Congressman Jim McGovern addressing the gathering at the event at UMass, Amherst.
On February 23, 2019, I was at UMass Amherst to participate in an event to thank Representative Jim McGovern on the successful passage of the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act (RATA). Acknowledging the International Campaign for Tibet’s close involvement at all stages in the legislative process on RATA, we were invited to speak at the event that saw Tibetan Americans and Tibet supporters not just from UMass, but also from Amherst and neighboring areas as well as from Boston and Connecticut.
The local paper The Daily Hampshire Gazette covered the event that included remarks by Congressman McGovern, Ms. Dhardon Sharling, an UMass research student and a former secretary in the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala, and Thondup Tsering, president of the Regional Tibetan Association of Amherst. UMass SFT’s Tenzin Tseyang and Tenzin Tsedon were the moderators of the event. The Tibetan students from Amherst and Boston performed several cultural songs and dances.
Congressman Jim McGovern meeting the Tibetan Americans gathered in Amherst before the event began
In my remarks, I outlined a few areas in which RATA’s significance can be appreciated.
First, I said it gave hope to the Tibetan people. At a time when the Chinese authorities are increasing their efforts to break the spirit of the Tibetan people, RATA’s message of not isolating Tibet makes the Tibetan people understand that the international community does not forget them.
Secondly, it sends a strong message to China as RATA showed that the United States will continue to raise the Tibetan issue until the grievances of the Tibetan people are addressed and their freedom and rights restored.
Thirdly, RATA gave an opportunity to the Tibetan Americans to know that they have a role in the American political process. The Tibetan Americans really understood the power of their American identity as they lobbied their members of Congress to support the Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act.
Fourthly, Congressman McGovern had mentioned during the introduction process of RATA that one of the reasons he was doing so was because his Tibetan American constituents in Massachusetts were asking him. I said that this showed that supporting the Tibetan cause is in the interest of the American citizens, including those of Tibetan heritage. It is a step in the process of making the Tibetan issue a domestic issue of the United States. I do believe that this will have far-reaching consequences on the overall issue of Tibet. China will no longer be able to use the excuse of the Tibetan issue being its internal affairs to silence the international community.
In his remarks, Congressman McGovern outlined ways in which the Tibetan Americans could contribute to spreading awareness and drawing support to the Tibetan issue. I mentioned that as we move forward with a renewed sense of determination, one way the Tibetan Americans can implement the Congressman’s advice was by becoming more active. I said ICT will proudly partner with them through our programs like the Tibet Lobby Day, the Tibetan Youth Leadership Program, the Washington Internship Program for Tibetan Americans, and the Rowell Fund for Tibet.
I concluded by quoting His Holiness the Dalai Lama who said, “No matter how strong the wind of evil may blow, the flame of truth cannot be extinguished.
The event was a meaningful one. In addition to Congressman McGovern, there was a State Representative as well as officials from Amherst Town Council, which indicates that there is good interest at the local level in the issue of Tibet and Tibetan Americans.
Two monks doing a dialectic debate at the Losar ceremony at the main temple in Dharamsala on the first day.
The first day of Losar, or New Year, in the Female Earth-Pig year fell on February 5 this year. Losar is celebrated by Tibetans and people in the Himalayan region and includes a combination of early morning religious rituals followed by social festivities.
However, this is not the only time that Losar is celebrated. Although by the name of it, the first day of Losar ought to be the first day of the first month of a new year, historically there have been variations in when people celebrate. These variations are also accompanied by locally originated reasoning. Let me try to explain this historical development here.
How did Losar originate? It has its roots in the pre-Buddhist Bon period. This can be visible from some of the Losar paraphernalia that are supposed to be there on the altar. Items like་“Sheep’s head” (improvisation from the time when there were sacrificial offerings) as well as the use of the image with Swastika and the sun and the moon.
It is said that in Tibet, tradition of celebrating Losar started around 1st century BC during the time of King Pude Gunggyal. It was based on lunar cycle with Losar observed when flowers started blooming on the trees on the sacred Yarlha Shampo Mountain in Lhoka. The current tradition of Losar seems to have been instituted during the time of the Sakya rule over Tibet in the 14th century.
Gar performance is an integral part of the traditional Losar ceremony, as is seen here in Dharamsala on the first day.
Be that as it may, the earliest among the Losar celebrations every year takes place in Kongpo in Tibet, where people observe it on the 1st of the 10th month. It is generally known as Kongpo Losar. According to local legend, in the 13th century, the ruler of Kongpo (Akyi Gyalpo) had to wage a war against the invading Mongol army. While he could not avoid going into battle, at the same time he understood that his soldiers needed to celebrate Losar. Thus, he ordered that it be celebrated before their expedition, and thus the tradition of Kongpo Losar on the 1st of the 10th month was born.
In Ladakh (as well as neighboring Ngari in Tibet) Losar is observed on the first of the 11th month. According to Ladakhi tradition, in the 17th century, similar to the Kongpo version, then ruler of Ladakh, Jamyang Namgyal, had to wage a war against the neighboring Balti ruler. However, since the timing was close to Losar, he resolved the problem of his soldiers being able to go to war and at the same time celebrating Losar by observing the same on the first of the 11th month. In some parts of Tibet, the nomadic community celebrates this day as the Bheu Losar “Calf’s New Year” to celebrate the annual tradition of going to a warmer site where the calves of their cattle are born and returning from a barter trip to nearby settled towns.
The tradition of celebrating Losar on the first of the 12th month is somewhat widespread in the Himalayan region. It is called Sonam Losar (Farmer’s New Year), a tradition that traces its origin to farmers’ doing a celebration after their harvest. In the Tsang region in Tibet, it is also called Tsang Losar.
Pre-dawn traditional prayer ceremony at the main temple in Dharamsala.
In Bhutan, too, this day is celebrated as Chunyipai Losar, Losar of the 12th month. According to the Central Monastic Body, the origin of this tradition is traced to the time of Shabdrung Ngawang Namgyal and it marked the occasion when people from all over came to make their annual offerings.
In the Nyarong area of Tibet, there is a tradition of celebrating what could be Losar on the 13th of the 12th month. The people call this the Nyarong Chusum, Nyarong 13th. Similar to the stories from Ladakh and Kongpo, one of the legends in Nyarong say that the observation was moved forward to the 13th because of the ruler’s need to go on a military expedition.
