Sunday, June 23, 2024

Tibetan Advocacy and Hope: Conversation with Ven. Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende

Venerable Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende, member of the 17th Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile from the Gelug School of Tibetan Buddhism and a member of the Standing Committee, is visiting the US. Global Strat View’s Editor, Poonam Sharma, spoke to him in Washington, DC.

GSV: Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende, it’s an honor to have you here with us today. Welcome to Washington, DC. You have been tirelessly advocating for Tibet and its people. Please share with us some of the challenges you face in your endeavors.

Ven. Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende: Thank you for having me. Indeed, advocating for Tibet and its cultural heritage comes with its share of challenges. For instance, the Chinese government’s strict control over religious practices has led to the destruction of numerous monasteries and the suppression of religious freedom. Additionally, the forced assimilation policies, which include the mandatory teaching of Mandarin in schools and the relocation of Tibetan nomads, have resulted in the loss of our unique language and traditions. Despite enduring these hardships, the people of Tibet display a remarkable resilience that inspires me. It’s a responsibility I carry to protect our traditions. However, my reach and abilities seem insufficient to address these issues alone.

GSV: How do you navigate the constraints imposed by the Chinese government while maintaining your advocacy efforts?

Ven. Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende: It’s a delicate balance. Since assuming my role in parliament, I’ve been severed from my family and connections in Tibet. The Chinese government views anyone under the parliamentary umbrella as a threat, severing familial ties. Yet, despite these obstacles, I persist in raising awareness about the plight of Tibetans and seek urgent support from democratic nations like India and the United States. Your support, as global leaders and advocates for human rights, is not just crucial but also impactful in this fight for our cultural preservation and rights.

GSV: You mentioned engaging with younger generations globally. How do you empower them to continue the struggle for Tibetan independence?

Ven. Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende: When I meet young Tibetans worldwide, I emphasize that their potential is no different from other youth. However, the fundamental difference lies in the absence of a homeland for Tibetan youth. Growing up in democratic societies, they understand the value of freedom and democracy. I instill in them the importance of remembering our struggle and continuing the fight for our cause. Your support, as global leaders and advocates for human rights, is invaluable in empowering these young Tibetans and continuing our struggle for independence.

GSV: There are divergent views within the Tibetan diaspora, some advocating for outright independence while others for autonomy within China’s framework. How do you navigate these differing ideologies?

Ven. Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende: Indeed, within the Tibetan diaspora, there are varying perspectives on the path forward. Some advocate for complete independence, while others lean towards autonomy within China’s structure. Leading our people is manageable when both ideologies work sincerely for Tibet’s cause. However, the challenge arises when external influences, particularly from the Chinese government, manipulate individuals to agitate within our communities, exploiting these differing viewpoints. It’s crucial to ensure that our people remain united and focused on the common goal of preserving Tibetan culture and securing our rights.

GSV: In your interactions with parliamentarians globally, what challenges have you encountered in garnering support for Tibet?

Ven. Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende: As part of the Tibet advocacy campaign initiated by the 17th Tibetan Parliamentary delegation we had an official visit to New Delhi to meet with Indian parliamentarians. We also met with Congress MP Jairam Ramesh. Shortly after that, the Chinese Embassy sent a letter questioning the meeting. Jairam Ramesh replied to the Chinese Embassy, stating that this is his country, and it is his right to meet with whomever he chooses. He emphasized that India values the rights of its people, which was a very satisfactory response.

However, when I traveled to Europe and other countries, the situation was different. During the first meetings, parliamentarians were very responsive and willing to help, expressing strong solidarity. But with the influence of the Chinese government, their attitudes change. During subsequent meetings, they were less responsive and no longer treated the meetings with the same importance, sometimes inviting me to informal settings like coffee shops. This lack of follow-through suggests a significant influence from China, which has been disappointing and frustrating for me.

GSV: It’s disheartening to witness such wavering support. How do you envision overcoming these challenges in the future?

Photo credit: Poonam Sharma

Ven. Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende: Persistence and unity are key. We can overcome external influences by staying true to our cause and ensuring sincerity in our efforts. It’s not just important but also urgent to continue engaging with global leaders and advocating for Tibet until our voices are heard and our people’s rights are respected.

GSV: Your dedication and resolve are truly commendable, Ven. Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende. Thank you for sharing your insights and experiences with us.

Ven. Geshe Lharampa Gowo Lobsang Phende: It’s my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to shed light on the plight of Tibetans and our ongoing struggle for freedom and cultural preservation. Your potential support and advocacy for our cause are deeply appreciated.

Interpretation courtesy Ngawang Tashi, President, Regional Tibetan Ngari Association of NY & NJ.

Author profile
Poonam Sharma
Editor

Poonam is a multi-media journalist, and Founder and Editor of Global Strat View. She was the Managing Editor of India America Today (IAT) for seven years, and launched its print edition in 2019 with IAT's Founder and Editor, the late Tejinder Singh.

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