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Foundations for a Modern Tibet (I)

August 4, 2009

By Tsewang Namgyal
Phayul
July 27, 2009

A very popular error: having the courage of one's
convictions; rather it is a matter of having the
courage for an attack on one's convictions!" Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Let me preface by my definition of a modern
Tibet. For me it means a free, transparent,
secular, democratic society based on a market
economy and infused by Tibetan Buddhist ethical
values. A Land of Snow where every individual
living in it are given equal opportunity to succeed and the weak are protected.

Last few months I had an opportunity to share few
opinion pieces on Phayul. I appreciate the number
of encouraging notes that I received from fellow
Tibetans, concerned Chinese people and kind
supporters. What I found most interesting is that
many of us share similar views and do appear to
share my view of a modern Tibet.

Our Buddhist wisdom of cause and effect teaches
us that things do not just happen. Every cause
and condition has its' corresponding product. One
cannot wish for a fruit tree by planting seeds of
a poisonous plant. In addition, our precious
teachings remind us that the foundation of wisdom
is compassion. Just as without the appropriate
manure it will be difficult for the plant to
grow, similarly, without a community based on
compassion it will be difficult for the society to be truly modern.

Here in my final opinion piece to Phayul (until
something really bothers me) I would like to
humbly suggest few inputs that I believe will be
important factors to create a modern Tibet. Going
forward I hope to refocus my Tibet volunteer
efforts to reach out to the Chinese community and
continue on my efforts related to Tibet's economic development.

BOOT CAMP for young Tulkus

Tulkus have positively contributed much to our
society throughout the centuries. His Holiness
the Dalai Lama is a living example. At a personal
level I believe for a foundation of a modern
Tibet we have to move in the path of
secularization. The benefits of secularization
far exceed the risks. We were fortunate (and
arguably very lucky) to have someone like His
Holiness the Dalai Lama guides us during the most
difficult period in our history. A quick study of
our history indicates that most of the past Dalai
Lamas do not come even close to our current beloved leader.

Prior to going further I would like to clarify
the term secularization. Many in our community
believe that this means our respected Sangha
should not get into politics. This is far from
the truth. Every citizen should be encouraged to
engage in politics just as I believe every
Tibetan should study Tibetan Buddhist philosophy.
I believe secularization means at the
institutional level there has to be independence
of our religion and politics. This is something
that His Holiness has encouraged and we as our
community have not been able to embrace it.

It is clear that in the near future our community
will continue to call upon our Tulkus for
political guidance. Based on this reality, I
believe it is critical that we request upon our
precious Tulkus to study modern political
economic theories. In the early 1960s under the
leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama I
understand a school for Rimpoches' was set up.
Here many of them were able to learn the English
language. Individuals who were exposed to the
school include distinguished Tulkus like Samdhong
Rimpoche, Chogyam Trungpa and Gelek Rimpoche.
Many of them have made great contribution to Tibet.

Tulkus study of modern political economics will
reduce the ability of others to trick them,
neutralize religious fanatics, get a better
understanding of the conventional world,
understand management techniques to more
efficiently run their monasteries and allow them
to support more efficiently our political leaders in our modernization process.

To educate our Rimpoches, TGIE and all of us as
individuals can play a role by directly
organizing seminars for our young Tulkus to
attend, share with them biographies of modern
political economic philosophers (such as Adam
Smith, Karl Marx, Thomas Jefferson, James
Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Peter Drucker and
Jack Welch) and bring this discussion up during
our conversations. If we all collectively make
such investments, I believe the returns of our
efforts to Tibet in the future will be huge.

Think of CAUSE and PATH

The Buddha taught the four noble truths: (i)
truth of suffering, (ii) cause of suffering,
(iii) cessation of suffering and (iv) path to the
cessation of suffering. In the political economic
realm in our society many a times our focus tends
to be on the first and third noble truths. We now
need to refocus more on the second (cause of our
problems) and fourth noble truths (solutions to
them) otherwise our efforts could be just academic.

Here I believe our journalists and writers can
play a critical role. They need to provoke our
leaders and public to think of causes and
solutions. For example instead of asking
leaders/public what their opinions are on a
particular issue they should ask the reasons
(pros and cons) why our leaders/public have
certain opinions. Many a times in our discussions
we often hear passionate opinions backed only by
strong emotions (instead of reasons). By focusing
on the WHYs it will help expedite change in our society towards a modern Tibet.

Respect is IMPORTANT

There is a certain segment in our society where
they try to create change by making personal
insults especially towards our TGIE officials. In
addition, generalized attacks are made on
"kudrags" and "Buddhist clergies" for wrongs in
our society. One can understand such attacks
coming from Chinese citizens who have been
brainwashed by their government. The situation in
our society is quite clear - Tibetans from all
regions and sections of the society have made
tremendous contributions. We also had bad apples
from all regions and sections of our society.
Creating fictitious enemies in our society is
both a waste of time and counter productive.

