My thoughts and activities in Dharamsala

Saturday, March 27, 2010


Bing bang boom, a second week of the course is done and we have already severed a casualty. Last week when our course started Gen Lodoe la had selected a class monitor to be responsible for the various doings that need to be done by the class. Well with reason known to no one or to a few who are unwilling to say, our class monitor done packed he bags and split. I was a bit sad that he had left; thus far he was a good disciplinarian, keeping our young monks in check. He had the correct demeanor one would expect out of such a figure. And so we had to elect another, who is a nice guy and I hope that he will prove himself but thus far he is a bit of a pushover. I have a feeling that another monk will come in the near future. We did gain a new lay student from Taiwan, poor guy has only been studying Tibetan for about less than two months and he seems very diligent, so I hope that he will be able to catch up. I do have my doubts though for many of us who have been studying Tibetan for 2 or more years are finding this course quite difficult. But that does not mean that it cannot be done, I have met and heard of folks who have done it, those who are diligent and have an affinity for brightness.

And thus, our second week has started and we can already see those students who have been showing the early signs of good reasoning powers. May be some of them have studied before but if they had then not that much but enough to cause one’s head to spin when engaged in debate with them. In class our Morpheus-like teacher who leads us down the rabbit hole of elementary Buddhist reasoning will set up the most difficult conundrums for us at of the most seemingly simple questions. Those students who are showing some talent in class are being shot down left and right by Gen la’s sharp yet relaxed analytical skill. There is a saying in Tibetan, arguing with a Geshe, here being Gen la, is like banging one’s head against a wooden board, thus meaning that you can just forget about winning that argument. Many of these conundrums have to do with making the distinction between the world of casual conversation and the world of logic. There are many paradigm debates that we run through; debates that I feel have been debated on for time immemorial in Tibet. These initial debates at this point have little if anything to do with Buddhist soteriology for the point is to train one’s reasoning skills to the point where these more difficult and abstract topics can be properly tackled.

And so, we have the white horse debate, in which we actually debate whether a white horse is white or not. The first time I heard that Tibetan monks spent hours debating this; I thought that this must be the silliest thing ever to debate about. It is like the joke we use to tell each other in elementary school, “What is the color of George Washington’s white horse?” and the not so bright one sits there wide-eyed trying to figure the color of George Washington’s white horse. It is quite a fun thing to debate about actually since it is not very deep and it helps one to run through the reasoning process. So what’s the gig then? Is it white or not? The proper answer is no! According to the Buddhist philosophical position (rang lugs) that we are studying, do de pa (mdo sde pa) in Tibetan/Sautrantika in Sanskrit, a white horse is not white because it is a person. Now a clarification needs to be mentioned here. It this system and probably in Buddhism in general a person is any “being who is imputed in dependence upon the any of the five aggregates” which is the tsan nyid (mtshan nyid), characteristics, of a person. The five aggregate that make up a person are the aggregates of form, feeling, cognition, formatives and consciousness. And so a human being, which we would have considered a person is also accompanied by animals, for though animal might not have cognition they probably have the rest and according to our tsan nyid then it is a person.

A person and a color are mutually exclusive being that there is nothing that “is” both. Here meaning that a horse “possesses” the color white but “is” not the color white. Color falls under a heading called form, and horse which is a person falls under non-associated compositional factors. Since these two shares no common locus, then white which falls under form, and horse which falls under non-associated compositional factors, are also mutually exclusive. It is proper to say that “the color” of a white horse is white, for then one is clearer in their assertions. One of the points of this kind of exercise it to train the student between the distinctions of everyday life, in which our colloquial speech serves different functions and purposes, and one of philosophical inquiry where the simple statement of a white horse being white does not hold true. Some students have been able to make this distinction very quickly while others are struggling with it. If I were to walk down a street in Manhattan and ask the first suit that I saw that a white horse is not white, he’ll probably laugh at me or think that I am some nutcase. Many such conundrums have been presented to us by Gen la that leaves our heads straining trying to figure out the answer.

I have noticed a slight improvement in my understanding, with a huge emphasis on slight. Gen la told us that it will take many of us awhile to get accustomed to this process, meaning years. Anyways, we had our first group debate last Friday, called a dam cha (dam bca’), literally meaning thesis. In a previous blog entry I had described a dam cha of the previous class that I had attended. Since we are beginners, we debate amongst ourselves and then later we will invite students from the upper class to debate with us. These dam chas pretty much puts all of us against each other and at first it is tough but has I have seen with the advanced students that after years and years of debating each other that no hard feelings are kept. As in contrast to what I have heard about Law school, where some pretty malicious happenings comes about due to the high level of competition placed on the students. It does not mean that things do not get out of hand, for they do, but supposedly these situations are few and far apart.

Our class was divided in three groups and each group had to send two defenders to another group and the group that they went to will then proceed to engage them in debate. Our group was not happening as compared to the other groups, many of us are shy or feeling that we do not know enough, so my group suffered due to shyness. But of course with time we will get better and probably all of us will have our egos smashed to bits when we have dam cha’s with the advanced students. Once again, I hope that due to the subject matter that this blog entry is not too horrendously boring.


