaped the social behavior of our community. They include: making sure to place the broom on the ground rather than handing it directly to the other person; not whistling at night; spitting softly a few times into the hat before wearing it; spitting softly when sighting a shooting star at night, etc. I would also include not going along with the Buddhist cosmology about the “Ri Gyalpo Riyab” being the center of the universe, etc. Just recently, His Holiness the Dalai Lama referred to this while addressing the Mind & Life Conference in Dhoeguling Tibetan Settlement in South India.
I have also tried to find a balance between our core belief in the sanctity, not only of the scriptures but also of the very script in which it is written. Even today, while I do not have any qualms in using a newspaper (in any other languages) to wrap something or to wipe something, I would not dare to do so with printed materials in Tibetan. It is holy. I think there is a reason why the Bhutanese call classical Tibetan as “Choekay” or language of the scriptures. However, I cannot help in today’s times to avoid throwing printed materials in Tibetan into the trash. Similarly, every time we replace the prayer flags that flutter on the terrace of our office complex in Washington, D.C. there is a slight apprehension on how to dispose of the old ones.
Recently, Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche has drawn our attention to another aspect of social development that needs the attention of the Buddhist practitioners. Understanding how small the world has grown in time and space with social media development, Rinpoche has a message to those serious students who consider themselves practitioners of Vajrayana, Ngaglam. Rather than trying to paraphrase Rinpoche, I am taking the liberty of reproducing his message that is posted on his Facebook page.
By the way, Rinpoche has not updated his Twitter page
@khyentsenorbu for awhile. As a Twitter person, I wish he would do that.
SOCIAL MEDIA GUIDELINES FOR SO-CALLED VAJRAYANA STUDENTS
If you think or believe that you are a student of Vajrayana—whether or not that’s true is another matter—but as long as you think you are a Vajrayana practitioner, it becomes your responsibility to protect this profound tradition.
It’s important to maintain secrecy in the Vajrayana. The Vajrayana is called ‘the secret mantra yana’ because it is intended to be practiced in secrecy. It is not secret because there is something to hide, but in order to protect the practitioner from the pitfalls and downfalls that ego can bring to the practice. In particular, practitioners tend to fall prey to “spiritual materialism,” where their practice becomes just another fashion statement intended to adorn their egos and make them feel important, or have them feel that they’re part of a ‘cool’ social tribe, rather than to tame and transform their minds. When practiced in this way, the Vajrayana path becomes worse than useless.
Also, the Vajrayana teachings are ‘hidden’ in the sense that their meaning is not apparent to someone who has not received the appropriate teachings. It’s like a foreign language. Because some of the imagery and symbolism can seem strange or even violent to the uninitiated, it’s generally recommended to keep it hidden so that it doesn’t put off newer practitioners, who might develop wrong views about the Buddhist path in general and the Vajrayana path in particular.
While posting on social media, please bear in mind that you are not only posting for your own reading pleasure, but to the whole wide world who most likely don’t share your amusement over crazy photos, nor your peculiar adoration and fantasies of certain personalities you call as guru.
Given this, here are some suggestions I offer fellow so-called Vajrayana students about how you can protect yourself—both by avoiding embarrassment and by protecting your Dharma practice—and also protect the profound Vajrayana tradition:
(1) Maintain the secrecy of the Vajrayana (this includes secrecy about your guru, your practice, tantric images, empowerments you have received, teachings you have attended, etc.)
- Don’t post tantric images: If you think posting provocative tantric images (such as images of deities with multiple arms, animal heads, those in union, and wrathful deities) makes you important, you probably don’t understand their meaning.
- Don’t post mantras and seed syllables: If you think mantras and seed syllables should be posted on Facebook as mood enhancement and self-improvement aids, a makeover or haircut might do a better job.
- Don’t talk about your empowerments: If you think images from your weekend Vajrayana empowerment are worthy of being posted up next to photos of your cat on Facebook, you should send your cat to Nepal for enthronement. Unless you have obtained permission from the teacher, do not post any photo, video or audio
recording of Vajrayana empowerments, teachings or mantras. – Don’t talk about profound/secret teachings you may have received: Some
people seem to find it fashionable to hang words like “Dzogchen” and “Mahamudra” in their mouths. If you have received profound instructions, it is good to follow those instructions and keep them to yourself.
(2) Avoid giving in to the temptations of spiritual materialism and using Dharma in service of your ego (do not attempt to show off about your guru, your understanding, your practice etc. Likewise, do not speak badly of other practitioners or paths.)
- Don’t share your experiences and so-called attainments: If you think declaring what you think you have attained is worthwhile, you may have been busy bolstering your delusion. Trying to impress others with your practice is not part of the practice. Try to be genuine and humble. Nobody cares about your experiences in meditation, even if they include visions of buddhas, unicorns or rainbows. If you think you are free of self deception, go ahead, think again.
- Don’t boast about your guru: No matter how great you think your guru is, it would probably serve better for you to keep your devotion to yourself. Remember that being buddhist is not joining a cult. If you think your guru is better than another’s, you probably think your equanimity and pure perception are better than another’s.
