Kalon Tripa Prof Samdhong Rinpoche’s Address to the General Assembly of the Swiss-Tibetan Friendship Association

Dear Brothers and sisters,
It is a great honor for me to participate in the General Assembly of the Swiss-Tibetan Friendship Association and have the opportunity to share with you some of my views and experiences. Swiss-Tibetan Friendship Association is one of the oldest organizations for the Tibetan refugees which has played an important role over the last half a century in not only looking after the welfare of the Tibetan refugees settled in Switzerland but also in preservation and promotion of Tibetan cultural heritage, in strengthening the Tibetan struggle for achieving freedom and genuine autonomy for all the Tibetan people and in promoting awareness of Tibet issue in the Western world.  I deeply appreciate all the efforts made by the past and present members of this Association. I take this opportunity to express our gratitude on behalf of 6 million people of Tibet to all of you and through you to the international community in general and people of Switzerland in particular. Switzerland was the first Western country to invite a large number of Tibetan refugees for resettlement and these settlers have been the happiest among the Tibetan Diaspora. They are able to lead a very happy life with freedom and dignity and also able to help fellow Tibetans living in India, Nepal and Bhutan. We will never forget the kindness of Swiss people and government for their help offered when we were badly in need of it.

I have been asked to say a few words on the democratic system practiced by Tibetans in exile and about the Tibet Support Groups¹ (TSG) contribution to the Tibetan struggle and their relevance in the future. Both of these subjects are very important but these are vast and complex. Therefore, I don’t know how much justice I can do to these topics. However, I will try.

1. As far as the system of democracy being practiced by Tibetans in Diaspora is concerned, democracy is not a new concept or system for the Tibetan people. Our apparent opening up to democratic functioning was not prompted by the Chinese occupation of Tibet nor was it prodded by our interface with the outside influence. In the first quarter of the Twentieth Century, His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama had made lots of efforts to democratize the political system of Tibet, much before the present People’s Republic of China even came into existence. But he couldn’t achieve much due to various internal resistance as well as external factors. The present, 14th Dalai Lama, since his childhood and long before taking over the temporal power, had an unmistakable will to democratize Tibet. But unfortunately, by the time he was given the reins of the country half of its territory was already occupied by People’s Republic of China’s military force. In spite of this, for nine long years, from 1950 to 1959, he tried his utmost to introduce many measures and reforms towards democratization but every time these moves were systematically thwarted by the Chinese military junta. It is only in exile that he got the free hand to implement his vision.

There was but uniqueness about this transformation so characteristic of the leader and his people. In our case, the Head of the State advocated democratization and consequent relinquishing of his authority but the people refused to accept it. Just contrast it with some of the authoritarian, dictatorships of 20th Century. During the last fifty one years of life in exile, His Holiness has gradually persuaded and educated his people to adopt a democratic way of life and translate the ideals into implementation so that what is achieved is a genuine democracy and not mere lip service.

The model of Tibetan democracy is fundamentally different from the modern democratic principles. The modern political systems all over the world, by and large, are governed by the economic ideology of Capitalism or Marxism/Socialism. The political systems are derived from these two ideologies. Both of these ideologies are based on the potential conflict with humanity and not on the potential of co-operation or collaboration of the humanity. Marxism laid its foundation on the concept of class struggle and Capitalism laid its foundation on the concept of so called free and fair competition. Today’s democratic system is based on capitalistic idea of individual rights and market oriented economy. Tibetan Diaspora governance system is based on basic principles of equality of all sentient beings on the basis of their potential for unlimited development. Such equality can be established in day to day living only through co-operation and not through competition. Competition invariably leads to a form of confrontation or struggle. Love and equality cannot be achieved through competition. Whether in political system or in economic system, it prevents genuine co-operation and collaboration. Realizing this aspect of human nature, the Buddha had advocated a democracy free from sense of competition. Such system was practiced in various Republics in ancient India such as Vaishali during Buddha’s lifetime. Truly speaking, awakening of human intelligence is the ultimate objective of the society. It creates a level of rationality, which leads to unanimity ­ a state of harmony.

Although we do not deny the possibility of multiparty systems of democracy for Tibetans in future, we strongly believe that a party less democracy is possible in which each individual has freedom to deal with every issue according to his or her wisdom without any imposition or any conditions from groups or ideologies. The Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies (Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile) is a living example of party less democracy. It represents all Tibetans equally. There are no group ideologies, programs, majority or minority. Domination of majority over minority too is a kind of imposition of its views against the will of the minority, far from an ideal situation in a democracy.

