Young Phuntsog Jarutsang

He who allows oppression shares the crime.
- Desiderius Erasmus

On March 16, 2011, the third anniversary of the demonstrations that shook up Tibet in 2008, a young Tibetan monk named Phuntsok Jarutsang set himself on fire to protest the Chinese government’s continued oppression of the Tibetan people. According to reports, police officers extinguished the flames and then proceeded to beat the young monk mercilessly. He died in a hospital from injuries sustained from the beating. He was 21.

Now, Chinese authorities had announced that they plan to prosecute three Tibetan monks for their involvement in the death of the young monk. According to Voice of America, “China’s state run news agency Xinhua said Friday the court in Aba in Sichuan province is charging two of his fellow monks for plotting and assisting in the self-immolation. A third monk is being charged with moving or hiding the injured Phuntsog, preventing him from getting medical care, which lead to his death.”

All four monks were members of Kirti Monastery, which for months has been under siege from Chinese security forces who allegedly beat monks and set attack dogs on them. U.N. human rights investigators are still calling for China to disclose the “fate and whereabouts” of more than 300 monks who disappeared after being rounded up by police at the monastery. China is still defending its treatment of the monks who have been forced to undergo “re-education.” The Chinese government insists it has a right to interfere with “religious affairs.”

And the U.S. news media is still pretty much ignoring the situation. Nor is there any great outcry from the U.S. Government.

Casey Anthony studying Buddhism? Her attorney Jose Baez says she currently receiving “spiritual counseling.” Apparently one of her other attorneys, Dorothy Clay Sims, owns a place called the Vision Farm Retreat and Meditation Center in McIntosh, Florida. According to, Vision Farm Retreat and Meditation Center is a Thich Nhat Hanh community in Florida. Don’t visit their website, though. It takes you to a spam site. Naturally there’s some speculation about this connection (the lawyer and Thich Nhat Hanh) but then spiritual counseling could mean almost anything . . .

I’m not a big fan of “The Dude.” First off, I hate that word. Always makes me think of Keanu Reeves for some reason. Or Wayne’s World. Dude was not part of the lexicon of the Sixties. It came along much later when things started going seriously downhill. Likewise, “The Big Lebowski,” is not my favorite Coen Brothers film. I don’t have anything against The Dude. I’ve known a few people in that mold. However, I actually prefer my existentialist heroes to have a bit more class and sophistication. That being the case, I don’t have much interest in whether The Dude abides or not.

I am, however, a fan of the guy who played The Dude, Jeff Bridges. He’s had a couple of very good years here. Recently, he has made it known that he has some interest in Buddhism. In his typically understated and modest way, he has not made a big noise about it.

Bridges has also just released his second musical album, entitled Jeff Bridges, which he describes as “blues and country hymns.” It’s in the same groove as the music from “Crazy Heart” and produced by the man who put the music together for that film, T-Bone Burnett. The album has the kind of sound I like. I don’t think it’s going to set the world on fire. But, you never know.

One of the songs, “Tumbling Vine” begins with these words,

Here is the freedom
I have been sent
I’m delighted
I’m buddhistly bent.

“Buddhistly bent” sounds a little Dudeistic to me, but it’s cool nonetheless. The song isn’t bad either. You can listen to it here on Yahoo Music.

She’s a model and an actress and she’s written a book. Not a string of words that tends to stir thoughts in my mind about great literature. But, today I’d like to tell you about a possible exception. I want to tell you about a new book. I haven’t read it yet, but I’ve just put it on my list. The author’s name is Yangzom Brauen. I’d never heard of her before. It seems that she is a Swiss actress and model who’s been in a number of Swiss films and on a Swiss television series.  Maybe you’ve seen her in the handful of Hollywood films she’s made: Pandorum, Cargo, Movin’ In, Aeon Flux. I haven’t.