Sunday, March 21, 2010


My first week of class is over and I sit here trying to digest the experiences and sensations from my previous week as a neophyte Buddhist philosophy student, potentially perspective “Smack Master”. Our first day of class was on Monday, the ides of March, the day of the infamous coup against Roman Empire Julius Caesar. All of the students were told to bring three khatas (Tibetan silk scarves used for offerings, welcoming, etc) and to go to the temple. Our teacher, Gen Lodoe la, had us offer the khatas, one on the throne of the HHDL and another one to the Shakyamuni Buddha. Then we all went to our classroom, which was the apartment of the HHDL, which he used only once when he inaugurated Sarah College back in the day. This classroom is on the top floor of the main office/temple/library building located in the center of campus.

Once situated, Gen Lodoe la proceeded to call roll asking where everyone was from. One thing that is apparent about our class is that there are only 4 Tibetans; most of the monks are from Ladakh, Spiti, and Arunachel Pradesh. Folks from the Arunacheli/ Tibetan border region are called Monpa. Gen Lodoe la would be calling out a monk’s name and he’ll say, “Are you Tibetan?” “No, I am Monpa, or Ladakhpa, etc”. Now the folks from these areas are Tibetan by race, their dialect is a Tibetan dialect and way back in the day they were a part of Tibet or had connections with Tibet. For example, the 6th Dalai Lama, Rinchen Tsang yang Gyatso was born in what is now Arunchel Pradesh. After talking with some of these monks, though they know their own dialect, many are not comfortable with speaking Central Tibetan dialect which is the dialect most widely spoken at Sarah College. Seems like most of them, following the traditional monastic way of learning, know how to perform various rituals, which require lots and lots of memorization. That is usually what a young monk learns first from childhood up until his late teens, and then after that, some learn philosophy. I have heard with the recent Chinese tightening of the Nepalese-Tibetan border since the protests in Lhasa and around other areas of Tibet in the spring of ’08 that not as many monks and nuns are escaping from Tibet. The three huge monastic seats in South India, Ganden, Sera and Drepung are accustomed to receiving each, several hundred monks a year, now the rumor is that they are struggling to scrape together even ten or twenty monks. I think that they are not the only monasteries facing this problem. Even the Tibetan Children Village, a primary modern educational school system for exile Tibetans, is not receiving nearly the amount of kids from Tibet that they have received in the past. These days Tibetan families who have been in exile for awhile are not willing to send their kids to the monasteries when then there is the option for their children to have a modern education. There are some monks who are totally born and bred in exile, but that is no way near enough to fill up a monastery.

Gen Lodoe la laid down the rule of the class, and our schedule. There are some things that are mandatory that everyone must do. He selected our class monitor who is in charged to make sure that everything gets done. We have cleaning duties on Saturday, which is always a half day unless it is a second Saturday which we have off. If we need to excuse ourselves from class for any other reasons besides medical and visiting the Foreign Registration Office, we need to have an official permission to be absent slip and even with that we are fined 10 rupees, without it then 20 rupees. Now it does seem that expensive but that is just not per day but for every event that we miss in a day. So our schedule is 8 to 9:30 am debate, 10:30am to 12:30pm lecture, 2 to 4pm mandatory study session, 6:30 to about 7:15pm initial prayers for evening debate, 7:15 to 9pm evening debate. So that is five events if missed with a permission slip is 50 rupees without one then is it 100 rupees. Minimum wage in India is round about 100 rupees a day so for the monks it is quite expensive.

The water bowl offerings for the temple, something like 50 or more metal bowls, must be done every morning and cleaned up every afternoon with the responsibility being divided up amongst the classmates. We all must do kitchen duty which is shared on a rotating basis every week with the other 5 fives classes. Gen Lodoe la also selected out the Umze “Chant Leader”. Since we have to do initial prayers before the evening debate session the Umze needs to learn the melodies all the chants. The preceding class had recorded the whole thing, so that we could learn them. Though Gen la, did teach some of our textual works for class, for our first two days we recited those evening prayers so that we could get used to them. One of the nuns brought her laptop to class and played the recording and with the prayer books we recited the prayers. The first day we did this for 4 hours and the second day we did this for 6 hours. Because one round of prayers last about 45 minutes we recited them twice, with our current Umze leading it on the twice though.

Since we are all beginners and the Gen la doesn’t expect us to have any experience in debate, he leads us through the lecture. So far we have three texts, our main text is a book that he wrote to teach debate, which is based on another book that we got called the Tutor’s Collected Topics. The Tutor is Purbujok Jamba Gyatso, tutor of the 13th Dalai Lama, who had written this book to instruct the then young Dalai Lama in debate. We also got the Ratöd Collected Topics, which is called the mother of all Collected Topic texts, because all other Collected Topic texts are based and/ or came after that one.

