Samdhong Rinpoche takes Oath
5 September, 2001: The new-elect Kalon Tripa, or the Chairman of the Cabinet, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche Lobsang Tenzin, taking his oath of office from His Holiness the Dalai Lama at Dharamsala, India. Wednesday, Sept. 05, 2001 (DIIR Photo/Tenam)
Samdhong Rinpoche’s Statement to the Press
Respected Tibetans, both in and outside Tibet,
Ever since His Holiness the Dalai Lama assumed political power in Tibet, he has taken numerous initiatives to change the Tibetan political system to modern democracy in order to ensure the wellbeing of the Tibetan people and to build a firm foundation for our polity. In 1953 he instituted the Reform Society, and in 1954 he established the Reform Office, whereby a number of progressive changes were introduced in Tibet.
Particularly, over the past 42 years in exile His Holiness the Dalai Lama has made consistent and ceaseless efforts to democratise the Tibetan exile community and its political system. His latest initiative toward this end was a historic advice in March this year to the final session of the 12th Assembly of Tibetan People’s Deputies (ATDP), an advice that resulted in a new system to elect the Tibetan Executive Chief by all the Tibetans who enjoy voting rights in the free world. In the first election held under the new system, the majority of voters elected me, Samdhong Lobsang Tenzin, to the office of Executive Chief. His Holiness the Dalai Lama, in turn, confirmed my appointment according to the Charter of the Tibetans in Exile.
Today, on 5 September 2001, as I start undertaking my responsibility after the oath of office and secrecy, I would like to make obeisance to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, spiritual and temporal leader of Tibetans, and express my sense of gratitude to him. I pray for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and for the perpetuation of his loving kindness to the people of Tibet. I pray for his continued spiritual and temporal leadership as long as Tibet and its people exist. I would like to take this opportunity also to extend my heartfelt love and greetings to the people of Tibet.
As you all know, I served the exile Tibetan Administration and community in various capacities for four decades, i.e., from 1960 to March 2001. Although I served to the best of my ability under the guidance of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, I was not at all satisfied with my contribution. Then, my age and numerous other factors led me to a decision not to assume rank or position in the exile establishment. I decided that I would lead the life of an ordinary citizen and make some efforts toward the philosophy and practical experiment of non-violent movement. I spoke about this decision to His Holiness the Dalai Lama some years back.
Finally, in my concluding address, entitled “Apology”, to the last session of the 12th ATPD on 24 March this year, I asked the Tibetan people’s forgiveness for my failure to make satisfactory contributions, and announced my decision not to play any role in the exile Tibetan political system. I made unequivocal statements to this effect several times both to print and electronic media for the benefit of the Tibetan public.
Thereafter, as I set out to lead a reclusive life in order to begin my efforts for the cause of non-violence, I was informed against all my anticipations that an unexpectedly large number of voters had nominated me as a candidate for the Chairperson of the Kashag (Tibetan Cabinet). I was incredulous and filled with anxiety. In a democracy, every citizen has the fundamental right to either contest elections or to withdraw one’s name from the nomination. In line with this, I desired to withdraw my name and stick to my earlier decision. This is why I did not respond when the Tibetan Election Commission requested me to send my resume and photograph.
Meanwhile, I received a large number of both oral and written requests from most exile Tibetan communities, telling me that it would not be right to withdraw my name. A number of messages to this effect came from Tibet as well, through various channels. This moved me very deeply, forcing me to contemplate the matter more thoroughly. I normally believe that if there were a clash of interests between a large number of people and a few, it should be the majority’s will that must prevail. In this respect, I do not subscribe to some of the ideas of liberal democracy.
As I thought over this matter more closely, I realised that if I ignored the will of over 30,000 voters and insisted on exercising my own rights-i.e., the rights of one individual-I would be acting against my own belief. I also realised that my refusal to participate in the election would deal a blow to the very first democratic exercise of this kind, which-I feared-would make His Holiness the Dalai Lama unhappy. It was thus that I abandoned my earlier plan and participated in the election.
I have now assumed this responsibility, following the final election’s mandate and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s confirmation of my appointment. It is, of course, a mammoth responsibility. However, placing my continued trust in His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people, I will bear this responsibility as an opportunity to serve the Tibetan people and His Holiness the Dalai Lama at a critical juncture when the Tibetan identity is under the threat of extinction. I have made a firm commitment to toil sincerely and selflessly. Whether I am able to produce results or not is another matter.
