Thinking of Burma

It was somewhere in an article by George Orwell that I came across the phrase “the solipsism of the sick man”, i.e. the inability of people mired in depression, disease or suffering to see beyond their own condition. Which is, I suppose a fairly natural thing. Even something as commonplace as a toothache has a way of making genocide in Rwanda or Darfur seem irrelevant at that moment.

Our own life-and-death struggle, and concerns about China’s draconian crackdown in Tibet take up every bit of our time and attention right now, but we should spare a moment to consider the enormous and devastating tragedy that is playing out in Burma. Last time I checked the official death toll was 78,000. Many more have died according to other sources. I know some Tibetans have already donated money and offered prayers and butter lamps at the temple in Dharamshala. His Holiness has made a $50,000 donation.

Those wanting to help might be discouraged by reports of the military government distributing rotten food grain to the people and stockpiling food aid for its own soldiers, and also accounts of generals handing out aid packages as if it were their personal gift contributions. I just received an email from a trusted friend yesterday who has been working closely with the Burmese American Democratic Alliance (BADA). She wrote, “If you are considering making a donation toward helping the hundreds of thousands of Burmese cyclone victims, please consider donating through BADA. Donating through them is actually more effective than donating through one of the large aid organizations, as they are able to circumvent the Burmese junta’s control and get the money to people who need it through unofficial channels. We know BADA’s president, and I trust him 100%. Their website is”

We must also spare a moment to contemplate the plight of Aung San Suu Kyi, the most fearless and committed fighter for freedom and democracy we have right now in the world. Tibetans, especially those in Chinese prisons for the cause of independence, have a genuine revolutionary bond with her. She remains a prisoner not just out of the viciousness of the Burmese military government, but because Beijing does not want her released.

In 2000 a worldwide campaign for a consumer boycott and shareholder pressure forced companies like ARCO, Eddie Bauer, Liz Claiborne, Macy’s, Reebok and Petro Canada to withdraw from Burma. In January 2001, the Burmese military junta finally agreed to enter into negotiations with Aung San Suu Kyi. On 6 May 2002, following secret confidence-building negotiations led by the United Nations, the government released her; a government spokesman said that she was free to move “because we are confident that we can trust each other”. Aung San Suu Kyi proclaimed “a new dawn for the country”.

However on 30 May 2003, a government-sponsored mob attacked her and her supporters in the northern village of Depayin, murdering and wounding many of her supporters. Aung San Suu Kyi fled the scene with the help of her driver, but was later arrested. The government imprisoned her at Insein Prison in Yangon.

What happened? China realized that the economic sanctions and pressure from the West was forcing the Burmese regime to release Suu Kyi, and perhaps even allow some possible measure of democratization in the country. So Beijing stepped in with massive investments, trade and arms supplies to the regime that effectively cancelled out the effect of the West’s sanctions. China has since been effectively blocking all discussion and action against the junta in the United Nations Security Council, and vetoing all resolutions calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners. It has also effectively managed to water down discussions and block resolutions in other international forums, especially those condemning the junta’s murderous crackdown on monks and democracy activists in the wake of last year’s anti-government demonstrations.

Even a partially democratic Burma threatens China’s very profitable exploitation of Burma’s oil and gas resources. It also puts at risk China’s naval access to the Indian Ocean, which is a vital part of its “string of pearls” strategy to project Chinese military power in Asia and the Pacific. There is also the concern among Chinese strategic thinkers that a popular or democratic upheaval in Burma could have a ripple effect in Tibet, East Turkistan or even North Korea, and threaten the Chinese Communist Empire and its surrogate dictators in some Asian nations – which are fast becoming China’s new economic colonies.

Hence Aung San Suu Kyi is as much a prisoner and a victim of Beijing’s tyranny and power schemes as any one of the thousands of Tibetans now incarcerated throughout Tibet.

The Amnye Machen Institute published a Tibetan translation of Aung San Suu Kyi’s, Freedom From Fear, in 1997. AMI director Tashi Tsering la wrote the introduction. He knew Suu Kyi and her husband Michael Aris, the eminent scholar on Bhutan and Tibet. Tashi la mentions that when she was married in 1972 at Oxford, she wanted to observe the Burmese custom of having a monk blow on a conch shell, the sound of which Buddhists believe is auspicious and drives away bad luck. No Burmese monks being available, one of the first Tibetan lamas in the West, Chime Rimpoche, was inducted to perform the task.