What is Collected Topics? First, Collected Topics are a kind of logical formulas, that in a way, help one understand a particular text written by the Indian Buddhist dialectician Dharmakirti, who wrote “The Commentary on Dignaga’s ‘Compendium of Valid Cognition’”, which is quite difficult to understand. So, many Collected Topics texts are called something like “That which opens the eyes towards understanding Valid Cognition” or “The Magical Key the opens one to the meaning of Valid Cognition”. Collected Topic texts are also kind of similar to those chess books that teach chess strategy, like the king’s gambit, queen’s gambit, fool’s mate, etc. It provides the students with lines of reasoning just like those chess books provides the appropriate move depending on how the other player has moved. I remember when I first started studying Buddhism in college the basics of Buddhism were taught, the four noble truths, eightfold path, dependent arising and so forth. And one might think that that will be the first thing that Tibetan monks learn in their philosophical education. But that is incorrect, at least for how it is taught here at Sarah which follows a Gelukpa curriculum. The first lesson is on color, the first topic. Ok, this is a debate course, right? Yep, totally on point. And you learn to debate colors? Yep! So one might ask what is there to debate about colors, and what is Buddhist about that debate?

Collected Topics are a pedagogical tool that helps the practitioner to develop reasoning skills primarily. Topics such as the above mentioned four noble truth, etc are studied years down the line and are very advanced and complicated topics. Gen Lodoe la said that Collected Topics are meant to develop rigs lam or the path of reasoning. The path of reasoning it is something that one can possess. Some have it naturally, but others need to train to acquire this skill, like me. Reasoning and analyst are central components to all forms of Tibetan Buddhism I believe. Even though not all systems will approve of a method such as used in Collected Topics, analyst of ones subject, no matter what it is, need to be investigated and analyze. Things are not to be taken on faith alone. The Collected Topics pedagogical method is one effective way of gaining that skill.

Thus comes the place for the first topic “Colors”. If you have any interest in learning about the experience and background of Tibetan Buddhist Debate, I recommend the great book, “The sound of two hands clapping: The Education of a Tibetan Buddhist Monk” by Georges B.J. Drefyus, who became to the first Westerner (Switzerland) to gain a Geshe Degree (the equivalent to a PhD, post-doctorate and them some). Drefyus studied at the same institution where I am studying though 20 some odd years prior and I think him and our teacher Gen Lodoe La were classmates. Now for those of us you have a very strong bond to logic and philosophy and would rather prefer something more technical there is Daniel Purdue’s huge nearly 1,000 page book, “Debate in Tibetan Buddhism” which is a translation of the first section out of three of the Tutor Purbujok Jampa Gyatso’s Collected Topic text. The actual text in Tibetan is only 36 pages!

There are many lessons that need to be learned in order debate. In Tibetan the word mainly used for the study of debate is “tsan nyid”, which is a translation of the Sanskrit “lakshana”, meaning, characteristics. Tsan nyid has also been translated into English as definition, but tsan nyid gives one the defining characteristics of an object. For example, the tsan nyid for color is that which is suitable to be shown as a hue, which shows the characteristics of color being that it is suitable to be shown as a hue. If one search’s the word color in the Oxford Dictionary it says, “The property possessed by an object of producing different sensations on the eye as a result of the way it reflects or emits light” this is a proper definition of color as compared to the tsan nyid. The tsan nyid plays such a crucial roll in these studies that memorization and understanding of it is a must, for without it there could be no debate.

In Gen Lodoe la’s book that he teachings out of we memorize the paradigm debates that he has formulated. They are an outline of all the division and tsan nyids of the various Collected Topics and in class, Gen Lodoe la in a kind of drab sing-song-y voice says one line of the text and we repeat afterwards. He has written it in the debate question and answer format so that not only does one learn the division and tsan nyids but also the basic correct format of debate. Since debate is very formal, students need to have these formats down pat. For example, we are taught trilemmas and tetralemmas which compare two things or phenomenon. To analyze phenomenon that can be seen is a lot easier as compared to things that one cannot be seen like the impermanence and a mental consciousness. The easiest comparison is called in Tibetan mu sum, or in English a trilemma. Trilemmas are any two things that have three possibilities within themselves. For example, color and the color blue is a trilemma, the first possibility is that there are things that are both color and the color blue like a blue car. The second possibility seeks to find things that are color but not the color blue, here the color of a red flower. The third possibility seeks of find things that are neither, so the most popular example is the horns of a rabbit. According to this system of thought, the horn of a rabbit does not existence thus being neither a color nor the color blue.

Now in a tetralemma, mu shi in Tibetan, catushkoti in Sanskrit, which said to be particular to Tibetan and Indian Buddhism, seeks to find four possibilities between two things. The color green and the color of a cloth are said to be a tetralemma, firstly, there is something that is both: the color of a green cloth. Secondly, there is something that is green but that is not the color of cloth, the color of green house. Thirdly, there is something that is the color of a cloth but that is not the color green, color of a red cloth and lastly, there is something that is neither the color green nor the color of a cloth, the horns of a rabbit. With what we have seen above, all this is very common sense, but the format is what is important here, one is made to go through each of the possibilities in debate and providing the correct reason to each them. There are also two other ways to compare phenomenon: thing that are mutually exclusive are any two things that do not share a common locus, like apples and oranges. Mutually inclusive things are any two phenomenons that have the same meaning, like form and matter are said to be mutually inclusive in this system.

