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?”→
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.
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.
Every November, Americans celebrate a noble occasion, Thanksgiving Day, when we are encouraged “to count our many blessings.” This year Thanksgiving Day falls on November 27, 2014.
Since the day comes a few weeks after yet another successful visit by His Holiness the Dalai Lama to the United States (as well as Canada), I want to offer thanks to the democracy and freedom of this country that enables His Holiness to make his visits and the opportunity it provides to Americans to benefit from his wisdom.
Although we take visits by the Dalai Lama to the United States for granted today (compared to some other countries that have to capitulate to direct and indirect pressures from China) things were not always that way. His Holiness first began visiting the United States in 1979 but there were efforts many years before that for him to be in this country.
Some recently declassified United States Government documents that include communications exchanged between the White House, the State Department and the United States Embassy in India, way back in 1970, about a possible visit by the Dalai Lama gives us a taste of the decision making process then. Although it is unfortunate that His Holiness had to wait for nine long years following those deliberations, yet it is revealing to see how different organs of the United States Government approached the issue. Continue reading “Thanksgiving Day, the Dalai Lama and the United States”→
On March 30, 2014 we saw the passing away of Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal, a formidable figure in Tibetan history. This blog is about the reaction by the Tibetan community about him.
In December 2009, following the passing away of Ngapo Ngawang Jigme, I wrote,
“If we were to choose the three most prominent Tibetan personalities in Tibet in the post-1959 period, Kasur Ngapo would be one of them. The other two would be the previous Panchen Lama and Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal. All three of them came in the same time in history but under different circumstances. Within the Tibetan society, at different times in history there have been different opinions about the three personalities.
“The Panchen Lama has, however, made it abundantly clear at all times that he has been striving for the benefit of the Tibetan people. In particular, his position, as spelled out in writing, includes his 70,000 character petition to the Chinese government on the plight of the Tibetan people and his public talks given in the 1980s. Bapa Phuntsok Wangyal has also made his position clear through the book, “A Tibetan Revolutionary” as well as through his petitions to the Chinese government in recent times.”
For the past several days, I have been reading the reaction of the Tibetan people outside of Tibet, written in Tibetan as well as English. While the majority of them were positive about Phunwang’s legacy, there were some who were vociferously negative, including calling him a traitor.
How do we judge an individual whose background itself was part of the complex history of Tibet? Even the simple fact that Phunwang, although being a Tibetan, could only enter the territory governed by the then Tibetan Government in the 1950s after seeking its prior permission is part of this complexity.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama has talked about his personal interaction with Phunwang, both while in Tibet and even after coming to India (via telephone conversations, which might be news to some) and has drawn a conclusion of his legacy; offering admiration at Phunwang’s dedication to the Tibetan people.
Irrespective of how one might interpret Phunwang’s initial involvement in the Tibetan-Chinese relationship, it is certainly true that from among the Tibetans in Tibet, after the former Panchen Lama, it was Phunwang who raised the strongest voice (until his death) for the Tibetan people with the Chinese leaders.
What do Tibetans in Tibet think about Phunwang?
It seems there have been lots of posting on Weibo by young Tibetans about Phunwang, many calling him a “witness to history.” There were also reports of mourning for him in Tibet.
I looked at some of the web portals from Tibet that is accessible to those of us outside. A posting in Tibetan on one website said,
“In short, Bawa Phuntsok Wangyal’s entire life was endowed with a thousand rays, making sincere and courageous efforts at all levels for the development and enrichment of his fatherland, the Land of Snow Mountains, transforming it into a modern Land of Snows while overcoming different challenges. It is a lesson that the latter generation needs to learn and understand.”
Another website, posted a poem that Phunwang had written, which said the following, among others:
“I lost freedom for the sake of freedom
Although devoid of freedom, (I) have freedom”
There was a posting on the website, www.tibetcul.com that had Phunwang’s biography and also had comments from readers, both positive as well as criticism, which were more general than specific.
Tibetan Americans make their presence in Washington, D.C.
Bhuchung K. Tsering
May 19, 2013
Some people might feel that I am making a mountain of a molehill today, but that is for good reason. The Tibetan American community in the Washington, D.C. area has finally made its presence felt in the Asian American community in this region. On May 18, 2013, the Capital Area Tibetan Association participated in the 8th Annual National Asian Heritage Festival that was held in the heart of Washington, D.C., in close proximity to the United States Congress and the White House.
Even though Washington, D.C. has seen much grander Tibet-related events, whether it is the many days of the Kalachakra teachings by His Holiness the Dalai Lama in 2011, the Congressional Gold Medal event in 2007 or the Smithsonian Folklife Festival devoted to Tibet 2000, yesterday’s event, Feista Asia Street Fair, was in a different framework; it placed the Tibetan community in the Asian American family here.
And, it was certainly a coming out party of sort. The Tibetan troupe was selected the “grand champion” among the participants in the Cultural Parade that marked the formal beginning of the fair. Coincidently, during the line up for the parade, the Tibetan group became placed after the Nepali group and before the Chinese group; symbolizing the geographical locations of the homeland of the three communities. The Nepalese were pleased to see the Tibetans and there were several rounds of discussions in the Nepali language as well as singing of Nepali songs by Tibetans on the sidelines of the events. Among the Chinese participants there were some who joined the Tibetans, including in the traditional circle dance, but there were some who seem somewhat bewildered by the Tibetan presence this time.
The Tibetan adults performed a lively “Gyalshay” dance while the youngsters had an active “Droshey”, a ceremonial drum dance. They both represented the two generations of Tibetan Americans well and were well received by the audience.
In addition to CATA’s presence, there was a Tibetan from Maryland who had a stall, Dorjebajra Tibet Shop. There was a Nepali restaurant from Maryland that had a stall selling momos among others.
As we participated in the parade and mingled with the crowd subsequently, there was a feeling among the Tibetans that we certainly did not lag behind in terms of cultural richness or presence.
A small step by the Tibetan community in the Washington, D.C., but a giant leap for the Tibetan American community here; can I say this?
Every Monday, I look forward to reading Metropolitan Diary in The New York Times. It is a compilation of impressions sent in by readers relating to their life in the Big Apple. Oftentimes, there are items about overheard conversations in a bus or a subway that make you chuckle. Reading them makes one have a new appreciation of life in a hectic city like New York.
Many years back, I got sort of addicted to what can only be termed the Indian version of “Metropolitan Diary.” While working for the Indian Express newspaper, I took a liking for its “middles” as well as “Monday Diary.” The newspaper had on its Editorial page, between the main article and the Letters to the editor, a short item that looked at life’s vicissitudes. The items were mainly contributed by readers with a retired army officer residing in the Delhi University area being a very frequent contributor.
Similarly, the Indian Express also carried a section on Mondays, simply called “Monday Diary” that addressed a somewhat similar theme. I recall contributing materials to this section, including about a man that I used to observe in Delhi University area who would distribute flour or grains along roadsides, obviously meant for the ants. I also remember writing about the interesting case of Tibetan doctors having to consume alcohol while preparing a specific Tibetan precious pill that contained mercury (while being detoxified) so that they would not be affected by it.
I think sometimes we need to sit back and take life in its own stride.