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?”

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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.

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”

Tasks before the Re-Elected Sikyong

Reposting this from the blog of the International Campaign for Tibet.

 

Tasks before the Re-Elected Sikyong

Bhuchung K. Tsering

https://weblog.savetibet.org

 

On April 27, 2016, the Tibetan Election Commission announced the results of the Sikyong and parliamentary elections < http://tibet.net/2016/04/final-results-of-sikyong-and-tibetan-parliamentary-elections-declared/&gt;.  Except in the case of some members of parliament, for the Sikyong and some other MPs, the results were already known and this is a mere formality.

There have been some discussions about the degeneration of the Tibetan society in diaspora in the months leading to the elections, with now even the politicians realizing their shortsightedness.  There have been some damage but all is not lost in the broader scheme of things.  In the past when there were concerns about his devolution of authority, His Holiness the Dalai Lama had said it is better that the people tread on this path of self-reliance while he was still active as he can then provide guidance if things go astray.  Therefore, the recent development was something that would have happened at any time given the nature of the system and it was good that it happened now while corrective measures can be taken.

In any case, I wrote the following after the previous election cycle in 2011. Upon re-reading it, other than there being a change in the nomenclature from “Kalon Tripa” to “Sikyong” the rest of my assertion continues to be valid for the new administration under Sikyong Lobsang Sangay.  Therefore, I am reposting it.

 

Message from the Tibetan Elections

Bhuchung K. Tsering

April 27, 2011

 

 

Today, the Tibetan Election Commission in Dharamsala, India, announced the results of the general elections held on March 20, 2011 to elect the Kalon Tripa, the Chairman of the Tibetan Cabinet, and members of the Tibetan Parliament.  As pointed out in the statement our organization issued today, congratulations are due not just to the winners but also to all the Tibetan people who participated in this historic democratic process. Above all, this is yet another testimony to the foresight of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in his several decades-long efforts at democratizing the Tibetan governances system.

When campaigning began for the present election cycle in 2009, I wrote the following about what the next Kalon Tripa’s responsibilities would be.

“The next Kalon Tripa should devote his or her time and effort to the consolidation of the Tibetan community, becoming their spokesperson and look into creation of a system providing a continuation of leadership.

 

“There are three main ways to implement this provision of political leadership.

“First, the position needs to understand that the basis of the Tibetan people’s support to the leadership currently is the historical role of the institution of the Dalai Lamas. The next Kalon Tripa needs to work on a strategy to continuing this relationship and to strengthen the institution to prepare for any and all eventualities. Continue reading “Tasks before the Re-Elected Sikyong”

An Appeal for Civility in Tibetan Elections

An Appeal for Civility in Tibetan Elections

Bhuchung K. Tsering

democracy

Now that the Tibetan Election Commission has announced the candidates for the forthcoming elections to the post of Sikyong and for parliamentarians, campaigning, which had been going on ever before that, is taking a more aggressive turn.

This is good for the strengthening of Tibetan democracy. As voters we need to know the person we wish to elect. For candidates, it is their responsibility to see that the voters are clearly informed of what they stand for and what they aspire to deliver once in office. Thus, campaigning becomes the main vehicle to do this.

However, a better democracy is one where there is positive campaigning. Unfortunately, during this election cycle we are noticing a growing trend in negative campaigning by the candidates, both directly and indirectly through surrogates. More alarming is the use of surrogates (oftentimes anonymous) to launch vitriolic attacks through acerbic and malicious assertions against some candidates.

The growth of social media and the somewhat superficial coverage of developments by some section of the traditional media are providing fuel for this, leading to confusion and commotion rather than clarity.

This is a dangerous development that might lead to wounds and divisions in the small society that might not heal even after the elections are over. Lately, whenever I speak with another Tibetan there is frustration with the current tenor of campaign rhetoric and a concern about where this situation might be leading us.

The Tibetan society is moving to a new stage of assessing the candidates, from that of regionalism and factionalism to one of individual worth. Among those standing up for elections to the Tibetan Parliament, for example, there are many well-meaning ones (I personally know some of them) who have been in the service of the community in different capacity. The nature of the elections is such that not everyone will be elected. Therefore, it should not be that the shortsighted and ill informed utterances of a few lead to the discouragement of people from serving the community in the future. While the Sikyong position has some perks (notwithstanding the somewhat puny remuneration), the parliamentarians for the most part have to devote personal time, energy and resources to their new responsibility in addition to doing their routine jobs.

Therefore, the candidates and the voters have responsibilities to alter the situation and not let it go out of control. There is a need for political civility.

Separate Personalities from Issues

The candidates and voters should bear in mind that our focus should be on issues and not on personalities. We should have frank exchanges of views on the position of the candidates on issues, whether they are as fundamental as the resolution of the Tibetan issue or day-to-day matter like social development programs. But we should stop disseminating information that is personal attacks against particular candidates. It is the right of the voters to support any particular candidate but we do not have the right to malign others. We also should not encourage the candidates to ‘hit each other below the belts’ just because we think that will score a point.