Many of the monks are having difficulty with the comparison of phenomenon, now for us who have received a modern western education, whether good or bad, we are thought basic reasoning indirectly, maybe some more directly than others. I have never studied logic in high school or in college. But the monks who have been in monasteries most of their lives might have maybe some basic arithmetic but nothing in comparison to what we would call education. For example, when I was debating with a monk yesterday, going through each of the individual trilemmas, I asked him to posit something that was a color but that was not the color red? In which afterwards the monk, who was sitting on the ground in front of me, with a very confused look on his face, shyly scratching the top of his bald monk head for a few moments, then said the color red . I just looked at him; we went through this same procedure over and over. So far, we have only debated 5 times, Wednesday morning being our first debate session, during which Gen Lodoe la walks kind of stoically around the grassy debate courtyard listening to our debates, which kind of reminds of a shepherd gently watching the flock, he is just there, chillin’ with a total ease and when you are going the wrong way he gives the correct advice to get you in the right direction without any force. My friend Jeremy who is in the Advanced philosophy course at the IBD campus in McLeod Ganj told me that Gan la reminds him of Morphesus from the Matrix. Gen la is a monk, obviously, and he has an eye condition so he is always wearing sunglasses, which also adds to his somewhat cool demeanor. After already coming by a first time he came back again by where monk and I were debating with me standing up asking questions and the monk answering on the ground. At one point Gen Lodoe la and I were laughing very hard, totally not dissin’ the monk, but at the responses that he gave. So this stuff is very difficult for all of us, for me because Tibetan not my first language and I am not in the habit of memorizing mass corpus of text, like the monks have.

If one has ever seen Tibetan monastic debate it can be quite a show. All of the Tibetan monastic traditions practice debate, there is a great video that I found on youtube of monks debating at the Dzongsar Monastery in the Kham province of Tibet. Here if you watch this video you will see some very aggressive behavior. There is a lot of clapping and stomping involved, but has with any thing Tibetan and/or Tibetan Buddhist every thing has a second and a profound meaning. In debate you will see one person standing who is the challenger, and his asks the question with the hand clapping and stomping business. Then there is the defender who is sitting in front of challenger. The defender is limited to four types of responses depended on how a questioned is asked. Syllogisms and consequences are the two main types of ways of ask questions, Tibetans place more emphasis on consequences above the syllogism, for with the use of the consequence a challenger can tease out a defender faulty assertions.

The main deity of debate is the Bodhisattva of Wisdom Mañjushri (see left corner photo). Every morning before prayers it is quite normal to hear folks reciting very rapidly, Om ah ra pa tsa dhi dhi dhi dhi dhi dhi, repeating the dhi as many times as one can in a single breath before they start over again. Dhiih: is the seed syllable of the mantra of the Bodhisattva Mañjushri. With debate seen as a path in which one can gain wisdom, the Bodhisattva Mañjushri plays a huge roll. Even the gestures of debate are said to have come from the iconographical representation of this Bodhisattva of Wisdom.

From Daniel Purdue’s “Debate in Tibetan Buddhism”,

At the opening of a session of debate, the standing Challenger claps his hands together and recites the seed syllable of Mañjushri, “Dhiih”. Mañjushri is the manifestation of the wisdom of all the Buddhas and as such is the special deity of debate. In debate, one must have a good motivation, the best of which is to conceive the special motivation of the Great Vehicle, the thought to establish all sentient beings in liberation. “But to fulfill this wish is not easy. You must have great knowledge and wisdom; and for this you recite ‘dhiih’, asking Mañjushri to pour down a torrent of wisdom upon you. …The seed syllable ‘dhiih’ has a very special effect upon Mañjushri,” (Geshe Rabten). Together with the seed syllable of Mañjushri the challenger begins the debate with the statement, “Dhiih! The subject, in just the way [Mañjushri debated] (dhiih ji ltar chos can).” According to Denma Lochö Rinpochay, the meaning of this statement is: “Just as Mañjushri stated subjects in order to overcome the wrong views and doubts of opponents, so I with good mind will do also.”

Upon first seeing a debate, the most striking characteristic is the hand gestures. When the Challenger first puts his question to the sitting Defender, his right hand is held above the shoulder at the level of his head and the left hand is stretched forward with the palm turned upward. At the end of his statement the Challenger punctuates by loudly clapping together his hands and simultaneously stomping his left foot. Then he immediately draws his right hand with the palm held upward and the same time holds forth his left hand with the palm turned downward. This motion of drawing back and clapping is done not in two sharp movements, but with the flow of a dancer’s movements.

Holding forth the left hand after clapping symbolizes closing the door to rebirth in the helpless state of cyclic existence. The drawing back and upraising of the right hand symbolizes one’s will to raise all sentient beings up out of cyclic existence and to establish them in the omniscience of Buddhahood. The left hand is able to overcome powerless cyclic existence, for the wisdom cognizing selflessness is the actual antidote to cyclic existence. The right hand represents method which for the Great Vehicle is the altruistic intention to become enlightened, called the “mind of enlightenment (byang chub kyi sems, bodhi-citta)”, motivated by great love and compassion for all sentient beings, The clap represents a union of method and wisdom. In dependence on the union of method and wisdom one is able to attain the auspicious rank of a Buddha.

