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Division and factionalism in exile “regrettably shameful”, says Dalai Lama in new letter

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By Tenzin Nyidon

A letter to felicitate the 50th founding anniversary of the Kollegal Dhondenling Tibetan settlement in South India, by the Tibetan spiritual leader His Holiness the Dalai Lama discouraged the divisive leanings among exile Tibetans including the leadership. Amidst the celebrations, a poignant message from the octogenarian Tibetan leader was delivered by the President of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), Sikyong Penpa Tsering, who graced the event as the chief guest on Saturday.   

The message conveyed by the foremost exiled spiritual leader through the Sikyong Penpa Tsering encapsulated a crucial theme. The octogenarian leader implored exiled Tibetans to prioritise unity and solidarity, echoing the resilience demonstrated by Tibetans inside Tibet in the face of severe repression by the Chinese communist government. He cautioned against factionalism, urging the community to show unity displayed by Tibetans inside Tibet.   

Sikyong Penpa Tsering, while reading the letter from His Holiness the Dalai Lama highlighted the following key points. “Despite living under the illegal occupation by the Communist Chinese, the spirit of unity among Tibetans inside Tibet has endured. However, some living in exile are straying from the path of selflessness. Divisions are being sown within our community by those with narrow minds, who seek to emphasise factions based on regional origins (Cholka) or religious affiliations (Cholug). This is regrettably shameful. Therefore, those entrusted with leadership roles must be careful,” the letter expressed. 

The letter from His Holiness the Dalai Lama, highlighted by Sikyong emphasises a key aspect of the divisive politics that have emerged within the Tibetan exile community, particularly during parliamentary proceedings and during campaign trails between elections. These factions often become visible particularly during parliamentary sessions, leading to stalemates and disruptions in the proceedings in recent times, thus causing negative impact on the unity and coherence among members of the Tibetan diaspora.   

The remainder of the sixth session of the 17th Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile (TPiE), faced significant challenges, leading to the rescheduling of sessions on March 13 to 16 due to the unavailability of the required quorum needed to officially convene the session. The session also encountered disruptions following a walk out by some members of the parliament.

However, many say that this unprecedented trend of prolonged deadlock shows the inability of the parliament to function effectively, thereby jeopardising the governance and stability of the Tibetan Government-in-Exile, known officially as the Central Tibetan Administration. Others say that such prolonged disruptions undermine the legitimacy and credibility of the Tibetan leadership, and contribute to the already growing trust deficit between the leadership and the masses.

3 Responses

  1. @Gavin,

    Tibetans are two things simultaneously, just like Rutherford’s wave-particle hypothesis. Sometimes, it is religion above all else, sometimes it is survivalism at any cost. That depends on weather forecasts and which direction wind is blowing at any particular time and place. After all, tibetans, just like all Sapiens, are just a transcient visitors on the planet earth, and one day all of us return back to the stars we came from. In that sense, concept of country or nationalism are just transcient illiusions made up by those in power to trick foolish poor Tibetans. Simple as that. In the end, nothing matters. We all have to find a way to live a dignified, honest, and happy life, and then we get cancer, and then we die, and then we reincarnate, and then we start again as babies. I don’t care if i were born as a goat in Zanzibar in Africa.