Losar festivities traditionally go on for several days, but the first three days have specific rituals in traditional Tibet. The first day is called Lama Losar as on that day, there are spiritual rituals early in the morning and people go to offer greetings to the Lamas. The second day is known as Gyalpo (ruler, king) Losar as on that day there is the official ceremony where the government officials make traditional offerings to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. This ceremony also includes a display of dialectic dexterity by learned monks and the performance of a song and dance ritual known as Gar by a specially trained troupe. The monks chosen for the dialectic display are selected from the best of the scholars of the monasteries and it is seen as a coveted prize to be won. Interestingly, the King of Ladakh who sent a team of Gar artists to pay respect to the 5th Dalai Lama introduced it to Tibet in the 17th century. Impressed by the performance, the Dalai Lama issued a decree to establish a Tibetan troupe specializing in Gar song and dance. Thus was born the tradition of performing Gar during such official ceremony. The third day is called Tensung Losar when the state oracles come into trance, protecting deities are propitiated, and prayer flags are hoisted.
Now a word about the designation of the year. This year is the Female Earth-Pig year. As you can see, it is composed of three categories: gender, element and the zodiac animal. An element (iron, water, wood, fire and earth) is paired with a gender for two consecutive years along with a Zodiac animal (Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Bird, Dog, and Pig). Thus, since this is a Female Earth Pig Year, next year will be Male Iron Mouse Year and the year after that Female Iron Ox. The whole circle is completed in a 60-year cycle, which is called a Rabjung. We are currently in the 17th Rabjung period.
Two anchors along with a group of Tibetans who were among several such Tibetans shown showering praises on President Xi Jinping and the Communist Party at the Losar gala on TV in Lhasa.
In the post-1959 period, the Tibetan people have had to change the nature of the Losar celebrations. In Tibet, after the Chinese takeover, community Losar celebration, which is connected to Tibetan religious and cultural tradition, had to change because of the nature of the Chinese Communist ideology. In fact, these days the main community event in Tibet is the evening Losar gala concert on TV rather than the official spiritual ceremony before Chinese rule. The concert by Tibet TV in Lhasa this year, in itself a mixture of Tibetan and Chinese items, was particularly political with many Tibetans brought to mouth praise to Xi Jinping and the Communist Party at regular intervals. In addition, popular Tibetan artists are performing skits in Chinese rather than in Tibetan, making them artificial. In contrast, the one from Qinghai TV in Amdo, was comparatively wholesome and was a proud display of Tibetan cultural tradition. I am yet to see the Losar program on the TV in Kham at the time of writing this blog.
In exile, His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people’s life in a different society meant that certain changes were inevitable. Losar celebrations currently is a condensed version of what used to happen in Tibet. It does include the pre-dawn prayers, the Gar performance, and the dialectics display. In the United States, as also in the West in general, the Tibetan community had to adapt further. Families do try to visit nearby monastery or Buddhist center on the first day, the community Losar celebrations often tend to be scheduled to a weekend as some people even have to report for work on the first day of Losar. Nevertheless, they do include some spiritual and traditional components.
Happy Losar to everyone, whether or not you are celebrating it!
Commemoration of the 10th Panchen Lama’s 30th death anniversary by Tibetans in India (with dignitaries, including Speaker of Tibetan Parliament) and in Beijing (where a photo of the China-appointed Panchen Lama is also on display). (India photo from www.tibet.net)
January 28, 2019 marks the 30th anniversary of the passing of the 10th Panchen Lama. It is interesting to see that his death anniversary was observed in China as well as by the Tibetan community in the free world. These observations included a ceremony in northern India and a daylong discussion with an evening ceremony and concert in New York.
Tibetan Minister Kalon Karma Gelek Yuthok had this to say about the 10th Panchen Lama at an event held in Dhondupling Tibetan settlement near Dehra Dun on January 26, 2019: “Despite facing lots of trouble, Panchen Lama showed unwavering courage to work for the cause of Tibet and Tibetans by writing and submitting the 70,000 character petition about the Tibetan’s plight under the Chinese rule.”
Similarly, in a report about an observance of the death anniversary in Beijing on January 28, 2019, a Chinese media outlet said, “The 10th Panchen Lama was a great patriot, a famous state activist, a loyal friend of the Communist Party of China, and an outstanding leader of Tibetan Buddhism in China.”
However, the two sides approached the 10th Panchen Lama differently. The main reason why the 10th Panchen Lama is still relevant (and a reason why the Chinese government has to show a semblance of respecting him) is because he was able to win over the hearts and minds of the Tibetan people even while working for the Chinese Communist system. No other Tibetans working for the Chinese Party and state have been able to replace the Panchen Lama in this.
The following are two anecdotes that were shared at the daylong event in New York organized by the Panchen Lama Gratitude Commitee, which I had the opportunity to participate in. They shed light on why the Tibetan people, both in and outside of Tibet, continue to respect the 10th Panchen Lama.
Firstly, the 10th Panchen Lama sincerely respected His Holiness the Dalai Lama and shared his aspirations. If you look at all the initiatives taken by the Panchen Lama to preserve and promote Tibetan identity, culture, religion, and way of life in Tibet, you can see how they complement what the Dalai Lama has been doing outside of Tibet. Even the way the 10th Panchen Lama referred to the Dalai Lama, in his public addresses in the 1980s, conveyed to the Tibetan people the reverence he had for His Holiness.
Mr. Lobsang Jinpa, a retired secretary to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, who was one of the speakers at the New York event, told the gathering about the telephone conversation between the Panchen Lama (who was visiting Australia then) and the Dalai Lama (who was visiting West Germany then) in 1986. He said that the Panchen Lama knelt down, as his mark of respect, when speaking to the Dalai Lama on the phone. That one gesture clarified to all how the Panchen Lama perceived the Dalai Lama.
In fact, the Dalai Lama refers to this telephone conversation in his memoir, Freedom in Exile, saying, “We were not able to speak for long, but it was enough to assure me that in his heart the Panchen Lama remained true to his religion, to his people and to his country.”
The position adopted by the Chinese government towards the Dalai Lama stands in stark contrast to that of the Panchen Lama. That is one reason why the Panchen Lama commanded such deep respect among the Tibetan people.
Then, Arjia Rinpoche, who is the head lama of Kumbum Monastery in Tibet and had close ties with the 10th Panchen Lama (you can read more in the book Surviving the Dragon: A Tibetan Lama’s Account of 40 Years under Chinese Rule), narrated an incident that took place in Kathmandu in Nepal in November of 1986. The Panchen Lama was in Nepal to participate in the World Fellowship of Buddhists conference. Being aware about the presence of a sizable Tibetan community in Nepal, the Panchen Lama had expressed his wish to have an opportunity to meet them. However, the Chinese officials who were accompanying him on the trip found excuses not to have such an interaction. Therefore, the Panchen Lama instructed Arjia Rinpoche, who was part of the entourage, to go outside the hotel with another official to see how many Tibetans had gathered and to find a way to make a meeting happen.
