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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."

WTN interviews Kasur Tenzin Geyche Tethong

January 26, 2009

[Republishing this WTN article from September 2008 for many readers have requested]
 
WTN, September 28, 2008
 
In March 2006, I requested an interview with Kasur Tenzin Geyche Tethong, Private Secretary to His Holiness the Dalai Lama for over 4 decades. Tethong, who was contemplating retirement at the time, proved reluctant at first, too modest to speak about himself.  It took some convincing, but he relented finally when it was pointed out that such interviews hold much value for posterity.
 
Our younger generation need to know the stories of how the Tibetan government and communities in exile came to be; these life-stories represent a feat comprised of the struggles and achievements of so many courageous and steadfast individuals from all walks-of-life.  Our community owes much to the hard work, dedication and resolve of outstanding Tibetans, whose efforts matched the overwhelming challenges they faced.  Their contribution deserves to be noted.  It is my hope that Tibetan youth will take up the task of recording these distinguished lives, which mark a critical point in Tibet’s history.
 
WTN would like to offer more interviews introducing such remarkable individuals to our readers. We welcome your suggestions and your contributions of any interviews you have carried out.
 
Thubten Samdup: How has it been working so closely to His Holiness the Dalai Lama all these years?
 
TGT: I consider myself extremely fortunate to have had this unique privilege. Of course, the job has also been very demanding.
 
Samdup: How did you get this job?
 
TGT: It was more by default than through competence. In those days, in the early sixties, there were not many English-speaking staff members in the Tibetan Government-in-exile and they were employing all available young Tibetans who were “English educated”.  I was working in the Council for Tibetan Education, as the Department of Education was known
then. I was called to serve in His Holiness’ Office (the Private Office as is popularly known) in 1964, when Chatzotsang Rapten-la, who was working in the Office, left for the U.S.A. on a scholarship.
 
Samdup:    Do you find your workload has increased over the years since the Dalai Lama has become so well known around the globe?
 
TGT: Yes, tremendously. It may not be an exaggeration to say that it has increased more than tenfold.
 
Samdup:    Why do you think so many people around the world have so much respect and admiration for the Dalai Lama?
 
TGT: Besides His Holiness’ openness, humility, absolute candidness and his smile, I think there are a number of other reasons. The following qualities, in addition to His Holiness’ approach to things in general, I believe, have attracted people from all walks of life and from all over the world: (1) his steadfast and consistent promotion of non-violence
and other basic human values such as compassion, tolerance and respect for others; (2) his extension of love and understanding even towards the Chinese people, in spite of what has happened to Tibet and the Tibetan people; (3) his respect for other religious traditions: (4) his determination to introduce democracy amongst the Tibetans in exile, in
the face of some resistance in the early stages; (5) his pragmatic and moderate stand on the Tibetan issue resulting in the presentation of the Middle Way Approach; (6) his open dialogue with scientists for close to twenty years; and  (7) the Buddhist teachings that His Holiness has been giving throughout the world through his incredibly deep knowledge of Buddhism and his extraordinary gift for communicating this profound knowledge to people from all kinds of background and from all over the world.
 
Samdup:    His Holiness is one of the most recognized individual in the world, with a degree of fame that would have to have an effect on any normal person's ego. It must be very strange for him to reconcile the outside, uncontrollable aspects of the pop culture/icon side of his life with his spiritual practice. How does he manage that and do you have any story or an anecdote that illustrates this dichotomy for our readers?
 
TGT: This is one of things that constantly amaze me even though I have been in the close presence of His Holiness for so long. He is able to avoid being overwhelmed by his international popularity in general and the tremendous devotion shown towards him not only by the Tibetan people but by all those who follow the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. When he meets people, it does not seem to matter what walk of life a person comes from. His Holiness gives equal attention to everyone's irrespective of whether the person is important and holds a high position or just an ordinary citizen or a young student. The important thing for His Holiness is that the person be genuine. He is inclined to spend more time with a genuine ordinary person than with a person holding high position with no genuine interest. I believe the reason His Holiness is not overwhelmed by his fame and popularity is because of his religious understanding and practice. This is also evident from his practice of humility.
 
Samdup: How is His Holiness' health these days and will he be cutting down on his foreign travels?
 
TGT: His Holiness is in excellent health. Doctors who have conducted general medical check-ups on him have concluded that he is in better health than many younger people.  However, in view of His age and the exhaustion that His Holiness recently experienced His Holiness has been advised to curtail His travels abroad and His engagements while in India.
 
Samdup:   On an average, what percentage of requests coming in for interviews and audience etc. You have to say "no" to?
 
TGT: We have not kept an exact account of how many requests we decline, but I am told that there would be about twelve to fifteen requests every day and most cannot be entertained.
 
Samdup:   Can you tell us if there are people in our Tibetan Diaspora who feel comfortable enough to give advice to His Holiness and who would openly let him know when they disagree with his certain decisions? The reason I ask this question is because His Holiness is so revered in our society that sometimes one wonders if he has anyone around him who would tell it like it is.
 
TGT: There certainly are many who are able to disagree with His Holiness. In fact, right from the beginning of my service this is one of things I found amazing about His Holiness: being open to the views of others. I therefore cannot understand why many lesser Lamas and Tibetan officials are so closed minded and rigid in their views.
 
Samdup:   You have seen so many changes in the last 4 decades in the Office the Dalai Lama and also in your workload. What is the one most important thing you have learned from spending so much time with His Holiness over the past 40 years?
 
TGT: I have learned many, many things. Probably one of the most important things is to have a balanced and holistic view of things, especially in matters and issues that are controversial and contentious.
 
Samdup:   Were there times when you felt overwhelmed with work that you were going to resign from the post?
 
TGT: Many times I have felt overwhelmed with the work and on a few occasions to the point of feeling that my only option was to request a replacement.
 
Samdup:   Your family (Tethong) has made a very substantial contribution to the cause of Tibet. What do you think is the main reason that so many of Tethong children have been involved in Tibet work?
 
TGT: For many generations the Tethong family has been fortunate to be associated with "Bho Shung Gaden Phodrang" (the Tibetan Government). I have in fact in my possession an original scroll which is a declaration of commendation given to one of our forefathers by the Dalai Lama for his support during a difficult and tumultuous time in Tibetan history--family tradition says this commendation is from the fifth Dalai Lama but according to some Tibetan scholars it is believed to be from the seventh Dalai Lama. It is this long tradition of service that has probably rubbed off on us.
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