By Nawang Phuntsog
Living in exile and not knowing if one would ever be able to return to your homeland is one of the most inhumane conditions to be in. Euripides, the ancient writer of Greek tragedy, noted that there is “no greater sorrow on Earth than the loss of one’s native land.” Tibet was invaded, occupied, and annexed by an external force which drove thousands into exile - a condition that caused, in the early 1960s, unimaginable social, economic, and psychological suffering both individually and collectively. In retrospection, it is hard to believe that a viable and robust exile community has been built through overcoming seemingly insurmountable rehabilitation challenges. A Tibetan government-in-exile infrastructure is in place, garnering international adulation for its legislative acumen and agility. The birth and continued survival of this institutional structure in the host country itself is no less than a miracle. Featuring three branches of a conventional government, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) has been at the forefront of keeping Tibetan issues in the vortex of geopolitics against all odds. Since early survival mode, with nothing except the sky above and the earth beneath, to the internalization of Tibetan struggle and aspirations, is an achievement of no small feat. To the Chinese government, the CTA’s political maneuvers may seem like the wings of a butterfly flapping against the mighty Chinese Wall, but this incessant fluttering is beginning to make the Wall wear thin. Like the rays of the sun, the Wall cannot keep the truth hidden. Rather, it is a rising phoenix, quite unbeknownst to its oppressor.
It goes without saying that the leadership of His Holiness The 14th Dalai Lama has been supremely instrumental in the reconstruction and establishment of the entire infrastructure in the Diaspora. In all of Tibet’s long history, the 14th Dalai Lama is the only one who has had to endure the longest and most challenging tenure in exile. No Dalai Lama has worked so tirelessly and relentlessly as the 14th in the service of his people during its darkest and grimmest period. One shudders to think about what the situation for Tibetans in exile could have been had the 14th Dalai Lama not been in the midst during such grueling times. His Holiness is the most visible rallying symbol for Tibetans, serving as a metonym eliciting unrestrained allegiance from all - in and outside of Tibet. Tibetans have been linked with His Holiness historically, culturally, spiritually, and politically for hundreds of years. This sacrosanct connection must be nurtured and embraced, as it is the soul of Tibet nation’s existence. Tibet is more than a geographical boundary; it is an ideal consisting of non-violence, compassion, tolerance, universal peace, justice, humility, and respect for the sanctity of life. The land of snows continues to be the beacon of light that offers peaceful and non-violent alternative to that of blood-shedding war for seeking solutions to intractable human problems. The loss of the spirit of spirituality associated with Tibet is indeed an irreplaceable and irrevocable one, and there lies the need to protect it above all.
Dislocation from one’s homeland brings in its wake unprecedented challenges of rehabilitation, while living under the occupation has its tragedy. To be a living witness and helpless bystander to the wanton destruction of the most cherished sacred texts and iconographies in one’s own country is a soul scorching suffering. Having your home and farmland taken over while under duress in the name of dubious development is an equally heart-wrenching experience. Lack of basic human rights – freedom of speech, worship etc- in one’s own land is intolerable to say the least. The ongoing suffering of Tibetans in Tibet requires no further elaboration as the actions of self-immolation speak louder than words. The indomitability of human spirit is exemplified in this poignant political act of self-immolation that must rattle the conscience of the world and above all the Chinese leaders. With hands folded in supplication, the self-immolators have in the most potent form invariably called for the return of His Holiness. The yearning of the natives to see His Holiness is as intense and deep as that of the exiles to return home. The tragic trajectory of suffering of Tibetans, in and outside, is profound and indescribable. All Tibetans have the moral responsibility to bring an end to this agony at any cost, much less adding to it.
When one considers the past and recent behaviors of anti-Dalai Lama (Dolgyal group) demonstrators within the context of Tibetan suffering, spirituality, historic relationship with the Dalai Lama institution, and shared national interests, the anomaly is starkly obvious. Dolgyal’s anti-Dalai Lama protests are profoundly disheartening and shocking for any reasonable Tibetan. Worse still, no Tibetan would have ever expected that one’s own pedigree would engage in the most unimaginable behavior of showing utter and blatant disrespect to their most revered leader, His Holiness The Dalai Lama. Aligned with European and United States tours of His Holiness, Dolgyal demonstrators have waged in recent years an aggressive campaign to undermine the iconic stature of His Holiness. Carrying placards that read, “Stop Lying The Dalai Lama”, “The Dalai Lama is a Muslim,” etc., Tibetan monks and laypersons, along with others, shout these disdainful slogans in close proximity to the walkways of His Holiness. These despicable acts undermine spiritual, cultural, and national sentiments of all Tibetans.
During this tumultuous historical period, it is the moral responsibility of all Tibetans to unite together for the early restoration of freedom in Tibet. Tibetan identity must reign supreme as the rest is of lesser significance. This is not the time for regional and sectarian differences to usurp the common aspirations of Tibetans, especially at a time when young and old Tibetans including nuns and monks are willingly setting their precious human bodies on fire in order to shed light on the dire living conditions in Tibet. In the world of Buddhism, Tibet has the rare distinction of being the only one that has maintained an unbroken lineage of Buddha’s teaching but has also given rise to indigenous forms of sectarianism unheard of during Buddha’s era. The benevolent Buddha has taught the four noble truths and the eightfold path as the quintessential aspects of his teachings. These teachings are succinct, profound, pragmatic, and self-intensifying. Simply put, the Benevolent stated, “Do not commit sin, tame one’s wild mind, accumulate merits, and that is my teaching”. For Buddha’s sake, hold on to the path Buddha has so lovingly shown.
Religious teaching is an academic activity. Viewed from an academic perspective, His Holiness has exercised his academic freedom in prescribing and subscribing parameters for his instruction when he stated that his teaching is restricted to Dolgyal practitioners associated with hegemonic sectarian ideology that has undermined the ecumenical spirit of Buddhist schools. For example, it is a common practice in the United States to include fieldwork and language requirements, among others, as preconditions for students prior to enrolling and taking specific courses. It is, thus, incumbent on students to meet course expectations on a voluntary basis. The establishment of criteria for entry into course is a gate-keeping process that ensures the sanctity, relevance, and meaningfulness of academic pursuits. Moreover, teacher-disciple relationship is a cornerstone principle in Buddhist teachings, and thus His Holiness has requested that those who continue to propitiate Dolgyal not to attend his religious instructions.
On a sober note, the current political and cultural condition of Tibet may be likened to an individual in an intensive care unit of a hospital. Like a person strapped to a hospital bed, Tibet is under the ironclad grip of China gasping for critical life support. Is this then the time for Tibetans to squabble over a controversial deity when Tibet lay in the intensive care unit?
The writer is a professor of education, teaches curriculum theory and development at the Fullerton University, CA.
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