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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Articulation and More

June 15, 2010

By Bhuchung D. Sonam
Phayul (India)
June 7, 2010

Nineteen ninety-one was a landmark for the
Tibetan diaspora. That year 1000 Tibetans left
for the US as a part of the Washington's
resettlement project for Tibetan refugees living
in India, Nepal and Bhutan. I was then a young boy in TCV School.

One evening I and a few friends got together to
compose a petition to His Holiness the Dalai Lama
stating that it was a wrong policy to send
Tibetans to the US citing the brain drain as one
of the reasons. "Most of our experienced teachers
are leaving, which affects our studies," we
wrote. We even found a way to deliver the puerile
petition to His Holiness. What happened to us
later is a different story altogether.

Looking at the way this project has positively
impacted the lives of thousands of Tibetan
refugees and our struggle in terms of its reach
and support network, the logic behind our
petition sounds immature, self-serving and
myopic. However, at the time of penning our plea
we thought that we were making history and that
the system did not understand how the world
operated. We were angry. We were rebellious. In
hindsight I can say that we suffered from premature articulation.

"You must say that I am young, You must say that
I am unlearned, But there is one thing I know,
Though I am younger than you" sang Bob Dylan in
his classic song Masters of War. Being young is
being rebellious, trying to go find our own path,
our own destiny and to challenge the
establishment and the powerful. In the case of
Bob Dylan and our own poet-scholar Gendun
Choephel, rebellion was based on vision, talents,
knowledge and the complete control of their
articulation — knowing perfectly well what to say, when, how, why and where.

This brings me to a report in the 3 June issue of
Stanford Daily about Prime Minister Samdhong
Rinpoche’s visit to Stanford University. What
shook me out of my chair is a remark at the end
of this report. Tenzin Seldon, 21, a brilliant
Tibetan student at Stanford and a fantastic
activist for a free Tibet, stated in her exchange
with reporter Zoe Levitt that “Many students view
Tibet through the Dalai Lama. That’s one human
being. How could he possibly represent the lives of all Tibetans?”

How can Dalai Lama represent the Tibetans is a
question one regularly sees on the Chinese
government owned media such as Xinhua news or in
People’s Daily. An educated Tibetan asking this
question today is a premature articulation and
reflects political immaturity. It is historically
wrong and does not reflect the present reality.

In the aftermath of April's devastating
earthquake in Kyegudo in eastern Tibet, an old
woman clung to the dead body of her grandchild
and kept on chanting, "Gyalwa Yeshi Norbu
Khyenno! Gyalwa Yeshi Norbu Khyenno!" over and
over and again. When her world is shattered and
nothing is closer to darkness, the one and the
only person she cries out for refuge is the Dalai Lama.

During peaceful demonstrations that Tibetans held
all over Tibet in 2008, the key slogans included,
"Long Live the Dalai Lama!" "We want return of
the Dalai Lama" and "We Want Free Tibet!"
Tibetans inside Tibet, who live under constant
surveillance, fully realize the fact that raising
these slogans leads to detention, arrest, torture
and imprisonment. Yet they chanted them
throughout Tibet. These clearly show that the
Dalai Lama not only represents the Tibetans but
He remains the most visible symbol of their struggle for freedom.

Since 1642, when the Great Fifth Dalai Lama
became the temporal and religious leader of a
unified Tibet, the Dalai Lamas have led the
Tibetans for over 370 years. Few governments in
the world today can trace their institutional and
legal origins so far back in history. Hence the
institution of the Dalai Lama has great
historical legitimacy. Additional to the unique
historical circumstances, because of His tireless
work for Tibet the 14th Dalai Lama is universally
recognized by the Tibetans in and outside Tibet as their undisputed leader.

Communist China often blares out that the Dalai
Lama "does not represent the Tibetan people" in
desperate efforts to undermine His Holiness’
leadership, under which Tibetans on both sides of
the Himalayas struggle for a free Tibet. For
Beijing this is a cheap political tool to wield at its convenience.

However, for a Tibetan this is a double-edged
sword cutting both sides. The sharper edge faces
us. I won’t be surprised if People’s Daily quotes
Seldon’s remark to reinforce their rhetoric just
as they used Jamyang Norbu-la’s piece criticizing
the exile democratic system and its functioning.

We live in free countries and have total freedom
not to agree with policies initiated by His
Holiness the Dalai Lama or to criticize the
exiled-Tibetan Government. But we need to
understand the nuances of the issue before making
any statement. Remarks must be based on
knowledge, history, vision and above all with
full understanding of the present reality. Just
shooting from the hip to satisfy youths’
rebellious nature, frustration and hopelessness
may end up as good sound bites for the media. This will serve no purpose.

Our struggle for a free Tibet is based on truth,
history and the power of dialogue with the world,
with ourselves and with the Chinese. Articulate
young activists like Tenzin Seldon are at the
forefront in our struggle to skilfully stand up
to the tyrannies of occupation with fortitude and
honour. Their willingness to sacrifice and take
the lead must be matched by knowledge, vision, a
sense of history and a clear sense of the larger
picture involving many other issues and factors.
Just displaying guts and a damn-everything-else attitude is frankly not enough.


The author can be reached at bhuchungdsonam@gmail.com
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