Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Ghostbusters: I Ain't Afraid Of No Ghost!

“If we really thought about it, how can worshipping this thing shorten Kundun’s life span,” I heard Acha Purbu-la say to my mom the other day. They are good friends and talk openly about things. “People have been praying to this thing before and some still do so now”, she went on, “Kundun is over 70 and - thanks to the Lord - still in very good shape, so where’s the connection? And even if something were to happen to him – God forbid! – how could we tell it was the ghost and not just old age?”

My mom found that a down-to-earth observation. I could tell from the amused smile appearing on her face. “Ngune ré, really true, but Purbu-la, you must not say such a thing in public, people could say you are disrespectful.” Acha Purbu-la agreed: “Khaba khaba, I must never say such a thing, Better remain silent. Chho yomaré, it’s not worth it.”

At that moment, I realised that the ghost topic had actually never been critically covered by Radio Free Asia or Voice of America’s Kunleng TV. Because it wasn’t worth it? Ayamtsen, how come something as far-reaching as the ghost controversy seems to go unreported by the Tibetan-language media, at least the ones I have access to…

I didn’t want Purbu-la and my mom to think I was following their conversation uninvited, so I kept on washing the dishes without making a comment. Instead, that silly tune sneaked into my head: If there’s something wrong in the neighbourhood, who’re you gonna call? Ghostbusters! Dew, rew, dew rew, dew rew, dew dew dew dew…I ain’t afraid of no ghost! And I saw Tibetan Dan Akroyds before me in their ghostbuster outfits.

While we’re at it, isn’t it absurd that some paranormal phenomenon is held responsible for the policy failures of a government? In all seriousness? How could a ghost harm a cause? Doesn’t such an argument make the exile administration look really, really bad? What government could blame political failure on a ghost without looking like they’re taking people for a ride? What would the world think of President Bush (ok, maybe not a good example), if he suddenly said, the devil was responsible for US-policy failure in Iraq? Koochee, please!

Unfortunately that’s not the end of it. There’s plenty of violent verbal abuse over this thing in places like The insults hurled at each other make my blood freeze. How is it possible that people can get all worked up about a ghost? OK, let’s assume that the pro-ghost side is obsessed anyway and can’t be helped. Shouldn’t the other side - the good side - be more resaonable, not respond to the provocation and refrain?

Even if the pro-ghost people were all unpatriotic, selfish, pro-Chinese, Kundun-haters, and devil-worshippers, I’d wish Kundun followers wouldn’t behave like riffraff. Honestly, it’s not flattering to the Dalai Lama to have such a following. I would wish for His Holiness to distance himself from this kind of behaviour. And I would also wish he would stop raising the issue in public.
From an innocent bystander view, it would be more effective to debate the issue with the defiant Lamas and Geshes directly. After all, it’s them who are meant to be persuaded. The collateral damage of raising the issue in front of the public has reached a frightening dimension.

Actually, I wish Kundun would consider dropping this thing altogether - just like some of the Tibetan-language media. He has successfully discouraged the practice for years. So then the ones who remain stubborn just can’t be helped, can they? Why not leave it at that? There can’t be too many renegades left by now, can there? A couple of Lamas here and there, most keeping a low profile. If Kundun stops to speak against the practice, they will stop defending themselves. If he intensifies his efforts, they will too. The way I see it, Kundun can control this.

Look, if it can be assumed, that the Gelukpa Yellow Hats make up 50 % of all Tibetan Buddhists, and of these, half have never had anything to do with the ghost to start with, that would leave us with 25 % pro-ghost people. If it can further be assumed that out of these, 20 % (the majority) has followed Kundun’s advice and stopped the worship, that would leave us with - what? Maybe 5 % of the Tibetan Buddhist population? What difference do these 5 % make, really? The world recognises Kundun as a man of peace and forgiveness. So why not just tolerate 5 % ghost-worshippers?

Someone close to the Dalai Lama once told me that Kundun sometimes takes a walk around the office after everyone has gone home. I liked the idea of him scuffling around the desks in flip-flops picking up a document here, turning over a sheet of paper there, basically touch base and get a feel for what’s happening on the ground. Perhaps these days he also surfs the net?

“Dear Kundun, do you surf the net sometimes? - I really hope so. I humbly wish you would read what a fellow Tibetan has to say and people like Acha Purbu-la think. I wish you would agree that this ghost hunt leads us nowhere and is disrupting social harmony. I wish you would stop making the ghost an issue and lead us again on the path to cope with the big problems that lie ahead of us as a people.” – If only he were to read my blog, that’s what I would tell His Holiness.

