Fujisan's Kyareng

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Takara Geta: A Japanese Folktale in Tibetan & English

ཊ་ཀ་ར་གཱེ་ཊ  ཉི་ཧོང་གི་གནའ་སྒྲུང་ཞིག

༄༅། །<<ཊ་ཀ་ར་གཱེ་ཊ་>> (འདོད་འཇོའི་ཤིང་ལྷམ་) ཞེས་པའི་སྒྲུང་འདི་ཉི་ཧོང་གི་གནའ་སྒྲུང་ཞིག་ཡིན།  སྒྲུང་འདིས་ ཆོག་ཤེས་དང་ཆོས་སེམས་ལྡན་པའི་མི་ཚེ་སྐྱེལ་རྒྱུ་གལ་ཆེ་ཡིན་པ་སྟོནགྱི་ཡོད།  འདོད་རྔམ་ནི་སྡུག་བསྔལ་གྱི་རྒྱུ་རྐྱེན་དངོས་ཡིན།  དེ་མཐོང་བའི་ཤེས་རབ་ཀྱི་མིག་སྒྲིབ་པར་བྱེད་མཁན་ནི་ཉོན་མོངས་ཡིན།  གཱེ་ཊ་ནི་ཉི་ཧོང་གི་སྲོལ་རྒྱུན་ལྡན་པའི་ཤིང་གི་ཞབས་ལྷམ་ཞིག་ཡིན། ད་ལྟའང་ཉི་ཧོང་གི་དགོན་ཁག་གི་ནང་དགེ་འདུན་པ་ཚོས་དངོས་སུ་བེད་སྤྱོད་གནང་མུས་ཡིན།  གནའ་སྒྲུང་འདིའི་ནང་གི་བུ་ཆུང་ན་གཞོན་ཞིག་ཡོད་པ་དེས་རང་གི་ཨ་མར་ཞབས་ཕྱི་ཡག་པོ་ཞུ་བཞིན་པ་དང༌།  ཕྱུག་པོ་ཆགས་རྒྱུའི་གོ་སྐབས་ཡོད་བཞིན་དུ་ཆོག་ཤེས་ཀྱི་མི་ཚེ་སྐྱེལ་གྱི་ཡོད། ཕྱོགས་གཞན་ཞིག་ལ།  མི་ཕྱུག་པོ་ཞིག་རྒྱུ་ནོར་ཕུན་སུམ་ཚོགས་པོ་ཡོད་བཞིན་དུ། ད་དུང་ཡང་འདོད་བློ་མ་ཚིམ་པ་བྱས་པའི་འབྲས་བུར་དཀའ་ངལ་བརྗོད་མི་ཤེས་པ་
འཕྲད་པའི་སྐོར་ཡིན། གནའ་དུས་ཀྱི་བསླབ་བྱ་ཡག་པོ་འདི་དག་དེང་དུས་ཀྱི་གཞོན་སྐྱེས་ཚོར་ངོ་འཕྲོད་ཐབས་སུ་འདི་ནས་བོད་དབྱིན་ཤན་སྦྱར་ཐོག་བཀོད་པ་ལགས་ན་ཕྲུ་གུ་ཚོས་ངེས་པར་དུ་ཆོག་ཤེས་ཀྱི་ཡོན་ཏན་འཇགས་པ་དང་ཆབས་ཅིག་སྤྲོ་བ་འཕེལ་རྒྱུའི་རེ་སྨོན་ཞུ་བཞིན་ཡོད། །  རྩོམ་སྒྲིག་པ་ཨརྱ་ཚེ་རྒྱལ།  རི་མོ་བ། གཡུ་ཀི་མགོ་མཐོ།   ཞུ་དག་པ། ལཱོ་རེན་ཨེལ་ཌར་ཕེར་དང་སྐལ་བཟང་མཁས་འགྲུབ།
Takara Geta: An Ancient Japanese Folktale
Written and Adapted by TG Arya
Illustrations by Yuki Goto
Edited by Lauren Alderfer and Kalsang Khedup
Takara Geta is one of the ancient Japanese folk tales about the importance of living a content and healthy spiritual life. Greed is one of  the mental afflictions which obscures our wisdom eye to see the real cause of our misery and unhappiness. Geta is a traditional Japanese wooden clog [footwear] still being used in monasteries by monks today. This story is about a devoted young man who looks after his ailing mother. He lives a content life despite the opportunity to become rich. On the other hand, there  is a rich man, whose greed blinds him to see what he already has. In an effort to pass on this ancient wisdom to a young modern audience, I have translated and adapted this Japanese folk tale into Tibetan and English. I hope children around the world will learn the positive aspect of the meaning of contentment and enjoy the book.  ISBN:81-86230-80-0 Rs.95/-

Friday, August 21, 2015

Bon Religion of Tibet

Yungdrung-bon, the Religion of Eternal Truth in the Land of Snow
~ A Note to dispel the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the religion ~
Buddha Tonpa Shenrab

