Monday, July 31, 2006

China Shuts Tibetan Author's (Oser) Blog After HHDL Birthday Wishes

Middle East Times; July 31, 2006

BEIJING -- China has shut down a popular blog by a Tibetan author after she wrote birthday wishes for the Dalai Lama and touched on other sensitive topics, the writer and a Website operator said Monday.

The blog also discussed the HIV/Aids problem in Tibet, the impact of the recently completed Tibet railway on Tibetan culture, and the 40th anniversary of what happened in Tibet during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution.

These issues are all considered sensitive by the Chinese communist government, which has ruled Tibet since sending troops in to "liberate" the remote Himalayan region in 1950.

A manager of one of two Websites that carried the blogs of Oser, who only uses one name, said that they were ordered to remove the blog.

"On July 28 we received an order from the provincial government to shut her the blog. I don't know the reason," said the manager of, Wangxiu Caidan, a Tibetan who gave the Chinese transliteration of her name. "I believe the order came from the central government."

Wangxiu said that the blog was the most popular one on her Website, enjoying 280,000 clicks since it was linked to the site in February last year.

Oser, a Tibetan formerly based in Lhasa but now in Beijing, confirmed that her blog had been shut down and criticized authorities for restricting freedom of expression.

"It's unfortunate. It's unfair. In this kind of environment in China, it's very hard to express one's true opinions and voice," Oser said.

She said that her birthday wishes and poem posted July 6, the Dalai Lama's birthday, praised the spiritual leader who has been exiled in India since 1959.

She also posted pictures of yak butter lamps on the site as a birthday gift for him, while other writing praised the Dalai Lama. "There were a lot of commentaries, which showed Tibetans' respect for the Dalai Lama," Oser said.

She said that she had no plans to create another blog in the near future but was working on a book about Tibet.

In 2003 China banned Notes on Tibet, a book that Oser wrote that revealed sensitive religious issues, including how the exiled Dalai Lama was still revered by Tibetans inside Tibet.

China regards the Dalai Lama as a "splittist" bent on seeking independence for the territory, although he insists that he only wants limited autonomy for his homeland.

Sinking, Cracks Detected on "Tibet" Railway

Reporting attributed to China Daily

(China Daily is an official publication of the PRC)

Updated: 2006-07-28

The Qinghai-Tibet railway, opened this month to great fanfare, is developing surface cracks in its concrete structures while its permafrost foundation is sinking and cracking at some sections.

"The frozen ground that forms the foundation of the railway is sinking andcracking in some sections, making the railway unstable in some places,"the Beijing News quoted railway ministry spokesman Wang Yongping as saying.

"The concrete is cracking on some of the railway structures and bridges, forming a hidden danger to the railway line quality."

Wang said experts are working on these problems and relevant authorities have taken measures to ensure the safety of the rail and passengers, without specifying these measures.

The railway to Lhasa, capital of Tibet Autonomous Region, was opened on July 1. It is dubbed a magnificent engineering feat and a miracle for the world.The US $4.2-billion railway which runs 1,142-kilometers (713 miles) from the desert outpost of Golmud in Qinghai province to Lhasa is the highest in the world. It climbs a peak of 5,072 meters (16,737 feet) above sea level along theTibetan plateau, with the railway using supposedly state-of-the-art cooling techniques to ensure the permafrost foundation remains frozen.

Wang added that shifting sands in the region were also causing greater harm to the railway than expected, while engineers had still not figured out how to keep herds of yaks off the tracks, the report said.

"These form dangers to passengers on the train," he said.

Climatologists monitoring global warming last year said that rising temperatures could lead to the melting of the permafrost foundation of the railway, but said nothing about the frozen ground sinking or cracking.

Railway spokesman Wang did not say how engineers would address the problems.

The rail line is seen as an important tool in modernizing and developingTibet. Previously Tibet could only be reached on slow, uncomfortable bus rides or on relatively expensive flights. On the new train, people can travel for48 hours from Beijing to Lhasa for less than US$50.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

HHDL Row: China Upset with Canada

Friday, July 28, 2006; Ottawa -- (Associated Press):

China is threatening to use its considerable economic strength to penalise Canada following its decision to bestow honorary citizenship on the Dalai Lama.

Canada's gesture toward the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader does not bode well for Canadian-Chinese relations, said Zang Weidong, minister-counselor at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa.

He said China has relayed its disapproval to the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

He also demanded that Canada continue to recognise Tibet as a part of China. "We said that Dalai Lama is a separatist, so I don't think he should be honored with that and that will harm the Canadian image and also harm the relationship between China and Canada," Zang told reporters at a news conference.

Honorary status
Parliament adopted a motion on June 22 conferring the honorary status on the Dalai Lama. The honour has been awarded only twice before, to South African leader Nelson Mandela and Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg who saved countless Jews from extermination during World War II.

China is Canada's second-largest trading partner, with annual trade worth USD 26.3 billion in 2004, according to the Department of Foreign Affairs.

Zang hinted that Parliament's decision could bring economic repercussions.

"We have 1.3 billion population and the future for China is bright, and China has a big market and we hope we can cooperate with all the countries in the world," Zang said.

Friday, July 28, 2006

The Consolation of Karma

Buddhist scholar Robert Thurman talks about how suffering, even through the tsunami disaster, can offer a karmic advantage.

Interview by Lisa Schneider

Robert Thurman holds the first endowed chair in Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the United States, at Columbia University in New York. He is the author of the international best-seller "Inner Revolution," and the co-founder and president of Tibet House U.S., a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation of Tibetan culture.

Why do bad things happen to good people? Does karma play a role?

Abstractly speaking, karma is not really a theory of fate; it's a causal theory. And it says that anything bad that happens to you is a resonance of something bad that you perpetrated in a previous life.

So karma is a relatively useful and valid theory of causality, but it doesn’t claim absolute truth for itself. Because obviously if everything that happens to you good comes from your own good in the past, everything that happens to you bad comes from your own bad actions in the past–and since both of those are infinite, there would never be any way of attaining nirvana or freedom, if that was an absolutely rigid explanation.

The main thing about karma, what we might want to call collective karma, when there's a disaster where people haven't done anything and a terrible thing happens from nature, is that the bodhisattva, or the outside person looking at the situation, never invokes the karma theory and says, "Well, I don't have to worry about them because that was their bad karma and they got wasted and too bad--as if it were some sort of fate or a way of writing off the disaster. It should never be used that way.

The bodhisattva never accepts the absoluteness of that explanation, although she would be aware of it. She would think of it as a terrible tragedy, unprovoked and unmerited, and would try to do everything possible to save the people from the disaster and help the survivors.

On the other hand, the karma theory that everything bad that happens to me is from my own negative action in the past is always useful for the person who suffers.

In other words, using the karma theory to blame the victim is good for the victim to do about themselves. This is a very surprising idea. If the victims just sit and shake their fist at the universe, shout at God (if they are theists) or shout at karma, then they weaken themselves in the sense that they have just emphasized their helplessness.

Whereas if they say, I'm going to use this disaster that happened to me as if it were expiating previous things that I did to the world that were negative, and I'm going to grow stronger from it . . . In other words, I can't do anything about the disaster but I can do something about my reaction to it. I'm not going to add to the suffering it has caused with a new suffering of agonizing about myself and feeling helpless and feeling angry at the external world. I'm going to take responsibility for being in the way of the disaster as part of my own karma and therefore I'm going to use this tragedy as an advantage toward freedom, towards Buddhahood.

Is that a way they can find meaning in their suffering?

They find meaning and they find advantage is the main point. They can say, this is going to be a conscious effort I'm going to do.

Now if they got killed, of course they're not going to do anything in that life. But from the Buddhist point of view, if they have a lingering memory of a catastrophe because they died in a moment of panic and fear and worry for their loved ones and so on, if they retain some memory of this death—which often the just-dead do, in the Buddhist view in the bardo, the between state—and they're saying, well, this is a terrible karma thing that happened to me and others.

I will try to make my suffering a sacrifice, an expiation of previous things that I caused, and I'm going to have a better life in the future. And I'm going to try to help the beings who died, my loved ones and others, and be of more help to them in my next life.

So that they would try to take advantage in the between-state in the after-death state in order to improve their rebirth, rather than just freak out.

What solace can Buddhism offer to survivors who have lost loved ones?

The solace to survivors who have lost someone is: Well, they lost this life, I lost my contact with them, but moaning and groaning and freaking out about it and being angry about it isn't going to help. I should send them good prayers and good vibrations about their rebirth.

If I dearly love them, I will pray to meet them again in the coming life, in wherever they are reborn, to make the world in general a better place for them, and vow to rejoin them (if it's a soulmate sort of thing) in another life. So the consolation of karma is not just identifying the lost beings with the embodiment of a particular life, but feeling a sense of spiritual connection to their larger continuity of life and sending good vibes toward that.

The theist says it's God's will and God took care of them and hopes to join them in heaven, which is also good consolation and sort of leaves it up to God. But the karma is seeing it as a process in which you are also a responsible actor.

Otherwise the vastness of the causal mixes is so huge it's pretty incomprehensible, and no wonder some people call it God, or God's will, or providence.

But the key thing is that karma is not the exercise of a particular agency or divinity; it is an impersonal process of causality. I call it evolutionary causality.

What do you mean by that?

It's a causality by which beings evolve.

Like if they do an action of a certain type, they get an effect from that action because it changes their being and their being evolves. It can evolve in a negative or a positive direction depending on whether the actions are negative or positive.

In a way, karma is a biological theory just like a Western genetic biological theory. And it is very like a genetic biological theory in that it has humans being reborn as animals, animals as humans. And it adds to that also the idea of the spiritual gene or the soul gene being interwoven within that genetic rebirth process. So that your own individual consciousness can become the animal or become the god or become the human or whatever it becomes.

