Now I know (or am closer to knowing) why Saturday is “Sunday” in Bhutan!

Now I know (or am closer to knowing) why Saturday is “Sunday” in Bhutan!

Bhuchung K. Tsering

Some time back I wrote about the tradition of names of days in Bhutan and how they differed from us the Tibetans. I was somewhat in the dark about why the Bhutanese tradition called Saturday as Nyima(ཉི་མ་), which is the term that we use for Sunday.

Just today the issue came up again in twitter discussions that I have had with Twitter friends, one from Bhutan and the other a scholar on Bhutan and Tibet (I am not using their names here as I have not sought their permission to do so, but you are welcome to look at my twitter @bhuchungtsering timeline to follow the discussion).   The scholar enlightened me that the current Bhutanese calendar tradition was established by a monk scholar Lhawang Lodoe (ལྷ་དབང་བློ་གྲོས་).

I followed that lead and indeed that seems to be so. Lhawang Lodoe lived in Tibet in the 16th century and was an expert in the sciences of knowledge, including astrology, particularly the Kalachakra tradition. In 1586 he is said to have composed a treaties on astrology. Subsequently, he went from Tibet to Bhutan becoming a tutor to Zhabdrung Rinpoche. In his History of Bhutan, Karma Phuntsho while not giving the reasons behind the changes, says (on pages 222-223), “Zhabdrung also requested his master Lhawang Lodoe to compose astrological commentaries based on the interpretations of the famous Pema Karpo. Lhawang Lodoe’s writings on astrology later became the main source for the unique Bhutanese calendrical system, of which one distinct feature is the calculation of a day twenty-four hours earlier than in other systems. So, it is Monday associated with the moon in Bhutan while it is Sunday int the rest of the world.”
Continue reading “Now I know (or am closer to knowing) why Saturday is “Sunday” in Bhutan!”

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Why do Tibetan doctors get drunk when preparing certain medicinal pills?

By Bhuchung K. Tsering

This is the first personal blog posting that I am doing in 2017. Developments in the US of A, including the atmosphere pre and post presidential elections of 2016, somehow made me want to stay away from writing.

In any case, I had the sudden urge to resume posting on my blog. This led me into recalling why I put my thoughts into words. I grew up and studied in India and the little practice in writing that I have had has been acquired while working for the Indian Express newspaper and subsequently for the Tibetan leadership’s official journal, Tibetan Bulletin. I have also had the pleasure of getting rejection slips from various newspapers as also having my pieces published in publications like Hindustan Times, Deccan Herald and Himal South Asia. The academic journal, The Tibet Journal of the Library of Tibetan Works & Archives, has printed some of my writings and book reviews while the Tibetan Review has provided me a forum, including a regular column for some years.

Although straight news reporting has been the focus of my professional time when I was working as a journalist, personally I am more drawn towards human-interest issues. I like to look at the lighter side of life, find humor in situations and and take note of those behind the scene happenings or idiosyncrasies that make life colorful. For example, what could that lady be doing every day as she walked along the road next to my college hostel, putting something on top of the wall at regular interval? Why do Tibetan medical doctors virtually get drunk while preparing a particular “precious pill”? Or, where is the spiritual logic when some attendants in a monastery or a temple pour out and replace a butter lamp (the oil for which was duly paid for by a devotee) the moment another devotee comes wanting to make such a lamp offering? Or, imagine my chagrin when lining up to get the autograph of Salman Rushdie for his book Midnight’s Children, and I had what was obviously a pirated copy (as most novels that college-students of those days could afford were).
Continue reading “Why do Tibetan doctors get drunk when preparing certain medicinal pills?”

On the Great Significance of the Dalai Lama’s latest visit to Mongolia

(from my posting on the blogsite of the International Campaign for Tibet)

Mongolian Buddhists

One of the outcomes regarding the Dalai Lama in the post-1959 period is the clarity that has emerged about the nature of his followers. The conventional thinking about the Dalai Lama being merely the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people has changed. He has not only gained thousands of followers in both the Eastern and Western world, but more importantly the traditional followers of Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibet, along the Himalayan region as well as in Mongolia and present-day Russian Federation, have become more visible.

This can be clearly seen at the very many teachings that the Dalai Lama has been giving in India and elsewhere, particularly in Bodh Gaya, where we see an intermingling of Bhutanese, Monpas, Sherpas, Sikkimese, Ladakhis, Mongols, and more.

His Holiness has spent the past several decades spreading his message urging traditional Buddhists to become modern; to devote more of their attention to the all-round study of Buddhism and not merely be consumed by the ritualistic aspect of it. He also feels modern Buddhists should be able to utilize the knowledge of Buddhist science to interact with modern science.

Ladakhi Buddhists

His Holiness had the same messages during his four day visit to Mongolia.In adding to giving Buddhist teachings, the Dalai Lama also participated in a Buddhist and Science conference in Ulaan Baatar, the capital of Mongolia. During this conference, he said: “Buddhist scholars and practitioners have benefited from learning about physics, while modern scientists have shown a keen interest in learning more about what Buddhism has to say about the workings of the mind and emotions.”

