A Tibetan’s tale of yearning and identity


tendar book


A Tibetan’s tale of yearning and identity

By Bhuchung K. Tsering

Among the books that I purchased during this holiday period was “Two More Years” by Tendar Tsering (2017) Paperback Price: $6.99.

A positive development in the Tibetan diaspora since the dawn of the 21st century is that there are more writings in English by younger Tibetans. Prior to that period one might be able to name only around half a dozen or so Tibetans who could be seen doing so. There were Tibetans who worked in the field of journalism, whether within the Tibetan community or in the broader society, but that seemed more to be a profession than  life’s calling.

Among the latter-day writers is Tendar Tsering. I met him only in recent years, after he had immigrated to the United States (which is where his memoir ends), but have seen his writings for some time before that.

This is a story of a quest for identity and a sense of belonging. It begins with the author’s upbringing in rural Tibet and his experience, even at a young age, of something lacking in his life, compared to how the Chinese people were. What does it mean to be a Tibetan? What is the bond between a Tibetan in Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama? This leads him to leave Tibet for education in India and his travail (along with his fellow escapees) along the way is heartbreaking.

His memoir is a tale of pleasure and pain, and reflects the feeling of angst that is prevalent in the Tibetan diaspora community. The emotional pain comes out in different ways throughout the book. Even as he rejoices in being able to escape to India for his education and being embraced by the Tibetan institutions in exile, he also draws attention to the drawbacks, including in matters like living facilities at the Tibetan Reception Center as well as the Tibetan Children’s Villages School in Dharamsala.

All along the refrain is of yearning, for a homeland by him and by his parents wanting to see their child. Even the title of the book is from a response he gave to his parents back in Tibet (during one of his telephonic conversation with them while in India) when he was asked when he would be returning.

The memoir is somewhat short and so enables a quick reading for anyone. It touches on quite few aspects and I would have wished the author could have provided more explanation for some of them. Also, there are areas where I thought it would have helped in making the thoughts compact.

But the book is a sincere attempt by a young Tibetan, who was born in Tibet under China, got his education in India and is now settled in the US, to try to understand his own situation.

The book is self-published and has a simple layout and is available on Amazon  and Barnes and Noble.



Can the Dalai Lama be in two different countries at the same time?

When I was working as the editor of Tibetan Bulletin in Dharamsala many years back, one of the things I enjoyed doing was writing a column, which I named “Last Page”. I used the column to focus on human-interest stories with a Tibetan twist.

Here is something that I wrote in 1994. If read in the context of our belief in the supernatural abilities of enlightened beings like His Holiness the Dalai Lama, you will get to appreciate it even more.

As a postscript, some time after this column appeared, I heard from a friend that some elderly Tibetans had heard about this story and they did not have any doubt about it happening.

The omnipresent Dalai Lama

by Bhuchung K. Tsering

Tibetan Bulletin, July 1994

This item comes without being discourteous to His Holiness the Dalai Lama. What would you say, if I told you His Holiness recently displayed his omnipresence by manifesting himself physically in two different places at the same time. Followers of Tibetan Buddhism would, without hesitation, say that this is possible given our belief in the divine power of His Holiness. In fact, we generally believe that beings like His Holiness, who have reached a certain spiritual level, can manifest themselves in as many places as they so desire. Doubtful Thomases may, however, say, “But this can’t be possible.” Yet, such an event really took place, and an Indian ambassador and a governor of an American state can testify to this fact.

After reading this story, even a confirmed atheist or a diehard rationalist will have to accept the fact that the incident indeed happened. The historic date for this phenomenon was April 14, 1994. In the afternoon of that day, while His Holiness was meeting with an Indian ambassador in one part of the world, he was also having tea around the same time with a governor of an American state in another part of the world.

Confusing, isn’t it? Well, if you still do not believe me, then check the tour programmes released by our offices in Tokyo and New York, because the incident took place during His Holiness’s tour of Japan and the United States in May this year (discerning readers would have noticed this in our report on His Holiness’s visits in our May-June issue). If you go by the programme of the Liaison Office of H.H. the Dalai Lama in Tokyo, His Holiness definitely received Indian Ambassador (to Japan) Prakash Shah at his hotel suite in Tokyo in the afternoon of April 14, 1994. But then, if you see the tour programme released by our Office of Tibet in New York, His Holiness definitely met Governor John Waihee of Hawaii at his official residence in Honolulu in the same afternoon. So, either His Holiness was in both the places at the same time (in which case you will have to indulge in what in literature is called “willing suspension of disbelief”) or else one of our offices is indulging in falsehood. Where lies the truth? Call Ambassador Shah or Governor Waihee to verify the facts! Confusing, isn’t it?

The truth, however, is simple. His Holiness was definitely in both Tokyo and Honolulu in the afternoon of April 14, 1994. But this something called the

International Dateline made all the difference. His Holiness was in Tokyo, meeting the Indian ambassador, among others, on April 14, 1994. He left the same evening (Tokyo time) for Honolulu. However, because he was flying in the easterly direction, he was able to gain an extra day after crossing the 180th meridian, i.e. the above-mentioned line. Thus, he reached Honolulu on the morning of April 14, 1994 (Hawaii time), in the process going a bit back to the past, as one would say. This enabled him to meet with the Governor of Hawaii, among others, in the same afternoon. Got it?

Imagine how a simple-minded Tibetan in a remote village in Tibet would react if he hears about His Holiness being in two different places at the same time? I would love to see his face.

By the way, the officer who maintains the appointment diary of His Holiness may need to order customised diaries in future which contain additional pages of certain dates to fill the necessity posed by events like the one mentioned in this item.

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!”

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?”