It's hard to generalize across cultures, but is there a traditional mourning period for Buddhists?

In the Buddhist context, they consider that the weeping and wailing and shrieking and tearing hair and clothes, that kind of thing, is not actually a good idea. It doesn't really relieve the bereaved; in fact it even pumps up their emotion.

But the main point from the Buddhist point of view is that the one who just died, being still aware of what those left behind, the survivors are doing for a while -- the departed one gets very anxious and upset and preserves that raw emotion as very disturbing.

So whenever someone is overcome by grief, the tendency, especially in Tibetan Buddhist culture, is to try to calm that survivor down and have them think of good and positive thoughts and send good vibes.

So the nature of their grief should take the form of looking forward and being compassionate with others?

Yes, that's considered better--sincerely sending really strong caring and loving vibes toward the one who passed away. Because the main person in transition at that time, the most difficult transition, is the death-rebirth transition in the Buddhist view.

The one left behind is not that drastic in the sense that they're still in their familiar embodiment, even though it may be a big disruption for them.

So the priority is to send the good vibes to the departed, in the Buddhist world view.

Cool Heroism

By Robert Thurman

To deal with feelings of anger and fear and frustration, we can start by finding relationality. As the Lakota Indians say, Mitakuye oyasin: "All beings are my relatives." When I'm particularly mad at George Bush and company for warmongering, I remember that in another lifetime he was my mother, and that even the most evil people were at some point my errant siblings. That immediately takes a certain edge off the anger.

The second step is to realize that we too have the potential to be demonic. Given certain conditions and confusions and insecurities and fears, any of us could do bad things. It might start with an imperceptible change; we wouldn't think we were being bad - just a little naughty here and there. Pretty soon we would take it too far and be really bad. People can become deluded like that.

Third, we develop real sympathy for the people who are doing harm, because if they bomb people, if they pollute, if they poison the food chain, they will have the bad karma of having banned so many people.

By taking these three steps - finding one's relation to all beings, acknowledging the evil potential in one-self, feeling sympathy for the evil person - one gets the strength and energy to be an activist and to try, by voting and organizing, to stop harm caused by others. This is cool heroism: developing a tolerant, deliberate, and wise energy.

People are afraid that if they let go of their anger and righteousness and wrath, and look at their own feelings - and even see the good in a bad person - they're going to lose the energy they need to do something about the problem. But actually you get more strength and energy by operating from a place of love and concern. You can be just as tough, but more effectively tough. It's like a martial art.

My wife once met Morihei Ueshiba, the man who founded aikido. After he did a demonstration where he left about seventeen big bruisers on the ground, she asked what his secret was for disarming his attackers without harming them. He giggled and told her, "A long time ago, I realized that every person was just my sister, my brother, my cousin. All those guys lying on the floor are my brothers, you are my little sister! Everybody is just one family." That's cool heroism.

To conquer hate, you have to find unshakeable tolerance.

The seventh-century Buddhist saint Shantideva was the great master of that. The sixth chapter of his Guide to Bodhisattva's Way of life (Bodhicharyavatara) is considered to be a special magical precept from Manjushn, the Bodhisattva of Wisdom, for replacing anger with tolerance. The essence is: Why get upset if you can do something about something?

And if you can't do something about it, then why get upset? Anger, the text says, comes from feeling uncomfortable because something you don't want to happen is happening, or something you want to happen is not happening. Then you lose your good cheer - your joyousness in just being - and start operating from a place of misery and anger.

When you understand interconnectedness, it makes you more afraid of hating than of dying. But people will not be more afraid of hating than dying as long as they hold the worldview that death is the final conclusion of the self, of all chains of causation and consequence that they could be connected to.

That's the problem for spiritual nihilists, or materialists. You don't have to believe in future lives to be a Buddhist since Buddhism isn't merely a belief system. But in the mind-reform practice, if you're going to deal with your own explosive and obsessive impulses at a really deep level, then the sense of being locked into a potentially endless continuity of consequence - what I call "infinite consequentiality" - gives you the power in the moment to find a deeper resource to use against those seemingly uncontrollable impulses.

If you take the view that you're an infinite prisoner of those forces - that if you don't deal with them now, you'll have to in future lifetimes - then you will not make the excuse "I can't do it." You're going to have to do it.

It's what Milarepa said: He was grateful he had the awareness of hell - of infinite negativity. He had killed many people with black magic in his youth, before he turned to the dharma, but understanding the dangers of hell gave him the power to become a buddha and escape these consequences.

We all have the potential to be killers; realizing that is the key. Years ago some academics and I did a study of religious violence. We found that the people who are the most violent are those who are incapable of embracing their own potential for evil. By projecting their shadow, their evil, onto the other, they justify their violence. They think they're emphasizing their purity, or restoring their purity, by destroying someone else.

If there were a really bad person who was about to launch nuclear weapons or engage in germ warfare, the most compassionate thing would be to have somebody take him out without hurting innocent people. In the Theravada ethic, you say, "We don't know the real story here. I don't know whose karma is what, so I can't get involved."

But in the bodhisattva ethic, if you see someone about to kill a bunch of people, you have to stop him or you're an accomplice. If you don't stop him, not only are you letting others lose their lives, but you're also harming the killer because he's going to have very bad karmic effects. You try to stop him without killing, but if you have to kill, you do.

You get bad karma, too, but because you are acting out of compassion, not hatred, the good karma will outweigh the bad.

Surgical violence - killing the one to save the many - is part of the bodhisattva ethic.

The problem with American-style warfare since World War ll is that we've relied on carpet bombing - civilian bombing. Civilian bombing is a kind of terrorism in itself, and there's nothing surgical about it. It's just blanket annihilative violence. And that produces this terrible blowback of terrorism and people filled with revenge and hatred. It incites more violence, whereas surgical violence had better be surgical -aiming to heal.

So our outer work is to resist and protest and try to maintain clarity and speak out forcefully against the kind of violence that kills so many innocent people.

Our speaking out forcefully will be more effective because we won't really be angry, we'll be fierce. We'll realize that we can get greater energy out of love and joy than out of hatred.
Hatred is so off balance. You can blow your adrenals in one minute, then you're shaky and weak.

But if you're joyful, you'll get an endless source of energy.

Robert Thurman Doesn't Look Buddhist . . .

From The New York Times Magazine, May 5, 1996

By Rodger Kamenetz

ALL AND IMPOSING, IN A DARK BLUE SUIT and bold red-and-yellow tie, Prof. Robert A.F. Thurman, a former Tibetan Buddhist monk and New Yorker to his bones, marched to center stage at Carnegie Hall.

Thurman, who is also the president of Tibet House, was introducing the organization's annual benefit concert. He announced to the sold-out house, with a certain wry hilarity, the Tibetan New Year of the Fiery Rat.

He praised the evening's performers, Michael Stipe and Emmylou Harris among them, for "putting a shield of poetry around the heart of a suffering people."

Later on, Thurman kicked and shuffled his way across the stage, eyeing his feet nervously, arm in arm with the singers Natalie Merchant and Patti Smith as Dadon, an exiled Tibetan balladeer, led them in a Tibetan New Year's dance. After the concert, Thurman rushed upstairs to introduce reporters to one of his daughters, the actress Uma Thurman, and to Harrison Ford, hosts of the late supper party to come.

There, Thurman held forth energetically, in a swarm of rock stars, models, movie stars and other wealthy patrons of Tibet House.

When I asked him how a meditative Buddhist type could handle so much action, Thurman said, "There's a stereotype that Buddhism is quietistic: leave the world, drop out -- drop dead basically." Then he laughed and talked about how meditation can also release enormous amounts of energy.

Thurman enjoys his contradictions.

To him, Buddhist enlightenment is "the tolerance of cognitive dissonance, the ability to cope with the beauty of complexity."

Cognitive dissonance is Thurman's way of life.

Though a highly respected scholar -- he is the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University -- Thurman can also come on like a dharma-thumping evangelist.

In fact, he has emerged as the most visible and charismatic exponent of Tibetan Buddhism in America: he is a prolific translator and writer ("Essential Tibetan Buddhism," an anthology of key texts in translation, was just published by HarperCollins), a powerful advocate for the liberation of Tibet and the Dalai Lama's cultural liaison to America.

In San Francisco recently, he talked four hours straight over lunch until a vacuum cleaner made it clear that the restaurant was completely empty. We then raced across town in his rented red Mustang, and he spoke for another three hours on dharma, the Buddhist teachings, at the California Institute for Integral Studies.

His lectures are multivocal psychodramas. Prof. P. Jeffrey Hopkins of the University of Virginia, Thurman's colleague and fellow translator, calls him "the Red Skelton of Tibetan Buddhism."

Thurman's large head is framed with wavy, reddish blond hair, which curls back over his ears in wings. After a while you notice that his right eye roves, while the left stays fixed.

Ask one question and Thurman's booming, reedy tenor rises off at odd angles and zooms into open rhetorical space. Speaking about the Buddha after his enlightenment, for instance: "He was a seething energy field. His skin was all gold. You know this little tuft of white hair, this third eyebrow that he had? It came into its own finally, like a transistor -- zzzzzz -- and light rays would beam out all over the place."

Thurman, at 54, seethes with energy himself.

Natalie Merchant, a family friend, remembers Thurman singlehandedly clearing a huge boulder from his country house in Woodstock, N.Y.; his son, Dechen, recalls his father shimmying up a tree with a chain saw, cutting off a limb that was threatening to crash into a window.