To be fair to the other side, I should mention that they don’t think they are worshipping a ghost. For them, the ghost is an enlightened being (a Buddha or something to that effect). A view, that many people don’t like to hear, no Tibetan media reports on, and nobody wants to openly talk about. Nevertheless, if the other side believes the ghost is a divine thing, it’s their right. Just as it’s the right for the mainstream to believe the ghost is a deamon. Believe one or the other but keep quiet. Or opt out altogether and keep quiet. I for one opt out. And no more word from me on this absurd topic. Better to use one’s energy for constructive stuff, marè, la?

Of course, the laughing third party in this are the Chinese: “My enemy’s enemy is my friend. Let’s use this ghost story to weaken the influence of the Dalai!” I can see big yellow brother smiling away, diligently adding fuel to the fire by instrumentalising pro-ghost folks to weaken Kundun’s position. All over Tibet and into the farthest corners of the highlands, spreading the seed of hatred, brother against brother, Lama against Lama. - Chho mindu, there is no value in this. So why not try and do the obvious. My partner says, sometimes the obvious thing to do, is also the right thing to do. Let’s all keep quiet on this.

Pumo, daughter! Are you dreaming?” My mother is yelling. “Don’t let the water run forever. Dishes are washed, now leave me and Acha Purbu-la alone, will you? We need to discuss some serious stuff!” – Oops, got caught day-dreaming about a ghost. Lucky my kids are too small to know anything about this unfortunate episode reminiscent of the Dark Ages. Otherwise my parental credibility would be shattered. You don’t know, but I’ve always told them: ”Shégo maré, don’t be afraid, there ain’t no such thing as ghosts!”

Mountain Phoenix

All written content on this blog is coyprighted. Please do not repost entire essays on your websites without seeking my prior written consent. 

Friday, February 22, 2008

Blind Brides Or Strawberries From The Northpole?

One of my friends, Dolma, has wanted to get married forever. She’s never made it until today. And just how could she? You see, she’s not even allowed to be seen with her boyfriend in public. You tell me: How could that ever lead to marriage?

Like a slice of ham in a sandwich, she’s stuck between her parents’ wishes (“Tibetans should marry Tibetans”, sound familiar, huh) and her dream partner Daniel („Did you tell them now? Or else I will“!). So their relationship has languished in hiding for the longest time. The desperate hope being that some sort of force majeure will make everything alright.

Her mother and father are using age-old proven Asian parental tricks. Like causing the kid a bad conscience: “After all the things we’ve done for you… (blah, blah)”. Or they ignore her by not talking to her for days, or threaten directly: “If you marry a foreigner, you must leave this place. You must never bring him to any Tibetan gathering, you can forget about us, we will cut off all contact with you.” Or the all-time favourite : “If you marry a foreigner, you are no longer our daughter!”

Poor Dolma, falls completely for it. Wants to do everything right. At the same time, she doesn’t want to lose Daniel. Poor Daniel too. He’s been putting up with this for so long. Still harbors no ill-feeling against her parents. But just for how much longer will he be able to pull himself together?

„Dolma“, I told her the other day, „when I look at you, I remember an old Tibetan saying: Lungpa sharko, nama sharko“ - „blind country, blind brides“. Where on earth should you present a Tibetan partner to your parents if you live in a foreign country? Aren’t our parents like people who look for strawberries in the northpole? There’s just no such thing, Good Lord!” A tired smile went over my friend’s face. It was easy for me to talk big. A part of her was like remote-controlled by the parents who, if we look close, are pretty selfish with their good intentions.

“Look,” I started again, “even if you found a Tibetan partner in this country, your parents’ wishes are insatiable.” As soon as the top condition is met, they’ll start with the fine-tuning. Like regional affialiation: “Where in Tibet exactly did you say his parents are from?” Or religious orientation: ‘Are they red hats, yellow hats, Bonpo, Kagyud, Sakya? - Holy Trinity, we hope he’s not one of those deamon-worshippers???”

Then we touched on the most important point: Compatibility. Something, she noticed with shock, her parents had never addressed. Amala-tso, Pala-tso! If “Tibetan” were the only criteria, we could all throw ourselves at the next best Tib and it would work. Fully compatible. Zero personality required, no common interests necessary. Suffice it to belong to the same race. How bad can it get? Makes you get the creeps too?