His Holiness also mentioned his pleasure in the conference being held for the benefit of the Mongolian Buddhist community. Among speakers at the conference were Helen Y. Wang, a neuroscientist and a clinical psychologist at the University of California, San Francisco, spoke about Contemplative Neuroscience and Socially Engaged Buddhism; B. Boldsaikhan from the Mongolian University of Science and Technology who spoke about medicine and logic; K. Namsrai, a senior scholar in physics, who talked about relations between Quantum Physics and Buddhist philosophy; and Dr. Fadel Zeidan, Associate Director of Neuroscience at Wake Forest School of Medicine in North Carolina, spoke about the Neuroscience of Mindfulness, Meditation and Pain.

In general the Dalai Lama visiting Mongolia should not be a surprise, considering the nature of country and its people. The Mongolian people have had a special historical connection with the Dalai Lama. Many are followers of Tibetan Buddhism, and their devotion to His Holiness was clearly visible during this visit. Some people traveled hundreds of miles in the current harsh wintry climate merely to have a glimpse of a spiritual leader they revere. In fact, there were even Buddhists from neighboring Russian Federation, who after hearing about His Holiness’ visit at short notice, made arrangements to be able to participate in the teachings. A New York Times report on November 19 described two such individuals: Daritseren, 73, an ethnic Mongolian from Russian Siberia, who had heard only on Friday (November 18) that the Dalai Lama was visiting Mongolia. “She traveled with 40 other people for 15 hours overnight to make it just in time for the sermon,” it said. Another individual, Boldbaatar, 75, a herder, had traveled 125 miles. “I’m an old man,” the New York Times quotes him as saying. “Maybe I’m seeing His Holiness, the incarnation of Lord Buddha, for the last time,” he added.

However, China has for long been misunderstanding the person of the Dalai Lama, considering him a problem rather than a solution, and has been using economic clout to prevent countries from welcoming him. In fact, many countries far bigger than Mongolia have succumbed to Chinese pressure. The fact that Mongolia did not do so is a testimony to its leaders’ ability to uphold their principles and traditional values. The Mongolian government did not let this undue pressures from China get in the way of enabling Mongolian Buddhists to receive His Holiness’ teachings. Reactions in the Mongolian media that I monitored clearly regard this development positively. I hope such developments will even lead to a time when Chinese Buddhists in China, too, can avail themselves of the wisdom imparted by His Holiness, just as the Mongolians were able to do this time.

Game 7 of the World Series and November 8

Game 7 of the World Series and November 8

Bhuchung K. Tsering

On November 2, 2016, I watched the Chicago Cubs play against the Cleveland Indians in Game 7, the final game, of the baseball World Series.


cubs electionsA World Series in itself is a matter of excitement. But this time, as the TV’s tagline said, “History will be made.” Thus, given the stakes, there was even more excitement. Talking about the atmosphere in the field just before the game, I hear the commentator say, “there is also tension here”.

These days there is tension in another upcoming competition that is in the minds of all of us. It will also create history no matter who wins. Will she? Wont she?

In the first inning itself, the Cubs score a home run, and the fans go wild.

The game proceeds and in the third inning, as the Indians score a home run and tied the Cubs 1:1, I hear the commentator say, “The state of the game may be hanging in balance here”.

Indeed, in the past few days there are some who have started to wonder whether the competition is hanging in balance. I still think it is a surefire thing, but there is this that little bit of doubt.

In the fourth inning, the Cubs lead 2:1 after one of the Cleveland players has a brief moment of hesitation before throwing the ball. But that was enough for the Cubs runner to finish a home run. “Just a tiny hesitation is all it takes,” I hear the commentator say.

Will there be collective hesitation on November 8, I wonder?

The Cubs get another home run in the same fourth inning and the score is 3:1. I hear the crowd becoming noisy.

In the fifth inning, the Cubs get another home run and now they lead 4:1.

Meanwhile, the commentator refers to a clip that showed David Ross, catcher for the Chicago Cubs, adding, “That clip shows how much these young guys gravitate towards David Ross.”

I wonder whether the “young guys” will similarly gravitate towards her? Everyone is talking about the millennials being a critical factor in this year’s competition.

The fifth inning ends for the Cubs with another home run and they lead 5:1.

As a new pitcher comes for the Cubs in the Indians’ fifth inning, the commentator says, “We have got a little bit of the unknown”.

In fact, these days we are wondering about the “unknown”. Would there be more surprises? Would the surprises that have surfaced have an impact on the outcome?

But the Indians score two home runs in the fifth inning to make the score 5:3. “The game has changed that quickly,” says the commentator.

That is what we are concerned about. Could the game indeed change quickly? Would we be faced with a situation that will have great impact on the future of this country?