Yangzom Brauen is no Alpine Paris Hilton, though. Not even a Swiss Snooki. This model and actress is also a political activist, and a courageous one at that. On the left is a photo of her in 2001 being arrested in Moscow for protesting the choice of China to host Olympics in 2008. Moscow is one of the last places in the world I would want to get arrested. At the time, Brauen was serv­ing as pres­i­dent of Tibetan Youth Congress in Europe. Her father is a Swiss anthropologist and her mother, a Tibetan artist.

In 2009 she published a autobiography, Eisenvogel. Apparently, it’s more than just a biography, it’s the story of three generations of Tibetan woman: Brauen’s Tibetan grandmother, her Tibetan mother, and herself. By the way, her grandmother, who’s in her 90s, is a Buddhist nun.

The book was a bestseller in Germany and Switzerland and St. Martin’s Press is publishing it here in the U.S. on September 27, 2011. Across Many Mountains: A Tibetan Family’s Epic Journey from Oppression to Freedom (translated by Katy Darbyshire) is described as “A powerful, emotional memoir and an extraordinary portrait of three generations of Tibetan women whose lives are forever changed when Chairman Mao’s Red Army crushes Tibetan independence, sending a young mother and her six-year-old daughter on a treacherous journey across the snowy Himalayas toward freedom.”

If you go the Amazon page for the book, you’ll see she’s gotten some rave reviews from the likes of the Dalai Lama, Oliver Stone, Robert Thurman and others. I ran across an excerpt of Across Many Mountains and I liked what I read. Here’s the first paragraph:

It is late autumn and the wind whistles across the dry, rocky fields and meadows. As I step out of the house a fierce gust pushes me aside, so strong that I have to tilt my body into its force. Mola stands with her legs planted wide, buttressing herself against the gale.  Mola means grandmother in Tibetan. My grandmother is a ninety-one-year-old Buddhist nun. In the tradition of all Buddhist nuns, her now snow-white hair is cropped close to her scalp, and she wears only red, orange, and yellow. Her floor-length Tibetan chupa billows out like a sail, and it takes all her concentration to keep her balance. My grandmother wants to perform kora.  For Tibetans, kora means walking around a sacred place absorbed in prayer, a kind of pilgrimage that can encompass hundreds of miles or only a few yards.”

You can read the entire except here. And learn more about Yangzom Brauen at her website.

I like simple, evocative writing and that’s what I got from the except. Across Many Rivers has been out in the UK for several months and the comments on Amazon along with several advance reviews here have been somewhat negative about the writing. But you never know. I once judged a book by its cover and it turned out to be one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century (Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany).

In any case, some 30 years ago I read In Exile From The Land of The Snows, John F. Avedon’s compelling, and I suspect still definitive, account of the Tibet story. I feel like its time for another one and Across Many Rivers looks promising to me. I thought I’d tell you about it, and about Yangzom Brauen. You know, just in case you’re interested . . .

2001 photo:

History was made last Sunday morning when the Dalai Lama affixed his signature to a document making changes to the constitution of Tibet that bring 469 years of theocratic rule to an end. The changes mandate the transfer of executive power from the Dalai Lama to elected representatives. He is no longer the Head of State.

This move is sure to confound the Chinese, who have hoped to control the Tibet “problem” by appointing a puppet successor to the Dalai Lama’s political position.

This change has actually been a long time coming. When he fled Tibet in 1959, the Dalai Lama pledged to reform their constitution and to replace the reincarnation based selection process for his successor with one based on nomination. You might ask why it has taken so long. The short answer is that Tibet’s situation is complicated and you don’t end centuries long traditions overnight, especially when relatively speaking your people just joined the modern age. The longer answer is too long for this post.

You can read details of the “historic move” in this article.

Elsewhere, Richard Gere says US must do more for Tibet. I agree. How about some friggin’ coverage on CNN and MSNBC for a start.

Thursday both Democrats and Republicans on the House Committee on Foreign Affairs urged President Obama to welcome His Holiness at the White House when he visits next month. The last time the Dalai Lama visited Washington, in October 2009, Obama did not receive him, but they did have an unofficial low-key meeting some four months later.

