Tibet

Dalai Lama questions wisdom of self-immolations

BBC News: The Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, says he is very worried about the growing number of monks and nuns setting themselves on fire to protest against Chinese rule in Tibet.

He told the BBC he was not encouraging such actions – saying there was no doubt they required courage, but questioning how effective they were.

There have been 11 cases of self-immolation so far this year.

Most have resulted in death – the latest a 35-year-old nun two weeks ago.

The BBC has obtained graphic footage of the moment she set herself alight, prompting horrified cries from onlookers. Later, Chinese security forces flooded …

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Another Tibetan nun dies by self-immolation in China

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Andrew Jacobs, New York Times: A Buddhist nun in southwest Sichuan Province died Thursday after setting herself on fire, becoming the 11th Tibetan to embrace a grisly protest against Chinese rule and at least the sixth to die doing so.

The death of the nun, Qiu Xiang, 35, was reported by Xinhua, the official news agency, and confirmed by exile groups, who gave her Tibetan name as Palden Choetso. She was the second nun in the predominantly Tibetan region to take her own life by self-immolation.

Like two previous cases, the most recent suicide took place in Ganzi Prefecture, known as Kardze in Tibetan, which is the site …

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Tenth Tibetan reported to self-immolate in anti-China protest

A Tibetan monk in western China’s Sichuan province set himself on fire on Tuesday to express opposition to China’s Tibet policies, becoming the 10th Tibetan this year to self-immolate as a form of political protest, an outside advocacy group reported.

The group, Free Tibet, based in London, said the self-immolation occurred outside a monastery in Garze, which is known as Kandze in Tibetan, and that the monk’s identity, condition and whereabouts were not known. The group did not explain how it had obtained the information.

Garze is about 100 miles south of Aba, or Ngaba, where eight of the other nine self-immolations have taken …

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Study Points to heavy-handed repression of Tibetan area in China

Edward Wong: The rise in anti-Chinese tensions and protests in a restive Tibetan region of Sichuan Province, including a startling wave of monk self-immolations, has taken place in the aftermath of sharp increases in the security budget for the area, which indicates the conflict is partly a result of heavy-handed tactics by the local security forces, according to an assessment by Human Rights Watch.

The Tibetan region, Aba prefecture, has been in the spotlight recently because six of seven self-immolations by monks in Sichuan this year have taken place there, in or around the Kirti Monastery. The monks all set themselves on fire to…

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Two Tibetan monks set themselves on fire in protest

Edward Wong: Two young Tibetan monks set themselves on fire on Monday at an embattled monastery in western China to protest Chinese policies in the area, according to a Tibet advocacy group. The monks were apparently taken to a hospital, and it was unclear what condition they were in on Monday night.

The monastery, Kirti, in a remote area of Sichuan Province, has been the site of at least four recent self-immolations, including the two on Monday.

The latest monks to set themselves on fire were Lobsang Kalsang and Lobsang Konchok, both estimated to be 18 or 19, according to Free Tibet, the advocacy group, which…

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Tibetan exile mani stones

Tammy Winand writes:

Mani Stones are stones featuring carved mantras, most often the Chenrezig Buddha of Compassion mantra, Om Mani Padme Hum. They may be heaped together in mounds or walls, and often appear near Buddhist places of worship (temples, stupas, holy lakes and mountains, or remote places where strong spirit presences are believed to exist).

The following are some examples I have come across during my travels in Tibetan exile communities in northern India.


Mani Stone Outside the Main Temple of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama-McleodGanj, India


Mani Stones and Image of Guru Rinpoche near Tsuglakhang, McleodGanj


Mani Stones, including a Kalachakra Mantra, at Tsuglakhang


Mani Stone Pile Outside Choekling Monastery in Bir Tibetan Settlement

In 2009, Tammy Winanda came to McleodGanj, India, capital of the Tibetan government in exile and home to HH the 14th Dalai Lama. She became involved in a small non-profit where she volunteered as an English conversation teacher and helped plan events to broaden awareness of the Tibetan situation.

While in McleodGanj, Tammy became acquainted with numerous Tibetan exiles, including former political prisoners, monks and nuns. Their personal stories moved her deeply. When she returned to the US and spoke about her experiences, Tammy realized that a surprising number of people have little or no knowledge of the Tibetan situation. She began to develop Everyday Exile Project, a way to bring the Tibetan situation to a wider audience. It quickly developed into an on-going internet outlet for Tibetan exile voices.

