November 15, 2008

Rangzen v, Autonomy

Chinese Prime Minister Hu Jintao has come to the USA and all conscious humans hold their breath in fearful anticipation of the mighty giant. The Tibetan experience is a very painful lesson that the rest of us/US must learn. Their desire for independence (rangzen) clashes with the harsh realities faced by the Dalai Lama's desire to seek autonomy as a compromise, or middle way, to ensure the survival of their culture.

The unedited essays below provide more information for people who should think about this struggle and the ramifications for us/US and the world.

May all beings be free from danger and oppression.

Long live His Holiness, the Dalai Lama!

Long live the people of Tibet, wherever they are!

Rangzen Beckons Again

Phayul, 3/11/08

By Samdup Tenzin

His Holiness the Dalai Lama's admission last week that he is losing hopes for a negotiated settlement with the People's Republic of China underlines the fact that even a learned religious practitioner's patience, no matter how profound, has its limits. Ongoing Sino-Tibetan bilateral talks have made little progress and until now they have been nothing more than a tale of unrealistic expectations on our part and dilly-dallying on behalf of our counterpart. For twenty long years since the Strasbourg Proposal of 1987, His Holiness has endeavoured with utmost sincerity to reach out to the Chinese leadership to effect a speedy and mutually beneficial resolution of the Tibet issue. However, the PRC, rather than responding in kind, has over the years launched an unmitigated smear campaign against him; one of the most vitriolic renditions of which was brandished in the aftermath of the recent crackdown in Tibet by Zhang Qingli, leader of the Communist Party of Tibet who labeled His Holiness "a wolf in monk's robes" and "a devil with a human face but the heart of a beast". There is nothing in the world which hurts a Tibetan's sentiments more than unwarranted mudslinging of this nature directed at our Gyalwa Yeshi Norbu. For me personally, these stinging and heart-wrenching slurs were mentally excruciating and physically overpowering. When I say this, I am quite certain that I speak for many amongst us who at the time had similar revelations.

His Holiness' confession of his diminishing hope comes at a time when our freedom movement desperately needs a redefinition of objectives and clarity of purpose after a sustained period of ambiguity and indecision. By saying so, I do not intend to imply that the goal of "genuine autonomy" is in anyway incoherent or undesirable under the current circumstances. In fact most of us would gleefully accept such an outcome and merrily follow His Holiness to Lhasa if China acceded to it. The Middle Way Approach as espoused by His Holiness is without a flicker of doubt an ingenious conflict resolution tactic emanating from the very core of our Buddhist tradition, one which seeks to harmonise seemingly divergent perspectives and mutually exclusive interests for the welfare of everyone involved. In this respect, our renunciation of independence in favour of "genuine autonomy" is perfectly consistent with such an approach. However, it is worth reiterating here that it always takes two to tango. Even as we make benign gestures and appeasing quirks to facilitate the talks, the Chinese government has stood its ground and consistently sought to toughen its stance on Tibet by increasing religious repression and intensifying patriotic re-education. While we pick up the debris of our shattered expectations in the aftermath of every round of talks, our adversaries smugly revel at their triumph in keeping our mouths shut and spirits fractured.

As a Tibetan, I, like many of us, am proud of our Buddhist culture which instructs us "what we cannot attain, we should learn not to yearn for" and "a desire renounced or extinguished is equivalent to a desire accomplished". But sometimes I wonder if we are stretching these metaphysical ideas of contentment too far, and most importantly to our detriment as a nation. Self-abnegation is unquestionably an unparalleled virtue and an admirable philosophy when used as a lodestar for our individual conducts in our private lives. But adhering to such a modus vivendi as a nation already devoid of even a semblance of recognition and as a people lacking the most fundamental of rights is, in my view, tantamount to digging our own graves especially considering the Chinese government's lack of enthusiasm to engage with us constructively.

