Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Amchok Rinpoche: The Karma of Tibet

Amchok Rinpoche with Cui Baohua of the UFWD
Several years ago, I interviewed a senior Tibetan Lama on ‘The Karma of Tibet’. I was then putting down on paper some historical reflections on what happened to the Tibetan Nation.
I consulted a Lama in Dharamsala.
He spoke good English and was then the Director of the Library.

Was there a defection on the Roof of the World?
Yesterday, the same Lama was in the news for completely different reasons.
The Global Times, the mouthpiece of the Communist Party of China titled: “Exiled living Buddha returns, snubs leader” and it went on to report that “a former senior member of the Dalai Lama clique, formerly exiled in India, has returned, which experts think indicates the declining influence of the group.”
Incidentally, for the first time since a long time, the Chinese media uses the term ‘clique’ to speak about the Dalai Lama’s Administration. It confirms the general hardening towards the Dalai Lama.

What has happened?
A few months ago, I wrote on this blog:
China has discreetly started appealing to the Tibetan Diaspora to join again the ‘motherland’. The move was decided during Central United Front Work Conference held in Beijing from May 18 to 20. …During his intervention at the Conference, Xi Jinping spoke of strengthening of the unity of ‘three types of people’. Who are these 3 types? Xi named them: overseas students, media representatives, and non-public economy representatives.
China Tibet Online asked a pertinent (for Beijing) question: “do overseas Tibetans count in the ‘three types of people’?”
The website affirms that there are about 170,000 Tibetans living abroad in 33 different countries.
…The Chinese media then said (it was in June 2015): “In 1978, the Chinese government formulated policies that ‘all patriots belong to one family, and that patriotism can be shown at any time’, as well as ‘freedom to come and go, letting bygones be bygones’ to welcome expatriate Tibetans to come home. Furthermore, Tibet’s economic development and the improvement of people’s living standards have also attracted overseas Tibetans to return home to visit their families and friends, make Buddhist pilgrimage, travel as tourists or do business.”
The Global Times’ article is about Amchok Rinpoche (written Achok by the Chinese). It says: “the living Buddha, returned to China in May and has settled down in the Aba [Ngawa] Tibetan and Qiang Autonomous Prefecture in Southwest China's Sichuan Province after he gained approval from Sichuan in April.”
The Communist tabloid commented: “Move indicates futureless end of the Dalai Lama group”.
Xiong Kunxin, an ethnic studies professor at the Minzu University of China told the nationalist newspaper: “It's a brave and praiseworthy move [from Amchok Rinpoche].”
Cui Baohua, a member of the Standing Committee of the Sichuan provincial committee of the Communist Party of China, went to meet the Rinpoche, who is supposed to have told the cadre: “Now I am a 'real' Chinese citizen. And all I want to do is to fulfill my duty as a Chinese citizen."
Lian Xiangmin, director of the Modern Institute of China Tibetology Research Center said: “The life of a legal citizen is surely different from a life in exile with an illegal identity on a foreign land.”
Amchok Rinpoche was a well-known figure in Dharamsala, having occupied, amongst others the seat of Director of the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.
Xiong argued that “he came back to China partly because China is stronger and more powerful with an increasingly significant position in the world,” adding “his return indicates to some degree the futureless end of the Dalai Lama group with a dying momentum”, and of course, it is “recognition of China's religious policy as correct.”
The South China Morning Post however noted: “It was not immediately possible to reach him for comment.”
Is it a purely propaganda exercise from Beijing or was Amchok Rinpoche (who has already re-baptized ‘Anqu’ in pinyin) genuinely keen to return to his native land and work from there?
It is difficult to say, but it is sure that the new policy of the United Front Work Department is to tell Tibetans ‘let bygones, be bygones’ and score important propaganda points against Dharamsala.

At the same time, Beijing is extremely nervous about Lukam Jam Atsock’s candidature to the post of Tibetan Prime Minister (Sykiong): Lukam Jar advocates Rangzen, an Independent Tibet. It is far from the mild ‘Middle Path’ sponsored by the Dalai Lama (and not even accepted by Beijing).
Will more ‘defection’ happen? It is too early to say.
But the presence of a senior Lama from India in the restive Ngawa Prefecture could ultimately turn to be a problem for Beijing.
Who can change China's Karma?
Only the furure will tell us.

The Karma of Tibet

To come back to Amchok Rinpoche, several years ago, during the course of a research, I questioned many Tibetans on how they viewed the working of this famous Karma and its place in their nation’s history.
In my Karma of Tibet (free download). I wrote: “We specifically interviewed a scholarly Tibetan Lama on this question of Karma. Hereafter he is referred as ‘the Lama’; he made some thought-provoking remarks, though several others interviewees answered on similar lines.

