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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

 

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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

Read More…

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. Read More…

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.

 

 

 

 

The Dalai Lama and Tibetan Religious Freedom

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

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.

"Tibetan" on a keystone of a first story pavilion window. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.

“Tibetan” on a keystone of a first story pavilion window. Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, Washington, D.C.

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.

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