Arjia Rinpoche said he found very many Tibetans and other followers of Tibetan Buddhism outside the gate of the hotel, which was closed. Therefore, he and the official discussed and laid out a strategy on how they could fulfil the Panchen Lama’s aspiration. The Panchen Lama had earlier promised to the World Fellowship of Buddhists that he would gift some Buddhist scriptures and one batch had already been delivered. However, there was another batch yet to be delivered. Therefore, Arjia Rinpoche and the official had the security people open the gate so that the vehicle delivering the scriptures could depart. When the gate opened, he had worked with the Tibetans outside that they would rush in. This they did, and they were fortunate not only to have an audience with the Panchen Lama, but also received a short teaching from him. This incident shows the concern that the Panchen Lama has for the Tibetan people. While the Chinese authorities look at the Tibetans, particularly those outside of Tibet, with suspicion, the Panchen Lama has always looked to address the concerns of the Tibetan people and that is why he gets their respect.
Therefore, if the Chinese authorities truly want to honor the 10th Panchen Lama they should pay heed to what he had said about the aspirations of the Tibetan people. The policies towards the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people currently being adopted by the Chinese government totally contradict the thinking of the 10th Panchen Lama.
We are in the 49th day period after the passing away of Kasur Lodi G. Gyari, or as he is universally known to the Tibetan-speaking world (as well as to Himalayan community), Gyari Rinpoche. Rinpoche is a title with which we refer to incarnated individuals, and he was recognized as one at an early age, while in Tibet.
The 49th day after death is an important landmark in Buddhism. In the broader context of the theory of the transmigration of consciousness, it takes at least 49 days after death for the consciousness to proceed on the path of rebirth. It is believed that rites conducted during this period – known as Bardo (intermediate stage)—can help to guide the consciousness toward a good rebirth. But a Rinpoche is also believed to have the ability to determine the nature of his rebirth.
Nevertheless, the timing provides one with the opportunity to look back at Rinpoche’s life in a less emotional way than was possible in the immediate days following his passing on October 29, 2018 in San Francisco. The coverage in the international press about Rinpoche outlined in detail his contributions and is a testimony to what he meant to the community interested in Tibet and beyond. The International Campaign for Tibet, which was the base of Rinpoche’s work from 1991 until his retirement, has encapsulated his lifetime of service in its report.
I was fortunate to have worked with Rinpoche, in one way or another, from 1984 until his retirement in 2014. While he was my boss for around 30 years, he was also my mentor and guide.
What have I learnt from and about Gyari Rinpoche? Here is a partial list.
Rinpoche was a strategist. He was someone who did not wait for opportunities, but ventured forth to create them. Whether in Dharamsala or subsequently in Washington, D.C. he did not look at the issue that he was dealing with in isolation, but tried to put that into context. He did this to get the best outcome rather than merely doing a checklist. One clear example is about visits by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the United States and specifically to Washington, D.C. (of which he was directly in charge as the Special Envoy). In organizing such visits, Rinpoche was strategic even before proposing a visit or acceptance of an invitation so that the visit had a well laid out objective beyond the immediate programs. He consulted the leadership in Dharamsala, strategized with officials of the host government, and worked on creating a proper environment with concerned offices even before the visit. This included identifying concrete programmatic and policy outcomes. After the visit, he would follow up for their implementation. That is how many of the initiatives on Tibet, including the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002, came about in the United States.
I can recall a few major initiatives where I saw him implement this sort of strategic vision. In 1990, Rinpoche coordinated the first-ever International Conference of Tibet Support Groups in Dharamsala and those who were present then can testify how the conference energized Tibetans and Tibet supporters alike. At the conference a “long and ambitious list of new global strategies and initiatives was drawn up” which is a benchmark against which today’s Tibet movement can be measured, nearly 30 years later. Among specific suggestions from that conference were “to initiate international Tibetan Flag Days, to set up a computer information network (TibetNet), to internationally publish the destruction of Tibet’s environment, to campaign more effectively with dissident Chinese students abroad, and finally: to intensify lobbying at the UN or through other governments and non-government bodies.” EcoTibet (no longer active) was in fact founded thereafter for Tibet groups to take up the Tibetan environmental issue. Also discussed then was the establishment of an inter-parliamentary network of parliamentarians who are active in raising questions on Tibet.
Similarly, he outlined the strategy that eventually resulted in the United States Congress bestowing His Holiness the Dalai Lama with the Congressional Gold Medal in 2007. When the historic event finally took place on October 17, 2007, everyone, including Administration officials, members of Congress, Tibetans and their supporters, returned home feeling ownership and having a stake in it. This also reminds me of how Rinpoche coordinated an international strategy in the wake of the Nobel Peace Prize to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 1989. I was then a junior official but felt empowered when I was part of that strategy tasked with producing the commemorative medallion.
Rinpoche worked at many levels. In the mid-1980s, at one level, he oversaw the development of a new Tibetan font for letterpress printing that was used by the Narthang Press in Dharamsala, until the onset of the digital typesetting. At another level, he was leading an international coalition of groups representing communities under Chinese Communist Government oppression. If you happen to come across old issues of a journal, Common Voice, that is one of his ideas.
In one sense, Rinpoche was a maverick. He always tended to look at issues beyond the confines of Gangchen Kyishong (as the seat of the Tibetan Administration is known), searching for new ways to take the Tibetan issue to the next level. In the process, he was all for taking advantage of the resources, including human and material, in order to reach this goal. He would enable those working under him to think outside the box, and provide resources accordingly. Those of us who have worked closely with him have heard him say in an understated manner that he only had one quality: he got the best possible people to work for him and let them do their job. However, the truth is that he had a well-planned strategy and got the staff to implement that.
Although, he personally did not take up technological gadgets like a computer (iPad became a companion in later years), he went all out to provide such facilities to the office he was connected with or to make the best use of them. In my early years in Dharamsala, when not just the Central Tibetan Administration, but Himachal Pradesh state as a whole, was only beginning to hear of something called a fax machine, he was able to get one for the Department of Information & International Relations. Similarly, his mobile phone was indeed his mobile office and if one has to think of a caricature of him, it might be him with his phone. In addition, if I recall correctly, he was the first Tibetan official to have a telephone connection at his residence in the early days in Dharamsala, and put it to good use.
He looked at the dialogue process with the Chinese Government — the main task assigned to him by His Holiness the Dalai Lama from 1997 – in a strategic way. As he would tell concerned Tibetan officials, dialogue did not merely mean the few days of actual talks that might take place with Chinese officials. Rather, it involved building the necessary support base among governments and in the international community so that the few days of talks can have the needed outcome. He implemented that by building a coalition of governments whose representatives met regularly to strategize with him, in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. Through such interaction, Rinpoche was able to convey the vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and plan forward movement.
