Bhuchung K. Tsering

Why does the Dalai Lama look to Avalokiteshvara for his long life?

On Nov. 30, 2022, during a “Tenshug” (long-life offering ceremony) to him in Dharamsala, His Holiness the Dalai Lama pointed to a headshot beside him of the Jowo Wati Sangpo statue and told the gathering that although they are making this offering for him to live long, he in turn was putting faith in the Jowo, the image of which he had specially brought to the ceremony, to grant him the same. He mentioned that this image usually was in his residence, implying its special significance to him.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama drawing attention to the headshot of Jowo Wati Sangpo during the Long-Life Ceremony in Dharamsala on Nov. 30, 2022

The concept of Tenshug is part of our spiritual tradition. It comes from the belief that certain superior beings like His Holiness have the power to decide the course of their lifespan and their rebirth. Therefore, there is the tradition of disciples beseeching upon such lamas, through established rituals, to live long for the sake of all sentient beings. Tenshug literally means “Permanent existence.”

However, I found this statement by His Holiness intriguing as generally during such Tenshug rituals, I have seen him expressing his gratitude to the disciples for their devotion and his determination to continue serving the cause of humanity. So I tried to look into this a bit more to get some clarity on the story behind Jowo Wati Sangpo’s importance.

Jowo Wati Sangpo is believed to be a self-manifested statue of Avalokiteshvara, the Bodhisattva of Compassion, in sandalwood that appeared in the Nepal-India border region. Avalokiteshvara is known as Chenrezig in Tibetan and is regarded as the patron deity of Tibet. In fact, in Tibetan Chenrezig is referred to as Tibet’s Lhakel, “quota from among the gods.” This is because legend has it that the Buddha of Infinite Light, Amitabha, prophesied in the past that Avalokiteshvara would be the one in the future to “subdue the barbaric Land of Snows.” In his response, Avalokiteshvara committed to Amitabha, “May I have the opportunity to establish all living beings in happiness, beginning with those in the Land of Snows. Until I relieve all living beings, may I never, even for a moment feel like giving up the purpose of others for my own peace and happiness.” According to another version, Avalokiteshvara vowed to Amitabha: “If I should ever get discouraged down there, working with those barbaric Tibetans, may my body be shattered into a thousand pieces.” The Dalai Lamas are believed to be manifestations of Avalokiteshvara and therefore having a special concern for the Tibetan people.

The statue of Jowo Wati Sangpo

This statue is more popularly known as Kyirong Jowo (as it came to be housed in a shrine in Kyirong in Western Tibet). The statue has a legendary beginning, believed to be part of five “Arya Brothers” statues that came into existence sometime in the seventh century. Arya is a reference to those who have attained an exalted level of practice in Buddhism. The five statues, according to Tibetan Buddhist historian Pawo Tsuklak Trengwa, are 1) Arya Wati Sangpo, also known as Kyirong Jowo; 2) Arya Bukham of Patan in Nepal; 3) Arya Akham, also of Patan in Nepal; 4) Arya Jamali of Kathmandu in Nepal; 5) Arya Lokeshvara, also known as Jowo Lokeshvara, in the Potala Palace, in Lhasa.

In the seventh century, Tibetan Emperor Songtsen Gampo, being aware of these sacred statues, wanted to bring one to Tibet for the sake of the Buddha Dharma. Legend has it that he sent a light ray from between his eyebrows carrying an emanation known as monk Akaramatiśīla (Lodoe Jungney Tsultrim Sangpo) to go to a sandalwood tree in southern Nepal and get the statue. It is said that the five statues emerged from the tree and miraculously decided on their respective future locations. Thus, two of them ended up in Tibet while the remainder three were in Nepal. One interpretation says that the statues are located along the traditional trade route from Nepal to Tibet, which begins in Patan, passing through the Kathmandu valley and reaching up to Lhasa.

In any case, while the town of Kyirong was the location of Jowo Wati Sangpo, the statue was placed in the care of the Dzongkar Choede monastery in Dzongkar, also in western Tibet, now re-established in south India. According to abbot Jampa Sopa of Dzongkar Choede, the origin of the name Wati Sangpo is traced to a water gutter or trough (In Tibetan a water trough or gutter is called “Wati” or “Wakha”). It is said that when the statue first came to Kyirong, it rested on a stone slab beside a water trough from where people would get water.

As an aside, it is said that Kyirong (“Happy town,” in Tibetan) came to be named as such because the coming of the Jowo Wati Sangpo statue brought happiness to its residents.

After the establishment of the Dalai Lama institutions, there was a special connection between them and the two statues in Tibet. For example, the fifth Dalai Lama is believed to have undertaken an Avalokiteshvara retreat and experienced visions of deities emerging from the heart of Jowo Wati Sangpo. Also, twice during the time of the Fifth and the Eighth Dalai Lamas, the statue was taken to Lhasa for safekeeping in the wake of an incursion by Nepal.

The present Dalai Lama has also talked about his own special connection to Jowo Wati Sangpo. He even calls himself a “Donyer” (chamberlain) of Wati Sangpo and talks about being at his service. During a teaching session in Yokohama in Japan on Nov. 15, 2018, he said, “That statue, the Kyirong Jowo, was brought to India by the monks of Dzongkar Chodé and is now staying with me in Dharamsala. The monks say that different expressions can be seen on its face and I’ve noticed that it seems to smile when I’m making prayers related to bodhichitta. I had a dream about it once in which I was talking to him face to face. I asked if he had realized emptiness. ‘Yes’, he replied. Some people regard the Dalai Lamas as emanations of Avalokiteshvara, but I consider myself to be just his messenger.”

Confirming the Dzongkar Choede monks’ reference to changes in the facial composure of the statue at different times, the Dalai Lama said, “When I pray to him, I feel he smiles at me. Although he can’t walk or talk, he gives me his blessing and as Chenrezig’s representative, I am determined to fulfil his wishes.”

In the wake of the Chinese invasion and occupation of Tibet, the Dzongkar Choede authorities carried out a successful plan to take the statue into exile. This included commissioning similar replacement statues, one in Kyirong itself so that no one would realize that it was no longer there, and the other one in Nepal as a way to placate the devotees who did not want the statue to go onward to India. A fascinating account of how the statue was taken out of Tibet is relayed by Lhakpa la, who was from Kyirong and entrusted with the main task then, to Voice of America’s Lhakpa Kyizom. Eventually, the statue was brought to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala on April 24, 1967. When the Dzongkar Choede monks were resettled in south India, His Holiness conducted a divination on the issue of the statue, which said that the statue should remain in Dharamsala. Thus, it has been in His Holiness’ residential complex. Occasionally, including during the holy month of Sagadawa (fourth month in our calendar) it is brought to the adjacent Thekchen Choling Tsuglakhang for the public to pay their obeisance.

During his address to the gathering on Nov. 30, His Holiness said while the Jowo Lokeshvara is still in the Potala, the Kyirong Jowo ended up with him in Dharamsala. He continued, “Chenrezig or Avalokiteshvara is the patron deity of Tibet and I am someone who receives his blessing. I pray every day to this Wati Sangpo. As a representative of the body, speech and mind of Avalokiteshvara I work to fulfil his wishes. And I will continue to do so for the coming decades. Since you are making these prayers and offerings on my behalf today, and since Wati Sangpo is my refuge and guardian, I’ve brought this photograph of him here with me.”

So now you know the story of the Dalai Lama and the image of Jowo Wati Sangpo.