"He was a monk, and monks take 252 vows," says Thurman's wife, Nena von Schlebrugge-Thurman, who serves as the treasurer for Tibet House. "And a lot of those vows have to do with not thinking about yourself and being there to help other people. He has developed a bad tendency to say yes to everything. So the entire family is joined together in a desperate effort over all these years to get him to cut down on these things, and he's become much, much improved lately."

Well, maybe. In the past two years, Thurman published a new translation of "The Tibetan Book of the Dead," wrote the text for a picture book called "Inside Tibetan Buddhism" and published "Essential Tibetan Buddhism." Another book, on Tibetan politics, is in the works.

A few years ago, he helped mount a major traveling exhibit of Tibetan art, "Wisdom and Compassion."

Thurman says he believes that the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism -- as lived by the present Dalai Lama -- can help save us all.

Among Thurman's greatest passions is Tibet House, which he, along with the actor Richard Gere and two others, founded in 1987 at the Dalai Lama's request. It serves as a cultural embassy for an occupied nation; among other projects, Tibet House is creating a museum without walls -- a library and an archive of artwork and ritual objects -- that could eventually be returned to Tibet, and is sponsoring a peacemaking conference in California, to be attended by the Dalai Lama.

In his earlier years, Thurman felt little obligation to support the Tibetan political struggle. "I thought, Tibet had done me the kindness of preserving the dharma from ancient times in India and handing it to me," he says. "I woke up to how callous that was about 15 years ago and decided that I could try to repay their kindness, by helping to get the world's attention focused on this massive injustice."

Thurman, with his intellect, savvy and high-profile connections, is particularly qualified to undertake such a task. Yet as a young man, he spent years as a celibate monk. As he tells it, in his 20's, Thurman was as intensely set on leaving the world as he now seems to be on changing it.


THURMAN GREW UP IN A HOUSEHOLD shaped by romance and drama. His mother, Elizabeth Farrar, dropped out of college to pursue an acting career; his father, Beverley, left his doctoral studies at William and Mary to follow Elizabeth to New York, and wound up working as an editor for the Associated Press. Augustin Duncan, the dancer Isadora's brother, conducted weekly dramatic readings in the Thurmans' home, where Robert and his brothers read parts alongside guests like Laurence Olivier.

But Thurman also sneaked comic books inside his Shakespeare folio. In April of his senior year at Phillips Exeter, he ran off with a friend to enlist with Fidel Castro. Fortunately, Thurman says, for the revolution's sake, the boys were turned back at Miami. Exeter expelled him for that adventure and he waited out a year in Mexico before entering Harvard in 1959.

That spring, he married Christophe de Menil, heiress to a considerable fortune and fine-art collection. In the late spring of 1961, while Thurman was changing a flat on his car, the tire iron slipped and destroyed his left eye. It was a turning point; Thurman realized he did not want to waste his life "drinking Champagne and staring at Rouaults."

He made a young man's vow -- fed by his readings of Nietzsche and Buddhist texts -- to act on his highest aims. "I was ready to go to the East," he says, but "my wife was nervous, scared of the whole thing. I then started identifying with Buddha, left my wife and child and went over there. I was very sad about that, but I felt -- even as a father -- what's the use of not being enlightened?"

Dropping out of Harvard, Thurman wandered toward India through Turkey and Iran, "like a beggar." His mother thought he was crazy, but his father, for whom St. Francis was a spiritual ideal, defended him. "You're doing what I always wanted to do," his father said.

"I was already by about that time like St. Francis," muses Thurman. "I had an empty socket, long hair and a scraggly beard. I wore black baggy Afghani pants, a T-shirt with a white shawl thrown around me and leather sandals."

In India, he was hired to teach English to exiled tulkus -- young reincarnated Tibetan lamas. "I was in heaven, because the minute I met the Tibetans, I knew they had what I wanted."

But Thurman was called back to New York by his father's sudden death. He visited the Lamaist Buddhist Monastery of America, in Freewood Acres, N.J., and met his first guru -- a 61-year-old Mongolian monk, Geshe Ngawang Wangyal. (Geshe is a monastic title indicating years of advanced study.)

Thurman was moved by the monk's quiet intensity and began to study with him. "That was a rebirth for me," he says. "I learned to speak Tibetan fluently in 10 weeks."

Thurman helped his mentor build a temple. He meditated. "I'm not saying I attained nirvana -- I still don't know what that is -- but I attained a sense of relief," he says. "I still had many of my bad egocentric habits, and one of them was that I fanatically wanted to be a monk, because I wanted to live like this for the rest of my life."

Geshe Wangyal advised him against this career move, but he agreed to take Thurman with him to Dharamsala, India. "Since you are so stubborn, I'll tell the Dalai Lama you want to be a monk," he said. "Maybe he'll think that's not a bad idea."

THUS BEGAN AN EXTRAORDINARY relationship. Thurman was 23, the 14th Dalai Lama, 29.

"You don't really study with the Dalai Lama," Thurman says. "If you're under his protection in the community, he assigns this or that teacher. He wanted to see me a lot. I soon found out it wasn't to teach me but because I spoke Tibetan.

Basically he got my Exeter and Harvard education over that year and a half. We met once a week. Every talk I'd say, 'What about this problem in madhyamika thought?' And he'd say: 'Oh, talk to blah blah about that. Now what about Freud? What about physics? What about the history of World War II?' "

Thurman was personally ordained by the Dalai Lama in 1965, becoming the first Western Tibetan Buddhist monk.

He returned to the United States with a shaved head and maroon robe: "Uma said recently, after seeing a photograph of me in my monk phase, 'Oh, look at Daddy -- he looks like Henry Miller in drag.' "

That phase lasted only about a year. Geshe Wangyal asked Thurman if he thought the world truly needed -- or wanted -- a white geshe. "He convinced me that the alternative was to become a Protestant monk," Thurman says. "That is, a professor."

Thurman met Nena von Schlebrugge, Timothy Leary's former wife, at a party in New York, and they were married in 1967. (They have four children and now live in Manhattan near Columbia. )

Thurman returned to Harvard, completed his degree and enrolled in graduate work at the Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. "I created the field of Buddhology," he says. "I just wrote it down on the form and they said, 'We don't have this field here, but I guess it's all right.' "

Tibetan, Zen and Theravada are the three most popular forms of Buddhism among Westerners today. Of the three, Tibetan Buddhism is probably the most difficult and exotic path, with its emphasis on prostrations, visualizations, guru worship and deity yoga, in which the practitioner identifies with Tibetan deities as a path to higher states of consciousness.

Tibetan Buddhism now has four main groupings, of which the Geluk, the Dalai Lama's order, is considered the most philosophical and scholarly.

Thurman's major contribution to understanding Tibetan Buddhism is his translation of "The Essence of True Eloquence" (now published as "The Central Philosophy of Tibet"), by the 14th-century Tibetan sage Jey Tsong Khapa.

Thurman had returned to India in 1970 to work on this project, spending hours with the Dalai Lama, who provided the benefit of his personal notes. Thurman speaks of translation in Tibetan terms as lotsawa -- "a world eye," or window on a new world.

To some observers, a tremendous opening of the Buddhist "world eye" has occurred in the West over the past 30 years.

Tibetan Buddhism in particular has been well served by pioneer professors like Thurman and Jeffrey Hopkins, both of whom have established successful graduate programs. A new generation of Tibetan textual scholars has come forth, and mainstream publishers produce a steady flow of translated Tibetan dharma texts.

Much of the interest must be attributed to the tremendous appeal of the Dalai Lama. But other Tibetan teachers have influenced the West, including Chogyam Trungpa, who founded the Naropa Institute, in Boulder, Colo., and Sogyal Rinpoche, author of the best seller "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying."

The success of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review, a slick magazine devoted to contemporary dharma and profiles of prominent Buddhists, has also contributed to the movement.

But no wave arrives without some froth. Donald S. Lopez, a professor of Buddhist and Tibetan Studies at the University of Michigan and the author of "Prisoners of Shangri-la," a forthcoming study of the effect of Tibetan Buddhism on the West, refers to a recent J. Peterman catalogue as a case in point: "They're selling something called a Tibetan shaman's jacket. The first line of the ad said: 'It's official. Crystals are out. Tibetan Buddhism is in.' "

Tibetan Buddhism has also attracted its share of celebrities, most notably Richard Gere, who serves on the board of the International Campaign for Tibet, a political action group in Washington. Gere is a frequent visitor to Dharamsala and a serious student of the Dalai Lama's.

On the other hand, few of the celebrities who attend Thurman's Tibet House benefits are actual Buddhist practitioners, as they made clear. "Just because people want to help Tibet," Thurman says, "doesn't make them Buddhists."

As a scholar, Thurman is especially critical of fuzzy thinking in popular Buddhism.

As an example, he cites a 1992 article in Tricycle by Helen Tworkov, the magazine's editor, in which Tworkov acknowledges strong anti-abortion teachings in Buddhism but also writes that "dharma teachings can be used to validate either pro-choice or anti-abortion politics."

To Thurman, "that's simply incorrect. It's the taking of life. The fundamentalists do have it emotionally right -- the killing of fetuses is a mass massacre from the Buddhist point of view. It is not a fuzzy issue in Buddhism."

Some of the confusion among Westerners has arisen, Thurman says, because Buddhism was introduced in this country primarily as a meditation technique. "Western people who were anti-Christian or anti-Jewish were thinking of it as a system that seemed religious but didn't have a lot of rules," he says. "That is simply wrong. In Buddhism, the foundation of meditation is a strong ethical system."

To Thurman, Buddhism is primarily an educational program, and the monastery remains the Buddha's great social invention. The monastery made spiritual seeking a credible alternative to the military ideal and fostered a nonviolent religious revolution in India.

When Buddhism was wiped out there during the Muslim invasions of the 8th through 12th centuries, the monastic ideal and its philosophical curriculum found refuge in Tibet.

