Friday, December 19, 2008

It’s The Spirit, Stupid!

Had I only visited this town on the edges of the Tibetan plateau and not lived there for almost two years, I would remember Pang Didi (“fat little brother”) as one of the most sinicised biological Tibetans I had ever come across.

He was working as a chauffeur for a hotel and, although he knew I was from abroad, always spoke to me in Chinese with the utmost presumption. The few times he switched the language, probably because my reactions always came in Tibetan, it would be so heavily peppered with Chinese, you would call that “Chinetan” or “Tibnese”.

Although it’s such a cliché, it wouldn’t have surprised me if Pang Didi ate dog meat. Some local Tibetans apparently found nothing wrong with that.

There was generally no air of Tibetanness around him, except perhaps his height and facial features. If he had a Tibetan name at all, he did not use it. Historically, most town folks here have had a Chinese surname.

In my eyes, Pang Didi seemed the epitome of a Tibetan “made in China”: No trace of Buddhist values in his behaviour, no awareness of Tibetan culture, no idea of Tibetan history.

Only later, I made an observation which got me thinking.

We happened to hang out with the same crowd in the “Black-Neck Crane”, a favourite Karaoke bar at the time. In came a group of tourists from Shanghai. They started singing English songs taking over the whole place. Suddenly Pang Didi said to me: “C’mon sis, pick an English song, let’s show these Chinese chickens that we Tibetans are much better at singing English songs!”

It may sound like an insignificant statement, but to me, that was the moment when I was able to catch a glimpse of his Tibetan identity. I only saw it because I had been around long enough. I don’t think he would have said that to me if we had just known each other.

That moment I realised, it’s not the language, not the religion, nor anything else that is superficially visible; it’s the spirit, stupid!

I found unexpected traces of this spirit in others too who, by expat-Tibetan standards, would be considered Chinese.

Once I went to the monastery with Teacher Wang. His father, a soldier from somewhere in China proper, had been left behind wounded, when the army marched through this town on their Long March.

Nick-named xiao gongchan (“little communist”) by the town’s people, his dad married a local Tibetan woman and settled here. Teacher Wang grew up with the local Tibetan kids and, as the head of a research institute, became one of the few learned people in this area. He also had a very kosher Tibetan name printed on the reverse of his business card.

Teacher Wang probably had more than one identity but to me he was a Tibetan. He knew our customs and habits, and whether he considered himself a Buddhist or not, seemed to respect our Lamas. Unlike some of the pure-bred local Tibetans, I never saw him smoke in their presence.

He spoke the local Tibetan well, and also understood high Tibetan spoken in the central areas. Some said he had a staccato accent and strange intonation, which when I think of it, is true. But I learned later that it was common for Tibetans from areas with strong Chinese influence to have an accent. They never really grow up with Tibetan as their mother tongue, only acquire it later, which then is noticeable in their adult speech.

In my eyes, Teacher Wang deserved respect for this effort. We all know too well what it takes.

Then we stood before the monastery gate, where visitors had to buy tickets. I told him I find it inappropriate to have to buy tickets to enter the monastery. He smiled and said, that the Tibetans only charge the Chinese, but not the others.

“For all the pressure there is from the top and the sides, the monks are very clever when it comes to circumventing instructions they disapprove of.”

According to Teacher Wang, this is what the monks say to Chinese visitors:

”Dear friends, it would be impious to ask the Tibetans to buy entry tickets because they come here to worship, it would be very inappropriate, we are sure you understand this: as for the Westerners, they have already spent so much money to come all the way to Tibet, would it not be impertinent if we asked them for even more money to visit our monastery? But you, the Han, have not come from so far like the Westerners, and you have not come to worship either like the Tibetans, so therefore, please understand that you should buy a ticket.”

He told that with a huge grin that said “that’s how we pay them back!”

I’ve learned from my encounters with people like Teacher Wang and Pang Didi that externally noticeable assimilation isn’t a reliable indicator for felt identity. Even a name isn’t.

But actually I should have known.

There are plenty of us living abroad in freedom, but still don’t bother to learn proper Tibetan, still don’t study our history. I have never thought of us as less Tibetan because of that.

A prominent example is the late Taktser Rinpoche’s family. When he passed away a few months ago, none of the sons, or the wife, Kunyang-la, seemed to feel confident enough to deliver the public statement in Tibetan. Instead, they spoke in English which was awkward because it felt like the main target of the message were the Americans.

