Sunday, April 9, 2023

The Political Importance of the Reincarnations

the Ninth Jetsun Dampa with the Dalai Lama

‘Reincarnation’ is the fascinating topic for the media for several reasons, the main one being that it has a mystic aura, at a time when we live in a world where everything is ‘scientifically’ decided (soon by Artificial Intelligence).
When a Mongolian US-born boy was named as the reincarnation of the head Lama of Mongolia, the world media reported that he was the third most important spiritual leader in Tibetan Buddhism, though traditionally this type of classification did not exist.
According to The Times: “The faith’s spiritual leader [the Dalai Lama] has been pictured with the eight-year-old boy taking part in a ceremony in Dharamsala in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh – where the Dalai Lama, 87, lives in exile – recognising him as the 10th Khalkha Jetsun Dhampa [or Dampa] Rinpoche.”
It later emerged that the child is one of twin-boys born in 2015 in a very rich Mongolian family.
At the end of February, the boy was enthroned as the Tenth Jetsun Dampa in a ceremony attended by the Abbot and the high Lamas of the Gandantegchinlen Monastery in Outer Mongolia.
The Dalai Lama is said to have confirmed the authenticity of the reincarnation. Already in 2016 during a visit to Ulaanbaatar, the Tibetan leader had hinted that the Ninth Jetsun Dampa had already come back to this world.
At that time, China reacted furiously to the Tibetan leader’s visit and threatened Ulaanbaatar with diplomatic repercussions; some sanctions were eventually imposed.

The Tribulations of a Lama: the Ninth Jetsun Dampa
It is interesting to look at the life of the Ninth Incarnation.
In 1958, at the age of 25, he renounced his monastic vows, married and had two children. Fearing for his life (or to be used by the Communists for their propaganda) if he stayed in Lhasa, he followed the Dalai Lama in exile.
In India, he took various jobs; he worked in the Tibetan language section of All India Radio and later at Tibet House in New Delhi. After the death of his first wife, he remarried and eventually in 1975, with his seven children, moved to Karnataka. It is only in 1990 that the Dalai Lama issued a statement revealing the identity of the Ninth Incarnation.
In July 1999, while visiting Mongolia on a tourist visa, he was enthroned at the Gandantegchinlen Monastery, soon after he returned to India.
In November 2011, he went back to Mongolia where he passed away in March 2012.
All this shows the vicissitudes of a ‘great incarnation’, often just a ping-pong ball between greater political interests.
One can of course wish the Tenth Reincarnation to have a smoother life than that of his predecessor.
But let us remember that in 2007, Beijing released its ‘Measures on the Management of the Reincarnation of Living Buddhas of Tibetan Buddhism’, stipulating that all reincarnations of Living Buddhas should not be interfered with or manipulated by any external forces (i.e. US or India). In other words, only the atheist Communist regime is entitled to find a reincarnation? A sad joke indeed…
That is probably why The Times commented: “The development [the recognition of the 10th Incarnation] was reportedly met with a mixture of excitement and apprehension in Mongolia, with the likely animosity of Beijing considered cause for concern.”

The Dalai Lama’s Succession
More important for India is the succession of the Dalai Lama.
A few years ago, the Dalai Lama had jokingly told Reuters: “China considers Dalai Lama’s reincarnation as something very important. They have more concern about the next Dalai Lama than me,” before adding: “In future, in case you see two Dalai Lamas, one from here (India), a free country, (and) one chosen by the Chinese, then nobody will trust, nobody will respect (the one chosen by China). So that’s an additional problem for the Chinese! It’s possible, it can happen.”
Today, China is actively preparing for the post-Dalai Lama period.
Already in March 2019, a panel discussion took place during the People’s Political Consultative Conference in Beijing; the Chinese-selected Panchen Lama Gyaltsen Norbu presided. Apart from the young lama considered as ‘fake’ by the Tibetans, a few lamas, mostly unknown to the Tibetans, met to discuss the future of Buddhism; it included, Dupkang Thupten Kedup, vice-chairman of the Buddhist Association of China, Tsemonling, a former regent of Tibet in his previous reincarnation, Gomangtsang Rinpoche, Rinchen Namgyal Rinpoche, from Qinghai province and Lodro Gyatso Rinpoche from Sakya Monastery. China would like these lamas to lead the process to find the next incarnation of the Dalai Lama.
Is it not a contradiction when an atheist regime deals with soul-reincarnation? But it does not seem to disturb the apparatchiks in Beijing.