Since April 2011, the focus has shifted to covering news from exile communities and providing information on Tibetan culture and organizations.

She now blogs at Everyday Exile, and has added a companion photojournalism blog at Everyday Exile Photojournalism.

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Tibet’s quiet revolution

It’s been startling to witness mass demonstrations in countries across the Middle East for freedom from autocracy, while, in the Tibetan community, a die-hard champion of “people power” tries to dethrone himself and his people keep asking him to stay on. Again and again the Dalai Lama (who tends to be more radical and less romantic than most of his followers) has sought to find ways to give up power, and his community has sought to find ways to ensure he can’t. It could be said that almost the only time Tibetans don’t listen to the Dalai Lama is when he tells them they shouldn’t listen to him. Now, on the eve of an important election for Tibet’s government-in-exile, he has announced he is relinquishing formal political authority entirely—and the Tibetan government has accepted his decision, even as the move has alarmed many around the world and struck some as the end of an era.

In truth, the Dalai Lama’s statement was merely a continuation—and a stronger expression—of what he has been saying for years: that political leadership for the Tibetan people (in exile at least) belongs with the democratically elected government-in-exile he has so painstakingly set up over decades in Dharamsala, in India (elections for a new prime minister are to be held March 20); that he will function only as a “senior advisor,” helping to oversee the transition to a post-Dalai Lama era; and, most important, that the spiritual and temporal sides…

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of Tibetan rule will at last be separate. As he noted in the speech that mentioned his “retirement”—his annual state-of-the-nation address, in effect, delivered on March 10, the anniversary of the 1959 Tibetan uprising against the People’s Republic of China and a frequent day of protest—he has believed, since childhood, that church and state should not be one and that the fate of Tibet should be in the hands of all Tibetans.

Democracy, as the Dalai Lama sees it, is perfectly in tune with the Buddha’s central principles of self-rule and responsibility; it is one of the features of the wider world that long-isolated Tibet can and should now learn from; and it only stands to reason that the voices of all Tibetans be more important than that of just one—a logic that appeals to the scientist and the natural Everyman in him. Besides, the Fourteenth Dalai Lama will be 76 this July and the Dalai Lama institution cannot function as it did now that Tibet’s exiled leaders are separated from the 98 percent of Tibetans—some six million people—who live within the People’s Republic of China in circumstances of general repression and deprivation of political rights. Beijing has already “banned” reincarnations without government approval and all but announced that the finding of a “Fifteenth Dalai Lama” will lie under its jurisdiction as soon as the current, fourteenth, Dalai Lama dies.

Almost from the moment he arrived in Indian exile in 1959, the Dalai Lama drew up new constitutions for Tibetans both within Tibet and outside it, with one clause (over his people’s protests) allowing for the impeachment of a Dalai Lama, if necessary. Since then, he has carefully overseen a steady devolution of authority, setting up in Dharamsala first a parliament, then an elected Cabinet and, since 2001, a popularly elected prime minister (or Kalon Tripa, as Tibetans call it). In both the elections held so far—in 2001 and in 2006—the runaway winner has been the gentle monk Samdhong Rinpoche, whose Gandhian principles clearly meet with the Dalai Lama’s approval.

The Dalai Lama has constantly urged the Tibetan prime minister—and other government officials—to represent the political face of Tibet around the world, but none of them, of course (in a tiny exile community that numbers only 150,000 or so) possesses his natural charisma or standing in the eyes of the world. In that regard, Tibet as much as China has been a victim of the current Dalai Lama’s unusual charm and authority. And the many members of the Tibetan Youth Congress have traditionally presented a kind of loyal opposition, calling for a more forceful stance toward Beijing than the forbearance that the exile government, following the Dalai Lama, has always recommended.

But as exile Tibetans, especially in the West, see the urgency of gathering their resources now instead of waiting for the Dalai Lama’s death, there are indications that the exile government may get more involved in some of the official discussions with Beijing, which heretofore have mostly lain in the hands of the Dalai Lama’s representatives. The Dalai Lama’s hope, clearly, is that with each passing season, his exile government will be more and more of a self-sufficient body (chosen by Tibetans from around the world). In the run-up to the March 20 election for a new prime minister, there has been an extensive and eagerly contested campaign, with 17 candidates (among them three women) now whittled down to three finalists. Two of the three, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong, 62, and Tashi Wangdi, 64, are decades-long veterans of the Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile and the third (and current favorite) is Lobsang Sangay, 43, a Fulbright Scholar who holds a doctorate from Harvard Law School and has been more open to calls for Tibetan “self-determination,” a subject the Dalai Lama has avoided but that is popular with more radical members of the younger exile generation. (Sangay’s dissertation, in fact, was on the very subject of democracy and the Tibetan government-in-exile.)

