DELHI: An illustrious panel of experts comprising Kalon Trisur Professor Samdong Rinpoche, Dr Madhuri S Sondhi, Founder member of Tibet Swaraj Committee, Director of the ML Sondhi Institute for Asia Pacific Affairs, Dr Kapila Vatsyayan, senior Bureaucrat, former Member of Indian parliament and President Dr Lobsang Sangay, Central Tibetan Administration addressed a panel discussion on ‘India and Tibet: Ancient Ties and Current Bonds’ on Monday at IIC, Delhi.
The event is part of a series of initiatives launched by Central Tibetan Administration to thank the People and Government of India.
Moderator for the panel, Rajiv Mehrotra, Indian writer, television producer-director and Founder of Foundation of Universal Responsibility opened the panel discussion.
He looked at the current India and Tibet bond built on ancient tradition and said “this should really have been a Thank you Tibet and Thank you Tibetans initiative. Because at another conference, they celebrated the Tibetans as honoured guests. But I think they are much more than that, they are extended family to us in India”.
“Tibetans are a very very small community in exile but the impact of their presence on our lives is a celebration. Thank you Tibet, Tibetans, thank you above all, His Holiness the Dalai Lama. Thank you above all to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, for who he is, who embodies the highest human aspiration that any human being can have and that he has been in our midst. I often think of what it must feel like to have been around when Jesus and Gandhi were alive. To share the same physical space and impact of who they were. So it has been a privilege to be alive in India at this time”.
“As two representatives of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Professor Samdong Rinpoche and Dr Lobsang Sangay, please accept our deep gratitude and appreciation,” Rajiv Mehrotra said.
Setting the tone for discussion, Kalon Trisur Professor Samdong Rinpoche in his opening remarks stated that relationship between India and Tibet was not restricted to ties or bonds, but that it prevailed in the nature of civilisation, culture and religion for thousands of years.
“Ties and Bonds are translated in Hindi as Bandhan, implying bondage and obligation. In my opinion, India-Tibet relation is not an obligation. This relation is one of deep embedded friendship, love and brotherhood. Speaking in terms of current bilateral relations such as of politics, economy, trade and welfare and so on, it can be said that there existed no such relation between India and Tibet. Because any agreement of such would exist between equals.”
“Since the beginning, India has been a guru (master) and Tibet its chela (disciple). His Holiness the Dalai Lama has often described our relationship to India as that of a guru and chela, and of refugee and refuge. Ever since the advent of Buddhism in Tibet during the lifetime of Shantarakshita and Kamalashila, the entire land of Tibet became the land of disciples of the great Indian masters,” Rinpoche said.
To underline the deep-rooted, centuries-old relation of Guru and Chela between India and Tibet, Professor Rinpoche said, “In true service to the Indian masters, erudite Tibetan scholars have spent over 250 years in oral transmission and translation of the ancient Buddhist literature in the Tibetan language. They have written enormous commentaries on the Indian literature. This sharing of our civilizational culture and knowledge has continued until the end of the 12th century”.
He stressed that the Buddhism preserved in Tibetan is most authentic and benefits from the unbroken lineage of transmission.
“Tibetan scholars have set a precedent with its highly immaculate translation of the vast ancient literature. Because of the blessings of the Indian masters and Tibetan scholars, we have 108 volumes of Buddha’s words and 120 volumes of commentary on Buddha’s teachings in the Tibetan language. Buddhists around the world are following and studying these texts today.
He drew attention to the noble vision of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to revive ancient Indian knowledge in modern India and how His Holiness considers India, not just a guru but also a reliable, trustworthy guru to the Tibetans.
Rinpoche observed that the Tibet is an extension of the Indian cultural heritage and therefore, Tibetans are in the position to revive the ancient tradition of such value to the world, in its home country, India.