On a side note quoted from Lati Rinbochay: The union of wisdom and method represented by the pressing together of the palms had to do with subtle wind channels of wisdom in the wrists which meet when the debater claps his hands together.

End quote.

So one can see, that these gestures do have another meaning behind them, unfortunately most people are unaware of them, which is why a decided put that quote up. Now that my first week is over, reflecting on the busyness of the schedule, and what has transpired, meeting by new classmates and so on, I take a huge sigh and say wooooo. This course is intense. The days goes by quick, before when I was in the Tsamjor it felt more spacious but now everything is on top on each other. I need to experiment with my schedule for since the course has started it has been hard to get to bed before midnight. But I like it so far. I think that this is a great thing for me. I know that I will have many difficulties as I progress, and I hope that I can deal with them with skill and understanding. All of my classmates are very nice and I hope for some good friendships to be built out of it regardless that we are so different from each other. I hope that this entry was not too long and boring to read, I have a small understanding of logic and philosophy and with explaining what I am experiencing and providing you with an idea of what I am experiencing as a difficult process, is daunting to me because the subject matter is very technical and is not of interest to many. So I need to think of a different approach to represent what is now a main part of my life. I hope that I can keep up with these regular posts, but seeing how time intensive this course is, it might not happen. Much Love.


Friday, March 12, 2010

Voice of the Tibetan Feminine: Part 2

Today on the commemoration of 51th anniversary of the Tibetan women’s uprising in Lhasa, I would like to present to 1st place essay written by a Tibetan woman from the province of Amdo in Northeastern, Sung dü kyi. I hope that you enjoyed yesterday's essay and that you will enjoy this one even more.


From past to present: Did the condition of gender inequality exist in Tibet?


Usually, when a girl was born in Tibet the parents had a sense of the unfortunate-ness for having given birth to a daughter as compared to the birth of a son. I would like to elaborate on the reasons why this sad situation, of having such resentments toward the birth of females and of the situation of females in general, exists in Tibet.

Section 1: Women in General

From the term “skye dman” low birth as used in the Tibetan language to designate women it can be seen that women in general have no rights of their own. The general situation in Tibet, especially those from nomadic families is that the man is granted a lot more freedom of movement as compared to the woman. He is allowed to go and do as he pleases while the she is expected to stay at home, watch over the livestock, clean, cook and nurture the children and since there is little education illiteracy is very high and thus their learning is extremely confined.

Section 2: Women’s Rights

From the Tibetan historical annals there is sufficient evidence of women’s activities in the field of writing, but thus to the viewpoint that “Men are superior and Women are inferior” the mention and the importance of their scholarship has seriously declined. It is said that one of the wives of the Great Tibetan King Songtsan Gampo wrote that “one should support governmental or royal activities”, but her views as to the rights of women were suppressed. These archaic views as to the rights and equality of women are still prevalent and hard to eliminate, even in this day and age were the ideologies of old has been replaced by more scientific points of view.

As for the aspect of romantic love, if a Tibetan woman wanted to express the desire that she was in love with a certain suitor or that she wanted to marry someone that she was in love with, it would not have been permissible for her to do so. But on the other hand if a suitor inquired in to the family of a girl that he desired that girl would be viewed in the same manner as articles for sale in a store. She would have no say in the matter, it will be totally decided on her behalf and she will be seen as a piece of property. And in this way lies the fate of Tibetan Women.

In the religious sphere, the differentiation between monks and nuns as far as their devotion and practice are concerned are more or less similar. But if a monk, nun or a lama passes away, the monks and not the nuns are called to reside over of the death ritual ceremonies even though from the point of view of religious practice there is little difference between them. In this way too lies the fate of Tibetan women.

Section 3: Women and Their Relation to Society

If we look at the Tibetan word for society “spyi tshog” we see what the intended meaning is. “Spyi” pronounced “chi” means general or common and “tshog” pronounced “tsho” means group or gathering, and thus we come to the meaning of general group or common gathering. It is related to all things and property that are utilized by all in a collective sense. But lets takes us, women and our rights; we respect all individuals but in Tibetan society in general respect for the individual is not pervasive.

Now looking at religious terminologies such as “las rgyu ‘bras” actions and the principles of cause and effect, “btang snyoms” equanimity, “drang bden” honesty, “rang dbang longs spyod” the leisure of enjoyment etc, are found only as folk quotations from scripture and are very rarely put into practice.

In Tibetan history it is known that the great lama meditator Drokpo had four female students and three male students who were studying under him for the achievement of spiritual realizations. In the same vein, the Great Yogi Milarepa had with him in his mountainous retreat eighteen males and nine females as students. Still regardless of this information that there were great women writers, yoginis, and scholars in the fields of politics, economics, the five traditional studies “rig gnas” and religion, who commonly held the sacred Tibetan cultural tradition together, still the deeply engrained mental implication that “Men are superior and Women are inferior” is very prevalent.