Speak the Truth

Tough questions need to be posed, whether by voters or the media. But everything has to be based on facts and not on hearsay, rumors or half-truths. I myself have seen a few documents circulating out there that are based on ignorance and also have no bearing to the issue. I am told on WeChat or Facebook there are more such destructive assertions being made of specific individuals.

Don’t pull a fast one

I would particularly urge the candidates not to try pulling a fast one to be elected and in the process harm the broader community. In other words, they should not miss the wood for the trees.

Talking about “The Meaning of Civility”, two professors at the University of Colorado had this to say: “The most destructive confrontation process, escalation, arises when accidental or intentional provocations beget greater counter-provocations in an intensifying cycle that transforms a substantive debate characterized by honest problem solving into one in which mutual hatred becomes the primary motive. De-escalation and escalation avoidance strategies are needed to limit this problem.”

I think the candidates should strive to do this. They should not dent  the bus of democracy just to be elected and in the process make it useless to the voters who are the passengers.

To put it in another way, the elections are not a one-night stand. There is the day after that we have to live with and it should not be the case that we have a splitting headache to deal with then.

A Tale of Two Elections, Tibetan and American

A Tale of Two Elections, Tibetan and American

Bhuchung K. Tsering
January 30, 2016

In February, two elections that I am following closely will take interesting turns. One of them is of course the American presidential elections and the Iowa caucuses of both the Democratic and Republican parties on February 1 might give us a clearer idea of who the likely candidate is or in the case of the Republican Party, whether Donald Trump has any future.
What the caucuses essentially do is to empower the people at the local level to select their choice for presidential candidate and also to appoint their delegates that will take the process to the next level, eventually leading to delegates to the two conventions that will formally select the respective party’s candidate.

The process in the caucuses is not uniform though. In Iowa, the Republicans will have the people write down their choices, while in the case of the Democrats, the people will physically align themselves with groups that support a particular candidate.

So, next week we will have some clarity.

The other election is that of the Tibetans in diaspora. An interesting border-less democracy is in action as the small Tibetan communities in exile, spread over more than 30 countries, is in the process of choosing their Sikyong (political head) and members of the Tibetan Parliament.

Tibetan election is a two stage process and it began in October 2015 when primary elections were held to nominate candidates. In between and before that there have been hectic campaigning, both direct and indirect ones. Now on February 3, the Tibetan Election Commission will announce the list of final candidates. We will then see the campaigning becoming fiercer.
I had the opportunity to watch one of the debates among those vying for the North American seats to the Tibetan Parliament. I am told there will be a debate between the Sikyong candidates soon. One thing is clear: we are slowly seeing a change in the attitude of the candidates; from that of being modest and humble to one of projecting oneself as better than the rest.

This time, social media is an integral part of the campaign vehicles. Of course, Facebook seems to be the preferred medium although I am told there are several WeChat groups that dedicate time and efforts to discussing the potentials of the Sikyong candidates.
American political campaigning is taking a nasty turn currently. I hope the Tibetan campaigning can avoid that while being forthright about differences in positions. The jury is out on that.

The Re-transformation of Samdhong Rinpoche

The Re-transformation of Samdhong Rinpoche
Bhuchung K Tsering

The other day I was watching this video of Samdhong Rinpoche’s commentary on the iconic Tibetan Buddhist scripture Lojong Tsig-gyema (བློ་སྦྱོང་ཚིགས་བརྒྱད་མ། Eight Verses of Training of the Mind) by the 11th century master Langri Tangpa. In eight short verses Langri Tangpa shows the path to inner transformation of an individual, and, when practiced, helps you in becoming a better person.

But this blog piece is about another transformation, rather re-transformation i.e. the person of Samdhong Rinpoche.

To date, those who follow the issue of Tibetan culture and politics have seen two faces of Samdhong Rinpoche. For much of the initial post 1959 period, Rinpoche was an academician, beginning with teaching in, and administering, some of the Central Schools for Tibetans in India. Thereafter, he made his mark as the head of the Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (renamed now as Central University of Tibetan Studies) in Sarnath. This university continues to be the premier institute for Tibetan Buddhist studies internationally. His stint at the university also led to his fame as a scholar with the title of “Prof.” attached to his name that has become to symbolize the same.

I have not had the privilege of being a student of Rinpoche, but many of my friends and colleagues have, and they are all bonded by their common reverence to him.

After Rinpoche was nominated by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to be a member of the Tibetan Parliament in 1991, we saw another aspect of him, that of a political leader. He has been one of the key personalities who have assisted His Holiness in shaping Tibetan democracy, whether it was drafting of the Charter of the Tibetans in Exile or restructuring the working of the Tibetan Parliament or the Kashag, of which he was the head until his retirement in 2011.

We are now seeing another face of Samdhong Rinpoche; that of a lama. In sooth, his very name indicates that he is a lama and generally would have developed spiritually as a Buddhist master. So, it is just a re-transformation, if you will. Continue reading “The Re-transformation of Samdhong Rinpoche”