When Michael Aris was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997, the Burmese government denied him an entry visa to the country. They told Suu Kyi that she could leave Burma, but she knew that if she did they would never allow her back. Michael died in 1999. He was a good friend and supporter of Amnye Machen and as an act of remembrance we printed a scholarly article by him in the AMI web-journal, HIGH ASIA. Aung San Suu Kyi has two sons, who accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for her. She remains separated from her children, who live in the United Kingdom.

It is a lot for one person to have to give up, even for so noble a cause as a people’s freedom. And she has her critics and detractors. I came across a couple of articles speculating that her actions might be causing more suffering than good for the Burmese people. That it might be a better idea for her to leave the country. That free trade would, anyhow, eventually bring about democracy and freedom to Burma. The same sort of speciously “concerned” theorizing that the Tibetan issue regularly receives.

But Suu Kyi seems unmoved by it all: death threats, a possible lifetime of confinement, personal anguish, and the flattering but false appeals to her intelligence, humanity and stature as a Noble Prize winner to end the confrontation and seek a more amenable way (outside Burma) to continue her fight for Burmese democracy. But even the seeming lack of any progress in the struggle for the last so many years, does not appear to have diminished her resolve. Her determination is, as Tibetans would say, “embedded in the ground like a boulder” (drak tsugpa nangshing).

This is one person I admire without reservation.


30 Replies to “Thinking of Burma”

  1. Jamyang’la,

    Thank you so much for this inspiring post on Burma and Aung San Suu Kyi. I wish His Holiness could read it…

  2. Aung Sun Suu Kyi sounds much more courageous and patriotic than the Tibetan leadership. She seems to have the integrity, vision, courage and indomitable spirit to keep the struggle on even at the cost of her life. The Tibetan leadership on the other hand keeps running from one end of the Tibetan border to the other end. Flees from one country to the next in search of asylum at the slightest danger. Unlike Aung Sun Suu Kyi, the Tibetan leadership is more concerned about personal safety. The Burmese leadership seems to be made of a different mettle than the Tibetan leadership.

  3. The struggle in Tibet and Burma are shadows of a greater struggle between those who seek to dominate and those who wish to coexist. Aung Sun Suu Kyi has been able to fight for coexistence fiercely and without causing harm. The ones harmed have done it to themselves and like so many who seek domination. In America there is a saying, “he gave better than he got.” It refers to injuring your opponents in a brawl, but I think in her contest with the Burmese government, Aung Sun Suu Kyi has given better than she has got. We hope that she keeps it up.

    Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.
    — Franklin D. Roosevelt

  4. Gen Jamyan Norbu lak
    Thank you for deeping our thinking levels again and again, for sharpening the warroir’s sword, conqueror’s heart through knowledge and dedication.
    In nashville, i have also found stroung support and concerns from Burmese communities. They came to see the “cry of the Snow lion” joint discussions and also participated at the Tibet rally.
    Mr.Wen, who is a Burmese(Myanmar the historical name),a retired mathmatics professor here in Nashville, caught me in hand the first time we met and was telling me a whole story of how Myanmar (Bhurma;name given by the British as part of their rulling policy to create social devission amoung different Myanmes tribes), are in fact the descendants from the antient Tibetan race….
    I think this is definately something we can research more into… How Myanmese(Burmese) are descendants from Tibetan Race…

  5. Gen Jamyan Norbu lak
    One more comment, I just came back from a three days long Tibetan Buddhist retreat(Nyinma Tridition).
    During our retreat, a friend who is profesor philosophy at vanderbuilt spilled a powerful golden message into my ear. He said, Max’s saying of “religion is the opium of the mass” was bacause he saw( in his time in Europe ), europeans and russains were all ruled by the rich minority, while majority of the poor didn’t revolt or take mach actions to attain social equality, mainly because of the Church mindset of the massive poor, who adopted religious promises that they will go to heaven when they die, as they keep being good church members, bible readers and so …
    Max didn’t mean all religions. He definately didn’t mean Tibetan Budhism, the nature and the contents of the Tibetan Budhist practices are very base on philosophy and rational intellectual qualities, hence it is realistic in all time, and to all people, scientific in nature, bring good people and creates harmonous societies. all the all religions are religions, Budhism carries very powerful philosophical depth right from the begining to everywhere it extents