Responding for the first time with energy and evident excitement to their new opportunities, exiled Tibetans have held debates among the candidates, in New York and Washington and Toronto and elsewhere; flashy websites have been set up, with tributes to the candidates (“Kasur Tashi Wangdi is like Dumbledore from the Harry Potter series”); and none of the final candidates is a monk. (The Tibetan Charter calls for a maximum of two terms for any prime minister, so Samdhong Ripoche, beloved of elderly Tibetans, is stepping down). Democracy has come to neighboring Bhutan—after its king likewise imposed it on a reluctant populace four years ago—and it is showing signs of arriving in Nepal. The Dalai Lama clearly feels that the process can wait no longer and that he must push his people into full self-governance, at a time when he’s around and can, if necessary, offer encouragement and the fruits of his experience.

It’s easy to understand why Tibetans have clung for so long to the Dalai Lama’s leadership as if to their sense of themselves. He’s the only ruler most of them have known, for seventy-one years now, and pretty much the only Tibetan who can recall dealing with India’s founding statesman, Pandit Nehru, and spending a year traveling around China and talking to Mao Zedong. He is one of the last remaining symbols of the Tibet that existed for three hundred years, until the Chinese crossed Tibet’s eastern border sixty years ago. And, of course, for Tibetans the Dalai Lama is regarded as an incarnation of Chenrezig, their god of compassion, and few devout believers are likely to listen to a political candidate—even one they have elected—over a god.

Yet the Dalai Lama’s gift as a political leader has always arisen from his no-nonsense pragmatism and his monastic habit of looking to the long-term (in part, of course, because he’s never been hostage to electoral cycles, even as he’s no mere ceremonial monarch). When he tells the world that his concern is not with the Dalai Lama but with the welfare of Tibetans, he’s being characteristically precise: this Dalai Lama may not last many decades longer and, as he often stresses, the Dalai Lama institution may have outlived its usefulness. But Tibetans are going to be around for a long time, one hopes, and unless they have some experience at governing themselves, they will not begin to be effective even if those currently in exile can one day return to Tibet.

Spiritually, of course, the Dalai Lama can never retire, and can no more renounce his incarnation than any one of us can try to erase his blood or his DNA. So long as he’s around, it’s hard to imagine any Tibetan prime minister overruling him (though, of course, more and more Tibetans have been agitating for a more forceful, even confrontational approach to the deadlock with Beijing, criticizing his “Middle Way” policy even if they never criticize the man). But it’s part of his clear-headedness to see and acknowledge that political leadership may require a very different kind of training from the spiritual kind, and the conflation of the two can make for confusion. When I said to him—three years ago—that to some of us it seemed refreshing to have someone with a monk’s larger vision and moral clarity in the realm of politics, he acknowledged that it could work well, but in principle should not be encouraged.

One of the curious aspects of this global Dalai Lama’s life is that his every political statement is usually addressed to many audiences at once, not least the 6 million Tibetans in Tibet he can barely meet and the government in Beijing that he has not been able to see face-to-face. In announcing his “retirement” ten days before Sunday’s election, he was telling fellow Tibetans to seize the moment, and he was reminding the Chinese government that however much it tries to hijack or neutralize the Dalai Lama institution, political leadership among at least exiled Tibetans will remain firmly out of reach, in Dharamsala. He managed to be, in equal measure, a parent telling his charges, “I’m leaving soon (so start taking care of everything yourselves)”; and a seasoned strategist telling those who distrust him in Beijing, “If you think I’m a threat to you, or an obstruction to better relations with Tibetans, I’ll relinquish all my official power right now. Will you talk more productively to us now?”

China is never likely to worry very much about a government-in-exile in an Indian hill station representing only 2 percent of Tibetans. But the Dalai Lama’s official relinquishing of political leadership was one way of underlining to Beijing that the Tibetan problem will not go away when he dies, and that there will still be Tibetans pressing for a (probably peaceful, negotiated) settlement to the issue, to counter the more confrontational firebrands often featured in the press. Meanwhile, those in Tibet itself continue to wait for the most basic human rights, transparency and real democracy to come to them from Beijing. On March 16th, according to a report from Dharamsala, a 21-year-old Tibet monk in Sichuan Province set himself fatally alight in his monastery, both to protest Chinese rule and, perhaps, to try to spark uprisings akin to the ones seen recently in Egypt and Tunisia.