Underlining the dangers of conflict and distrust in a world where nuclear weapons exist, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche reiterated His Holiness’ message that revival of ancient Indian tradition would point the younger generation in the direction of world peace. “In case that the Tibet is able to revive the ancient Indian tradition in modern India, it will further eternalise the unique 1000 years old relation between the two countries. It will not just benefit the people of India but the entire humanity.
“On the basis of your ancient heritage I am confident you Indians have the potential to make a great contribution to the welfare of humanity,” he concluded.
Founder member of Tibet Swaraj Committee, Director of the ML Sondhi Institute for Asia Pacific Affairs, former Editor of Shakti, Dr Madhuri S Sondhi drew on the prominent writings of Professor ML Sondhi on the scopes of joint commitment between India and Tibet.
“We see now that three generations of Tibetans have grown up in India, so that, to quote the late ML Sondhi, ‘the Indian joint commitment with the Tibetans is on a broader range of subjects than when they first took shelter on Indian soil: and these include Human Rights, International Peace, Buddhist Culture, Himalayan Ecology, River Waters, Disarmament and Confidence Building in Sino-Tibetan Relations. These are not always expressed in formal institutions and may have ups and downs depending on current developments but they are very much issues of common concern”.
She further weighed heavily on China’s new expansionism clout in the international platform particular through means of soft and sharp power.
Quoting from well-known American political scientist, she said, “Washington has been wrestling with a new term that describes an old threat. “Sharp power,” as coined by Christopher Walker and Jessica Ludwig of the National Endowment for Democracy, refers to the information warfare being waged by today’s authoritarian powers, particularly China and Russia.”
“Post-Tiananmen the CCP has indoctrinated successive generations in a fierce, xenophobic and at times revanchist nationalism coupled with a successful mobilization of Chinese overseas. Several aspects of China’s narrative and actions are outside the rationale of the international system as we know it and initially gave rise to confusion and surprise. But now a discernible process of challenging the content and terminology of this Chinese self-presentation is emerging.
“In their report, Walker and Ludwig argue that the expansion and refinement of Chinese and Russian sharp power should prompt policymakers in the United States and other democracies to rethink the tools they use to respond. They contrast ‘sharp power’, which “pierces, penetrates, or perforates the political and information environments in the targeted countries,” with “soft power,” which harnesses the allure of culture and values to enhance a country’s strength. And democracies, they argue, must not just “inoculate themselves against malign authoritarian influence” but also “take a far more assertive posture on behalf of their own principles.”
She added, “Incidentally without using the term ‘sharp power’ Prof. Clive Hamilton of Australia’s Charles Sturt University in his book: Silent Invasion: China’s influence in Australia vividly describes the penetration of the Chinese worldview into Australian universities, media etc, aided by generous donations from the Chinese embassy and support from Chinese Australians constituting 5.6% of Australia’s citizens who quite openly display dual loyalties to Canberra and Beijing. Hamilton became a victim of China’s sharp power himself when his regular publisher Allen & Unwin pulled out after initially backing his book project, citing threatened retaliation from Beijing and from Chinese lobbies within Australia.
“So from Korea to Doklam to Australia (though not yet so far as America or Greenland), China is directly or indirectly claiming territories as within its sphere of influence by employing singular versions of history, or inventing facts or what might be called ‘fake history’,” she cautioned.
As the most recent example of China’s fabrication of its past relations with countries, she quoted the late Elliott Sperling to contest the Chinese version of their past relations with Tibet. “For example: when the Chinese claim that Tibet was under their rule during the Qing dynasty, Sperling points out that at that time China herself was merely a part of the Great Manchu Qing Empire. Given the logic behind China’s reasoning, tomorrow India could as well lay claim to Myanmar on the grounds that Burma was once ruled by the British – from India!”
