By Brent A Werner
Dharamsala, like all political centers, is awash in games. Nevertheless, I hope that a more mainstream audience will hear what I have to say, considering the merit of my points rather than my lack of power or prestige. For a few recent years I was a resident of Dharamsala, the husband of Tenzin Diki Werner, the son-in-law of Namse Chenmo la Phuntsok Tsering, an adoptive father to Tenzin Choedon Tsarong, and also the Father of Tenzin Sangmo Werner. I am not highly educated, nor am I a politician, but I have a Tibetan family, and I have been following the Tibetan political scene (and lack thereof) since I marched beside Takster Rinpoche in the mid 1990’s. These experiences afforded me the opportunity to come into direct and personal contact with the views of everyone from local garbage collectors, to Lodi Gyari Rinpoche, to Lhasang Tsering, to Tibetans visiting India from inside Tibet. My late wife, in her cheerful gregariousness, had a wide circle of friends. Thus, I came to a few political observations not so much through the study of books and treatises as through direct observation of various Tibetans, supplemented by news reports and a few academic books. My conclusion has been that, in order to effect a solution to the decimation, destruction, and impending disappearance of the Tibetan people, the fundamental worldview emerging from Dharamsala must change. Though I support Rangzen, my intention here is not to advocate specifically for Rangzen or for Ume Lam, but to point out that there must be a change in methodology before any desired outcome can be achieved.
PROBLEM 1: Magical thinking. The Tibetan people, and in particular, the Central Tibetan Administration, must abandon magical thinking. If CTA is going to follow a Middle Way policy, they owe it to the Tibetan people and the Tibet supporters to describe an efficient strategy to achieve this in a specified timeframe. After decades of “negotiations” that have failed to achieve even the slightest improvement in human rights, they owe us an honest explanation, as well as a corrective course. The current claim, namely that negotiation is the best strategy to resolve the conflict, relies on neither evidence nor logic. It draws its power from the Tibetan people’s remarkable faith in the person of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. That uniquely profound devotion should be a source of strength, yet the Tibetan government has allowed it to become their greatest weakness. Faith in His Holiness is manipulated so that Tibetan people wait endlessly, convinced that Chenrezig is their political savior and that they will somehow be saved by outside forces, or by anyone other than themselves. A more revolutionary approach, be it non-violent, or violently defensive, labels one something like a “heathen” who either does not understand Buddhism, or worse yet, has no devotion. In brief, the magical mentality so prominent among so many older Tibetans (and many of the youth) allows the government to evade all responsibility, criticism, and to remain unaccountable for their lack of progress.
I am a Buddhist. I believe that the Buddha, Milarepa, flew in the sky. I maintain that Tsongkhapa was an emanation of Guru Padmsambhava, and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is the most important emanation of Chenrezig for the Tibetan people. None of this makes me feel like I need to support a plan without a plan. Although a plan without a plan makes an interesting Zen koan, it is not the basis for a sound national policy. Chatting endlessly with mid-level Chinese Communist leaders while torture, cattle-prod rapes, and political executions go unabated does not even seem very Buddhist to me. Therefore, if the Central Tibetan Administration should like to regain the support of myself and other free-thinking individuals who understand directly the benefits of living in freedom, with rights and in one’s own nation, they will have to demonstrate a concrete plan within a specific timeframe to achieve an identifiable political goal. Whether a concretely outlined conciliatory approach would satisfy Rangzen advocates is another matter. However, at least the Tibetan government would stop looking stupid.
PROBLEM 2: Desire for comfort. I certainly applaud the successes of the Tibetan refugee community. In the communities I am most tied to, Dharamsala and the Washington D.C. area Tibetans, I have met numerous Tibetans who are smarter, more educated, kinder, more affluent, and certainly better human beings than I am. In Washington D.C., with Tibetan Sunday School and cultural programs, Tibetans do an amazingly good job of preserving Tibetan culture in a very different nation and environment. This is a success, and an admirable one, but like many successes, it has a downside. Affluent and comfortable people have a great deal to lose, and therefore may not want to believe a very simple truth. Any revolution, violent or non-violent, demands tremendous sacrifice, including sacrifice of life and blood. Although it is more comfortable to pretend to negotiate with a colonialist regime, the reality is that no colonialist empire is going to move until they are forced to. Yes, Gandhi drove out the British with a largely non-violent movement. However, Tibetans should refrain from citing and comparing their movement to Gandhi’s until they have a similarly strategic, mass movement of resistance, which they don’t. Moreover, I am not sure the nature of the CCP’s occupation can be compared to the British, and so scholars more astute than me would have to convene to decide what strategy of mass resistance (non-violent or defensive) would be most effective. Is there another option? There is.