Decentralization of decision-making processes and implementation processes makes each individual responsible and sovereign to think and to act. It enables the individual to think globally and act locally. In our view, when a few persons live at the cost of others it is totalitarianism. On the other hand, the principle of ‘live and let live’ is ordinary democracy. But, where everyone lives for the other is a model of democracy, and this is what we are trying to achieve.

An ideal democracy has to have three basic components:

1. An enlightened leadership,
2. Right philosophical ideology, and
3. Enlightened and responsible people

We, the Tibetans, fortunately possess the first two components and we are striving hard to meet the third criteria. Plato spoke of ‘the philosopher king’ and Bertrand Russel talked about ‘common will’. Both these factors are embodied in essence in the person of the present Dalai Lama, and in the Buddhist philosophy of non-violence and interdependent origination which presents the perfect right view. Now, only our people need to mature to usher in the ideal democracy.

In June 1991, a Charter for governance of Tibetan Diaspora received the assent of His Holiness after it was duly approved by the XIth Assembly. The Charter made the people sovereign and every organ of the government – executive, legislative, judiciary and even the authority of His Holiness – derived its power through the provisions enshrined in the Charter. Although our Charter was drafted under the guidance of His Holiness, its draft carries the nature of polity as secular and therefore the entire Charter was drawn on that basis. But during the debate in the Assembly the word ‘secular’ was substituted by the word combination of ‘dharma and polity’. However, the basic structure of the Charter remained unchanged. Thus we have a Charter based on secularism without the word of ‘secular’. In our Charter the Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies is the supreme although there is demarcation of authority among legislative, executive and judiciary. The Assembly alone has the power to withdraw the powers and functions of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as Head of State and Head of Executive. Similarly the Assembly can impeach the Kalon Tripa or the Kashag or the Chief Justice Commissioner or Justice Commissioners. The other check and balance provisions are similar to modern democratic systems.

In the beginning the Charter provided His Holiness to nominate candidates for electing members of Kashag by the Assembly and thereafter the Kalons shall elect Kalon Tripa from among themselves. This provision was amended in the year 2001 and since then Kalon Tripa, the Head of the Executive, is being directly elected by the people and he nominates his colleagues with the approval of the Assembly. Since 2001, the entire administrative and the political decisions are taken by the elected Kalon Tripa and His Holiness remains a kind of figurehead. At the present moment, His Holiness is actively considering to withdraw himself completely from the ceremonial duties of exile administration in order to make the process of democratization reach its ultimate stage. For this the basic structure of the Charter needs further amendment. The proposition of His Holiness has obviously alarmed the Tibetan people inside Tibet and in Diaspora. But on the other hand His Holiness appears to be quite resolute. I think this development will be of a very important nature. It will be a turning point in the history of Tibet’s polity and governance.

2. As far as the Tibet Support Groups’ (TSG) contribution to the Tibetan struggle and their relevance in the future is concerned, His Holiness the Dalai Lama reminds us constantly that this expression of international support has become the fourth refuge in the political vocabulary of the Tibetan people. To explain what he means, when Buddhists pray, they say, ‘I take refuge in the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha’ and because of TSG’s whole-hearted support, they have become the political refuge in our struggle for survival as a people with a distinct culture and national identity. The worldwide Tibet support movement is one of the unique international coalition movements in the world. Devoted to the universal values of truth, justice and freedom and to the spirit of non-violence and reconciliation, this movement continues to attract and inspire the imagination of thousands of talented individuals across the globe. Their dedication and enthusiasm to the support of the Tibet cause makes the Tibet movement worldwide one of the great movements of non-violence in contemporary times. Their sustained and concerted campaigns over the years have resulted in promoting the awareness of the Tibetan issue all over the world and kept it as a burning topic and mobilized governments and parliaments around the world to speak up for the people of Tibet.

The efforts and dedication of TSGs have inspired a new generation of committed Tibetans in Tibet. They are risking their lives to preserve Tibet’s spiritual and cultural heritage by their non-violent resistance. The Tibetan people are blessed by this expanding network of friends and supporters around the world. No other cause however just, no other struggle however long, has been as blessed as the Tibetan people by the commitment of these Support Groups. Thanks to the work of Tibet Support Groups, the political cause of Tibet, and the preservation and promotion of Tibet’s rich cultural and spiritual heritage, specially the Tibetan Buddhist and cultural centers, have remained alive on the agenda of world community.

