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Foundations for a Modern Tibet (Parts I-III)

posted Mar 23, 2011, 5:22 PM by The Tibetan Political Review
By Tsewang Namgyal
(Tibetan version attached as PDF below) 

A very popular error: having the courage of one's convictions; rather it is a matter of having the courage for an attack on one's convictions!
                        - Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche

Let me preface by my definition of a modern Tibet. For me it means a free, transparent, secular, democratic society based on a market economy and infused by Tibetan Buddhist ethical values. A Land of Snow where every individual living in it are given equal opportunity to succeed and the weak are protected.
Last few months I had an opportunity to share few opinion pieces on Phayul. I appreciate the number of encouraging notes that I received from fellow Tibetans, concerned Chinese people and kind supporters. What I found most interesting is that many of us share similar views and do appear to share my view of a modern Tibet.
Our Buddhist wisdom of cause and effect teaches us that things do not just happen. Every cause and condition has its' corresponding product. One cannot wish for a fruit tree by planting seeds of a poisonous plant. In addition, our precious teachings remind us that the foundation of wisdom is compassion. Just as without the appropriate manure it will be difficult for the plant to grow, similarly, without a community based on compassion it will be difficult for the society to be truly modern.
Here in my final opinion piece to Phayul (until something really bothers me) I would like to humbly suggest few inputs that I believe will be important factors to create a modern Tibet. Going forward I hope to refocus my Tibet volunteer efforts to reach out to the Chinese community and continue on my efforts related to Tibet's economic development.
BOOT CAMP for young Tulkus
Tulkus have positively contributed much to our society throughout the centuries. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a living example. At a personal level I believe for a foundation of a modern Tibet we have to move in the path of secularization. The benefits of secularization far exceed the risks. We were fortunate (and arguably very lucky) to have someone like His Holiness the Dalai Lama guides us during the most difficult period in our history. A quick study of our history indicates that most of the past Dalai Lamas do not come even close to our current beloved leader.
Prior to going further I would like to clarify the term secularization. Many in our community believe that this means our respected Sangha should not get into politics. This is far from the truth. Every citizen should be encouraged to engage in politics just as I believe every Tibetan should study Tibetan Buddhist philosophy. I believe secularization means at the institutional level there has to be independence of our religion and politics. This is something that His Holiness has encouraged and we as our community have not been able to embrace it.
It is clear that in the near future our community will continue to call upon our Tulkus for political guidance. Based on this reality, I believe it is critical that we request upon our precious Tulkus to study modern political economic theories. In the early 1960s under the leadership of His Holiness the Dalai Lama I understand a school for Rimpoches' was set up. Here many of them were able to learn the English language. Individuals who were exposed to the school include distinguished Tulkus like Samdhong Rimpoche, Chogyam Trungpa and Gelek Rimpoche. Many of them have made great contribution to Tibet.
Tulkus study of modern political economics will reduce the ability of others to trick them, neutralize religious fanatics, get a better understanding of the conventional world, understand management techniques to more efficiently run their monasteries and allow them to support more efficiently our political leaders in our modernization process.
To educate our Rimpoches, TGIE and all of us as individuals can play a role by directly organizing seminars for our young Tulkus to attend, share with them biographies of modern political economic philosophers (such as Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, Peter Drucker and Jack Welch) and bring this discussion up during our conversations. If we all collectively make such investments, I believe the returns of our efforts to Tibet in the future will be huge.
Think of CAUSE and PATH
The Buddha taught the four noble truths: (i) truth of suffering, (ii) cause of suffering, (iii) cessation of suffering and (iv) path to the cessation of suffering. In the political economic realm in our society many a times our focus tends to be on the first and third noble truths. We now need to refocus more on the second (cause of our problems) and fourth noble truths (solutions to them) otherwise our efforts could be just academic.
Here I believe our journalists and writers can play a critical role. They need to provoke our leaders and public to think of causes and solutions. For example instead of asking leaders/public what their opinions are on a particular issue they should ask the reasons (pros and cons) why our leaders/public have certain opinions. Many a times in our discussions we often hear passionate opinions backed only by strong emotions (instead of reasons). By focusing on the WHYs it will help expedite change in our society towards a modern Tibet.
Respect is IMPORTANT
There is a certain segment in our society where they try to create change by making personal insults especially towards our TGIE officials. In addition, generalized attacks are made on "kudrags" and "Buddhist clergies" for wrongs in our society. One can understand such attacks coming from Chinese citizens who have been brainwashed by their government. The situation in our society is quite clear - Tibetans from all regions and sections of the society have made tremendous contributions. We also had bad apples from all regions and sections of our society. Creating fictitious enemies in our society is both a waste of time and counter productive.