She concluded by suggesting that “it is important for Indian and Tibetan scholars along with their international counterparts to collaborate in understanding Chinese historiography and in reaffirming the international system.. Whichever way, the democratic world and China are clearly engaged in a contest of ideas as well as in a contest over territory and power. India and the Tibetan exiles have chosen multi-party democracy and pluralism as against one-party and one-man rule in China, and this common bond is going to be important in facing the ongoing and perhaps more bitter contests in the future. And the challenge not only to strategists and politicians but also to academics”.
Also speaking on the subject was Dr Kapila Vatsyayan, senior Bureaucrat, former Member of Indian parliament, President of India International Centre and who is referred fondly by His Holiness as Mata ji.
Dr Vatsyayan spoke very movingly about her decades-long association with the Tibetan community in exile.
She recounted how blessed she felt for her new service in the Tibetan community. “This is where I met His Holiness. Ever since, I can’t put in words the gift I have received, the gift that this country has received from the presence of a soul like His Holiness”.
Dr Vatsyayan went on to say, “Yes, India gave His Holiness and Tibetan refugees some land, a small gesture. But in return, His Holiness gave us immeasurable gifts, of wisdom and compassion, all the good that India has ever stood for, and so, it is India and Indians who should be thanking His Holiness on this momentous anniversary and occasion. A different India, one which remained more true to its real heritage, would have done so. And so, she thanked His Holiness and all the Tibetans from the bottom of her heart.
“It is a sad reflection of the present state of our country that instead of thanking His Holiness, over and over again, we are today gathered to accept thanks from him and the Tibetan community.
“His Holiness the Fourteenth Dalai Lama, resurrected and is the living embodiment of the Nalanda ancient Indian wisdom and philosophy in the Arya Bhumi he came to inhabit in 1959. He has become a beacon and a shining, guiding light of all the best values and culture espoused by our nation over the centuries, a true representative of all the potential of this great land and its rich and sophisticated traditions. A true son of the soil, so to speak”.
President of Central Tibetan Administration, an expert in International human rights law, democratic constitutionalism and conflict resolution, Dr Lobsang Sangay succinctly described how Tibet and Tibet’s issue is Made in India—an allusion to Modi’s government’s Make in India campaign.
“Tibet and Tibet freedom struggle is the original ‘made in India’. If it succeeds, India is guru and Tibetans chela. We took the philosophy of Bharat and we practiced the philosophies and values of Bharat. Now if you want, Modi ji’s Made in India to succeed, you better support us,” he said.
The geographical landscape of Tibet to its rivers, civilisation, religion, culture and the resilience of the Tibetan spirit are all inspired by India, he argued, adding that Tibetan democracy is modeled on Indian democracy and hence, the success of Tibetan freedom struggle will be India’s success story.
“Now the challenge we are facing is also common. Xi Jinping in its Party Congress said ‘Socialism with Chinese characteristics in new era and One Belt One Road is our road’. The rise of China is a fundamental challenge to the civilisation, values, principles and philosophy of India and Tibet”.
Reinforcing Tibet’s strategic importance to India’s security, he alerted that Tibet is Inda’s great wall against China and that it should strengthen its wall. “Tibet was India’s great wall against China’s expansionism and once the great wall was lost, it opened road for further incursions. Mao Zedong has said if you occupy Tibet, you occupy ‘the palm with all its five fingers’ which are Sikkim, Ladakh, Nepal, Bhutan and Arunachal. Not only that, China has encircled India from Pakistan to Sri Lanka to Bangladesh to Burma and it al started with Tibet”.
“We need to bolster this great wall; we need to protect the roof of the world and march together. If we succed, you succeed and if you succeed, we succeed,” he added.
Expressing gratitude towards India, CTA President said, “No country has done more for the Tibetan people and country than the great country of India. Ancient civilisation, culture and philosophy almost destroyed, has been revived in India. We are celebrating this. Jai Bharat, Jai Tibet, Jai Jagat”.
The event was well attended, including by senior Indian diplomats, officials, scholars, long time Tibet supporters, representatives from Tibetan institutes, members of media, and students of Delhi colleges.