Tag Archive for 'Tibet'

Tibet’s man on fire

More than 80 Tibetans have self-immolated to protest China’s policies in their homeland. This is one man’s story. In National Geographic:

At the time he decided to set fire to himself, Jamphel Yeshi was living in the Tibetan refugee colony of Majnu ka Tilla, on the northern outskirts of Delhi. The colony was first settled in 1963, four years after the Dalai Lama escaped to India from advancing Chinese forces. The early residents built thatched huts and made a living brewing and selling chang, a traditional Tibetan barley-and-wheat alcohol. As refugees from the roof of the world, they were unaccustomed to the heat and humidity of the low-lying plain. They had no idea how long they’d be staying but imagined they’d return home soon.

 Today, about 4,000 people live in the colony, which has been overtaken by the city: A busy thoroughfare runs alongside it, and Indian neighborhoods have grown up nearby. New construction in the colony is illegal, yet ragged workers continue to dig foundations, carrying rubble and dirt in handwoven baskets balanced on their heads and dumping their contents on the nearby banks of the Yamuna River. They navigate a warren of multistory buildings, a shambolic jumble of several hundred homes with colored prayer flags fluttering from the rooftops. The alleyways, many just wide enough for two pedestrians to pass, are populated by crimson-robed monks and nuns, mangy dogs and barefoot kids, activists and drifters, petty merchants, and beggars with missing or mangled limbs who offer a broad smile and warm thanks for receiving the equivalent of 20 cents. A Tibetan far from home can enjoy familiar scents and tastes here: salty butter tea, steamed dumplings, Tibetan bread and biscuits. (Learn about Tibetan traditions under Chinese Rule.) More:


Tibetan self-immolations over Chinese policies

Since March 2011, more than 30 Tibetans – monks, nuns and lay people – have set themselves on fire, reportedly in protest against Chinese policies in Tibet. Visit The Guardian interactive and click on the faces to find out more.

Bringing Tibet Home

Bringing Tibet Home is a documentary film that tells the story of Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol, as he sets out on a great mission to bring Tibet closer to Tibetan exiles through an unprecedented art project – a site specific art installation titled “Our Land, Our People”, that involves smuggling 20,000 kilos of native Tibetan soil across the Himalayas. Here’s the link to the website.

 Andrew Buncombe from Dharamsala in The Independent:

Some took a handful and placed it in a shrine kept in their homes, others poured a little into a pouch that they looped around their necks on a string, while the office of the Dalai Lama dispatched a jeep and gathered a sack-full.

Everyone wanted to get their hands on some Tibetan soil.

The recent distribution of 20 tonnes of the pale-coloured earth by a Tibetan artist in Dharamsala marked the conclusion of an intriguing project that was part-art installation and part-smuggling operation. Inspired by the regret expressed by his gravely ill father that he would never again walk on Tibetan soil, the artist Tenzing Rigdol decided to arrange for the earth instead to be taken to those Tibetans living in exile. The result was the installation upon which Mr Rigdol encouraged people to tread. More:

Chinese handshake: a shameful kowtowing

What lies behind India’s craven crackdown on peaceful Tibetans in order to please China, asks Mihir Sharma in Business Standard

The awe-inspiring leadership of the People’s Republic of China probably doesn’t concern itself much about public opinion among those people not fortunate enough to be born Chinese. But they certainly scored a pretty impressive own-goal during the BRICS summit in New Delhi last week, efficiently aided by India’s timorous leadership. It isn’t just that the Chinese delegation at the Oberoi ate all the mutton chops at the lunch buffet (true) or that they shut off all traffic around Khan market at lunchtime (also true) — although a power that carelessly antagonises Lutyens’ Delhi lunchers is unwisely overconfident.

It was, of course, what millions of Delhiites saw that will have turned them off China-sympathy: Tibetans being rounded up, made to squat in the sun; the ever-sensitive Delhi Police indulging in the worst sort of racial profiling, demanding that people who look even vaguely Tibetan prove their credentials or be locked up. People of Manipuri descent wondered why they left home without their passports. Those living in dozens of Tibetan-dominated areas were cordoned off from the rest of the city like Palestinians on the West Bank. The Tibetan poet, Tenzin Tsundue, was bundled offstage by the cops after an academic discussion at the India Habitat Centre, and sent to Tihar. more

From India, a view of what China works to block

Sruthi Gottipati and Rick Gladstone from New Delhi in NYT:

Over the past year, nearly 30 Tibetans in remote areas of western China have set fire to themselves to draw attention to what they call Chinese government repression, but the visual images of their protests have seldom been seen by outsiders. Censorship authorities in China, which regards the immolation as a form of terrorism, have made sure of it.