    Mau Ze tung, however, misunderstood Max comments, because, he read it literally without a clear picture of the context…..Therefore, in his Mau’s policy towards Tibet, they have never really try to understand the benefit, or the depth of the Tibetan Culture, Tibetan Buddhism….In stead he viewed Tibetan religion “opium of the mass”….
    Mau made a big historical,intellectural mistake, hence the millions of death from that single thought(misunderstanding)…
    I think our deep Tibetan heart felt pain begin with Mau’s ignorance.

    may be thhis point that i am trying to make can be an area of study… I am gonna try to dig little deeper.. …
    thanks you Gen lak


  7. Marx’s view on religion is definitely relevant to Buddhism, particularly Tibetan Buddhism, insomuch as people opposed to Tibetan independence or Tibetans’ basic rights and dignity have used the religion as an argument for people to be passive, to submit, and to be “enlightened” enough to give up one’s “attachment” to country and freedom and identity. However, accusing the religion rather than those who manipulate it for their own benefit is a classic case of misplacing the blame on the victim and only serves to disempower people further.

    Marx had many legitimate observations about power relationships and the way people dominate and oppress one another, but his theories for solving the problem were probably worse than the problem itself. This is a sad but valuable lesson to all who would seek to recreate the systems through which we relate to one another: that any solution must be built upon respect for the dignity, the agency, the wishes, and the needs of those affected.

  8. Gyurmay, can you explain your points further instead of pointing fingers without concrete logics? If reincarnation is invalid and Hinduism in nature, then how so? How rinpoche is requal to Brahmin? What does make a person rinpoche and what makes a person Brahmin?


  9. Atsong,

    You must be fully aware of the sad end of our great Panchen Rinpoche under the Chinese rule. It is very easy to put blame on someone or the other. But let see, what you can do for the country rather than what your country can do for you. It is too early for you comment here without any maturity.

    Next time, be more careful.

  10. Gyurmay lak and Rich lak,

    Thank you for both of your response.
    1- Tibetan Buddhism is related to Hindusium but an apple is not a peach.
    2–Practically speaking Tibetan Buddhism has brought such a profound peace and deep joy in Tibet, for many generations of our direct Tibetan ancestors. Now it doesn’t mean that we have created the fasted car, but Tibetan life from 8th-to-till before the chinese invasion- we Tibetan have lived better than most countries in the world in those times. We were a philosophically,psychologicaly,socialogically,economicaly,environmentally much more grounded society than most countries of the world…
    3-Whether scientifically there is Enlightenment or not.???? Debatable issue NOWADAYS..
    4-whether reincarnation Exist or Not??? We Tibetans have produced countless good people, who have done inmeasurable goods to the whole entire world…. Now– my statement doesn’t have to be approved by a Western Scientist- experts- or International governments..— Yet is is true, and a fact that no one can go back and erace…..

    So– Please remember, in our Stuggle, we are not just the followers of other types,,, We have much source in our own Tibetan History, Tibetan language, culture and Buddhism- that can challenge other Civilizations.. and stilll stay Tall….
    We ust need to take the exile as an opportunity to Preserve and Prosper…
    We need many more of us to Participate in lousy disaggreaments, but we all agree, that our Goal is United… ATTAIN Freedom for ourselves and for our Brothers and Sisters who are denied of their Right…..

  11. TO SAMTEN:
    It is very easy to use a rhetoric like what your country can do, blah, blah, blah. I am doing what I can. Thanks to the Tibetan leadership we do not have much of a platform to do anything different apart from conformed demonstrations and non-actions. When I voice my concern about the Tibetan leadership or the Chinese, it is a part of doing something whether in print or somewhere else.

    What do you mean by “It is too early for you comment here without any maturity.” I am not talking about some fictitious scene out of a movie. I am talking about Tibetan history regarding two generations of reincarnation. Either you don’t know much of Tibetan history or you are living in total denial.