By renouncing the demand for independence, we, as a nation, have made the mother of all sacrifices. For many of us it was one of the hardest decisions of our lives, which we took nevertheless with a hope that the Chinese leadership with reciprocate in good faith. Such an act of decency on the part of the PRC has been felt wanting and if the Chinese government's recent crackdown on Tibetans inside Tibet is any indication, then the prospect of any significant change in its demeanour in the foreseeable future is slender at best. Beijing is obviously playing for time and we, by relinquishing what we desire the most and falling into the trap of empty negotiations devoid of any concrete results, are making life very easy for the Chinese. The position we have put ourselves into is very similar to that of a helpless lamb waiting for the butcher to deal the fatal blow. We have literally tied our hands and are expecting the Chinese to show pity and set us free; this is not likely to happen. Given the hopelessness of the situation, one could not help but doubt the viability of the Middle Way Approach, no matter how sacrosanct and groundbreaking. In an ideal world this principle would have, no doubt, worked wonders, but perhaps the real world we live in is not ready for it yet.

Under the current circumstances, only waiting in anticipation for Beijing's yearly summons would be an exercise in futility. I believe our resources and time would be better spent devising a comprehensive new strategy that would sustain us for years and if necessary decades to come. A pragmatic first step towards such a strategy would be the acknowledgement of the fact that in the murky world of international politics, there is no room for altruism; the sooner we accept this grim reality the better it would be for us. Secondly, we should bear in mind that the realisation of freedom will require unrelenting hard work and persistent slogging. The goodwill of the international community is, of course, crucial but that will only be catalysed by our own efforts. It is, therefore, childish to expect the UN or the West to act on our behalf; the onus should lie squarely on us, the ordinary Tibetans. It is worth mentioning here that strong nations are build on the bedrocks of unflinching determination and consistent toil on the part of ordinary citizenry. Very few colonial powers of the past have willingly ceded an occupied territory without being forced by the will of the people to do so. Expecting the PRC to readily abandon Tibet is politically naive; the spectre of Beijing engaging in such an unprecedented act of compassion without being subjected to protracted and sustained pressure from us is practically unimaginable. Nation-building is impossible with a softy-softy approach which leaves little to our discretion. What is needed is a fundamental policy transformation.

It is always a sound engineering practice to dig up old foundations and to lay them anew when they are found to be too weak and unsustainable for a structure to be built on top of it. For more than two decades, we nurtured a vision of Tibet with the Middle Way Approach as its cornerstone. But that foundational base is now showing signs of decay and deterioration, and needs to be replaced, if possible, promptly by one which is comparatively stronger and impregnable. I, for one, quite cherish the good old days of the 1960s and the 1970s when the spirit of Rangzen throbbed unremittingly within every Tibetan's chest, and believe that any strategic transformation in the near future should seriously consider this policy alternative. I personally see the switch of objective from "Genuine Autonomy" to Rangzen as not only prudent but also justified in view of the current stalemate. Beijing has been reluctant to entertain any of our demands for self-rule under its constitutional framework. It has instead preferred to restrict the negotiations solely to the matter of His Holiness' return to China, that too subject to a myriad of unreasonable conditionalities to be met by him. Given the lack of consensus regarding the agenda for discussion between the two sides, reconciliation seems practically impossible. Independence may appear unrealistic, but so too does "Genuine Autonomy" under current circumstances.

The apparent implausibility of Rangzen notwithstanding, I would still pick it over "Genuine Autonomy", essentially for its unifying characteristics. As long as His Holiness the Dalai Lama is in flesh and blood, his influence on us will always be the single most important unifying factor. However, considering his advanced age and the deadlock in negotiations, we have to, at some point, contemplate surviving in a world without His Holiness' humbling presence. In a post-Dalai Lama scenario, the only thing that could prevent our nation from fragmenting along sectarian and provincial lines, and eventually disappearing into oblivion is a common purpose and a shared aspiration. In His Holiness' absence, only Rangzen could engender a nationalistic vigour strong enough to counteract regionalism and sectarianism in our community, and inspire in us the determination to maintain and preserve our distinct identity until the 15th Dalai Lama comes of age.