My first action after taking the oath of office will be this: On several occasions, including in his 10-March statement, His Holiness said that he would gradually transfer all his executive responsibilities to the new democratically-elected Kashag Chairperson and the ATPD. I would now like to request His Holiness to rescind this decision and continue to exercise his traditional administrative responsibilities in conformity with the provisions of the Charter of the Tibetans in Exile. I, in turn, would like to make a pledge to undertake my administrative responsibilities efficiently so as to cause minimum disturbances and troubles to His Holiness. I trust His Holiness will consider my request with loving-kindness.
As a rule, major policies and programs of the exile Administration are formulated by the ATPD and endorsed by His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Kashag has no mandate to come up with its own independent policies or stands. Therefore, I have no intention of announcing new policies. The Executive’s mandate is confined to implementing the policies and programs formulated by the ATPD and His Holiness. In this field of responsibility, I have a firm commitment to ensure that things do not deteriorate; in fact, I am hoping to make innovations and improvements.
The new Kashag will hold His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s principles of truth, non-violence and genuine democracy as sacrosanct. On the foundation of these principles, the new Kashag will function according to the provisions of the Charter in general, and directive principles in particular. The Tibetan Administration’s current policy is to implement His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle Path approach for a negotiated settlement to the Tibetan problem. I will make every effort to restore direct contacts with Beijing and to increase international support toward this end. I consider it important to promote interaction and better understanding between the Tibetan and Chinese peoples. Whether we succeed or fail will depend on the Chinese government and international political developments. There is not much in this area that we can effect single-handedly from our side. However, we will never lose hope and patience.
At the same time, I must state that it is very much within our means to serve the exile Tibetans and make the Administration more efficient. Toward this end, I intent to make greater efforts. I believe that it is imperative for the Administration to follow the rule of law in all its activities. I also believe that the Administration should be completely transparent and accountable. I intent to make efforts to facilitate the formulation of clear-cut religious, educational, home and health policies, policies that take into account both the culture of Tibet and the practical needs of time. More particularly, I intent to facilitate the formulation of a standard financial policy. I will pay special attention to introducing austerity measures; to limiting administrative spending to the absolute necessity.
It seems that some Tibetans in India, Nepal and Bhutan still do not have settlement and livelihood facilities. In addition, some Tibetans in settlements do not seem to have adequate health care facilities and livelihood sources. The urgent task of the new Kashag will be to guide and help them in finding sustainable livelihood.
Broadly speaking, the two most remarkable developments in the history of Tibetan diaspora that have stemmed from His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s efforts are: First, we have achieved democracy without having to struggle for it. Second, we have consistently followed the path of non-violence in our struggle for the cause of freedom. The primary responsibility of the Kashag, headed by me, will be to work for the promotion of these two principles. Toward this end, I will strive to develop awareness and culture of democracy and non-violence in our community. Since long I have had a project to develop, with the help of modern experts, a grand strategy for non-violent movements to achieve negotiations with Beijing, leading to a meaningful solution to the issue of Tibet. This project has dragged on for so long due to the lack of financial resources. I now wish to undertake this project immediately.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama is now respected as a universal guide and teacher of the world. The essence of his teaching boils down to this: The first responsibility of humankind is to work for the happiness of all living beings. The second is to preserve and promote ones’ respective religious teaching and culture. The third is to work for the interests of ones’ own people and nation. As followers of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and believers in Mahayana Buddhism, we Tibetans must practice this teaching in our day-to-day life, both at individual and community levels. As a matter of fact, I recognise this as the Tibetan people’s unique universal responsibility. Our freedom struggle is not merely to serve the interests of Tibetans; it is to preserve the tradition of inner wisdom and unique Tibetan culture for the benefit of the whole world. Therefore, I do not see our movement as a political struggle; rather I see it as a spiritual practice.
Today, violence has become the biggest curse on the living beings of our planet. We can counter this scourge by using non-violent means to achieve our goal and by converting future Tibet into a zone of ahimsa (non-violence), as advocated in His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Five Point Peace Plan for Tibet. We Tibetans need to make efforts right from now to make future Tibet a zone of ahimsa and sanctuary of environment protection. I believe we Tibetans need to establish a non-violent society to serve as a model for the rest of the world. In order to do this, we should first develop a culture of ahimsa in our exile communities. We can begin by designing projects for non-violent means of livelihood in the exile communities. Tibetan settlements in India are ideal places for undertaking this experiment. In short, I intent to promote the Gandhian concept of Gram Swaraj (village self-rule) in our settlements. I especially intent to promote non-violent and eco-friendly agricultural and farming practices in our settlements.
I know that many Tibetans-having been influenced by the fast, competitive post-modern civilisation-will find it difficult to understand and appreciate the ideas I have expounded here. However, this is the only logical option if we want to ensure the long-term survival of humankind and all other living beings. Most objective observers have now come to accept this conclusion, either willingly or unwillingly.