On Monday, however, a 26-year-old Tibetan exile in New Delhi offered the world a visceral view of a self-immolation, setting himself on fire at a demonstration to protest the impending visit to India by China’s president, Hu Jintao. Photographs of the man, a literal human torch in flames who sprinted for 50 yards with contorted screams before he collapsed by a tree, raced around the world by way of India’s unfettered press and the Internet.

“From head to toe, he was full of fire,” said a witness, Tenzin Dorjee, the national director of Students for a Free Tibet. “He was shouting. I was in shock. There were women crying.”More:

Tibetan exiles rally around Delhi self-immolator

Edward Wong from Dharamsala in NYT:

By Tuesday afternoon, posters of the man in flames were plastered along the narrow streets of this town adopted by Tibetan exiles. Monks, merchants and tourists stared. In the early evening, more than 200 people walked through the town center waving Tibetan flags and carrying banners that proclaimed the critically injured man, Jamphel Yeshi, a martyr.

The shocking images of Mr. Yeshi’s self-immolation in New Delhi on Monday have provided the Tibetan exile movement with a rallying point and an iconic expression of the anger and frustration that Tibetans suffer over Chinese rule. At least 29 Tibetans have set themselves on fire in Tibetan areas of China since March 2011, and many have died. But Chinese security forces have clamped down across the plateau, so only a handful of the self-immolations have been recorded and transmitted, and only in grainy cellphone photographs or video. More:

One Tibetan woman’s tragic self-immolation

Tsering Kyi had witnessed the erosion of her family’s way of life and the repression of her fellow students’ protests. This month she doused herself in five litres of petrol and set herself alight. In The Guardian, Jason Burke tells her story.

As a young girl, Tsering Kyi’s favourite days of the year were the eve of her village’s annual move to their summer pastures and the eve of their return. The lives of the 30 nomadic households of Tethok, in China‘s Gansu province, followed the rhythm of the seasons. In the spring they would load their household on to yaks and ride up into the high valleys and hills where their herds would find grass and the children would play with frogs in the lakes and streams. As the winter approached, they would return to lower grazing.

A day before they moved all the heavy items would be packed and sent ahead. The women and children would remain behind, sleeping under the stars, to follow the next day. This was Kyi’s favourite time. more

Tibet’s next incarnation

Hannah Beech from Dharamsala in Time:

He has never been to Tibet, never breathed the thin air of the high plateau, nor spun a prayer wheel in the shadow of the great Buddhist monasteries. Yet on Aug. 8, 43-year-old Lobsang Sangay was sworn in as the head of the Tibetan government-in-exile. Born in a refugee camp in India and educated in the U.S., Sangay holds no passport or nationality, only a travel certificate. He expresses homesickness for a place that exists in the foreign mind as an otherworldly haven, and in the Tibetan one as an occupied homeland. “Like all of us in exile, I will never be completely at peace until I go to Tibet,” he says when we meet in Dharamsala, a scruffy settlement in the Himalayan foothills of India where the Tibetan refugee community coalesced five decades ago. “The question is: How do we get there?”

Sangay’s inauguration as Kalon Tripa, or Prime Minister, comes at a critical moment for Tibet — both for the 5.4 million Tibetans living inside China and for the 150,000 or so who have chosen exile. Young refugees whose votes carried Sangay to office are questioning their movement’s longtime commitment to nonviolent resistance, while an ongoing crackdown by Chinese security forces has failed to suppress dissent within Tibet.

Unlike protest campaigns in the 1950s and ’80s, the new wave of demonstrations has flared across the entire Tibetan Plateau, from what China calls the Tibetan Autonomous Region to Tibetan-dominated parts of Sichuan, Qinghai, Gansu and Yunnan provinces. Beijing routinely blames Tibet’s exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, for political instability on the high plateau. But many Tibetans argue that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in fact prevents a violent uprising from erupting in the region. “There is so much anger in Tibet now; it is only because of His Holiness that the people don’t rise up,” says Tsering Migyur, a Mandarin-speaking undersecretary in the Dalai Lama’s office in Dharamsala. Migyur should know. For decades he was a senior officer for the Chinese police and military intelligence in Lhasa, serving as a minority poster boy. In 2000, however, he defected to Dharamsala. “China believes that once the Dalai Lama dies, the movement will lose power,” says Migyur. “But the Dalai Lama is actually China’s best friend because the next generation will not be so accommodating.” More:

Dalai Lama’s political successor

Lobsang Sangay, a 43-year-old Harvard scholar, has been sworn in as head of the Tibetan government in exile, replacing the Dalai Lama as the Tibetan movement’s political leader. Sangay took the oath of office on Monday at a ceremony presided over by the Dalai Lama in the Tsuglagkhang Temple — the spiritual centre of the Indian hill town of Dharamshala, where the exiled Government is based. Read here

Tibet’s quiet revolution

Pico Iyer in the New York Review of Books:

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 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. More:

Dalai Lama’s 1959 flight from Tibet

Mark O’Neill in Asia Sentinel:

At 1 pm Beijing time on the afternoon of March 17, 1959, two meetings took place in Lhasa and Beijing that would change the history of China.

In the Norbulingka palace, the summer residence of the Dalai Lama, the 23-year-old leader and his advisors were debating whether to leave Lhasa, minutes after two artillery shells had landed 200 meters away, causing a huge explosion. A monk entered into a trance, his body swelled and he screamed in a loud voice: “leave quickly, leave quickly, leave tonight.”

At the same moment, in Zhongnanhai, Premier Liu Xiaoqi was chairing a meeting of the Politburo to discuss the same issue.

“The best outcome would be for the Dalai Lama to stay,” they concluded. “But, if he goes, it would be no big deal. The focus of our work does not depend on the feelings of Tibet government leaders but is our determination to put down the rebellion and reform everything.”

So reads a dramatic new account of the most important event in Tibet of the last century — the decision by the Dalai Lama to leave his homeland. It appears in ’1959 Lhasa’, published in Chinese language in Hong Kong and Taiwan and written by Li Jianglin, a Chinese historian. The daughter of a Communist Party official, she is a graduate of Fudan and Shandong Universities who went on to study at Brandies University and lives in New York. The book has the great merit of using material from both sides. Li interviewed more than 200 Tibetans in 14 places of exile and also quotes widely from material from the Chinese side.

The book’s conclusion challenges Beijing’s version of history – that the Tibetan nobility and clergy led their people in an armed rebellion against the Chinese state and that the Dalai Lama had planned the rebellion from early 1957, with support from the CIA, which trained 170 guerillas and supplied them with weapons from the air, including anti-aircraft machine guns and 10,000 rifles. According to this version, the Dalai Lama was forced to leave Tibet against his will. More:

The indispensable incarnation

Talk of the Dalai Lama’s “retirement” shows how much Tibet still needs him. Yet so does China. In The Economist:

Enthroned in a maroon and saffron pavilion, the 14th Dalai Lama chuckled often as he preached to the football stadium, though his text was not taken from the jolly slogan behind him: “Play soccer for world peace”. Ringed by snowcapped Himalayan peaks in Gangtok, capital of the Indian state of Sikkim, which borders Tibet, tens of thousands basked in midwinter sunshine—local Sikkimese of Nepali and ethnic-Tibetan descent, visitors and, of course, Tibetan exiles. The Dalai Lama may exaggerate a bit when he says that 99% of Tibetans trust him. But not by much. So his recent talk of “retirement” has unnerved many.

In November he said he was seriously thinking of retiring. An election in 2001 for his government-in-exile had already ended the 400-year tradition of Dalai Lamas as both spiritual and political leaders. After an election in March this year, he would discuss with the new parliament when to give up his remaining “temporal” role. He expected to retire in the “next few months”.

The Dalai Lama has long stressed his work not as a political leader but as a scholar and guardian of the Buddhist tradition he embodies. In Gangtok he attended a seminar on spirituality and science. His lecture on the soccer pitch was on a rather abstruse commentary by a second- or third-century Indian philosopher, Nagarjuna (“The form particle does not produce sense-consciousness because it transcends the senses.”). The Dalai Lama turned it into an accessible sermon on how to live your life.