At present, going into the details of what an independent Tibet, if possible, will look like and whether or not it would be economically sustainable is premature and untimely. I am of the opinion that economics should never be a barrier in choosing our destiny. We are a group of tough mountain people capable of enduring any conceivable hardship. Luxury for our ancestors has never meant more than an adequate supply of Chura, Marr dang Yaksha and a bowl (or two) of Chang. I believe our prosperity as a nation is better gauged in terms of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) rather than any abstract economic benchmark. Besides, if East Timor and Kosovo with their virtually non-existent economic infrastructures can survive as independent states, then there is no reason to believe that we can not.

Having said that, the mere declaration of Rangzen as our common goal will not suffice. If we are to survive as a people, we have to strive to make our democratic experiment in exile a success. To this end, strengthening our existing democratic institutions by zealously participating in the elections and other democratic processes is extremely pivotal. Looking up to His Holiness to make political decisions on our behalf on every conceivable occasion while we shy away from our responsibilities is surely not the way forward. It is high time for us to realise the gravity of our situation and abandon the much cliched Gyalwa Rinpoche Khenno attitude. Undoubtedly, our culture and religion are integral to our survival but when it comes to political decision-making we have to learn to leave faith at our doors. Political judgements are best made using rational analysis and weighing in pros and cons rather than by extrapolating cultural and metaphysical ideas. I acknowledge that such a transformation in our outlook will not materialise overnight and could take years given that democracy as a conception is totally alien to our culture. But democratic ideals are essentially empowering and by embracing these liberal notions we will only be enriching our already rich Buddhist culture.

If we keep alive the spirit of Rangzen within us, we can use every window of opportunity, no matter however small, that comes our way to our advantage. We might have to wait for 20, 50 or even 100 years for such an opportunity to knock at our doors but I believe it is better than watching China bludgeon our culture to a slow painful death while we pray for a divine intervention. As I see it, Rangzen is not only the ultimate end we all desire but also a pragmatic means to that end.

The author is a student at University of Edinburgh, studying LLM in International Law

Views expressed above are solely of the author, and does not reflect views of phayul.
Below is another
essay, inspired by Barack Obama's successful campaign:


By Thondup Tsering

It has now been more than 21 years since His Holiness the Dalai Lama first proposed in Washington DC the Five-Point Peace Plan for Tibet; 20 years since the Strasbourg Proposal to the Members of European Parliament; and almost 30 years since the “direct contact” between Dharamsala and Beijing was first established. Like most Tibetans, I have been waiting all these years and hoping that something good will come out of all this. So, the other day when His Holiness the Dalai Lama expressed his lack of confidence in the Chinese leadership because of the absence of any positive response from them, I said to myself, this is what I feared.

One of the fundamental requisites for any successful dialogue is a genuine desire on the part of both parties engaged to find a solution. I, for one, believe that China, from the very onset, never intended to find a resolution. Why would they? China is already in full control of Tibet -the land and its people. This was and continues to be a sinister ploy on the part of China tobuy more time hoping that the issue of Tibet will disintegrate and disappear once His Holiness passes away.

I have always believed in leadership through the power of truth - the truth about Tibet. The truth that Tibet was an independent nation until China invaded in 1949. I have time and again heard His Holiness state that truth was on Tibet’s side and that ultimately truth will prevail. So, around 1979 when His Holiness announced that He was giving up Tibet’s independence in favor of a “Middle-Way” approach, like many other fellow Tibetans, I was overwhelmed with confusion, not knowing what to make of it. As time passed, I realized that this was a compromise to save Tibet and Tibetan culture by a sincere and a well meaning leader who had the best of intentions for the welfare and wellbeing of both the Chinese and Tibetan people.