Some people have different views on the outcome of the 2002-2010 dialogue process that he led without considering the actual achievement. On September 28, 2002, after the first round of the talks with the Chinese officials, Rinpoche issued a statement in which he said, “The task that my colleague Envoy Kelsang Gyaltsen and I had on this trip was two fold. First, to re-establish direct contact with the leadership in Beijing and to create a conducive atmosphere enabling direct face-to-face meetings on a regular basis in future. Secondly, to explain His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach towards resolving the issue of Tibet. Throughout the trip, we were guided by this objective.” Therefore, if you look at the marching orders that the envoys were given no one can deny that these two objectives were fulfilled even though talks stalled in 2010.
Rinpoche’s work style was such that he made everyone involved in his project feel as a stakeholder. This was apparent whether he was dealing with different Tibetan organizations or with governments whose help he sought to help with the dialogue process. This even resulted in many of the officials and other individuals taking the lead in proposing strategy or plans as if the issue was more for their interest. It was also true for the Board members of the International Campaign for Tibet. They would listen to his passionate explanations — whether about His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s plans or his own ideas – as well as how ICT could contribute towards fulfilling them. This eventually made the board members into partners in the endeavor.
He would move beyond professional relationship and personally symbolized the nature of the people and the culture that he was asking them to help. I vividly recall many instances when senior Administration officials would literally sit alongside Rinpoche and chart out a plan, which they themselves ended up implementing. He was on a first-name basis, if that is the standard, with many influential individuals. On a lighter note, this even resulted in the well-known Congressman, Charlie Rose, establishing a tradition of sending Rinpoche’s family a turkey around every Thanksgiving. Similarly, he involved his whole family in this endeavor of cultivating friends, with his wife, Dawa Chokyi la, and his home serving as hosts for countless meals and meetings.
As for Tibetan officials, those who worked under him would testify to the fact that he literally and figuratively treated all of us as colleagues. Even while respecting the fundamentals of bureaucratic protocol, he went out of his way to establish a personal relationship, in addition to a professional one, with his staff. When he saw a potential in an individual, he would do everything possible to encourage his or her advancement, which he would say would eventually be for the greater good.
Rinpoche was someone who cared both about the substance as well as about the symbol. Those who can recall events such as those surrounding the Nobel Peace Prize celebrations in 1989, the conference in 1990, and the Congressional Gold Medal event in 2007 will know that when there was substance Rinpoche went all out to make the best public presentation, too. He would often tell us that even though Tibetans are living not in an ideal situation, we should always act in ways that can bring us respect and credibility. He would quote a saying in Tibetan that can be roughly translated as, “Even if we can’t be extravagant, don’t present an impoverished image”.
Rinpoche was always for Tibetans taking the lead in the Tibetan issue. He would poke fun at himself by telling our non-Tibetan colleagues that he knows they sometimes see him as a “control freak”, but that he believes that as a Tibetan and the Special Envoy of His Holiness, he needed to assert himself. Similarly, he would tell Tibet supporters that since they are there to support the Tibetans, they should leave decision-making authority to the Tibetans.
Above all, Rinpoche understood the privilege he had in serving His Holiness the Dalai Lama. His approach towards fulfilling His Holiness’ vision was a holistic one, going beyond the superficial level. While because of his spiritual devotion and political respect it was natural that he would honor His Holiness’ wishes, yet he did not rely merely on that authority while implementing them. Rather, he took time to study them and to provide a rational basis for the same to his target audience. For example, after the formal announcement of the Middle Way Approach Rinpoche made every effort to put His Holiness’ initiative in context. Understanding concerns in a section of the Tibetan community that looked at this as a compromise, he urged the Tibetan people to study our history to understand the significance of His Holiness’ approach. He pointed out that this 14th Dalai Lama has — through a very far-sighted approach — provided the Tibetan people in all the three provinces with the feeling of being one people once again. In order to understand its significance, we need to go back to history. While all the Tibetans were under one united Tibet at one point of time, when the Communist Chinese invaded and occupied Tibet, much of the eastern and northeastern part (what we call Kham and Amdo) had already been outside the control of the Tibetan Government in Lhasa. Therefore, the importance of the renewed feeling of common identity among all Tibetans created by His Holiness cannot be underestimated.
Rinpoche’s approach can also be seen in his testimony to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs hearing on the “The Crisis in Tibet: Finding a Path to Peace” on April 23, 2008. He wanted the international community not to take His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s nonviolent approach casually. Through a very deeply personal and poignant way, he conveyed the significance of His Holiness’ nonviolence strategy to the Senators. He told them, “In fact to struggle nonviolently is the most difficult struggle. …Every moment it is new dedication that we have make to remain nonviolent. And we can only do it again because of the leader that we have.” He explained this by revealing for the first time publicly “the pain that I was going through” when visiting his monastery in Tibet in 2004 (as part of the dialogue process with the Chinese Government); he found 70% of it in ruins, and visited the places where his grandmother was tortured to death and his elder brother starved to death. He added, “In spite of that, because of the leadership that His Holiness provides, because of the commitment that we have made to nonviolence, you see me all smiles with my Chinese counterparts.” He ended this part saying, “I am sharing this with you because you understand and appreciate more the path of struggle that His Holiness has led us. So please help us stay on this course, because this is not only important to us, but also important for China.” I was with Rinpoche on that trip to his monastery in Tibet and had not realized the deep internal pain that he was going through.
Following his retirement and departure from Washington, D.C. “How is Lodi?” was a constant refrain that I would hear from serving and retired officials here when I accosted them. Until now, I could respond by saying that he is spending his time writing his memoir as he sees that as something that he can put his retired life in a meaningful use in the service of the Tibetan people. Now Rinpoche is no more, but he will continue to be my inspiration.
Che Dalha and Lobsang Gyaltsen who have been “re-elected” to their posts in the Tibet Autonomous Region during the meetings in January.
Every year, the Chinese governance system mandates the holding of the meeting of the “Two Sessions” in the provincial level administrative divisions around this time. The two sessions are those of the People’s Congress (the local version of the National People’s Congress) and the People’s Political Consultative Conference (state-level Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, CPPCC).
In theory, the People’s Congress is the Parliament and sets the policy for the region while the PPCC is an advisory body. The People’s Congress appoints the administrative leader, who is the governor/chairman of the Region/Province. There is much fanfare about the “election”, including the usage of the “secret ballot” system, of new leadership by the two sessions. Spoiler alert: it is still the Chinese Communist Party that decides on who is elected or not, not to speak of the fact that the Party decides the overall policy in the region.
Be that as it may, the provincial level two sessions have been held, and this is an initial attempt to look at the outcome in terms of Tibetan personnel changes.