Politics, however, will not let Tibet’s spiritual leader go. His presence in Sikkim was in itself a measured gesture of Indian defiance towards China. India annexed the former kingdom in 1975. China long refused to recognise Sikkim’s incorporation into India, though since 2004 Chinese maps have shown it as an Indian state, and in 2006 a modest border trade began. The Dalai Lama’s eight-day tour of Sikkim was pointedly timed to come just after Wen Jiabao, China’s prime minister, had been in Delhi, discussing how to improve ties. Tibet remains one of the strains. The Dalai Lama, with some 100,000 followers, has made his home in India since fleeing Lhasa, Tibet’s capital, in 1959. More:

The Dalai Lama’s great escape

Author Stephan Talty’s book gives the fullest account yet of the Dalai Lama’s 1959 escape from Tibet and the CIA’s role. From The Daily Beast:

Escape from the Land of Snows: The Young Dalai Lama's Harrowing Flight to Freedom and the Making of a Spiritual Hero. By Stephan Talty

In the middle of a Saturday night in the spring of 1959, a phone rang on a quiet suburban block in Chevy Chase, Maryland. John Greaney mumbled an apology to his pregnant wife and reached for the nightstand. The clipped voice on the other end said that an “OpIm” had just come in and, after giving a few details, promptly hung up. Greaney sat on the edge of his bed in his pajamas, wondering just what in God’s name was going on.

Unknown to his neighbors, John Greaney was not the gray-faced government functionary he appeared to be. He was in fact the deputy chief of a small unit at the CIA known as the Tibet Task Force. It sounded dashing, but in fact the work of the five or six men that comprised the unit was so lacking in excitement that Greaney compared it to running an import-export firm. All the action was down the hall, where the Latin American group would soon be planning the Bay of Pigs invasion.

But beginning that Saturday, Tibet—through the story of the Dalai Lama ‘s great escape—was about to become famous. More:

Also read: History’s great escapes

Dalai Lama to shed Tibet leader’s role

Associated Press

New Delhi: The Dalai Lama wants to give up his lesser-known role as the ceremonial leader of the Tibetan government-in-exile, an aide said Tuesday, in what appeared to be another step in the aging leader’s efforts to prepare his people for life after he dies.

However, he will remain the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism and the focal point of Tibetan national aspirations, said spokesman Tenzin Taklha.

As head of the dominate Gelug branch of Tibetan Buddhism, the Dalai Lama is the top religious leader for Tibet. Many of his predecessors also served as Tibet’s political ruler, and the Dalai Lama served as head of government there after Chinese troops marched into his Himalayan homeland in 1950.

Beijing claims Tibet has always been part of its territory, but many Tibetans say the region was virtually independent for centuries. Amid increasing tensions with the Chinese, he fled to India in 1959 and set up a government-in-exile. More:

Also here

Tibetan Spirit Is Very Strong:

On being asked if he is serious about his retirement plans, His Holiness said: “Oh yes, of course. Since 2001 we have put in place a political leadership in exile. So theoretically the more than 400-year-old tradition of the Dalai Lama institution as head of both the temporal and spirituality has ended. Since then my position is something like a semi-retired position. The major decisions are taken by the elected political leadership. So in order to utilise fully democracy, I felt better not to involve myself in any sort of these works. Of course, I can devote my efforts in other fields like in the promotion of human values and religious harmony. So I am thinking about retirement.” Read here

US and India

As Barack Obama becomes the third US President to visit India in the last decade, C Raja Mohan looks at why the visit is different from previous ones and what to expect. In The Indian Express:

When Barack Hussein Obama arrives in Mumbai next Saturday, he will be launching only the fifth presidential visit from America since India gained independence more than 60 years ago.

The fact that Obama is the third president to travel to India in the last decade, however, shows how much Washington and Delhi have begun to matter to each other. The ‘wasted decades’—former foreign minister Jaswant Singh’s description of the prolonged period of estrangement between India and the United States during the second half of the twentieth century—are now behind us.

Beyond the new intensity and frequency of bilateral engagement, Obama’s visit underlines one little-understood but fundamental change in the context of the India-US relations.

Until recently, Delhi constantly worried about how the United States, the world’s foremost power, might hurt India. On the eve of President Clinton’s visit to India in March 2000, Delhi was concerned that the United States will ramp up the pressure against India’s nuclear weapons programme. It was also afraid that Clinton will side with Pakistan on the question of Jammu and Kashmir. More:

Obama should visit Tawang monastery

Swaminathan S Anklesaria Aiyar in The Times of India:

Visits that are remembered are gamechanging ones, like the George W Bush-Manmohan Singh nuclear summit. Can President Obama make his visit a gamechanging one? Here are two suggestions. First, he must visit the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh. Second, he must declare emphatically and repeatedly that the US will do everything it can to stop China from supplying two new nuclear reactors to Pakistan.

Obama wishes to have good relations with China and Pakistan, not just India. Politics dictates that he will try to be all things to all the countries he visits, and avoid statements and policies that may strengthen relations with one country at the expense of the other. Yet, if the longterm strategic partnership proposed by Bush and supported by Obama has substance, it must include the vision of India as a democratic counter to an economically and militarily powerful China that might throw its weight around aggressively in Asia. Hopefully this will not lead to hostilities, and neither India nor the US should even remotely think of any sort of military pact.