On China’s “strategy for governing Tibet in the new era”

Third plenary meeting of the Tenth Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region Committee Communist Party in Lhasa on Nov 16, 2022.

In the light of the 20th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, time has come for us to brush up on our understanding of Communist jargons and see if we can truly comprehend what the “new era” means to the Tibetan people.

Obviously, whenever a political leader comes out with an initiative there is an interest in knowing what is new about it and how it might impact the people concerned. Given that Tibet is currently under Chinese rule, and as someone interested in the welfare of the Tibetan people, the urge is there to find out what the “new era” will bring to them.

During the 19th Party Congress in 2017, we saw the incorporation of Xi Jinping’s “Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” in the Party’s Constitution. During the recent 20th Party Congress, China claimed to have established the “new era.”

In fact, even on Taiwan, the 20th CPC document says, “We have put forward an overall policy framework for resolving the Taiwan question in the new era.”

So, what exactly is new in this “new era”? Although the 20th Party Congress report itself did not expand on what it might mean to the Tibetan people, developments before and after it tries to shed some light.

On November 16, 2022, a meeting of the Communist leaders of the Tibet Autonomous Region in Lhasa saw Party Secretary Wang Junzheng making a reference to the “Party’s strategy for governing Tibet in the new era”.

I had a glimmer of hope that there will be clarity now. However, this is not the first time when a Chinese leader has connected the “new era” to Tibet.

Xi Jinping made the first reference to governing Tibet in the new era during his address at the seventh Tibet Work Forum in August 2020. According to Xinhua, “Xi underlined the need to fully implement the CPC’s policies on governing Tibet for a new era.” The state media reported Xi as telling the meeting,” Efforts must be made to build a new modern socialist Tibet that is united, prosperous, culturally advanced, harmonious and beautiful”.

Thereafter, in May 2021, in its White Paper “Tibet Since 1951: Liberation, Development and Prosperity” the Chinese Government devoted a whole section to “Embarking on a New Journey in the New Era.” The White Paper said the “four main tasks embodied in the guidelines for governing Tibet – ensuring stability, facilitating development, protecting the eco-environment, and strengthening the frontiers – will be implemented”.

At the recent meeting in Lhasa, Wang expanded on what is meant by governing Tibet in the new era through bringing in more Chinese Communist jargons. He said it meant “anchoring the “four important issues” (四件大事 Sì jiàn dàshì) and “four guarantees”(四个确保 sì gè quèbǎo). Wang added that “The strategic deployment of “Four Creations” (四个创建 sì gè zǒu zài qiánliè) and “Four Advances” (四个走在前列 sì gè zǒu zài qiánliè) is an inevitable requirement for implementing the “two-step” strategic arrangement in the new era and building a new socialist modernized Tibet.”

What these jargons mean in actual practice is not clear to me and so the question remains on what the “new era” entails. Irrespective of the labels, one thing is clear from the “new era”: the Chinese authorities intend to strengthen their hold on all things Tibetan. In 2020, we surmised that the “new era” includes “Sinicization” of Tibetan Buddhism and improving the ability of Chinese Communist Party organizations and members at all levels “to deal with major struggles and prevent major risks.” This being the case, the new era that the Chinese Communist Party is offering to the Tibetan people is not a welcome one.

Speaking of jargons, the November 16 meeting in Lhasa was the third plenary meeting of the Tenth Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region Committee Communist Party. As a matter of curiosity, I looked up the outcome of a similar plenary of the previous Ninth Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Region Committee Communist Party held in 2017. The 2017 meeting clearly said, “we must persist in carrying out the anti-separatist struggle in depth” whereas the 2022 meeting did not have any such references. Should one conclude from this that “separatism” — as the Chinese government terms Tibetan struggle for their own rights — is no longer an issue today? Something to ponder.

Kasur Lodi Gyari and international diplomacy on Tibet

Oct. 29, 2022 marks the fourth death anniversary of Kasur Lodi Gyari, who until his retirement was the Special Envoy of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and concurrently Executive Chairman of the Board of the International Campaign for Tibet.

The Dalai Lama's Special EnvoyEven though Rinpoche, as he is reverently addressed by people in the Tibetan cultural world, is no longer with us, his legacy lives on and is a daily reminder to many of us at ICT who knew him. Now, a book that he had been working on since his retirement has been published by the Columbia University Press. It is aptly titled, “The Dalai Lama’s Special Envoy: Memoirs of a Lifetime in Pursuit of a Reunited Tibet.”

I have been reading the book and taking in all the information therein like any other new reader. I am saying this since some might assume that having worked with Rinpoche closely, I might have seen it in manuscript form. Rinpoche told me categorically that he intentionally did not include some of us who were working closely with him (I understand even some of his family members did not have access to it) in the process of writing this book so that his process would be clear.

This is also not a book review. In addition to my not having finished reading it at the time of writing, it will take much more space and analysis to thoroughly appreciate the book. Having said that, the title of the book summarizes Rinpoche’s objective: fulfilling the vision of H.H. the Dalai Lama keeping in consideration all Tibetans. In his preface, Rinpoche says, “I firmly believe that I was destined to serve my people and His Holiness. When I look back over the past decades of my service, it is clear to me that each major change in my life was guided by some unseen force.” Indeed!

Me assisting Gyari Rinpoche as he prepares a Mandala set for a formal presentation to Dr. James Billington, the Librarian of Congress, in July 2010, part of the items that His Holiness the Dalai Lama had gifted to the Library of Congress.

Even from the pages that I have read so far, the book provides insight into how His Holiness’ vision was put into action. It has revelations of the different players with whom Rinpoche interacted and self-examination of developments and challenges with recommendations for the future.

In the post-1959 period Kasur Lodi Gyari is among those notable Tibetan leaders who have made a mark in shaping the direction of the Tibetan movement. Rinpoche’s fingerprints can be seen in the development of the Tibetan media, democratic governance system and also in public diplomacy. All of these are highlighted in the book.

Rinpoche’s greatest contribution is his role in the field of Tibetan diplomacy, and virtually two-thirds of the book are devoted to this topic. It was also because of this quality of Rinpoche that His Holiness the Dalai Lama assigned him to be the lead interlocutor in the dialogue process with China.

Rinpoche had a clear strategy and game plan. He redefined “dialogue” to the Tibetan people. Conventionally, people assumed that Tibetan-Chinese dialogue meant the actual act of Tibetan officials meetings with Chinese officials. However, Rinpoche asserted that dialogue did not merely mean the few days of actual talks that might take place with Chinese officials. Rather, it included the need to take into consideration the building of a necessary support base among governments and in the international community so that the talks could have the needed outcome. Rinpoche came up with a strategy to build a coalition of governments whose representatives met regularly to discuss with him in Washington, DC and elsewhere. To fulfill this, he regularly consulted with officials of different governments in Asia, Europe and the Americas. Similarly, he chose to reach out to think tanks and influential individuals, including Chinese intellectuals and Tibetan personalities inside Tibet, who could use their good offices to help with the dialogue process. Rinpoche thus brought a multifaceted approach to the process. I have had the privilege of accompanying him on many of these meetings. Each of these entities were a piece of a puzzle, the complete image of which was clear to Rinpoche.

