A Lasting Flavour of Buddhist Philosophy

One fine afternoon, we got to interact with Mr. Jyampa Gyaltsen who heads the English Language Programme in the Language Translations department of the ‘Sera Jey Monastic University for Advanced Buddhist Studies and Practice’. He was quite young but his words were amazingly insightful and reflected immense knowledge in the Buddhist discipline. He underwent his monastic education in the Gelug tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. He pointed out that the Namdroling monastery in Bylakuppe which was founded in 1963, is the largest institution in the world that propagates the Nyingmapa tradition. After an initial phase of introduction, he gradually delved into the prominent teachings which the students go through in their learning process. As described by him, the major philosophies they study are the following:

  • ‘Paramitha’, which means ‘perfection’, encompasses certain guiding principles in the Buddhist practice. There are six perfections which they must attain which are the perfections of patience, generosity, morality, meditation, energy and wisdom.
  • ‘Madhyamika’, which deals with the ideology of emptiness, is generally considered to be logically elusive due to the difficulty in comprehending the same and hence demands a deep and immense engagement.
  • ‘Vinaya’, which pertains to certain ethics and codes, has an indispensable role in their monastic life. It describes certain disciplinary codes which are to be adhered to, by the monks and nuns for the purpose of self-training.
  • ‘Abhidharma’, which talks on evolution, extensively discusses science.
  • ‘Pranama’, which deals with valid cognition, elaborately discusses the concept of rebirth. It has striking similarities with the Hindu philosophy. Debates are an integral component of this teaching because of its characteristic nature of being a discipline dealing with the quest for the origins of knowledge.

He also mentioned the three objects of refuge called the ‘Triratnas’- Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, which are ideals that possess qualities which can get us out of the ‘samsara’- the bounds of the material world. After this brief but quite dense interaction, he went on talking further about the subsequent stages in monastic education, where the students can pursue the prestigious ‘Geshe Lharampa’ academic degree which spans for a period of 6 years, similar in stature to the doctorate degree. The ‘Geshes’ can further undergo an year of training in Tantrik teaching, which is of the highest order. He particularly emphasized the fact that it was a landmark year in the University’s history as a nun got conferred the ‘Geshe Lharampa’ degree for the first time ever.

Words flowed unrestrained from him, touching upon diverse topics in the process. According to him, Sera Jey is in the frontline in modern education. He also pointed out that IGNOU has come up with Tibetan Studies which was initiated in 2011, thereby, throwing light upon the increasing recognition to the same. He suggested us to watch ‘Kundun’, a Martin Scorsese biographical film on the 14th Dalai Lama and also the documentary ‘Unmistaken Child’ which follows a monk’s search for the reincarnation of the Lama, which is a complex process that demands extreme patience and perseverance and an inevitable element of divine intervention, according to him.

This brought us to the question of perpetuity of the Tibetan cause as the child who was considered to be the reincarnation of the 14th Dalai Lama was allegedly captured by the Chinese in 1996, which was something I myself felt uncomfortable enquiring about, due to the sentiments they have associated with the same. The inquisitiveness was owing to the possibility of the absence of a spiritual leader after the 14th Dalai Lama, who is highly revered across the world and is considered to be the torch-bearer of the Tibetan refugee cause. But he responded exuding remarkable positivity, saying that the Tibetan spiritual foundations are not confined to certain symbols which they can uphold. It is more about the ideals and practices which extend meaning to their very existence and the cause they stand for, which cannot be influenced by any external force. The 14th Dalai Lama, himself emphasizes the key virtue of not succumbing to the aura of symbols by advocating the same repeatedly to the Tibetans spread across the world, by also probing them to re-evaluate the necessity of the institution of Dalai Lama. The systematic attempts of the Chinese State to take over the institution by themselves choosing the next in the lineage are one among the major concerns behind the same.

I was particularly overwhelmed by his response as I could sense the passion and conviction with which he uttered it. It filled us with an optimism for a better tomorrow for the Tibetan refugee cause, the cause which lies afresh and intense still, at least in the minds of many, maybe not all. The interaction, undoubtedly, brightened up the day and left imprints of an unforgettable chapter in our days in the field!