In Lhasa, the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) People’s Congress took place from January 24 to 30, 2018, while the People’s Political Consultative Conference took place between January 23 and 29, 2018. In Qinghai, the People’s Congress took place from January 25 to February 1, 2018, while the People’s Political Consultative Conference took place between January 24 and 30, 2018. In Sichuan, the Provincial People’s Congress session took place from January 26 to February 1, 2018 while the People’s Political Consultative Conference took place between January 24 and 29, 2018. In Gansu, the Provincial People’s Congress session took place from January 24 to 30, 2018 while the People’s Political Consultative Conference took place from January 23 to 29, 2018.
These meetings were in advance of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, scheduled to begin in Beijing on March 5 and 3, 2018 respectively. The Beijing sessions will also lead to the formation of the Government, including reappointment of Xi Jinping as the President.
To begin with, all four Tibetan members of the 19th Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee (full and alternate) obviously find a place in the new leadership line-up. While Lobsang Gyaltsen is re-elected chair of the TAR People’s Congress, Che Dalha is re-elected chair of the TAR Government. The two Alternate Members, Norbu Thondup and Yan Jinhai have become Vice Governors, of TAR and Qinghai Province governments respectively.
In terms of ethnicity of the elected leaders, the Chairman of the Tibet Autonomous Region is a Tibetan and so are seven of the 14 vice chairs. The Chairman of the TAR People’s Congress is a Tibetan and so are six of the 13 vice chairs of the PC. The Chairman of the TAR People’s Political Consultative Conference is a Tibetan, as are 12 of the 15 vice chairs. In fact, Phakpalha, who has been re-elected, is the longest serving Tibetan official under the Chinese administration, having been serving as Chairman of the TAR PPCC intermittently since 1993.
In Qinghai, the Governor as well as the Chair of the People’s Congress of the Province are non-Tibetans, but one of the vice-governors and vice-chairs of the People’s Congress are Tibetan. The Chairman of the Qinghai People’s Political Consultative Conference is a Tibetan and there are three Tibetans among the nine vice chairs.
In Sichuan, one of the vice-governors is a Tibetan. It does not look like a Tibetan finds a place in the provincial PC and CPPCC standing committees.
In Gansu, two lamas have secured positions: one as a vice chair of the provincial PC and another as a vice chair of CPPCC standing committees. I am not able to see any Tibetan in the Gansu government leadership.
From the Yunnan list, it is not clear whether there are any Tibetans in the provincial leadership.
Overall, a majority of the leaders are those who have already been holding similar posts during the previous year, an indication that the Chinese authorities have stuck to the familiar and the trusted. The top three positions in the TAR (except for the Party Secretary, which is the highest) goes to the same Tibetans who were there last year. In Qinghai, Dorjee Rapten has taken over from fellow Tibetan Rinchen Gyal as the chair of the Political Consultative Conference. In Gansu, two prominent Tibetan lamas continue to maintain political positions.
It is interesting that Penpa Tashi does not seem to figure among the leadership in the Tibet Autonomous Region. He is a rising star, and was in the TAR Party Committee heading the Party Propaganda Department. He was also a vice chair of the TAR Government. I should say that his name continues to appear among “TAR leaders present” at public events even after the two sessions. In any case, it could be that he might move to a position in Beijing, a possible replacement to fellow Tibetan Sithar, who seems to have retired. Sithar was a Vice Minister in the Central United Front Works Department.
The new Leadership in the Tibetan areas
The following are the Tibetans who find a place in the government, the People’s Congress and the People’s Political Consultative Conference of the Tibet Autonomous Region, Qinghai, Sichuan and Gansu.
Tibet Autonomous Region People’s Congress
Chairman: Lobsang Gyaltsen (Losang Jamcan)
Vice Chairmen: Dothok, (Duotuo); Tenzin Namgyal (Danzeng Langjie); Samding Dorje Phakmo Dechen Choden (Samding Dojepamo Deqenquzhen); Woeser; Chime Rigzin; and Nyima Tsering.
Chairman: Che Dalha (Qi zhala)
Vice Chairmen: Norbu Thondup; Chakra Lobsang Tenzin (Gyai’ra Losang Dainzin); Dorje Tsedup; Gyaltsen; Zhang Yanqing (former mayor of Lhasa); Luomei; and Jamphel
TAR People’s Political Consultative Conference
Chairman: Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal
Vice Chairmen: Tenkho (Danko); Drupkhang Thupten Khedup; Tsemonling Tenzin Thinley; Lobsang Gyurme; Zonglo Jampa Khedup; Salunphulak (monk); Sonam Rigzin (Suolan Reng zeng); Ngawang; Jigyon Ngapo; Sangye Dakpa; Dolker; and Tashi Dawa
Vice Chair: Yan Jinhai
Qinghai People’s Congress
Vice Chairmen: Nyima Dolma (Neima Zhuoma)
A Phoenix TV correspondent had asked a two-part question: “Despite China’s firm opposition, some countries have been inviting him [the Dalai Lama] for a visit, and he has just concluded a visit to Europe. Will China take more steps to express such opposition? On the religious freedom in Tibet, in your opening remarks you said that we must ensure the Chinese orientation of religions. Will that be more work done in this regard?”
In his response, Zhang repeated the Party line about the Dalai Lama being “a leader of a separatist group that is engaging in separatist activities”, and therefore the Chinese Government oppose any meetings by governments and others with him.
The Dalai Lama had subsequently concretized his initiatives on the future of Tibet through his Middle Way Approach that called for genuine autonomy for the Tibetan people, something actually guaranteed (but not implemented) in the Chinese Constitution and Law on Regional Ethnic Autonomy. The Chinese authorities know that the Dalai Lama was not calling for “separatism”, but not having the political courage to acknowledge this, they sought recourse to semantics by saying they are against “semi-independence or disguised independence”.
Following the devolution of political power by the Dalai Lama to the elected Tibetan leadership in 2011, the Central Tibetan Administration has continued to be committed to the Middle Way Approach. Governments, even those close to China, are aware of this Tibetan position, as are people who know about the Dalai Lama, including the thousands of Chinese who are able to know the truth.
Since the Dalai Lama continues to garner unimaginable (for Chinese leaders) international public support, and since he has begun to focus on the younger generation (who are in schools) that can contribute positively to humanity, Zhang makes it seem as if the universities are the only space that is available now to the Dalai Lama.
During his visit to Latvia in September this year, when asked about some government leaders hesitating to receive him, the Dalai Lama said: “That’s ok,” my visit is entirely non-political. I’m not disappointed. The world belongs to its 7 billion people and each country belongs to its population, so I consider the general public to be more important.”