For me TGIE officials are like a unique combination of government officials and volunteers. As a son of a former TGIE official (I know I maybe biased) but I believe overwhelming majority of them are trying their best with their respective missions and limited resources. As someone who is quite independent now living in the United States it is quite easy for me to complain and show disrespect as I do not need to personally depend on TGIE. However, I believe it is all the more important for individuals like us to show respect as a role model for the future generations. Unless we show respect others will not.
There is no doubt that dramatic changes needs to take place both in TGIE's structure and culture to make it more flexible, robust, forward looking and fun in order to inspire, retain and attract the best talents. In addition, constructive criticism is critical for a society and having appropriate checks/balance. However, unless we change our tactics to make this change through electing the right/qualified people, recognition of those who are doing a great job and provide support when possible we will not only discourage our current talented officials but also prevent future interested individuals from stepping into the plate. Without capable TGIE official our success rate for creating a modern Tibet is very small.
We need to make our movement more FUN
Personally I love to watch on YouTube TIPA traditional songs, Yadong la, Dadon la, Kunga la, Techung la, Phurbu T. Namgyal la, Ani Choying Dolma la, Tsering Gyurmey la and many others for inspiration when I write. They all appear to take so much joy in their work and in the process are playing a critical role in uniting Tibetans, promoting our culture and inspiring many of us. I believe we can all borrow from their joyful creative spirit in our own humble efforts related to Tibet's political, economic, education and environmental development.
Tibet is currently at a crossroad. We all know that next few years are critical in our history and Chinese government rule is brutal. I also understand Tibet's very existence is in question if we do not make the right moves. However, if we always stay in a mourning state this is not good for our physical health and mental creativity. I believe by bringing more fun to our movement with less complains and appreciating each others efforts it will allow us to come out with more innovative solutions and increase our stamina in our "fight." To borrow the words of President Harry Truman, "A pessimist is one who makes difficulties of his opportunities and an optimist is one who makes opportunities of his difficulties." Let us be an optimist and laugh in our way to creating a modern Tibet.
Joint Venture is GOOD
Through our past history and perhaps influence of India's swadeshi movement there is subtle protectionist mentality and glorification of self reliance. We need to move away from it as our circumstances are different. Two of the key weaknesses of Tibet's economy are: (i) poor management and (ii) lack of capital. The best way to mitigate both these issues is through the formation of joint ventures with qualified experienced outside partners. We cannot do it alone.
Openness to the outside world has its pros and cons. Tibet due to our current political position our choices are limited. Strong outside influences is forced upon us. Rather than trying to stop the impossible or being reactive we need to move more proactively and aggressively ahead of pending changes to move the direction of it. For example if we are able to develop tourism in a proper way this will likely have a greater chance of preventing more harmful projects like mining.
Encouragement of joint ventures should not include only with non Tibetans but also among us. In our society many a times partnerships tend to be focused more on trust than on comparative advantages. By focusing on our comparative advantage (ability of a person or country to produce a product more efficiently than another person or country) this will be beneficial to all of us. To put things into context it would be better for a wood carpenter and a Thanka painter to form a partnership than two thanka painters or two carpenters. Through proper formation of joint ventures with trusted partners that can complement one's weakness is an important ingredient in creating a modern Tibet. For more discussions related to this subject I would like to humbly share an interview I did with VOA titled Tibet's Changing Economy:
Do Good and Do Well
In my travels in Tibet and exile I believe majority of us Tibetans both in the lay and monastic community want to do good and do well. This is not to diminish the tremendous personal (including many ultimate) sacrifice of many, many Tibetans to give us all a brighter future but to see how we can tap the talents of the majority who are not that selfless. Unless we are able to tap the talents of the majority it would be very difficult for us to create a modern Tibet.
Based on this assumption, it is important for us to create opportunities or at least support those Tibetans who are able to do good and do well in our society. If not, they will have other professional choices. I personally know educated Tibetans (and nice people) who do not appear to volunteer any of their time, money or expertise towards Tibet. It is easy to feel angry but this is no solution. I believe even for those Tibetans where it is contingent for them to do well in order to do well we should work to attract them by creating opportunities.
In order to create a robust modern Tibetan economy the active participation of such Tibetans who want to do good and do well are critical in creating profitable self sustaining businesses. Such ventures indirectly will create jobs, products to self sustain Tibet's economy and are critical to create a modern Tibet.