In 2000, the Secretary General of the United Nations, Kofi Anan, emphasized the importance of truth to a gathering of students and faculty members of Hampshire College. I asked him why he was preaching ‘truth’ when one truth is that the organization that he represents passed three resolutions on Tibet, and that even after 40 years, has failed to act on any one of them. His response to me was, “I wish I could say that this world is perfect……that truth always prevails.” This was a very instructive moment for me because what he was really telling me was that in this imperfect world of ours, where policies and decisions are dictated by self and national interests, TRUTH DOES NOT PREVAIL but truth needs to be lived, nurtured and secured. If Tibetans truly believe that Tibet was an independent country and wants to be independent, we have to dream RANGZEN and then live that dream. Or else, as the Chinese say “a thousand lies make it true” and then there is a real danger that Tibet will cease to exist one day.

Whenever one makes an argument for Rangzen, the inevitable counter argument is that Rangzen is not “realistic.” In His Holiness’s Strasbourg Proposal, referring to his idea of Tibet becoming a self-governing political entity in association with the People’s Republic of China, He states, “I believe these thoughts represent the most realistic means by which to re-establish Tibet’s separate identity…..” I believe that the introduction of the word “realistic” in any discussion about a nations’ future, and especially in our ongoing struggle for self determination, is very disenfranchising and disempowering. What is unspoken but clearly communicated is that we should give up the idea of Rangzen because Rangzen is not realistic. The only way to make any crucial and complicated mission “realistic” is to believe and live the dream. Only then will the dream have a chance of becoming a reality.

Imagine if some 47 years ago, President John F. Kennedy believed that it was not “realistic” to dream of going to the moon. The first space walk on the moon never would have happened. Imagine if 61 years ago, the Indian leadership and its people believed that seeking independence from the British Empire was unrealistic because ‘the sun never sets on the British empire.’ India perhaps would not be an independent country today.

Thinking about Rangzen, my memory goes back to my early years as a child at TCV and later as a staff member, when we were all unified in our mission and belief in Rangzen. The students, parents, cooks, teachers, nurses, and office staff – we all knew that whatever each one of us was doing at that time, it was in preparation for that beautiful dream of Rangzen. We were unified and strong in our belief in RANGZEN. We did not know then how and when Tibet would regain its Rangzen. Yet, I know for sure that it gave us all a tremendous sense of pride and purpose. It was this sense of unified belief and purpose that propelled us to be recognized as one of the most successful refugee communities in the world. Today, when I visit the settlements and schools in our community, the loss of that sense of unity and direction is apparent.

November 4, 2008 was one of the most beautiful days in my life. Even though I could not vote, I celebrated the victory of President Elect Obama. His victory was historic and showed once again that it is important to dream big (without letting reality limit your dreams) and to live that dream. Nothing is impossible. Remember, this was a country where about 44 years ago people of African heritage did not even have the right to vote. Back then it was considered unrealistic and inconceivable that one day a black man would become the President. Today Barak Obama is the 44th President of the United States of America. That dream has become a reality. One of the main reasons that this dream became a reality today is because the people of African heritage believed that all human beings are created equal and they lived that dream. Of course all this did not come soon or easy, but there is a lesson that Tibetans can learn from this. Today’s dream can become a reality tomorrow. If we dream Rangzen and live that dream, no matter how hard or how long the road ahead may be, one day, one day Rangzen will become reality! RANGZEN – Yes We Can!

A special meeting will be held later this month to confirm our mission and renew our dreams. As His Holiness said, “When all is said and done it is for the Tibetan people themselves to decide about their collective future.” I thank His Holiness for this opportunity. I call upon all Tibetans to speak out and participate in this historic meeting. Let not your hopes and dreams be limited by reality, but guided by truth. I recognize that it is possible that I may not see Rangzen in my life time or, for that matter, in my children’s lifetime. But I would be proud to have left the Rangzen legacy for future generations of Tibet and will take comfort that one day, Rangzen will become reality. This past spring, Tibetans from inside Tibet have spoken. Now is our time to say loud and clear in a unified and strong voice –RANGZEN! YES WE CAN!

The author is a residence director at the University of Massachusetts and can be reached at

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