Tenzing Gyatso on Saddam Hussein and German U-Boats
The Dalai Lama, more than any other present day leader in South Asia (he might be Central Asian, but for the moment lives in Dharamsala), continues to confound observers with his candour and use of logic. He is the un-political politician. In an interview with the New York Times Magazine of 28 November, however, Tenzing Gyatso charted further afield than in (he past, speaking dispassionately on matters as diverse as Saddam Hussein, the Central Intelligence Agency, and sexual desire. What follows are excerpts from a remarkable interview with Claudia Dreifus.
On Saddam Hussein of Iraq:
…this blaming everying on him — its unfair. He may be a bad man, but without his army, he cannot act as aggressively as he does. And his army, without weapons, cannot do anything. And these weapons were not produced in Iraq itself. Who supplied them? Western nations! So one day something happened and they blamed everything on him — without acknowledging their own contribution. That´s wrong.
The Gulf crisis also clearly demonstrated the serious implications of the arms trade.
On the CIA Support for Tibetan Guerillas:
I´m always against violence. But the Tibetan guerillas were very dedicated people. They were willing to-sacrifice their own lives for the Tibetan nation. And they found a way to receive help from the CIA. No, the CIA´s motivation for helping was
entirely political. They did not help out of genuine sympathy, not out of support for a just cause. That was not very healthy. Today, the help and support from the United States-is truly out of sympathy and human compassion.
When I was in Lithuania a few years ago, I visited a nursery and I was told, "All these children are unwanted." So I think it is better that that situation be stopped right from the beginning — birth control. Of course, abortion, from a Buddhist viewpoint, is an act of killling and is negative, generally speaking. But it depends on the circumstances. If the unborn child will create serious problems for the parents, these are cases where there can be an exception. I think abortion should be approved or disapproved according to each circumstance.
On his Weaknesses:
Laziness. For instance, sometimes, when I visit some Western countries, I develop an enthusiasm to improve my Eng-lish. But when I actually make the effort to study, after a few days, my enthusiasm is finished. (Laughs.) That is laziness. Other weaknesses are, I think, anger and attachments. I´m attached to my watch and my prayer beads. Then, of course, sometimes beautiful women… But then, many monks have the same experience. Some of it is curiosity. If you use this, what is the feeling? (Points to his groin.)
Then, of course, there is the feeling that something sexual must be something very happy, marvelous experience. When this develops, I always see the negative side. There´s an expression from Nagarjuna, one of the Indian masters: "If you itch, it´s nice to scratch. But it´s better to have no itch at all." Similarly with sexual desire. If it is possible to be without that feeling, there is much peace. (Smiles.) And without sex, there´s no worry about abortion, condoms, things like that.
On his Hobbies:
I like to let my thoughts come to me each morning before I get up. I meditate for a few hours and that is like recharging… I garden… gardening is one of my hobbies. Also, reading encyclopedias with pictures. (Laughs.) I am a man of peace, but I am fond of looking at picture books of the Second World War. I own some, which I believe are produced by Time-Life. I´ve just ordered a new set. Thirty books… Perhaps because the stories are so negative and gruesome, they strengthen my belief in nonviolence. (Smiles.) However, I find many of the machines of violence very attractive. Tanks, airplanes, warships, especially aircraft carriers. And the German U-Boats, submarines…
Discussing the "Tinkering Approach" and the "Grand Plan"
Even as Himalayan studies in general picked up over the last few decades, Tibet remained a relative backwater in terms of research. Till recently, a conference on Tibet´s environment was a rarity outside Dharamsala, and the agenda of the rare event would seem to have been
dictated by one of the great Himalayan explorers — Sven Hedin, Robert Byron or Frank Kingdon-Ward,Exotic plants and animals — and more exotic humans —was as far as it could go.
Fortunately, things are changing. Today, as the Chinese industrial-bureaucratic machine tightens its grip over the remoter parts of the Tibetan ecosystem, there is a simultane¬ous rise of interest in the Tibetan environment among scholars, and a new emphasis on the value of scientific analysis. Two conf¬erences on Tibet´s environment, held in Paris and Stockholm in 1993, exemplify the trend.
Opening the conference "The Third Pole: The Environ¬ment and People of Tibet" in Paris in September, Robbie Bamett of the Tibet Information Network described the percep¬tions of Tibet´s ecology held by different constituencies: the Western view, the view of the Chinese State, the often differ¬ing view of Chinese scientists, that of Tibetans in Tibet, and the traditional view as articulated by the Dalai Lama and his government-in-exile. The latter two views are quite different, Barnett suggested, because the traditional view is no longer widely held within Tibet. While the perceptions differed, however, environment concerns offered the best possibilities for the various constituencies to work together, said Barnett.
Elmar Reiter of the Univer¬sity of Colorado described current research on the impact of the Tibetan plateau on global climate patterns, citing data from as far a field as the South Pacific and Siberia. His thesis was that the state of vegetation and snow cover on the plateau
have a significant influence on its albedo, or ability to reflect the sun´s heat. This in turn determines summer temperatures over the plateau,-affecting jet stream currents and monsoon winds. Anomalous snowfall in Tibet seems to affect not only these phenomena, but is also linked to the occurrence of the El Nino current off the west coast of South America and unseasonably cold and hot spells over Europe and North America. All this points to the undoubted importance of Tibet, both as a sensitive ecological zone as well as an observatory of climatic observations.