As Thurman sees it, the ultimate triumph of Buddhist monasticism came with the rule of the fifth Dalai Lama, known as the Great Fifth, who assumed power in 1642.

"For the first time in Buddhist history, a monastic took the throne of a nation," Thurman writes in "Essential Tibetan Buddhism." "The military was gradually phased out, with three centuries of relative peace, a unique, mass monastic, unilaterally disarmed society." While some scholars, including Donald Lopez, see a danger in overidealizing Tibetan history, Thurman remains unabashed. He says he believes the current Dalai Lama is taking Buddhist teaching onto the world stage.

Thurman and the Dalai Lama share a relationship whose warmth and depth is palpable. I saw them together in 1990 in Dharamsala at a meeting between the Dalai Lama and a group of Jewish rabbis and scholars. While the Tibetans treated their leader with extreme reverence, Thurman openly teased him, laughing and making him laugh, tweaking the Buddhist master for being too modest.

Thurman feels that the Dalai Lama, in his continuous nonviolent struggle for Tibetan autonomy, provides a new definition of heroism.

Humans have succeeded on this planet in the past, Thurman argues: "because people have been heroic enough to sacrifice their lives for a group. At this moment, with the development of nuclear weaponry and technology, heroism has to be redefined as developing the power not to blow up in hatred." That, Thurman asserts, "is the Dalai Lama's teaching to the planet."

Presenting the concert at Carnegie Hall, Thurman passionately echoed this idea of "cool heroism": "We who claim we want peace should not reward violence. We should reward those who insist on making peace their method as well as peace their goal."

Still, while the post-concert party was raging around him, I thought of the young man who set off for India in Afghani pants and returned as a Buddhist monk. With so much lecturing, writing and advocacy, does he miss the quiet, contemplative life?

"There are things you can't develop in yourself if you just meditate apart from people. . . . " Thurman said above the din. You have to get out there where people annoy you and injure you. Then you have to take and tolerate that injury. As the Dalai Lama would say, If there's no enemy, then you can't develop tolerance. And if there are no people who need gifts, then you can't develop generosity."

A Tibet House donor approached, and Thurman turned to greet him. "Being a Buddhist does not mean leaving the world," he called over his shoulder, "it means. . . . " And whatever else he wanted to add got swallowed up in the crowd.

Rodger Kamenetz is the author of "The Jew in the Lotus," a best-selling account of Jewish-Buddhist dialogue. With the film maker Laurel Chiten, he is working on a documentary based on the book.

HHDL: On China, Hatred and Optimism

His Holiness Interviewed by Robert A. F. Thurman

Published in the November/December 1997 issue of Mother Jones Magazine

When the Dalai Lama Accepted the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on global human rights -- particularly for his ceaseless efforts to free his country from Chinese rule -- he referred to himself as "a simple monk from Tibet."

But His Holiness is also the spiritual and political leader of 6 million Tibetans, who believe him to be the 14th earthly incarnation of the heavenly deity of compassion and mercy. Like his 13 predecessors, he works for the regeneration and continuation of the Tibetan Vajrayana branch of Buddhist tradition.

Born in 1935, Tenzin Gyatso was recognized at the age of 2 as the reincarnation of the Dalai Lama, and by age 19 he was negotiating with China's Mao Tse-tung over the future of Tibet, which China invaded in 1950 and has occupied ever since.

After years of failed peace talks and a violent suppression of Tibet's resistance movement in which tens of thousands of Tibetans died, the Dalai Lama fled in 1959 to Dharamsala, India, where he continues to be the spiritual leader of Tibet's people and heads Tibet's government-in-exile.

Robert A. F. Thurman was ordained a Buddhist monk in 1964 by the Dalai Lama. He is currently the Jey Tsong Khapa Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies at Columbia University.

A respected scholar and translator of Tibetan and Sanskrit, Thurman is also the author of Essential Tibetan Buddhism (HarperSanFrancisco, 1996) and the forthcoming Inner Revolution: The Politics of Enlightenment (Riverhead Books, 1998).

As the co-founder and president of Tibet House New York, Thurman has worked closely with the Dalai Lama on making Buddhism accessible to Americans and on educating the West about Tibet's political struggles against China.

Today, Buddhism is flourishing in America: The religion has an estimated 1.5 million followers.

The following conversation took place at His Holiness the Dalai Lama's home in Dharamsala in August.


Robert Thurman: Is there something about America that makes so many people seek out and practice Buddhism?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama: I don't know. Why are you so interested? [Laughs] No, seriously, I feel that Americans are interested because they are open-minded. They have an education system that teaches them to find out for themselves why things are the way they are. Open-minded people tend to be interested in Buddhism because Buddha urged people to investigate things -- he didn't just command them to believe.

Also, your education tends to develop the brain while it neglects the heart, so you have a longing for teachings that develop and strengthen the good heart. Christianity also has wonderful teachings for this, but you don't know them well enough, so you take interest in Buddhism!

[Laughs] Perhaps our teachings seem less religious and more technical, like psychology, so they are easier for secular people to use.

Thurman: Some people say that you have to follow the religions of your own culture. Is it really a good idea to adopt a religion or spiritual practice foreign to one's culture?

Dalai Lama: I always say that people should not rush to change religions. There is real value in finding the spiritual resources you need in your home religion. Even secular humanism has great spiritual resources; it is almost like a religion to me.

All religions try to benefit people, with the same basic message of the need for love and compassion, for justice and honesty, for contentment. So merely changing formal religious affiliations will often not help much. On the other hand, in pluralistic, democratic societies, there is the freedom to adopt the religion of your choice. This is good. This lets curious people like you run around on the loose! [Laughs]

Thurman: Your Holiness has said that in the future, when Tibet is free, you would cease to be the head of the government of Tibet. Is this because you would like to introduce the democratic principle of the separation of church and state to your nation?

Dalai Lama: I firmly believe democratic institutions are necessary and very important, and if I remained at the head of government, it could be an obstacle to democratic practice. Also, if I were to remain, then I would have to join one of the parties. If the Dalai Lama joins one party, then that makes it hard for the system to work.

Up to now my involvement in the Tibetan freedom struggle has been part of my spiritual practice, because the issues of the survival of the Buddha Teaching and the freedom of Tibet are very much related. In this particular struggle, there is no problem with many monks and nuns, including myself, joining.

But when it comes to democratic political parties, I prefer that monks and nuns not join them -- in order to ensure proper democratic practice. The Dalai Lama should not be partisan either, should remain above.

Finally, personally, I really do not want to carry some kind of party function. I do not want to carry any public position.

Thurman: But how about serving like the king of Sweden or the queen of England -- as a constitutional Dalai Lama? As a ritual head, serving a unifying role? Would you consider this, if the people requested it?

Dalai Lama: [Laughs heartily] I don't think so. I don't want to be a prisoner in a palace, living in such a constricted way -- too tight! Of course, if there were really serious consequences if I did not accept, then of course I would do whatever was necessary. But in general I really prefer some freedom. Maybe, just maybe, I would like to become a real spiritual teacher, a working lama!

Thurman: You've said you have a "comparatively better heart now" due to your exile. What has exile done for you?

Dalai Lama: When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways -- either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.

Thanks to the teachings of Buddha, I have been able to take this second way. I have found a much greater appreciation of Buddhism because I couldn't take it for granted here in exile. We have made a great effort to maintain all levels of Buddhist education; it has helped us have a kind of renaissance, really.

Thurman: In the current conflict in Sri Lanka between the Buddhist majority and the separatist Hindu Tamil Tigers -- a conflict that has claimed thousands of lives since it began 14 years ago -- many have found ways to justify the continuing involvement of Buddhists, including Buddhist clergy, in the violence.

Essentially, the argument is that the kind of pacifism you advocate doesn't work in the real world, and that to let the enemy destroy Buddhist monuments and temples and kill Buddhists without fighting back is simply intolerable.

The loss of your own nation to China has been used as an example of the futility of nonviolence and tolerance. When is something worth fighting for?

Dalai Lama: This is hard to explain. In our own case, we don't consider the loss of a monastery or a monument the end of our entire way of life. If one monastery is destroyed, sometimes it happens. Therefore, we don't need to respond with desperate violence. Although under particular circumstances, the violence method -- any method -- can be justified, nevertheless once you commit violence, then counterviolence will be returned.

Also, if you resort to violent methods because the other side has destroyed your monastery, for example, you then have lost not only your monastery, but also your special Buddhist practices of detachment, love, and compassion.

However, if the situation was such that there was only one learned lama or genuine practitioner alive, a person whose death would cause the whole of Tibet to lose all hope of keeping its Buddhist way of life, then it is conceivable that in order to protect that one person it might be justified for one or 10 enemies to be eliminated -- if there was no other way. I could justify violence only in this extreme case, to save the last living knowledge of Buddhism itself.

For Tibetans, the real strength of our struggle is truth -- not size, money, or expertise. China is much bigger, richer, more powerful militarily, and has much better skill in diplomacy. They outdo us in every field. But they have no justice. We have placed our whole faith in truth and in justice. We have nothing else, in principle and in practice.

We have always been a nation different from the Chinese. Long ago we fought wars with them. Since we became Buddhist, we have lived in peace with them. We did not invade them. We did not want them to invade us. We have never declared war on China. We have only asked them to leave us in peace, to let us have our natural freedom.

We have always maintained that our policy is nonviolence, no matter what they do. I only escaped from Tibet because I feared my people would resort to desperate violence if the Chinese took me as their prisoner.

Thurman: How does one counteract violence without hatred or anger?

Dalai Lama: The antidote to hatred in the heart, the source of violence, is tolerance. Tolerance is an important virtue of bodhisattvas [enlightened heroes and heroines] -- it enables you to refrain from reacting angrily to the harm inflicted on you by others.