Is it that we as women are incapable of thinking or of preparing a method for improvement or that women themselves prove that these archaic viewpoints are correct? For most of us it is our very environment that suppresses us and it is because of this that our society is unable to involve itself in the movement for the betterment of women’s situation. But generally even though it is seen that rights and responsibilities do not belong together, we have to decide that they belong together. Without the opportunities to achieve woman’s rights the gender gap will increase without rights and responsibilities. We as Tibetan women need to be proud of our naturally inherent qualities such “snying rje” compassion, “bag yod” conscientiousness, “tshul mthun” ethicality, “nyam chung” humility, “khrel yod” modesty, “lhun chags can” one who possesses elegance.

As beings born in this human realm it is most important that we develop: firstly, a strong and steady character and secondly, a strong and steady standard to be able to move towards an ideal of betterment because it can and will be achieved. If we do as those women from the western and northern nations have done in regards to woman’s rights and freedom then from generation to generation we need to be clear that we do not want to bend of under pressure and that we do not want suffering. If we want freedom, we will be able to create the freedom needed for us.

In the histories we have seen that women had a degree of freedom and a high standard and we can again achieve and even surpass those standards. But if we are bound by the iron shackles of archaic ideologies and deplorable environments then how can we rise to a level of freedom and equality. Similarly from the position of inferiority is it not possible that we can think that we possess the distinctions of superiority? How can this be achieved? We need education to be able to rise above archaic ideologies. It might seem like an unreachable goal, similar to how the stars in the sky seen from the earth appear unreachable.


To my most cherished Tibetan mothers who reside with in depths of my heart. We who are known as “skye dman” low birth; do we not have “‘gran sems” competitiveness, “gdeng tshor” confidence, and “nga rgyal” conceit? With these qualities it might seem that we are inferior to our male counterparts. We must eradicate these archaic views toward women for we can not wait and depend on men to give us freedom and equality.

Our time moves very swiftly and we mature rapidly, but with out an open mind, what is the response as to whether our minds are capable or incapable of bondage and liberation? The response to this question is that we can not think in this way. Freedom and equality are our responsibilities. The 21st century is the time for us to achieve our rights. It is in the precious value of human life therefore that possess our path and our method in which will undo the bind on our minds and move to higher avenues of thinking.

A Tibetan Proverb thus states:

“If the inside is inauspicious”

“It is said that outward meaning is unattainable”

From this proverb I believe that if we all stand together with unity and friendship against archaic ideologies, we will be able to move forward, crossing boundaries to greater possibilities and that we will never be defeated.

College: Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies

Class: First year rig gnas

Name: gzung ‘dus skyi

Written: 2008/ 12/ 26

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Voice of the Tibetan Feminine: Part 1

On the eve of the commemoration of 51th anniversary of the Tibetan women’s uprising in Lhasa, I will like to post two essays written last spring 2009 by two very gifted Tibetan women writers. These women had won first and second place positions in an essay competition held by the Tibetan Women’s Association (TWA). The essay competition had two language sections I believe, one in English and one in Tibetan. These two essay writers are current students of Sarah College, and I was called one evening by my friend Tenzin Palkyi, who worked for TWA, to translate these two essays into English. When I asked how long I had to translate it, she said in a few days, like 3 or 4, I can’t remember exactly but it was a short enough time that I thought that I could not do it.

First of all, I have never translated anything major before and second, once I saw how incredibly well these women wrote their essays I knew that realistically, in order for me to do a good job at translating, that I would have needed a couple of weeks easily. Palkyi had spoken with Gen Karma la a staff member from Sarah to help me and so with him and one of authoress I was able to translate an essay in a night. And the next day with a different staff member Gen Norzang la, and the other authoress I finished translating the second essay. Our method was pretty simple, since I did not have the time to translate it word for word, I needed to get the essence of each paragraph, so Gen Karma la and Gen Norzang la with the authoress themselves explaining the most important points, I took notes down, then in my room with the original Tibetan text I preceded to translate.

I was doubtful that I would have been able to do it, but with our impromptu translation team it worked out just fine. These translated essays were published in TWA’s magazine. I was glad that my first, and so far only translation work, went toward bringing out the voices of the Tibetan feminine, which is hardly audible. I was surprised at many of the points made by these women, especially since I feel that their observation of gender inequality within their communities are indigenous to their own thought, and not bogged down with Western 3rd wave Feminist rhetoric, which would have been totally alien to these women.

So here I present you with the 2nd place essay, written by the nun Chablho Yodron from the U-Tsang province of Tibet who I have developed a lot of respect for. Both these women wrote in a beautifully poetic style with fluid prose and I am afraid that my translations comes no way near to illuminating the skill of these writers, but I hope this gives people a glimpse of the some of the voices represented in the Tibetan feminine. Tomorrow March 12, I will post the 1st place winning essay.