For if members of Yabshey, Tibet’s top family, cannot speak Tibetan coherently enough, a Pang Didi in some remote border town surrounded and permeated by Chinese influence, hardly could.

Yet he and many others have maintained some sort of a Tibetan identity on a deeper level. Imagine how people in the central areas feel about it!

Our cause is not lost. Our hope is not lost.

Between those ugly concrete blocks, among those Chinese-speaking Tibetans in grey suits, the spirit is alive. When the time is right, it will work wonders.

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, November 28, 2008

“He Has Got It Wrong” Or What Could Have Made The “Special Meeting” In Dharamsala Special

I agree with everything Elliot Sperling says about the Dalai Lama in “He has got it wrong”. Let me add something else here to expand on those thoughts.

For all the faults we find with the Dalai Lama - his leadership style, his assessment of political events and so on - we must acknowledge, in all fairness, that he wasn’t dying to get this job. Other people had made that decision for him. He accepted it and has been working to the best of his ability and knowledge since, and always with what he believed to be in the best interest of our people.

For a change, let’s rather focus on how the rest of us have performed. How able have we been? For in theory, we all agree, it’s not a one-man show.

Let’s look at our government for example. In our country’s most desperate hour, the then Tibetan government dealt with the situation by throwing the entire responsibility into the lap of a six-teen year old kid – in accordance with the wishes of the people, as we can read in the Dalai Lama’s autobiography “My Land and my people”.

And look at us today. After 25+ years of trying to engage the Chinese counterpart, our leader is at his wits’ end and consults us convening this recent gathering in Dharamsala. What other did we do than throwing the responsibility back once more?

There were some encouraging developments in the advent of the gathering with Tibetans all over the world voicing their opinions in all their breadth. Although the discussions during the meeting were held behind closed doors, I assume they were broader and more controversial than the outcome. But in the end, the old habit of avoiding responsibility took the better of us.

So when we look at the outcome of this “special meeting”, there was nothing special about it, let alone “historic”. The ultimate decision was again not to decide but to leave the decision to the Dalai Lama.

So then whenever someone criticises the Dalai Lama, we must also criticise ourselves. To some extent, he is the product of our collective inability to autonomously make decisions and explore new ways.

This meeting could have been both special and historic, if we had taken the bold and painful step that I believe is unavoidable: To allow the Dalai Lama to retire into the religious sphere, and set the stage for the separation of religion and politics.

We all know that Buddhism doesn’t claim to answer the world’s problems. And yet we are expecting the Dalai Lama to solve our political problems. We even elected another Lama, Samdong Tulku, to be our Prime Minister. But by having religious leaders doing political work, we have also been limiting ourselves in ways to struggle for the freedom of our country, which in essence is a worldly problem.

There were specific historical events which led to the emergence of a theocratic form of government in Tibet 500 years ago. But in the last 50 years, since external forces made us join the modern world, the geopolitical situation has become so complex, the demands to government so overwhelming that one guy alone at the top cannot deliver.

In our hearts, we know that worldly problems should be dealt with by worldly measures and by worldly people. As a consequence, let our Lamas return to their monasteries and resume their roles as spiritual teachers. This will clear the way for capable laypeople, men and women, to come forward and eventually, from their midst, a new leader will emerge who will unite and lead us in our struggle for freedom and justice.

In Dharamsala this month, we missed the opportunity to take charge. Now that would have made the meeting not only special but truly historic.

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. 

Saturday, October 4, 2008

"Evil Spirit" Puts Tibetan Democracy To Test

Over the course of a decade, the Dalai Lama has repeated that worshipping the evil spirit "Dholgyal" harms the Tibetan cause and is detrimental to his lifespan. As a consequence, many who have engaged in this practice seem to have stopped it. For which Tibetan wants to harm the cause and the Dalai Lama? Only a madman or a traitor.

But then over time, a small group of supporters of this evil spirit emerged. Funny enough, their notion was that this evil spirit was actually an enlightened being, a Buddha or something to that effect. For them, it was not "Dholgyal", which seems to be derogatory term, but "Dorje Shugden" or "Choekyong". Eeach side has produced tons of materials over the years to strengthen their argument in this spiritual battle. The internet is full of it.