Which Chinese leader can hope to fill a stadium or an auditorium (often for several days at a stretch and with people willing to buy tickets)? The Dalai Lama does this all the time (most recently during his talks in Pisa and Florence in Italy in September).
While talking about money, unless the interpreter was wrong, Zhang says “Usually a university paid the Dalai to give a speech” making it seem as if His Holiness is making money out of them. Those who organize talks by the Dalai Lama, including universities, and those who attend such talks clearly know that he does not charge money for such events. In fact, the Dalai Lama’s website clearly says, “For your information, as a long-standing policy His Holiness the Dalai Lama does not accept any fees for his talks. Where tickets need to be purchased, organizers are requested by our office to charge the minimum entrance fee in order to cover their costs only.” Since I have had the privilege of being part of his entourage during several visits to North America, I know that at all such public talks by the Dalai Lama where tickets have to be purchased a public accounting of the finances is done at the conclusion. Where there is surplus money they are allocated to local and other charity work. None of the money goes to him.
On the matter of protection of Tibetan Buddhism, Zhang has the audacity to claim that “Tibetan Buddhism originated in ancient China; it is a special form of religion that originated within China.” He goes on to add that although it is true that it has been “influenced by other religions and other cultures” (read India), “but it is not acquired religion. It is originated [sic] within China; it has its roots in China. So it is an example of being Chinese. It has Chinese orientation.”
Zhang might be saying this to lay the ground for legitimizing the Chinese Government’s interference in Tibetan Buddhism; but anyone having only a cursory knowledge of Tibetan Buddhism would know that the spiritual knowledge came from India and had nothing to with China. For God sake, there is a reason why the term “Buddhism” is included in Tibetan Buddhism, because it is the religion founded by Lord Buddha.
Zhang’s utterance that Tibetan Buddhism “has Chinese orientation”, lays bare China’s political agenda of wanting to Sinicize Tibetan Buddhism and make it Chinese.
Thus, Zhang Yijiong’s statements might serve the narrow interest of that section of the Chinese leadership that does not want a resolution of the Tibetan issue and does not want the Tibetan people to enjoy their fundamental human rights, including religious freedom. But does this serve the long-term interest of China? Why should the Chinese people be concerned about views of individuals like Zhang?
Wang also added China’s fake propaganda and information blackouts prevented most Chinese from understanding that the Dalai Lama was seeking a non-violent “Middle Way” of greater rights for Tibetans under Chinese rule.
In fact, a 12-point suggestion, signed by several hundred mainland Chinese scholars, in the wake of the widespread demonstrations in Tibet in 2008 included a call to the Chinese Government not to do things that are not in the interest of China itself.
Its Point 4 reads: “In our opinion, such Cultural-Revolution-like language as “the Dalai Lama is a jackal in Buddhist monk’s robes and an evil spirit with a human face and the heart of a beast ” used by the Chinese Communist Party leadership in the Tibet Autonomous Region is of no help in easing the situation, nor is it beneficial to the Chinese government’s image. As the Chinese government is committed to integrating into the international community, we maintain that it should display a style of governing that conforms to the standards of modern civilization.”
As the new Chinese Party leadership begins their work, they should also be mindful of Point 12 of the suggestions: “We hold that we must eliminate animosity and bring about national reconciliation, not continue to increase divisions between nationalities. A country that wishes to avoid the partition of its territory must first avoid divisions among its nationalities. Therefore, we appeal to the leaders of our country to hold direct dialogue with the Dalai Lama. We hope that the Chinese and Tibetan people will do away with the misunderstandings between them, develop their interactions with each other, and achieve unity. Government departments as much as popular organizations and religious figures should make great efforts toward this goal.”
If the Chinese leadership in fact believes that the People’s Republic of China is a multi-ethnic nation, with Tibetans being equal citizens, they should walk the talk. Zhang Yijiong’s statement does not do that.
Lobsang Gyaltsen (second from right), who was just promoted as a full member of the Party Central Committee, reading Xi Jinping’s work report at the Party Congress on October 18.
While we await expectantly for the new lineup of the Chinese leadership after the 19th Party Congress that might happen on October 24, 2017, it might be worth our while to talk about some other issues related to the meeting; the Tibetan delegates, for instance.
China’s official media said there are 33 Tibetan delegates to this Party Congress: 17 are from the Tibet Autonomous Region (with seven being female), five from the Tibetan region that is now Qinghai, three from the Tibetan area now in Sichuan, and one each from the Tibetan areas in Yunnan and Gansu. Additionally, there are three Tibetans from the PLA contingent, out of which two are female. Then there is one from central party organs, departments directly under the Party Central Committee, while another one is from national state institutions. This makes the total 32. At the time of writing, I am not able to account for the remaining one Tibetan, if the total number is in fact 33. Most probably, he could be Wangchen Tseten, who is listed as a Mongolian, from the Qinghai Tibetan Medicine Hospital. As an aside, there are two delegates from TAR, who are listed as being Monpa and Lhopa, both within the broader Tibetan family.
Among the Tibetan delegates, majority of them are officials at different administrative levels; a few provincial level officials from Lhasa; a governor from Kanlho Prefecture; a vice governor of Sichuan Province whose name is written as Yao Sidan, but is actually Dorjee Rapten; and a few prefectural level party secretaries from Qinghai. There is a gynecologist from Ngari and a teacher from Lhasa.
Two among the Tibetan delegates have met envoys of H.H. the Dalai Lama during the 2002-2010 round of discussions. Che Dhala (Qi Zhala), currently governor of TAR, was governor of Dechen Prefecture in Yunnan when the envoys visited Gyalthang (Zhongdian/Shangrila) in 2003 and Penpa Tashi (currently a vice governor of TAR) participated in the talks between envoys of the Dalai Lama and Chinese officials in Guilin in 2006. Incidentally, there are two people named Penpa Tashi who are delegates to the 19th Party Congress.
As to how the delegates were chosen, Chinese officials were at pains to stress, “…that the election was a competitive one”. (Xinhua: Delegates to Party congress highly representative, October 17, 2017) There are limitations to elections in China, but any election would be better than no election, one might say. But the same Xinhua report has this additional information,”… except Tibet and Xinjiang, which had been approved to exercise non-competitive election.” Darn! I thought the Tibetans in Tibet would have had a taste of electoral campaigns, something those of us in diaspora are familiar.
Even as these Tibetan delegates are being used to glorify Chinese rule in Tibet, reality about the situation in Tibet comes out in different ways. The fact that the Chinese authorities closed the Tibet Autonomous Region to foreign visitors for the duration of the Party Congress is an indication of the volatile nature of the situation there. Or, if the situation there is not that bad then a case can be made that interest groups within the Chinese Government that do not want a more liberal atmosphere in Tibet are taking the opportunity to create a scene for a more hardline approach.