It is the sixth inning and the Cubs score another home run. It is now 6:3.

There is a break between innings and I flip channels. There is a commercial by the competition. Looks like both the campaigns are sensing the tight race and so are flooding the channels with commercials. I wonder about the number of people who are still undecided and what the impact of the commercials, or the surprises, will be on them.

There is nothing to report about the seventh inning. As the eighth inning begins, the commentator talks about the two teams’ development this year by saying, “It has been a wild ride for both of these teams”.

“Wild” actually is also an apt description of the campaigns that we have witnessed during this cycle. Things even went to the extent of hitting the very foundation of the system. But how would things turn out ultimately?

As the eighth inning began, the Indians scored a run making it 6:4 now. Would they catch up with the Cubs with just one more inning? But the game was going way beyond my bedtime and so I decided to retire for the night, taking with me a bit of suspense of the final outcome.

The news media report of different polls that indicate that the two are running neck-and-neck is some states; that he has slight lead in some others; that she is leading in most states. But the suspense is there about the final outcome.

In the morning as soon as I woke up, I switched on the transistor radio beside the bed, as I usually do, to listen to the news on NPR. On the hour, the news began, but NPR decided to prolong my suspense by headlining the broadcast with other news, including yet another death of American soldiers in Afghanistan.

But then came the news: the Indians had tied in the eighth inning 6:6 and in an extended 10th inning (because of rain delay), the Cubs had won 8:7. So the outcome is finally there although it was a nail-biting finish. History has been made.

Would we have to look for a similar outcome on November 8? I keep my fingers crossed.

Why does Tibet matter in the discourse on the democratization of China?

Why does Tibet matter in the discourse on the democratization of China?

On October 2, 2016, I participated in a conference on possibility for democratization of China at New York University. There were scholars on China, Chinese-American academics, Tibetans, Uyghurs, and some of the top names in the Chinese democracy movement, including Tiananmen veteran Wang Juntao and writer of Fifth Modernization Wei Jingsheng. The conference was convened by Prof. Ming Xia of New York University and Mr. Chin Jin of the China Democracy Forum.In my presentation I made a case on why Tibet matters in this discourse by Chinese democracy advocates.

Here is an expanded version of the points I made:

First, the aspirations of the Tibetan people need to be considered from the beginning of the discourse. If the Chinese democracy advocates are talking of democratization of the People’s Republic of China, then they need to bear in mind that the present PRC territorial borders include a large number of people like Tibetans who are not Chinese (Han). In fact, the PRC terms itself “a unified multi-ethnic country” with the 56 nationalities supposed to be having equal rights. Therefore, Tibetan viewpoints need to be considered as part of the discourse rather than Tibetans merely being perceived as beneficiaries of the discourse.

The Chinese Communist government has failed, and continues to fail, in understanding Tibetan aspirations. It is for this reason that even after virtually 60 years of occupation, the leadership in Beijing has not been able to gain the trust of the Tibetan people. The Chinese democrats should not commit the same mistake. Continue reading “Why does Tibet matter in the discourse on the democratization of China?”

Empowering Tibetans in More Ways than One

I wrote the following for Tibet Fund for its special publication on the occasion of its 35 years of service. It is on page 27 of the publication.

Empowering Tibetans in More Ways than One

Bhuchung K. Tsering

 

As with all Tibetans of my generation, my choice of a career was shaped more by the availability of funding/scholarship rather than by my own personal ambition.  Growing up I had an interest in science (wanted to be a medical doctor, no surprise there as everyone then wanted to be one!), but when the time came for me to choose my field of study in the last two years of my high school, the only option provided to students of my group was in humanities and not science.

 

I then developed an interest in journalism.  My choice, after my undergraduate study, included applying for a job with a media organization or applying for admission to a mass communication school. I did both.

 

Around that time (in the early 1980s) I had somehow heard that the Office of Tibet in New York (within which Tibet Fund was housed in its initial years) was providing scholarship for further studies.  I therefore wrote a letter to it explaining my interest in studying journalism.  Continue reading “Empowering Tibetans in More Ways than One”

The Next American President and Tibet

The Next American President and Tibet

Hillary Clinton and Dalai Lama

Then Secretary Hillary Clinton receiving the Dalai Lama at the State Department in February 2010. (Photo: Michael Gross, State Department)

As the November 8, 2016 US Presidential elections draw near, there are those who are predicting a very close race between Republican candidate Donald Trump and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.Tibetan Americans and friends and supporters of the Tibetan people are watching the developments closely. In past elections, Tibetan Americans have shown themselves to be single-issue voters; with Party affiliations being regarded secondary to how the candidate has shown his (and now her) support to Tibet. During President George W. Bush’s re-election in 2004, quite many Tibetan Americans said they voted for him even though they identified themselves as being Democrat. This was because President George W. Bush clearly spoke out in support of the Dalai Lama and Tibet.

American politicians have noted this small but influential voting constituency. Continue reading “The Next American President and Tibet”