Interestingly, there were times when Rinpoche even felt the need to ask the international community not to give up its hopes for forward movement in the Tibetan dialogue process. In a testimony to the then-House Committee on International Relations (now the House Foreign Affairs Committee) on March 7, 2002, some months before he was to lead the first round of talks, Rinpoche said: “Members of Congress acting in Committee and individually have taken significant initiative to reach out to the Chinese leadership to urge dialogue with His Holiness, respect for religious freedom, and on behalf of certain Tibetan political prisoners. I know that some congressional friends have been deeply frustrated in their efforts and have even questioned the utility of continuously raising Tibet with the Chinese when their words appear to fall on deaf ears. Yet, I must ask you today not to give up.”

He added, “For the people of Tibet, congressional resolve has given us hope that the possibility of a political solution has not been foreclosed. As long as people have hope, they refrain from desperate measures. Although Tibetans inside Tibet must live in a political and economic situation increasingly beyond their control and by every measure less and less Tibetan, they still cling to hope—hope that His Holiness the Dalai Lama will one day return and hope that they will be delivered from Chinese oppression.”

Rinpoche also provided an international dimension to the Tibetan issue, asserting that the international community is a stakeholder in its future. In a speech at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government on Oct. 8, 2008, Rinpoche expanded on this. He said, “But resolving the Tibetan issue is also important to the international community, particularly to our region. The historically volatile Central Asian region has revived and has already become an area of conflict. Here Tibet can play a stabilizing role, which is important to the countries in the region such as India, China, and Russia, as well as to the United States and other countries. Tibet, which for centuries played the vital role as a buffer in the region, can help create a more cohesive and stable region by serving as a valuable bridge. A number of political observers from the region also acknowledge that resolving the Tibet issue is an important factor in the normalization of India-China relations. Understanding the great mutual benefit for all concerned, His Holiness has consistently supported closer India-China relations.

“There is also increased awareness of the vital importance of the Tibetan plateau from the environmental perspective. Just on the issue of water alone, it is an undeniable fact that over the next few decades water may become as scarce a commodity as oil. Tibet is literally the life-source of the region, serving as the source of most of Asia’s major rivers. Therefore, protecting Tibet’s fragile environment should be accorded the highest priority.”

Rinpoche also did much to explain what the Tibetan issue was and what it was not so that the dialogue process was not confused. For example, when China was literally forcing governments to repeat adherence to the “one-China” principle at every opportunity, Rinpoche explained how this should not apply to the Tibetan situation. In an address to the Council on Foreign Relations in Washington, DC, on April 23, 2012, Rinpoche explained it this way: “If one has to look for any reference point for China-Tibet relations, it is not the 1972 Shanghai communiqué, but the ‘17 Point Agreement,’ previously mentioned. In fact, the lack of relevance of the ‘one China’ policy is precisely what I would like to address. No Tibetan government has ever claimed to be the government of China, so the application of the ‘one-China’ policy to Tibet—or for that matter, the PRC government’s ‘one China’ principle that stresses the inalienability of both Taiwan and mainland China as parts of a single ‘China’—simply does not arise.”

Rinpoche’s diplomacy encompassed outreach to the Tibetan people as well. One of his constant lamentations, also mentioned in the book, is that we Tibetans fail to study our history properly and to learn from it. For example, concerning the Middle Way Approach, Rinpoche says this in the book’s preface: “Unless we fully understand the tumultuous and complex decades of our early years in exile, we cannot truly appreciate why His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama took the courageous decision to adopt the Middle Way Approach.” The book has a section totally devoted to this tumultuous period.

Nature of his assignment

In the final years of the 2002-2010 dialogue period, there were those who felt that the exercise had not achieved anything. By this, they meant that the issue remained unresolved even after nine rounds of talks. Rinpoche spoke out on many occasions about the nature of his assignment and how there might be differing public reaction no matter what the outcome was. This was because he knew that trying to talk to the Chinese leadership on the complicated issue of Tibet where there were several factors at play was a herculean task. Any outcome would be controversial.

However, this did not mean Rinpoche failed in his assignment. Rinpoche was clear in what he was tasked to do. On Sept. 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 twofold. 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.”

On May 10, 2007, in a speech at Asia Centre, a think tank based in Paris, Rinpoche outlined the status of the dialogue process until then, saying, “The five rounds of discussions that we have had with the Chinese leadership have brought our dialogue to a new level. Today, there is a deeper understanding of each other’s positions and the recognition of where the fundamental differences lie. On the surface it may appear that there have been no break-throughs and that a wide gap persists in our positions. But the very fact that the two sides have been able to explicitly state our positions after so many decades represents a significant development.”

Subsequently, he summed up the outcome after the dialogue process ended in 2010. On March 5, 2010, in a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank based in Washington, DC, Rinpoche said, “Through our talks, for the first time after decades of being in and out of contact, we have been able to convey to the Chinese leadership in an unambiguous manner the position of His Holiness and the steps that need to be taken to resolve the Tibetan problem. Our talks have certainly enabled us to understand better the Chinese government’s position and concerns regarding the future of Tibet.”

Even as Rinpoche was able to convey His Holiness’ position directly to the Chinese government, he clearly reiterated the fundamental issues in which there would be no change. In his “My Personal Words of Gratitude,” which he released at the time of his retirement on Dec. 31, 2014, he said, “My delegation made sincere and serious effort to convince the Chinese leaders of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s firm commitment to seek a solution for the future of Tibet without independence and within the Peoples Republic of China (PRC). We were also explicit and firm on three fundamentally important positions as directed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan leadership: 1) that whatever solution was worked out must address all the Tibetans and encompass all the areas inhabited by Tibetan people, 2) that while our commitment to seeking a solution within the PRC was genuine, we could not accept a falsified and distorted version of our history and, 3) that the issue confronting us was not about the title, the function or the future of His Holiness the Dalai Lama but that of the six million Tibetans and their place within the People’s Republic of China.”

Rinpoche also made use of the media to convey his messages as and when needed. In the course of his leading the dialogue process, I saw him strategically give interviews to specific news outlets (including having us organize Chinese-only media events) or write articles for a news outlet with a specific target audience in mind. Some months after the ninth round of talks that ended in January-February 2010, Rinpoche wrote an op-ed in the South China Morning Post on Sept. 12, 2010 in which he had a clear message to the Chinese government. Rinpoche wrote:

“The Chinese leadership needs to take responsibility and make a serious commitment to finding a real solution to the issue of Tibet. The urgency of that responsibility is all the more palpable because of the uniqueness of this current window of time. Never before has there been a Tibetan leader like His Holiness, who has so firmly and persistently pursued such a challenging and treacherous path to achieve visionary change for the Tibetan and Chinese peoples.”

Given his work here in Washington, DC, it was very encouraging that the United States Senate honored him with a resolution passed in September 2012, saying it commends his achievements in building “an international coalition of support for Tibet.”

In 2018, after his untimely demise, I ended a blog piece of mine about him with this: “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.” Now, I can say that with this book, there is some sort of closure.

China’s 20th Party Congress and the Tibetans

As the Chinese Communist Party prepares to begin its 20th National Congress on Oct. 16, 2022, I must note that China has not been able to come up with a credible Tibetan leader since 2014 when Bapa Phuntsog Wangyal Goranangpa, the last such individual, passed away.

The 10th Panchen Lama, Ngapo Ngawang Jigme and Bapa Phuntsog Wangyal were three Tibetans who enjoyed some sort of pan-Tibetan acceptance after the Chinese takeover of Tibet in the post-1959 period. All three of them were met by the first fact-finding delegation that the H.H. the Dalai Lama sent to China and Tibet in 1979 (see photo), and separately by other visiting Tibetan leaders from exile. In a way, the Chinese authorities tried to use them as their vehicle to seek control over the Tibetan people.