Because of Chinese objections, having the President of the United States receive the Dalai Lama at the White House has always been a political hot potato. When Clinton was in office, the Dalai Lama met with V.P. Gore and then Clinton joined them in a staged accidental meeting. Bush met the Dalai Lama, not at the White House, but at the Capitol, although to his credit, Bush treated him with the honor he deserved.

It’s been a while since I have posted an excerpt from my transcript of teachings the Dalai Lama gave in 1997 at UCLA on Nagarjuna’s Ratnavalli or “The Precious Garland.”

For newer readers of The Endless Further, I’ll mention again that I taped the entire four days of teachings, some 24 hours worth of tape, transcribed it by hand, and then made a second copy using an ancient writing device known as a typewriter. A rather tedious and time-consuming process, but it really helped to engrave these teaching on my mind. I approached the entire process as a form of practice.

When the Dalai Lama lectures on Buddha-dharma, he speaks in Tibetan and then his words are translated into various languages. This transcript then is of the English translator, and it’s verbatim, so in places it’s a bit redundant.

The Precious Garland entertains the question that if it is the case that things and events are in the final analysis devoid of intrinsic reality and they are empty of independent reality or essence, how is it that to our perceptions there is this multiplicity of appearances that seem to enjoy some sort of uniqueness and distinctiveness in their existences? The verses from 52 onward address that problem.

If the way in which we see the world reflects the true nature of reality, then the deeper that we probe the nature of reality, the clearer the perception of the world should become. However, that is not the case. Just as a mirage appears from far away, but the closer you come the mirage disappears. Similarly, with the perception of the world, the closer you come to the nature of reality, the more untenable it becomes.

As in the case of a mirage,
those far away who (view) the world
see it to be real just as it is,
but being signless, it is not seen by those nearby. 53

In verse 53, it says ‘those far away.’ Far away here is a reference to our ordinary perceptions of the world, which is far away from the actual nature of reality. As we approach close, that sort of perception is dismantled because the actual nature of reality is ‘signless’. These conceptual apparitions that we create do not really reflect the nature of reality.

A mirage seems to be water,
But it is not water, not is it real.
Likewise, the aggregates seem to be the Self,
but they are not the Self, nor are they even real. 54

(Seeing) a mirage, one might think,
‘That is water,’ and then go up to it;
if one still grasped (at the water, thinking,)
‘That water isn’t here,’ it would be quite stupid. 55

In verses 54 and 55, we see that when one first imagines the mirage to be water, then you approach and find that there is no water, you think that that there was water before but there isn’t any now. That is the wrong way of thinking. Rather, one should conclude that the initial perception of there being water was a mistake. Similarly, when one arrives at an understanding of emptiness, one should not feel that the intrinsic reality or essence that existed before has been eliminated or in some sense shown to be non-existent. Rather one should understand that the intrinsic reality that one perceives to begin with is not there at all.

The reference in verse 55 resonates a form of argument that we find in the Madhyamaka Kavatara (“Entrance into the Middle Way), when Candrakirti argues that if one’s understanding of emptiness is that emptiness negates the intrinsic reality, then the transcendent awareness of the Aryan Beings [This is a reference to those who have already become enlightened; “Aryan” literally means “noble.”] would be a cause for the destruction of the empirical world. Therefore, one denies it. So it is the same kind of argument.

Following up on my recent post about the situation at Kirti Monastery in Tibet: Reports Saturday that Chinese police killed two Tibetan villagers during a raid on the monastery. The US-based International Campaign for Tibet say two monks were beaten to death Thursday after they tried to prevent police from detaining hundreds of other monks. The deceased were identified as two elderly Tibetans, 60 year old Dhonkho of Thawa Ghongma township and 65 year old Sherkyi of the Rako Tsang house Chashang township. The raid by Chinese police resulted in the arrest of around 300 monks who were taken to an undisclosed location.

Tibetans in exile around the world have gone on hunger strikes protesting the repression in Tibet and demanding the withdrawal of Chinese troops from the monastery.