You could call this practice "inner disarmament," in that a well-developed tolerance makes you free from the compulsion to counterattack. For the same reason, we also call tolerance the "best armor," since it protects you from being conquered by hatred itself.

It may seem unrealistic to think we can ever become free from hatred, but Buddhists have systematic methods for gradually developing a tolerance powerful enough to give such freedom. Without mutual tolerance emerging as the foundation, terrible situations like those of Tibet and Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Rwanda, can never be effectively improved.

Thurman: You use the term "cultural genocide" to describe what China is doing in Tibet but have suggested that Tibet could live with self-rule within China. How do you define self-rule, and what are its advantages over independence?

Dalai Lama: Today, due to the massive Chinese population transfer, the nation of Tibet truly faces the threat of extinction, along with its unique cultural heritage of Buddhist spirituality. Time is very short. My responsibility is to save Tibet, to protect its ancient cultural heritage. To do that I must have dialogue with the Chinese government, and dialogue requires compromise. Therefore, I'm speaking for genuine self-rule, not for independence.

Self-rule means that China must stop its intensive effort to colonize Tibet with Chinese settlers and must allow Tibetans to hold responsible positions in the government of Tibet. China can keep her troops on the external frontiers of Tibet, and Tibetans will pledge to accept the appropriate form of union with China.

Because my main concern is the Tibetan Buddhist culture, not just political independence, I cannot seek self-rule for central Tibet and exclude the 4 million Tibetans in our two eastern provinces of Amdo and Kham. [Once part of an independent Tibet, Amdo is now known to the Chinese as Qinghai; Kham has been divided into the Chinese provinces of Gansu, Sichuan, and Yunnan. -- Eds.]

I have been clear in my position for quite a while, but the Chinese have not responded. Therefore, we are now in the process of holding a referendum on our policy among all the Tibetan community in exile and even inside Tibet, to check whether the majority thinks we are on the right track. I am a firm believer in the importance of democracy, not only as the ultimate goal, but also as an essential part of the process.

Thurman: To your mind, once self-rule is achieved, who should be in charge of the economic development of Tibet -- the Chinese or Tibetans?

Dalai Lama: Tibetans must take full authority and responsibility for developing industry, looking from all different perspectives, taking care of the environment, conserving resources for long-term economic health, and safeguarding the interests of Tibetan workers, nomads, and farmers. The Chinese have shown interest only in quick profits, regardless of the effect on the environment, and with no consideration of whether a particular industry benefits the local Tibetans or not.

Thurman: What is the environmental condition of Tibet today, 47 years after the Chinese invasion?

Dalai Lama: The Chinese have clear-cut over 75 percent of our forests, thereby endangering the headwater regions of their own major rivers. They have overharvested the rich resources of medicinal herbs and caused desertification of our steppes through overgrazing. They have extracted various minerals in environmentally destructive ways.

Finally, in their frenzied effort to introduce hundreds of thousands of new settlers into south central Tibet, they are threatening to destroy the ecosystem of that rich barley-growing region by draining its major lake to produce hydroelectric power.

Thurman: What do you think it will take for China to change its policy toward Tibet?

Dalai Lama: It will take two things: first, a Chinese leadership that looks forward instead of backward, that looks toward integration with the world and cares about both world opinion and the will of [China's] own democracy movement; second, a group of world leaders that listens to the concerns of their own people with regard to Tibet, and speaks firmly to the Chinese about the urgent need of working out a solution based on truth and justice.

We do not have these two things today, and so the process of bringing peace to Tibet is stalled.
But we must not lose our trust in the power of truth. Everything is always changing in the world.

Look at South Africa, the former Soviet Union, and the Middle East. They still have many problems, setbacks as well as breakthroughs, but basically changes have happened that were considered unthinkable a decade ago.

Thurman: You speak about how the Buddha always emphasized the rational pursuit of truth. "He instructed his disciples to critically judge his words before accepting them. He always advocated reason over blind faith." Coming from a late 20th-century belief that there is no Truth, only contingent truths, how are we to imagine what the Buddha meant by "truth" in contemporary terms?

Dalai Lama: Buddha was speaking about reality. Reality may be one, in its deepest essence, but Buddha also stated that all propositions about reality are only contingent. Reality is devoid of any intrinsic identity that can be captured by any one single proposition -- that is what Buddha meant by "voidness." Therefore, Buddhism strongly discourages blind faith and fanaticism.

Of course, there are different truths on different levels. Things are true relative to other things; "long" and "short" relate to each other, "high" and "low," and so on. But is there any absolute truth? Something self-sufficient, independently true in itself? I don't think so.

In Buddhism we have the concept of "interpretable truths," teachings that are reasonable and logical for certain people in certain situations. Buddha himself taught different teachings to different people under different circumstances.

For some people, there are beliefs based on a Creator. For others, no Creator. The only "definitive truth" for Buddhism is the absolute negation of any one truth as the Definitive Truth.
Thurman: Isn't that because it is dangerous for one religion to consider it has the only truth?
Dalai Lama: Yes. I always say there should be pluralism -- the concept of many religions, many truths. But we must also be careful not to become nihilistic.

Thurman: How do you feel about the state of the world as we approach the 21st century?

Dalai Lama: I am basically optimistic. And I see four reasons for this optimism.

First, at the beginning of this century, people never questioned the effectiveness of war, never thought there could be real peace. Now, people are tired of war and see it as ineffective in solving anything.

Second, not so long ago people believed in ideologies, systems, and institutions to save all societies. Today, they have given up such hopes and have returned to relying on the individual, on individual freedom, individual initiative, individual creativity.

Third, people once considered that religions were obsolete and that material science would solve all human problems. Now, they have become disillusioned with materialism and machinery and have realized that spiritual sciences are also indispensable for human welfare.

Finally, in the early part of this century people used up resources and dumped waste as if there were no end to anything, whereas today even the smallest children have genuine concern for the quality of the air and the water and the forests and animals.

In these four respects there is a new consciousness in the world, a new sensitivity to reality.

Based on that, I am confident that the next century will be better than this one.

Thurman: Do you see Tibet as part of that new century?

Dalai Lama: Of course, of course. We are working as hard as we can; we are preparing ourselves as carefully as we can; we fully intend to make our contribution to the world in the coming century.

Nepal Rebels Extend Ceasefile by Three Months

Friday July 28, 05:51 PM

By Gopal Sharma

KATHMANDU (Reuters) -- Nepal's Maoist rebels extended their ceasefire by three months on Friday in a bid to support peace talks aimed at ending their decade-old insurgency that has killed thousands.

The extension came hours before the truce -- declared after King Gyanendra ended his absolute rule in April -- was due to expire.
"Expressing the commitment and responsibility (for peace) our party has extended the ceasefire for another three months," Maoist chief Prachanda said in a statement.
He said an eight-point understanding between the rebels and the government last month was key to establishing lasting peace and ensuring progress in the impoverished country.

"But the government and seven political parties are trying to back out from it under different pretexts," he said.

"We strongly urge the government to show eagerness to advance the peace talks . . . otherwise we will be forced to declare another strong peaceful movement," Prachanda said.

Some analysts said the Maoists should have declared an indefinite ceasefire and not just for three months.

"This shows that they are still some distance from joining the mainstream," said Rajendra Dahal, editor of Himal magazine.

The rebels have been upset in recent weeks over what they say is a delay by the multi-party interim government of Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala to push the pace of peace talks and accused his coalition of trying to preserve status quo.

The rebels and the government have also differed over a government plan to seek the help of the United Nations to disarm the Maoist army in the run up to elections to draft a new constitution and decide Nepal's future.


The ceasefire extension came as Maoist representatives began talks with a team of U.N. officials on how the world body could assist the peace process in the troubled Himalayan country.

"It was obviously very important for us to be able to meet the leaders of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists)," Staffan de Mistura, head of the visiting U.N. team, said after his talks with the rebels in Kathmandu.

"We asked a lot of questions, because, from our point of view, the important side of the mission is to learn and acquire as much information as possible about the points of view of everyone, also of their concerns," he said.

The seven member U.N. team arrived in Nepal on Thursday and met Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Khadga Prasad Oli. It will also meet army officials, diplomats as well as civil society groups during a week-long assessment tour.

De Mistura will submit his report to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, who will then decide on the type and duration of U.N. engagement in Nepal's peace process.

The rebels are demanding an immediate dissolution of the reinstated parliament and the formation of an interim government that would include them.

They also say that they are ready to keep their fighters and weapons under U.N. supervision but will not surrender them.

The Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to topple the monarchy -- a conflict that has killed more than 13,000 people so far.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

China to Canada: Dalai Lama Award Could Hurt Ties

OTTAWA, Canada, July 26 (Reuters) -- China said today that Canada's decision to bestow honorary citizenship on the Dalai Lama could hurt commercial relations between the two countries, which have been steadily growing stronger.

The Tibetan leader-in-exile, who fled his homeland in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, is considered by Beijing to be a separatist.

Canada's Parliament unanimously approved the award of an honorary citizenship last month, which will be bestowed on the Dalai Lama when he visits Vancouver in early September.

The honor will mark the third time Canada has bestowed honorary citizenship. The others are former South African President Nelson Mandela and Swedish businessman Raoul Wallenberg, who saved the lives of thousands of Jews in World War II.

Zhang Weidong, political counselor at the Chinese embassy in Ottawa, Canada, said his officials had already complained to the Foreign Ministry about the award.

"The Dalai Lama is a separatist so I don't think he should be honored with that. That will harm the Canadian image and harm the relationship between China and Canada. We hope these things will not happen in the future," he told a news conference.