Bon is generally considered as the indigenous religion of Tibet, which has survived to this day, and Bonpo as the followers of this religion. But this is a general assumption which is true to some extent at a conventional level only. Before the advent of Buddhism in 8th century AD, the religion was widespread in the land and has been a primal force which nourished the Tibetan culture, language and identity of the region. Tibetan civilization owed greatly to this indigenous faith or religion of their ancestors, which gave them a unique identity and cohesive force to survive and evolve as a nation. The early Tibetan empire has been managed and sustained by Drung, Deu and Bon[1]. Just as Buddhism became popular in Tibet and the neighboring regions around 8th century AD, Bon too was popular in the Himalaya and the neighboring regions at one time in the past[2].  We must remember that before the Tibetan nation emerged under the Yarlung dynasty, there already was a land known by Zhangzhung and ruled by Zhangzhung kings. The land covers a some part of Tibet and the surrounding areas[3]. 

Historians and scholars have attempted to unravel the origin and the meaning of the word Bon. According to Prof. Namkhai Norbu, Bon is an ancient Tibetan term having the same meaning as that of the word, bZla[4], meaning to recite. Bon-pa is an archaic verb meaning: to recite.[5] It is sometimes substituted with the word Gyer, which also means to recite or invoke[6]. Gyer is believed to be a Zhangzhung word for Bon, and Zhangzhung is the country from where the Yungdrung-bon religion came to Tibet. In ancient text, we can see the use of Bon as a verb as well as a noun to mean teach, recite, say, religion etc.[7] Bon is also said to be the source of the term "bod" for Tibet in Tibetan, and that the land took over the name of the religion "Chos Ming Yul la Tsur brTag-pa"[8].  Just as Chos, a term used for Dharma or Buddhism initially, has different meanings apart from religion, Bon too has a different meaning[9].

The term "Bon" is as ancient as the early history of Tibet, which we will deal with later. The concept of Bon, its teaching and the culture associated with it are purely of Tibetan origin. Unfortunately, this unique strength and original wisdom of Tibetan civilization has not been well understood and appreciated. Even in this 21st century of open knowledge, free access to information, and religious tolerance, Bon doctrine and its spiritual and culture contribution has not found the rightful place and acceptance it deserved from the progeny of the civilization it nurtured for so long. As a Tibetan who is proud of his ancestral heritage, although limited in knowledge, inspired by old books and people, this is my sincere attempt to throw some light on the matter to correct our perspective through reasoning rather than through concocted prejudiced bigotry and conventional hearsay.  

Just like any ancient civilization, Tibetan ancestors too lived with nature. Calm and bountiful nature provided peace, prosperity and development. Flood, thunder storms, earthquake, diseases and other natural calamities brought fear and insecurity. In order to live in harmony with nature and tame the destructive natural forces, our ancestors too were intelligent and ingenious enough to come up with the idea of communicating with these forces to pacify or to control them. This communication took the form of rituals involving propitiation, offerings, expelling, incantation, fumigation etc. As the civilization developed, the rituals also became more widespread and sophisticated. This took the form of the belief and foundation of the religion. These early practices and different forms of worship were called Bon. It has no doctrinal foundation, and was comparable with shamanism to some extent. R.S. Stein used the term "Nameless Religion"[10] to mean all the ritual practices widespread in Tibet and the neighboring regions in early times. With the advent of civilization, these indigenous practices also evolved and various form of Bon practices emerged in Tibet and the neighboring regions.

Some of the early forms of Bon prevalent in the land were: gDon-bon, bDud-bon, bTsen-bon, Dur-bon etc.[11]  There were kLu-bon, gNyen-bon, 'Dre-bon, Ngod sBying-bon, Ma-Sangs-kyi-bon etc[12]. Like any primitive religion, some of these Bons among other things involved sacrifice of flesh and blood [dmar-mchod] as propitiation rituals. It can be deduced from these facts that the term "Bon" was used broadly for all "Religious practice" in this early period. It was not a specific but a generic term to mean various forms of rituals and religious practices or faith in the land. The Bon religion that we are talking about in Tibetan society is Yungdrung-bon taught by Buddha Tonpa Shenrab. This Yungdrung-bon, which has sustained the Tibetan civilization since the early Zhangzhung and Yarlung Empire, and which later came to be known by Bon only, should not be confused with the generic Bon, a term used to mean various rituals, beliefs and faiths in the early period.

Tonpa Shenrab Miwo was the founder of Yungdrung-bon religion of Tibet. He reformed and reorganized the existing Bon rituals and expounded the doctrine of Eternal Bon. Tonpa Shenrab was believed to have beeen born in Wolmolungring[13], a mystical land in Tagzig[14], identified as Persia or modern day Iran. But given the direction, its proximity and the sound, any phonetician would link it to Tajik-sathan [the land Tajik people], which broke away from Soviet Union in 1991. Some scholars ascribe it to Zhangzhung, the present day Ngari region of Western Tibet[15]. The description of Wolmolungring described in Tonpa Shenrab's biography bears a striking resemblance to the area around Mount Tise and Lake Mansarovar in Western Tibet[16].