Similarly, even though China claims that Tibetans have greatly improved their livelihood under Chinese rule (Namsa Lawok Tabui Phogyur “Transformation as if the sky and the earth have changed places” is how they put it), there is unintentional admission of the state of affairs. In a Xinhua report on October 17, 2017 meant to brag about how a Tibetan has changed his life for the better under China (An Entrepreneur and his dream of poverty alleviation in Tibet), a reference is made to the hometown of the now well-endowed Paljor Lhundup. Xinhua says, “Although Penjolondru’s life has vastly improved since his humble beginnings, his hometown is still stricken by poverty.” (Italics mine) The Xinhua report continues, “Located at about 4,500 meters above the sea level, Lhunposhol Village in Nakartse has a population of 6,640, 25 percent of whom live in poverty. There is little arable land and villagers depend on livestock raising for living.” (Italics mine) I guess life in Tibet is not totally rosy after all!
Be that as it may, how have Tibetans fared in terms of presence in the organizational aspect of the 19th Party Congress? Obviously, since no Tibetan is on the Politburo, no Tibetan finds a place in the most important 42-member Standing Committee members of the presidium (composed of the 24 incumbent Politburo members as well as retired members) that oversees the Congress proceedings. However, in the presidium of the Congress, consisting of 243 members, there are two Tibetans: Jampa Phuntsok (currently a Vice Chairman of the National People’s Congress) and Che Dalha. Also, Lobsang Gyaltsen finds a place in the 22-member delegate credentials committee, which, as its name suggests, examines the delegates’ qualifications.
Anyway, by this time next week, we will know how many Tibetans find a place on the 19th Party leadership roll. Until then we will have no choice but to go with the flow in terms of this political meeting with Chinese characteristics that is called the 19th Communist Party of China National Congress.
Today is the 28th birthday of the Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, who continues to remain in detention since 1995. From being the youngest Tibetan political prisoner, he might well be the only Tibetan who grew into his teens under detention by the Chinese Government.
First a recap: the Panchen Lama Gedhun Choekyi Nyima disappeared (detained by the Chinese authorities) in May 1995, when he was a six year old child, a few days after the Dalai Lama recognized him as the reincarnation of the 10th Panchen Lama. Subsequently, violating the Tibetan spiritual process, the Chinese authorities selected another boy (through illegal means, as we learn from an eyewitness, Arjia Rinpoche, a senior Tibetan Buddhist Master who was closely involved with the process before he fled to freedom a few years later). Since then, despite repeated attempts to gain access to him, no international agencies or human rights organizations – including the United Nations — has been allowed to visit the Panchen Lama or his family, and their condition remains uncertain. The Chinese authorities have even refused to provide any information on his health status or on the pertinent issue of his spiritual education and upbringing.
In an open letter to the Panchen Lama on his birthday U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) Commissioner Tenzin Dorjee (who was a monk for some years) says, “By the age of 28, I had received both a Tibetan and modern education, as well as advanced Buddhist studies in the Tibetan diaspora in India. I would like to know more about you, especially about your well-being and the education you have received. I fear that the Chinese government has taken away your religious identity.”
Meanwhile, the de facto Panchen Lama (I am using the term “de facto” in the legal sense of “existing in fact whether with lawful authority or not”) is having occasional exposure in the Chinese media and being projected as assuming his spiritual responsibility.
Six years ago, I wrote a piece titled, “Why Doesn’t the China-appointed Panchen Lama Speak Out?” The issue is still valid. Granted that since then the individual appointed by China has been seen conducting public events and talking about issues along Party lines. This does not amount to speaking out in the way the 10th Panchen Lama did. As I mentioned in my blog, a Tibetan Buddhist leader chooses to be reborn to work for his spiritual community and to further the work of the previous incarnation. Tibetans, both inside Tibet and outside, know on how the Chinese appointed individual has fared so far.
China’s political agenda behind their selection of the de facto Panchen Lama became clear in 2010 when he was formally appointed to the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Since the selection, the Chinese authorities have used all means to grant him legitimacy. But as of now, he does not enjoy the confidence nor the reverence of the Tibetan people (the Chinese government knows this and so is constantly trying to find ways to impress the Tibetan people, the latest being having him bestow the sacred Kalachakra initiation).
If Gyaltsen Norbu is truly a Tibetan Buddhist leader and has been provided with the necessary spiritual upbringing, it will be seen from his action. In 1995, after the Chinese authorities installed him, I wrote, “Ultimately, as per Tibetan belief, a lama himself will reveal, as he grows up, whether he is a genuine reincarnation or note, and behave accordingly. The late Panchen Lama was a classic example of this. Even though he was in Chinese hands, a look at his life story reveals the scorn he had for Chinese rule in Tibet.”
Without any recognition from the Dalai Lama, the Chinese authorities can never be able to put the stamp of legitimacy to their selection of any religious leader, whether it is the Panchen Lama or a future Dalai Lama.
Unfortunately, Chinese authorities have not been able to understand Tibetan mentality. To Tibetans, China’s interference in their religious life affects them equally, if not more, to its occupation of Tibet. The tenth Panchen Lama put the case in a more subtle way when he, in October 1988, three months before his demise, called for an end to “traditional interference of religious activities with administrative measures over the years.” He said this was harming “the harmony of nationalities, as religions have close relations with minorities.”
In other words, China might want to have its own version of Rule by Incarnation, but it is the will of the believers that will really matter. The earlier the Chinese authorities realize this, the better it is for them.
I have just watched a fascinating interview with His Holiness the Dalai Lama by Qin Weiping, a US-based Chinese blogger, who visited Dharamsala in October 2016. The interview (conducted in Tibetan and Chinese) is interesting not only because His Holiness shares his thoughts on how China could become a compassionate nation, but more so because he says that such a transformation should be, and can be, led by the Chinese Communist Party. His Holiness believes that through such a transformation China has the opportunity to alter the current negative perception of Communism in the world.
In the interview, the Dalai Lama (speaking in Tibetan) says he has been calling for the world to become more compassionate and says that scientists maintain that mankind is inherently compassionate. So, when he is calling for the world to be compassionate, he feels that China, a traditionally Buddhist nation, has the possibility and the opportunity to do so.
The Dalai Lama says when he addresses Western audiences on the need for compassion, there is some slight discomfort on his part as he is basing himself on an inherently Buddhist approach (although he has never thought of proselytization). But in China the situation is different as almost all Chinese have a closer relationship with Buddhism, he says.