    What do you mean by “Next time, be more careful”. Are you going to kill me like Gontang Tsultrim, or beat me up with the help of the Tibetan Women’s Association like Ala Chonze and Jamyang Norbu? It is people like you, sycophants like you, fundamentalists like you, people with blind faith like you, narrow minded like you that Tibet has come to this. There is not much difference between you and Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Communist, et al fundamentalists. Next time before you warn me think of freedom of expression. We are not living in feudal Tibet anymore. Next time do not threaten me.

  12. ATSONG save your anger.Otherwise, you will go banana. Because 70% Tibetan are fundamentalists like others. They won’t accept anything but a word from Dalai Lama, a word from Rinpoche, and a word from “DREAM”=oracle

  13. To palden

    Please stop mentioning those cultural revolution action like “pointing fingers” ( you dont expect me to explain it too right????

    You are just too emotional. No wonder you lost your direction.

    As for the Tibetan Buddhism that I was talking about, if you want to know the truth. Go and study Tibetan Buddhism and come back here.

    One suggestion for you. Opinion is just an opinion. We are discussing here. Don’t take it personal.

  14. People if you know this person Ayaan Hirsi Ali, please check out her interviews and you can find a lot of her information on youtube.

    She used to be Muslim. She was brought up as Muslim but now she is against it. Why? check it out the below links

    Her bio

    Her book

    Her case is a big MIRROR for us.

  15. Gyurmay, I am not a religious person, but I find your crusade against religion really out of place here. Your ridicule against “70% of Tibetans” is not only misplaced but ignorant since you have not met 70% of Tibetans or even 70% of diaspora Tibetans, whom I guess you may be thinking of.

    Like all people who’ve experienced severe repression, most Tibetans are aware of the roles different institutions and power relationships play in it. Respect and give them credit for this rather than treating them like the ignorant children China would have them be.

  16. Gyurmay, I think you muddled up culture and religion. I think I understand Buddhism better than someone, maybe you. It is because of your illogical pointing fingers from Brahmin = Lama and reincarnation = hinduisim to Buddhism is just the worship of Buddha statue. Therefore, I asked you the definition of Buddhism known as Dharma if you know it. Clearly, you started pointing your fingers like a madman. Come on, dude, be act like an educated man. Not just write everything that gushes from your emotion, if it is backed up by reasoning. Then, it is ok with me. Therefore, don’t represent “everyone”, just represent “yourself” only. Don’t say that is good or bad, but follow up why it is the case. These points may help you in the future posting. If you cannot understand, just scroll up and read your own posting and mine again. Then check who is angry. I think such a precious forum should be used in a constructive discussion rather than vent your angers. Read your other comments, some of them make you an immature kid.

    You even came up with your own statistics saying 90% of Tibetan Buddhism is Hinduism. I would love to see the valid source of your statistics. It sounds like CHinese propaganda that life expectancy in Tibet was only 36 years before 1959 without having a data for that.

    For your information, if the very definition of “Religion” is actually sufficient to define Buddhism can be questioned. Buddhism is nothing more than transforming the heart and mind, by cultivating good heart. Buddhism does not need Buddha to save you, in fact, Buddha cannot save you as he declared earlier.

    From my view, you confused with the Cultural Buddhism that your parents worshiping at home and make an offering without even knowing the motivation and meaning behind it with true Buddhism. If your parents or whoever you saw in that position, it is not the fault of Buddhism, but the fault of the person who worship.

    I also don’t know how it was like during cultural revolution because I was not born and experienced that period. I think I did not loose my direction, I am in fact pretty much on my own way in life just like most of you are.

    When I asked you the question, it is not because I was mad, but because you did not make sense. So, I asked. I did not point fingers at you. It is natural, if you make a bad judgement on certain issues which is in fact not the case, then I have a right to ask you to give me the reason as we are here in a public forum. There is no way I vent my anger at you coz I don’t even know you in person. I am here because as anyone else, come here to share some thoughts and get some insight.