What is needed is a US gesture that will show strategic support for India without totally alienating China or creating the potential for military confrontation. An Obama visit to Tawang will be exactly such a gesture. It will be an effective way of signaling US support to India’s claims in Arunachal Pradesh.

China will of course express outrage, since it claims that Tawang is part of Tibet and hence of its own territory. China even objected to the Dalai Lama visiting Tawang. More:

Adventures in very recent evolution

In the last few years, biologists peering into the human genome have found evidence of recent natural selection. Nicholas Wade in The New York Times:

Ten thousand years ago, people in southern China began to cultivate rice and quickly made an all-too-tempting discovery — the cereal could be fermented into alcoholic liquors. Carousing and drunkenness must have started to pose a serious threat to survival because a variant gene that protects against alcohol became almost universal among southern Chinese and spread throughout the rest of China in the wake of rice cultivation.

The variant gene rapidly degrades alcohol to a chemical that is not intoxicating but makes people flush, leaving many people of Asian descent a legacy of turning red in the face when they drink alcohol.

The spread of the new gene, described in January by Bing Su of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is just one instance of recent human evolution and in particular of a specific population’s changing genetically in response to local conditions.

Scientists from the Beijing Genomics Institute last month discovered another striking instance of human genetic change. Among Tibetans, they found, a set of genes evolved to cope with low oxygen levels as recently as 3,000 years ago. This, if confirmed, would be the most recent known instance of human evolution. More:

In Tibetans, evidence of “fastest case of human evolution”

Nicholas Wade in The New York Times:

Tibetans live at altitudes of 13,000 feet, breathing air that has 40 percent less oxygen than is available at sea level, yet suffer very little mountain sickness. The reason, according to a team of biologists in China, is human evolution, in what may be the most recent and fastest instance detected so far.

Comparing the genomes of Tibetans and Han Chinese, the majority ethnic group in China, the biologists found that at least 30 genes had undergone evolutionary change in the Tibetans as they adapted to life on the high plateau. Tibetans and Han Chinese split apart as recently as 3,000 years ago, say the biologists, a group at the Beijing Genomics Institute led by Xin Yi and Jian Wang. The report appears in Friday’s issue of Science.

If confirmed, this would be the most recent known example of human evolutionary change. Until now, the most recent such change was the spread of lactose tolerance — the ability to digest milk in adulthood — among northern Europeans about 7,500 years ago. But archaeologists say that the Tibetan plateau was inhabited much earlier than 3,000 years ago and that the geneticists’ date is incorrect.

When lowlanders try to live at high altitudes, their blood thickens as the body tries to counteract the low oxygen levels by churning out more red blood cells. This overproduction of red blood cells leads to chronic mountain sickness and to lesser fertility — Han Chinese living in Tibet have three times the infant mortality of Tibetans. More:

Glimpses of the lost world of Alchi

Threatened Buddhist art at a 900-year-old monastery high in the Indian Himalayas sheds light on a fabled civilization. Jeremy Kahn in The Smithsonian:

The wood-framed door is tiny, as if intended for a Hobbit, and after I duck through it into the gloomy interior—dank and perfumed with the saccharine scent of burnt butter oil and incense—my eyes take a while to adjust. It takes my mind even longer to register the scene before me.

Mesmerizing colored patterns scroll across the wood beams overhead; the temple’s walls are covered with hundreds of small seated Buddhas, finely painted in ocher, black, green, azurite and gold. At the far end of the room, towering more than 17 feet high, stands an unblinking figure, naked to the waist, with four arms and a gilded head topped with a spiked crown. It’s a painted statue of the Bodhisattva Maitreya, a messianic being of Tibetan Buddhism come to bring enlightenment to the world. Two hulking statues, one embodying compassion and the other wisdom, stand in niches on side walls, attended by garishly colored sculptures depicting flying goddesses and minor deities. Each massive figure wears a dhoti, a kind of sarong, embellished with minutely rendered scenes from the life of Buddha.