Natural Resource Development

Understandably there is much concern among us Tibetans and supporters on the development of Tibet’s natural resources. This concern is beyond a Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) attitude but because we Tibetans do not have much say in its’ development. History has shown that human need (and greed) tends to be more powerful than justice (or environment). Based on this reality while it is critical to put pressure on natural resource developers in Tibet it is critical that younger generation of Tibetans study and get more experience on the subject. This is the best steps we can take not only in having some influence in the current development but better prepare for us to take control of the projects in the future. Since this is a subject that is relatively sensitive to all of us and I have some experience in the mining sector I would like to share further thoughts on it. 

Firstly I would recommend the book The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, & Power by Daniel Yergin that provides a comprehensive history of the energy sector influence on the world. The book will help provide a more comparative understanding of how natural resources have shaped many countries in the world and how we can learn from this experience. 

Secondly, we should be mindful of the “resource curse” and think of ways to mitigate the risks. Resource curse refers to the fact that many countries and regions that have an abundance of natural resources do not necessarily fare better. The reason is due to conflicts that natural resources cause (both external and internal), corruption it leads (allocating more to friends), Dutch disease (increase in real exchange due to resource exports decreases a country’s productive economic sectors due to higher wages), revenue volatility (for a better appreciation take a look at copper prices within the last 5 years) and increase in debt burden (due to tendency of excessive borrowing during boom years). 

Thirdly, we should support younger Tibetans who want to attend specialized schools (such as Colorado School of Mines and develop work experience in reputed natural resource firms (such as BP and BHP Billiton). Without education and experience our efforts will be near ineffectual. 

At a personal level I hope younger generation would have to spend less time thinking and making requests than actually enjoying the process of developing and executing projects. 

Fourthly, we should try to get a more indepth understanding of the business. If we are not able to work in such sector (whether as a blue or white collar) a good way to gather information is by buying small amount of shares in these projects and attending shareholder meetings. For those who live close to mine sites it would be very informative to befriend individuals who work in the mining sector and hear of their experience. 

There is no doubt that mining has its problems when it comes to the environment (such as erosion and contamination of water due to chemicals from mining process) during its construction, operation and when the project is closed. In addition, there are also safety issues. However, the reality is we all know its numerous benefits and use of metal products whether in building our houses, transportation, religious artifacts and household consumables. 

A zero tolerance is impractical and hypocritical if/when we are able to have more control in the development of the projects. For a future development of a modern Tibet it is important we have mining as part of our diversified economy. We also should look at the large market of China and India as opportunity rather than a threat. Natural resources can be a curse but with a good motivation, understanding and experience we can use it to anchor Tibet’s economic. 

Policy Change (by China)

Tibet’s economic development is important for China’s economic growth and vice versa. It is very difficult to develop Tibet’s economy until there is change in China’s current economic policies on Tibet. For starters China needs to allow Tibetans in Tibet more say in the region’s development and allow more flexibility in the use of government funds. Without more local participation and transparency this leads to waste and corruption.