In another paper, Terry Cannon from the University of Greenwich in London filled in the details of the Chinese demographic expansion into Tibet, while Alexander Kiss of Strasbourg University proposed a vote for the Tibetans´ right for their environment. In a some¬what rambling presentation, John Ackerly of the Interna¬tional Campaign for Tibet presented recent information on the ´nuclearisation´ of Tibet, as well as development information on food subsidies and the Yamdrok Tso Hydroelectric Project. Michael Thompson of the International Academy of the Environment presented a cultural view of environment and development in the Himalaya, outlining differing perceptions of nature,
Tibetan yak considers sustainable development sustainability and environmental risk, while this writer sought to dispel the myth that deforestation along Tibetan rivers is causally related to increased siltation and flooding in downstream basins.
Sponsored by the French Government and organised by two relatively new NGOs, EcoTibet-France and Environ¬ment Sans Frontiere, the Paris conference was able to analyse environmental and development trends, but provided little in the way of a future agenda or practical solutions. That task was, in part, undertaken by the second conference, "Ecology, Development Trends and Transnational Impacts on the High Plateau", held in Stockholm in November.
Organised by EeoTibet-Sweden and the Swedish Tibet Committee, this meeting fielded papers, among others, on the environmental history and biodiversity of the Himalaya, development trends in Tibet, remote sensing versus the field-work approach to data collection, and sustainable development in Ladakh. The day-long conference was roun¬ded off by a panel discussion on the viability of independent projects for sustainable development in Tibet
It was clear that the question of Tibetan development involved two radically differing perceptions of the road to be taken. The conference discussed the "grand plan" and the ´ "tinkering" approaches to development. The Chinese mega-project approach falls in the first category, whereas the needs of Tibet was seen to lie in small, participatory projects, such as for watershed management, education and health.
– Sanjeev Prakash
Ladakh on the Schedule
As ethnic assertion and demands for reservations and affirmative actions increase in the Himalayan region with the authorities being pressured to act, there will be myriads of complexities to untangle. Most difficult will be the problem of identifying those eligible for preferential status. Ladakh is a case in point. In January 1991, the Indian Government decided to extend Schedule Tribe status to most residents of Ladakh. The debate that has risen subsequently over identity, identification and group rights is instructive to all concerned over inter-ethnic and communal harmony in the Himalaya. The issue of scheduled tribe status for Ladakh was covered in-depth by Delhi University sociologist Smriti Srinivas in Frontline. What follows is an adapted portion of her piece in the magazine.
Scheduled Tribe status has been conferred on nearly all inhabitants of Ladakh (that is, both Leh and Kargil districts), except on groups such as Arghun Sunni Muslims (born of marriages between Ladakhis and Sunni Muslims from outside Ladakh, basically Kashmiris), Syeds and Khans. Syeds have been denied ST status presumably on the ground that they are ´ethnically´ outside Ladakh; and in the case of Khans, the consideration was their high economic status (though ST status has not been denied to wealthy Buddhist families). The denial of tribal status to Arghun Sunnis is, however, a thorny issue locally and is a result of contradictions in Government policy.
Ladakh Muslim Association President Akbar Ladakhi does not agree with the recommendations made by experts on Ladakhi history to the Registrar General in charge of Scheduled Tribes. Their definition of Arghuns as half-breeds (saying they had an identity of their own different from the other ´tribes´ of Ladakh) is contradictory to the idea of a ´tribe´ in the first place, he says. If the experts had adopted the criterion of naming the inhabitants of a region as a whole as eligible for tribal status, it would not have created bitterness. He adds: "By virtue of its geographical isolation and backwardness, the entire region of Ladakh is eligible for ST status."
It does appear to many that the denial of ST status to Arghun Muslims is not just, as other ´half-breeds´ such as Dogra Arghuns (of mixed Ladakhi and Dogra parentage) and Nepali Arghuns (of mixed Ladakhi and Nepali parentage) have been given tribal status. This is partly due to the conflating of various criteria for deciding on ST status. Some of the ´ethnic tribes´ are accorded this status according to the region they belong to; for instance, Baltipa (people of Baltistan) and Purigpa (people of Purig). Other groups are declared tribal on the basis of some racial criteria; for instance, ´Botos´ (a term indicating people of Mongoloid or Tibetan stock, locally having association with Buddhists and, therefore, not acceptable to Arghun Sunnis).
The land settlement of 1908 has been taken as a cut-off point for such designation, in which families have been defined as being "Arghun", "Balti", "Buddhist´ and so on. The hybrid social situation has been simplified by the application of the criterion of naming the groups eligible for ST status and by deciding, when in doubt, patrileneally. Thus, if a person has a Kashmiri father or grandfather and a Buddhist mother or grandmother, even if he has converted to Buddhism he is denied ST status by virtue of his paternal descent.