In mDo gZer-mig, the medium version of Tonpa Shenrab's life, existence of some forms of Bon practices is clear from the text, "Bod kyi bonpo la bon-du lha-gSol-wa, 'dre bkar-wa, yug phud-pa", meaning "For the Bonpos in Tibet, the religion of propitiating gods, interrogating demons, purification rites were introduced."[17] Here the term "Bonpo" is used for the practitioners and "Bon" for religion or ritual. It is also to be noted that in mDo-mDus, the shortest 8th century biography of Tonpa Shenrab, the title name of his father was Lha-bon Mi-bon rGyal-bon, meaning bon of god, bon of human, bon of king. These early scriptures very succinctly prove that there were practices known by Bon in Tibet and beyond the border of Tibet before the coming of Master Tonpa Shenrab.

People are apt to say that followers of Bon religion are called Bonpo. But this was not so in the early period. Before Buddhism, Yungdrung-bon religion flourished in Tibet. There was no need to identify the general populace as Bonpos; they were Tibetans only. The term "Bonpo" has been used synonymous to "Lama". It was a specific term used for a person or a priest or to the one who is conducting the religious ritual irrespective of what kind of Bon he was practicing. In mDo-gZer-mig, the medium version of Tonpa Shenrab's biography, he talks about different Bonpos, who tried to cure the ailing prince[18]. The general populace who believed in these rituals were not referred as Bon or Bonpo. Some scholars say that the term was originally used for a class of priest-magicians, and not to the religion itself[19]. This reference of Bonpo to all the practitioners and believers in Bon religion started only after the coming of Buddhism in Tibet to differentiate it from the Buddhist chospas.

So, this distinction of general Bon and Yungdrung-bon, and the term Bonpo in early and modern time should be properly understood to have a clear perception of what Bon and Bonpo we are talking about. The term "Chos", Tibetan equivalent to Dharma was coined with the coming of Buddhism in Tibet in 8th century. Initially, Chos was used to mean Buddha dharma, later it also came to be used to mean "religion" in general: Yeshu-chos for Christian, Kache-chos for Islam, Hindu-chos for Hindu etc. A parallel could be drawn to the fact that all yellow-haired [go-ser] foreigners were "Inji" [English] for Tibetans. Only after coming to India in 1959, Tibetans realized that all yellow-haired people are not "Inji".  

Just as all chospas are not Buddhist and all go-sers not Inji, all bonpos are not Yundrung-bon followers. Chos in generic terms is different from Buddhism; likewise, Bon in generic terms is different from Yungdurng-bon. This distinction should be very clear. What was Bon for religion earlier became Chos later. As early Bon practices were reformed and abolished, Yungdrung-bon religion came to be known only by Bon in the later period. Yungdrung-bon means religion of Yundrung, "Yung" means not distracted from the eternal truth or meaning, "Drung" means everlasting[20], so "Yungdrung-Bon" means "Religion of everlasting or eternal truth". And this religion should not be confused with the other early practices which may have survived in and around Tibet in the name of Bon.

Yungdrung-Bon doctrine taught by Tonpa Shenrab, which has come from Zhangzhung and has been practiced since the early days of Nyatri Tsenpo[21], the first king of Tibet, should not be taken as the same as the early Bon practices where some form of animal sacrifices were involved. In mDo-gZer-mig, the medium version of Tonpa Shenrab's biography, one of the Bonpo priests has said, "I don't understand the Bon of killing one to revive another; it is not proper and should be avoided."[22]. Tonpa Shenrab reformed and abolished all forms of animal sacrifice and blood offerings and replaced it with substitutions using dough, effigies, etc. for glud and dmar-chos[23] rituals. These teachings are well recorded in the four Bon of cause; where he taught divination, astrology, sortilege, healing, exorcism, ransom, funeral rites, etc. In fact, if we look at Tibetan culture, it is these four Bon of cause which have made the Tibetan culture unique and rich, and these practices are still very much alive in Tibetan society in different forms and are well adapted into their religious and secular life.

In order to properly understand the teaching of Yungdrung-bon, commonly known as Bon, study of the biography of the Teacher Tonpa Shenrab, which is in three versions, is indispensable. mDo ‘dus is one of the earliest and shortest written sources in one volume with 21 chapters under gTerma [discovered text] on the life of Tonpa Shenrab[24]. The text is believed to be translated from Zhangzhung to Tibetan by sNya-chen Lishu stag-ring and he concealed it in 8th century. Two other biographies: gZer-mig and gZi-brJid are the medium and longer versions of the Teacher's life and teachings, containing 2 volumes with 18 chapters, and 12 volumes with 61 chapters respectively. The doctrine and philosophical teachings of the Yungdrung-bon are classified into two as 1) sGo-Zhi mZod-nga; four doors and one treasury, and 2) Theg-pa rim-pa dgu; nine stages of vehicle. The latter is popularly known as "Nine ways of bon", after David Snellgrove's translation.[25] The Nine ways of Bon are further classified as rGyu-bon zhi; four bon of cause, 'bres-bon zhi; four bon of result, and the rZod-pa chen-po; the great perfection. Until and unless one has gone through these hagiographies and the vehicles, it may not be prudent to slander the teachings of this great Master of Tibet[26], Tonpa Shenrab.