The Real Situation of Tibetan Women


The previous status of Tibetan women has been seen with us having our heads pressed down, but to have our heads raised up high is what is truly needed, in the same way that a path is built to overcome the steepness of a rocky crag. Like the snow god flower “gangs lha me tog” that grows at the top of Mt. Everest our path should remain steady regardless of any situation. To keep up with the changing times the responsibilities of Tibetan women needs to be completely practical; they need to be able to think critically, and to be able to achieve ones aspirations, and to not be like someone who is waiting for sky water, or who passes flatulence under water, one needs deep and subtle analysis to examine what the goal is.

Woman’s Rights and its Relation to Antiquity

This is being written in reference to a statement made by the Cabinet Minister of the Kashag on the 48th anniversary of Tibetan Democracy Day, “From ancient times up till the present the conditions of gender inequality have never existed in Tibet”.

In the 21st century, external activities, mainly materialism, has been developing at a fast pace as compared to internal or spiritual development. Since antiquity, Tibetan women have been viewed in extremely barbaric and demeaning ways. I was fortunate to not to have directly witnessed the kinds of discriminations and repressions that my Tibetan female ancestors have witnessed but by the simple fact that I am born female I carry and bare the marks of repression from those times. And also due to that reality, how can I believe the Cabinet Minister of the Kashag who has claimed that, “conditions of gender inequality have never existed in Tibet”?

I feel that it is my responsibility to be a reminder or even better, a messenger to show other Tibetan women that it is important to strive toward gaining opportunity and woman’s rights and not simply to argue about them. I will like to show that with the manner of how I am using this essay that I am striving and struggling for Tibetan woman’s rights and not solely debating about them. We are all witnesses to the repressions that has happened in the past and in the present and they should never be ignored, we should not built a crooked path but a straight and righteous one

In Tibetan history it is known that around the time of the Great Dharma King Songtsan Gampo there existed multiple terms for male and female, the proverb, “be remitting towards a wild slave but do not be attached to what comes out of a woman’s mouth” was prevalent, and when the time arouse for any sort of important or official gathering the women were completely barred from attending these functions and not only that they were barred also from the fields of militarism, economics, education, and politics, this barring is the reason why women were kept in the kitchens. This situation was also prevalent during the reign of the Sakya dynasty.

Women had no rights to make their own decisions, she had no rights to marry whom she desired as can been read in “snang sa ‘od bum gyi rnam thar” a famous Tibetan Opera. This is also clearly seen in light of the time around the 38th Tibetan King Trison Duetsan who in order to pay a tribute to Guru Rinpoche Padmasambhava for a longevity prayer he offered him one of his wives. Now this should raise the question of, if that was the situation for a woman of royalty then what was the situation of a plebian woman? This should be thought about in depth.

If any women who are struggling for raising awareness for their fundamental rights lifted their voices towards the issues such as women’s livelihood and were depending on the government to instill any plan towards the attainments of these goals then that will only help instill a basis of partially that is meant to control women. It will be seen that our lives are not worth more than rubbish and that we will have no point in achieving a precious human rebirth.

From the vantage point of spiritual practice, it is generally known that any obstacles on the spiritual path are one’s own and that they come from within the practitioner themselves. But when seen particularly from the view of a male practitioner women are always presented as the main obstacle to his enlightenment, to his spiritual realizations. Women are then seen as completely unclean with horrid descriptions of her body, and that they defile the male practitioner. There is no mention made as to the reverse situation. But this does not seem to point to the original source of his obstacle to enlightenment not being women but his own mind.

It has been recorded that male and female practitioners who have reached high levels of spiritual realizations possess certain “elegant qualities”. If a person, male or female, does not achieve these realizations then these elegant qualities are said not to exist. But if the decline of a kingdom is blamed on women, if the loss of freedom that fell on to an entire society was blamed on women, then these words which talk about these elegant qualities are a treasury filled with non-virtues. If this is the case then how can there be any elegant qualities for women regardless of them having spiritual realizations or not?

If we look into the home life of Tibetan women we will see that she is totally bounded by her circumstance. She must suffer simply due to the wimps of her husband. When the husband arrives home intoxicated, his is ready to use any object with in reach to beat his wife. When he has wagered all of his money in gambling he will without bashing an eyelid wager his wife thus treating her not like a human being but like a commodity. Some women are so terrified of their husbands that they runway from home to join a nunnery. This shows that these degenerative views towards women are the habituation of savagery. These thoughts are similar to the yoke used on a pair of plough-oxen that presses down onto the neck of women. If one tried to lift their head up against the yoke the driver will immediately kick one in the rear, but I believe that this situation must be overcome.

From the many sources that the Chinese Government has published, it has been mainly stated that Tibetan women enjoy more rights and equality now than they ever did in the past. But the plain reality is that Chinese women suffer so much and the situation is even worst for Tibetan women. There is no change in the educational system. When a Tibetan woman marries a Chinese man, she is made to pay a really heavy dowry, because of this many women runaway to live on the streets and eventually turn to prostitution since they have lost meaning in their lives.

In the prisons the situation is even more deplorable with the worst kinds of torture imaginable. Woman’s body are extremely sensitive to pain, even just the tap of the hand on a needle is painful enough. Tibetan nuns go through extreme tortures, so how can it be said that women have more rights and equality now than in the past. The world needs to raise it voice against the Chinese government so that true gender equality can be achieved in Tibet.