  17. Gyurmay, forgot to mention something. Don’t ask your leader what they should do because someone is doing like that, but ask yourself how much are you contributing in your daily life. I just came away from the discussion forum titled, The Stage of Present Tibetan Freedom Struggle with prominent speakers such as Jamyang Norbu la, Dr. Lobsang Sangay la, and Kasur Lobsang Nyandrak la. All of them agreed that we should not ask the stupid question, “what you are doing for a free Tibet?”, rather focuss on one’s own commitment. If everyone is committed and doing something in their daily life. That will immensely contribute towards our freedom struggle.


  18. Gyurmay,

    You see Buddhism from Tibet as being Hinduism because that is a mirror of your own mind, projected outward. Sure, some people practice that way. And your point is?

    From my experience of Buddhists, especially Tibetan Buddhists, I haven’t found such a comparison as you would make, and I know both Buddhists and Hindus who are serious about their practices and beliefs.

    Religion is not the issue. It’s when power games are played in the name of religion which makes some people into shams. Just because someone wears Buddhist clothing, so to speak, doesn’t mean they represent all of Buddhism. In fact, you will find many who just do what they do and believe what they believe and who feel no need to show that to anyone, unless asked.

    I too have been upset by many western practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism who thought that Tibetan resistance to China this spring was misguided or wrong, because this world is samsara and blah blah blah. Such idiocy sickened me. But so what? Not everyone uses their brains, and not every Buddhist is really doing what Shakyamuni intended: cultivating their hearts and minds – in actions as well as in sitting around and pretending to meditate.

  19. Thank you Jamyang La for this piece. I am simple and Khari Khathug so let me be myself and share my thoughts on Tibetan issue:

    1) Tibetans have no true political leader:

    Unlike Burma, we have no true political leader. People are confused the Dalai Lama with political leader. Dalai Lama is a religious head. Dalai Lama’s main concern is Dharma but not politics or that of Tibet. For a geniune political leader, one needs mission, vision and strategies to follow through. Whearas H.H being Budhist monk first, it takes his priority away from Tibetan politics. For example, H.H would not compromise his Dharma principle no matter how it is important for Tibetan movement. E.g. He would rather resign than engage in violence movement. See what I am talking about?
    For a geniune political leader, one has to be totally committed to the goals and mission in the expense of individual interest. H.H could not do that and he did admitted it. This is a tragedy for Tibet.

    2) Tibetan has no political party

    People of Burma, Palestines, East Timor and Kurdish nations have a solid political party led by distinctive figures. Whearas poor Tibetan people have no such groups to organize, express and realize common goals. It is so sad that after 50 years of freedom outside, they are not even able to set up a political organization. Therefore, the Tibetan movement is very much of candle in the wind. It would be total lost when H.H dies.

    However, if the Tibetans did have a political party, the movement will stay as long as there is some kind of improvement in Tibet. H.H does not encourage Political Party because this directly put his authority at risk. Political Party require loyalty and once it did happen it would take people’s loyalty from H.H.

    Your thought Jamyang la


  20. Palden, you said you know Buddhism??? But I am not talking about Buddhism. I am talking about Tibetan Buddhism. If You cannot differentiate these two religion are totally different, then please do not follow up my messsage. BTW, the reason i said you are too emotional is because you used too many emotional, spiritual…wordss. “You said,”I think such a precious forum ” If the forum is too precious why don’t you keep it for yourself. You mentioned a lot about Buddha and BUddhism while I talked about Tibetan Buddhism, Your brain is full of Hindu Dogma. Read some thing other than paycha.

  21. Gyurmay, present your case then. Examples please. Support your assertions and I will look them over with an open mind. And if i find something out new to me. or eye opening, good.

    Also, what do you mean by Tibetan Buddhism? Is it what the monks and lamas present? Or is it the popular expressions from common people? If it is the latter than you must be aware that such popular expressions of syncretism between Buddhism and other belief systems are common and natural across the Buddhist world. Is this right or wrong? Who am I to say? I do live my own life and in my own way. If someone is doing it differently from me and this makes them happy, what should i care what they believe or practice or whether this is really Buddhism(tm) or not?

  22. Kha Thug, your presentation of the situation is very illuminating. Yes, in comparison to the NLD of Burma or other political parties among other people, Tibetans do not seem to have a broad based political party. Although I wonder if the TYC might be able to build into one. They seem widespread enough and they already engage in and learn from direct action.