These extraordinary figures have graced this small monastery in Alchi, a hamlet high in the Indian Himalayas along the border with Tibet, for about 900 years. They are among the best-preserved examples anywhere of Buddhist art from this period, and for three decades—since the Indian government first allowed foreign visitors to the region—scholars have been trying to unlock their secrets. Who created them? Why don’t they conform to orthodox Tibetan Buddhist conventions? Might they hold the key to rediscovering a lost civilization that once thrived, more than a hundred miles to the west, along the Silk Road? More:

Creating glaciers out of thin air

Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

It was in Ladakh, confronted by receding glaciers – currently at the centre of an increasingly bitter dispute between scientists and Delhi – that Chewang Norphel, a government engineer, hit upon an idea to use nature to give the locals a helping hand with growing more food.

Seeing how much fresh water was wasted during the winter – as villagers left their taps running to prevent them freezing solid – and noticing the way that they stored snow on shaded areas of the mountain, he decided to create his own artificial glaciers.

That was more than a decade ago. Now, with funding from the Indian army – which is keen to maintain the support of local people in a strategically sensitive area close to the border with China – Mr Norphel has created 10 artificial glaciers and is planning more. More

Shoot for the legs

In Guernica, Robert Thurman, the West’s first Tibetan Buddhist monk on his friend the Dalai Lama, the nuance of forceful resistance, and how Hitler could have been defeated without violence:

robert thurmanRobert Thurman’s journey toward his own inner peace-which he admits he hasn’t “fully mastered, of course” -began in 1961 when he lost his left eye in an accident. His becoming one of Time’s Twenty-Five Most Influential Americans also likely followed from this accident-as a result of which, Thurman dropped out of Harvard, divorced his wife-an heiress unsupportive of his new zeal-and wandered, quite literally, through India, Iran, and Turkey. While wandering in 1964, Thurman met the Dalai Lama (a.k.a. His Holiness), and thus began the remarkable friendship that thrives today. The Dalai Lama invited Thurman, who had become fluent in Tibetan in ten weeks, to Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan exile community, and arranged for him to study Buddhism with his own senior tutor. The following year, Thurman was ordained by His Holiness himself-taking 252 vows that focused on a philosophy of nonviolence, compassion, and selflessness-making him the first Tibetan Buddhist monk born in the West.

Eventually, Thurman became homesick and returned to the States. An outsider now with his shaved head and maroon robes, his desire to help others was thwarted by his skepticism over “the usefulness in American society of trying to help others as a monk (as opposed to a layperson in a university).”

Convinced he would be of more benefit as a teacher, he resigned his vows, returned to Harvard, earned three degrees, and embarked upon academic life, all without giving up his rigorous daily Buddhist practices. He married Nena von Schlebrugge, a model and Timothy Leary’s former wife; they had four children, one of whom starred in the ultra violent films Kill Bill: Vol. 1 and Kill Bill: Vol. 2, Uma. More:

Waiting for reincarnation at a spiritual birthplace

Some speculate that the birthplace of an especially immortalized Dalai Lama of centuries past may be where the next Dalai Lama comes from. Edward Wong in the New York Times:

Urgelling Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh, India, the birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama

Urgelling Monastery, Arunachal Pradesh, India, the birthplace of the Sixth Dalai Lama

Urgelling, India – He drank wine, cavorted with women and wrote poetry that spoke of life’s earthly pleasures.

He was the Sixth Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetans and reincarnation of Chenrezig, a deity embodying compassion.

He would sneak out of the Potala Palace in the heart of Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, for midnight trysts. He renounced his monastic vows in the middle of his stewardship of Tibet. He was later kidnapped by Mongolian warriors allied to the Manchu Chinese court and died in captivity about three centuries ago at the age of 33 – or so one story goes. Another tells of his winning his freedom and wandering the Tibetan lands as an ascetic.

So goes the legend of Tsangyang Gyamtso, one of the most popular historical figures among Tibetans and the most colorful of the long line of Dalai Lamas. His poetry is among the most iconic in Tibetan literature. More:

[Image: Map / NYT; Monastery: Brahmaputra Tours]

The China-India rivalry: Watching the border

Ishaan Tharoor in Time:

It’s a sign of how delicate feelings are between Asia’s two rising powers that an obscure blog post can cause an international incident. Just recently, Indian newspapers circulated the incendiary comments of an essay published on a nationalist Chinese website. The essay – authored under the pen name Zhanlue, or “strategy” in Mandarin – suggested that it was in Beijing’s interest to support insurgencies on India’s borderlands that could eventually dismember the diverse Indian federal state. The uproar in India over this provocation forced officials in New Delhi to respond, saying that “the article in question … does not accord with the official state position of China on India-China relations.” That bland assertion, though, does little to stanch a lingering anxiety, particularly in India, that tensions between the two giants will inexorably come to a tipping point. “There cannot be two suns in the sky,” warns Zhanlue’s post.