Religion and its relation to woman’s rights

It is not only the lay female’s responsibility to fight against the antiquated notion that “men are superior, women are inferior”. For as a nun, I believe that nuns too have full responsibility to eliminate this notion. As brilliantly stated by Lord Buddha, “Oh monks and scholars examine my teachings just as a goldsmith examines the purity of gold by scratching, cutting and rubbing it, not by faith to me alone”, we as nuns need to take this advice from Lord Buddha and apply it to the old ideas that view women with inferiority.

Since the Teachings of the Lord Buddha flourished in Tibet the vows of the “dge slong ma” or fully ordained nun has declined and we have completely lost this lineage. His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama has stated that we must examine the reason for the declination of the “dge slong ma” tradition and search for it.

Within the Judaic, Christian and Islamic traditions women and or nuns have been treated worst as compared to Tibetan nuns. On the other hand, as compared to Korean nuns, Tibetan nuns are rather backward. In Korea the lineage of the “dge slong ma” still exists and in order for a nun to become fully ordained the nun must successfully pass several formal educational and age requirements before she is even considered eligible for the full ordination. But Tibetan nuns are barred their full ordination because of age and lack education.

In the northern border regions of Nepal and India, where people of Tibetan ancestry live, such as Dolpo, Mustang, Lahaul, and Spiti, families typical send their sons and daughters to monasteries and nunneries not out of belief in any kind of spiritual ideals that they find within Buddhism, but they send them solely because they can not financially support them. I believe that this view is in conflict with the purpose and goal of becoming and being a monastic. In order for there to be good monks and nuns, the monastic institutions need to provide both spiritual and secular training, as has been made mandatory in the Korean Buddhist tradition. Of course spiritual training should take precedence over secular training, but that should be done at the discretion of the individual monastic.

Leaders of Great Persistence and Future News

It is very important for all Tibetan women to remember the great women leaders of the past and of the present. Those great women who have stood and fought against the “men are superior, women are inferior” myth and have achieved many positive results towards that end. We should not follow these women blindly but intelligently we should follow their example. For examples of Tibetan women who were innovators in the political sphere I think that Ma ma gro skyi brling ma the Queen of the 7th century Tibetan King ‘Dags khri btsan po, Khar chen bza’ mtsho rgyal and mChims bza’ lha mo btsun etc, should be thoroughly investigated. For examples of Tibetan women who were innovators in the religious sphere, I think that Ma gcig lab sgron, mKha ‘gro ye shes mtsho rgyal and rDo rje phag mo etc, should be thoroughly investigated. For modern examples I suggest A ma rJe btsun pad ma, dPa’ mo A ma a skyi and the authoress Tshe ring skyi, should be investigated. Our eyes must look to them as our example. For our progression we must first recognized the faults within ourselves, work on overcoming them and start to truly work for the well-being of others.

It is in the 21st century that Tibetan women will struggle and strive for woman’s rights and gender equality, but those women who are not engaged in the struggle should not mock and criticize those who work hard in the struggle for such actions are damaging the very meaning of the word freedom. It is most important that all women stand together for we are one powerful force as it says in a proverb, “The powers and capabilities of women have the ability to hold up half of the world’s sky”.


Traditionally Tibetan women throughout their lifetime continuously pray to be born in a “more auspicious” male form in the next life. I think that it is better not to pray in this way, if women themselves are thinking in this manner implying that their current state is inferior then men will reinforce this idea. But if we pray like Female Buddha Tara who stated, “For the purpose of all sentient beings I desire to be reborn in a woman’s body” then we will instill within ourselves power and courage. We should pray and aspire to be reborn in a female body, that can live and learn with the times, that can benefit all life, that has control, intelligence, and physical strength, so that we can live a life of meaning. In these prayers we must be like Buddha Tara who was self-reliant. We must use our own effort and our own energy.

The rich Tibetan cultural heritage is extremely amazing and admirable, but we should not think that because this is so that we can not learn from other cultures, that they are lower and less important than our own. Tibetan women should strive to learn from the neighboring countries and expand to a global perspective. We need to eliminate the worst from our culture and take the best from others.

His Holiness the XIV Dalai Lama has stated numerous times, “if you are unable to work for the happiness of others, then at least avoid harming others” and with this view you should carry out your goals and aspirations. This needs to be done with scientific exactitude, with reason. Although the past was completely backward and that we must remember the past, at the same time we need to venture forward towards development.

The violent and calm streams pass by way of various routes but reach the same vast ocean regardless of whatever obstacles that stood in their way. In the same way, there are different types of Tibetan women, some violent and some calm, but all regardless of the challenges that lay before them are able to overcome any obstacles with pride and courage. Like Anne Frank who shared with the entire world her sincerity, and honestly, despite of the immediate dangers that surrounded her. From her example Tibetan women should learn and grow.

It is my deepest and sincerest prayer and hope that all the women of the future will easily be able to differentiate the good from the bad and attain a fruitful result.

Sarah College for Higher Tibetan Studies

First year rig gnas

By chab lho g.yu sgron given on 2008/ 12/ 21.