Members of the first fact-finding delegation sent by the Dalai Lama with the three Tibetan leaders in Beijing in 1979. Standing (from left) Dharamsala official Phuntsok Tashi Taklha, 10th Panchen Lama, Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, Phuntsog Wangyal Goranangpa, Dharamsala official Thupten Namgyal Juchen. Kneeling (from left) Dharamsala officials Tashi Topgyal and Lobsang Dhargay Phunrab and the Dalai Lama’s brother Lobsang Samten Taklha.

The Panchen Lama endeared himself to the Tibetans, even though he was not initially recognized by the Tibetan government, because of his forthright championing of the cause of the Tibetan people and for his steadfast devotion to the Dalai Lama. His petition on the situation in Tibet addressed to Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai was a direct challenge to the Chinese policies on Tibetans, and according to Isabel Hilton (author of “The Search for the Panchen Lama”), the petition is the “most detailed and informed attack on China’s policies in Tibet that would ever be written.”

On Jan. 23, 1989, the Panchen Lama delivered a speech in Tibet in which he said: “Since liberation, there has certainly been development, but the price paid for this development has been greater than the gains.” Five days later, he passed away mysteriously.

Ngapo was a minister in the Tibetan government before the Chinese takeover, and he led the Tibetan delegation in the talks with the Chinese government in 1951, during which he was made to sign the controversial 17 Point Agreement. He worked within the system thereafter, opting to stay back in Tibet in 1959, and rose up in the Chinese hierarchy.

Many Tibetans accuse Ngapo of not speaking more forthrightly and openly on behalf of the Tibetan people, as the 10th Panchen Lama did. Nevertheless, the two of them worked together to see how they could be of benefit to the Tibetans within the Chinese system, including through the establishment of the Tibet Development Fund to implement developmental projects in Tibetan areas.

Also, Ngapo did correct certain historical distortions that were being promoted by the Chinese government. For example, in a speech in an internal meeting in 1988 he said this on the nature of the 17 Point Agreement: “Such an agreement has never existed between the central government and any other minority regions. We have to consider the special situation in Tibetan history while drafting policies for Tibet in order to realize its long-term stability.”

In 1989, Ngapo corrected the official Communist Chinese report that claimed that in 1940 the then-Chinese envoy, Wu Zhongxin, sent to the Tibetan capital Lhasa for the enthronement of the 14th Dalai Lama, had “presided over” his enthronement, and as evidence showed a photograph of her with the Dalai Lama. Obviously, this was being done to indicate that Tibet was politically subservient to China. However, Ngapo said this in Tibet Daily on Aug. 31, 1989: “Wu Zhongxin’s claim of having presided over the enthronement ceremony on the basis of this photograph is a blatant distortion of historical facts.” Tibetan historians have also written that records show the Chinese envoy did not get any special treatment than what was given to other foreign dignitaries attending the ceremony then. Apparently, the photo was taken not on the day of the ceremony, but a few days after it.

Ngapo passed away in 2009.

Phuntsok Wangyal, or ‘Phunwang,’ is of another category. He did not have the religious background nor the political background of the Panchen Lama and Ngapo. He in fact was a devoted Communist and in the 1950s he was the highest-ranking Tibetan in the Chinese Communist Party, and he accompanied Zhang Guohua, the commander of the 18th Army, to Lhasa. Thus, his involvement with the Chinese Communists resulted in Tibetans regarding him negatively. At the same time, in subsequent years, he did not gain the trust of the Chinese authorities, too, on account of his commitment to the welfare of Tibetans, which made him suspect to them.

While aligning himself with the Chinese government, Phunwang was vocal in urging it to change its Tibet policy. He submitted open letters to Chinese leaders, including Hu Jintao, calling for a review of their attitude toward the Dalai Lama.

He passed away in 2014.

In between and subsequently, the Chinese authorities have tried to cultivate several Tibetan leaders to be their token Tibetan. However, none of them have received the same respect and support among Tibetans as the three mentioned above had gotten. From the Chinese side, despite official claims of equality and ethnic unity, in practice there is a trust deficit when it comes to Tibetans. Thus, very few Tibetans have fit the category of having some presence among Tibetans but also enjoying the Party’s trust.

Ragdi and Phakpalha Gelek Namgyal are two such individuals.

Ragdi is from northern Tibet and assumed leadership positions both in Lhasa and in Beijing. For some years in the 2000s, he was the “Tibetan face” of the Chinese Communist Party. But after the 16th Party Congress, in 2007 and 2008, he had to step away from his party and government positions. He does figure now and then on the political stage, but his influence is not clear.

Phakpalha, who is a reincarnation and head of a major monastery in eastern Tibet, is the longest lasting of the Tibetan leaders. Starting in the 1950s, he has continued to hold positions in Lhasa and Beijing. Currently, he is simultaneously a vice chair of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and the Tibet Autonomous Region People’s Political Consultative Conference. However, these days he is rarely seen in meetings, and one gets to occasionally hear of him when visiting senior Chinese officials call on him while in Lhasa.

So as the Chinese Communist leaders gather in Beijing, they do so with the knowledge that while they have physical control of Tibet, they have not been able to win over the Tibetans even after six decades of occupation. The fact that they do not have even one Tibetan leader who enjoys Tibetan public support and who they can trust completely is a testimony to this. Even the Panchen Lama selected by the Chinese Communist authority has been said to be not totally trusted to be left on his own.

Signs and symbols concerning the Dalai Lama and his reincarnation

Two important statements in recent days have brought the focus once again to the issue of the reincarnation of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

On Sept. 22, 2022, during a two-day dialogue with youth leaders from the Middle East, Africa, Southeast Asia and South America who had gathered in Dharamsala, India, His Holiness was requested to reflect on the topic of “belonging” after hearing stories from the youth leaders on the impact of war and conflict on their families. In his response, His Holiness expanded his thoughts on the oneness of humanity, from birth to death. He said that at the time of birth, we all experience mother’s affection and compassion, and so even at the time of death if one is “surrounded by people who really show you genuine warm feeling, the dying person will be much happier.” At this stage, he told them that he had spoken to Indian former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (during one of their meetings) concerning his wish when the time came for his own death. His Holiness told the gathering, “I will live for another 15 to 20 years, there is no question (on this). But at the time when I (am) dying, I prefer in India, you see, surrounded with people who really show you love, not artificial something. If I (am) dying surrounded with Chinese officials, too much artificial. So I much prefer dying (in) this country, free, democracy, open.” His Holiness continued by saying that when we are born there is no ceremony and when we die there is no need for ceremony but only to be “surrounded by trusted friends.”

On the face of it, this utterance by His Holiness does not directly refer to reincarnation, but the fact that he is talking about spending his last days outside of Chinese control has implications for a post-Dalai Lama period. Although it is a deeply personal thing, such a scenario would mean that His Holiness and his Gaden Phodrang “institution” (the closest word in English for the Tibetan term “Ladrang,” conventionally pronounced as “Labrang”) will have the freedom to decide on the procedures and implement them without any risk of interference from the Chinese government. Given the current tense situation in Tibet, I feel that His Holiness was intentionally using “trusted friends” in the above remarks to expand on his reason for preferring India to be the place where he would spend his last days. This will be critical when the time comes to begin the process of searching for the reincarnation.