The Problem of the ‘Minority’

Governance by incarnation has always been an extremely weak point in the history of the Tibetan State, as it leaves the Tibetan nation with a gap of 20 years or so without proper governance.
This gap, (that the British called the ‘Minority’) manifested in the past as a lack of political, temporal and spiritual leadership. During this period, no major decisions could be taken, with consequences that we can see today for the Tibetan Nation. One could compare it to a ship sailing around the oceans without a captain.
As mentioned in a previous article, the Dalai Lama has the choice between an ‘incarnation’ and an ‘emanation’. It is up to the Tibetan leader to decide, but for India, the most vital issue is what will happen in the interregnum, during the ‘Minority’.
Today, we are living in a world which is moving faster and faster (it was even acknowledged by Presidents Putin and Xi Jinping during their recent encounter), a captain-less ship is ominous and does not augur well for the future of Tibet. At this critical time in its history, Tibet could face a serious leadership issue when it most needs a mature guide.
In November 2011, the Dalai Lama had issued a long statement giving some directions to find his successor; it unfortunately does not deal with the interregnum.
Once the choice of the new incarnation is agreed upon, the interregnum will start, but whether it is a single-person Regency or a Collegium (or Council of Regency) and though their duties will be restricted to the running of the religious affairs linked with the welfare and education Dalai Lama, their actions could be vital for India’s security.

Why India is concerned?
It is clear that Delhi does not want a ‘Chinese’ Dalai Lama as this is bound to create problems on its borders (in the Himalayan Belt).
This is a very serious issue which should be taken note of by Dharamsala.
Further, India has a long border with Tibet and for decades, Delhi has had to face China’s aggressiveness not only in places like Chumar and Demchok in the western-most sectors of Ladakh, but also in Arunachal Pradesh (see recent border clash in the Yangtse sector), in Sikkim (Naku-la) or in Uttarakhand (Barahoti), all bordering Tibet.
India’s concerns need to be conveyed in clear terms to Dharamsala, as they are vital for India’s security.
The Tibetan leadership should support India and openly state that it agrees with India’s perceptions of the border alignment in the Central Sector and in Eastern Ladakh (particularly in the Demchok sector). It has never been done so in the past (except for Tawang).
This should be communicated by high–level Indian officials who should articulate India’s position in terms understandable by the Tibetan leadership.
The Tibetans have to realize that no permanent solution can be found to their problems without India’s full support and participation. The present tragedy of migration of Tibetans living in India towards the West will not ultimately help the Tibetan cause. This should be explained and if actions are required from the Indian Government to remedy this problem, they should be looked into expeditiously.

Late Tsona Gongtse Rinpoche
 The Case of Tsona Rinpoche
Another case which should concern India is the reincarnation of Tsona Gontse Rinpoche who passed away on May 17, 2014.
The body of the Rinpoche was found hanging from the ceiling fan in his sister’s house in Delhi. Apparently a suicide note was found from a diary in the room. The police suspected that he was depressed over the defeat of a cousin in the Arunachal Pradesh Assembly elections; however the Rinpoche was one of the most dynamic young lamas of his generation.
The particularity of the Rinpoche was that he carried the name of Tsona, Rinpoche's main monastery located in Southern Tibet, north of the McMahon line. The young Rinpoche never visited Tsona in his life, and remained a strong Indian nationalist. His demise was indeed a great loss for the Monpa people of Tawang, for India and for the Buddhist world.
The Chinese would certainly be delighted to find his reincarnation first in Tibet. For Beijing, it would be a formidable card to claim Tawang again.
It is perhaps time for Delhi to seriously look into this issue too; it is not just a spiritual concern.