It is true that Buddhism greatly enriched and enlightened the Tibetan civilization, but discarding and belittling one's own root and culture is not an honorable conduct. Buddhist missionaries extolled India as the land of Gods; anything coming from India was considered sacred and pure, so much so that the propagators tried and were in fact successful in rewriting the Tibetan ancient history by ascribing the origin of the Tibetan race[27], king[28], and language[29] to India. Scholars like Namkhai Norbu have refuted these claims as overdoing of the Buddhist masters to show their loyalty to the land of Dharma[30] and to disparage the native civilization.  

"In both China and Japan, the Dharma flourished and greatly influenced the development and enrichment of the cultures of respective nations. But nowhere have these nations sacrificed the uniqueness of their own culture and history for the sake of Dharma. There would be nothing wrong if the Tibetans would view the relation between Buddhist religion and their cultural history in such a perspective."[31]            

Guru Padma Sambhava
We sometimes hear of the difficult situation faced by children of Bonpo families when they were in Tibetan schools in India. In one of the Guru Rinpoche's prayers "Bar Ched Lam-Sel" it is written "gDon-gZugs Bon-gyi bsTen-pa bsNubs"[32], and many interpret this as "Guru Rinpoche abolished the Bon religion of Tibet". This is not true, and it is blasphemous to interpret it in this way. gDon means demonic spirit, and gZugs means form. So what the scripture is saying is that Guru Rinpoche abolished the Bon teaching that was in the form of "gDon-worship", i.e. demonic spirit-worship or propitiation. Tonpa Shenrab too disapproved of this practice much earlier, when he introduced Yungdrung-bon. A simple explanation from a teacher could have saved many Bonpo children from the psychological trauma of having to recite this prayer along with other students in the schools, and other students also from thinking that Bon was to be avoided. We have already discussed the various forms of Bon prevalent in Tibet and the neighboring regions before Tonpa Shenrab and this gDon-bon could have survived in some form, even during the Guru Rinpoche's time. So, this gDon-bon which Guru Rinpoche subdued and was recorded in the scripture should not be misunderstood for Yungdrung-bon practiced by the Tibetan Bonpos. Guru Rinpoche did not suppress or abolish Yungdrung-bon teaching.
As for Guru Rinpoche's view on the Bon teaching, here is an extract from Kathang, "gYung-drung bon kyang bden-par nges. Sid-pai dgu-lha dus su mchod. gnod-byed nyes-pa' si-mgo non. Long-spyod phyawa dang gyang du 'gug. Bod rnam bde-legs 'byung bar mzed[33]." This can be roughly translated in laymen's language as: "Yungdrung-bon is also a confirmed truth. Deities of the land should be propitiated in time. Heads of the harmful demons should be suppressed. Prosperity should be summoned through Phya and Yang [luck and essence]. Tibetans be blessed with health and prosperity."

Buddhism too was misinterpreted in early 10th and 11th century, where tantra practices were greatly misused. This led Lha Lama Yeshe-Od to invite Atisha Dipamkarashrijana to clarify and revive the real teaching of the Buddha[34]. But this does not mean that Buddhism before Atisha was bad and Buddhism after Atisha was good. Buddhism as a religion is pure and good, but there could be bad practitioners. Just because there are bad practitioners, we cannot say that the religion is bad. So it is same with Bon teaching, not all early forms of Bon are bad. There could be bad as well as good Bon, but the mDo, sNgags and Sems teaching of Yungdrung-bon taught by Tonpa Shenrab is what is being practiced by the Tibetan Bonpos. And it is this Bon we have to take into the context while talking about Bon religion of Tibet and its followers, Bonpo.

Tibetans should be proud that like any other major civilizations of the world, they too had an ancient religious culture, which evolved over the period of time, coexisted with Buddhism, and gave the land and the world a unique religion and culture of peace, compassion and non-violence. Bon and Buddhism are two inalienable sacred paths, analogous to the method and wisdom aspect of Vajrayana teachings, indispensable to understand the depth and essence of the Tibetan mind and civilization. Bon is the foundation of Tibetan socio-cultural identity, and we should learn to appreciate our origin and heritage, and be grateful to the everlasting wisdom of our forefathers.   


