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. Read More…
Why do the Bhutanese Names of the Days of the Week differ from that of the Tibetan?
Bhuchung K. Tsering
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
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.
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.”
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.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
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
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.
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…