During the Dalai Lama’s recent visit to the United States he met a group of Tibetan students in Madison, Wisconsin. One of them asked a question that, to put it mildly, made him very upset. The student stumbled over his words and was generally so awkward that it seemed to me he had been set-up by someone (probably older, definitely a politician) to pose this loaded question. But I could be wrong. The question concerned a member of the exile parliament, who the questioner said he would not name.
The student, who really didn’t seem to know what he was talking about, asked His Holiness why the Tibetan MP had stated that the Dalai Lama was not only advocating the Middle Way Approach but was also advocating for full Independence, and why was such a major mistake (contradiction?) like this allowed to happen?
His Holiness in His usual straightforward way cut to the chase. He said that it was not necessary to hide the name of the MP and mentioned his name, Karma Chophel. His Holiness also corrected the student’s mistake. His Holiness said that Karma Chophel had claimed that though the Dalai Lama spoke about autonomy from His mouth, in His heart the Dalai Lama was advocating Independence.
Karma Chophel la didn’t actually say anything quite so bluntly, and what he did say he couched in a much more polite and respectful way. He declared that he had absolute faith in the Dalai Lama as his spiritual leader. He said he no longer supported the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach (MWA) because it was not working. Yet he firmly believed the Dalai Lama had implemented this policy because of the urgency of the present situation in Tibet, but that in His heart, the Dalai Lama knew that the Tibetan people wanted independence. This is just my summary. The actual statement on video with an English translation is on Rangzen.net.
In this piece I have not used the literal translation for the Tibetan word sem (mind) used by Karma Chophel and others, and have instead substituted the word “heart” since in English having something “in or on your mind” does not convey the element of “cherishing” or “holding dear”, that the Tibetan phrase “sem nang yod pa” does.
His Holiness then went to declare quite heatedly, that Karma Chophel had made Him, the Dalai Lama, into a liar when he said that the Dalai Lama spoke about autonomy from His mouth, while in deep in His heart He advocated Independence. His Holiness asked “Is there any purpose in making me into a liar?” His Holiness also emphasized that in his dealing with people internationally he had always been absolutely honest and straightforward on this issue.
I do not think that Karma Chophel la needs any defending. He is a seasoned parliamentarian, one who had even been an effective Speaker some years before, and his decision to come out openly and withdraw his earlier support for the Middle Way policy was an admirably gutsy one. Especially in light of the dismal fact that not a single other member of the Tibetan parliament has even called for a discussion of this urgent and critical issue.
But before the religious-right rabble in Dharamshala start pouring out in the streets howling for Karma la’s blood, as they surely will now that they have the convenient excuse that Karma la made His Holiness angry” (gyalwa rimpoche ghi gongpa trukpa ray), I think it is incumbent on me to point out a crucial fact to His Holiness, that if anyone has made His Holiness into a liar, it is actually all of His Middle Way faithful who claim, on a regular basis, that not only does the Dalai Lama have “Rangzen in His heart”, but that in fact all Middle Way followers have “Rangzen in their hearts” as well.
In every discussion or argument I have had with MWA followers – and I have had many, even public debates with such luminaries of the MWA faith as Sikyong Lobsang Sangay, Speaker Penpa Tsering and the Dalai Lama’s Representative in New York, Lobsang Nyendrak – invariably at one point or another during the discussion the claim will unfailingly be made by the MWA discussant that though he or she absolutely supports the Dalai Lama’s Middle Way Approach, that he or she also absolutely has Rangzen “in his or her heart”, as do all Tibetan people. The MWA discussant will then go on to explain that the Dalai Lama implemented the MWA policy only because the very survival of the Tibetan people was being threatened, and that it was the only option we had, and that the Dalai Lama, without question, still had Rangzen in his heart, as all MWA faithful did, only they were much more practical and realistic about it, unlike “the full independence” (Rangzen tsangma) crowd who were just emotional and fanatical.
The inherent contradiction in this bizarre semantic concoction is obvious. Yet no matter how seemingly ridiculous, it can be seen as an all too human response to an impossible dilemma. An extreme case of living in political denial. People love (or fear the Dalai Lama) very much, and believe that it is an enormous sin to disobey him, yet at the same time they are unable to completely give up an ideal and a dream for which they had struggled and sacrificed for many decades in exile. But bizarre as it may seem the “Rangzen in Your Heart” argument is a widespread phenomenon, so much so that Sikyong Lobsang Sangay la reworked it into his campaign platform as “U-Rang” claiming that he supported both the Middle Way (Umay Lam) and Rangzen, and it helped him win the elections!