Friday, April 7, 2023

The Importance of Pangchen

China has recently renamed 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh.
The first-named is Pangchen; it is an important location, mainly because the border in this sector partly depends on the traditional grazing rights between the villages of Panchen (in Tawang district of India) and Lepo (Tsona County in Lhoka/Shannan City in Tibet). The grazing rights are one of the factors, along with the watershed and customary passage and possession, which help determining a boundary.
Would Pangchen become Tibetan (or Chinese), the entire Namkha chu and Sumdorong chu valleys would automatically be part of the Tibetan/Chinese territory.
A confidential report from the Assistant Political Officer (APO) in Tawang in 1959 mentioned: “Primarily, the problem of the Tawang-Tsona boundary in the Chuthangmu [Khenzimane] sector, is of course a question of how much of the Nyamjang Chu valley is in Lebu [or Lebo] [in] Tibet territory and how much in Pangchen in India; a question which is to be decided on the basis of where the frontier traditionally has been, where the Simla Agreement of 1914 places it and what has been the de-facto position since February 1951 when regular Indian Administration was extended to the Northern Monpa area.”
The yogi, sage and builder Thangtong Gyalpo who lived during the 15th century constructed two double-cantilever iron-suspension bridges in Chaktsam (Mokto) and Drokung (Pangchen) areas of today’s Arunachal Pradesh. The Drokung Sempa (bridge) has been for century the traditional boundary for the caravans travelling between Tawang and Tsona; at that time, there was no issue between two friendly neighbours, i.e. Tibet and India. The situation is different today and with a bully in the North, each range counts and therefore the ‘dispute’ in the Khenzimane/ Sumdorung chu valley area.
The old ‘traditional’ border did not take into account the watershed principle, however the grazing rights in the area were important.
The above-quoted report explains: “Panchen of the Pang Chen Ding Druk [six] comprises Lumpo, Muchot, Kyalengteng, Kharmen, Shoksten and Zimithang [settlements] with the six Ding being Shoktsen Tui, Shoktsen Per, Shoktsen Me, Lumpo, Muchot and Kharmen (including Kyalengteng). The Ding Druk too was regarded as part of Monyul but was not under the officers stationed in Tawang/Gyankhar; its chiefs regarding themselves as autonomous and subject only to supervision by the Tsona Dzongpens [Commissioners] directly through the Tsukpa [official] of Marmang. The area used to send six representatives, generally of Thumi rank, to meetings dealing with Tawang Gompa. The McMahon Line specifies Pangchen as India territory and full administrative control has been exercised over the area by India since 1951. The total population of Pangchen is 760 with 1184 cattle and sheep.”

Zimithang/Panchen area with representative ('non-official') LAC

The Grazing Pattern
There is no need to go into the grazing pattern here, but it is clear that Pangchen plays a pivotal historical role in location of the boundary.
Today, Pangchen is known as Zimithang, due to the faster growth of this hamlet in the 1960s and the fact that it was the tactical HQ of the 4 Division during the 1962 border War with China.
Pangchen remains the traditional name of the area.
The location of Pangchen is probably the primarily reason for China to rename these 11 places in Arunachal Pradesh.

Map showing Tsona, Marmang and Zimithang/Lepo

Creations of Two New Cities
The renaming of Pangchen has also to be seen in the context of China changing the status of Tsona which has become a ‘City’ directly under the administration of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and the shifting of the HQ of the new City from Tsona to Marmang, closer to the border, north of Pangchen.
According to China News Network, on May 3, the TAR People's Government issued an announcement approved by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China and the State Council; it abolishes the Tsona and Mainling Counties and establishes two county-level Cities with the same name (Tsona and Mainling) and the same administrative jurisdiction of two dissolved Counties. Tsona was under the jurisdiction of Shannan/Lhoka City and Mainling under Nyingchi City.
More interesting (or worrying) for India, the Government of Tsona City will be located in Marmang Monpa Ethnic Township, North of Pangchen and it will be directly administrated by the TAR Government in Lhasa.
Incidentally, Marmang is the last village where the Dalai Lama stayed before crossing to India on March 31, 1959.
This administrative change will certainly have serious implications for the border areas, particularly for the development of the infrastructure in the region. It probably means a railway line to Tsona/Marmang is not-too far in the future.
It is too early to say if the administrative changes will have military implications, but considering that everything is of dual-use on the Chinese borders, it will probably have.
For India, all this means more pressure on this area of the border, particularly in the Tawang sector, including Khenzimane, Sumdorong chu valley and Yangtse.