The hubbub over the essay came at a moment when Indian and Chinese officials were engaged in a round of largely futile talks over long-standing disputes along their mountainous 1,060-mile (1,700 km) border. A war fought between the two countries in 1962 was brief, but its legacy remains rancorous, with both New Delhi and Beijing claiming chunks of land now patrolled by the other’s troops. Though sparsely populated, the contested territories, from a sliver of Kashmir to the entirety of Arunachal Pradesh, a northeastern state in India that China imagines is part of Tibet, are heavily militarized. More:

The China-India border brawl

Jeff M. Smith in Wall Street Journal Asia:

The peaceful, side-by-side rise of China and India has been taken for granted in many quarters. But tensions between the two giants are mounting, and Washington would do well to take note. On June 8, New Delhi announced it would deploy two additional army divisions and two air force squadrons near its border with China. Beijing responded furiously to the Indian announcement, hardening its claim to some 90,000 square kilometers of Indian territory that China disputes.

To understand what the tussle is about, consider recent history: The defining moment in the Sino-Indian relationship is a short but traumatic war fought over the Sino-Indian border in 1962. The details of that conflict are in dispute, but the outcome is not: After a sweeping advance into Indian territory, China gained control over a chunk of contested Tibetan plateau in India’s northwest but recalled its advancing army in India’s northeast, leaving to New Delhi what is now the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Relations have been characterized by mistrust ever since, but neither nation has shown any inclination to return to armed conflict. More:

Unmistaken Child

From Salon:

movieNo aspect of Tibetan Buddhism is as well-known, or seems quite as mythological to outsiders, as the faith’s apparently literalistic belief in reincarnation. Taken as a whole, Buddhism is such a diverse and wide-ranging religion that it very nearly lacks any central doctrines or dogmas. Many Buddhists could be called nontheistic or even atheistic, and the widespread Buddhist belief in reincarnation takes many different forms. To some Zen Buddhists, for example, reincarnation is primarily a metaphor or a folkloric remnant.

But within the Tibetan Buddhist world, as we saw in Martin Scorsese’s powerful drama about the young Dalai Lama, “Kundun” — and as we now see in Israeli filmmaker Nati Baratz’s remarkable, vérité-style documentary “Unmistaken Child” — reincarnation is unmistakably real. That is, belief in reincarnation is unmistakably real. What are we actually seeing in Baratz’s film, when we watch a group of middle-aged monks identify a 2-year-old from a Nepalese mountain village as the “unmistaken child,” a newly reborn version of Geshe Lama Konchog, a world-famous Tibetan teacher who died in 2001? Like most Western, non-Buddhist viewers, I’m not quite sure, although I definitely incline toward a cultural or psychological explanation. More:

Can you choose your reincarnated successor?

The Dalai Lama strives for continuity. China has other goals. Michael Powell in The new York Times:

A photograph of a painting of the 14th Dalai Lama, who was discovered by Buddhist leaders as a 2-year-old, with the aid of signs. AFP

A photograph of a painting of the 14th Dalai Lama, who was discovered by Buddhist leaders as a 2-year-old, with the aid of signs. AFP

The search for the present Dalai Lama commenced in earnest in 1935 when the embalmed head of his deceased predecessor is said to have wheeled around and pointed toward northeastern Tibet.

Then, the story goes, a giant, star-shaped fungus grew overnight on the east side of the tomb. An auspicious cloud bank formed and a regent saw a vision of letters floating in a mystical lake, one of which – Ah – he took to refer to the northeast province of Amdo.

High lamas set off at a gallop and found a 2-year-old boy in a distant village. This child, they determined after a series of tests, was the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama.


The other Lhasa

The old Lhasa is gone. In its place is rapid development, new pubs and the latest mobile technology. Yet, Tibetans see themselves distinctly as Tibetans, not a part of a larger Chinese culture. Vijay Jung Thapa takes a trip [in the Hindustan Times].

In 1976 the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, tripping on a strong dose of yajé, wrote about the ‘Tibet of his imagination’ — a psychedelic account of a secret, shadowy, white paradise up in the Himalayas. Like Ginsberg, the Tibet of my own imagination, spurred by writers from Hedin to Harrer to Hopkirk, had always conjured up a powerful image of Eastern mysticism set against the great brooding mass of the Potala — a place of pure spirit, unsullied by greed or personal ambition.

Five minutes into Lhasa, that illusion lay shattered.