Bibliography Footnotes

[1] (1) Nyang-rel, page-158. (2) Orgyen Lingpa, page- 151-152. (3) Namkhai Norbu, ddb, xv-xx (4) Sherig Lekhung, Tibetan Reader VI Part, page-11                  
[2] (1) mDo-'dus, p-323. (2) Sharza Tashi Gyaltsen, p-150. (3) Gopa Tenzin Drugdak, page-24
[3] (1) Tenzin Namdhak, page-33-34. (2) Triten Norbutse, p-12
[4]Namkhai Norbu, Necklace of dZi, page-16
[5] Bod-rgya tsig-mzod chen-mo, page-1853
[6] ibid, page-385
[7] Bon-sGo 24: Gopa Yungdrung Yonten, page 135 footnote28
[8] Gedhun Chophel, DK, page-8-9.
[9] (1) Bon-sGo 6: sMen-ri Ponlop Thinley Nyima, page-20, 1993. (2) Bon-sGo: 5 'go-pa bsTen-'Zin 'Brug-drags, page 31. (3) Bon-sGo 24, Lhakpa Tsering, page-23
[10] R.S. Stien, Tibetan Civilization, page- 191 ff
[11] (1) Namkhai Norbu, page-45. (2) Bon-sGo 5, 'go-pa bsTen-'Zin 'Brug-drags, Bon gyi skor cun zhig gLen-ba, Page-37.
[12] dGe-gShes Phunstok Nyima, page-xxiv
[13] mDo-gZermig, Chapter three, page-23.
[14] Samten Karmay, Arrow & the Spindle, page 104, 109
[15] (1) Namkhai Norbu, The Necklace of dZi, page-16. (2) Samten Karmey, The Arrow & the Spindle, page-107
[16] mDo-'Dus, page- 307
[17] (1) Shar-rDza bKra-Shis rGyal-tsen, page-47, 161 (2)   Samten Karmay, TGS, page-30.
[18] mDo-gZer-mig, Chapter nine, page-161-162. "Bon-po tham-ced kyi gTo byes kyang ma phen". [Rituals of all the Bonpos brought no effect.] And the text talked about a Bon-po, who was against dmar-mchod, animal sacrifice.   
[19] Priyadarsi Mukherji, p-37
[20] ibdi, Bon-sGo 10,  'go-pa sTen-'zin 'brug-drags, page- 21
[21] Tenzin Namdak, page-41-42
[22] (1) mDo-gZer-mig, Chapter nine, page-162. "gCig bsed gCig gSo bya ba'i Bon ni bDag gis mi shes-so. De-ni log-par gol-wa'i bya mi rung-ngo. " (2) Gopa Tenzin Drukdak, Theg-chen.., page-28 
[23] glud means expelling or banishing someone away with a request or order to take the disease or bad luck along it. dMar-chos means propitiation through the offering of blood and life.
[24] Samten Karmay, The Arrow & the Spindle, page-109
[25] David L. Snellgrove, The Nine Ways of Bon,
[26] As provenance of Wolmolungring and sTag-gZig could not be identified, some scholars believe that this Wolmolungring is none other than Zhangzhung, which was once western region of Tibet, therefore, Tonpa shenrab was a Tibetan master 
[27] (1) Nyang-rel Nyima 'Od-zer, page-139-140. (2) Tsepon Shakabpa Tsepon, page 1. [Based on the text Lha les Phul-byung gi sTod-'Grel by Indian master Sherab Goched. Indian prince Rupati along with his platoons fled to Tibet in the guise of women following their defeat against Pandavas in Mahabarat war of Indian epic, they were said to be the first inhabitants in Tibet.]  
[28] 1) Khes-pa lDe'u, page -150. [It was written that after the Mahabarat war, Rupa-skyes, the 99th son of Dhrtarastra fled to Tibet. When the native asked from whence he come, not knowing the language, he pointed to the sky. People beleived he came from the sky and was made their king. Such is the narration of the first king of Tibet, gNya-khri tsen-po.] (2) Nyang-rel Nyima 'Od-zer, page-156-157. [Here the King of Badsala tribe had a prince with many strage features, bird like eye lid, webbed fingers etc. He was thrown in a river, when he grew up and came to know the reality, he went to Tibet, where people made king because the native belived him to be divine when he pointed his finger in sky about his orgin.]
[29] (1) Nyang-rel Nyima 'Od-zer, Page-170. (2) Tsepon Shakabpa, page-12 and 25.
[30] (1) Namkhai Norbu, The Necklace of dZi, page-3-4, and 7. (2) Namkhai Norbu, DDB, page-43. [A boy of Shen clan having donkey's ear was depicted as the origin of the so called rDol-bon. Namkahi Norbu has refuted this.] 
[31] ibid Namkhe Norbu, page 8.
[32] Nyer mKho'i Shel 'don kun-phen nyi-ma, page-283.
[33] Bon-sGo 10, 'Go-pa sten-'zin 'brug-drags, page-32.
[34] Shakabpa Tsepon, page-56-60

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Evolution of Tibetan Democracy

Evolution of Tibetan Democracy
A Tribute to the Great Leader of our Time
~ His Leadership and His Vision ~
"Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength. No matter what sort of difficulties, how painful experience is, if we lose our hope, that's our real disaster." His Holiness the Dalai Lama