As far as my personal inclination and thinking are concerned, I feel that there is a major problem and contradiction in my taking the role of Executive Chief. My training in political theories and my characteristic inclination have cut me out as a critic of the government, establishment and power. Although I have no problem in assuming the role of opposition, I may experience the problem of inner contradiction within myself in heading a ruling body. On the other hand, I should not overlook the fact that our Administration, by virtue of being an exile organisation, does not have the machinery to enforce its rule like the governments of independent countries. This Administration is committed solely to the cause of freedom struggle. From this perspective, I believe that my inner conflicts will not be so great. Henry David Thoreau said that the government is best which governs not at all. In the similar vein, Mahatma Gandhi said that “Swaraj does not mean others governed by oneself, but the self governed by oneself.” This is the kind of administration I am hoping for.
One may term the Tibetan polity as one based on the marriage of spiritual and political values, or one that is secular in nature. The fact that it is absolutely necessary to base this polity on spiritual precepts means I do not see any contradiction in me-a Buddhist monk-taking the role of Kashag Chairperson. However, I reserve the right to choose between the office of the Kashag Chairperson and my monkhood if there arises a situation demanding an action that goes against my ordination vows.
During my tenure as the Executive Chief, I will draw inspiration, strength and direction from the advice of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and unity among the Tibetans belonging to the three provinces of Tibet. The efforts and kindness of His Holiness the Dalai Lama shine like the sun; there is no way one can block the sun light with one’s palm. Although our opponents have always made attempts to break the unity of Tibetans, I have full faith that our grassroots level people will not give in to their deceptions. Actions and statements of a miniscule number of Tibetans, when reported in the press, may create an impression of disunity in our community. Of course, we sometimes do have problems of sectarian and regional prejudices in one or two areas, just as one or two factional groups do spread rumours of major factional strife in our community. Then, from time to time, we have seen self-styled representatives of people making attempts to play up factional, regional and sectarian prejudices in our community. I call on all Tibetans to remain alert against the designs of such individuals.
The strength of our unity has been displayed time and again during crucial, testing moments in our history. During the recent election of the Kashag Chairperson, the voters displayed no indication of sectarian, regional or factional inclination. The few individuals with such partisan prejudices were powerless in influencing the public. This very encouraging trend at the preliminary election was one of the major reasons for my decision to participate in the election. I would now like to take this opportunity to make a strong plea to the Tibetans, particularly those in exile, to preserve the strength of our unity.
The presence of negative emotions in human beings means there will always be strife and differences in the human community. This is only natural. However, there is no reason for this to weaken our unity for the common goal of Tibet. Differences in opinions and quarrels between individual Tibetans must remain at individual level. Such problems need not escalate to sectarian, regional or factional fighting.
It is the right and duty of all Tibetans to make open and well-meaning criticism against their Administration’s action and policy, just as it is necessary to criticise the action and conducts of individual Administrative personnel. I request the Tibetan people to make such criticisms well in time, before it is too late to rectify the situation. On the other hand, baseless and ill-meaning libels, aimed at discrediting the Administration and individual personnel, are neither healthy, nor worthy of appreciation. Unethical and immoral as such actions are, I shall not bother to challenge each and every criticism of this nature. You, of course, have the full freedom to criticise and defame the Administration or me or any other personnel for that matter. However, I would like to request all not to do anything that will harm the cause of our people. If anyone undermines the cause of Tibet, history and posterity will not forgive his or her action, although the Administration and its personnel may not do anything about it.
The Kashag and I will give equal respect to all Tibetans. We will never judge anyone on the basis of his or her past history or group affiliation or past political mistakes. Aryadeva said, “The Buddha sees negative emotions as enemies, not the person afflicted with negative emotions.” In the same way, Mahatma Gandhi taught us to hate sin, not the sinner. Although I will strongly oppose and criticise wrong actions, I will bear no ill-will against the authors of negative actions. Neither will I treat them as my opponents. Instead, I will respect them as I do any other Tibetan, and will continue to harbour the hope of leading them on the right path. In short, I have absolutely no inhibition in cooperating with the opponents of the Administration, with those who have distanced themselves from the Administration. I am happy to cooperate with them as long as it is for the common cause of Tibet.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s third most remarkable contribution was his endeavour to keep the Tibetan people together as one community without any regard to the identity and boundaries which existed in Tibet at the time of Communist Chinese invasion in 1949/1950. Over the past 42 years, he has considered the three provinces of Tibet as inseparable parts forming an organic whole. He has given equal opportunity to the people of the three provinces for representation in the ATPD and in all the exile administrative units and institutions. In his proposals for negotiations with China, he has put the condition that the three provinces of Tibet should remain as one entity. Unification of the three provinces of Tibet is indeed one of the most important reasons for his proposal to give up the idea of independence in favour of self-rule. All Tibetans should remember this undeniable truth and desist from falling prey to deceitful disinformation campaigns.