As our van rolled onto a smooth-as-silk eight-lane-wide boulevard, my Chinese interpreter excitedly gushed: “This is our Lhasa.” Outside, glistening glass-and-chrome buildings, plush hotels and supermarkets with bright neon signage floated by. Bulky Prados purred down the uniform grid of roads that go off in all directions and chic women and strutting businessmen dotted the sidewalks and street corners. It was a new landscape where Lhasa meets Las Vegas — minus the buzz and with an unmistakable touch of Chinese kitsch.


Is the dream of independence for Tibet now a lost cause?

[Updated with the Dalai Lama's response: see link below]

Andrew Buncombe in The Independent:

Why are we asking this now?

Over the weekend, his Holiness the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibet’s Buddhists and the man who has been at the centre of efforts to highlight the Tibetan cause for decades, explained that he “had given up” his struggle. “I have been sincerely pursuing the middle-way approach in dealing with China for a long time now, but there hasn’t been any positive response from the Chinese side,” the 73-year-old told an audience at Dharamsala, the Indian Himalayan town that is the headquarters of the so-called Tibetan government-in-exile. “As far as I’m concerned, I have given up.”

Does that mean the Dalai Lama is retiring?

Karma Choephel, the speaker of the parliament in-exile, told reporters that the Dalai Lama used to say that he was semi-retired and that now he believed he was was almost completely retired. However, a senior aide to the Nobel laureate last night dismissed speculation that he would start taking a back seat in Tibet’s affairs. “Because of the lack of response from the Chinese we have to be realistic. There is no hope,” said Tenzin Taklha. “His holiness does not want to become a hindrance to the Tibetan issue, and therefore has sent a letter to the parliament regarding what options he has.”


An update from His Holiness on Andrew Buncombe‘s blog Asian (con)Fusion:

“His Holiness the Dalai Lama said that Tibetans have long been pursuing a path to find a solution to the issue of Tibet that would be mutually acceptable to Tibetans and Chinese. This has received widespread appreciation from the international community, several governments included. More importantly, it has gained the support of many Chinese intellectuals. More:

The Dalai Lama’s flight

In The Times, an exclusive extract from Alexander Norman‘s new book [Holder of the White Lotus: The Lives of the Dalai Lama] recounts how the spiritual leader came to leave Tibet:

In October 1949, Mao Tse-tung’s Communist Party swept to power in China. One of Mao’s first announcements made clear that the “peaceful liberation” of Tibet would be a priority for the new regime.

By July 1950, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had advanced to within 100 miles of Chamdo, the capital of Kham (eastern Tibet). The first serious engagement between the two sides, at Dengo, was technically a victory for the Tibetans. But if the Chinese army in the area was only 20,000- strong – against the Tibetans’ 5,000 – a further 5m men under arms stood behind them. The eventual result was a foregone conclusion.

On October 5, the PLA launched a full-scale attack on Chamdo itself. Ngabo, the ineffectual aristocrat governor of Kham, sent several urgent telegrams to Lhasa [the Tibetan capital] requesting instructions. There was no reply. On 15 October, one of his aides de camp succeeded in contacting Lhasa by radio. He was told that although his telegrams had been received, they had yet to be decoded as the Kashag [government of ministers] was currently engaged in its annual week-long series of picnic parties. It was now clear that Ngabo faced the might of the PLA alone. Two days later, he was given permission to retreat. On 19 October, he was captured and all Kham fell into Chinese hands.


It’s bad karma: Sharon Stone links quake to China’s treatment of Tibet

“I am not happy about the way the Chinese were treating the Tibetans,” says Sharon Stone on the sidelines of the Cannes Film Festival. Watch the video on YouTube.


Why the torch must go on

From Namita Bhandare: my column on the Olympic Torch in Mint

In just a few days from now, the Olympic torch will arrive in Delhi, bringing to a head the debate whether it is right or wrong to carry it.

The debate, in fact, was kicked off weeks before the torch was anywhere in sight. Indian football captain Bhaichung Bhutia’s early decision to opt out of the Olympic torch relay to protest China’s crackdown in Tibet was hailed nearly unanimously as an “unusually conscientious decision”.

On the other hand, film star Aamir Khan’s decision to run with the torch with a “prayer in his heart for the people of Tibet” has met nearly as unanimously with derision and condemnation. Over the next few days, the debate will only become more strident and shrill.

It seems clear to me that the Tibet cause has left most middle-class Indians cold. These are the same middle-class Indians who turn a blind eye to routine abuses by state power whether in the form of encounter killings or brutal crackdowns on public protest as seen in Nandigram, West Bengal.