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Foundations for a Modern Tibet
By Email[Monday, July 27, 2009 12:49]
By Tsewang Namgyal

A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions!" Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Let me preface by my definition of a modern Tibet. For me it means a free, transparent, secular, democratic society based on a market economy and infused by Tibetan Buddhist ethical values. A Land of Snow where every individual living in it are given equal opportunity to succeed and the weak are protected.

Last few months I had an opportunity to share few opinion pieces on Phayul. I appreciate the number of encouraging notes that I received from fellow Tibetans, concerned Chinese people and kind supporters. What I found most interesting is that many of us share similar views and do appear to share my view of a modern Tibet.

Our Buddhist wisdom of cause and effect teaches us that things do not just happen. Every cause and condition has its' corresponding product. One cannot wish for a fruit tree by planting seeds of a poisonous plant. In addition, our precious teachings remind us that the foundation of wisdom is compassion. Just as without the appropriate manure it will be difficult for the plant to grow, similarly, without a community based on compassion it will be difficult for the society to be truly modern.

Here in my final opinion piece to Phayul (until something really bothers me) I would like to humbly suggest few inputs that I believe will be important factors to create a modern Tibet. Going forward I hope to refocus my Tibet volunteer efforts to reach out to the Chinese community and continue on my efforts related to Tibet's economic development.

BOOT CAMP for young Tulkus

Tulkus have positively contributed much to our society throughout the centuries. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a living example. At a personal level I believe for a foundation of a modern Tibet we have to move in the path of secularization. The benefits of secularization far exceed the risks. We were fortunate (and arguably very lucky) to have someone like His Holiness the Dalai Lama guides us during the most difficult period in our history. A quick study of our history indicates that most of the past Dalai Lamas do not come even close to our current beloved leader.

Prior to going further I would like to clarify the term secularization. Many in our community believe that this means our respected Sangha should not get into politics. This is far from the truth. Every citizen should be encouraged to engage in politics just as I believe every Tibetan should study Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. I believe secularization means at the institutional level there has to be independence of our religion and politics. This is something that His Holiness has encouraged and we as our community have not been able to embrace it.

It is clear that in the near future our community will continue to call upon our Tulkus for political guidance. Based on this reality, I believe it is critical that we request upon our precious Tulkus to study modern political economic theories. In the early 1960s under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama I understand a school for Rimpoches' was set up. Here many of them were able to learn the English language. Individuals who were exposed to the school include distinguished Tulkus like Samdhong Rimpoche, Chogyam Trungpa and Gelek Rimpoche. Many of them have made great contribution to Tibet.

Tulkus study of modern political economics will reduce the ability of others to trick them, neutralize religious fanatics, get a better understanding of the conventional world, understand management techniques to more efficiently run their monasteries and allow them to support more efficiently our political leaders in our modernization process.

To educate our Rimpoches, TGIE and all of us as individuals can play a role by directly organizing seminars for our young Tulkus to attend, share with them biographies of modern political economic philosophers (such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Peter Drucker and Jack Welch) and bring this discussion up during our conversations. If we all collectively make such investments, I believe the returns of our efforts to Tibet in the future will be huge.

Think of CAUSE and PATH

The Buddha taught the four noble truths: (i) truth of suffering, (ii) cause of suffering, (iii) cessation of suffering and (iv) path to the cessation of suffering. In the political economic realm in our society many a times our focus tends to be on the first and third noble truths. We now need to refocus more on the second (cause of our problems) and fourth noble truths (solutions to them) otherwise our efforts could be just academic.

Here I believe our journalists and writers can play a critical role. They need to provoke our leaders and public to think of causes and solutions. For example instead of asking leaders/public what their opinions are on a particular issue they should ask the reasons (pros and cons) why our leaders/public have certain opinions. Many a times in our discussions we often hear passionate opinions backed only by strong emotions (instead of reasons). By focusing on the WHYs it will help expedite change in our society towards a modern Tibet.

Respect is IMPORTANT

There is a certain segment in our society where they try to create change by making personal insults especially towards our TGIE officials. In addition, generalized attacks are made on "kudrags" and "Buddhist clergies" for wrongs in our society. One can understand such attacks coming from Chinese citizens who have been brainwashed by their government. The situation in our society is quite clear - Tibetans from all regions and sections of the society have made tremendous contributions. We also had bad apples from all regions and sections of our society. Creating fictitious enemies in our society is both a waste of time and counter productive.

For me TGIE officials are like a unique combination of government officials and volunteers. As a son of a former TGIE official (I know I maybe biased) but I believe overwhelming majority of them are trying their best with their respective missions and limited resources. As someone who is quite independent now living in the United States it is quite easy for me to complain and show disrespect as I do not need to personally depend on TGIE. However, I believe it is all the more important for individuals like us to show respect as a role model for the future generations. Unless we show respect others will not.

