US Congressional Delegation Given a Warm Welcome at Thekchen Chöling
Thekchen Chöling, Dharamsala, HP, India – The yard before the Tsuglagkhang was packed with people today, mostly Tibetans, from all walks of life, eager to greet a US Bipartisan Congressional Delegation led by Representatives Nancy Pelosi and Jim Sensenbrenner. The delegation arrived for a two day visit yesterday. They met His Holiness the Dalai Lama and had lunch with him. In the afternoon they visited the Tibetan Children’s Village School and later met with the Kashag and leaders from among Tibetan Women. In the evening they were invited to dinner by the Central Tibetan Administration and were entertained at the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA).
Banners depicting His Holiness the Dalai Lama meeting with four US Presidents inscribed “Thank you USA” flew overhead and the podium below the temple was flanked by the Snowlion Flag and the Stars & Stripes. As the delegates began to arrive and take their seats, applause rippled through the crowd. Everyone stood as His Holiness and Nancy Pelosi walked through the yard together. They remained standing as the Tibetan National Anthem was played and President Lobsang Sangay hoisted the Tibetan flag. Led by four Geshe-mas and singers from TIPA everyone took part in singing a moving rendition of the Prayer of the Words of Truth.
In a stirring opening address President Lobsang Sangay paid tribute to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, asserting that the Dalai Lamas and the Tibetan people are inseparable from one another—“As long as there is a Tibet, Chenresig will be there.” He went on to express his gratitude for the delegation’s visit that he said sent a message of encouragement to Tibetans in Tibet, an indication of the importance of justice to China and a sign of friendship and support for Tibetans to the rest of the world.
President Sangay voiced his admiration for Nancy Pelosi as a politician who does more than “talk the talk”, she also “walks the walk”. He mentioned her visit to Tibet during which she bluntly told the Chinese authorities, “His Holiness the Dalai Lama commands the respect of people around the world, including us.”
He mentioned the 147 Tibetans who have committed self-immolation in their determination to demonstrate to the world that the occupation of Tibet is unacceptable and the oppression there is unbearable. He added:
“The Tibetan spirit will survive because of the support of friends like you who acknowledge and support the justice of our cause. There has been American support for Tibet since President Franklin Roosevelt sent a watch and a letter to His Holiness when he was young. In 2002 the Tibetan Policy Act was passed and we hope that a new coordinator for Tibet will soon be appointed. You have also given us financial support for which we are grateful.”
President Sangay stated that just as Nelson Mandela had eventually walked free and restored democracy to South Africa, just as Aung San Suu Kyi had eventually walked free in Burma and just as the Good Friday agreement had eventually been signed in Northern Ireland, he was convinced that Tibet’s day too will come because Tibetans have friends like those in the delegation. He looked forward to His Holiness the Dalai Lama walking free in the streets of Lhasa and giving the Kalachakra Empowerment before the Potala Palace, where Tibetan and Chinese Buddhists alike will receive it.
“On that happy day, when the dreams of the Tibetan people are fulfilled and the bell of freedom chimes in Tibet, we will invite you to join us again. Justice and freedom will prevail in Tibet thanks to our friends’ support. Long live His Holiness the Dalai Lama.”
Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a Republican who has represented Wisconsin’s 5th district for 38 years, expressed pride at being able to speak in His Holiness‘s presence. He assured the crowd that Republicans and Democrats support Tibet, have great respect for His Holiness the Dalai Lama and share a wish for the Tibetan people to be free. He added that they support religious freedom and the notion that where there is no justice there is no freedom.
A performance of the Women’s Empowerment Song by artists from TIPA was introduced with the remark that empowerment of women has brought happiness to many different parts of the world.
Representative Jim McGovern from Massachusetts told His Holiness, “We believe in you and we stand with you, President Lobsang Sangay and the Tibetan people. We look forward to your being able to return to Tibet, to the release of political prisoners, including the 11th Panchen Lama. And we call on the US Government to meet regularly with you and President Sangay. We support dialogue between Chinese and Tibetan representatives, knowing that the world will not get better on its own.”
Khenpo Sonam Tenphel, Speaker of the Tibetan Parliament in Exile, made his remarks in English. He welcomed Nancy Pelosi and the other members of the delegation. He pointed out that human rights in Tibet have not improved. Religious freedom continues to be violated and restrictions on Tibetan language and culture remain in place. Tibetans face social discrimination, while the natural environment faces severe damage. “We need your support,” he concluded.
Representative Elliot Engel from New York told the crowd, “It’s good to see you, just as it was good to see the children at the school yesterday. We believe in freedom and democracy for all people—Tibetans too. In New York, where I’m from, stands the Statue of Liberty, and Tibetans have the same wish for freedom as everyone else who looks to that statue for inspiration. Self-determination is very important. Tibetans should be allowed to decide their own future. The American people will not forget you. When we get back to Washington we’ll do what we can to help you.”