The Case of Tathong
On March 24, 1914 during the Simla Conference, there was an Exchange of Notes between the British and Tibetan Plenipotentiaries.
Henry McMahon, India’s Foreign Secretary wrote Lochen Shatra, the Tibetan Plenipotentiary (and Prime Minister): “In February last you accepted the India-Tibet frontier from the Isu Razi Pass to the Bhutan frontier, as given in the map (two sheets), of which two Copies are herewith attached, subject to the confirmation of your government and the following conditions:
(a) The Tibetan ownership in private estates on the British side of the frontier will not be disturbed.
(b) The sacred places of Tso Karpo and Tsari Sarpa fall within a day march of the British side of the frontier, they will be included in Tibetan territory and the frontier modified accordingly.
McMahon added: “The final settlement of this India-Tibet frontier will help to prevent causes of future dispute and thus cannot fail to be of great advantage to both Governments.”
The first point refers to Pachakshiri, an area today known as Menchuka.
Before 1914, the Lalus, an aristocratic family from Lhasa was getting some revenues from this place.
A scholarly research describes the area thus: “The territory known by local Memba inhabitants of Mechukha Circle as the ‘hidden land’ of Pachakshiri is located at an altitude of approximately 1900m in the north-western corner of West Siang District of Arunachal Pradesh. The wide river valley is fl by two snow-capped mountain ranges, the Damchen La to the northeast and the Shinjong La to the southwest. Memba settlements are located mainly along the sunnier northern bank of the Yargyab Chu river and are composed of various clusters of houses each bearing a common name.”
It is a fact that the Tibetans (and later on, the Chinese) never claimed any revenue from this place; In the case of the Communist Government in Tibet, it is logical as they never officially recognize the McMahon Line.
In this background, it is interesting to note that one of the renamed places by China is ‘Tato’ which has now been called ‘Tadhong’ by Beijing.
According to Census 2011, Tato village is located in Tato circle of West Siang district. It is situated 2 km away from sub-district headquarter Tato (tehsildar office) and 130 km away from district headquarter Aalo. The village has a total population of 286 peoples. There are about 50 houses in the village.
As can be seen from the map below, Tato is the gate to Menchuka/Pachakshiri.
It is not clear if the renaming is a prelude for China to claim the area.
But if they do so, it would mean an acknowledgment of the McMahon Line and it is doubtful if Beijing is ready to take this risk.

The Renamed places in Tawang sector

Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Should China's Arunachal Name Changes Worry India?

Chinese map with the 'new' names
Note that Sakteng area is part of Bhutan

My article Should China's Arunachal Name Changes Worry India? appeared in

Here is the link...

China has done it again.  
China’s Ministry of Civil Affairs has standardized the names of 11 places in Zangnan, a new name for Southern Tibet - 'Zangnan' is an abbreviation of (Xi)Zang = Tibet, and 'Nan' (south in Mandarin).
China has recently started using this term for the Indian State of Arunachal Pradesh.
For Beijing, the so-called Zangnan is itself part of the Xizang Autonomous Region, Xizang being the Chinese name for ‘Tibet’.
Is it not confusing this name changing? It is probably Beijing’s main purpose.
A chart in Chinese characters, Tibetan and pinyin transliteration of the 11 new names was released “in accordance with regulations on geographical names issued by the State Council - China's Cabinet.”
It is not the first time that China has changed names, but one can ask what is Beijing’s ultimate purpose?
We shall come to it later, but it is clear that it could be related to the visit of Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the Fifth King of Bhutan in Delhi to clarify the position about Bhutan’s negotiations with China, and about the existence of a ‘border deal’ with China.
In this perspective, the fact that a map accompanying the article (in Chinese) about the renaming in Arunachal shows Sakteng, an area in Trashigang District of Eastern Bhutan, previously claimed by China, as part of Bhutan, is worth noting.

Renaming places
Renaming places is not new. It has been done by all colonizers; India still remembers the British days.
China has done it in a more systematic manner. After it invaded Tibet in 1950-51, Shigaste became Rìkazé or Xigatse, Sakya was Sa’gya, Metok, north of Arunachal’s Upper Siang district, Mutao or Medog.
Apart from the cases of pure pin yinsation like the ones just mentioned, in many cases, names have been completely changed. Ngari province is now called Ali Prefecture (perhaps due Chinese faulty pronunciation which can’t pronounce ‘Ng’ and ‘r); Kyirong at the border with Nepal is now Jilong and worse, Barahoti in today’s Uttarakhand is called Wuje, while Demchok in Ladakh is termed Parigas.

First Renaming in Arunachal Pradesh
In 2017 already, the Chinese Cabinet had announced the ‘standardised names’ for six places in Arunachal Pradesh.
At that time, it looked like a childish reaction to the Dalai Lama’s visit to the state a month earlier.
The Chinese media then admitted that Beijing’s objective was to reaffirm China’s claim over Arunachal, ‘South Tibet’ (now Zangnan) for the Chinese.
The official names of the six places (transcribed in Roman alphabet) were Wo’gyainling, Mila Ri, Qoidengarbo Ri, Mainquka, Bumo La and Namkapub Ri. Let us have a look at a couple of them.
Wo’gyainling is the new spelling for Urgyeling, the birthplace of Tsangyang Gyaltso, the sixth Dalai Lama, a few kilometers south of Tawang town. One understands the political reasons why China would be so attached to the place. Beijing was/is not ready to accept that a Dalai Lama could be born outside Tibet (China for Beijing).
Another place was Qoidengarbo Ri, for ‘Chorten Karpo’ or ‘White Stupa’. It refers to Gorsam Chorten, the only large white stupa in the area (and the largest in Arunachal). It is not far from Zimithang, the tactical HQ of the 4 Infantry Division during the 1962 war. The name ‘Ri’ or ridge in Tibetan may refer to one of the ridges around the stupa.