The Tibetan government-in-exile Saturday once again appealed to the international community to persuade China not to use force against locals in northeastern Tibet.

Still, not a word mentioned on the cable news networks. Nothing on their websites. We know how many were killed in Libya and Syria, but not Tibet. We know what happened to Lindsey Lohan on Friday and how many hours are left until the Royal Wedding, but viewers are not informed about Kirti Monastery. No protests from the US Senate or the House of Representatives. Nothing from the White House.

Friday,  President Obama released a statement on Syria, in which he said “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the use of force by the Syrian government against demonstrators. This outrageous use of violence to quell protests must come to an end now. We regret the loss of life and our thoughts are with the families and loved ones of the victims, and with the Syrian people in this challenging time.”

And what about Tibet, Mr. President? As a well-known singer-songwriter once asked, “How many deaths will it take . . .”

China is an equal opportunity repressor. This past weekend, Chinese authorities detained several hundred congregants of an “underground” evangelical Protestant church in their homes while arresting 36 others when they gathered in a public square to hold Easter services.  The church is called Shouwang, or Lighthouse, maintains that it is not political and only interested in either returning to its rented space, from which they were evicted earlier in the month (unlawfully they maintain), or be allowed to hold gathering outdoors or in private homes.

This week the Dalai Lama will visit the United States.  On Wednesday, an announcement is expected on the new prime minister for the Tibetan parliament-in-exile . . .

Hopefully the visit will help focus some attention on the situation.

Young monk Phuntsok

On March 16, 2011, coinciding with the third anniversary of the widespread demonstrations that rocked Tibet in 2008, a young Tibetan monk named Phuntsok Jarutsang set himself on fire to protest the Chinese government’s continued repression of the Tibetan people. Police officers extinguished the flames and then proceeded to beat the young monk mercilessly. He died in a hospital early the next morning from injuries sustained from the beating. He was 21.

According to the Tibetan Centre for Human Rights and Democracy, on April 9th, Chinese security forces cordoned the Ngaba Kirti Monastery restricting the movement of monks with no one being allowed to go in or out. The monks have been living on food offered by locals through the monastery administration as the Chinese authorities have prohibited local Tibetans from offering food to monks directly. Chinese officials maintain that the situation at Kirti Monastery is “normal.”

Yesterday a report surfaced from Tibetan sources that gives a clearer picture of the situation: The source called the monastery “a jail filled with monks.” Monks are not allowed to leave their quarters after 8PM.  The monastery’s medical facilities has been shut down. Chinese authorities have constructed walls around the monastery.  Soldiers and police enter monks’ quarters at random and ransack them, and some one hundred monks have gone missing or are unaccounted for in the area since the March 16th incident. Authorities have also subjected the monks to extensive “Patriotic Reeducation” sessions that in some cases have lasted for hours.

On April 16th, the Tibetan Parliament in exile appealed for the United Nations to intervene. The UN has yet to respond.

From what I have seen, the cable news networks and my local channels have ignored this story. They keep me up to date with what is happening in Libya, but nothing on Tibet. It’s an old story. It doesn’t have the large scope that the Middle East has, there is no oil in Tibet, and I suspect China’s influence has something to do with it, too.

Six decades have passed since China invaded Tibet. The Dalai Lama gets lip service from US presidents but little else. In 1990, Iran invaded Kuwait and within months, we were chomping at the bit to go and liberate a country that is but a fraction of Tibet’s size. The disparity is obvious. Tibet is only important to Buddhists and liberals and social activists and people of that ilk. Our president, whom I admire, is two out of three there, so I wish he were more outspoken on the subject, and a few others to boot.