- Don’t attempt to share your so-called wisdom: If you think receiving profound teachings gives you license to proclaim them, you will probably only display your ignorance. Before you “share” a quote from the Buddha or from any of your teachers, take a moment to think if they really said those words, and who the audience was meant to be.
- Don’t confuse Buddhism with non-Buddhist ideas: No matter how inspired you might be of rainbows and orbs, and how convinced you are about the end of the world, try not to mix your own fantasies/idiosyncracies with Buddhism.
- Be respectful to others: Without Theravada and Mahayana as foundation, there would be no Vajrayana. It would be completely foolish of Vajrayana practitioners to look down on or show disdain towards Theravada and Mahayana. If you think attacking other buddhists will improve Buddhism, do a service for Buddhism, take aim at your own ego and biasedness instead.
- Don’t create disharmony: Try to be the one who brings harmony into the sangha community with your online chatter, instead of trouble and disputes.
- Always be mindful of your motivation: Please do not attempt to display “crazy wisdom” behaviors online, just inspire others to have a good heart. If you think you are posting something out of compassion, try first to make sure you are doing no harm. Whenever you can’t let go of the itch to post something, make sure that it helps whoever who reads it and the Dharma.
New Year, Several Tibetan Thoughts
Bhuchung K. Tsering
The first day of 2013 began for me on a somber note. I got up early in the morning to attend the cremation of Kalon Trisur Sonam Topgyal, who had passed away two days back. I am writing this after coming back from the cremation ground.
My life serving the Central Tibetan Administration began under his wings as he was the Secretary of the Information Office (later renamed Department of Information & International Relations) when I joined it in the 1980s. He rose up through the ranks retiring after having served as the Chairman of the Cabinet (Kalon Tripa).
He was an embodiment of a people’s leader; very ordinary. He didn’t care about being perceived as being clumsy. When in office, he would often be seen sitting with one of his legs lifted up with the feet placed on the thigh of the other. There was a time when he took snuff and he would use any available piece of waste paper around him to cough out his phlegm in the midst of meetings and continue with the deliberations as if that was nothing abnormal.
But these did not take away the fact that he was a scholar first. His depth of knowledge was incredible. He was not only well versed on Tibetan historical and cultural matters, but also very much aware of the domestic Tibetan politics. One would often find Tibetan experts, whether resident in Dharamsala or visiting from outside, coming to consult him.
He was also a social reformer. He was one of the prominent Tibetans of his generation who contributed to significant social and political movements, whether it was the establishment of the news magazine in Tibetan, Sheja, or the founding of the Tibetan Youth Congress. Sheja contributed greatly in expanding the mental horizon of the literate Tibetan by exposing them to non-Tibetan news as well as scientific developments. Of course, history has shown TYC’s impact on our society.
As I sat among the many people gathered beside the pyre this morning, while the monastic community chanted prayers, I began introspecting. His passing away and the approach of the New Year were symbolic of the passing away of one generation of Tibetans and the place being taken by another generation. Just a few days back another former Tibetan official, Jampa Kalden la, passed away, making this symbolism strong.
Just the other day, I tweeted that the year 2012 was Annus Horribilis for Tibetans. The developments in Tibet, specifically the spate of self-immolations, placed the Tibetan people on an emotional roller coaster. We are still in the process of understanding the implications and what they mean for the future direction of the Tibetan movement.
The Tibetan experience at people’s democracy became one year old and this is also giving the Tibetan people much food for thought. The people are in the process of determining a new way of approaching the Tibetan leadership; from that of reverence (on account of the leadership’s direct connection with H.H. the Dalai Lama) of the past to critical analysis of each and every action, accompanied by call for accountability to the people.
The world is changing; Tibet is changing; the situation around us is changing. I think the time has come for us to change our mindset. Happy 2013 everybody!
Heartwarming Tibetan story in the midst of saddening news
Bhuchung K. Tsering
At a time when one wakes up every day dreading another sad news of self-immolation coming from Tibet, I was glad to read a heartwarming news of a photo exhibition in Beijing — “Art Beyond Sight- Non Visual Photography”– by nine visually impaired (blind and partially sighted) Tibetan students from the Tibet Blind School.
The 30 photos at the exhibition depict results of a training these Tibetans received from the Beijing-based organization, One Plus One, in August 2012 in the art of non-visual photography. One Plus One’s mission is “Establishing a diverse society that is suited to the disabled.”
I saw a news clip today about the exhibition in Beijing and it was moving to see the emotions of an artist as well as an assistant, Drolma, who herself was blind, as they describe their feeling. I am reminded of the resilience of the Tibetan people in Tibet who are able to seize every and any opportunity to make themselves relevant.
One of the photos on display is “a Braille typed photo of the Potala Palace.” I think the photo on this information about the exhibition is taken by one of the Tibetans.
The Exhibition was held to coincide with the International Day of Persons with Disability 2012, “with the support of the French Embassy and the Belgian Development Cooperation, Handicap International together with One Plus One (Beijing) Disabled Persons’ Cultural Development Center and Tibet Blind Association.”
The head of the Tibet Blind Association, Mr. Siyong, had addressed the opening of the exhibition.
The Exhibition is on from December 3 to 7, 2012 at the following venue.
Beijing Yishu 8
N020(jia)Dong Huangchenggen Beijie,