In any event, Tibetans outside are obsessed with the thought that Tibetan culture is doomed. No clue if Dolma’s parents are so fixed on a Tibetan partner to support the perishing Tibetan culture? Or maybe they are racist? Hey, please don’t laugh. It could be. Think: How would Dolma feel, if Daniel’s parents wouldn’t approve of her because she is a foreigner and they only like their own kind as an in-law? Smacks of racism doesn’t it?

But I think it’s fear. Pure and simple. Fear of Western influence, fear of Chinese influence, fear of Indian influence, fear even of non-mainstream Tibetan influence. A mentality where you have lost before you even started. Why not embrace the foreigner as one more “convert”, one more potential carrier of Tibetan culture, one more enabler of cultural exchange? Why be so uptight?

I don’t believe our culture is doomed. I believe Tibetan culture is strong and evolving, absorbing things from other cultures. I don’t have a problem with that. It’s normal. And, oh I forgot, Dolma moved in with Daniel the other day. The next step is marriage. Her parents will get over it. No alternative. - And I believe in love marriage.

Mountain Phoenix

All written content on this blog is coyprighted. Please do not repost entire essays on your websites without seeking my prior written consent. 

7 Steps To Make The Tibetan Beauty Pageant More Successful

Every year the same drama. You bet it'll be the same in 2008: Huge effort just to get a handful of candidates together; another huge effort to get the winner listed in some international pageant; culmination: China spoils the broth, Miss Tibet withdraws refusing to run as Miss China-Tibet. Heartfelt Tashi Deleg to the winner? What a joke!

Dear fellow Tibetans, Shoenu-nam, I gave this some serious thought. I think the Miss Tibet pageant can be an enrichment for our culture. This is what I would to improve it if I were in Lobsang Wangyal’s shoes:

Step 1: Make the prize relevantRight now, the pageant is geared towards participants from India and Nepal. One what? Luck? Lakh? What’s that? How much? Rupees? Jowo Rombo (I really mean Jowo Rombo, not John Rambo), winners of beauty pageants in other countries receive modeling contracts, prizes that serve as a door-opener, something constructive the women can instrumentalise to get ahead in life and in the way they want. But just a bunch of something not even convertible into hard currency? Improve on the appeal of the prize, make it relevant.

Step 2: Drop the “Green Book” requirementAny person who is Tibetan by ethnicity and fulfils the requirements of a pageant should be able to participate. The Green Book requirement may seem like the politically correct thing to do. Fact is however, that many Tibetans abroad are foreign citizens and, for whatever reason, do not pay. If you want to increase participation in the pageant, drop this requirement. It’s obsolete. - Isn’t the pageant a private-sector undertaking, Lobsang-la? Applying for the pageant is not like applying for a post in the Dharamsala administration, right? So consider dropping it. Let’s not make this more bureaucratic than necessary.

Step 3: Move itConsider a more cosmopolitan venue for the pageant than Dharamsala. It’s like holding a beauty pageant in the Vatican. Where is the audience apart from a couple of "Sister Act" type monks and nuns?
The conservatives are upset already claiming Miss Tibet “is not Tibetan culture”, why add oil to the fire by holding it right under their nose? Move it to a neutral place where you also have a decent audience.

Step 4: Be specific
“Miss Tibet” is misleading as the event is geared towards Tibetan women living abroad in India and Nepal. Specify. Make it “Miss Tibet Abroad” or “Miss Overseas Tibet” or “Miss Tibet India” or whatever. You understand where I’m coming from. This is not only common practice as in the example “Miss Taiwan USA”, it is also more accurate. Plus our candidate is less likely to irritate China in international beauty competitions.

Step 5: Exploit the potential
Something as glamorous as a beauty pageant would be so easy to market! The website and the entire promotion of this event could be so much more improved. If the organisers don’t have the know-how in-house, they should get professional marketing help from externals. Influence reputation, increase participation. Make the most out of it. Be creative!

Step 6: Stop mixing politics
All Miss Tibet give the same robot-like answer when asked what she would like to achieve during her year: “I – reba – really – reba – want to help create - reba – awareness about the Tibetan cause, reba”. - Good grief! As if we needed them to reconfirm all clichés about the intellectual capacity of women who participate in beauty pageants. Lobsang-la, why hasn’t anybody told these ladies that if all they want is spreading awareness about Tibet, they should join an NGO? Kuncho sum!