More than a million people of Chinese descent live in Canada and trade between the two nations is increasing rapidly.

Among the firms doing business in China is Bombardier Inc., which built most of the passenger cars for the new high-altitude railway to Tibet.

"China has a big market and we hope we can cooperate with all the countries in the world. But certainly, if some troubles always appear or emerge within the bilateral relationship, then the relationship in other areas certainly will be hurt," said Zhang, who spoke in English.

Asked if this represented a threat to Canadian firms, he replied with a smile: "I don't think it's a threat. I'm just trying to make things clearer. It is a clear fact and very easy to be seen."

Canada's previous Liberal government was enthusiastic about boosting ties with China and sent several high-level trade missions headed by prime ministers.

But the new Conservative government, which took power in February, is cooler toward Beijing and has already complained about Chinese industrial espionage in Canada.

Last month Prime Minister Stephen Harper told his Japanese counterpart that China was a challenge the two countries should work together to tackle, Japanese officials said.

When in opposition, the Conservatives also strongly backed the island of Taiwan, which China claims as sovereign territory.

A spokeswoman for the Foreign Ministry said Ottawa was "committed to building a strong and comprehensive relationship with China" and did not recognize Tibet's government-in-exile.

An official Chinese commentary on Wednesday accused the Dalai Lama -- who has proposed a "middle way" policy, seeking autonomy but not independence for Tibet -- of collaborating with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Update on the "Sky Train" to Tibet; Ticket "Scalping"

By Alexa Olesen

Associated Press; Jul 24, 2006

ABOARD THE BEIJING-LHASA EXPRESS - Chugging past shaggy yaks and fluffy clouds that look low enough to lasso, the train from Beijing to Lhasa makes its final climb into nosebleed territory pulled by three locomotives instead of the usual one.

Although some oxygen is pumped into the train cars as they roll through Tibet, the air inside has 30 percent less oxygen than it did some 2,100 miles ago, back in Beijing.

As the express powers over its highest point -- the 16,640-foot Tangula Pass -- many on board begin to feel it. Dozens of passengers strap on oxygen masks, some experience bloody noses and a few lose their lunch.

Pens spit their ink and potato chip bags expand until some burst their seams with the dramatic drop in atmospheric pressure.

For those looking for a novel way to visit one of the world's more remote corners, the new express train to Tibet offers an extraordinary trip.

From the ubiquitous oxygen outlets to the vacuum flush toilets, from the flat screen TVs in first class to the tracks anchored in the shifting permafrost, the "Sky Train" -- as China calls it -- is a marvel of modern engineering.

But the trip comes with political baggage.

The Chinese government, which spent $4.2 billion to build the train line, says that it will help invigorate Tibet's economy. But critics say it threatens to crush a Tibetan culture already weakened by 56 years of often harsh Chinese rule.

Many passengers on the first train from Beijing -- which departed July 1 and arrived 48 hours later in Lhasa -- seemed content to take in the views and overlook the controversy.

They gazed out the train's windows -- tinted to protect passengers from the harsh ultraviolet rays -- mouths agape and eyes wide, drinking in the scenery.

Tibetan antelopes, wild donkeys, yaks and sheep grazed on wide open plains carpeted with spongy, bright green turf. In the distance, mountains rose up to the sky, their caps blindingly white with snow.

"It's hard to believe it's real. It looks like one of the wallpapers you can choose for Windows XP - but greener," said Li Changchun, a 25-year-old publishing executive from Beijing traveling by himself to Tibet for the first time.

Only very occasionally were there signs of human life -- a herder's brown tent with a puff of smoke, a Chinese soldier standing guard along the tracks, a child in bright Tibetan dress waving madly as the 16-car train zipped past at 60 mph.

This pristine desolation is why many Tibetan rights groups and environmentalists have called on travelers to boycott the train.

They say it will pollute the environment, and threaten the wildlife. They fear it will be used to ship out vast quantities of minerals and other resources that were once prohibitively expensive to transport.

China says the line will help double Tibet's annual tourism income to $725 million by 2010. Chinese state media says the train will pull the "cork out of the bottleneck that has held the region's development back for decades."

Many average Tibetans seem conflicted over the railway.

The exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, has said that it remains to be seen how the railway will be used, and whether it will bring real benefit to Tibetans.

Tashi, a 25-year-old Tibetan undergraduate from Beijing's Minorities University, took the train home for summer vacation.

"For me and for other students, the train is good because it's cheap," he said. "And a place that's closed forever can't develop. So for that reason too, I think it's good for Tibet."

But Tashi also said that political repression has increased in Tibet in the past five or so years.

He said he's afraid of looking up articles about the Dalai Lama on the Internet and of talking about politics with people he doesn't know. He declined to give his full name for fear of recrimination.

On the environmental front, Beijing has earmarked $190 million for preservation projects along the railway and employed special technology to help protect the delicate permafrost that lies under much of the last third of the rail line.

Engineers designed sunshades, cooling pipes and loose gravel beds that conduct heat away from the ground to ensure the rail would stay frozen and stable.

The cooling pipes -- resembling big metal golf tees -- stick up on either side of the tracks for much of the journey. They use solar energy to turn liquid ammonia into a gas repeatedly, chilling the ground like a tiny refrigerator or air conditioner.

Passenger Yan Xiao, an engineering professor from the University of Southern California, said he was impressed by the design and service.

"It's quite an achievement," he said.

The train's squat toilets might give some travelers pause, but it is cleaner and more spacious than the average Chinese train, and offers at least one handicapped facility with a seat-style toilet.

"It meets Western standards, it's fairly clean," said passenger Liu Yuejiang, a research scientist from Gaithersburg, Md., who works at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Bethesda.

But those considering a trip should go soon. Chinese engineers say global warming could threaten the permafrost and integrity of the rail line in as little as 50 years.

If You Go...Getting There: Trains leave daily from Beijing, and every other day from Chengdu in Sichuan and Lanzhou in Gansu. One-way tickets - ranging from $40 for a seat, to $140 for a bunk in a four-bed cabin - for the Beijing-Lhasa route have been nearly fully booked through September, agents say, but many tickets remain for the Lhasa-Beijing route.

Flights between Lhasa and most major Chinese cities connect through Chengdu. As of midsummer, U.S. travel agents were not able to procure tickets due to high demand, but check with agents specializing in Asian travel later in the year.

For more information, visit

VISAS AND PERMITS: China travel visas must be obtained by travelers in their home country. Foreigners also must get a Tibet travel permit in their home country or in China through a travel agent. Tibet permits take two to seven days to be processed.

HEALTH ISSUES: Oxygen is provided on the train but tourists are advised to bring their own basic medications for headache, diarrhea and minor ailments. Extra water and some high-energy snacks are also a good idea. Because of the supplemental oxygen, smoking on the train is forbidden for the last 12 hours of the 48-hour journey.

ELECTRONICS: The train has power outlets and spotty mobile phone service between Beijing and Lhasa. The disk drives of some laptop computers and other portable electronic devices may crash at high altitudes and data could be lost.

ETHICAL ISSUES: The International Campaign for Tibet has prepared a socially conscious travel guide to Tibet:

READING: Lonely Planet publishes a stand-alone guide to Tibet in addition to its comprehensive China guide book.Although it was published nearly 20 years ago, "Riding the Iron Rooster By Train Through China" by Paul Theroux remains an excellent introduction to the delights and peculiarities of Chinese trains. And it includes a chapter called "The Train to Tibet," which describes how in 1985 Theroux got as close to Lhasa as he could by train, and then drove the remaining 900 miles.


China cracks down on touts selling tickets on trains to Tibet

(PTI) Press Trust of India; Beijing, 25 July (PTI): China's railway police has begun a one-month campaign to combat touts cashing in on the high demand for tickets on the world's highest railway service to Tibet, which opened for service on July 1.

Expert teams from the Public Security Bureau of the Chinese Ministry of Railways have been sent to railway stations in Beijing, Chengdu, Chongqing, Lanzhou, Xining and Lhasa, a railway official said.

Local railway policemen also strengthened patrols at the six railway stations to crack down on touts.

Fifteen illegal tickets dealers were punished in public on Monday morning in the square outside the Xining Railway Station in southwest China's Qinghai Province.

One of the 15 touts, surnamed Qian, was adding 800 yuan (about USD 100) to the cost of each ticket to Lhasa, Tibet's capital.

While the cost of a basic coach ticket or 'hard seat' from Xining to Lhasa is only 226 yuan, the cost of a 'hard' sleeping berth and a 'soft' sleeping berth are 523 yuan and 810 yuan respectively.

The Qinghai-Tibet railway opened on July 1, with services operating from five cities to Lhasa.

Officials with the Ministry of Railways said that the campaign against touts will be stepped up, and that the ministry will also try to schedule extra trains to Lhasa to meet market demand.

Currently, a person buying tickets to Lhasa from the ticket window is limited to a maximum of three tickets, the ministry said.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Robust Tibetan Language Checked Cultural Dilution

18 July 2006 -- TibetNet

Dharamsala: The mere fact that the Tibetans have been able to retain their written language (in its original form) for a long, long time, had thwarted degeneration of their rich cultural heritage and division of their nationality based on languages, Kalon Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche said here yesterday.

Since the advent of Tibetan script, especially after printing of religious texts began in the tenth or eleventh century, it has not undergone any major changes, the Kalon Tripa said in his inaugural address to a seminar at the College for Higher Tibetan Studies, Sarah.

"The literary works from the times of Thumi Sambhotta in the 7th century can be read and understood today by anyone who has adequate command over Tibetan language.

"Likewise, although dialects based on Tibetan language are spoken in many regions, the Tibetan written language is understood by all, from Ngari to Gyalrong and Amdo."