Excerpts of Amchok Rinpoche’s interview and my comments:

If one looks at history through Tibetan (or Buddhist) eyes, especially the relations between India, China and Tibet, one not only deals with historical events, but with movements of forces and currents (or sometimes undercurrents) which have a much deeper significance but which are ignored by serious 'historians'.
For Tibetans, history is an iceberg and we are aware only of the most superficial results of certain world movements which we name ‘historical events’.
Having an overview of the Himalayan peaks ignoring the depth of the valleys and height of the mountain ranges, would be similar.
Whenever we questioned Tibetans about their history, they said: “Our Karma had to be exhausted”.
For the Lama (Amchok), the recent history of Tibet was a wave that nothing could stop.
The question we raised was, where does this ‘bad’ Karma come from? Is it selective? When has it been accumulated? Did it take years or decades before ‘ripening’?
To these questions, the Lama said: “The Tibetans are human beings just like any other beings in the rest of the world: there is not much difference. In the past, we, Tibetans accumulated a lot of negative karma but at the same time did enjoy very much the consequences of previous good karma and this, for many years. Between the World War I and II, we were enjoying life. Actually during this period we enjoyed too much the results of our previous positive actions and we did not want to think of the results of the bad karma which were accumulating.”
It is true that in the old Tibetan society, at least at the beginning of this century, Tibetans enjoyed life. The aristocracy, in particular had a life of pleasure, a life of ‘silk brocade and picnic’.
It is enough to read the books of European explorers of the first half of the twentieth century until the invasion of Tibet, to understand that the Old Tibet was a harmonious and protected world living timelessly.
There were certainly a lot of social differences in the life conditions of the aristocracy (lay and monastic) and people working for them, but everyone seemed to be happy, everyone had enough to eat, life was peaceful and somehow harmonious, in spite of the hardship of daily life.
It is perhaps this image of peace and harmony, which gave birth to the perception of the mythical Land of Snows which caught the imagination of the West.
This incredible harmony was not restricted to the different strata of people, but there was also a harmony with nature and even with the gods. Tibet was Shangri-La, the paradise on earth, and the fact that it was closed to the outside word helped to contribute to the mystique of the land.
The Lama told us: “We did not think before and then it struck and we thought: ‘Maybe it is not for us, maybe it is only for someone else in the world, it cannot be for the Tibetans’. We kept on neglecting our duties”.
It took only a few months for the Tibetans to understand that “it was for them”.
The Lama further explained that for the Tibetans, this continued negligence in their life provoked an accumulation of ‘bad or negative Karma’, which had grown stronger and larger.
What was just a seed in the 1930’s and 1940’s, kept on growing over the years, and one day of 1950, the harvest was ready. Soon after the 1950 earthquake, the Tibetans understood that it was no more a warning. As if confirming the forthcoming dark days, all sorts of ominous celestial glows and lights were spotted everywhere in Tibet.
On the political scene, Tibet had no friends left. The British had left India and were only remotely interested in what was happening on the Roof of the World: after all, they no longer common borders with Tibet.
Their successor, the Government of India was in two minds; some of the more visionary leaders, like Sardar Patel understood the strategic importance of Tibet for the security of India, but he would soon pass away while Nehru was already dreaming of his nebulous brotherhood with China. Moreover, the Tibetans had foolishly refused to immediately ratify the Simla Convention after the British left India, thereby upsetting the Indian government and losing their only possible ally.
For the Lama, it was clear that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama had foreseen the forthcoming events. He had understood that the fruits of ‘negative karma’ were ripening and his Testament was a last attempt to warn his people about what the future held for them.
He knew that it was probably too late, but, for him even this warning was part of the game. He believed that perhaps his Testament could give a future direction to his people.
He based his predictions not only on his inner vision, but also on hard facts; he was a great mystic, but very much down-to-earth too.
He had met many people from Mongolia, Russia, England and China and was fully informed of the world situation; he was aware that the world was changing and could foresee the kind of whirl it would soon be plunged into. There was certainly an acceleration in world evolution and revolutions were erupting everywhere.
He sensed that Tibet’s negative karma was becoming too strong: the boil had to burst soon. Hence, he decided that he had no other alternative but to give a warning to his people, especially the Government officials before leaving his body.
The Lama continued: “When the Karma becomes very strong, when it is ready to burst, at that time it is not very easy to change the consequences. In the 30’s already everything seemed already arranged, the ‘black karma’ was confirmed. It was as though we had a confirmed ticket and we were on the train, it is not easy to stop a train”.
Some questions remain. Could the consequences have been changed, if the Tibetan officials had taken the warnings seriously and had acted upon them? Or was it already too late to stop the train? Could the black wave have been stopped?
To further complicate the karmic question: a particular chain of consequences does not depend only on one group of persons or factors (in this case the actions of the Tibetan people), but on hundreds of forces. In this specific case, the neighbours of Tibet whose past and future have always been linked with Tibet, also had their role to play in the ‘karmic’ game.
The Lama said that the Thirteenth Dalai Lama consciously decided to leave his body and come back as a young boy who would eventually be able to dissolve all the bad effects and wash out the negative consequences of the past actions of the Tibetan nation.