The nature of entire Tibet Support Group movement is voluntary participation, inspired by love for justice, by using their own time, resources and energy with full awareness that no personal, political or material benefit, whatsoever, could be gained for their tireless and unceasing effort. Therefore, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama always says that Tibet Support Groups should not be considered as pro-Tibet or anti-China. They are rather pro-justice and anti-injustice.

The Tibet Support Groups consist of multi-faceted groups of experts and professionals in the fields of human rights, environment, development, culture and religion and so forth. Some TSGs work for the overall improvement of the human rights situation in Tibet. These include efforts to highlight cases of individual prisoners of conscience and their eventual release and documenting the atrocities committed on them. Other TSGs produce a constant stream of high quality research work on the negative impact of ill conceived development works in Tibet, and on its culture and people. Some focus on the expanding railway line, rampant mining, indiscriminate deforestation, forced resettlement of nomads in permanent structures on the grasslands and the growing expansion of Chinese settlement on the Tibetan plateau and their negative impact on the fragile environment of Tibet.

Then, there is another aspect to the Tibet Support movement. This aspect is the Tibetan Buddhist centers, academic institutions for Tibetan studies and Tibetan cultural centers. These Tibetan cultural centers attract an ever-expanding circle of devout friends for Tibet in every corner of the globe, every year. This component is important for us because the activities of these centers ensure that Tibet’s spiritual and cultural heritage can and will survive outside of Tibet. These centers also reflect the abiding relevance of Tibetan culture and spirituality. That an expanding international civil society, beholden to no one, no government, no sovereign, flourishes is an eloquent message of the international community’s recognition of the universal values of compassion and non-violence inherited by the Tibetan people from ancient India. This I feel gives us the confidence to say that with or without the Tibetan people, their culture and the values that underpin it will be cherished by the world. This is because Tibetan culture speaks not just the language of the Tibetan people. It speaks the universal language of humanity.

The Tibetan people’s movement for our cultural survival is invigorated by the fact that an increasing number of our Chinese brothers and sisters are embracing it. Appreciation of the values of Tibetan culture is growing amongst the Chinese, both in and outside of Mainland China. We are deeply grateful to many brave Chinese individuals and organizations in China for speaking up for the Tibetan people in the aftermath of the brutal crackdown on the widespread and peaceful protests in 2008 that called for freedom in Tibet and the return of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to his homeland. Many of these individuals organized an open letter expressing their support for His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle-Way policy and called on the Chinese government to stop its propaganda against Tibet and His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

Today most of the state powers are only concerned for economic gains. People’s Republic of China (PRC) is not only emerging as an economic giant but also an unlimited market for every product. Therefore, usually state powers are adopting a policy of appeasement towards PRC and consider Tibet issue an unnecessary irritant in their relationship with PRC. If strong public opinion in these democratic countries were not created by Tibet Support Groups, all these governments of various countries would have chosen to push aside the Tibet issue long ago and our movement would have become difficult to sustain. Today, if most of the governments have to entertain the Tibet voice, it is because their own public opinion demands it. This, indeed, is an enormous, effective and result oriented contribution the TSGs have made to the Tibetan struggle.

I have touched just a few important aspects of their contribution but couldn’t recount exhaustively because it is so large and so varied.

The Tibet Support Groups remain more relevant than ever before since the Tibetans are passing through a most difficult period ever since the year 2008 uprising in Tibet. Coming few years will not only be very critical but most important period for the future of Tibetan people as rapid changes will take place in socio-economic and political spheres of the world in general and PRC in particular. The repressive measures adopted by the PRC authorities and the tolerance and patience of Tibetan people both have reached the threshold of their limits. Thus it is not a time to feel fatigue and give up. Each one of us who cares for the just cause of Tibet must revitalize ourselves, sharpen our focus, consolidate our action, repackage the whole movement and a final and forceful push be given to achieve the desired result. It is for this all the TSG’s dedicated themselves for over five decades.

To conclude, I feel the following four-point program for Tibetans and Tibet supporters is important:

1. To successfully generate a culture of non- violence within ourselves;
2. To be prepared to struggle for the Tibet problem, even if it takes many generations before we succeed. Younger and new generations of Tibetans and Tibet Support groups should be ever ready to carry on the responsibilities until we regain our genuine autonomy;
3. Should the Tibet problem be resolved in the near future, to be prepared to shoulder the responsibilities of rebuilding and sustaining a non-violent new Tibetan society; and
4. To maintain the sacred traditions and identity of Tibet in all circumstances.