He feels it will be good if the Chinese Communist Party can take the lead on this. His Holiness gives a theoretical reason why this should be done. He says it is a known fact that in terms of his socio-economic belief, he calls himself a Marxist. When Marx is talking about the rights of the working class, there is the talk of kindness. The Dalai Lama opines that Karl Marx’s theory was, however, ruined by Lenin. Therefore, he says while he believes in Marxism, he is against Leninism.
The Dalai Lama feels many of the problems that China has faced in the past may have been due to the influence of Leninism and Stalinism. He refers to an opinion of the former Israeli President and Nobel Laureate Shimon Peres, who, as a socialist, had positive feelings towards China. However, when he had asked Mr. Peres some years back whether China is a socialist nation or not, the response was negative, with Mr. Peres saying that China is a capitalist nation. However, in Western capitalism there are rule of law and free media, which are absent in China, the Dalai Lama adds alluding to these as serving as checks and balances.
The Dalai Lama refers to Deng Xiaoping, who had, with great courage, changed the economic system through his open door policy, which benefited China greatly. Now if Xi Jinping can bring about a bit of a change in the political system, the Dalai Lama thinks it will be beneficial. He says by change in the political system, he is not referring to changing from Communist Party rule. He says Deng Xiaoping changed the economic system under the leadership of the Communist Party. Therefore, it is possible that under the leadership of the Communist Party, there can be efforts at spreading compassion in China.
The Dalai Lama thinks it would be interesting if there was a new Cultural Revolution in China, based on kindness this time, as the earlier Cultural Revolution was based on hatred.
The Dalai Lama refers to Communism as being organized and says that if it can be liberal as well it will be good. He said today Communism is considered something negative in the world. But a situation can be created so that the world can start looking at China saying its form of Communism is something special. The Dalai Lama adds that maybe he is dreaming.
The Dalai Lama feels he could make a contribution, if there is such an opportunity, toward spreading compassion in China, and that he could do so in earnest. As a follower of Buddhism who has been talking about the issue in Western countries, he says he could do so in China, a Buddhist country. He clarifies that he has no desire for any privileges or position, adding that in 2011 he had completely ended the historical tradition of the Dalai Lamas serving as both spiritual and temporal leader.
In order for that to happen and for China to be a powerful and effective nation, His Holiness feels it is essential that it earns trust and respect, particularly of its neighbors. Taking it to a personal level, His Holiness refers to Chinese leadership’s attitude of castigating him and asks how China was benefiting by doing so. He says that only makes the possibility of his visiting China become more remote. He says under the current situation, he wonders how much use he can be if he were to go to China. Therefore, he thinks that it is better that he be in a place where he can be of benefit.
The Dalai Lama concludes (switching to English) saying he is an 81-year-old Buddhist monk and might have another 10-15-20 years. “My life should be something useful to humanity,” he says, adding that this was his commitment.
So there you have it, a possibility of a compassionate China with Dalai Lama characteristics, if I may!
Mongolian Buddhists waiting to welcome the Dalai Lama in the capital UlaanBaatar on November 19, 2016. (Photo: Tenzin Taklha, OHHDL)
One of the outcomes regarding the Dalai Lama in the post-1959 period is the clarity that has emerged about the nature of his followers. The conventional thinking about the Dalai Lama being merely the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people has changed. He has not only gained thousands of followers in both the Eastern and Western world, but more importantly the traditional followers of Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibet, along the Himalayan region as well as in Mongolia and present-day Russian Federation, have become more visible.
This can be clearly seen at the very many teachings that the Dalai Lama has been giving in India and elsewhere, particularly in Bodh Gaya, where we see an intermingling of Bhutanese, Monpas, Sherpas, Sikkimese, Ladakhis, Mongols, and more.
His Holiness has spent the past several decades spreading his message urging traditional Buddhists to become modern; to devote more of their attention to the all-round study of Buddhism and not merely be consumed by the ritualistic aspect of it. He also feels modern Buddhists should be able to utilize the knowledge of Buddhist science to interact with modern science.
Ladakhi Buddhists in northern India waiting to welcome the Dalai Lama in the regional capital Leh in July 2016. (Photo: Tenzin Choejor, OHHDL)
His Holiness had the same messages during his four day visit to Mongolia.
In adding to giving Buddhist teachings, the Dalai Lama also participated in a Buddhist and Science conference in Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia. During this conference, he said: “Buddhist scholars and practitioners have benefited from learning about physics, while modern scientists have shown a keen interest in learning more about what Buddhism has to say about the workings of the mind and emotions.”
His Holiness also mentioned his pleasure in the conference being held for the benefit of the Mongolian Buddhist community. Among speakers at the conference were Helen Y. Wang, a neuroscientist and a clinical psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, spoke about Contemplative Neuroscience and Socially Engaged Buddhism; B. Boldsaikhan from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology who spoke about medicine and logic; K. Namsrai, a senior scholar in physics, who talked about relations between Quantum Physics and Buddhist philosophy; and Dr. Fadel Zeidan, Associate Director of Neuroscience at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, spoke about the Neuroscience of Mindfulness, Meditation and Pain.
In general the Dalai Lama visiting Mongolia should not be a surprise, considering the nature of country and its people. The Mongolian people have had a special historical connection with the Dalai Lama. Many are followers of Tibetan Buddhism, and their devotion to His Holiness was clearly visible during this visit. Some people traveled hundreds of miles in the current harsh wintry climate merely to have a glimpse of a spiritual leader they revere. In fact, there were even Buddhists from neighboring Russian Federation, who after hearing about His Holiness’ visit at short notice, made arrangements to be able to participate in the teachings. A New York Times report on November 19 described two such individuals: Daritseren, 73, an ethnic Mongolian from Russian Siberia, who had heard only on Friday (November 18) that the Dalai Lama was visiting Mongolia. “She traveled with 40 other people for 15 hours overnight to make it just in time for the sermon,” it said. Another individual, Boldbaatar, 75, a herder, had traveled 125 miles. “I’m an old man,” the New York Times quotes him as saying. “Maybe I’m seeing His Holiness, the incarnation of Lord Buddha, for the last time,” he added.
However, China has for long been misunderstanding the person of the Dalai Lama, considering him a problem rather than a solution, and has been using economic clout to prevent countries from welcoming him. In fact, many countries far bigger than Mongolia have succumbed to Chinese pressure. The fact that Mongolia did not do so is a testimony to its leaders’ ability to uphold their principles and traditional values. The Mongolian government did not let this undue pressures from China get in the way of enabling Mongolian Buddhists to receive His Holiness’ teachings. Reactions in the Mongolian media that I monitored clearly regard this development positively. I hope such developments will even lead to a time when Chinese Buddhists in China, too, can avail themselves of the wisdom imparted by His Holiness, just as the Mongolians were able to do this time.