Then on Sept. 26, 2022, the Central Tibetan Administration issued a statement explaining its position on the issue of His Holiness’ reincarnation. I think in order to emphasize the importance of the statement, it was issued in the name of the Kashag and not in the name of the Department of Information & International Relations, as routine public statements are done.

Concerned governments and others have been interested in understanding how the post-Dalai Lama scenario will roll out. Even His Holiness has been directly asked about this by some. By maintaining strategic ambiguity and depoliticizing the issue, I feel His Holiness is maintaining a balance between the deeply spiritual process of the reincarnation tradition and the public interest in the institution of the Dalai Lama.

In any case, the following are my takeaways from the Kashag’s statement.

From the statement, it is clear that internal discussions are already taking place among concerned people in Dharamsala on issues relating to the reincarnation of H.H. the Dalai Lama, even though there may not be any public visibility of the same. The statement even says that the Kashag is in the process of working on other timely issues that need to be addressed.

Secondly, just as His Holiness himself asserted in his 2011 statement on his reincarnation, the Tibetan leadership’s statement says that only His Holiness has sole legitimate authority over his reincarnation issue, including individuals he might entrust with the responsibility “and no other government or individual.” It even says that the Tibetan Administration will only be there to serve any role that it is called upon to play by His Holiness or the entrusted individual(s), whatever the case may be.

As for His Holiness’ statement about preferring India as the country that he would like to spend his last days in, there may be some who look for signs and symbolism or who even look for clues in his not-too-infrequent visits (prior to the coronavirus pandemic) to the Himalayan regions in India that border Tibet. Interestingly, for the first time since the pandemic, His Holiness made his travel outside of Dharamsala to Ladakh in July this year, spending 40 days there. During his remarks there, he repeatedly mentioned how he was very much touched by the devotion and reverence of the Ladakhi people. Soon thereafter, we also saw delegations from Sikkim (led by the state’s Ecclesiastical Minister) and Arunachal Pradesh (the delegation included Guru Rinpoche, the former abbot of the famed Tawang monastery), both places bordering Tibet with residents who look to Tibet as their spiritual source, visiting Dharamsala to request His Holiness the Dalai Lama to visit their places.

A delegation from Arunachal Pradesh with the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala in September.

Students of Tibetan history will know that the Sixth Dalai Lama, Tsangyang Gyatso, wrote a poem (which is now even a famous classical song called “Nangma Amale”), which went something like, “White crane, lend me your wings. I won’t fly far, but just to Lithang and back.” Subsequently, the Seventh Dalai Lama was born in Lithang in Eastern Tibet. Interestingly, the Sixth Dalai Lama was born in Tawang in present-day Arunachal Pradesh.

Then, in his memoir, “My Land & My People,” the current Dalai Lama mentions that his predecessor, the 13th Dalai Lama, had visited his hometown of Kumbum when he was fleeing to China after the British invasion of Tibet in 1904. While in Kumbum, he saw the current Dalai Lama’s house and remarked that “it was a beautiful place.” To further the symbolic connection, the 13th Dalai Lama had left behind a pair of his Tibetan boots called Jachen at the Karma Rolpai Dorje monastery in Kumbum where he stayed while there. Obviously, it all made sense when the present Dalai Lama was born in the same village subsequently.

While the present Dalai Lama has assured us that he will be here for some time, as and when the time comes for a post-Dalai Lama scenario, it is clear the spiritual process will be dominant. This means non-believers will not have any role in it. Just saying!

Click here to read the Kashag’s statement in Tibetan.

Thubten Samphel: A scholar and a gentleman

On the morning of June 4, 2022, I received the shocking news of the demise of Thubten Samphel la, a retired senior Tibetan official, at his residence in the Tibetan settlement in Bylakuppe in South India. It was shocking because he had no major health issues.

In our work at the International Campaign for Tibet, we found in Samphel la a resource bank and a strong admirer of our work. At our request, he had served as a judge in one of our Tibetan empowerment programs, namely the Light of Truth Essay Competition. We have also had him speak to ICT members and staff, both here in Washington, DC and in Dharamsala. He also was responsible for the English version of our publication, “Tibet in Chains: The Stories of Nine Tibetan Nuns.”

Samphel la was born in Tibet, grew up in India. He finished his high school from Dr. Graham’s Home in Kalimpong near the Tibetan border in eastern India and his undergrad and graduation studies from St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University. He then worked for the Central Tibetan Administration in Dharamsala in various capacities from 1981 until his retirement in 2018. In between, when the US Department of State established a program (now known as the Tibetan Scholarship Program) to enable Tibetan refugees in the Indian subcontinent to do further study in the United States (ICT was involved in advocating for its establishment), Samphel la was among those in the first group to be sent. He studied journalism from Columbia University, New York. You can read more details of his life in this obituary by the Central Tibetan Administration.

Samphel la with his wife Namgyal Chonzom, daughter Tenzin Dekyong, and sons Rabten Namgyal and Tenzin Yugyal. From the family’s collection.

My connection with Samphel la began while I was an undergrad student in Delhi (in Hansraj College) and he was finishing his graduation from the prestigious St. Stephen’s College. Subsequently, when I began working as a journalist for the Indian Express in New Delhi, it was a natural process of keeping in touch with him, as he had by then joined the Tibetan Information Office in Dharamsala. I would occasionally brief him on developments, and since he was editing the official journal Tibetan Bulletin, I started contributing articles and information for it. In one of his letters to me then, he addressed me as “Dear Mr. Reporter,” displaying his own unique sense of humor.

He wasn’t meant to be a bureaucrat and so was a misfit in the mandala of Gangkyi, the area where the Central Tibetan Administration offices were located in Dharamsala. I feel he felt constrained by the procedures that are part of any administration, including that of the Tibetans in exile. His usual way of expressing his disgust at the working of politicians was to squint his eyes (beneath his round rimmed glasses) and sigh out loudly, something like “oof” whenever we had to deal with a situation.

His calling was in scholarship and academics, and he displayed them when Dharamsala had to come out with lengthy reports on different aspects of the Tibetan issue. This can also be seen through his very many analytical articles during his time at the Tibet Policy Institute, including those dealing with aspects of Chinese policies on Tibet. Given his scholarship, some of us colleagues who worked in Dharamsala with him have knighted him, and he is referred to as “Sir Samphel.” Everyone who knew him, whether his senior or junior, respectfully called him Samphel la.

He was interested in analysis of society. I recall Marxist formulations like “base and superstructure” coming out of his mouth during some of our discussions then, but I have not seen him espouse any specific political ideology.

Every time I would meet him during my trips to Dharamsala in recent years, he would always commend the work of ICT, in particular the reports that we bring out. He was particularly impressed by an analysis of the impressions of Chinese visitors to Tibet that we published in 2014. On a few different occasions I recall him telling me how good this report was: “‘Has Life Here Always Been Like This?’ Chinese Microbloggers Reveal Systematic Militarization in Tibet.” It collected hundreds of images and messages from the Chinese microblogging site Weibo and documented perspectives of Chinese tourists on conditions in Tibet.

