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.
I have not posted anything on this site for quite a few months. In fact , I have not done any such writings for some time, except for the work-related output that seems to come out mechanically.
Some people have noticed the absence; I, too, have been noticing it.
I do not consider myself a writer in the conventional sense of the term; I don’t even have a published compilation of my articles, leave alone a stand-alone book in my name. What I do is commentary and occasional light-hearted look at life. There have been many significant developments on which I could and should have written about. When the media, mainly the Tibetan language ones, ask me for my views on the visit of the Chinese President to the US of A, for example, I remind myself then that I ought to put some of my thoughts on “paper.” Also, occasionally, people test me as if goading me to write on this or that. This may be in the form of a phone call from someone from whom I only hear occasionally, giving me inside story of this or that candidate in the Tibetan elections. Or it could be in the form of “tagging” me on Twitter to a particular issue. Continue reading “Writer’s “Blog” or writer’s block?”→
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.
Why do the Bhutanese Names of the Days of the Week differ from that of the Tibetan?
Bhuchung K. Tsering
Let us talk about the days of the week now, specifically as Tibetans and Bhutanese refer to them. The reason why I am saying this is because of an interesting difference. Let me preface this by saying that in general, Bhutanese, Tibetans and, for that matter, many communities in the Himalayan region share a similar culture. Therefore, while Tibetans, Ladakhis, Sikkimese, etc., have the same names for the days of week, in the Bhutanese case, even though the names themselves are the same, they refer to days different to ours.
Overall, our culture follows a lunisolar calendar with the calculations involving both the sun and the moon. Then, similar to the ancient Greek and Hindu systems (the Chinese used to have a ten-day week and switched to a seven-day week in the seventh century, but refer to the days by number only), we have a system of naming the days after the Sun, the moon, and some planets. These are ཉི་མ། Sun (Sunday) Nyima; ཟླ་བ། Moon (Monday) Dawa; མིག་དམར། Mars (Tuesday) Migmar; ལྷག་པ། Mercury (Wednesday) Lhakpa; ཕུར་བུ། Jupiter (Thursday) Phurbu; པ་སངས། Venus (Friday) Passang; and སྤེན་པ། Saturn (Saturday) Penpa. Also, even the term for the day (གཟའ་) is the same one for a planet.
Our cultural brethren in the Indian and Nepalese Himalaya region as well as Mongolia (classical tradition) follow the above system of naming the days of the week.
However, in the case of Bhutan, I notice that “Sun” day begins on Saturday and moves on to the rest of the week. Accordingly, as can be seen from the above calendar, the Bhutanese days of the week are: ཟླ་བ། (Sunday) Dawa; མིག་དམར། (Monday) Migmar; ལྷག་པ། (Tuesday) Lhakpa; ཕུར་བུ། (Wednesday) Phurbu; པ་སངས། (Thursday) Passang; སྤེན་པ། Venus (Friday) Penpa; and ཉི་མ། (Saturday) Nyima.
Therefore, I wonder what is the origin for this Bhutanese system of naming days of the week like this!
If Indian PM Modi goes to Mount Kailash in Tibet, it will be more than a pilgrimage
Bhuchung K. Tsering
As I write this, Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj is about to leave for China on a trip that might result in Mr. Narendra Modi making another history by being the first Indian Prime Minister to visit the sacred Mt. Kailash (གངས་རིན་པོ་ཆེ་ revered by Bonpos, Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains) in Tibet.
If everything goes as per speculation, Mr. Modi will be visiting Mt. Kailash in the second week of May this year and he is likely to follow the route through Nathu La (agreed to during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s India visit) on the border of Sikkim and Tibet.
This development is interesting. Of course, Mr. Modi, being a devout Hindu, has been on a pilgrimage to Mt. Kailash many years back. But then he was not the Prime Minister of India. Although the nature of the proposed visit is not clear, but being a Prime Minister there cannot be any visit that will not have political significance. More so because Mt. Kailash is in Tibet and that has me wondering what the implication is on India, China and Tibet.
Before I try to comment on the implications, some history. Mr. Modi will be the second Indian Prime Minister to be visiting Tibet. In September 1958, the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru made overnight sojourn in Tibet on his way to Bhutan. In his letter to the chief ministers of India from Gangtok on September 16, 1958, Mr. Nehru explains this: “… the easiest route to Paro, the summer capital of Bhutan, goes from the Nathu La and crosses a small corner of Tibet. Thus, I shall have a brief glimpse of Tibet and I shall spend a night at Yatung, which is about sixteen miles across the border.”
Sakya Trizin announces historic changes in the lineage’s succession system
Bhuchung K. Tsering
The head of Sakya lineage of Tibetan Buddhism, the Sakya Kyabgon also known as Sakya Trizin (Throne holder of Sakya), has announced major and historic changes to the system of heading the lineage. Traditionally, the title of Sakya Trizin is passed between the two Palaces, known as Dolma Phodrang and Phuntsok Phodrang, that are descendants of the founder of the lineage. The present Sakya Trizin is from Dolma Phodrang while the head of the Phuntsok Phodrang currently resides in the United States. The title is held for lifetime.
In an address to the gathering on December 11, 2014 at the Sakya Monlam, the Sakya Trizin announced an agreement reached between the two Palaces that said in the future all sons of the two families will be eligible to lead the lineage, based on seniority and the required spiritual educational qualification. The title will be held for a period of three years and transferred thereafter to the next senior son.
The Sakya Trizin said the agreement was reached between the two Sakya masters on May 8, 2014 and subsequently, His Holiness the Dalai Lama was informed and gave his support and blessings to this.
The Sakya Trizin announced that the new system would be implemented from 2017.
Here is a video of the Sakya Trizin making the announcement.
On December 10, 2014, lovers of peace, friends, well-wishers and followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama celebrate the 25th anniversary of the bestowal of the Nobel Peace Prize to him. His Holiness is of course is in Rome to participate in the Nobel Peace Laureates Summit, which has now been relocated there.
It is a cliché to say what a difference 25 years can make. But in the case of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, these two and a half decades have indeed cemented his place as a statesman and a conscience of the world. Today, the Dalai Lama and peace/compassion have virtually become synonymous.
His Holiness’ remarks in Oslo in 1989 appear to me as the germinating ground for the philosophy for which he has become well-known today. This includes his dialogue with the scientific community, his adherence to nonviolence, and, above all, his three main commitments: promotion of human values, promotion of religious harmony and promotion of Tibetan culture.