Kunsang Tsering or Khyungsang, a teacher as well as a writer, has published many poems, essays, and short histories in both official and private magazines inside Tibet. He started publishing after he graduated from the Malho Teacher’s Training School and his first short story “Love under the Moon” was published in Drangchar, the most popular literary magazine in Tibet, in the late 1990s. He has two personal blogs, one on the Sangdhor website and one on the Gendun Chophel website. On his blog on the Gendun Chophel website, he only publishes poems while on his Sangdhor page, he mainly publishes articles focusing on primary education.
I was talking not long ago with a Tibetan teacher who was a former classmate of mine. He was telling me about a group that he and his friends had started a few years back, for which they had been able to raise a lot of money. “So far, we’ve raised 1.3m yuan,” he said. “With this, we were able to save the lives of a large number of fish, and so we were able to accumulate a great deal of merit.” He spoke about this work with great pleasure, and talked of its achievements as a source of pride.
When I heard this, I felt both sad and disappointed. That feeling of disappointment came from thinking of other ways that such a great amount of money could have been used. If it had been spent to help pay school fees for the children of nomads and farmers or to cover the cost of food and clothing for the children of poor families in the countryside, then it would not only have accumulated merit in the religious sense – it would also have been an expression of pride in our nationality. But this was quite the opposite: wasting such a great amount of money in order to benefit fish sellers is stupidity by the stupid and foolishness by fools. It was thinking like this that produced this mixture of disappointment and sadness in me. If we want to improve conditions in Tibet today, the only way to do it is if we succeed in improving basic education by wiping out illiteracy among children. If this was done, then the economy, the politics and the culture of Tibet would automatically become more developed.
These paragraphs, which were published in the journal Ngaro (“The Roar”), No. 4, describe one example of the fourth of the six issues that Professor Thubten Phuntsog of the Central Nationalities University wrote of in his article “Important Matters to which Tibetan Intellectuals Should Pay Attention”. The article is divided into six separate sections, in each of which the author presents a fault in our thinking as Tibetan intellectuals. Of these, it is the fourth that sticks in my mind, hanging there like a cloud of smoke. And the reason for that is that the author made me recall anew a great many important points concerning the educational issues that surround us.
Generally speaking, everyone is entitled to their own form of belief, and this is so in particular for Tibetans, a nation whose soul was tied to a religious culture for some several thousand years and in whom the predispositions shaped by religious thought are like silk brocade that has been steeped in oil. And so it is that the practice of believing in something without necessarily knowing why has become a common feature of all Tibetans wherever they reside. Indeed, if we look at this from another perspective, I think we can say that this is a unique national feature of our people, a mantra thread that ties the nation together.
Belief is a personal matter, and whether to believe or not to believe is a question of individual freedom. But if the freedom of personal belief has a negative effect on the general situation or the epoch, isn’t that contradictory to religious thinking? We should not only give consideration to what benefits the public as a whole, but also think about the impact and consequences of our actions on the public.
Based on this consideration, let’s think about the situation that faces us today in schools. Many teachers around us constantly chant prayers and carry out preparatory religious practices, out of the strength of their devotion. They take these issues very seriously. For instance, during the self-study sessions in the morning, instead of caring for the students, the teachers prioritize chanting prayers over organizing the self-study classes. They never pay any attention to the students’ studies, and they don’t care how the students are doing with their work.
In such circumstances, students cannot have a good learning environment. And, moreover, since the teachers have confused themselves with accumulating merit, they ignore educational problems and don’t have time to care for their students habits, psyches, or their age. They use poor methods such as beating and criticizing the students, and teach in a really boring way. And so the ambitions and hopes of the students diminish and collapse. This kind of educational problem has become very serious throughout the educational system, but it is ignored by most people.
Can ignoring our children’s future and the future of a generation be considered the aspiration of any system of belief? Is downgrading the happiness of a nation what it means to practice religion? Is the act of being irresponsible and lazy the heroic courage of the new century? When I think of these things, I feel that causing harm to others through one’s own beliefs is neither religious nor humanitarian. The practice of ignoring public benefit because of one’s private piety is helpful neither to oneself nor others.
In short, I think we sometimes perceive foolish behavior as virtue and so try to develop and spread such actions. But when, on the contrary, we recognize virtue as foolishness, there are many people who will even despise us for doing so.