  2. Tibet has been ruled by holy men since the thirteenth century when Drogon Choegyal Phakpa became the first Lama ruler of Tibet. Except occasional lay men’s rule, it was the high Lamas of Sakya like Choegyal Phakpa and then the Kagyudpas like Phagmodrupa and later the Gelukpas such as HH The Dalai Lama. It has to be said that Lama rule was a success. No ruler is perfact but Tibet’s Lama rulers were unique in that they showed genuine compassion to their subjects. After all, they were realised beings whose whole life was dedicated in the development of compassion for all beings. It can be safely assumed that Tibet had no execution of criminals throughout the rule of Buddhist Lamas. The thirteenth Dalai Lama forbade hunting as well. The present Dalai Lama saved hundreds of animals being taken to be slaughtered by sending servants to buy them off from the animal traders who brought thousands of animals from the hinterland nomads and taken to be sold to Nepal during the Nepalese New Year called Daisen. It’s a terrible journey for the poor animals from Tibet all across the Tibet-Nepal border and many die on the way by eating poisonous plants and those which survive the ordeal are slaughtered cruelly in Nepal. It was regarded as a very sinful business venture by devout Buddhists.
    Under the leadership of holy Lamas, Tibet remained a very peaceful country without waging war against neighbours unless they threaten the territorial integrity of Tibet. Tibet virtually renounced war and became a pacifist nation like Bhutan today. It didn’t want to do anything with the outside world in order to protect its independence. Its foreign policy was to remain neutral in any conflict on its borders or neighbours. During Second World War, Tibet didn’t allow American military wares to be transported through Tibet to China from British India thus remaining steadfast to its policy of neutrality. The Americans had to fly their men and munitions by air to China and one of the American plane mal-functioned in its flight through the heights of Tibet’s mountains and crash landed in Tibet! America was supplying arms to China in its war against imperial Japan. This is one of the most important testament or evidence of Tibet’s independence. China had no say whatsoever in Tibet’s affairs and Tibet rejected American/British and Chinese request to allow military hard wares to be transported through Tibetan territory!
    During the reign of the present Dalai Lama in exile, we faced no major friction between the cholkhas nor religious discord among the different religious traditions. The Dalai Lama emphasised unity as the bedrock of Tibet’s survival mechanism and went out of his way appealing to certain groups of people who had tendency of religious bigotry to stop worshipping the spirit that was said to be instrumental for their sectarian beliefs. He also advised the different Cholkhas to have other cholkha people attending their meetings as observers in order to dispel mistrust and suspicions! Owing to these measures, there was little regional or sectarian divisions. When a well known Tibetan Lama who belonged to the spirit worshipping group wrote a book extolling the virtues and power of the spirit, the Dalai Lama immediately scolded him and disowned him. These were serious moves but necessary for the unity of all the traditions of Tibetan Buddhism to live in harmony and for the good of Tibet. As a result, there was neither serious rifts between the clergy nor serious discord among the three cholkhas. It was a golden rule that Tibetans have been lucky during the most trying times of exile life in a foreign country. The Dalai Lama introduced democratic norms such as elections for the exiles, but remained in the capacity of semi- retired status and commenced elections: Samdhong Rinpoche was the first leader who became the elected leader of the Tibetans. He successfully won two consecutive terms and did a good job. During the ten years from the year 2000 to 2010, harmony prevailed as it did during the Dalai Lama’s rule for ten long years. Unfortunately, S Rinpoche created a new division between Rangzen advocates and U-Mey Lam by disparaging and discrediting Rangzenpas. This was a blot on S Rinpoche’s reign in an otherwise successful rule which happened to be the last Lama rule as well.
    In 2011, Dr Lobsang Sangye took the reins of the exile Government after winning the elections in a landslide. The Dalai Lama saw it fit to abdicate the rule of the Dalai Lamas once and for all and devolve power to a lay person for a new face for the future of Tibet. In most countries and especially dictatorships, leaders hang onto power until they are forced or even liquidated by power hungry opponents but the Dalai Lama gave up his power, “willingly and happily” དགའ་བཞིན་སྤྲོ་བཞིན་ངང་ནས་ as he put it. This is the uniqueness of Lama rule of Tibet. The ceremony on the transfer power to the newly elected lay person Dr Lobsang Sangye had a tinge of sadness because the beloved Dalai Lama was leaving the political scene that every Tibetan was so used until this day in their lives and also a sense of hope that our struggle was successful as a new generation of young blood was being injected into the leadership. It was going to be a new experience with modern educated leaders who were more worldly than the Dalai Lama who has delved into the spiritual world throughout his life. Dr LS ‘s first five year stint went well despite some criticism of being too ostentatious. The second stint of his reign fumbled after he sacked the Rep of the Dalai Lama in Washington who happened to be his opponent in the recently conducted election. Bad blood was accumulated during the election campaign in their efforts to out do each other. This was the beginning of division among the Tibetan exiles. It morphed into demonstrations against Sikyong LS in New York, Toronto and Sydney. As if this blood letting was not enough, plaintive Penpa Tsering took the Sikyong LS Kashak to court that kept the embers of discord burning for more than a year! To add fuel to the fire, the abject treatment of resolution 39 which impeached the three Justice commissioners with contempt further alienated the two groups who have now come to despise each other! This is the state of affairs today in exile. The public seems to be falling into the same trap of creating cult figures of the two leaders who have no love lost for each other! The division is the result of the leaders themselves who showed their base human weakness of demonising each other that has led the followers doing the same thing. The biggest issue and the most intractable one is resolution 39. Sikyong Penpa Tsering’s failure to fix this problem right from the time he became the Sikyong has let to a myriad of complications that only fuelled more antagonism and bad blood between the two warring factions. Neither party is prepared to compromise and this has let to disenchantment of Sikyong PT by a section of the people. For the good of the Tibetan people and the unity of the exile Tibetans, something has to give. Otherwise it will remain a festering wound which will only weaken the Tibetan leadership and the movement. Riding roughshod with a resolution which was voted by 31 members out of 45 without any mandate is obviously not democracy! This must be properly understood by the public and not blame a certain cholkha because most of the members happened to be from that cholkha. The choeluk chitues have also copped a lot flake for no fault of theirs. If this is not properly dealt, this has the potential to divide the community on the basis of cholkha which will kill the Tibetan movement!

  3. His Holiness has been imploring Tibetans to put unity above narrow, self-related considerations for many, many years. Has it fallen on deaf ears?

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