During the four-day seminar, which provides a forum for discussion and fraternization, 28 students from various institutes of (higher) Tibetan studies will discuss how to promote Tibetan language.

"In the past 50 years, barring those thrust purposely during the Cultural Revolution, many subtle alterations and dilutions have crept into the Tibetan language," the Kalon Tripa said, adding that "we must identify and tackle them earnestly."

Thousands of Tibetans wait for HHDL in Amdo (Tibet) after rumors spread

Campaign for Tibet -- July 17th, 2006

Thousands of Tibetans have traveled to Kumbum monastery in Amdo (Qinghai province) in the past few days after rumors swept through the area that the Dalai Lama was going to be there, according to reports from Tibet.

Security was stepped up at Kumbum with a check-post set up near the monastery and by the weekend (July 15-16) most of these Tibetans had been required to leave.

The rumors were false - the Dalai Lama is in India - but according to reports received by ICT, Tibetans in the area were not able to check whether the rumors were true because of their lack of access to reliable information.

A foreign tourist in the area reported an atmosphere of sadness among Tibetans at Kumbum when they were told that the Dalai Lama was not going to be there.

The foreign tourist said: "The area is sealed off from the rest of the world with virtually no reliable news in or out, so when this rumor spread it was electrifying. Tibetans had no way of checking whether it was true or not - often radio services like Radio Free Asia or Voice of America are blocked, and they don't trust the Chinese news. So they just set out, on journeys that often took several days, in the hope of seeing His Holiness."

A temporary police check-post was set up at the entrance to the town near Kumbum (Chinese: Ta-ersi), which is near Qinghai's capital city of Xining, in response to the arrival of an estimated 8,000 Tibetans to the area.

By yesterday (July 16) most of the Tibetans who had hoped to see the Dalai Lama had left under the instructions of security personnel, including the People's Armed Police, the military and the Public Security Bureau personnel.

In his annual March 10 statement this year, the Dalai Lama -- who was born in Amdo -- had expressed the wish to visit sacred pilgrimage sites in China. He said that in the last round of dialogue between his representatives and Beijing in February in Guilin City, China, "My envoys reiterated my wish to visit China on a pilgrimage. As a country with a long history of Buddhism, China has many sacred pilgrimage sites. As well as visiting the pilgrim sites, I hope to be able to see for myself the changes and developments in the People's Republic of China."

Since then, several rumors have spread about an impending visit by the Dalai Lama to China and Tibet. Officials at Kumbum apparently did not know where this latest rumor originated from.

When Tibetans at Kumbum were told that the Dalai Lama would not be coming, some of them asked whether he was going to Lhasa instead.

The Beijing-based correspondent for The Times in London, Jane Macartney, wrote in a blog published on the newspaper's website that when Tibetans were told that the Dalai Lama was not coming, "A look of disbelief and despair would cross their faces. The visitor said it was one of the saddest sights he'd seen." (The Times Online: Ocean of Wisdom, Ocean of Faithful, July 17, 2006).

The Tibetan government-in-exile responded to the reports of Tibetans traveling to Kumbum on Radio Free Asia's Tibetan service on July 15.

The head of the security department, Ngodup Dongchung, told RFA: "The news is completely baseless because His Holiness the Dalai Lama is currently in Dharamsala taking much-needed rest on his doctor's advice after a hectic travel schedule. Also in August, His Holiness will give teachings to a group of Korean devotees in Dharamsala."

A scheduled European tour by the Dalai Lama was cancelled earlier this month in order to allow the Tibetan leader to rest.

Kumbum, in Kumbum (Chinese: Huangzhong) county is one of the six great Gelugpa (Yellow Hat) monasteries. It is an increasingly popular destination for Chinese pilgrims and tourists.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

Gere: Railroad to Perdition

By Richard Gere

July 15, 2006; The New York Times (op-ed)

THE opening this month of the final segment of world’s highest railway, from Beijing to Lhasa, Tibet, is a staggering engineering achievement and a testimony to the developing greatness of China.

But it is also the most serious threat by the Chinese yet to the survival of Tibet’s unique religious, cultural and linguistic identity. In the words of a well-known Tibetan religious teacher who died after many years in a Chinese prison, the railway heralds “a time of emergency and darkness” for Tibet.

This railway across the roof of the world will result in an expanded Chinese military presence in Tibet, accelerate the already devastating exploitation of its natural resources and increase the number of Chinese migrants, marginalizing the Tibetan people still further.

In the capital, Lhasa, Tibetans are already a minority.

In the years after China’s invasion of Tibet in 1950, thousands of Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and convents were destroyed, and hundreds of thousands of Tibetans perished. Today the suppression of religion is more subtle and less visible to outsiders. Many of the monasteries have been partly rebuilt, but often they are simply showplaces for tourists. Obtaining a complete religious education in Tibet is usually impossible.

Even having a photograph of the Dalai Lama is a criminal offense.

Many Tibetans lost their land to make way for the railway, and Tibetan nomads are being forced to settle in cities. Without land and religion, cultures disappear. This is particularly true in Tibet, where the land itself is regarded as sacred.

And even as their culture is undermined by the railway, most Tibetans are unlikely to enjoy any economic benefits from it.

With a price tag of more than $4 billion, the Tibet railway is the most ambitious and costly element of China’s current drive to develop its western regions, known as the Great Leap West. But its construction was based upon the Communist Party’s old strategic and political objectives, and its main beneficiaries will be the Chinese military units stationed there, Chinese companies and Chinese settlers.

Most Tibetans don’t have access to education that would allow them to compete in the economic environment created by China’s policies, nor are they welcome to share the fruits of its success.

The opening of the railway to Tibet could not have a greater symbolic importance to the Communist elite — it is the achievement of a goal set by Mao more than 40 years ago as part of a strategy to complete Tibet’s integration into China.

And sadly, the opening of the railway takes place in an environment of intensified political repression.

The new Communist Party chief in Tibet, Zhang Qingli, has said that the party is engaged in a “fight to the death struggle” against the Dalai Lama and his supporters.

China’s president, Hu Jintao, formally opened the railway on July 1.

In the late 1980’s, when he was party chief of the region, he presided over the torture and imprisonment of thousands of Tibetans through the imposition of martial law in Lhasa.

The Tibetans have not forgotten Mr. Hu’s role in the oppression of their people. President Hu was also personally involved in drafting the fast-track development policies that have been such a disaster for most Tibetans.

They are based upon an urban Chinese model and do not take into account Tibetans’ needs, views or the way of life that has sustained them on the high plateau for centuries. The Dalai Lama has spoken frequently about the urgent need to involve Tibetans in the development of their land.

A true “great leap” would make room for a Tibetan role in economic development, protect Tibetan religious culture and identity, and welcome the involvement of the Dalai Lama in decision-making on Tibet’s future.

Since 2002, there have been several rounds of dialogue between Beijing and the Dalai Lama’s representatives, following a decade-long diplomatic stalemate, but at present China’s commitment to the process is uncertain.

Tibet’s precious culture and religion, with its principles of wisdom and compassion and its message of interdependence and nonviolence, are rooted in the Tibetan landscape and Tibetan hearts.

The survival of Tibetan Buddhist knowledge in its own land is vital for the world, as well as the Tibetan people. China’s journey toward greatness must not include the further destruction of this heritage.

Richard Gere, an actor, is the chairman of the International Campaign for Tibet.

Tibet's Culture Faces Oblivion

By Gavin Rabinowitz, The Advertiser Adelaide (South Australia)

July 15, 2006 -- TIME, Tibetan exiles fear, is running out.

With the Dalai Lama in his 70s, their dreams of returning to a free Tibet are being crushed by the realisation they face a long, bleak period without an international icon to plead their case and keep them united.

Since fleeing to India in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, Tibet's spiritual leader has personified the Himalayan nation's struggle for self-determination.

The Dalai Lama turned 71 on July 6 and, while generally in good health, the globe-trotting holy man was grounded by his doctors a day before his birthday because of exhaustion.

A second fear also haunts the exiles. If they do achieve their goal, will the Tibet they knew still be there for them?

China this month realised its decades-old ambition of linking Tibet to Beijing by train, heightening concerns that the communist leadership is trying to crush Tibetan culture by swamping it with Han, the majority Chinese ethnic group.

Another worry is the Dalai Lama's non-violent philosophy, which won him the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize, may die with him.

For now, the Dalai Lama's influence is paramount, among the exiles as well as deep inside Tibet, though his teachings and even his portrait are banned.

Nearly every day, Tibetans arrive in India after crossing the Himalayas to join the exiles in Dharamsala, where the Dalai Lama's government-in-exile is based.

Many Tibetans are wary of the Dalai Lama's "Middle Way" of working peacefully with China and settling for autonomy rather than independence.

Only the spiritual leader's moral authority has convinced Tibetans to go along with the plan.

"If His Holiness is not on the scene and one day the Chinese wake up and give their consent (to the autonomy plan), this will not be binding on the Tibetan people," said Thubten Samphal, a spokesman for the exile leadership. "We have been telling the Chinese it is wrong to play a waiting game."

That is what many believe the Chinese are doing.

"The Chinese just don't want to deal with the Dalai Lama. They feel they have an unassailable position," said John Power, a Tibet expert at the Australian National University in Canberra.
"They can wait until he dies and set their own terms."

Tibet's Chinese-appointed leader, Champa Phuntsok, has described the Dalai Lama as a threat to China's security and unity. Once the Dalai Lama is gone, the succession will be dictated by the rites and timetables of Tibetan Buddhism.

His successor will be a boy born after his death, chosen by Buddhist monks who believe him to be the Dalai Lama's reincarnation. Decades may pass before the new Dalai Lama is ready to assume leadership.

Meanwhile, the idea of fighting back appeals to many young Tibetans.