Corruption is something not unique to Tibet. Earlier this year, Mr. Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, told the House Armed Services Committee that the United States had spent more than $50 billion on nonmilitary aid for Iraq out of which about $5 billion of the reconstruction money was wasted on dubious contracts ( 

I believe if China is able to set up an independent body comprised of international professional auditors and development experts to review the use of their Tibet development funds and make recommendation this would not only help bring grass root development in Tibet, increase the region’s (and China’s) economic development and reduce tensions in the region. It is in Tibetans and Chinese interest to focus on our mutual interest in the region’s economic development and reduce corruption/waste. Concerned Chinese people can play an instrumental role in tactically influencing the Chinese government to implement more practical policies. 

Policy Change (from outside)

For illustration purpose I would like to share few thoughts on the Tibet Policy Act (TPA) of 2002 to reflect the importance of having more practical policies from outside. TPA is one of our greatest success stories and is a reflection of the hard work of many individuals and organizations especially the International Campaign for Tibet. TPA promotes Sino Tibet dialogue, supports the set up of a U.S. consulate in Lhasa, provide scholarships for Tibetans and funds poverty alleviation projects in the Tibetan plateau to name a few. 

Not to diminish its importance it would not be prudent on my part if I did not highlight my perceived weakness of the TPA on the economic realm. TPA established guidelines for U.S. backing of potential development projects in Tibet through the U.S. Trade and Development Agency (“USTDA”), the Export-Import Bank and through support by international financial institutions such as the World Bank. The guidelines claims to reflect those released by the Tibetan government in exile and calls for "respect for Tibetan culture" and the "active participation of Tibetans" in their own economic development, which would "neither provide incentive for, nor facilitate the migration and settlement of, non-Tibetans into Tibet."” 

This sounds good but I believe since 2002 no Tibetan has been able to tap USTDA, EXIM Bank and the financial institutions to give Tibetans a competitive edge in business. Personally at a request of a Tibetan entrepreneur to assist him in one of his ventures I did check to see if his organization can tap the USTDA. Through this effort I realized it was not possible for Tibetans in Tibet to tap agencies USTDA and I feel the other agencies would be the same. 
Clause 6 subjects on-site monitoring of projects by the development agencies to ensure that the intended target group benefits. Here I was told that since USTDA does not have staff and resources to monitor the project it will probably not provide a grant if this is a requirement. One of USTDA primary responsibility is to provide feasibility grants and not to be involved during the construction and operation phase of the project. 

Clause 7 requires implementation by development agencies to use Tibetan as the working language of the projects. This also the USTDA staff indicated would prevent their agencies and others to be involved since they use English as a working language. Imagine if Tibetans in Tibet requested the United States government or other governments to support the exile efforts only if they used Tibetan as a working language? 

Clause 8 indicates that the projects should not provide incentive for, nor facilitate the migration and settlement of, non-Tibetans into Tibet.Here the USTDA staff indicted that since economic projects in general will provide attract labors it would be difficult to control who moves into the region. In addition, they indicated that local expertise may not be available. 

Finally clause 9 indicated that projects should neither provide incentive for, nor facilitate the transfer of ownership of, Tibetan land or natural resources to non-Tibetans. Here too he indicated that it would be difficult to filter ownership and occasionally investments may require involvement of strategic investors who may not be non-Tibetan. 

I believe in theory the mentioned clauses are well motivated but unless we amend it where for example the US Special Coordinator can make exceptions to the above clauses on a project basis the economic clause are near waste except for making us in exile feel we did something good. It is critical our leaders make some of these tough choices because one cannot blame our exile population since many have not been to Tibet. 