Gyari Rinpoche (Lodi Gyari as he is formally known), who was the Special Envoy of H.H. the Dalai Lama in Washington, DC as well as ICT’s Executive Chairman (under whom both Samphel la and I had worked in Dharamsala), understood his potential as a scholar. Among the efforts Rinpoche made to exploit this potential of Samphel la was to make efforts to place him as a fellow at the George W. Bush Institute in Texas in 2011. At that time there were plans to establish a formal relationship with the institute, given former President George W. Bush’s interest in H.H. the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan issue. Rinpoche thought that Samphel la’s presence as a research fellow at the institute would enable Samphel la to exercise his passion while placing the Tibetan issue before policymakers here in the United States. I was involved in some of the discussions that took place then. All preparatory work had been done on this, but somehow it did not come to fruition at the end.

It was only at the end of his working life that Samphel la was able to exercise his passion a bit more when he headed the newly established Tibet Policy Institute in Dharamsala. I can only imagine what the situation would have been had he been involved with a similar research institute from 1981 itself. In any case, over the years he was able to exercise his passion for writing. In addition to several articles (which he continued to do even after retirement), he wrote two novels. “Falling through the Roof” (“Novel based on the real pathos of Tibetan students studying in Delhi University and their political activities to liberate Tibet by forming Tibetan Communist Party”) and “Copper Mountain” (“A moving picture of Tibet’s natural beauty and rich historical tradition, Copper Mountain combines memorable characters with an environmental conspiracy and a shot of dark humour”). He is in the category of a handful of Tibetans who have ventured into the world of fiction writing in English.

He is survived by his wife, Namgyal Chonzom, and three children, daughter Tenzin Dekyong and sons Rabten Namgyal and Tenzin Yugyal. He has two siblings in Tibet and another one in exile, who was also a CTA official and predeceased him.

During his time on this earth in this lifetime, Sir Samphel has left his mark. We can celebrate his legacy.

How the great escape of H.H. the Dalai Lama in 1959 was planned

It is common knowledge among people who know something about modern Tibetan history that on the night of March 17, 1959, in the wake of increasing threats posed by the Chinese invasion, His Holiness the Dalai Lama made his great escape from the Norbu Lingka residence in Lhasa, for safety, eventually crossing over into freedom in India on March 31, 1959.

The broader details of this escape have been related primarily by His Holiness in his two memoirs. This blog post is about other aspects that have a human interest element. As much as the actual timing of the escape was sudden, a great deal of behind the scenes preparations were certainly made. Some Tibetan officials who were involved have given indications of such a preparation.

The Ramagang ferry used in His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s escape from Tibet in March 1959. Photo from The Tibet Album. 05 Dec. 2006. The Pitt Rivers Museum. <>

The mastermind was the then-Lord Chamberlain Thubten Woedhen Phala. He was using his position to undertake initiatives that the then-Tibetan government would not have been able to take formally. He was also strategic in his thinking covering the possibility of His Holiness seeking refuge in India. So some time before the escape, Phala had sent an official, Thupten Tsephel Tekhang, to the then-Indian Consul General in Lhasa S.L Chibber, to brief him on the situation. Although the Tibetan side was continuing to talk to the Chinese side on a solution, Phala’s message said that if this did not work out His Holiness would need to seek refuge in India and requested him to convey the same to the Indian government so that this could be considered when the time came. Chibber responded positively, asking to be informed of the timing and the route that would be taken, whether through Bhutan or through Nathu La in Sikkim. Chibber might have been following guidance provided in a cable that the Indian Foreign Ministry sent to him and the political officer in Gangtok (who oversaw Tibet) on March 15, 1959. The cable said, “Prime Minister is quite clear in his mind that, if the Dalai Lama seeks protection in Indian territory, we should give him asylum. You should not, however, reveal this to anybody at this stage.”

Phala also maintained secrecy of the plan by involving only a few people, and they were asked to take an oath (something considered sacred by Tibetans) even before they were told what the issue was. Among the two people he brought in first were the head of the bodyguard regiment, P.T. Takla, and a senior official (with a Dzasa title), Woeser Gyaltsen Kundeling. He was popularly called Kundeling Dzasa then. He is from a monastic community in Lhasa, two of whose heads have served as regents of Tibet.

Phala’s strategy included not seeking recourse to the normal governmental machinery for logistical support. Although the Tibetan government had a stable of around 200 horses and mules for transportation, none of these were commissioned to avoid information from leaking. Instead, Phala asked Kundeling Dzasa to manage the organization of the critical initial stage of the escape, from Norbu Lingka to the Ramagang ferry, from where the Kyichu river was to be crossed, including providing the necessary horses and mules. In addition to having known each other for a long time, Ramagang’s location was also close to Kundeling monastery, and so it made sense for Kundeling Dzasa to be involved.

The entourage members for the escape included the two tutors of His Holiness, Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche; members of the Kashag; senior attendants to His Holiness; and the Yapshi family. However, only P.T Takla, Chikyab Khenpo (head of Ecclesiastical Affairs) Lobsang Rigzin Gadrang and the Lord Chamberlain Phala actually accompanied His Holiness as he departed Norbu Lingka that night (more on this later). The others were asked to gather in Norbu Lingka that night and sent in advance by trucks toward Kundeling monastery, from where they were taken to the Ramagang ferry. The day before the departure, the security guards at the Norbu Lingka gates were called to a meeting by Phala and were informed that during the nights there would be patrols going around, and the security guards should not switch on their flashlights or ask for identifications. They were also told that trucks were being sent the next night to collect armaments from the Potala and Shol and they should not be searched.

Phala also considered meals for His Holiness during the escape. He instructed the head of the Norbu Lingka kitchen to take along required materials and wait at the Ramagang ferry and accompany the entourage in case His Holiness decided to travel. Since the chef was not informed of the actual plan, it took some time for him to be able to connect with the entourage, it seems.

Kundeling on his part involved another, Tenpa Soepa, in the plan. Tenpa Soepa belonged to the Kundeling community. He has written his memoir and spoken about the great escape and mentioned code signals, like gun shot sounds and flashlight, to be used by people involved in the escape.

One of the tasks assigned to Tenpa Soepa la was to await at a bridge near Kundeling for a vehicle to arrive around 11 pm on the night of March 17 and to lead them to the nearby Ramagang Ferry. He did so and when the vehicle arrived, the two tutors of His Holiness, Ling Rinpoche and Trijang Rinpoche, as well as three ministers, Wangchen Gelek Surkhang, Gyurme Topgyal Shasur and Thupten Tharpa Liushar, were in it. Surkhang had a bag, which Tenpa Soepa helped to carry, and he was asked to be careful as it contained the official seals. From His Holiness’ memoirs, we learn that the bag would have contained his seal as well as that of the Kashag and some official documents.

At around 10 pm Tenpa Soepa la heard a gunshot from the other side of the river, a signal to indicate that everything was fine in the area and to proceed.

When His Holiness departed that night, he was first in the Takten Migyur Palace (popularly known as the new palace, having been constructed in the mid 1950s on a plan laid out by then-official Jigme Taring). His Holiness could only take two additional robes. From his room, he left for the chapel of the protecting deity Gonpo (Mahakala) accompanied by the head of bodyguards, P.T. Takla, and two guards. His Holiness has said that he always made it a point to pray in this chapel before going on long journeys. As the two guards were not privy to the escape plan, Takla sent them away while His Holiness was praying in the chapel.

His Holiness then subsequently left from the southern gate of Norbu Lingka, accompanied by Chikyab Khenpo (head of the Ecclesiastical Affairs) Gadrang, Lord Chamberlain Phala and head of security guard Takla. And the rest is history.

Watch “Never Forget Tibet,” the amazing true story of the Dalai Lama’s escape to India, in over 800 theaters across the United States for one night only, March 31. Get your tickets now!