China invaded Tibet in the name of liberation and colonized the region for their own political and socio-economic agenda. They never seriously cared about Tibet and its inhabitants. Tibetans have suffered and are still suffering under the brutal egregious regime of Communist China. But despite the best effort by the Chinese regime to break down the Tibetan spirit of freedom and destroy the root of Tibetan culture and religious identity for the past more than 60 years, Tibetans in and outside have stood fast and resilient, and non violent against the belligerent aggressor. Despite the continued repression and difficult political situation in their homeland, Tibetans have endured and lived with their moral and spiritual ethics of yarab-chosang, and contributed greatly in fluttering the banner of peace, harmony and non-violence around the world. International community has greatly appreciated the ancient wisdom of Tibetan spiritualism and non-violent culture. Bon and Buddhism have seen great revivals in India, Asia and around the world. Tibetans in exile have established a vibrant and healthy democratic society at par with any independent nation. In the centre of this non-violent, vibrant democratic and compassionate culture, the essential source of wisdom and inspiration, and epitome of faith is the person none other than Tenzin Gyatso, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. How the Tibetan refugees survived the hardship of exile and displacement? How the Tibetans endured and came out strong and united under a new democratic polity is the result of His meticulous effort and profound leadership vision. 

Democracy is best described by Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America as a government of the people, for the people and by the people. Since the birth of the concept "A rule by the power of the people" in early Greek city-state of Athens in 5 century BCE, democracy has been the most widely accepted and espoused form of government in the modern world. History has seen and experimented many forms of government in different states under various circumstances, and has endorsed democracy as the most popular choice of government. But democracy came and was achieved with a lot of effort and sacrifices from the people who had to fight against the tyrant monarchies and dictatorships. Both ancient and modern history has little to say about peaceful democratic transition and devolution of power from the authorities to the masses. Arab spring and the Jasmine revolution of our era are typical examples of how democracies have been sought and achieved by the people in many countries. Yet, in Tibetan case, democracy evolved and developed peacefully but at a very difficult time of its history. It was the leadership who offered and insisted the power to the people. This too was done over a period of time considering the prevailing circumstances and people's readiness and proper understanding of the concept.

Tibet around 1950s was passing through a very difficult time: Chinese army has started the invasion from the eastern regions of Tibet. News of Chinese brutality and massacre came along with the people who had escaped to Lhasa. Central Tibet was in the grip of great fear and uncertainty. People turned to the Tibetan government for help. At the helm of the government is His Holiness the Dalai Lama, a young lad of sixteen. But how this young boy took the responsibility and negotiated with the belligerent wrath of communist army and how he sustained the hope and pacified the fear of the people is a history. True to the belief of the people of Tibet and the Himalayan regions, the 14th Dalai Lama came and conducted the things as would any reincarnation of Chenrezig Aloketesvara, the Buddha of compassion.

Soon upon his enthronement as the spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet at the age of 16 in 1951,  His Holiness the Dalai Lama felt the decision should be made by the general people, not by the people in his proximity. For this, democratically elected leadership is needed; and the political system of democratic representation has to be introduced to achieve successful devolution of political authority to the people. The young Dalai Lama constituted a Reform Committee and initiated several democratic reforms to improve the general condition of the people, and to put the nation on the road to modernization and development. Unfortunately, the Chinese invasion thwarted all his reform effort and initiatives, and Tibet was thrown into a chaotic situation. In order to save the people from the Chinese wrath and massacre, His Holiness tried his best to negotiate and managed the situation calmly without provoking the Chinese. All his effort was directed toward saving the lives of his people as well as of Chinese. To this effect, he tried his best to co-exist with the Chinese along the 17 point agreement of 1951, which was although signed under duress. When all his effort failed and he was convinced that more lives will be lost if he stayed in Tibet, he took the difficult decision to escape and sought political asylum in India in March 1959. And from India he appealed to the world for freedom and justice for his land and the people.

Having learned the hard lesson that the lack of proper modern education has obstructed Tibet from entering into modern world and preserve her independence, His Holiness soon worked with government of India to set up schools to educate the young Tibetan refugees. He reinitiated the democratic reform which he started in Tibet. In 1960, just after a year in exile, in the sacred land of Bodh Gaya, where Buddha Shakyamuni attained Parinirvana, he sowed the seed of democracy in Tibetan community. To a small group of Tibetan refugees who have come for his teaching, His Holiness the Dalai Lama preached democracy and enlightened them on the benefit of adopting the path of democracy.  "We have just lost our country; we need to have a Parliament, an elected Parliament wherein the Tibetan people can choose their candidates through universal adult franchise." The young leader said. The first representatives of the people, three each from the three provinces of Tibet: U-Tsang, Dotoe and Domed, and one each from the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism - 13 representatives were elected and they took oath on 2nd September 1960 and establishment of Tibetan parliament was announced which was then referred to as Commission of Tibetan People's Deputies [CTPD].