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Dalai Lama to retire from political life

The Dalai Lama has announced he will retire from political life within days.

In a speech posted on the internet and delivered in the northern Indian hill town of Dharamasala, the Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader said he would ask the Tibetan parliament in exile to make the necessary constitutional changes to relieve him of his “formal authority” as head of the Tibetan community outside China.

The assembly, which meets early next week, is expected to approve his request. Though long-anticipated, the move away from the limelight by one of the world’s best known political figures signals a dramatic change.

Analysts and supporters have described the decision of the Dalai Lama, whose office traditionally combines spiritual and temporal roles, as historic.

Kate Saunders, of the International Campaign for Tibet, said the decision meant that “at a perilous moment in the history of Tibet” the Dalai Lama was “expressing his faith in the Tibetan people”.

The current Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, has progressively distanced himself from a direct political role and expressed a desire to live as a simple monk.

“As early as the 1960s, I have repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need…

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a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I can devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect,” the 76-year-old told an audience at his traditional appearance to mark the anniversary of the Tibetan people’s 1959 uprising against communist Chinese authorities in Lhasa, and his own escape to India.

Next week the Tibetan community in exile will vote to elect a new Kalon Tripa, or prime minister, who will, depending on the constitutional changes, take on the Dalai Lama’s political functions.

The Dalai Lama, who is revered by his followers as the 14th reincarnation of the Buddha Avalokiteshvara who achieved spiritual enlightenment, said many of his supporters had asked him not to take the step.

“Since I made my intention clear I have received repeated and earnest requests both from within Tibet and outside, to continue to provide political leadership,” he said. “My desire to devolve authority has nothing to do with a wish to shirk responsibility. It is to benefit Tibetans in the long run.”

The speech, analysts said, was particularly aimed at the 6 million Tibetans living in China. The Dalai Lama and his senior aides have been concerned in recent years about a gulf opening between the views and values of the two communities.

In Thursday’s speech the Dalai Lama spoke of recent events in the Middle East, describing them as “remarkable non-violent struggles for freedom and democracy”.

“I am a firm believer in non-violence and people power and these events have shown once again that determined non-violent action can indeed bring about positive change,” he said. “We must all hope that these inspiring changes lead to genuine freedom, happiness and prosperity for the peoples in these countries.”

The Dalai Lama also reminded his audience of the importance of preserving Tibet’s environment, a key theme in recent years.

The move has been flagged up on a number of occasions. Last year the he told a conference in Delhi that a new set of political leaders were emerging among exiled Tibetans. Since 1960 an assembly has been elected by voters in exile but only since 2001 the office of prime minister has been elected too. For the coming polls, 80,000 voters have registered in India, Nepal, Bhutan, US, Europe, Australia and elsewhere.

As unrest rippled through Tibetan areas in 2008, the Dalai Lama threatened to resign as leader of the administration in exile if violence continued.

Two years ago, the German news magazine Der Spiegel asked him whether it was possible to resign his position, given that Tibetans believe him to be the latest reincarnation in a long line of religious leaders. He told them he would “no longer play a political role or a pronounced spiritual role”.

The question of the spiritual succession is highly controversial and has the potential to spark serious fractures within the Tibetan community. Chinese authorities are likely to exploit any opportunities offered by the transition of power.

The Dalai Lama is considering ways of averting any succession crisis, possibly through the unprecedented step of seeking his own reincarnation.

The Tibetan emigré community is keen to anticipate the moves Chinese authorities are likely to make when the Dalai Lama dies.

Beijing insists it has the right to approve the reincarnations of the senior Tibetan monks and has said the next Dalai Lama will be born in China.

But the Dalai Lama has suggested that since he is likely to die in exile, he will also be reincarnated there.

China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Jiang Yu, said the Dalai Lama was playing “tricks to deceive the international community”, the news agency Agence France Presse reported.

Supporters suggest the retirement may, paradoxically, increase the Dalai Lama’s influence on behalf of his community. China has repeatedly warned the leaders of other countries against meeting him.

“Up until now [foreign governments] have often sought to overcome the perception of dealing with him as a political leader … there’s a possibility that they may find it easier to have a formal relationship with him as an eminent religious leader,” said Saunders.

