Februrary 6, 2012 – Bodhgaya
Reports have just emerged that three more Tibetans set themselves ablaze within a single day in eastern Tibet. This comes shortly after four Tibetans immolated themselves and others died in demonstrations in Tibet during the month of January. As tensions escalate, instead of showing concern and trying to understand the causes of the situation, the Chinese authorities respond with increasing force and oppression. Each new report of a Tibetan death brings me immense pain and sadness; three in a single day is more than the heart can bear. I pray that these sacrifices have not been in vain, but will yield a change in policy that will bring our Tibetan brothers and sisters relief.
Having been given the name Karmapa, I belong to a 900 year old reincarnation lineage that has historically avoided any political engagement, a tradition I have no intention of changing. And yet as a Tibetan, I have great sympathy and affection for the Tibetan people and I have great misgivings about remaining silent while they are in pain. Their welfare is my greatest concern.
Tibetan demonstrations and self-immolations are a symptom of deep but unacknowledged dissatisfaction. If Tibetans were given a genuine opportunity to lead their lives as they wished, preserving their language, religion and culture, they would neither be demonstrating nor sacrificing their lives. Since 1959, we Tibetans have faced unimaginable loss, yet we have found benefit in adversity. Many of us rediscovered our true identity as Tibetans. We rediscovered a sense of national unity among the people of the three provinces of Tibet. And we came to value a unifying leader, in the person of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. These factors have given us all great grounds for hope.
China speaks of having brought development to Tibet, and when I lived there it was materially comfortable. Yet prosperity and development have not benefited Tibetans in the ways that they consider most valuable. Material comfort counts for little without inner contentment. Tibetans live with the constant suspicion that they will be forced to act against their conscience and denounce His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The Chinese authorities persistently portray His Holiness as the enemy. They have rebuffed his repeated efforts to find a peaceful and negotiated solution to the Tibetan-Chinese problem. They dismiss the heartfelt faith and loyalty with which the Tibetan people universally regard His Holiness. Even Tibetans born in Tibet decades after His Holiness the Dalai Lama had gone into exile still regard him as their guide and refuge not only for this life, but for life after life. Therefore, constantly depicting His Holiness the Dalai Lama in hostile terms is an affront that benefits no one. In fact, striking at the heart of Tibetan faith damages the prospect of winning Tibetans’ trust. This is neither effective nor wise.
I call on the authorities in Beijing to see past the veneer of wellbeing that local officials present. Acknowledging the real human distress of Tibetans in Tibet and taking full responsibility for what is happening there would lay a wise basis for building mutual trust between Tibetans and the Chinese government. Rather than treating this as an issue of political opposition, it would be far more effective for Chinese authorities to treat this as a matter of basic human welfare.
In these difficult times, I urge Tibetans in Tibet: Stay true to yourselves, keep your equanimity in the face of hardship and remain focused on the long term. Always bear in mind that your lives have great value, as human beings and as Tibetans.
With the prospect of the Tibetan New Year in sight, I offer my prayers that Tibetans, our Chinese brothers and sisters, and our friends and supporters across Indian and around the world may find lasting happiness and true peace. May the New Year usher in an era of harmony, characterized by love and respect for each other and for the earth that is our common home.
Ogyen Trinley Dorje,
17th Gyalwang Karmapa