It is important we from outside implement practical policies that will help level the playing field (for example giving Tibetan financing sources since the Chinese have theirs) and allow Tibetans to compete effectively otherwise Tibetans in Tibet will continue to be economically marginalized. A poor Tibetan population will not be able to protect their language, culture and have no ownership of their own resources. If this makes sense, I would encourage every Tibetan to research this further and if it does make sense to lobby the appropriate organizations to make the changes. An economically empowered Tibetan population is paramount towards creating a modern Tibet and this starts with practical policies. 


His Holiness the Dalai Lama

His Holiness and our beloved teachers regularly remind us of the reality of death: (i) certainty and (ii) uncertainty.

One day Tibetans will experience one of the saddest days in our lives with the passing away of His Holiness. There are currently much candid discussions about the selection of the XV Dalai Lama. At the risk of being misinterpreted, I believe what appears to be overlooked in our discussion is the action plan immediately (first two-three weeks) after His Holiness passing. How we respond will have a profound impact on how His Holiness legacy will be preserved and the creation of a modern Tibet.

His Holiness is our greatest treasure. Legacies are defined much during the initial periods of the passing away of an important individual. In a civilized world people will not take advantage of a mourning period but we know better by the past behaviors of the Chinese government. Unless we think from their mindset and proactively prepare our reactive response could be too late. 

To put things into perspective I would like to humble share a possible scenario I envision soon after the passing away of His Holiness if we do not prepare.

First Week
Huge outpouring of international sympathy and media coverage on His Holiness and Tibet. Tibetans will respond with despair and anger towards the Chinese government (and later possibly blame each other). Sporadic riots may break out in Tibet despite the heavy military presence. Chinese government lay low and then give qualified praise to His Holiness and blame the people surrounding His Holiness. 

Second/Third Week
International sympathy slowly replaced by the next world event due to news fatigue on Tibet (similar to the events in Iran drowned by the death of Michael Jackson). To sustain public attention, news media (whose main focus is profits) may try to invite critics/paid Chinese consultants to discuss items that maybe more controversial on His Holiness to retain viewership. 

Tibetans feel confused and weakened with the direction or indifference of the media and public. China then goes on the diplomatic offensive, declares martial law in Tibet and with much pomp/publicity starts the process of the selection of the XV Dalai Lama. 

I believe we can mitigate such a situation through preparation. As a public, during such a sad and vulnerable period, it is critical we stay calm, united with our leadership and follows their advice on the next steps. It is likely that TGIE has procedures in place during this period and we should heed them. 

Ideally, it will be critical soon after such a sad news event a detailed clear Will of His Holiness is immediately released to the Tibetan, Chinese and International community in their respective languages. International sympathy and focus will be focused on the Will. This will be one of the greatest moments to impact the world with His Holiness kind wisdom.

TGIE should stay on the offensive in focusing/managing media discussion, advising our community and not be distracted/defensive by controversies/noise related to selection of the XV Dalai Lama and talking heads blabbing nonsense.

Around the end of the first week while international sympathy is still high, TGIE in the presence of international media and support of influential supporters/governments should formally delegate the task of finding the next Dalai Lama to senior Tibetan Buddhist leaders. TGIE should pledge to depoliticize the process and support whatever decision the respected search committee finds. This would be an implicit challenge to the Chinese government and anyone with common sense will support TGIE. Thus this will allow us to direct the flow of discussion. 

To quote His Holiness we should “hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” We need to go beyond prayers if we want to fulfill His Holiness’s wishes. We have to know how, when and where to present His wishes and most importantly act on it. This situation that I highlighted is as worst as it can get. Through such preparation for the worst (if we are not already doing so) we will help lay the foundation for a modern Tibet. 

Community Development

Our competitive edge I believe is our Tibetan Buddhist culture. I do not mean this from a tourist revenue standpoint (although this helps) but through absorbing the wisdom of our teachings – so profound, deep, calming, exciting and peaceful. To only get stuck with the tourist dollar level is not much different from getting excited by the recipe and not actually tasting the food. Combining our organic knowledge with the wisdom of outside societies who have made tremendous progress on social justice issues will allow us to build a solid foundation for a modern Tibet. 