This Tiger Year Losar, let us talk about Tibetan astrology

On March 3, Tibetans as well as other communities from the Himalayan region welcome the year of the Tiger. Some other Asian communities, including Vietnamese and Chinese, welcomed Tiger year a month back. So first of all, Happy New Year or as we say, Losar la Tashi Delek.

If you are born in the year of the Tiger (from around March of each of these years: 1926, 1938, 1950, 1962, 1974, 1986, 1998, 2010 or 2022) then some of the characteristics you are believed to have are the following, according to some with knowledge of Tibetan astrology: On the positive side, you are generous, kind, mighty and charismatic; protective of your family members and those under your sphere of influence. You have a love of small birds and animals. You do not shy away from challenges, are humorous and musically inclined. On the negative side, you are talkative, suspicious and a contrarian. You are liable to have extreme emotional experiences, sometimes happy, at other times sad, but you don’t need to be pitied. You are capable of selecting the best for yourself.

Some of the well-known people born in the Tiger year include Everester Tenzing Norgay Sherpa (1914), Jiang Qing (wife of Mao Zedong, 1914), British Queen Elizabeth II (1926), Cuban leader Fidel Castro (1926), Chinese leader Jiang Zemin (1926), Journalist Peter Jennings (1938), Former Secretary-General of the United Nations Kofi Annan (1938), Hong Kong democracy activist Martin Lee (1938), Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (1950), retired Indian diplomat Nirupama Rao (1950), singer Stevie Wonder (1950), Malaysian actress Michelle Yeoh (1962), Bhutanese Prince Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1986), Lady Gaga (1986), Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt (1986), etc.

Among Tibetans, well known personalities born in the Tiger year include the first recorded King Nyatri Tsenpo (among versions, one says he was born in the Wood-Tiger year in 127 BC, another says he was born in the Fire-Tiger year in 115 BC), the first Karmapa Dhuesum Khyenpa (Iron-Tiger year in the second Rabjung cycle, corresponding to 1110), the 10th Panchen Lama (1938), Buddhist, and Bon scholar and master Namkhai Norbu Rinpoche (1938).

Astrology plays an important role in the lives of the Tibetan community, from birth to other significant periods in an individual’s life like education, career, livelihood, travel, sickness, and till death and life after. In this one’s “year symbol,” or “Lothak” as it is known in Tibetan, is very important. Since each year is believed to be connected to a specific symbol (explained below), the “Lothak” is the first point of reference whenever someone has to consult an astrologer. There is a tradition to consult lamas or astrologers to do divination and astrological calculations to determine propitiousness of events or actions connected to an individual and to identify antidotes and act on them when there are obstacles.

To provide some background, Tibetan astrology is a system evolved from Indian and Chinese traditions. History says in the sixth century, the then 32nd Tibetan Emperor Namri Songtsen sent scholars to China to study astrology. In the 8th century, Guru Padmasambhava came to Tibet from India bringing along with him knowledge about the role of elements in an individual’s life. In the 11th century, the Sri Kalachakra Tantra from India, which forms the basis of modern Tibetan astrology, was translated from Sanskrit into Tibetan reportedly by Gijo Dawa Woeser, and thereafter the tradition of the annual Tibetan almanac was begun. Within it, there arose two sub-systems, the Phukluk tradition (which subsequently has come to be regarded as the official system) and the Tsurluk tradition (established by the Karmapas). During the time of the Fifth Dalai Lama in the 17th century, Desi Sangye Gyatso, his regent, composed books on Tibetan astrology, which remain in use today.

Prior to the spread of Buddhism, it is believed that the traditional Bon religion had a system of astrology and medicine.

Having said that, a year on a Tibetan calendar has four components: the years since 127 BC when the first king ruled Tibet, the element, zodiac sign and a 60-year Rabjung cycle. The elements are earth, metal, water, wood and fire. They are biennial and separately identified as male or female. The zodiac signs (known in Tibetan as Lothak) are the 12 animals, Mouse, Ox, Tiger, Rabbit, Dragon, Snake, Horse, Sheep, Monkey, Hen, Dog and Pig. The 60-year Rabjung cycle of dating was introduced by Gijo Dawa Woeser and began in 1027 AD. Thus the new year in full is the Male Water-Tiger year, the 2149th in the Tibetan Royal Year, in the 17th Rabjung cycle. This year is the 2149th since the first Tibetan king period and the 36th year of the 17th Rabjung, which began in 1987.

It is said that one who is born in a Tiger year is compatible with one who is born in the Pig year (1959, 1971, 1983, 1995, 2007, 2019, etc.), Dog year (1958, 1970, 1982, 1994, 2006, 2018, etc.) and Horse year (1966, 1978, 1990, 2002, 2014, etc.). Those incompatible with Tiger year are people born in the Snake year (1965, 1977, 1989, 2001, 2013, etc.) and Monkey year (1968, 1980, 1992, 2004, 2016, etc.).

Since this is the Water-Tiger year, the characteristics of people born in this combination year (1962, 2022, etc), are the following: You are big-hearted, athletic, ambitious, innovative. You are also full of self-praise, and it will be difficult for others to correct you. The colors that complement you are blue, white and green. You are not compatible with those who are born in the Pig, Monkey, Dragon and Snake years. You will either have one to three sons.

I am writing this at a time when the world is confronted with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. So here are the Lothaks of the main leaders connected with the crisis. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine would be a Fire Snake (having born in January 1978),

President Vladimir Putin of Russia is Water Dragon (1952), President Joe Biden is Water Horse (1942), Josep Borrell Fontelles, high representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, is Fire Pig, Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, is an Earth Dog (1958), and Jens Stoltenberg, secretary general of NATO, is Earth Pig (1959).

My Lothak is Metal-Mouse! Those who can put the Lothak in context with the Rabjung cycle will be able to calculate how old or young an individual is by just knowing the Lothak.

Have you heard of Panchen Lama Tenzin Gedhun Yeshe Trinley Phuntsog Pel Sangpo?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama

His Holiness the Dalai Lama announcing his recognition of the 11th Panchen Lama on May 14, 1995. A portrait of the Panchen Lama can be seen on the table beside him.

Yet another birthday of the 11th Panchen Lama, his 32nd, falls on April 25, 2021, and the world has as much information or as little as it had when he was abducted by the Chinese authorities in 1995, following his recognition by the Dalai Lama. In 1995 he became the youngest individual to have been placed under virtual detention, becoming known as the world’s youngest political prisoner.

Way back in August 2003, when asked about the Panchen Lama, who was 14 years old then and a minor, a spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said, “He is now in a good healthy condition, leading a normal and happy life,” adding, “He is not the incarnated soul boy.” In 2020, when the Panchen Lama was 31 years old, Chinese state media had the Chinese Foreign Ministry having a similar position, reporting, “this so-called ‘soul boy’ designated by Dalai Lama” is just an ordinary Chinese citizen living normally.” “Soul boy” is a mistranslation used by the Chinese authorities in English to refer to a reincarnated being.

So if the Chinese government considers the Panchen Lama “just an ordinary Chinese citizen,” today he is an adult and past his Age of Majority even under Chinese laws, and should be given all the rights, including to speak for himself. But the fact that the Chinese government continues to speak on his behalf shows that they have taken away his freedom of expression and that he is not “leading a normal and happy life.”