A beauty pageant is just that, a beauty pageant, all over the world, operated based on criteria specific to that industry. Stop using it as a platform to spread a political agenda for goodness sake. It’s shooting yourself in the foot. The winner has had enormous difficulty to participate in subsequent international competitions. Who can blame China when they claim “Miss Tibet” to be a political thing? It is! You allowed it to become that! If you want to be professional and if the winner of the pageant should be able to compete internationally, stop the political overtones.

Step 7: Be bold
And if China still has the face to ask our candidate to run as “Miss Tibet China” so be it. If I were Miss Tibet, I would go for it. I would look at it not as treason but as an act of pragmatism and courage. The Tibetans know my heart is in the right place (left that is). The Chinese will come to like me because I accept them. I will be in the unique position to look after my individual goals without ever compromising my commitment to my people. Of course I would also rather wear a tag that says “Miss Tibet” only. But sometimes you have to be flexible. For a patriot, it takes more guts to wear “Miss China Tibet” than to quit. That’s the way I see it. But then I would’nt qualify in the first place. Akha!

Mountain Phoenix

All written content on this blog is coyprighted. Please do not repost entire essays on your websites without seeking my prior written consent. 

“Are You A Buddhist?”

The other day, a teammate asked me that question. It so happened that the Dalai Lama was in town - do you also hear George Clooney say “what else”? I also get asked Tibet-related stuff everytime there was a Tibet documentary on TV the night before. You probably have the same experience.

Most of the time though, my ethnic background is not an issue for my environment. I focus on my family and on my job. To be a role-model my children can believe in is challenging and so is trying to keep my sanity amidst the crazy, fast-paced world of the big corporate where I work to make a living. I don’t know how you feel about it but for me, it’s never been dominating that I am Tibetan.

Because for me Tibetans are not special. At least not more than Kenians are special or Japanese or George Clooney. You get the point. People are appreciated for being a good sport, a successful professional, a loving parent or supportive partner. Who would want to be appreciated for being “Tibetan”? That’s so silly and not even an achievement.

But to get back to Bruno’s question “are you a Buddhist”, I answered: “Probably a Buddhist in the way you are a Christian” my implication being, “hey hombre, you don’t label yourself either, why do you ask me for a label? Secular people don’t have religious tags on them, only religious values,” or so I thought. But later he really got me thinking.

To tell you the truth, I was horrified to be associated with that sanctimonious type who almost melts away in the presence of the Dalai Lama, who folds hands and lowers their heads – eyes closed – every time they spot him on TV, the type who never throws away any newspaper or journal with his picture in it, the type who believes he is omniscent, omnipotent, and infallible, the type who believes he is the Buddha (or Bodhisattva or emanation of Avalokitesvara, whatever, details), the type who turns off their brains because they believe he knows how to make everything alright.

It was completely ok for my grand-parents’ generation to be “that type”. They never knew anything else. Or for people who grew up in the exile-Tibetan education system. Never bite the hand that feeds. But people my generation? Far from Dharamsala’s reach, Western-born, Western-bred, been there, done that got the t-shirt?

I for one am unable to believe the Dalai Lama is omniscent, omnipotent, and infallible. When I listen to his speeches, even he doesn’t seem to think that. I am also unable to take his word as my command. He always asks us to use our critical mind and then decide for ourselves, so how could I? I’m also unable to tell whether he is something like a Buddha. I couldn’t care less. He tries to walk the talk, to me that’s what counts.

To me then, the Dalai Lama is as normal as John Paul is to Bruno - not God’s representative on earth but simply the Pope and head of the Catholic Church, no more, no less. Not Buddha on earth but the head of the Tibetan government and the Tibetan Buddhist clergy. Make no mistake, he still is my king as much as he is the king for more pious compatriots. Just minus the personal cult and minus the over-obedience.

I think we actually do him a favour if he could take us more seriously. It's more effective for him if he could
converse with us from equal to equal - on an intellectual level, that is. Rather than talking to us like a father to his (small) children. It should be just like when he talks to Westerners. Or Westerners talk to their President or whatever. Comprende? Let us not degenerate into a bunch of yes-men, and still worse, confuse that with “Tibetan culture”, yuck.

Mountain Phoenix

All written content on this blog is coyprighted. Please do not repost entire essays on your websites without seeking my prior written consent.