Tibetan Prayer Wheel (Mani Khorlo)

I don’t know what to say except that it’s tragic. I don’t know what else to do other than be one of the voices calling attention to China’s cruel repression, even though, if you’re reading this, chances are you are part of the choir. I may have some strong opinions about the validity of lineage claims and some of the historical misrepresentations about monastic Buddhism, but that does not mean that I am against Buddhist monks or want to see that aspect of Buddhism disappear. We owe so much to the monastic tradition. One thing is sure, without it, there would be no Buddhism today. Had there not been such a tradition in Tibet, perhaps many important sutras and teachings would not have been preserved. This is just one contribution to world culture Tibet has made. Comparing Tibetan texts with Chinese versions has helped scholars understand how the sutras were compiled, how they were revised, which are apocryphal and so on.

Tibet has given us a rich and unique culture to appreciate – and we should not forget that uniqueness is also part of diversity, for diversity means not merely to tolerate or accommodate differences, but to also celebrate and, in some cases, preserve them. Tibet is home to a culture suffused with ancient wisdom, one that struggles to maintain its identity as it faces an uncertain future. Based on the Buddhist concept of dependent arising, their struggle is also ours.

Meanwhile, the siege of Kirti monastery continues . . .

May all types of harm and violence in these snowy lands,
Be swiftly pacified and eliminated entirely.
May precious sublime bodhichitta
Arise naturally in the minds of all beings, human and non-human alike,
So that they never again think or act in harmful, violent ways.

May the minds of all be filled with love for one another!
May the whole of Tibet enjoy abundant splendours, happiness and wellbeing!
And may the Buddha’s teachings flourish and endure!
Through the force of the truth embodied in the Three Roots, the Buddhas and their heirs,
And through the power of all the sources of merit throughout samsara and nirvana,
And of our own completely pure, positive intention,
May this, our prayer of aspiration, be fulfilled!

“Prayer for Peace and Stability”, Jamgön Kongtrül Lodrö Thayé (1813-1899)

Palden Dorje-Buddha BoyMAYBE you heard about the “Buddha Boy”: Ram Bahadur Bamjan, age 20, known by his monastic name, Palden Dorje, and believed to be enlightened, in fact the reincarnation of the Buddha. He sat meditating in the hollow of a tree for nearly a year, between May 2005 and March 2006, where he received thousands of visitors and much media attention.

The Buddha Boy recently went berserk, savagely beating 17 people who sacrificed animals during an annual fair near Kathmandu, Nepal. Bomjan and a few of his associates more or less kidnapped these 17 villagers, jammed them in a small room and beat them up with sticks.

I don’t have much sympathy for anyone who would sacrifice an animal. Nonetheless, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say I don’t think that Buddhas beat people with sticks, either.

Rinchen SamdrupTIBETAN environmentalist Rinchen Samdrup was sentenced to five years in prison by a Chinese court earlier this month. His crime was inciting separatism by posting a pro-Dalai Lama article on his website. Samdrup is the third brother in his family to be jailed. His website is devoted to protecting the environment in the Himalayan region.

It is amazing to me that this man will spend five years in prison for doing what I have on this blog many times. I feel sad for him and I also feel thankful to live in a free society. Read the BBC report here.

Ground Zero

I HAVE mixed feelings about the proposed Ground Zero Mosque, which is actually going to be two blocks away. I’m not crazy about any of the three Western Monotheistic religions, but Islam I find particularly disturbing.  For many reasons.

Likewise, even though I have great respect the man, I also have mixed feelings about Robert Thurman’s recent editorial in the Washington Post.  He thinks it’s a wonderful idea to build a mosque and says that it would send a positive message of tolerance and peace.

Thurman says, “. . . let the 9/11 tragedy be mourned with museums and monuments to those who lost their lives, and let the building of mosques, churches, synagogues, temples, Dharma centers – and ideally a world religions’ Temple of Mutual Understanding . . .”

Maybe I have the wrong attitude, but I think it would be better to have a very simple, non-sectarian monument to remember and then take the money they would spend building all those mosques, churches, museums, etc., and create a global program or organization that would go out into the world to teach and foster tolerance and peace. That’s where the need is. Some readers will remember my recent post about a UN report that cited 24 countries where religious persecution was widespread in one form or another. Those are the places where we should send living monuments, in the form of dedicated practitioners of peace, a sort of Peace Corps of tolerance.