As long as the conflict over Dholgyal/Shugden remained in the religious realm, we could argue it was about personal spiritual experience and beliefs, and as external observers, we prefer to keep out because we could not follow, and the practice or non-practice had absolutely no meaning to us. At least I ignored the topic for the longest time, thinking it's an archaic religious debate with no relevance to real life.

But then I realised that the political dimension of this conflict concerns all of us, because what had started as a theological dispute, had left the religious realm and had entered the Tibetan mainstream.

So while most of us were not qualified to make a statement with regard to the nature of Dholgyal/Shugden, as people living in a democratic society, we are all entitled to make a statement with regard to the political aspect of the controversy and how Tibetan society has been dealing with Dholgyal/Shugden supporters.

There are several instances where it would seem, Tibetan government agencies have been used to discourage the practice. It is known that the Prime Minister publicly discouraged the practice in several instances. In Switzerland, the assembly of elected Tibetan people's deputies (thunmi) passed a "Dholgyal resolution" which, in effect, calls for singling out pro Dholgyal/Shugden Tibetans living in Switzerland.

In some instances, Tibetans in Switzerland and India have been asked to sign or take an oath that they would abandon the practice. Reportedly, Dholgyal/Shugden supporters in India have been refused necessary documents by the Tibetan government-in-exile, which they would need to obtain formal recognition as refugees by the Government of India. In some Tibetan settlements in South India, shops apparently no longer sell to Dholgyal/Shugden supporters, and entire groups of dissenting monks have been asked to leave their monastery.

If only a fraction of these stories are true, and the evidence would suggest so, they document a type of political pressure that is not normal. In fact, these reports are highly disturbing for our young democracy. In a democratic setting, it would not be possible to single out a group of people, label them and pressure them into compliance with the majority view. It's actually a fascist thing to do and conjures up the darkest memories.

If we consider our society democratic, the question is: Why do some of us tolerate or even support this type of pressure on a minority?

We all know that in a democratic society, the rights of minorities do not depend on the goodwill of the majority. In a democratic society, the rights of minorities cannot be "overruled" by majority vote. The law is supreme and protects the rights of all citizens. We should know that a truly democratic Tibetan society would not force those with deviating views into obedience. A truly democratic Tibetan society would be strong enough to put up with dissenting views even though the majority may not approve of them.

Our problem boils down to the peculiarity of the Tibetan system. If the Dholgyal/Shugden dispute shows us something, then it is the incompatibility of democracy with our actual political behaviour, which, I believe, still reflects the traditional "religion-and-politics-entwined" mentality in both ruler and ruled.

Everyone knows that in the traditional system, the Dalai Lamas have held a double function: On the one hand, they have been top-ranking priests of the Gelug order, and on the other hand, they have functioned as the head of the Tibetan government. We also know that in a democracy, the secular and religious spheres are strictly separated and not ruled by one person for there is the danger of the abuse of power. All democracies in the world have a balance of power to prevent too much power in the hand of a single person.

In the current Dholgyal/Shugden dispute, it would seem the Dalai Lama has been using his political power as the head of the government to promote a religious goal, the clean-up of the Gelug order. This is very problematic, in fact, in a democracy, using political authority for a religious purpose constitutes an abuse of power.

The next question then is: Why is nobody raising any red flags?

Tibetan social behaviour in this dispute would confirm that in a system, where the leader is held in God-like esteem, it is difficult for the average citizen to hold diverging views. In such a system, there is little space for egalitarian discourse or democratic debate, because one participant is, by definition, infallible and beyond scrutiny.

Many Tibetans seem to save the intellectual effort because they believe the Dalai Lama is an enlightened being, and the rest of us are not. Due to his divine background and omniscient capability, many seem to believe he knows by default what's best.

Many may also support his views out of gratitude. After all, the Dalai Lama does have an impressive track record of what he has done for his country and his people. We all love him for that. The whole world loves him. So many Tibetans are deeply grateful and give him unconditional loyalty in return.

For these reasons, many Tibetans are inclined to take an automatic stand in favour of the Dalai Lama even if they may not have a religious stake in the Dholgyal/Shugden issue per se.