From Seattle, Representative Pramila Jayapal said that to be among this delegation visiting His Holiness and the Tibetan community was a great honour. “Your Holiness, you are a beacon of hope for people all over the world looking for peace and justice. I was born in India and on this Buddha Purnima day I’d like to tell you I’m proud of the help my birth country has given the Tibetan community. Back in the US Congress we’ll raise our voices for Tibetans to follow their religion and culture in peace.”
Artists from TIPA, bouquets of flowers in their hands, then sang a song that was composed to celebrate His Holiness’s 80th birthday.
Representative Nancy Pelosi began her address with a little Tibetan. “To each of you personally I say ‘Tashi Delek.’ From right across America we bring you greetings from the American people. We express bipartisan support for the aspirations of the Tibetan people.
“His Holiness is a visionary, a man of compassion. He inspires us with his sense of hope, his belief in the power of compassion and that people are good. You have such a determination to preserve your Tibetan identity. We look forward to your being able to return to Tibet. Betty McCullum, Jim McGovern and I went to the Potala in Tibet and prayed that His Holiness be able to return there. We are so inspired by his message of hope and dignity for all peoples. We feel that if we don’t support Tibet we have no moral authority.
“I say to some in China, we hope you’ll see the light. Something is missing in Tibet. Some in China regard freedom as inconceivable. We see it as inevitable. We will succeed.”
Finally, His Holiness was invited to address the gathering, which he did in Tibetan.
“Today I wish to greet all of you Tibetans who are actually gathered here, young and old, monastics as well as lay-people, all those who are not here but live in free countries and those of you who live in fear and anxiety in Tibet. According to archaeological findings there have been Tibetans in Tibet for almost 30,000 years, one of the oldest civilizations. In 1959, many of us came into exile. All we knew for sure was the sky above and the earth below. We had no idea what would happen to us. We lived in fear and unease.
“After 58 years we have made friends with people we didn’t know before. People support us not for reasons of economic or political influence, not because we are poor, but because they believe in justice. This delegation from the USA, led by Nancy Pelosi, who has been my friend for a long time, supports us because we have truth on our side and because we are non-violent. Support for us, even among Chinese people, has increased because we are looking for a mutually beneficial solution. We attract support because of the candour and compassion for others to which we are accustomed.
“Human conflict cannot finally be resolved through the use of force and resort to weapons. In the 20th century historians estimate 200 million people died through the use of force, but with no positive result. We haven’t resolved problems by force in the past and we won’t in the future. People support Tibetans because of our pursuit of candour, justice and non-violence. These derive from the Nalanda tradition, a tradition rooted in compassion that we have kept alive for more than 1000 years.
“The complete Nalanda tradition has only been preserved in Tibet. It’s something of which we are proud and something that today we can share with others. When we came into exile we seemed helpless, but what we can contribute to the world at large is a raising of awareness of compassion. And by standing by our principles we’ll reach the dawning of a new day for Tibet. Those of you who are determined to defend our cause, despite the difficulties involved, I’d like to thank for your friendship and support.”
His Holiness went on to explain that if we have peace of mind we will not only be happy but will enjoy good health. He said that Tibetan culture focuses on inner transformation. It’s not based on blind faith, but on recognizing the interdependent nature of things. Experience has shown him that what earlier Tibetans preserved and passed down is a wonderful tradition.
“The Chinese people can be our friends. To establish harmony between Tibetans and Chinese we need to reach a mutually beneficial solution.”
As Dhardon Sharling for the Department of Information & International Relations offered an extensive vote of thanks, His Holiness led the delegation upstairs. He took them first into the Kalachakra temple where monks of Namgyal Monastery, led by their Abbot Thomthog Rinpoche, were performing Kalachakra prayers in connection with a fully constructed sand mandala. From there they went to the main temple where His Holiness introduced the various images to them. He explained that depictions of the emaciated ‘fasting Buddha’ are a reminder of the hardship the Buddha underwent to attain enlightenment.
Describing the thousand armed statue of Avalokiteshvara he told the delegates that a similar image standing in the Jokhang in Lhasa was smashed during the Cultural Revolution. Some remnants had been brought to him from Tibet and he showed them two of those faces. Indicating the statue of Guru Padmasambhava he spoke of how the Emperor, Scholar and Adept—Trisong Detsen, Shantarakshita and Padmasambhava—had worked together to establish Buddhism in Tibet in the 8th century CE. Because Shantarakshita was a logician as well as a philosopher, the use of reason and logic had been an integral part of Tibetan Buddhism right from the start.
He related this to what he thinks of as four aspects of the Buddha. He was the founder of Buddhism, certainly, but he was also a philosopher, a thinker and sceptical like a scientist. Because of this he recommended his followers not to accept what he taught at face value, but to investigate it in the light of reason and only then accept it. Nancy Pelosi asked about the scriptures stacked on either side of main Buddha statue and His Holiness told her that about 100 volumes preserve what the Buddha taught, while 225 more contain the treatises of subsequent Indian Buddhist masters.
From the Tsuglagkhang His Holiness and the entire delegation walked back to his residence. They enjoyed tea together before the delegation left for the airport and their flight to Delhi.