On the Tibetan Buddhism front, I would like to humbly bring to the attention of young Tibetans to study the seven point mind training to generate Bodhicitta (enlightened mind). This is something I heard from our teachers and found very interesting (although I admit I have not been able to practice). There are so many great teachings in our midst but I believe implementation of the seven point mind training would energize us all to develop a strong sense of gratitude, responsibility and desire to give back to our community.

Seven point mind training tactically provide a step by step process that allow us to help develop (i) equanimity (with the rationality that our relationships keep changing), (ii) view all sentient beings as our loving mothers (since we have been reborn infinitely), (iii) reflecting the kindness of our mothers (starting by remembering the love we were raised while in our mother’s belly and as infants), (iv) create a desire to repair her kindness, (v) generate love (through a wish that states “may all mother sentient beings have happiness and the causes for happiness,” (vi) generate compassion (through a wish that “may all mother sentient beings be free from suffering and the causes for suffering,”) and then (vii) develop Bodhicitta. 

On social justice related issues there is much room for improvement in our society in reducing discriminations related to rig, gender/sexuality and mental illness. In addition, certain segments and regions are affected more than others by alcoholism, prostitution and gambling. Developed societies have shown that these issues can be reduced through proven tactics and by viewing social vices as an illness. Through such an attitude they have shown one will then look for the cause and provide helpful remedies rather than viewing the affected individuals as hopelessly good or bad. 

There are two vices that I feel we should highlight in our community. One was actually something that a successful Tibetan friend of mine from Tibet told me. He said in Tibet many a time if a business relation goes awry it becomes very personal. He said people become enemies for life and actually would kill each other. There is a medieval style of anger and revenge that is glorified. He felt we need to learn to calm down and resolve conflicts better. 

I felt in exile (probably due to a better justice system available) the issue appears to be less physical. However, I felt our weakness tends to be that people tend to disguise personal vendettas more by attacking your opponent’s character (less physical) from behind the scene. Here two I believe we could get help from experts on how to resolve conflicts. For a community to be strong we need to learn to work together not destroy each other. 

We Tibetans are very fortunate to have so many great teachers of the past and present (like Milarepa and His Holiness) to train and change our minds. Milarepa’s life story exposes both the weaknesses in our mind and our society. He also showed how He overcame them through regret, compassion, forgiveness, effort and wisdom. Similarly there are many other great teachers in the social level (both Tibetan and non Tibetan) that we need to tap and learn in order to strengthen our community. 

To quote Gandhi, “we must be the change we wish to see.” Gandhi did not say we need to complain more. Through freeing our mind and society of our vices we will automatically strengthen our community and lay the foundation of a modern Tibet. 

One of my favorite stories in Tibetan Buddhism is the last interaction between Milarepa and his student Gampopa. During their last meeting, Milarepa first questioned Gampopa’s ability to comprehend Milarepa’s final teaching. After initial hesitation Milarepa pulled up his robe and pointed to his butt. Milarepa’s butt was callused due to his long meditations. Milarepa then explained to Gampopa that one has to work and nothing changes without effort. Similarly, I believe all our ideas and theories are near useless if we make no effort. I believe if we all act NOW on the areas where we can bring most value, respect the value addition of others, unite our efforts, have fun/inspire each other in the process and put the good of society above all of us we will create a modern Tibet even if we do NOT hope for it. 
The author is an MBA graduate (Beta Gamma Sigma Honor Society member) from the Thunderbird School of Global Management and works in the Investment Banking field in New York City. Tsewang is one of the Founding Board of Directors of Students for a Free Tibet, first Tibetan to officially enlist in the United States Military and served as the Executive Director of the Tibetan Community Center Project (NY) from 2007-2008 . He can be reached at

Published on on July 27, 2009.  Reprinted in TPR with the permission of the author.


The Tibetan Political Review,
Mar 23, 2011, 5:30 PM
The Tibetan Political Review,
Mar 23, 2011, 5:30 PM
The Tibetan Political Review,
Mar 23, 2011, 5:30 PM