 

Ashok Joseph Mathew

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Down the Memory Lane

One of the most memorable events of the field work was visiting the Old age home which was an averagely built small shelter home for the aged and housed 38 elders . It was started by an Italian woman in 1980s who later married a Tibetan guy and got settled. She is now an old lady of 82 years and has withdrawn her engagement from the old age homes. The institution is now under CTA which takes care of overall maintenance and finance of the same. The head caretaker Thupten Chodup had been in-charge of the Old age home for several years. The conversations with him were informal and emotional in tone. The home had 6 staff and they were housed in the campus itself. The elderly residing there were runaways from Tibet who had lost their families in the due course of time and had no one to look after them. They were what I would call ‘The Orignals’ who had carried on their shoulders the burden of time and were living with the sole hope of returning to what they call their real homes. It was a conversation filled with nostalgia for Thupten sir who himself fled the precarious Tibet with his uncle and left his siblings and parents behind him. He then led a life on his own in India and is hardly in touch with his family in Tibet. It was after a long wait of several years that he could resume his conversations with his long lost family and friends. The communication with them is very difficult and they rely on Chinese messaging applications to have minimum possible conversations. He also told about the major financial crunches he had to undergo in running the old age homes, especially incurring difficulty in meeting the medical expenses of the elderly. Lastly, he mentioned about the old people repeatedly mentioning about the possibility of a free Tibet which to us, sadly looks like a far-fetched dream.

Pooja Pandey

SOS Children’s Village – Interaction with the Director

Our first scheduled visit was to SOS Children’s Village, a private school for Tibetan children.  It was founded in 1980 with about 90 students and at present, there are 1040 students and is affiliated to the CBSE board.

Our interaction with the director spanned for an hour or so. He provided us with an extensive history of the Tibetan Refugee Movement of the late 50’s and he himself belonged to the first generation Tibetans who fled to India. The older generation Tibetans seemed to be culturally aware and believed culture to be a necessary ideal for community living. This was evident when he narrated to us the cultural relationship that India and Tibet shared since 7th century.

He was 5 when he came to India and back then, Tibetans were given PWD (Public Works Department) work as labourers and the kids were sent to government schools. They were poor and lived in tents.

The first generation Tibetans were given land by Karnataka state government in Bylakuppe. He said he is grateful to the Indian government for everything they have provided but he would never obtain citizenship rights in India as religion and culture is an important aspect of his Tibetan identity. They would rather be refugees forever.

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Director, SOS Children’s Village [23/11/2016]

Ashmi Krishnan

Asgar Bhaiya

It was a cold morning on 22nd November when we reached the Bylakuppe bus stop at 5.30am in the morning. The moment we got down from the bus there were two three rickshaw drivers who came to ask where we wanted to go. One of them agreed to drop us to our guest house near Sera Jey monastery. We instantly sparked a conversation with him and even before we started our field research we had a rough idea of the place because of him.

He spoke of his background and the family, the monasteries, the local Tibetan families here, occupations, demographics etc. For the next 8 days, since auto rickshaw was the only mode of conveyance there, most of the times he took us around the area. He was an ex-army man and had served for 14 years. He told us on the first day itself that he knew 14 languages. After retirement, he chose to settle here as his family was here. Government gave him 5 acres of land in Bylakuppe. He had been a rickshaw driver for past some years. Like all the other rickshaw drivers we met and spoke, he also had his house and agricultural land at the periphery of the Tibetan settlement.

Once while he was taking us to an office, he was telling his experiences of the Tibetans. He was critical of the monasteries and the foreign funding they receive. He said he admires Dalai Lama but is not very happy with the monks here in the monasteries. Everyone in the area knew him as he seemed to be quite famous amongst the Tibetans. This popularity might be because he knew Tibetan language unlike other rickshaw drivers.

For research, people like him are very important as they have enough knowledge of the area, people and relationships. Their opinions might be biased and narrow but talking to people can build a good background to take one’s research further. We thought that his inputs led us to new questions and a new way to look at the realities around us.

Siddhi Pendke

The Field – Bylakuppe (Mysore District)

The field work was undertaken in Bylakuppe (largest number of Tibetan inhabitants in India) and we were in Bylakuppe from 22nd November to 29th November 2016. We surveyed one of the two settlements i.e. Lugsam settlement (also the oldest in India).

The issues examined in the field:

  • Citizenship – According to the Indian Citizenship Act (1955) and its amendment in 1986, Tibetans born before 1987 are acknowledged as citizens of India. Even though they’re eligible, most of the Tibetans don’t opt for Indian citizenship. Documentation is an integral part of their stay in India. The Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) issues a Registration Certificate (RC) which is the stay permit compulsory for all Tibetans (above 16 years of age) living in India. Our research focused on how documentation played an integral role in the lives of Tibetan settlers in India.
  • Identity – As mentioned above, since India doesn’t have a refugee law the identities of the Tibetan settlers are debatable. Through our engagement with the community, we tried to get an idea of the current discourse of identity amongst the settlers.
  • Implications of Tibetan Rehabilitation Policy (2014) – We tried to examine the operationalization of this policy for the Tibetan population. Since the benefits of the welfare schemes (NREGA, IAY, NRLM, NFS) are advised to be extended to the Tibetans, the Registration Certificate (RC) becomes the most important document and through our fieldwork we can verify the details of these processes.

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    Settlement office, Bylakuppe.

– Ashmi Krishnan