The Lama went one step further when said that it might even be possible that the Dalai Lama made some calculations, “if he had to live till the end of the 50’s, when the negative effects would be at their full strength, then he would be too old to do anything meaningful [for Tibet] and the next 15 or 20 years would be wasted during the childhood and adolescence of his successor”.
It was most probably preferable for him to leave his material sheath in the early 30’s and to come again soon, to be able to lead his people towards a new freedom as a young man.
Many Tibetans believe that such was the motivation of the Thirteenth Dalai Lama and as a great yogi, he implemented the decision to leave and return in order to serve his people to the best of his capacity.
It may appear surreal to look so at history but we should not forget that it is from this angle alone that the Tibetan people look at the world and its history.
There is nothing to prove that the western version of history is superior to the eastern one. History itself has demonstrated that most of ‘modern’ theories have been wrong at least in their practical applications.
To give an example, how have Nepal and Bhutan or the Fiji Islands become independent nations while Tibet, a much older nation, is still today in slavery?
In supposing that the above reading of the Tibetan history is correct, it would suggest that the young Fourteenth Dalai Lama’s mission was to ‘wash’ away the past bad karma of his countrymen. In some way, he did when he opened up the knowledge of his nation and spread its Dharma the world over. Is it not ironical that the leader of a nation which in the past refused even to open letters from ‘foreigners’ is today hopping from one continent to another and has become one of the most respected figures amongst those ‘yellow-eyed foreigners’?
His mission began early. At the age of 15, he became the Head of a state in crisis and immediately began his political activities, dutifully serving his country and his people. He did not have much time to enjoy teen-age years, but he knew that it was part of his destiny.
The next question which comes to mind is whether what has happened to Tibet is not disproportionate, compared to the presumed negative actions committed by others?
The Tibetans have certainly committed many wrong actions, but elsewhere in the world the French, the British, the Americans or the Chinese have also committed (and are committing everyday) worst actions.
Was not Hiroshima or Nagasaki a bad karmic action for the Americans who still presume to be the conscience keepers of the world?
Why then have the consequences been so dramatic in the case of Tibet? Even if one admits that there were many unresolved problems and wrong doings in old Tibet, why has the Land of Snows had to pay such a high price?
Tibetan (and Indian) Buddhists could argue that the karma of the British is also very heavy; their colonies have suffered their own share from the imperialist policies of the Crown. The Partition of India by Lord Mountbatten with the consent of the Congress leaders is one of the worst ‘unpunished’ crimes against humanity. How many millions of people in the subcontinent are still suffering because of this action? In this case, as in many others, why does one see the ripening of the negative karma?
Even for learned lamas, it is not easy to find an answer to this question.
It is true that the supposed wrong actions of Tibet seem mild compared to many other nations; Tibet never had imperialist tendencies, during the last millennium. It never attacked its neighbours; Tibet had its own internal conflicts and disunity (especially in the first decades of the Twentieth Century) but was this so serious as to be the root of so much suffering and pain?
Was it because the Tibetans were spiritually more advanced that they could ‘take on’ more on their shoulders?
It is not for us to answer this question here. However, from a spiritual point of view, it is oft repeated that difficulties are always in proportions to the capacity of the disciple.
If the history of modern Tibet is seen from a spiritual point of view, it is obvious that Tibet was able to bear more of a burden than many other nations.
The Lama made another interesting point. Tibet has had long, sometimes difficult, sometimes smoother relations with India and China. Due to these old connections, the karma of Tibet ripened at a time when important developments occurred in these nations.
He said: “The karmic history of Tibet can be seen from yet another angle. As believers of Mahayana Buddhism, many in Tibet had taken the Bodhisattvas vows. Could it be that as a compassionate action, some beings took on their shoulders the karmic consequences of China’s past actions to purify and cleanse them?”
In the Indian tradition, there are innumerable stories of gurus taking the consequent sins of their disciples on their own bodies. There is a marvelous story of Sri Ramakrishna, the great Bengali saint who at the end of the nineteenth century took on himself the sins of a prostitute that he met in a street. He immediately fell very sick and died soon after of cancer.
The Lama said that during the Chinese occupation in Tibet, many great lamas, some very revered yogis, passed away in prison after serving a jail sentence for 10 or 20 years. While in prison they continuously prayed to lighten the karmic consequences for all human beings including the Chinese.
According to the Tibetans, the Thirteenth Dalai Lama knew what was going to happen to Tibet; many other great lamas also knew but were aware that they could not stop the black wave. They had no alternative but to fully accept it and ‘deal’ with it. Consciously, they walked through the ‘long and dark night’.
At the scale of a nation, the past fifty years of the Tibetan nation seem to be like this Great Passage; and because some lamas were conscious from the start that death and devastation were approaching for Tibet, they accepted the ordeal and kept their eyes open during the process. Their concentration and awareness helped all the other beings to go through so the nation could slowly be reborn. The process is not yet finished but the end of the tunnel is no longer far away and the sufferings of the people have tremendously decreased. The end will be come only after the rebirth (or independence) of the nation is obtained.

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