China not giving any credible information about the Panchen Lama’s whereabouts or status has even had several UN experts and working groups write formally to the Chinese government, expressing their concern and asking for an “independent monitor to visit him.”

This attitude by the Chinese authorities has even made some in the Tibetan Buddhist community ask questions about his fate. On his 31st birthday last April, the re-established Tashi Lhunpo monastery, the traditional seat of the Panchen Lama, now in south India, asked in a statement, “Due to this stonewalling of the truth for such a long time, today it is a pertinent question whether the Panchen Lama is still alive or not?” The monastery added that, “This is a matter of deep concern to the monks of the Tashi Lhunpo Monastery.” I have even heard some Buddhists, who fear the worst about the fate of the 11th Panchen Lama, opine that the followers might as well supplicate to His Holiness the Dalai Lama to start the process of finding his reincarnation. This is certainly thought-provoking. If there is no evidence of the Panchen Lama still living, it is an appropriate step, according to Tibetan Buddhist tradition, for his followers to make this request to the Dalai Lama.

But this blog post is about another aspect of the Panchen Lama, namely his name. The world knows of him as Gedhun Choekyi Nyima. It is a name that finds a place in the records of the United Nations as well as in parliaments and governments in many parts of the world. However, from a Tibetan Buddhist tradition perspective, that is no longer his formal name. Rather, his name is Tenzin Gedhun Yeshe Trinley Phuntsog Pel Sangpo, a mouthful, which had been bestowed on him by the Dalai Lama upon recognition in May 1995. Gedhun Choekyi Nyima is his non-monastic order name. Let me explain.

In the Tibetan Buddhist cultural tradition, an individual joins the monastery for spiritual pursuit, leaving behind the material concerns of the world. One of the first acts after an individual becomes a novice monk or nun is to get a new name from the spiritual master. One of the reasons for this is to symbolize the getting of a new identity, and non-attachment to the life before entering the spiritual path.

In the case of the Panchen Lama, it is the Dalai Lama who shoulders the responsibility for bringing him along the spiritual path. So, on May 14, 1995, when the Dalai Lama announced his recognition of the 11th Panchen Lama, his statement included the bestowal of a new name. In the statement, the Dalai Lama outlined the series of spiritual tests he had conducted, including divination, and all of them in unison pointed to the boy from “Lhari district in Nagchu, father Kunchok Phuntsok and mother Dechen Choedon, named Gedhun Choekyi Nyima” as being the unmistakable one. He was thus given the new name Tenzin Gedhun Yeshe Trinley Phuntsog Pel Sangpo. Had he been living freely and assuming his religious responsibility in Tashi Lhunpo, the 11th Panchen Lama would be known by this name rather than by Gedhun Choekyi Nyima.

In any case, in his address on May 14, 1995, in Dharamsala announcing the recognition of the 11th Panchen Lama, the Dalai Lama recalled the challenges that the 10th Panchen Lama had to go through and urged that “efforts must be made to ensure that the young incarnation has a long and successful life.” This is particularly relevant 26 years later when we are not even sure whether the Panchen Lama is alive or not.

My take on Dalai Lama’s call for a paradigm shift in thinking on study of Tibetan in Tibet

His Holiness the Dalai Lama delivers teachings in February, 2021.

Oftentimes, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama gives public teachings, he takes the opportunity to provide advice on specific issues, in addition to explaining the subject matter itself. Given the strong bond between the Tibetan people and the Dalai Lama, his advice then reverberates in the community. For example, in January 2006, on the final day of the sacred Kalachakra empowerment in Amravati in South India, he had a message for the Tibetans, “When you go back to your respective places, remember what I had said earlier and never use, sell, or buy wild animals, their products or derivatives.” His call was followed in subsequent months with Tibetans in Tibet giving up the skins of animals in their possession and organizing their public burning, much to the chagrin of Chinese authorities who were then being accused of lack of enforcement over poaching and selling of endangered animal pelts in Tibetan areas.

This past weekend, during his annual teaching on the holy 15th day of the first month in the Tibetan calendar (which fell on Feb. 27, 2021), the issue he addressed was the Tibetan language.

His Holiness understands the power of his platform. He began his teachings on Saturday saying that although the unfortunate pandemic situation has made him have to adapt to a new teaching format, it has also enabled these teachings to be seen and heard by people worldwide, including Tibetans living all over Tibet.

His Holiness then made a special appeal to Tibetans in Tibet, specifically the younger generation, to study the Tibetan language. He did this by virtually challenging them to make a paradigm shift in their thinking on the reasons for doing so.

It is commonly assumed that Tibetans should study the Tibetan language because we are Tibetan. Learning and using pure “father tongue” (Tibetans are among the few communities that use this term rather than the commonly seen “mother tongue”) is included as part of the broader movement to protect Tibetan identity. This can be seen in the Lhakar (“White Wednesday”) movement, which Tibetans in Tibet initiated informally many years back (and the Tibetan community in exile replicated, most visibly through performing circle dances on the day).

His Holiness first applauded a new interest in the Tibetan language that he was seeing in different parts of Tibet, giving the example of developments in Siling (Chinese: Xining) area. He said he saw some videos of Tibetan children there studying the Tibetan language, which wasn’t the case in the past.

His Holiness then said Tibetans, particularly the younger generation, should study the Tibetan language not from a sense of Tibetan nationalism, but because of its ability to impart knowledge about the profound Buddhist philosophy of the Nalanda tradition. His exact words, translated into English, were, “This is not a matter of attachment to one’s own nationality.”

He expanded on this saying (with reference to Tibetans in Tibet) that on subjects like science and politics, Chinese might be the dominant language in the short run. But on subjects of religion, culture and Buddhist philosophy, which enjoy worldwide interest, knowledge can only be gained through the Tibetan language. He referred to the two Tibetan Buddhist canons of Kagyur (with 100 volumes) and Tengyur (with nearly 200 volumes) and said that it will be almost impossible to translate them into Chinese. To me, this reference to the drawback in the Chinese language on matters of Tibetan Buddhism makes me feel the Dalai Lama is cognizant of the reports of efforts by the Chinese authorities to Sinicize Tibetan Buddhism. I guess he is implying that the Chinese plan cannot succeed.

Secondly, His Holiness made the interesting point that studying Tibetan Buddhist culture does not necessarily mean one has to be a “believer.” This seems to me to be a direct message to those many Tibetans in Tibet who are members of the Chinese Communist Party and thus consider themselves to be non-believers. In recent times, the Chinese authorities have been restricting party cadres, government officials and their children from participating in religious activities. His Holiness explained his call by referring to several scientists who are his friends who study Buddhism as an academic subject, getting benefit in the process, but who are not necessarily Buddhist practitioners. This is because Buddhism is not only about faith, but also about knowledge, he said.

His Holiness also presented his call for studying the Tibetan language in the context of his now well-known emphasis on studying the Buddhist scriptures rather than merely having a superficial understanding. He urged the younger Tibetans to do deeper study of subjects like logic and perfection of wisdom. He made the case that this was necessary particularly in light of the “situation created currently by those narrow-minded Chinese Communist leaders bent on wiping out the Tibetan language.”

His Holiness’ call is topical, considering the way the Chinese authorities have been using their authority to undermine the Tibetan language, whether in changing the medium of instruction from Tibetan to Chinese or discouraging people through persecuting language rights advocates like Tashi Wangchuk.

One can only wait to see what the impact of His Holiness’ call to the Tibetans this time will be.