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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

The Story of Taktser Rinpoche

September 22, 2008

By Elliot Sperling and Larry Gerstein
September 19, 2008

Taktser Rinpoche, Thubten Jigme Norbu, passed away at the age of 86 on 
Friday, September 5, 2008. His life was one of devotion to the cause 
of Tibet. With his unwavering belief that the Tibetan majority was 
right, he lived to see Tibetans demonstrate once more, in the spring 
of 2008, that their struggle for a free and independent Tibet would 
not succumb to Chinese oppression. Until the day he passed away, 
Rinpoche's fondness for and faith in His Holiness the Dalai Lama, his 
younger brother, remained as strong as his stand for Tibet's 

Taktser Rinpoche was born in Amdo, Tibet, in 1922 and, while still a 
child, recognized by the 13th Dalai Lama as the 23rd incarnation of 
the previous Taktser Trulku. At the age of eight, he was taken to the 
famous monastery of Kumbum and educated there as one of its most 
important lamas. Kumbum monastery is the birthplace of Lama Tsongkapa 
who is the founder of the Gelugpa sect of Tibetan Buddhism.

When Rinpoche's younger brother was recognized as the Dalai Lama he 
traveled to Lhasa, in Central Tibet, and continued his studies at the 
renowned monastery of Drepung. He returned to Amdo and was serving as 
the Abbot of Kumbum when the Chinese People's Liberation Army arrived 
in 1949 and put the monastery under its control. Under the most severe 
of circumstances, he tried to shield his region from the inevitable 
oppression that was being implemented by the new Communist regime. For 
over a year, he was in the hands of the Chinese government and only 
broke free when he agreed to travel to Lhasa under their instructions, 
to urge His Holiness to accept Tibet's annexation by China. Taktser 
Rinpoche was told that should His Holiness refuse China's designs, he 
should be removed, even if it meant murder; and if that were to 
happen, Rinpoche was further told that he would then be made Tibet's 
ruler. However, as soon as he crossed into the areas still under the 
control of Tibet's legitimate government, Rinpoche escaped from his 
Chinese escorts and immediately reported to the then fifteen year old 
Dalai Lama all that had happened in Chinese-ruled Amdo, including 
China's attempt to incite his death.

Taktser Rinpoche told His Holiness that there was no way for Tibet to 
survive under Chinese rule and urged him not to yield to Chinese 
force. Soon thereafter, Rinpoche left Tibet and traveled to India, 
where he worked to secure American support for Tibetan resistance. 
When His Holiness opted to accept Tibet's incorporation into the 
People's Republic of China, Rinpoche decided to remain outside Tibet 
and continue his work. However, his task was no longer keeping China 
out of Tibet: it was now freeing Tibet from China.

During the 1950s and 1960s, Rinpoche worked tirelessly for Tibet. When 
efforts to placate China throughout the 1950s failed and the Tibetan 
people rose to demand their rightful independence, Rinpoche was 
already poised to help. He played a pivotal role in coordinating aid 
for the refugees pouring into India and then in organizing and 
supplying Tibetan resistance fighters who continued to defy China 
after the Chinese army brought in massive force to crush the armed 
Tibetan resistance. Rinpoche also served as His Holiness The Dalai 
Lama's Representative and a Tibetan Government In-Exile Representative 
to Japan and North America.

In 1965, Taktser Rinpoche gave up his position at the American Museum 
of Natural History, where he had been working for several years, to 
join the faculty of Indiana University's Department of Uralic and 
Altaic Studies (now the Department of Central Eurasian Studies). His 
presence on the university's Bloomington campus was electric: he 
proved to be a dynamic teacher and he imbued the department's Tibetan 
Studies program with vigor and energy, helping to train several 
important specialists in the field. Studying with Rinpoche was a 
unique experience; he was a font of information and learning for his 
students, and was consistently generous with his knowledge and his time.

Throughout this period, and following his retirement from Indiana 
University in 1987, Rinpoche was a tireless fighter for the cause of 
Tibet. He established the Tibetan Cultural Center in Bloomington, 
Indiana in 1979, as a center for all things Tibetan. Its function was 
partly educational and Rinpoche hoped to be able to make Tibet's 
situation and the nature of China's rule over Tibet better 
understood.  He had little time for the arguments of those who felt 
that Tibet would do well as an "autonomous" entity in China. He knew 
full well that cultural freedom and political freedom were 
inseparable; that political freedom meant that Tibetans must be fully 
free to decide their country's fate; and that the vast majority of 
Tibetans wanted Tibet to be an independent country, an equal partner 
to other countries and a full member of the United Nations. His view 
of those who wanted to keep Tibet in China was well known. Thus, 
following his retirement he became a founder, in 1995, of the 
International Tibet Independence Movement and participated in many of 
its activities. For instance, in 1996, Rinpoche along with the 
Venerable Palden Gyatso led a 300-mile, 45-day March for Tibet's 
Independence from China's Embassy in Washington, D.C. to the United 
Nations in New York City. Further, in 1997, Rinpoche led a three-month 
600+ mile March for Tibet's Independence from China's Embassy in 
Toronto to China's Consulate in New York City. In the late 1990's, 
Rinpoche also help found the Rangzen Alliance; another organization 
devoted to securing Tibet's independence.

In 2004, the Tibetan Youth Congress awarded Rinpoche with its highest 
honor when they bestowed on him the Rangzen Award.

Rinpoche's last official political act on behalf of Tibet occurred on 
June 4, 2008. At this time, he received the Tibetan Freedom Torch from 
his sons, Lhundrup, Kunga, and Jigme who had carried the torch by 
either bicycle or foot from Indianapolis to Bloomington, Indiana as 
part of the worldwide Tibet movement effort connected to the 2008 
Beijing Olympics.

Taktser Rinpoche was a teacher, a scholar, a fighter and an activist. 
He was a friend to many, an implacable enemy of oppression, and a 
forceful yet compassionate proponent of justice. Through his books and 
actions he influenced innumerable people, providing them with a 
glimpse of Tibet's rich civilization and Tibet's resilient spirit. His 
passing is mourned by his family, his friends, students, colleagues, 
and by all friends of Tibet.
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