Birds of the same feather don’t always flock together: A tale of two Tibetans

Ugyen Gyalpo

Ugyen Gyalpo

By Ugyen Gyalpo

NEW YORK, US, 28 September 2016

The 1986 Kalachakra in Bodh Gaya and the opening up of Tibet for a bit in the early 80s to world tourism, and then the sudden intensified repression, that culminated to the 1987 uprising in Lhasa, ushered in multiple waves of newly-arrived Tibetans (sanjor – an archaic sobriquet for the newly-arrived) that tipped the iceberg of the uncanny distinctive nature of the tale of two Tibetans: Those who have been living in India and Nepal since the first exodus which followed the crushed uprising of 1959, and the first and second generations born into diaspora and the other Tibetans, who were the new arrivals between the early 80s and mid 90s.

Then in the early 90s, the settlement of one thousand Tibetan refugees (chiktong) from India to the US streamed a race for the pursuit of western prosperity and economic security, and intensified the lore of the two Tibetans into a different realm. The two Tibetans, except for a few analogies in this write-up, are not necessarily the newly-arrived and the ones who were here since the 1959 exodus.

As soon as the newly-arrived Tibetans flooded the streets of McLeod Ganj, a picturesque hippy town and the home to His Holiness and the Tibetan Government-in-exile, distinct differences surfaced between the Tibetans in India and the ones who had crossed the Himalayas recently, due to the significant cultural gap, as far as conforming to norms and basic critical thinking. Probably it was the environment of cultural upbringing, between the ones who faced political repression and a closed isolated world all their life, as opposed to the others nurtured in an open world and incubated with a wealth of information and exposed to worldly knowledge, that factored and excited the sense and sensibility of our itchy differences.

Not to overlap and imbricate on the struggles faced by the newly-arrived, to just fit into their own long-lost community, so soaked into an abyss of cultural assimilation and so much more educated now, in terms of worldly knowledge and technical knowhow, often leading to analog disconnect and discontentment from the newly-arrived Tibetans, whom we know as sanjor or bhorpa tsarpa.

This disconnect has escalated even up to these days. A Tibetan friend of mine was born in India and is now living in Europe, where the Tibetan population is majored by the newly arrived. He finds himself boringly alienated with his own kind, just as he finds himself alienated to a new country with a foreign language.

Just as the first generation of older Tibetans in India had the fire in their belly and the energy for back-breaking hard work, like my late parents, the newly-arrived Tibetans, excelled in their own enterprising way, a Chinese trait of back-breaking paddy-farming, unconsciously emulated and many in their short span in India and elsewhere, because of our support structure, such as the Tibetan Reception and Transit Center administered via CTA, that they ventured successfully afterwards, either at opening feisty Tibetan restaurants or in the Western Hemisphere in places like New York, adept at opening small businesses within the vicinity of China towns, made easier by their fluency in Chinese Mandarin, a boon for some at least to make a living, yet doom for Tibet’s endangered cultural heritage.

A tale of two Tibetans is manifested in different wavelengths, dimensions, and areas of our Tibetan world. A wide array ranging from political hypocrisy to conforming to norms, from tolerance to vilification, from religiosity to avaricious pursuit of happiness, from cronyism in our bureaucracy to humility in our civil advancement.

A tale of two Tibetans, juxtaposing yet again in their carnivorous form, in their appetite for meat, without conforming to the edicts of Buddhism, built on the philosophy of non-violence and peace, is in itself a conundrum of hypocrisy. For instance, Sakadawa, a month long ritual, where Tibetans try their best to refrain from meat, and from verbal and actual sin, avoiding even stepping on an insect. But as soon as the full moon eclipse to a normal day, Tibetan restaurants are swarmed by gluttonous meat-loving Tibetan carnivores, and beef momos are chomped in thousand stacks of steaming trays.

Even psychologically, the tale of two Tibetans is vivid between the non-conformists and the ones confirming to herd mentality, and the far-reaching impact, such as that of vilification, abhorrence, and castigation of groups or individuals, for their out-of norm-beliefs, actions, and conscience.

Another case in point is the indiscreet choice of political path, that has shown the enemy our weakness, in advancing the path to the future of Tibet and the wide difference of opinions that pervades between the seekers of the Middle path and the seekers of Independence, now a painted radicals by our own, by way of stereotyping and hyena-like attacks on those supporting the Independence stance.