Second ‘Renaming’: 15 Places in 2021
In 2021, 15 places were given new names with precise coordinates; eight were residential areas/settlements, four were peaks/mountains, two were rivers and one is a mountain pass (Sela).
Contrary to what the Indian media wrongly mentioned at that time, the names are not ‘invented’ names; they were transcriptions of the old Tibetan names for these 15 areas.
This is far more serious than ‘invented names’; by ‘proving’ that these places had Tibetan names, China can come to the easy conclusion that they have been Tibetan places …and therefore Chinese.
The argument is tenuous, as it is often the case, but it does not stop China from using it. It however gives a clear message to India: whatever has been Tibetan (or even had a Tibetan name) belongs to China.
One day, places in Ladakh, Sikkim or Kinnaur …and Bhutan will thus be claimed.

Eleven New Names

On April 2, a communiqué announcing a third renaming, was released by the Chinese Ministry of Civil Affairs; it stated that it was “a legitimate move and China's sovereign right to standardize the geographical names.”
It included two residential areas/settlements, five most-unknown mountain peaks, two tiny insignificant rivers and two other areas; all shamelessly linked with Tibetan administrative counties (Tsona, Lhuntse, Metok and Zayul) in the North.
It asserted that “China's move to standardize the names in Zangnan completely falls within China's sovereignty"
Zhang Yongpan, a research fellow of the Institute of Chinese Borderland Studies of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, is quoted by The Global Times as saying: “It is more meaningful to safeguard national sovereignty, maintain peace in border regions and manage border-related matters at the legal level.”
How does blatantly claiming Indian territory help to maintain ‘peace in border regions’, is a mystery that only China can explain.
Looking at the list of 11 places, most of them are unknown or remote areas, however three are close to the Line of Actual Control (LAC); namely Pangchen, a village in the Zimithang Circle which has a historic background during the 1962 border war with China; then Chakmutse Gangri, near Taksing in Upper Subansiri and finally Goyul Thang, a tiny flat ground near Kaho on the river Lohit. Except for the Pangchen village, these places are small and unknown even to most Arunachalis.

Why this Futile Exercise Now?
China knows that the Indian media will jump on this type of ‘scoop’.
The PTI correspondent in Beijing was the first to quote the State Council’s latest notification and spread the news.
This is fine; one can consider it as part of the Information Warfare (IW) against India. Delhi should just be aware of it.
More worrying is the map mentioned earlier. Does it signal that Sakteng has now been accepted as part of Bhutan by China and that Beijing does not claim the place anymore? In itself it is good, but if it is part of the ‘package deal’ between China and Bhutan mentioned in the Indian press, it has other implications. Were the declarations of the Bhutanese Prime Minister, which probably triggered the visit to the Bhutanese King to Delhi, meaning that a deal has been arrived at?
In this case, India’s interests are at stake, especially as far as the Siliguri Corridor is concerned. Is such a deal is in the pipeline?

A Small Anecdote
Several years ago, a senior officer of the Royal Bhutanese Army was having talks with a Chinese delegation which started arguing that ‘la’ was a Chinese word (it means ‘pass’ in Tibetan and Bhutanese, but not in Chinese).
Even after the Bhutanese negotiators told their Chinese counterparts that it was not a Chinese name, the latter continued to insist.
It is then that the smart Bhutanese official interrupted the Chinese argument and asked: “What about Patia-la? Is it a Chinese place?”
The Chinese were so much taken by surprise that they kept quiet …at least for some time.
This anecdote came to mind when I read that Beijing had released the third batch of ‘new’ names for places in Arunachal Pradesh.
In the meantime, India should systematically only use the traditional English transliteration of Tibetan places, i.e. Tsona (not Cona), Shigatse (not Xigazê or Rigazê) or Lhuntse (not Lóngzǐ); tens of thousands of names of Tibetans twons/villages have thus been changed by China.
After all, as the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh often says: “my State has no border with China, only with Tibet.”

2017 list

2021 list

2023 list