By Tsewang Norbu see the orginal article in Chinese
Tsewang Norbu is one of the founders and editors of the most popular Chinese language blog on Tibet in China: http://www.tibetcul.com/Index.html. He writes in Chinese and has been living in Chinese cities for many years. The following are his notes on a few current issues that damage the image of Tibet.
Not long ago, my younger brother was in Lanzhou; he suddenly received a stranger’s phone call, saying “I’m Tashi, a few days ago someone was going to Chengdu, and I had them bring you a gift. I don’t know if you’ve received it yet?” My brother said: “No, I haven’t. Which Tashi are you? How come I can’t recognize your voice?” The other end said very unhappily: “I’m Tashi from Ngawa. The gift I sent you is extremely valuable!” After hanging up the phone, my brother continued to be perplexed: Among all the friends I know in Ngawa, none are called Tashi.
A few days later, the driver of the company in Chengdu gave my younger brother a call saying some unknown person was looking for him. Soon after, that person on the phone said: “I’m Tashi’s nephew, my uncle had me bring a thangkha for you.” My brother said: “Thank you very much, you can give the thangkha to the person next to you, he’s the driver for our company. Excuse me but who is your uncle? Why can’t I remember?” The other side casually hemmed and hawed a bit, then said: “This thangkha was brought from our monastery, it was blessed by a great tulku. We even hung your name inside the monastery. Our monastery is an exquisite one, this thangkha is presented to you, so you must donate some money to the monastery.” My brother said: “I’m out of town at the moment, after awhile when I have the chance to go to your place, I will donate money.” The other side continued to go on and on over the phone, to the effect that he must have some kind of gesture. My brother continued to hold that he couldn’t give money to him because he was out of town.
After hanging up the phone, my brother was even more perplexed: Strange, I never knew anyone called Tashi in Ngawa! And someone who would send me a thangkha? I said, pies don’t fall from the sky, in other words, what does it matter to hang your name inside the monastery? Begging for alms doesn’t happen like this. This is definitely a new kind of scam. Call your driver in a little bit, that thangkha probably isn’t an expensive piece of work, it’s certainly of a common, cheap quality. After awhile, he called to ask his driver, sure enough it was a typical ten-yuan thangkha. It confirmed my judgement.
Coincidentally, on my way to the newspaper office yesterday, a leader told me, a few days ago a young man claiming to be Tibetan came to the newspaper office, very enthusiastically presented him with a khatag, and a thangkha, and even a box of Tibetan saffron. He was surprised and flattered, and said we don’t even know each other so why are you giving me so many things? The other side said, these things have been blessed by one of our Tibetan tulkus. It’s very beneficial if you place these things in your home. However, according to our particularities, you have to take out some money. Upon hearing that, the leader said, oh, you want money, huh, then I don’t want your things, take them with you. The young man pestered for awhile, the leader firmly declined, he could only leave in a huff. The leader said, the young man was rather tall, and claimed he was from Ngawa. This reminded me of several years ago, when I was working at the newspaper office, a young man came claiming to be from Ganlho (Chin. Gannan), he looked really familiar, “Ngawu Norbu, come out a minute.” When I got outside the office, he offered me a little crumpled, five-mao khatag, then said he was very close with my family, he had very good relations with several of my relatives. Changing the topic, he said he was a performer in Rongdro Aja’s song and dance troupe. This time after returning home, because of some problems at home, he had spent all the money he had on him; he wanted me to lend him some money for transportation. After he returned to Jiuzhaigou, he would immediately send the money back. Luckily that day I didn’t have money on me. Feeling very ashamed, I gave him the only five yuan I had, so he could eat, then introduced him to my younger brother at the Nationalities University to borrow from him.
After he arrive at my brother’s, my brother immediately saw through him. He said: You’re from Rongdro Aja’s song and dance troupe? Then I’ll give Rongdro Ajak a call, just to confirm. As my brother was dialing the phone, the young man got upset, he had no choice but to admit he wasn’t from Rongdro Aja’s group. My brother remembered at that time a lot of Tibetan teachers at Northwest Nationalities University had been scammed. He said, didn’t you borrow some money from my parents a little while ago? The young man said he did. It turns out that this dear friend had visited the homes of each of the Tibetan teachers at Northwest Nationalities University at that time, and borrowed money from all of them. He had borrowed 400 rmb from my father, then it came out that he had borrowed several hundred from Uncle Yidam. After my younger brother confirmed these things, he gave the young man a lesson: You, young man, in good health, instead of working or finding some other way to make a living, stoop to lying all the time, don’t you think that’s a disgrace?! But his heart was soft, and in the end he gave him 50 rmb, and said, why don’t you go home quickly.
However, for us Tibetans, in terms of gifts, we won’t bother over the quality of a thangkha or khatag, but the reason I’m emphasizing quality, is because I want to explain, people who deceive others won’t waste a lot of money to buy “gifts”. Except in the case of an exceptional fraud.