But in a democracy, the leader or government is only one element of the social fabric made up of political parties, organisations, institutions etc. A true democracy is diverse and pluralistic, and everyone is entitled to their opinion. The spiritual experience of a Dalai Lama is no more true than the spiritual experience of the average Tibetan is false. If they end up with diverging views, it is wrong for the Dalai Lama to pressure others into accepting his view. Even if his spiritual insight is considered superior, the others have the democratic right to believe in their view.

The few, who have arrived at diverging views regarding Dholgyal/Shugden, and somehow manage to adhere to them, have been virtually shut out of society. They are not welcome at Tibetan gatherings and the Dalai Lama has regularly asked them to leave the venue when they attended his teachings.

People seem to have no problem with this style, because the majority seems to be stuck in the traditional "religion-and-politics-combined" mentality: How dare they be smarter than the Buddha? How dare they defy the leader without whom we would have been finished long ago? How dare they ignore the advice of someone who has nothing but genuine compassion at his heart? How dare they?

The reaction has been to ostracise and slander this minority as non-patriotic, pro-Chinese, murderers, greedy for money, and members of a cult rather than real Buddhists.

But when we take a closer look, we realise that it is a diverse group of people who practice Dholgyal/Shugden. They are not a monolithic block with the goal to damage the Dalai Lama's reputation, help China or corrupt Buddhism.

The most controversial Dhogyal/Shugden supporters seem to be the New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) and the Western Shugden Society. Since these groups are mainly made up of Westerners, they are not under the sphere of influence of Tibetan society and as such have been the most vocal in protesting against the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan government-in-exile. Their protest for religious freedom is likely to continue since they cannot be directly pressured by Tibetan society.

The Tibetan side of Dholgyal/Shugden practitioners seems less organized and also avoids direct confrontation with the Dalai Lama. There is an organisation called "Dorje Shugden Devotee's Charitable & Religious Society" based in New Delhi, but how numerous they are and how far they are prepared to go to safeguard their religious freedom is not clear.

Some Dholgyal/Shugden supporters voiced their grief on Swiss TV several years ago, some are said to have gone to Indian courts and others approached Amnesty International for support. But my impression is, most Tibetan Dholgyal/Shugden supporters keep a low profile. In general those defiant Lamas, Geshes, and lay people are without any affiliation to an organization. They tend not to voice their dissent in public for fear of being exposed.

I personally know of several people who stick to Dholgyal/Shugden as part of their spiritual practice. I have no idea what that practice looks like and I'm not the least interested. All I can say is that they are neither pro-Chinese, nor greedy for money, nor do they approve of violence to resolve a dispute. They do not believe in Gelug supremacy to the point where they belittle other Buddhist schools. I have never heard a bad word from them about Kundun. They seem sad but not bitter. They do not understand why the Dalai Lama wants to exterminate this practice. But unlike the Western Dholgyal/Shugden supporters, they have kept their grief to themselves hoping that if they keep quite and do not retaliate, the storm will pass.

It would be foolish to follow that all other Dholgyal/Shugden supporters have some sort of affinity with China just because a few are considered Chinese spies. And if some have murdered, it is silly to believe, everyone worshipping Dholgyal/Shugden is violent. If some pray to Dholgyal/Shugden to become rich, it doesn't mean that everyone worshipping Dholgyal/Shugden only thinks about money. And if some people who worship Dholgyal/Shugden believe in Gelug supremacy, it doesn’t make everyone worshipping Dholgyal/Shugden a Gelug chauvinist.

We must be careful not succumb to the habit of labeling dissenters. We should make the effort to look behind the label to the content and differentiate, otherwise the witch hunt will continue.

If Tibetan society were truly democratic, cooperation would be based on free will, and people would be encouraged to think for themselves, making up their own minds. If Tibetan society were truly democratic, people who do not follow the opinion leader, would not be ostracised.

The way Tibetans have been handling the Dholgyal/Shugden issue says quite a bit about the state of our democratic values. We Tibetans are okay with dissenters being forced into obedience. We see nothing wrong with this political style. We have no issues with the Dalai Lama exerting pressure on dissenters by using secular government organs and tolerating oaths and signature actions in his name. Some even believe it is their duty to expose Dholgyal/Shugden supporters and slander them.

Until recently I thought, the more we talk about this conflict, the worse it becomes. I have changed my mind. I know now that it is wrong to remain silent. All genuine Tibetan democrats must speak up in the political debate over Dholgyal/Shugden. When a few are forced to take on the view of many, we’re going down a dangerous path. It is our duty to speak up. Our young democracy will remain in bad shape if we let this happen without a reaction.

