By Tenzing Dhamdul, FNVA
“Someone who has little knowledge,
Will find fault with those who understand.
All look with awe on expensive belongings,
But who would notice a piece of burning wood?”
An excerpt from ‘The Elegant Saying of Sakya Pandita’, Sakya Pandita Kunga Gyaltsen who was a prominent Lama in the Sakya sect of Tibetan tradition of Buddhism and was the teacher of Goden Khan (Grandson of Genghis Khan) during the 13th Century.
This proved out to be true in light of the recent viral doctored clips of His Holiness the Dalai Lama interacting with a child. This clip was created by vested interest groups, individuals and even from Beijing according to some credible sources. This whole incident opened a Pandora’s box about Tibetans and His Holiness at large with it having geopolitical significance but hitting closer to the heart this time. As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe stated “A man sees in the world, what he carries in his heart” This very heart which we all hold close and dear was deeply hurt and ravaged by the slippery slope that saw us prioritize sensationalism over good research.
It was at 10th April early Monday morning, when I received a call from a friend in Dharamshala who told me the seriousness of this edited and modified video of His Holiness, leading me to look into this. While confirming its validity through Tibetan media sources who had released this video on 28th February (with Voice of America Tibetan being the video source which was then doctored by groups who had vested interest in it) an apology letter by His Holiness through his social handles was released to quell down the unwarranted furore this was generating. However, instead more people jumped in and band wagoned on this false narrative, with Cardi B, Joe Rogan and many others joining the fray – making the heart weep. In my lifetime I have personally not seen such huge numbers of my fellow sisters and brothers weep both publicly and privately. “We are so hurt as a community because when it comes to His Holiness, it's a matter of life and death. I wish I could just put the past few days away into oblivion, but I can't. It will haunt me forever. All I can muster at the end is that I am Tenzin Thinley, a Tibetan raised under His Holiness the Dalai Lama's grace, I will hold onto that with unending gratitude. I wish to make him proud.” Says Tenzin Thinley, a Tibetan refugee born and brought up in India.
Since Monday, it was not only Tibetans but millions of people who had found courage, inspiration, motivation, love, peace, belief, happiness and compassion through His Holiness were thrown in complete disarray not because the doctored video was released (the original video including interviews with the child and his parents was released on the day of the event itself, on 28th February) but because various news outlets and social influencers in our contemporary world without a second thought rushed to criticize His Holiness and his actions here. Many even took to liberty in naming him a “Pedophile” notwithstanding its ramifications. Venoms were spewed here and news outlet and individuals sensing that they could make a quick buck out from it spun various narratives on it without taking any due insights from the very people who were there and present during the event. I even witnessed how a public media personality in USA was saying that this incident had happened in Tibet, illustrating how little these very proponents questioning His Holiness knew about the current plight of Tibetans.
Since 1949, when the People’s Republic of China (PRC) starting invading Tibet illegally – grosses of Tibetans were forced to fled their own country with 1959 being a watershed year when His Holiness along with thousands of Tibetans given asylum in India by the Government of India. Tibet continues to remain illegally occupied by the PRC even now, with Tibetans facing duress and suppression day in and day out. It is the least free region of the world according to the latest 2023 report by Freedom House.
Millions of people have been traumatized, etching an everlasting scar, possibly passing it onto generations to come. A recent video by a Tibetan student in Belgium, Tenzin Nordon who is 14-year-old has become viral. In the video she confesses that she was publicly humiliated by her own teacher in front of her class mates who not only stated that The Dalai Lama is a “Pedophile” but even went to length to show the doctored clip to her class mates drawing more jeers and racist slurs to her. This highlights the need of accepting heterogeneity in our world. “I feel like the need of the hour is for the world to not restrict inclusivity to trying cross-culture food & traveling new places. It is equally important for people to be more inclusive of cross-culture traditions and customs” says Tenzin Saldon, who is one among many Tibetans bringing the truth about this whole incident in the social media platforms.
People from around the world especially in India, where His Holiness has been residing since 1959 have come out in huge numbers, calling out for the truth. Many have utilized social media as an agency while a plethora of them have also taken to the streets and called out those who instigated and disseminated this misinformation. People from the Himalayan belt bordering Tibet occupied China from Arunachal Pradesh to Ladakh to Sikkim to Himachal Pradesh, all the way from Leh to Tawang – stretching 1000’s of KM, have come out demanding the truth to be told and be accountable for deceiving the people. A particular slogan that has been synonymous with this movement is “Shame Shame, Media Shame” particularly targeting NDTV which was synonymous with Tibetans then but not anymore now. The Tibetan diasporic community throughout the world with India having the largest demography of this Tibetan community also demonstrated and sought truth and justice by holding peaceful protest in varying means utilising every agency they could. I only wonder if this were to happen with any other Community or Religion what would the consequences be then? Peace protest? Certainly not.
Being a Tibetan I felt wronged, even questioning my existence as a Tibetan and whether being a Tibetan mattered in this world. However, the overwhelming solidarity shown by my fellow sisters and brothers of this beautiful and magical world made it clear to me that we are not alone, making me remember this quote by Marcus Aurelius “We are each of us Stronger than we think”.
People who researched and looked into this incident have come forward apologizing, verifying and even bringing out statements, the latter which even included the Government officials of the Indian government. “The victim here is His Holiness the Dalai Lama” said the Sikyong (President) of the Tibetan Government in Exile, Penpa Tsering La at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of South Asia. Mr. O.P. Tandon, who is a founding trustee of FNVA and former Registrar of Banaras Hindu University (BHU) made it clear to me how people are “Finding sinful action out of a divine person”.
This episode and saga even continued after His Holiness the Dalai Lama graced and blessed the Global Buddhist Summit in New Delhi, which was inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi from 20th-21st April and organized by the International Buddhist Confederation and the Ministry of the Culture, India. Clearly indicating the many steps that humanity as a whole must still take if it yearns to create a free and fair world. “We believe this violation is a reminder of the need for critical thinking, kindness, and respect for our beautiful differences" says Tenzin Chonyi who along with her colleagues led a peaceful movement at New York.
My humble plea as a Tibetan Refugee and a follower of His Holiness the Dalai Lama is when such a magnanimous leader not only to us Tibetans but to the whole world with millions of followers being the victim here could apologise, why can’t you (those who created this undesired ruckus) do the same? Several entities have already come forth bringing the truth with many who spread this disinformation also apologising, yet we still await the same from many. I furthermore sincerely request those who provide such information and influence people to take a step back next time, learning from this debacle before trying to jump the gun over such concocted news which smears a whole community and deeply impacts the lives of millions of people, forever traumatizing them.
Never hesitate to reach us Tibetans and the masses, we are free to access, unlike the PRC where millions of our own Tibetan sisters and brothers under the illegal occupation remain inaccessible even now in such modern times.
The North Remembers.
(A Tibetan refugee born in India and currently is a Research Associate at the Foundation for Non-Violent Alternatives (FNVA), New Delhi. Studied at Hindu College, Delhi University and School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Recipient of the Sikyong Scholarship, 2015. Enjoys playing tennis and sports. Views and Opinions are personal.)