When Ethiopia, a strong African nation, attempted to turn its occupation of Eritrea into a permanent incorporation of the country, Eritrea fought back. Eritrea had a mere 3 million people, and about 100,000 soldiers. Ethiopia received support from none other than the Americans, and later, the Russians. In fact, Russia sent so many tanks and weapons that Ethiopia could not even use all of them! There was a war of about thirty years, and Ethiopia lost to an Eritrean army living out of underground tunnels and camps. While Eritrea has since suffered innumerable woes, that is not the point. The point is that it is possible for a smaller, poorly equipped country to drive out a larger, colonialist empire. The Irish Republican Army, though sometimes accused of “terrorism” really did nothing more than meet the violence perpetrated by colonialist Britain in a strategic fashion, ultimately resulting in the peace deal (akin to autonomy) that Michael Collins signed.
Now, I am familiar with Tibetan and Buddhist communities and I realize I may be denounced as “inciting violence.” I am not doing that. I hope to incite thought about effective strategies. I would like to see real scholars of political science, international affairs, civil disobedience, and military history have roundtable discussions to decide on what type of resistance can make China budge. However, if you find me violent, I will accuse pacifists of the same. For remaining quiet, docile, and non-responsive while your countrymen are tortured, raped, and murdered is no strength, nor is it an admirable form of ahimsa. It is a form of cowardice and weakness. For example, if a man knows of a soldier who is continually raping and torturing his countrywomen, and he chooses not to act, is this a greater or lesser violence than taking a quick knife to the rapist's throat? I do not know. I only know that both acts are violent, that our world is violent, and that we must be more concerned with ascertaining the most ethical responses to brutality, than the least “violent” ones. After all, if you are Tibetan, you are already implicated in violence, whether that is the violence of pacifism or a violence of resistance. This is why most activists argue that self-immolations are “non-violent,” even though destroying the mandala of one’s own body is considered an egregious sin. Yet, the selflessness of taking that violent action for the benefit of others renders the action “non-violent.” These are mere semantics. The crucial point is that a sacrificial action will not be comfortable, and will likely result in death for one party or another. However, I can not think of a people who achieved respect, much less freedom, before they made tremendous sacrifices.
PROBLEM 3: Lack of time. Particularly in light of the trains going from China to Tibet, there is no time to waste. For a legitimate solution to the genocide in Tibet, there should be a specific timeframe for developing a course of action. For example, one year of meetings and roundtables, with progressive steps to decide and vote upon a resolution, should be sufficient. Then, the strategy should be implemented with a charted, timed expectation of results, and corresponding countermeasures if the desired effects are not achieved within that timeframe. Of course, a wholescale failure of a determined effort could result in the rapid, near extermination of the Tibetan people. However, I see no fault in rapidly achieving yourselves what the Chinese Communists will soon force upon you anyway. If the Tibetan people should die out in a legitimate struggle, at least the Tibetan nation would go down in blaze of glory, and live on in history books, instead of being slowly, insidiously, and silently removed from the world by the hands of the colonialist Communists. A quick death in pursuit of freedom would be preferable to a slow death waiting for nothing, much as a revolutionary prefers the executioner’s bullet to being gradually lynched! Time is of the essence.
Of course, since very few Tibetans are willing to admit that these three problems (magical thinking, desire for comfort, and a lack of time) coalesce to form the most formidable obstacle to freedom, I have scant hope of seeing a Free Tibet. China is a formidable opponent, and even with a strong and progressive revolutionary strategy, success is not guaranteed. For this, and more sentimental reasons, I will no longer sell any of my few books on Tibet. When I am old, and my daughters' family line is thinning out with non-Tibetan blood, I will produce these texts to teach my grandchildren about their heritage, and the marvelous nation of people that once upon a time…..were Tibetan.
The author may be contacted at email@example.com.