For me TGIE officials are like a unique
combination of government officials and
volunteers. As a son of a former TGIE official (I
know I maybe biased) but I believe overwhelming
majority of them are trying their best with their
respective missions and limited resources. As
someone who is quite independent now living in
the United States it is quite easy for me to
complain and show disrespect as I do not need to
personally depend on TGIE. However, I believe it
is all the more important for individuals like us
to show respect as a role model for the future
generations. Unless we show respect others will not.

There is no doubt that dramatic changes needs to
take place both in TGIE's structure and culture
to make it more flexible, robust, forward looking
and fun in order to inspire, retain and attract
the best talents. In addition, constructive
criticism is critical for a society and having
appropriate checks/balance. However, unless we
change our tactics to make this change through
electing the right/qualified people, recognition
of those who are doing a great job and provide
support when possible we will not only discourage
our current talented officials but also prevent
future interested individuals from stepping into
the plate. Without capable TGIE official our
success rate for creating a modern Tibet is very small.

We need to make our movement more FUN

Personally I love to watch on YouTube TIPA
traditional songs, Yadong la, Dadon la, Kunga la,
Techung la, Phurbu T. Namgyal la, Ani Choying
Dolma la, Tsering Gyurmey la and many others for
inspiration when I write. They all appear to take
so much joy in their work and in the process are
playing a critical role in uniting Tibetans,
promoting our culture and inspiring many of us. I
believe we can all borrow from their joyful
creative spirit in our own humble efforts related
to Tibet's political, economic, education and environmental development.

Tibet is currently at a crossroad. We all know
that next few years are critical in our history
and Chinese government rule is brutal. I also
understand Tibet's very existence is in question
if we do not make the right moves. However, if we
always stay in a mourning state this is not good
for our physical health and mental creativity. I
believe by bringing more fun to our movement with
less complains and appreciating each others
efforts it will allow us to come out with more
innovative solutions and increase our stamina in
our "fight." To borrow the words of President
Harry Truman, "A pessimist is one who makes
difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist
is one who makes opportunities of his
difficulties." Let us be an optimist and laugh in
our way to creating a modern Tibet.

Joint Venture is GOOD

Through our past history and perhaps influence of
India's swadeshi movement there is subtle
protectionist mentality and glorification of self
reliance. We need to move away from it as our
circumstances are different. Two of the key
weaknesses of Tibet's economy are: (i) poor
management and (ii) lack of capital. The best way
to mitigate both these issues is through the
formation of joint ventures with qualified
experienced outside partners. We cannot do it alone.

Openness to the outside world has its pros and
cons. Tibet due to our current political position
our choices are limited. Strong outside
influences is forced upon us. Rather than trying
to stop the impossible or being reactive we need
to move more proactively and aggressively ahead
of pending changes to move the direction of it.
For example if we are able to develop tourism in
a proper way this will likely have a greater
chance of preventing more harmful projects like mining.

Encouragement of joint ventures should not
include only with non Tibetans but also among us.
In our society many a times partnerships tend to
be focused more on trust than on comparative
advantages. By focusing on our comparative
advantage (ability of a person or country to
produce a product more efficiently than another
person or country) this will be beneficial to all
of us. To put things into context it would be
better for a wood carpenter and a Thanka painter
to form a partnership than two thanka painters or
two carpenters. Through proper formation of joint
ventures with trusted partners that can
complement one's weakness is an important
ingredient in creating a modern Tibet. For more
discussions related to this subject I would like
to humbly share an interview I did with VOA
titled Tibet's Changing Economy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cv9QxG36gB8.

Do Good and Do Well

In my travels in Tibet and exile I believe
majority of us Tibetans both in the lay and
monastic community want to do good and do well.
This is not to diminish the tremendous personal
(including many ultimate) sacrifice of many, many
Tibetans to give us all a brighter future but to
see how we can tap the talents of the majority
who are not that selfless. Unless we are able to
tap the talents of the majority it would be very
difficult for us to create a modern Tibet.

Based on this assumption, it is important for us
to create opportunities or at least support those
Tibetans who are able to do good and do well in
our society. If not, they will have other
professional choices. I personally know educated
Tibetans (and nice people) who do not appear to
volunteer any of their time, money or expertise
towards Tibet. It is easy to feel angry but this
is no solution. I believe even for those Tibetans
where it is contingent for them to do well in
order to do well we should work to attract them by creating opportunities.

In order to create a robust modern Tibetan
economy the active participation of such Tibetans
who want to do good and do well are critical in
creating profitable self sustaining businesses.
Such ventures indirectly will create jobs,
products to self sustain Tibet's economy and are
critical to create a modern Tibet.
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