Appreciating the Wish Fulfilling Jewel
Bhuchung K. Tsering
In October 2007, the United States bestowed the Congressional Gold Medal to His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C. This fourteenth incarnation of one of the world’s foremost statesmen has had far greater exposure to the international community than all of his predecessors combined. In the process he has been rightly admired and recognized by governments, institutions and organizations, not to speak of oceans of individuals, for his contribution to the development of world civilization. So, can we try to quantify the significance of this latest approbation in the form of the Congressional Gold Medal?
While participating in the Voice of America’s Tibetan TV program in late September, during which they covered the preparations for the Congressional Gold Medal event, I was posed a question by one of the callers from India. He talked about the very many awards to His Holiness over the years and asked what these have really delivered? This question is something to think over.
When we try to analyse the impact of international recognition of His Holiness, we should bear in mind the fact that they can be both direct and indirect. Or to put it in Tibetan cultural context, the impact can be Ngoe (direct), Shug (indirect), and Gyud (through another channel). It will not do for us to try to bracket the impact solely to the superficial level and find them wanting.
In terms of the Congressional Gold Medal, following are my thoughts. First, this medal’s recognition of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s international stature is timely.
The U.S. Congress, in its resolution to bestow this award, mentions six areas in which His Holiness made a contribution, three of which relate to Tibet and the other three to his contribution towards the betterment of human society as a whole. It is a recognition of His Holiness’ contributions in three fields that he has publicly said are close to his hearts; promotion of human values, promotion of religious harmony and resolution of the Tibetan issue.
I do not think His Holiness personally needs any such praise, but it is interesting that such an international recognition is coming at a time when a section of the Chinese leadership seems to be bent on trying to discredit him. The medal, thus, is a very strong, obvious and clear answer to as well as rebuttal of the Chinese position by the international community. As the Tibetan saying goes, “The glow of gold, even when it is underground, spreads across the sky.”
Second, the nature of the award itself is extraordinary. While writing about same award to the then British Prime Minister Tony Blair, The Times of London said on August 31, 2005, “It is the highest expression of the appreciation of the American people.” The newspaper continued, “As its name suggests, the medal is not the gift of the President. Nor is it a piece of party patronage. It requires the sponsorship of two thirds of the members of the House of Representatives and 67 Senators. This is a gift from the entire American people.”
Third, there is the obvious political significance of the medal that is directly related to the Tibetan-Chinese dialogue process. The Chinese Government is clearly aware of the international interest in seeing a negotiated resolution of the Tibetan issue and this award serves as yet another strong reminder of this. When the resolution for the Gold Medal was passed on September 13, 2006, Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi had this to say, “By awarding the Congressional Gold Medal to the Dalai Lama, Congress is sending an important signal of support for the ongoing discussions. The United States must continue to be committed to meeting the challenge that Tibet makes to our conscience. It is my hope that our efforts can help the Dalai Lama free the Tibetan people.”
Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi was the House Democratic Leader when she made the above remarks. Today, she is the Speaker of the House of Representatives and her words assume all the more stronger political significance.
I have been privileged to have participated in discussions with different levels of Congressional staff in preparation for the October 17 ceremony and am thus a witness to the tremendous respect and reverence that the Congress has for His Holiness. While it is crude to do so, the significance of this respect can be understood if we can compare this to the fact that many governments, including that of China, spend a huge amount of money to hire lobbying firms to promote their leaders and interests before the Congress. Even after spending huge amounts governments rarely achieve the sort of support that His Holiness and the issue of Tibet has in Washington, D.C.
In terms of what the Congressional Gold Medal to His Holiness means to us the Tibetan people this will depend on how each and everyone of us take the new opportunity. If we do not seize the moment, then things remain where they are. When His Holiness was bestowed the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989 many new doors opened to the Tibet movement and our issue rose to a new level.Now, at the level of the United States, this medal provides a new opportunity to the Tibet movement here.
The Congressional Gold Medal and the Nobel Peace Prize are not of the same level. In many ways, the Nobel Prize has far greater prominence. But the
Congressional Gold Medal also has its uniqueness. Unlike the Nobel Prize that is determined by a committee of five people, the Congressional Gold Medal needs the support of two-thirds members of the United States Senate ( i.e. 69 members out of 100) and the House of Representatives (290 out of 435 members) just to start the process of introducing the resolution. More than the required number signed up to co-sponsor the resolution to bestow the medal to His Holiness signifying the strong bipartisan support in the Congress to him and the Tibetan issue.
When Tibetans talk about the legacy of the successive Dalai Lamas there is the tradition of referring to the fifth and the 13th incarnations as “Chenpo” (Great) because of their extraordinary contribution to Tibetan society. On account of his role in the Tibetan society during this challenging period in Tibetan history, as also to the world at large, the present 14th incarnation is already being addressed as the Great Fourteenth.The Congressional Gold Medal is but yet another corroboration of this nomenclature.