"I would have joined the fighters," Tenzin Tsundue, 31, a leading activist who spent three months in a Chinese jail in 1997, said after sneaking into Tibet from India.

But he acknowledged Tibetans will be more successful in the court of public opinion than the battleground.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Tourism Threatening Tibet's Sacred Spaces

By Geoffrey York
The Globe and Mail; July 12, 2006

LHASA -- On the roof of the holiest temple in Tibet, the monks are debating Buddhist theology . . . and trying to ignore the hordes of Chinese tourists who interrupt the debate to grab them for photos.

One monk flinches and ducks away when a boisterous Chinese man, posing for a picture, tries to fling his arm around the monk in the midst of the theological debate.

Tibet's capital, Lhasa, is bursting at the seams with tourists.

It already receives so many tourists that the famed Potala Palace, the ancient symbol of Tibet, has imposed a daily limit on visitors. Even humble Tibetan pilgrims are turned away when the daily maximum is reached.But the tourism boom is about to get much bigger.

China's new high-altitude railway to Tibet is expected to open the floodgates to a massive influx of new visitors -- an extra 4,000 a day when it is in full operation.

Until now, tourism was restricted by the need for an expensive air flight to Lhasa or an arduous bus trip of up to 50 hours from the nearest neighbouring province.

But the train, with its cheap subsidized tickets, will eliminate the final obstacles that long protected Tibet from outside pressures.

Last year, Tibet received 1.8 million tourists. By the end of this decade, China projects that it will be getting more than five million a year -- putting a huge strain on ancient temples and its long-isolated culture.

The revered Jokhang temple, where the monks debate Buddhist theology every afternoon, is expected to see a doubling in its visitor numbers next year to as many as 300,000 people.

But the pressure will be greatest at the Potala Palace, the 17th-century winter palace of the Dalai Lama, with its fragile mud-and-wood architecture and precarious mountainside location."

My biggest headache is that we have so many tourists," said Qiangba Gesang, director of administration. "I am asking my foreign friends to stop publicizing the palace so much. Otherwise there will be more people coming here. My main task is not to make money or attract visitors -- my main task is to protect the palace."

Chinese authorities have been struggling to control the crowds at Potala for years.

Until 2003, it restricted visitors to 1,600 a day. Then the limit was raised to 1,800.

On July 1, when the new railway opened, the daily limit was raised again, to 2,300 -- almost 50 per cent above the cutoff that was deemed necessary just three years ago.

The palace is also contemplating a steep increase in ticket prices to discourage crowds. The admission price is now 100 yuan (about $14) but could be hiked to 200 or 300 yuan. Tibetan pilgrims, meanwhile, are required to pay two yuan to enter the palace -- a significant amount for the impoverished worshippers who trek here.

Mr. Gesang said he is trying to persuade tourists to visit Lhasa in the winter.

"Winter in Tibet is not as cold as you imagine," he said. "It will reduce the pressure on the palace."

Last year, the palace received 370,000 tourists, along with 70,000 pilgrims.

Next year, Mr. Gesang expects to receive 500,000 to 600,000 tourists -- a massive rise from the 90,000 visitors when he began working at the palace in 1989.

He said the daily limit will be raised to 2,300 if he gets approval from Tibet's tourist bureau, and if tour guides promise to shorten their explanations inside the palace's tiny rooms.

But ticket sellers say the limit has already been raised to 2,300, despite the director's words.

Many Chinese tour groups have 30 or 40 people in their group, causing huge traffic jams inside the narrow corridors. Staff at the palace are much more alert these days, shooing along the groups when they linger too long in a room.

But often the tour groups simply ignore the staff.

"Nowadays I am seldom in my office," Mr. Gesang said. "I am always moving around the palace, checking to make sure the tour groups don't stay in one place too long. If they do, there will be great pressure on the architecture. It's very dangerous if people stay in one place too long."

Sunday, July 09, 2006

After Nathu La, India Faces Chinese Challenge in Bhutan

By C. Raja Moha, Indian Express

New Delhi; July 7, 2006 -- As it regains access to the Tibetan markets by throwing open Nathu La pass after 44 years, India is being compelled to cope with an important downside.

It is the emerging Chinese challenge to India's special relationship with Bhutan.

While Sikkim and Tibet celebrate the renewed trade links between the two regions across the Sino-Indian border at Nathu La, Bhutan is bracing up to new pressures from China to establish diplomatic and trade ties.

As the only country in the sub-continent that does not have a normal relationship with China, Bhutan has discussed the implications of trade at Nathu La with the Indian Government at the highest political levels in the last couple years.

Having opened its own borders for trade with China, New Delhi may not find it easy to argue against Thimpu from doing the same with Tibet.

The unfolding dynamics for an open border between Tibet and Bhutan, which may now be unstoppable, could radically alter the triangular relationship between New Delhi, Thimpu and Beijing.

This in turn could force a reconsideration of India's traditional security arrangements in the eastern Himalayas.

Ever since New Delhi and Beijing announced their intent to open up Nathu La, in June 2003, an anxious Bhutan has been examining the long-term consequences for its own policy towards the giant northern neighbour.

India, which enjoys a special relationship with Bhutan under a 1949 treaty, is acutely conscious of Beijing's relentless effort to normalise ties with Thimpu and the incentives it had put on the table.

At the core of Beijing's diplomacy towards Bhutan has been the offer of a generous settlement on the disputed boundary if Thimpu opens up trade and political ties. China has never accepted India's claims for an exclusive sphere of influence in Bhutan and other Himalayan Kingdoms.

Traditionally Bhutan has been reluctant to establish diplomatic relations with China. And amidst deteriorating Sino-Indian relations in the late 1950s, Bhutan, in a gesture of goodwill to Delhi, had closed its own borders with Tibet.

All that is now up in the air, with India agreeing to let the geo-strategic Chumbi valley become a trade corridor with China.

Bhutan's western borders with Tibet form the right shoulder of the Chumbi valley, which juts into narrow Siliguri corridor that connects India to the North-Eastern provinces.

The Chumbi salient provides easy access to Bhutan, Sikkim and the southern slopes of the Himalayas. India is fully aware of the many concerns of Bhutan on opening up Nathu La.

While the border between Sikkim and Tibet has never been in dispute, Bhutan's 470-km-long border remains contentious. Some of these contested areas are on Bhutan's western frontiers with the Chumbi valley.

As India opens up the Chumbi valley for trade, Thimpu is likely to face strong internal political demands to open up the many traditional trade routes on the disputed border between Bhutan and Tibet, which are bound by geography, religion, ethnicity and culture.

Externally, China's rapid modernisation of its border infrastructure has already begun to make Bhutan nervous. Last year, Bhutan protested against Beijing's construction of roads on the contested border between the two countries. Although Bhutan does not have diplomatic relations with China, it holds formal talks with the northern neighbour on the boundary dispute.

China has used these negotiations to tease Bhutan into a deeper engagement.

Sections of the Indian security establishment have been deeply concerned about the danger of a northern political pull on Bhutan in the event of a normalisation of relations with China.

Others in the government have suggested an action plan for early and rapid economic integration between Bhutan and India.When the King of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuk, visited India as the chief guest of the Republic Day in January 2005, the two sides agreed to strengthen road and rail networks across the southern borders of Bhutan.

Meanwhile, the decision last year to let China into the South Asian Association of Regional Cooperation as an observer has highlighted the increasing difficulty of maintaining the diplomatic status quo between Beijing and Thimpu.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Dhasa Celebrates 71st B'Day While HHDL Rests, Cancels Europe Trip

By Phurbu Thinley

Dharamsala, July 6, 2006 -- Exile Tibetans and their friends today celebrated the 71st Birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in great festive mood in the northern Indian town of Dharamsala, while His Holiness the Dalai Lama spent his day resting due to some minor health concerns.

(Earlier in the day it was announced that the Dalai Lama cancelled a visit to Europe scheduled for July because of minor health concerns, the Office of Tibet in Paris said."The Dalai Lama's doctors told him to rest. It's nothing serious. He's just had a very busy schedule this year with lots of trips. He needs to rest," an official said. "So he had to take the decision to cancel all his commitments and trips scheduled for July to France, Finland and Spain," she said.)

The birthday celebration started with a very early morning good-will prayer for His Holiness and continued for the rest of the day with great enthusiasm.

The official function of the exile Tibetan government, however, began little later at around 9:00 AM and was held as usual at Tsuglakhang Temple near the home of the Dalai Lama.

This year's birthday celebration was led by Tibet's Prime Minister in exile, Samdhong Rinpoche and the Kalons (ministers of the exile government).

Tsuglakhang courtyard, where the function was held could hardly accommodate all the people who had gathered in such a large number to witness the function.

It’s definitely a very special day for Tibetan here which gives them endless reasons to take rest from their regular businesses and celebrate this memorable day in full spirit and gaiety.

After a series of "official" speeches, the public was entertained by various Tibetan organisations and schools, who presented songs and dances to add onto the already festive mood of the town.

The morning ceremony finally concluded in the afternoon at around 12:30 PM. Besides, various other entertaining events were planned for the day. Among these included the final game of the Inter- Regional Tibetan Youth Congress basket ball tournament at Gangkyi in the late afternoon, where so many eager fans assembled to support their teams. After four grueling quarters, it was Seeds Team who beat the Buds by 13 points to lift this year’s trophy.

Meanwhile, the local Taxi Union members of the town has also arranged Dham, a free-for-all feast to the public and sweets were distributed in the morning to mark the celebration of the day.

Finally, a Tibetan dance and music show was staged in honour of the event and to raise fund by the Tibetan Women’s Association at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA).

The show definitely added more fun and entertainment before the festive day finally ended here in Dharamsala.