    I do think it might be time for Tibetans to have a true political leader. I am sure there are many individuals who can step up to the plate, so to speak. The Dalai Lama is really a spiritual leader. Much respected for it. The world does confuse this with politics just as they fantasize about Tibetans being otherworldly sorts. It would be a fresh breath of air to see someone who has no other agenda than Tibetan national liberation take a leadership role in an active political party that focuses the aims and aspirations of the Tibetan people into concrete gains.

    But that said, since i am not Tibetan, I cannot tell Tibetans what to do. Nor would I want to. I live my own life and cherish others’ right to do so as well. I will just lend a hand when needed or asked.

  23. Hi Tsering:

    I agree that the Dalai Lama has all the political status and advantage but he is not able to use them effectively for Tibetan struggle under his current international status as peace-lover, interfaith promoter, humanity mother and winner of all kind of metals. Because each of the awards has conditions attached.

    Therefore, I am hoping that we are able to generate another leadership who is and willing to focus more on Tibet.

    Dalai Lama is a great guy to have as your spiritual leader but that’s all to it. But we also need a political leader if we are going to fight for our country. What do you think?

  24. Hi Jam,
    Indeed a piece full of information. It was sad to know that she didn’t get to see her ailing husband as he rests on his death bed because of the chinese inspired military junta’s suspicious nature. I can understand the sacrifices she did for the people of Burma and for Democracy. Her sacrifices continue till date and indeed she is still as solid and strong as ‘dhak tsukpa nangshin’ against the men in
    uniform and guns.
    But I do fear for her life. She could have been killed if she haven’t had escaped with her driver from the spot of incidence. I can well say that her death was intended by the junta so that it could turn burma into second north korea.
    Chinese connection in the matter of Burma’s internal affairs is highly condemnable. ‘Shame on china, shame on china.’

  25. Hello again, I find an ambiguous meaning tagged to your article and it is typically Jammy. Do you intend to say that His Holiness the Dalai Lama shouldn’t have escaped from Tibet after His Holiness was invited to the chinese military base, under the order that he must come without any escorts, in the late fifties?
    I wonder what would have happened if the Dalai Lama had been there. I would wonder at the fate of the six millions if there was no Dalai Lama. Can you please shed some light?
    Regards to you- the learned one.

  26. I think it was the right decision that Dalai lama made to escape.However, they made a wrong decision not to go back to Tibet, when lots of Tibetan decide to go back to Tibet. Now, Dalai Lama gave up independence of Tibet, still China won’t allow him to go back. At last, Dalai lama will sign another 17point agreement and die in in exile.

  27. Khatug
    You are dead right on. We need a new political leader and we need to shift this political power status from dalai lama to civilian leader. which means. we need a new National flag because, in the flag there is a symbol of Norbu which is a shadow of Dalai Lama. Lots of symbols of Dalai Lama must be taken out from politics. Otherwise, the new leader will be just another puppet of Dalai lama like Samdo Rinpochay. Hopefully, people don’t get offended by my suggestion. I am not here to talking bad thing about H.H. H.H is our spiritual leader. And it is time to “GIVE BACK CLEAN POLITICS TO POLITICIANS” NO MORE RELIGIOUS LEADERS TAKING PART INTO POLITICS.

  28. Khatug, your thoughts may be right to you but sorry not to me. His Holiness is the only spiritual and political leader ever that Tibet could produce. You mentioned that ” For a geniune political leader, one needs mission, vision and strategies to follow through.” Don’t you think that “Genuine Autonomy” is a skillful strategy of HHDL and TGIE today comparing it to the Power of China. (Study the strategies of Genuine Autonomy and His Holiness Vision of Future Tibet).

    HHDL always mentions that “Have faith with reasoning” and I urge you to study HHDL as a spiritual and political leader of Tibet.

    HHDL to me is the only leader in Tibetan Community who thinks skillfully with strategy base on Reality in order to serve the Tibetan people both in Tibet and in Exile.

    Please don’t just comment for the sake of commenting but THINK rationally.

  29. Dear Jamyangla,
    I am very impressed with your statement on suu kyi
    it will really give a firm inspiration towards struggle for the cause of tibet. gyurmay

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