By Tsewang Namgyal
His Holiness the Dalai Lama with team in December, 2015
Ancient India has given rise to some of the greatest philosophical traditions and learning centers that the world has ever seen. The oldest and perhaps most famous of these is Nalanda, a university where an ecumenical approach to knowledge enabled the profound philosophical traditions of Buddhism to flourish from the fifth century CE to 1200 CE. There is great interest in today’s health care and corporate sector in the field of meditation. Much of the inspiration of many of contemporary scientists are from the scholarly work of the Nalanda contemplates. Empowering the institutions whose lineage is from Nalanda University is critical to the world’s heritage. In addition, it is a great source of knowledge for generations because the Nalanda curriculum has proven to be very effective in improving mental well being.
Prior to the total destruction of Nalanda in 1200 CE few of the great scholars from Nalanda were able to teach in Tibet such as Padmasambhava (master of Tantric Buddhism) and Shantarakshita (founder of the first monastic order in Tibet). The Nalanda masters were instrumental in transforming Tibet from a warring state to a land where the national resources was spent on researching the human mind and promoting peace. Many great monasteries were established in Tibet including Ganden and Drepung monasteries - two of the three great Gelugpa monasteries. The curriculum of these monasteries are based on the Nalanda curriculum.
In 1959 as a result of China's invasion of Tibet the monasteries of Ganden and Drepung were reestablished at Doeguling, Mundgod in the Indian state of Karnataka. The name Doeguling was given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. It is translated as "wish-fulfilling place." Doeguling was established in 1966, shortly after the Tibetan diaspora began in 1959.
Home to over 17,000 Tibetans - half of whom are monks and nuns - Doeguling is the largest settlement of Tibetan refugees in India. Under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Central Tibetan Administration ("CTA") and the Indian government, Doeguling has been successful to preserve these precious cultural assets that has over a millennia of wisdom and spiritual practices dedicated to discovering the true nature of self, reality, and happiness.
And yet, Doeguling today struggles to meet the challenges of economic development. Best young minds leaving the Doeguling for better jobs in urban India or abroad. Bad infrastructure make travel into and out of the settlement difficult. Erratic power and water supply disrupt daily commerce and make day-to-day life challenging for the majority farming community. Unless you want to become a monk or nun, there are few livelihood opportunities for young people who are now leaving the settlement to work in larger neighboring cities, such as Bangalore or abroad.
This is where the Reimagining Doeguling Tibetan Settlement ("RDTS") project seeks to reverse this trend. In January 2014 I first shared the concept with Doeguling community leaders and published an article
on it in Tibetan Political Review. The concept paper was in response to request for guidance from Doeguling community leaders. In addition, all of us involved were inspired by the reminder by His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the importance of the Nalanda masters and tradition.
The vision of RDTS is to empower the lives of over 17,000 Tibetan refugees in India and to make Doeguling a global resource for Tibetan culture and the Nalanda tradition. The community leaders further developed on the idea with the advice of experienced professionals. We then briefed the then Karnataka State Tourism Secretary - Mr. Arvind Jadhav (now Chief Secretary in Karnataka State) and CTA Home Minister - Kalon Dolma Gyari. Both of them were very supportive of the concept.
I believe RDTS is in a unique position to achieve its vision for the following reasons: (i) Doeguling is home to two of the three largest Tibetan monasteries - Ganden and Drepung - besides it hosts the different Tibetan Buddhist schools; (ii) the settlement is easily accessible by air, rail and road; (iii) it is spread over 4000 acres of land allowing flexibility for expansion; (iv) this effort is led by a very committed local team representing the 17,000 plus community members; (v) it is supported by an international group of (resourceful and experience) advisors and volunteers; and (vi) the effort is endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, CTA and the Karnataka Tourism ministry.
The team's strategy is to (i) organize the community and supporters over a common mission and vision, (ii) build out the infrastructure by aligning interest with the state and central government, (iii) tie up existing local attractions such as monasteries, nunnery, settlements, handicraft center, Tibetan medical clinic etc., (iv) unlock the community's potential through creating business opportunities, (v) focus on revenue maximization (not visitor volume maximization) to reduce environmental and social pressure, (vi) leverage on neighboring tourist sites such as Hampi (UNESCO designated) to draw visitors, (vii) coordinate with state tourism ministry on how Doeguling can support Karnataka's tourism plans, (viii) market and brand Doeguling as an education and cultural center (not a poor refugee community), (ix) work closely with CTA to get their support and guidance, and (x) develop a framework to attract outside investors.
The team is conscious that this is a monumental task considering the complexity of the project and numerous stakeholders involved. The interests of all stakeholders are all not naturally aligned. Conservatively we have a ten year timeline. Our plan is to work on this project primarily at the pace and interest of the Doeguling community members and plan carefully so that Doeguling will be available for many generations. Our achievements to date include the following:
• Formed a Managing Committee ("MC") and Executive Committee ("EC") team representing all key stakeholders within the community. Final decision and direction of RDTS will be driven by the community leaders. The EC serves more of a board function whereas the MC is more involved in executing the plan.
• Hired two full time staff
• Got the endorsement of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, CTA and Karnataka State government
• Karnataka State has provided Rs 300 lakhs (~US$500,000) to repair the settlement’s main road
• Raised over Rs. 12 lakhs (~US$20,000) towards funding full time staff and working capital
• Set up website (www.doeguling.com) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/Doeguling )
• Arranged few experts to visit Doeguling to provide training and guidance including Mr. Alfred Tolle (former Head of Google's Nordic Region), Mr. Piyush Gupta (Principal, Ajay Piramal Group), Mr. Manny Fassihi (Stanford Graduate and currently doing his Masters at Georgetown University); Ms. Chime Lhamu (Nurse Practitioner at Mount Sinai Hospital, NYC) and Connor Mackin (NYU graduate and currently an Investment Banker at Credit Suisse).
A number of new volunteers and supporters continue to join the RDTS effort. We have a game plan in place but naturally much of our success will depend on the policies and support of CTA and Karnataka State. Our control with the state government is difficult but with the CTA we have more control since they represent the Tibetan people.
With the Sikyong election campaigning in full force I believe our community is fortunate to have two outstanding candidates in (i) incumbent Sikyong Lobsang Sangay and (ii) Speaker of Tibetan Parliament in Exile Penpa Tsering. I believe both of them genuinely care about our community. It is only through dialogue and discussion that we will be able to make them better leaders. I would encourage you to honor the efforts of both candidates by asking pertinent questions to help lay a solid foundation to create a vibrant Tibetan society that would not depend on charity and help preserve the precious Nalanda tradition for future generations.
It is clear that money is only part of the solution and this can be the cause of future problems if not used properly. If we assume that since 1959 the CTA received financial assistance from foreign governments, NGOs and individuals to the amount of US$10 million annually that would be approximately US$560 million for the last 56 years. The numbers are huge even in Western standards. Historically we also had rich patrons like the Mongols and Manchus that I believe only weakened the Tibetan community both politically and economically.
No doubt we need financial support but I believe this needs to back new ideas and structures with a finite path where we will not be dependent on charity. This thought process is foremost in my mind as I volunteer with RDTS. Personally I believe our full potential will be realized internally and externally when we unlock the value of the Nalanda tradition that our ancestors passed down to our generation by leveraging modern techniques and knowledge. 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. He currently serves on the Board of The Tibet Fund.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.