While congratulating the newly elected People's Deputies, His Holiness briefed them about their duty and how they should work closely with Kashag and people to achieve better governance and expedite the process of democratization. Expansion of ministerial departments and their appointment was discussed among the Deputies and the Cabinet members, and a policy formulated to that effect. It was said that at this incipient stage of democracy, the Deputies worked along with the civil servants in the departments. Since then, Tibetan parliament and exile administration went under several significant changes and transformation. Sensing the need of women's equal representation and participation in the governance, three additional seats - a woman each from the three provinces was introduced later. One additional Deputy at the Dalai Lama's discretion was also introduced in 1964, thus increasing the strength of the Deputies to 15. In 1976, the 6th CTPD found the inclusion of a Deputy from Bon religion. In 1979, during the 7th Assembly, the name of the Assembly was changed from Commission of Tibetan People's Deputies (CTPD) to Assembly of Tibetan People Deputies (ATPD).

In 1963, Constitution of Tibet with 10 chapters and 77 articles was established and it became the guiding force to the Central Tibetan (CTA) in Exile, and provided a vision for future Tibet. It was first initiated and drafted by His Holiness the Dalai Lama and was circulated among the people's deputies, civil servants and to the public for their feedback and comments. Incorporating the relevant suggestions, final draft was made and established in March 1963. The document defined the fundamental rights and duties of the citizen. Three pillars of the democracy: judiciary, legislative and executive, their power, duties and appointments were well delineated. This constitution gave Tibetans in and outside a great sense of pride and much needed direction to tread onto their struggle for freedom and justice. This Constitution of Tibet was revised later in 1991 based on the prevailing circumstances and Charter for Tibetans in Exile was established as the guiding light for the functioning of Central Tibetan Administration in exile.

In 1991, a major change came, when His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced expansion of the Deputies and proposed devolution of more legislative and administrative power to the People's Deputies. Number of People's Deputies was increased to 46: 10 each from the three provinces; 2 each from the five religious schools; 3 from Europe and North America; and 3 nominees from His Holiness. Three pillars of democracy came to fruition with the establishment of Supreme Justice Commission at the apex to arbitrate and to look after judicial need of the exile community. Adoption of Charter for Tibetans in Exile based on the 1963 draft constitution facilitated independent Audit Commission, Public Service Commission and Election Commission. The Assembly of People's Deputies was empowered to impeach His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Kashag and the heads of the three independent Commissions. His Holiness insisted making the institution of Dalai Lama subservient to the Tibetan Charter, not above it, and announced his plan to transfer the political power to the three pillars of democracy. But the people were reluctant. Succumbing to the request and pleas from Tibetans in and outside Tibet, His Holiness agreed to remain as the Head of the State. However, he declared clearly of his intention to transfer all the political power to the popular elected leader of the people. He made it clear that when the time came in or outside Tibet, when Tibetans have reached high level of democratic system of governance, he will retire completely from the political leadership. But he clarified that this devolution of power and retirement from political leadership should not to be construed as his frustration and losing hope over Tibet issue. Rather this is the culmination of his sincere and long coveted dream to have a fully functioning democratic Tibetan society.

"Ever since I was young, I looked forward to the time when we could devise a political system suited both to our traditions and the demands of the modern world. Since we came into exile we have tried to build up the Chitu, the elected assembly of representatives, as a key feature of our effort to develop such a system. We are now embarking on changes which will further democratize and strengthen our administration in exile. I hope that these changes will allow the people of Tibet to have a clear say in determining the future of their country."

Toward the transition of democratic system, a remarkable milestone was reached in the year 2001 and 2011. His Holiness the Dalai Lama suggested direct election of the Ministers and Chief Kalon by the people. Accordingly, in 2001, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche was elected Kalon Tripa [Chief Kalon or Prime Minister], the highest political authority in the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), directly by the people, and his cabinet ministers were appointed by him upon the approval of Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies. In 2006, His Holiness gave up his discretionary power to nominate three deputies in the Assembly, and the 14th Assembly [2006-2011] was without any direct nominee from Him. People elected Professor Samdhong Rinpoche for the second time as Kalon Tripa of in that year. Having observed that his people are now capable of taking the responsibility of governance, in 2011 His Holiness the Dalai Lama on the occasion of 52nd Anniversary of Tibetan National Uprising Day, announced his total retirement from the political leadership and proposed necessary amendment to the Charter for Tibetans in Exile. Although the majority of the parliamentarian rejected his decision and requested for the continuity of his leadership, this time His Holiness the Dalai Lama stood fast to his decision.

"As early as the 1960s, I repeatedly stressed that Tibetans need a leader, elected freely by the Tibetan people, to whom I could devolve power. Now, we have clearly reached the time to put this into effect.....  I am committed to playing my part in the just cause of Tibet. I trust that gradually people will come to understand my intention, will support my decision and accordingly let it take effect." His Holiness the Dalai Lama said.