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. 

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Long and Winding Road

Some songs invariably conjure up specific memories. The other day when I was tidying the children’s rooms, the radio station played “The Long and Winding Road” by the Beatles. To me, this particular song has always conjured up memories of the Tibetan struggle now streching over more than half a century.

I had to think of the Dalai Lama’s envoy, Lodi Gyari, whom I had just seen on VOA’s Kunleng TV two days earlier. He spoke about the most recent round of talks with China and went out of his way to stress how hard they had tried to convince their Chinese counterparts that the Dalai Lama was an honest person and that he was not seeking independence.

On this long and winded road to a better future for Tibet, the topic “Sino-Tibetan negotiations” has become a never-ending saga, the epitome of the convoluted nature of Tibet’s relationship with China.

I’m picking up dozens of stuffed animals scattered around the floor, while contemplating about China’s strategy. The people in the Chinese government are definitely not stupid. They know very well the Dalai Lama is not a separatist. It’s a calculated move to claim he is, because this way they can afford to ignore the existence of the problem. Entangled in the game, our envoys are busy conveying the message that the Dalai Lama is not a separatist and not the source of all problems between Tibet and China. All the while, the real goal of the talks is never getting addressed.

The aim of the talks, as far as I have been able to follow, has been to bring about a direct meeting between the Dalai Lama and the supreme Chinese leader: to clear misunderstandings and establish mutual trust in order to pave the way for Kundun’s return and with him all his followers. It’s been the aim of the talks since they were initiated when Deng Xiaoping was still around or so With zero success in 20 plus years of talks.

Instead, the Chinese authorities have been very clever to lure the Tibetan side onto a long and winded journey, always surprising them with yet another bend to take (“we will not talk to you if you don’t say Taiwan is a part of China”), yet another little pass to cross (“we will talk to you but first you must ensure that all international protests stop”) totally screwing the Tibetan side over, but never getting to down to the bottom of things.

Remember, the BBC reported the other day that Taiwan’s leader will meet with the Chinese President to discuss tourism and charter flights? Lucky bugger, gets access to the president over tourism and charter flights, while the Dalai Lama’s envoys have been talking to some no names from the obscure United Front for two decades about something much more existential. Boy, have they been humiliating us and our leader. And boy, have they got away it.

So why should the Chinese government change its strategy? From their perspective, it’s been very successful. It has saved them the annoying job of addressing the magnitude of the Tibetan problem and looking for real, mutually beneficial solutions. All the while, they look to outside observers as though they are open to discussion. A new round of discussions has just been concluded in Beijing. As usual, no results, and as usual, the Chinese side has not commented on the talks other than saying they’ve taken place.

Being the good-natured and considerate people the Tibetans are, they have been meandering along doing China’s bidding, never allowing their spirit to go low, always seeking to see something positive, even if perspectives are bleak. The Tibetans are in such a desperate situation that they don’t want to be ones spoiling the broth even if the broth is unpalatable.

They even put up with ugly video games about them, like the one Factiva Dow Jones says was launched in China after the March 2008 unrest, and is called “kill as many Tibetan separatists and win a patriotism medal”. The report said nothing about how well the game was selling. But if Tibetans in Tibet and China can be believed, interracial relations are at an all-time low these days, I’d say coming up with a virtual promotion for ethnic cleansing is the last thing both sides need.

That’s of course not the end of it, just the tip. People in the Chinese government can get a lot more petty-minded. Everyday, news emerges documenting their fussy behaviour.

Like the report about issueing verbal orders to travel agents not to list France as a destination and stop offering package tours to that country because the Olympic torch in Paris was accompanied by protests and the Dalai Lama honored as a Paris citizen. The cowardly thing about it: The authorities deny an official travel boycott – in the same breath, they say France needs to take stock of its actions.

Or the news article about restricting movement at the border with Mustang, a Northern Nepal district, to punish that country over continuous pro-Tibet rallies. Little counts it that the Mustangis have been reeling under a virtual famine since they depend entirely on neighbouring Tibet for its food and ration supplies.

And of course, the all-time-favourite: Sending protest notes to any country visited by the Dalai Lama (“you guys are hurting the feelings of the Chinese people”) They must be doing that in their sleep by now given the Dalai Lama’s busy travel schedule.