I suppose such an entity would require a building to be housed in, but I think one would suffice. Perhaps the idea is unworkable, I don’t know. I just feel that monuments are somewhat passive. We have enough of them already. If we are ever going to really deal with the underlying causes for terrorism and religious intolerance, I think we need to take a more active approach.

In any case, you can read the complete editorial by Robert Thurman here.

Chinese security forces are crossing into Nepal to hunt down Tibetan refugees, and Nepal’s police are capturing refugees and trying to repatriate them back to Tibet where they will assuredly not receive a warm welcome.

The Washington-based International Campaign for Tibet (ICT) has issued a report that documents “Vigorous strategies by Beijing to influence the Nepalese government, border forces, the judicial system and civil society at a time of political transition in Nepal ,” which means that “Tibetans in Nepal are increasingly vulnerable, demoralized and at risk of arrest and repatriation.”

An official in Kathmandu calls this ongoing pressure along with refugees’ lack of status “death by a thousand cuts.”

Each year, several thousand Tibetans make the perilous journey across the border into Nepal, fleeing persecution and repression in Chinese-controlled Tibet, but Nepal has no asylum laws. In past years, however, Nepal has allowed refugees safe passage to Dharamshala in India, home of the Dalai Lama, under a so-called “gentleman’s agreement” made with the United Nations.

Cara Anna reports in the Huffington Post about an antiques dealer who is set to stand trial “on what rights groups say is a trumped-up charge of grave-robbing amid the largest crackdown on Tibetan intellectuals since the Cultural Revolution.”

Chinese authorities are targeting Tibetan intellectuals in a new campaign to silence all dissent. The ICT has also reported that 31 Tibetans are now in prison “after reporting or expressing views, writing poetry or prose, or simply sharing information about Chinese government policies and their impact in Tibet today.”

The Tibetan people are indigenous to that region but there are also Monpas and Lhobas, Hui (who practice Islam), and Han Chinese, the vast majority of the latter sent by China in what Robert Thurman has described as “ethnic cleansing by population transfer.” In 1913, The 13th Dalai Lama as the head of Tibet’s government declared independence from China.  Just as the British government did not accept the independence of the American Colonies, China refused to accept Tibet’s.

Tibet’s importance to China has a lot to do with India, but there are a myriad of other reasons as well, and very little of it has to do with China’s so-called historical claims. You can get some insight from Vikram Sood, a former officer in India’s external intelligence service here.

I ran across this is an article from a anonymous writer on what is obviously a pro-Chinese website, who, among other things, has an issue with the current Dalai Lama calling himself a “son of India.” It’s only interesting if you like to read propaganda.

Like Bob Thurman, I find the pro-Chinese attitude towards the Dalai Lama bizarre. He talks about that and why Tibet matters in this, posted some months ago in the Upaya Newsletter. G

John Avedon’s In Exile from the Land of Snows is a moving and eloquent account of the Chinese invasion of China and Tibetan refugees in exile, and provides a clear and concise background on Tibetan culture. Published in 1984, I think today the book still lives up to its sub-title as the “definitive account.” The stories of the Tibetans whom the Chinese imprisoned and subjected to appalling tortures are unforgettable.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who knew something about repressive regimes and labor camps, called China’s administration of Tibet as “more brutal and inhumane than any other communist regime in the world.”

And finally, a few unforgettable facts:

It is estimated that since 1959, 1.2 million Tibetans have died as a direct result of Chinese incursion into the country.

Between 1959 and 1977 all but 12 of more than 6,000 monasteries were destroyed. Many of them were used as target practice by Chinese artillery.

It is believed that approximately 3,000 religious and political prisoners are held in prisons and forced labor camps where torture is common. There are reports that Tibetan women are subject en masse to forced abortions and sterilization.

There are strong concerns, voiced internationally, that China is using Tibet as a dumping ground for nuclear waste.

China severely restricts the teaching and study of Buddhism, the essential core of Tibetan culture.