So, the election of Kalon Tripa in 2011 came as a significant milestone in the history of Tibetans quest for democratic polity. In this popular election of Kalon Tripa of 14th Kashag (Cabinet) of Central Tibetan Administration in exile, Tibetans in and outside Tibet took great interest and quizzed the candidates carefully. Unlike before, this time the three popular contesting candidates came out openly in public to speak about their candidature and showed up to participate in election debate before the public. The talks and debates were widely circulated and watched. Although, the Tibetans in Tibet could not participate in voting, they took great interest and watched the election closely. Never before the Tibetan community saw such a fervent initiative and energy from both the candidates and the public about the leadership election. And on 20th March 2011, Tibetan people elected the young Harvard graduate, Dr. Lobsang Sangay their Kalon Tripa. On 8th August 2011, during the swearing in ceremony of the Kalon Tripa before the public in Dharamsala, Tibetan Kashag's seal was handed over Lobsang Sangay to signify the transference of temporal power in accordance with the age old tradition. His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced,

“I took over the political leadership of Tibet from Sikyong Tagdrag Rinpoche when I was 16-years old. Today, in the 21st century, when democracy is thriving, I hand over the political leadership of Tibet to Sikyong Lobsang Sangay.”

A year later, the title "Kalon Tripa" was also changed accordingly to "Sikyong" signifying the total political authority and leadership. The term "Sikyong" can be traced back to the time of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama [1617-1682], when the political authority was transferred to Sangay Gyatso with a title "Desi". In the subsequent period of the Dalai Lamas' rule [over 300 years] Desi assumed the political authority in the former's absence or minority. This Desi title later evolved into Sikyong, and today the Tibetan community have the continuation of the Sikyong - the age old political authority in the form of popular elected leadership in modern time.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama knew from the beginning that if Tibet as a nation or Tibetan as a community is to survive and prosper, Tibetans need democratic form of government and leadership to sustain itself in the long run. He introduced and educated the Tibetans about democracy in a gradual phase wise manner that suited the mentality of the people of the time. Tibetan people holds His Holiness the Dalai Lama in great reverence, and are totally satisfied and content with his leadership that democracy has no place in their mentality. In some way His Holiness saw himself as an obstacle to democratic movement and modernization in Tibetan society. With the whole hearted faith and devotion of the Tibetans, things may be all right during his time, but what will happen when he is gone. History has shown the tumultuous time and the burnt that Tibet has to endure during the transition period of one Dalai Lama to another. Although the Tibetans may not agree, he must let the Tibetans experiment and ultimately enlighten them on the necessity of democratic form of government. With this His Holiness the Dalai Lama handed over democracy in its pure form to the Tibetans much in a same way the Lord Buddha taught the profound teaching of Buddhism to the people of his time. The Dalai Lama and the institution of Dalai Lama have been an indelible part of Tibetan history, and the leadership and guidance of the 14th Dalai Lama during the most difficult period of Tibetan history will be remembered by the Tibetans throughout the times to come. In his tribute to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the former Kalon Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche said:

“His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s vision and unceasing guidance for the last thirty years to build a democratic Tibetan polity, that is not dependent on him, has finally achieved. This is a great moment for all of us. Your Holiness has provided us the longest leadership and that your temporal and spiritual achievements far exceed the combined deeds of all the thirteen previous Dalai Lamas.

Today, on this 54th Anniversary of Tibetan Democracy, if we look back, we can see how His Holiness the Dalai Lama has whole heartedly with great effort nurtured and introduced democratic polity in Tibetan community. How under His leadership, the homeless refugees of 1959 have survived and now stands firmly on their feet with an established democratic Administration in exile. Although, we still have many miles to go, what we have achieved as a refugee community will go a long way in furthering our pursuit of free democratic society and in strengthening our unity and struggle to resurrect freedom and justice in Tibet. We have achieved in exile what is denied and suppressed at gunpoint in our homeland. Chinese authorities in Tibet should follow the suit and devolve power to the people. Instead of abusing and avoiding His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Chinese leaderships should embrace him and learn from his wisdom, which the international community is doing. His policy of Middle Way Approach is widely acclaimed by the international leaderships. It is a practical approach putting both Tibet and China in a win-win situation. Simple message of Middle Way Approach is: No repression, no separation.

Having devolved his political authority to the elected leader, true to the deed of Avaloketesvara, today His Holiness tirelessly works on the two of his three commitments he profess to hold dear in his life: promotion of human value and secular ethics; and promotion of religious harmony. But he clearly states that devolution of political authority does not mean that he cannot speak on Tibet issue, he has every right to speak on Tibet issue as a citizen of Tibet. With this I humbly and most respectfully conclude my short write up and tribute to the great spiritual and temporal leader of our times, may His Holiness the Dalai Lama live long and healthy life to bless and guide us in this present samsaric life and the journey beyond.
                   As long as space endures, as long as sentient beings remain,
                   until then, may He too remain and dispel the miseries of the world
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