To sum up, during my tenure as Kashag Chairperson, I will depend on the support of grassroots level people in undertaking all my political and administrative responsibilities. If I have doubts or problems in making decisions concerning the cause of Tibet, I will call referendums and follow the will of the majority.
The efficiency of the exile Administration depends on the sincerity, learning, competence and diligence of its personnel. I expect honesty and personal integrity on the part of Administrative personnel. I request all the personnel to avoid wasteful use and unethical means of generating public fund. I have made an unshakeable commitment to take the strongest possible action against any personnel-high or low-who is found to be involved in even the slightest case of unfairness, favouritism, nepotism, corruption or negligence of public duty.
India is a country that has had millennia-long spiritual, cultural, social, economic and border relations with Tibet. It is also the birthplace of our religion, the religion which we have cherished more than our lives for about 13 centuries. Through the centuries, India has been very generous to us in its role as our teacher. More particularly, it was to India that His Holiness the Dalai Lama and a large number of Tibetans turned for shelter when our country was struck by the most tragic political fate in history. Over the past four decades, India has given settlement and educational facilities to some 100,000 Tibetans, thus creating conditions for the survival of our religion and culture. As well as facilitating the preservation of our identity, India has provided security to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which has enabled him to bring his message and teaching to the whole world. In short, India is a country to which the people of Tibet owe a huge debt of gratitude. In the light of this, it is the sacred duty of the Tibetan Administration and people to serve the interests of India. Whatever political activities we undertake should not in any way undermine the interests of India. I have a firm commitment to this end.
Today, a vast number of people all over the world are coming forward voluntarily with different activities in support of the Tibetan issue. We cherish their solidarity at this most difficult time. I am sure their support will form an indelible chapter in the history of Tibet. I intend to make efforts to improve the exile Administration’s cooperation and relationship with our international supporters.
Most of the Tibetans believe in the Law of Karma and in the need to increase the heap of common merits in order to help resolve the problem of Tibet. I, therefore, call for diligent spiritual practice by all Tibetans. More particularly, I call upon the community of monks and nuns to strictly observe their vinaya vows and concentrate on the learning and practice of dharma. I call upon the spiritual community also to pray for an early end to Tibet’s tragedy.
Finally, I pray for the long life of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and success of his efforts. May the truth of Tibet’s cause prevail soon!
Samdhong Lobsang Tenzin
5 September 2001
A brief biography of Samdhong Rinpoche
Venerable Prof. Samdhong Lobsang Tenzin, the 5th Samdhong Rinpoche, was born on 5th November, 1939 in Jol, Eastern Tibet. At the age of five, he was recognised as the reincarnation of 4th Samdhong Rinpoche and enthroned in Gaden Dechenling Monastery at Jol. At seven years he took the Getsul vows from Khenchen Dorjichang Kyabje Sangbhum Rinpoche. He received his primary teaching from scholar Ngawang Jinpa when he was nine. He started his religious training at Drepung Monastery in Lhasa and completed his (Uma Nyinpa)- middle school of the Madhyamika School of Buddhism at the age of 12. He came to exile in the year 1959 after the Chinese invasion of Tibet.
In the year 1960, he started his service in the Tibetan Community by beginning as a teacher to monks from the Sera, Drepung, and Gaden monasteries. From October 1961, he served as the religious teacher of Tibetan School in Shimla, and later becoming the acting principal of Shimla Tibetan School in 1963. Then again he worked as religious teacher of Darjeeling Tibetan school in 1964.
From 1965 to 1970 Samdhong Rinpoche was the Principal of Dalhousie Tibetan School. He received his Lharampa Degree in the year 1968 and Ngagrimpa Degree in 1969. From 1971 to 1988 he was the Principal of Central Institute of Higher Tibetan Studies (CIHTS, Varanasi). From 1988 to 2001 he worked as the Director CIHTS. In 1990, he was a member of the Drafting Committee Constitution of the Future Polity of Tibet and Law for the exiled Tibetans. From 1991 to 1995 he was specially appointed by His Holiness as one of the deputies of ATPD and later was unanimously elected as its Chairman. From 1996 to 2001 he was elected member of the Parliament from Kham province and also its Chairman.