It wouldn’t be fair if I call the resettlement of one thousand Tibetan refugee (chiktong) in the US the beginning of an impromptu rat race. To even call this life-changing opportunity a race to pursue happiness in dollar terms would be an understatement.

Before the first 1,000 Tibetans arrived in the US as part of the resettlement initiative, life in diaspora India and Nepal, long places of refuge, was free of greed and competition. But not to steer away from stating that many led poor and wretched lives of poverty and malnutrition. Everything in the Indian subcontinent where Tibetans mostly lived was measured in terms of hard work and degrees earned. Doctors were given godlike status and teachers were revered with infinite wisdom. But that concept started waning and took a backseat when the craze for the West at the cost of leaving everything behind, even well-paying jobs and then to start a cast-down, ignoble, and hard beginning from scratch became a gamble worth risking for. And yes, far they have come, ever since they landed on US soil more than two decades ago, with just a few hundred dollars in their pockets and an unimaginable uncertainty. And now, their life altered beyond imagination, with cornucopia of wealth, houses and cars. It was a risk worth taking as far as material gains — except for the inevitable plunge into the abyss of spiritual poverty.

Patriotism also coiled around a new meaning, when over 150 Tibetans lighted themselves to crumbling ashes with excruciating cries for freedom and independence for Tibet, often lamented on their written letters, before their sacrificial acts. While there were others who would empathize, but cared less about the meaning of such a sacrifice, and slowly but tactfully cajole themselves within a path laid that is already compromised and that would incorporate ourselves within a nightmarish sky under the Chinese flag and for the world to see as one of the many happy Chinese minority with a sickle and a hammer in their hands, Leninist style, all for propaganda sake.

The stark contrast between the two types of Tibetans has also become embedded into the political fabric of the Tibetan world, where a full frontal government runs ironically without a country, and yet doesn’t fail to emulate the corruptness and vagaries of the infectious Indian politics, where cronyism breeds and where humility of a patriot, well-versed and rounded, is shoved aside, just for the glow and momentary glory of social media and left to operate on their own behest and adroitly wait for their imminent demise.

And then we have something like a political bloc, created by the supposedly educated few, almost shy of being intellectuals, who instead of empowering and solidifying a movement that is already established, capriciously come up with their own new organization, only to weaken the unity and the strength that is much needed in the ever-evolving involvement of these already-established organizations.

Instead of brainstorming and fueling a joint think tank to embolden the goals of achieving freedom and solution for the greater cause of Tibet, we have but a few hundred entrenched as egoistic intellectuals, whom I desperately wished could have shouldered the mantle of an organization that carried the same vision forthrightly since its inception many decades ago. They are now like the metamorphosing cocoon fighting for the light of recognition, when there is hardly any light left even for one fully-evolved entity to survive.

United we stand, divided we fall, couldn’t be echoed louder enough to many deaf ears stuffed with the cotton balls of political egos. Yet another tale of two Tibetans rakishly portraying division amongst us. One wishing that everyone who shares the same vision and conscience could stand behind one force that our enemy already fears, and whilst there is another Tibetan, wanting to establish something new, that is founded on the same old principles and goals, that would drive and channel our energies and fire into different cues, that would only weaken our strength and choke our voice. It’s an attempt called foot in the mouth, where at first you can not breathe and secondly neither can you walk. Sorry, I had to customize this idiomatic phrase in concurrent to what I think.

And then we have Tibetans who do not know the distinction between a patriot and a traitor, between allegiance and betrayal. To view someone opposing the CTA mandate of the Middle Path, and to view some one standing up for the independence of Tibet, as someone who is anti-Dalai Lama. and to them a traitor and less of a patriot, as opposed to someone who condones and rejects individuals with the desire to seek independence as more likeable and therefore favorable even for the electoral sake, is but outlandishly outrageous, ethically twisted, and morally vacant.

And so I wish that the tale of these two Tibetans would find a vertex where the best part of the differences could be thawed and ironed, where hypocrisy finds the door to righteousness, where cronyism into our political bureaucracy finds humility, and where herd mentality is confronted with unbiased minds and empirical truths, and where birds of the same feather once again feel like belonging to the same family. This is just my audacity to hope against hope of the existence of perennial blue sky behind so many dark clouds.

About the author

Ugyen Gyalpo lives in Woodside, New York, and works as an insurance agent for United Health Group, New York.

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