But she added that the Dalai Lama would continue to be regarded by the Tibetan people as their free spokesperson: “In a sense, [he] cannot retire,” she said.

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Tibetan Lama cleared in cash inquiry, report says

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Associated Press: Indian authorities cleared one of Tibetan Buddhism’s most revered lamas on Friday in an investigation into $1.35 million in cash discovered last month at his headquarters in northern India, a news report said. Rajwant Sandhu, the top civil servant in Himachal Pradesh State, said the money found during a raid on the monastery of the Karmapa, above, Tibetan Buddhism’s third most important leader, had been donated by his followers, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. The Karmapa had no links to the money…

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since the affairs of his trust are managed by his followers, Ms. Sandhu said. “The Karmapa is a revered religious leader of the Buddhists, and the government has no intentions to interfere in religious affairs of the Buddhists,” she said, according to the P.T.I. Last week, the state police said the Karmapa’s followers violated Indian tax and foreign currency laws in collecting the donations.

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To a Mountain in Tibet by Colin Thubron: review

There is a telling moment in one of Colin Thubron’s early films. He is travelling with a BBC crew along the Silk Road in China when he professes that he is tired of filming and needs to be alone. He turns aside and enters the desert for a moment of meditation; a moment that is recorded by the film crew, who are presumably still beside him.

The tensions between Thubron’s natural tendency to solitude and the travel writer’s need to communicate and share experience are what give his books their strength. He is never garrulous and when he does reveal something about himself, the reader feels that these are confidences hard won.

Title: To a Mountain in Tibet
Author: Colin Thubron
Publisher: Chatto & Windus
ISBN: 9780060959296
Available from: Amazon.co.uk, and Amazon.com.

To a Mountain in Tibet is one of his most personal books. He sets off towards Mount Kailas, the mystical peak in Tibet close to the borders with Nepal and India. For centuries, Hindus, Buddhists and their predecessors, the Bon, have worshipped this mountain, which lies remarkably close to the sources of all four major rivers of the subcontinent: the Ganges, the Brahmaputra, the Sutlej and the Indus. Emerging abruptly from the flat western Tibetan plateau, over 1,000 miles from Lhasa, it is an iconic mountain of spiritual purity.

No one has ever climbed it – although Reinhold Messner made an attempt in the Eighties but was frustrated by Chinese intransigence. Instead, the devotees who come here circle around the mountain in what must be one of the toughest pilgrimages in the world, crossing a pass at 18,600ft and often enduring severe…

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altitude sickness.

Those who come from lowland southern India are often the worst affected, sold cheap trekking tickets by unscrupulous tour operators who make no attempt to give them the time to acclimatise properly. Thubron has a moving passage in which he describes meeting a group of these frustrated…

Hindu pilgrims turning back in disappointment and despair from their failed attempt.

Just as with his earlier In Siberia, Thubron’s sparse, lean prose is admirably suited for describing the barren landscape around Kailas, lit up only by prayer flags. A few monasteries still survive after the Cultural Revolution; the Chinese now allow a limited number of pilgrims access to the mountain, but by no means make it easy.

Thubron is also the perfect guide to the complexities of Tibetan Buddhism and is honest enough to admit that its elaborate numerology and pantheon of demons can baffle the spiritual seeker from the West.

Like Robert Byron in the Thirties, who complained about the dirt and autocracy of Tibetan monasteries long before the Chinese invasion made such criticism less politically correct, Thubron is candid about the conditions he finds: what he describes as “the fantasy of Tibet” is not for him.

His own sympathy for solitude means he is well suited to meet the monks and isolated farmers who live in the valleys on the high approaches to Kailas. He draws them out with tact: the slow lives of those on the very edge of subsistence living in Himalayan villages “whose idyll is a mirage”.

Much of the history of Kailas has already been told by Charles Allen in his pioneering A Mountain in Tibet, whose title Thubron echoes. What this book adds is a vivid sense of what it is actually like to be a pilgrim on the route – a journey that Thubron characteristically makes mainly on his own.

Thubron is now in his seventies and undertakes this arduous trek in a quintessentially English way, with few complaints and much tolerant good humour.

This is above all a story in which the author movingly reveals his reasons – indeed his need – to make the pilgrimage after deaths in his family have left him the only surviving member. Given that Thubron has shown himself over a lifetime’s work to be our finest modern chronicler of Asia, having covered great sweeps of it from China to Russia, it seems fitting that what is as much memoir as travel book should have as its setting the greatest spiritual pilgrimage the East has to offer.

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