The official China acts exactly like someone who walked into his neighbour’s house uninvited, took over the entire household, reorganised it to according to their preference, and has been telling the owner since then that everything is happening for their own good.

For the old house owners, it’s been Sleeping With The Enemy since. Sleeping in the same bed, dreaming different dreams.

Honestly, what options do the Tibetans have, with nothing to offer and no one to turn to? Astonishing that China, so extremely sensitive about the way it was treated by Western powers in the past, and who carefully conveys this sense of injustice from generation to generation, is unable to show a trace of empathy for the Tibetans.

In the context of the March unrests, someone - I think it was Don Lopez - wrote that as Buddhists, Tibetans have a long-term view of things, that they would think in cycles of creation, destruction and then again creation. If I colloquially paraphrased Lopez I would put it as: “No matter what the outcome, Tibetan folks are able to take a lot and they will persist” - or something to that effect. Not really a consoling thought per se, but I believe it does shed some light on the Tibetan spirit.

In politics change can come over night, or it cannot. No one knows for certain. All the while, the Tibetans will continue to talk to who ever in China is willing to talk, the political activists will continue to protest against injustice, people all over Tibet will continue to go about their daily lives with government workers going to their offices, private entrepreneurs running their businesses, farmers working in their fields, and artists will continue to record songs, paint, sculpt, and exhibit.

Everyone will continue on the long and winding road, and in their hearts, many will continue to dream about the return of the Dalai Lama and a free homeland. Whether this will ever happen and when, we don’t know. But the dream is immortal and there will still be Tibetans dreaming this dream, long after the last Chinese communist has disappeared. That is for certain.

In the meantime, I've also finished tidying the kids' rooms. At least for the time being. The effect won't last, but I still have to do it. That's for certain too.

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, March 14, 2008

Tibetan For Kids – 10 Ways To Keep The Language Alive

“How am I supposed to teach them Tibetan, if I myself don’t have a decent command of the language”? My friend Pema looked rather low-spirited. As a single mother of four, life was already quite tough on her. “You know, right now they’re toddlers and I can just about cope with that type of vocabulary, but what about later”?

“You mean like when they’re coming home from school, talking about Algebra? Global warming? The dangers of nuclear energy? HIV? Islamic fundamentalism? By then at the very latest, your ‘speak Tibetan!’ used on them since their childhood will inevitably get you nowhere, for how do you say these things in Tibetan? How? It’s just not fair”. I couldn’t agree more. Pema’s agony was also mine.

For some Tibetans living abroad, the deteriorating state of modern spoken Tibetan from one generation to the next has become a source for worry. My colleague Beatriz from work sends her 3-year old to a Spanish-language nursery. My colleague Tomoko sends her two children to a Japanese-language primary school in another town, and when I was little, all Italian kids in my school went to Italian classes every Wednesday afternoon.

For Tibetan, there just isn’t this type of a professional infrastructure. The Tibetan classes offered when I was little were boring as hell, with an overemphasis on the written language, calligraphy, and learning grammar rules by heart that made absolutely no sense to children.

Even my Dad, who had gone through the old education system in Tibet, thought that’s off and saved us from the ordeal. You know what? Some of the kids, who had to sit through these classes for years, still can’t read or write a single decent sentence in Tibetan as grown ups. Ineffective and absolutely tragic.

20 years later, Pema and I are taking our children for a trial lesson to a Tibetan class offered in a town nearby, trusting that today’s Tibetan teachers have also discovered the insights of education science and methodology of the last two decades.

Far from it! It was déjà vu all over. If there were a prize for the most child-unfit, mind-numbing teaching style, these guys would win it. What kid needs this type of negative reinforcement that Tibetan is a drag, complicated and absolutely useless?

Pema too thought the teaching style was out of sync: “It already requires a superhuman effort just to continue speaking Tibetan in a foreign environment, why make everything still more difficult by teaching children Tibetan in such an antiquated and theoretical way”?

So in sum, we’re pretty much on our own with regard to keeping the language alive. Over the years, my partner and I have developed a couple of strategies to cope with this unenviable situation. As Pema says, the way to start is with oneself. If I as a parent have nothing to give, how can I possibly pass something on?

Here are 10 ways that have helped us and our kids keeping Tibetan alive and kicking.