It is not yet clear what benefits the ST status will bring to the Ladakhi people apart from the normal benefits of reservation in educational institutions, government jobs, scholarships, and so on. And it remains to be seen how far reaching the effects of the new status will be. It is true that more Ladakhis will be able to enter the mainstream of national life in the fields of education and employment and, therefore, have a greater presence and voice. The question, of course, is whether these benefits will be equally accessible to all sections of the population.
If ST status is given to all inhabitants of Ladakh, it would go a long way in creating an atmosphere of goodwill. This opinion was endorsed by a responsible section of the older generation in Leh. It was felt that first, given Ladakh´s backwardness vis-a-vis the rest of India, some reservation policy for the whole area was necessary; second, given its vulnerable geo-political position, alienating sections of the population, howsoever advantageous in the Machiavellian internal politics of the nation-state, would be counterproductive.
The success of the new initiatives in Leh will depend on a combination of economic and cultural factors: the influence of regions such as Tibet, Central Asia and Kashmir in its political and social history (in matters of trade, pilgrimage and transhumance), which makes Ladakh a multicentred zone; the existence of various cultural groups — Shias, Sunnis, Buddhists (of various order) Christians and so on •— speaking different dialects with shifting allegiances and cleavages; political interest at the local level and above, which often crisscross; and finally, the customary modes of life based on a political economy of which the Indian nation state is yet to have full control. All these factors make Ladakh a centre of various centripetal and centrifugal forces, throwing up questions about the success of the proposed decentralisation experiment, — the hill council.
Peace Conference in Shillong
Shillong, once hailed as the "oasis of peace" in the strife-torn Indian northeast, is to host an
international conference, 7-14 April 1994, to promote on ethnic harmony, reports the Calcutta Telegraph.
You are invited to consider mankind´s deepest concerns, aspirations and challenges, and to share experiences of change and hope in difficult situations," states the invitation letter that has been sent to feuding Serbs, Croats and Muslims in Bosnia, to Blacks and Shillong is said to have been selected as the venue "since it offers easy accessibility to the clashing Nagas and Kukis in neighbouring Manipur, as well as the different tribes and minority groups in the Northeast who are up in arms against their respective governments".
Being organised by a group called Moral Rearmament, and supported by the Ramakrishna Mission and various Christian organisations, the theme of the conference is: "Learning to live together — frontier of hope". Since foreign delegates will need restricted area permits to enter the Northeast, their applications will have to reach the conference coordinator by February.
Zapping Poop with Solar Power
The Everest Environmental Project, run by Himalayan rubbish expert Bob McCormell, is trying to transfer a solar toilet system developed in Taos, New Mexico, to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute´s train¬ing camp north of Darjeeling.
The project came out of a meeting between Ajit Dutt, Principal of HMI and McConnell at a mountaineering conference in Las Vegas (!) last year, according to the Project´s newsletter. Talking to Dutt, McConnell found out that "HMI is host to 1,400 students a year. Each student spends ten days at the 14,600 ft high HMI Base Camp during training. At a pound of poop per day per stu¬dent, the HMI has to deal with approximately seven tons of waste a year at its Base Camp."
In September, an architect from Taos, named Michael Reynolds, arrived at the Base Camp and set up the solar toilet prototype. It is designed to dry out and sterilize waste using "passive solar power". What is left is a sterile, dry powder which can be disposed of safely and easily.
If the toilet works, says McConnel, it could "revolutionise how waste is handled, not only in base camps but on trekking routes and in villages throughout the Himalaya."
The Project awaits feedback from HMI to confirm how the toilets work, as do we all.
Will the Himalayan Research Bulletin rise from the ashes? Reflecting perhaps the lessening of interest in Himalayan studies in North
American universities, over recent years the journal has lost some of its lustre. Shunted from, one American university to another in search
of patronage, the journal became less and less regular.After a steady tenure at Cornell University under editors Kathryn March and David Holmberg, the journal moved to Columbia University (editors: Theodore Riccardi, Bruce Owens, Bill Fisher). In 1991, editorship was taken over by Ter Ellingson and Linda litis of the University of Washington in Seattle. Apparently, the University did not come up with promised support, and only one issue has been brought out so far. Even that issue is not unflawed, as the bulk of its pages are devoted to printing the entire 1990 Nepali Constitution. A decision was taken over the fall, at a meeting of the Nepal Studies Association in Wisconsin, to wrest the publication from the University of Washington and hand it over to the University of Texas in Austin. Barbara Brower, a geographer who has worked among the Sherpas, was appointed the new editor
The survival or demise of the HRB in the cctming year will also indicate the state of Himalayan studies in North America. In the past, European scholars were among the main supporters of HRB. Now, they have their own publication, the European Bulletin of Himalayan Research, and author and reader loyalties are fractured. Perhaps a partnership between the Europeans and North Americans to publish one, regular, professional journal will be to everyone´s good. New subscription details: Himalayan Research Bulletin, Geography Department, University of Austin, Texas 78712, USA (Individuals: U$20 Institutions: U$50 Overseas airmail add U$15, seamail add U$5).