Though I respectfully (but absolutely) disagree with His Holiness on the whole MWA issue, I think He was correct to reject something so patently ridiculous and even dishonest as the “Rangzen in My Heart” argument to prop up the validity of his signature policy. I am sure He realizes that it is one of fundamental reasons why the Chinese have consistently rejected his overtures. Beijing has openly declared that the Dalai Lama’s proposal of “Genuine Autonomy’ concealed a secret “splittist” (Rangzen) agenda. It did not help that the Dalai Lama’s youngest brother once made an even more direct statement undermining the Dalai Lamas’ MWA policy. Wang Li Xiong in his “Tibet: China’s 21st-Century Underbelly” cites an interview of the Dalai Lama’s brother Danzeng Qujia (Tenzin Chogyal) by the French reporter Pierre-Antoine Donnet, where Chogyal declared that autonomy was only a first step to gain independence.
The Dalai Lama is naturally frustrated at China’s skepticism and rejection of his Middle Way Approach. But he should understand that China’s distrust has not been caused by Rangzen activists. China clearly knows that Rangzen activists are openly and absolutely opposed to Chinese rule in Tibet. The question of trust doesn’t even arise. China’s suspicions about the MWA are, on the other hand, provoked by the Dalai Lama’s own loyal MWA followers who claim to have given up the goal of Tibetan independence, yet go around declaring that they have “Rangzen in their hearts”, and furthermore that the Dalai Lama does as well. His Holiness should direct his anger at his own MWA faithful who are unintentionally sabotaging his efforts, and instruct them on exactly what to say in the future when they defend his policy.
But clearly the damage has already been done and just re-working MWA slogans is not going to convince China of the Dalai Lama’s sincerity. As a Rangzen man it is not my business to offer suggestions in this matter, but I cannot help but notice that something much much more substantial, even dramatic, needs to be undertaken by the MWA crowd to demonstrate to China the sincerity of the Dalai Lama’s policy.
My suggestion is that at least one thousand MWA followers, to start with, should return to Tibet (or the PRC if you like), in order to live there and work with the Chinese authorities to create the atmosphere of trust and mutual respect that will ensure the success of MWA. This first contingent should be led by someone well versed in the arcana of MWA doctrine, so that he could clarify the all-important details to the Chinese authorities, and opportunity arising, even expound on it to the Chinese masses. I can think of no one more suitable than Professor Samdong Rimpoche, who has set himself up as the grand ideologue of the MWA doctrine. Another indispensable person to lead this contingent is Doctor Sikyong Lobsang Sangay (formerly of Harvard Law) who has stated, time and again, that China’s constitution has provisions to allow the implementation of MWA. Now he will have a hands-on opportunity to develop and prove his theory.
Of course, none of this can be done from exile. The mere fact of your living in exile demonstrates your distrust of China. It is a slap in the face for China’s leaders. Living in exile is a statement of opposition to the regime who exiled you in the first place. So, for Rangzen people exile is just the right place to be, till an opportunity arises where they can return to Tibet to overthrow Chinese rule. But for MWA followers who want China’s leaders to trust and accept the Middle Way Approach what more suitable action can they take but voluntarily return to the “Great Motherland” – the motherland that they want Tibet to become part of.
Of course, His Holiness cannot go back. Yes, MWA may be His signature policy, but above everything the Dalai Lama is the living symbol of Tibetan freedom and independence, and Rangzen people have paid too heavy a price in lives and suffering, to allow him to once again walk into anything that remotely smells of a Chinese trap. The recent announcement of the Dalai Lama’s proposed visit to Hong Kong is something that all Rangzen people have to be vigilant about. But this calls for a thorough inquiry in a future discussion.
To return to the discussion on hand, I think I have clearly managed to demonstrate that all Middle Way People, especially those returning to live under Chinese rule, absolutely must give up their “Rangzen in my heart” emotional pacifier or security blanket. They’ve got learn to suck it up and embrace the totality of the Middle Way Approach, even if that means giving up Rangzen (in your heart) and furthermore giving up freedom and democracy, and preparing themselves to live under a Communist political system, as the Sikyong has, in a recent policy speech in Washington, DC, made very clear must be done. While they’re at it, the MWA faithful might as well start practicing their Chinese phrases, as our Sikyong appears to have have been doing – and which he skillfully demonstrated at the DC conference. Some linguistic proficiency will no doubt help everyone concerned to ease themselves into the coming transition: “Xie Xie”.