One of the outcomes regarding the Dalai Lama in the post-1959 period is the clarity that has emerged about the nature of his followers. The conventional thinking about the Dalai Lama being merely the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people has changed.
He has not only gained thousands of followers in both the Eastern and Western world, but more importantly the traditional followers of Tibetan Buddhism outside of Tibet, along the Himalayan region as well as in Mongolia and present-day Russian Federation, have become more visible.
Now that Mr. Donald J Trump will be the next President of the United States from January 20, 2017, what will be his approach to the Tibetan issue. While certain issues were highlighted during the election campaign, we are yet to get a clear picture of his stand on China (other than on matters of trade) as well as on the issue of Tibet.
President Bill Clinton had called China a strategic partner; President George W. Bush said China was more of a strategic competitor. During President Obama’s time, China directly expressed its desire that its relations with the United States be recognized as being a “new type of major power relations”. The Obama Administration has not done this; rather it has done a pivot or rebalancing to Asia where relations with countries around China were strengthened, or efforts made towards that direction.
A week ago I returned to work six months after becoming a mother to my baby girl Lhakyi. I have spent the last week catching up on all that has happened while I was away. What a year it has been so far. From a wonderful visit from His Holiness the Dalai Lama to another powerful Tibet Advocacy Day in Canberra and so much more. And I thank Michelle Sheather who covered my role during the maternity leave with great dedication.
I have returned to a community reeling from the death of Tenzin Delek Rinpoche, a revered Tibetan lama and community leader who, despite tireless efforts by Tibetans and supporters over many years to secure his release, was left to die in prison. But also to a community buoyed by the release of Runggye Adak, a Tibetan nomad, imprisoned eight years ago for daring to speak truth to power.
And today I am going to reflect a little on the lives of these two political prisoners, both of whom have come to epitomise the story of today’s Tibet. They are the stories of courage and resilience. Stories that need to be heard widely.
Here is another instalment from McLeod Ganj in India. This one is all about the tour and what I learned. It’s a little long so hopefully it is interesting enough to keep you reading!
One of the reasons for me choosing to go on this Australia Tibet Council tour was to gain insight into the Tibetan people from whose faith I have benefitted so much. Through the tour I have gained insights well beyond my expectations. You may have already read my descriptions of our audience with the Dalai Lama and how amazing that was. During the rest of the tour we met many other Tibetans from political, social, religious and educational institutions. Before coming on this tour I had some scant knowledge of the situation in Tibet which we sometimes hear about in the news. I had heard several stories of Tibetans crossing mountain ranges in winter to escape into Nepal and then through to India. I remember news of the protests in 2008 before the Olympics with the hope that there would a change in Chinese policy towards Tibet.
Our group heard personal stories from students, activists, ex-political prisoners, a politician, educators and from community leaders. They were all passionate and consistent with their stories: China illegally occupied Tibet in 1959 and is carrying out a cultural revolution as it did in its own country under Chairman Mao’s rule. As with many other refugees across the world, the occupation of Tibet is resulting in geographical displacement, discrimination and violence against the Tibetans, destruction of their cultural heritage and the restriction of religious freedom. However, we don’t seem to hear much about this in the general news like we do for example about Palestine, Afghanistan or East Africa. During the past ten days I have been wondering why. What is it that makes the Tibetans and their situation different? Compared to other refugee populations, how is it that exiled Tibetans have been able to organise themselves and their communities to deal with their current situation and to prepare for their anticipated return to their homeland? Furthermore, how is it that despite the trauma many exiled Tibetans have experienced, the work to realise these initiatives is coming from within the community?