Action 1: CommitWe consider the Tibetan language to be at the core of our identity. We want Tibetan to come to our children naturally. It shouldn’t be an artificial effort to speak it, nor something political, or something to be particularly proud of. Speaking Tibetan should be as normal to them as speaking Spanish is to Beatriz’ son or Japanese to Tomoko’s children. As parents, our top goal is to help our kids feel at ease with Tibetan.

Action 2: Decide and focus
Our focus is on the spoken language. We aspire for our kids to possess a vocabulary decent enough to comfortably talk about topics of daily life and of general interest. Reading and writing is a nice-to-have but not on our radar screen. There’s time for this later in their lives.

Action 3: Look it up
In order for the children to develop a respectable vocabulary, we as parents should have one to begin with. Whenever we don’t know a word or expression, we do what learners of a language normally do: consult the dictionary. We use Goldstein’s English-Tibetan Dictionary of Modern Tibetan as a starting point, since most of the time, we know how we would say something in English. Meanwhile this dictionary is also a bit outdated and there may be more recent ones. The suggested translation can sound a bit funny sometimes. Test it out on an authoritative native speaker before you unleash it onto your children. – My mom is always a good test person. When I dropped the word wangpo kyönchen she knew right away I meant “handicapped people”. But when I said there’ll be tukpa kogton - hollow noodles - for dinner, she gave up. OK, it’s silly to translate Macceroni. Some things should just stay the way they are.

Action 4: Be up to speed
Every Thursday, I watch VOA’s Tibetan-language news on the web. It’s integrated into my weekly routine. When the kids are in bed, I watch Kunleng TV – no Pema, not because of Dorje Tseten, one of the hosts, although he is a cutie with that grainy Amdo accent! But from a linguistic standpoint, the most useful thing is the weekly wrap-up of what’s been going on around the world. Even though I don’t understand every word that’s being said, I’m often able to deduct the meaning from what I see. It’s here where I pick up a lot of contemporary vocabulary. Climate change? - Namshi gyündo! Nuclear weapons? – Tüdrin tsünja! I got many more and I can pack them into decent sentences as well. My latest acquisition is kokso rüso – corruption!

Action 5: Take notes and review
I don’t just sit there and watch the news. I sit there with a notepad and a pencil, phonetically writing down the new words and expression I’m learning while watching the news. The notepad is so small it fits into my pocket. I always carry it with me and sometimes when I need to make the time pass - during the commute to work, in the toilet, or lining up for something - I take it out and flip through it. This way the stuff somehow gets stuck in my brain and I can retrieve it when needed.

Action 6: Use it or loose it
This requires some discipline and planning since knowledge of Tibetan is not an absolute necessity. We all would get by just fine without it. So be persistent and attentive. Your kids will fall back into the dominant language time and again. Don’t deviate from your course, stick to it. Even if they speak to you in the outside language, your answer and reaction should always come in Tibetan.

Action 7: Make it fun
Since keeping Tibetan alive is a long-term effort, show your children that speaking Tibetan is not a chore but a lot of fun. Show them Tibetan-language films, music videos, and cartoons. This requires, of course, that you take the necessary steps to get your hands on these things as they can’t be bought around the corner. And don’t be picky. “I don’t like the type of Tibetan they speak in films from China” is just something we can’t afford. People speak Tibetan with all sorts of accents and intonations. Our kids should get used to that instead of carrying over our antipathies.
Also use “regular” children’s picture books to tell them a good-night story in Tibetan every evening. Little kids focus on the pictures, the text underneath could be Swahili, they couldn’t care less. A big plus of the story-telling approach is that the vocabulary, ideas and concepts gradually form a mental structure on which to build further when they start school in the outside language. It gives them stability and self-confidence.

Action 8: Be clearLatest research on bilingualism shows that kids need clear rules when to use which language. Establish a rule. Ours is “Tibetan in the family – English on the outside”. It works but you have to be consequent. Again, if you don’t work on your Tibetan vocabulary, you will gradually succumb to the dominant language. It starts harmlessly with mixing a word here and there. Watch out! And also watch out for those uncooperative relatives and friends, who always fall back into the dominant language when talking with your kids. Sensitise your Tibetan-speaking environment and get them onboard. You and your partner(s) should be in absolute agreement on this one.