There is no doubt that dramatic changes needs to take place both in TGIE's structure and culture to make it more flexible, robust, forward looking and fun in order to inspire, retain and attract the best talents. In addition, constructive criticism is critical for a society and having appropriate checks/balance. However, unless we change our tactics to make this change through electing the right/qualified people, recognition of those who are doing a great job and provide support when possible we will not only discourage our current talented officials but also prevent future interested individuals from stepping into the plate. Without capable TGIE official our success rate for creating a modern Tibet is very small.

We need to make our movement more FUN

Personally I love to watch on YouTube TIPA traditional songs, Yadong la, Dadon la, Kunga la, Techung la, Phurbu T. Namgyal la, Ani Choying Dolma la, Tsering Gyurmey la and many others for inspiration when I write. They all appear to take so much joy in their work and in the process are playing a critical role in uniting Tibetans, promoting our culture and inspiring many of us. I believe we can all borrow from their joyful creative spirit in our own humble efforts related to Tibet's political, economic, education and environmental development.

Tibet is currently at a crossroad. We all know that next few years are critical in our history and Chinese government rule is brutal. I also understand Tibet's very existence is in question if we do not make the right moves. However, if we always stay in a mourning state this is not good for our physical health and mental creativity. I believe by bringing more fun to our movement with less complains and appreciating each others efforts it will allow us to come out with more innovative solutions and increase our stamina in our "fight." To borrow the words of President Harry Truman, "A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties." Let us be an optimist and laugh in our way to creating a modern Tibet.

Joint Venture is GOOD

Through our past history and perhaps influence of India's swadeshi movement there is subtle protectionist mentality and glorification of self reliance. We need to move away from it as our circumstances are different. Two of the key weaknesses of Tibet's economy are: (i) poor management and (ii) lack of capital. The best way to mitigate both these issues is through the formation of joint ventures with qualified experienced outside partners. We cannot do it alone.

Openness to the outside world has its pros and cons. Tibet due to our current political position our choices are limited. Strong outside influences is forced upon us. Rather than trying to stop the impossible or being reactive we need to move more proactively and aggressively ahead of pending changes to move the direction of it. For example if we are able to develop tourism in a proper way this will likely have a greater chance of preventing more harmful projects like mining.

Encouragement of joint ventures should not include only with non Tibetans but also among us. In our society many a times partnerships tend to be focused more on trust than on comparative advantages. By focusing on our comparative advantage (ability of a person or country to produce a product more efficiently than another person or country) this will be beneficial to all of us. To put things into context it would be better for a wood carpenter and a Thanka painter to form a partnership than two thanka painters or two carpenters. Through proper formation of joint ventures with trusted partners that can complement one's weakness is an important ingredient in creating a modern Tibet. For more discussions related to this subject I would like to humbly share an interview I did with VOA titled Tibet's Changing Economy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv9QxG36gB8.

Do Good and Do Well

In my travels in Tibet and exile I believe majority of us Tibetans both in the lay and monastic community want to do good and do well. This is not to diminish the tremendous personal (including many ultimate) sacrifice of many, many Tibetans to give us all a brighter future but to see how we can tap the talents of the majority who are not that selfless. Unless we are able to tap the talents of the majority it would be very difficult for us to create a modern Tibet.

Based on this assumption, it is important for us to create opportunities or at least support those Tibetans who are able to do good and do well in our society. If not, they will have other professional choices. I personally know educated Tibetans (and nice people) who do not appear to volunteer any of their time, money or expertise towards Tibet. It is easy to feel angry but this is no solution. I believe even for those Tibetans where it is contingent for them to do well in order to do well we should work to attract them by creating opportunities.

In order to create a robust modern Tibetan economy the active participation of such Tibetans who want to do good and do well are critical in creating profitable self sustaining businesses. Such ventures indirectly will create jobs, products to self sustain Tibet's economy and are critical to create a modern Tibet.

...to be continued

The author is an MBA graduate (Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society member) from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and works in the Investment Banking field in New York City. Tsewang is one of the Founding Board of Directors of Students for a Free Tibet, first Tibetan to officially enlist in the United States Military and served as the Executive Director of the Tibetan Community Center Project (NY) from 2007-2008 . He can be reached at densang123@yahoo.com


The views expressed in this piece are that of the author and the publication of the piece on this website does not necessarily reflect their endorsement by the website.

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  Readers' Comments »
Future Free TIBET (Tenam108)
ThanglopSsurpa la (Tsenam123)
almost unrealistic (ThanglopSsurpa)
Tsongi La (Tsenam123)
my thoughts (autumndusk)
Foundations for a Modern Tibet (Tsongi)
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