Speaking of these, someone just happened to post “Shansai Tulku: Please don’t disgrace my Tibet” on a blog; I thought it was great, now there’s a need to reveal the undesirable phenomena seriously affecting the image of Tibetans. Before you could say there wasn’t a public opinion environment; now that the public opinion environment has matured, these scandals should be exposed, cleaning the air and Tibetan people’s image. I remembered what Pema Wangyal, who lives in the US, told me: Americans typically have a favorable impression of Tibetans. However, in one community, there was a Tibetan lady, with sticky fingers, and she would often steal things; this led to Americans in that community being disgusted at the mention of Tibetans. Just like Wuhou Street in Chengdu, some idle Tibetan youth frequently causing trouble has led to a lot of Chinese people in Chengdu shaking their heads at the mention of Tibetans. This is truly a case of one mouse ruining the pot of soup.
In addition, there are also some matters in the tourism industry that people often speak to me about.
One is something tourists frequently encounter when visiting Ta’er Monastery: After the tour guide has talked about many of the “mysteries” of Tibetan Buddhism, he will suggest that the tourists bow their heads before the “tulku”. Inquisitive tourists will ask, what gift should they offer the tulku, and the tour guide will bring everyone to a small shop, and say that buying a khatag is fine. Then what was originally a ten to twenty yuan khatag, is sold to the tourists for one to two hundred yuan. Bringing them to the “tulku”, there are also “dependents”. Of course, after it is done, the tour guide will split the money with the shop and the “tulku”. Looking at this kind of conduct, Tibetans understand, a true tulku would not collude with a tour guide to do this kind of thing. I hope our inland friends know the difference, Kubum Monastery’s tour guides possess this “specialty”, which is rarely seen at other tourist sites.
The second is the issue of charging fees for watching sky burials at Lamu Monastery. This has been frequently discussed in depth in the Tibetcul.com discussion forums, this is just a reminder here.
The third is regarding [a situation] two years ago in Jiuzhaigou where an old farmer settled inside a cave, saying he was a tulku, and had tour guides bring tourists to come worship him, and collected money from this.
Since we have never gone sightseeing in Tibetan areas through a travel agency, we’re not so clear about what other particular swindling scams there are. The Qinghai-Tibet Plateau is home to several million Tibetans, the great majority of whom, because of religious beliefs and cultural customs, live peaceful and contented lives. However, as the proverb goes: Among a hundred people, there are all kinds of people. Among Tibetan people, certainly there are also a few badly behaved, inferior quality, morally corrupt people. If an outsider or a foreigner lives in a Tibetan area for a short period of time, and befriends more Tibetan people, he will understand the basic situation of the Tibetan nationality. But if it’s a tourist, hastily passing through, his (or her) reliance on the tour guide betrayed (I myself have had this experience in Yunnan, Burma, Hainan, and Guilin), he will spread this individual’s hostility to all the people in the locality. This is why a lot of Han Chinese in Chengdu don’t dare go to Wuhou Street, thus leading to a negative impression of the entire Tibetan nationality.
Speaking of fake tulkus, that’s an even bigger problem, especially in mainland China and Taiwan, there are too many of them! Some people wish to study Tibetan Buddhism with a pure and faithful heart, and because they don’t understand the basics of Tibetan Buddhism, are deceived, at a loss, and thereafter are full of hate and hostility towards Tibetan Buddhism. The actions of a swindler is like a leaf that blocks their eyes, nearly defaming Tibetan Buddhism. There are a lot of situations like this. Remember the teachings of Songtsan Gampo: Cannibalizing with weapons, /scrambling for offerings and idols, /looting the property of monasteries, /Buddhism meets with disaster again. That time of blackness rampant, /living beings devoid of conscience, /people do as they please, /it’s difficult to tell a person from a devil. Do we know if this is referring to contemporary times?! That time when a woman’s virtue is corrupted, /vulgar and offensive, /debauched with no sense of integrity, /one after another one falls to evil interests. Do we know if this is referring to contemporary times?! On the pretext of gaining wisdom, /being promiscuous with other people’s wives and daughters, /their evil generation, / evil rings unjust, one after another one falls to hell. Do we know if this is referring to contemporary times?! Generation of violating religious discipline and disrespecting vows, /acting contrary to ritual, /pretending to be a master to commit sins, /everything also falls to evil interests. Do we know if this is referring to contemporary times?! Some are dressed in Buddhist robes, /bent on profiteering. /Like praising shameless scum, /making use of the name of the Dharma, dying unjustly, /all completely fall to evil interests. Do we know if this is referring to contemporary times?! Evil cannot be constant, /good means cannot be conquered. …. A monk breaks his vows in sin, /there is only oneself to blame, /a leaf blocking the eye cannot, /defame my Buddha, Taishan. It should, at least — conform to contemporary situations!
Actually, Tibet has not changed in thousands of years. Tibet is still rational, moderate, and honest. It doesn’t matter if you’re a passionate lover of Tibetan culture, a researcher of Tibetan culture, someone who works in nationalities or religious affairs, or a lay Buddhist studying Tibetan Buddhism, you should all learn a bit about Tibetan people’s folk customs, Tibetan Buddhist basic knowledge, Tibetan people’s true history and current living situation. This is something that has many benefits and can do no harm. Don’t be like that time, when a lot of angry internet youth who on one hand denounced some media outlets for not understanding Tibet, but on the other hand launched an attack on the entire Tibetan nationality, when in reality, these angry youths themselves didn’t even understand Tibet.