Action 9: Put it into context
Kids should realise that Tibetan is not just something peculiar spoken in the home, but without real functional value. We take the kids to Tibet every summer to reconnect with the bigger picture, and let them immerse into the place and the people. It’s probably not everybody’s cup of tea to go to Tibet regularly, but you can substitute that with a Tibetan-language summer camp in your vicinity, regular visits to Dharamsala or whatever your preference is. You get the point. It’s immersion.

Action 10: Chill out!Some things just shouldn’t be changed. Don’t become so deeply absorbed with linguistic purism that you go out Tibetanising every loan word. Like me with Macceroni. Or the folks who say tsigcha when they mean coffee. - Goodness, gracious! Who wants to drink “burned tea” for that’s what tsigcha literally means? It’s not only a miserable rendering, it makes coffee sound appalling, it’s conceptually wrong. Let’s accept coffee as it is. It won’t hurt the language. Tibetan is cool enough to accommodate. Just think of oldies such as rili (railway) or motra (motor), and lean back.

It looks like a fact of life that Tibetan will be spoken less frequently and less well from generation to generation. People like Pema or me can’t reverse that, we can only try to make a difference for our families. But for all the effort and discipline it takes, let’s not forget that there’s a life, a world, so many things out there to learn and enjoy, beyond the Tibetan horizon

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, March 7, 2008

Compassion? Have Mercy!

Have you also asked yourself whether there can be too much of a good thing? I asked myself that question when someone talked to me about Tamo Lüjin, the legend where the Buddha sacrifices his body to a starving tigress and her cubs. People still go for pilgrimage to the place in the Kathmandu Valley, Namo Buddha, where it’s supposed to have happened hundreds and hundreds of years ago, in one of the Buddha’s previous lives.

From today’s perspective, where’s the balance in this, I ask myself? Where was the Buddha’s compassion towards himself? Don’t we have a responsibility to be good to ourselves as well? Was that a gesture in the heat of the moment or something thought out? Who can tell? I only know that if I applied Tamo Lüjin logic to my daily life, I’d be downright naive.

It happens ever so often that a prestigious project pops up and everyone in my team is keen on getting the lead, including me. Why? Because it’s an interesting change to your everyday job and can be instrumental in gaining visibility, getting known, position yourself, and ultimately move ahead. The more you move ahead, the more power and influence you have, the more you can actively shape things.

Ultimately, it’s about taking charge and making the most of your opportunities while being true to yourself and not harming others intentionally. To me, there’s nothing wrong to be assertive and focussed as long as you are true to your principles. So where do I strike the balance? Where is the limit to compassion in complex situations of modern life? Where would Tamo Lüjin leave my capacity to compete?

By mere co-incidence, Yudon-la, a Tibetan colleague, told me over lunch the other day, that in her school, run by the Tibetan exile-government in India, the motto was “others before self” and that the most selfless student was considered the best person. – “Gosh”, I thought a bit shocked, “the legend is really alive. People are encouraged to forget about their own needs and put others first...” Does that help in preparing Tibetans to face the challenges of a modern world? After all, they are no longer among themselves, not even in their homeland…

Tamo Lüjin can also take on pretty subtle forms as I discovered with myself. If your kids were fighting over a toy which belongs to the older one, I bet you a Tibetan parent would say to the older kid: “Common, sweetie, give the toy to the little one, you’re older, you should be considerate, your brother is still so small, ok? Now that’s my boy, very good.” – At least I used to say that.

Until I came across a reference in one of those parenting books. It said I should have taught the little one to respect, that the toy belongs to the older one, and that the younger one can only play with it, if the older one agrees. To sum up, what I used to do weakened the older one’s natural ability to assert himself, inducing yieldingness and giving up early. And it made the younger one believe he can have everything through the mere fact of being younger. Bottom line: I almost screwed up both kids! - Too much empathy then, is not good for a kid’s self-confidence.

The Dalai Lama time and again encourages Tibetans to study and work hard so they can compete with the Chinese. Tough call. Tibetans must be better than the Chinese – or Americans or Europeans, wherever they live – in order to have an equal chance in any profession. They must find a way to strike a balance between compassion on the on hand, and assertiveness on the other.

As far as I’m concerned Tamo Lüjin is what it is: A legend, from another era, for another audience. For my life, another quotation from the Buddha works better: “No one saves us but ourselves. No one can and no one may. We ourselves must walk the path”.

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. 

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

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“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.