The Importance of Education
From his speech in Dharamsala to a large gathering of followers from Tibet on Mar 27, 2006, the Dalai Lama warns of extreme dangers facing the survival of the Tibetan identity while emphasizing that modern education is indispensable for sustaining the Tibetan Buddhist culture and ethnicity in these most difficult circumstances in Tibet’s history.
I always keep saying that the broad masses of the Tibetans in Tibet are the real masters of the Tibetan destiny, and that the about one and half hundred-thousand Tibetans in exile here only represent them for accomplishing the truth of the Tibetan cause, acting as their free spokespersons and symbolic representatives.
So far the broad masses of the public in Tibet have remained in a distressed state as a result of the deprivation of their freedoms. Nevertheless, even when faced with dangers to their lives, they have, in every respect, remained steadfast in upholding the higher cause of their ethnicity and the common faith in their future prospects, keeping in mind their rights as a people. It is for these reasons that we have an audience on the world stage to whom we can speak about the tragedy and well being of Tibet, and what we say are received with respect as true. The principal asset for our credibility on the world stage is the people back in Tibet, their dedication to the common cause, indefatigable courage, and steadfast stand. It is because of these that the truth of our position stands proven. We therefore owe gratitude to the people in Tibet for their genuine dedication to the common cause and unassailable commitment to the common faith that binds them with us. I regularly say thank you to the broad masses of the people in Tibet through those who come here and I felt an urge to say it again today.
In future, too, the question whether in this world a unique people called the inhabitants of the Snowland of Tibet, and the profound culture and religion connected with them, would survive and thrive depends mainly on the people living in Tibet. Thinking from the opposite end, it is not impossible that the situation of the Tibetan people in Tibet will take such a tragic turn that they will become a minority in their own land. In such a situation, if those in Tibet fail to uphold the common aspiration of the Tibetan race, it will be extremely difficult for us in exile to be able to maintain the Tibetan ethnic identity and to carry out things like keeping, defending and spreading the Tibetan religion and culture beyond some generations. Things will be just all right during my generation in exile. After that, there will be another generation. It is possible that the situation will be fairly all right during their time. But it is impossible to say whether beyond that generation the situation will be good or bad. Extreme dangers lurk us in our future. The essential point is that the people living in Tibet are extremely important. In view of this, what is most important is that everyone should act with diligence, without any loss of determination.
One of the main ways of being diligent is to pay particular attention to the pursuit of knowledge. The world is undergoing an enormous transformation today. Even in the communist ruled countries, knowledge is considered important. Previously, during the Cultural Revolution, it was as if knowledge had lost all respect and value. But today, in the case of China, the situation is nothing like in the 1960s. Reports have also been emerging that even North Korea has, for example, been compelled to give importance to the value of modern knowledge. So, when I say that we should make efforts without loss of courage, the essence of it is that we must bring emphasis particularly on education.
Our freedom campaign is based on non-violence. Following the path of non-violence is the business capital and pride of our campaign. If we do not have truth on our side, we will have no alternative but to keep suffering. Having truth on one’s side gives one the pride to be transparent about everything and to speak reason in a face-to-face exchange. It is on the basis of knowledge that truth must be vindicated by non-violent means. There is no way this task can be accomplished by just an act of taking a solemn oath.
In the area of modern knowledge, Tibetans have lagged extremely behind. Not only was the imperative for it not felt from the very beginning, there has also been no deliberately established system for pursuing it. His Holiness the 13th Dalai Lama visited China in 1907, 1908, etc., and India during the period of 1910-1911 and witnessed many things about the outside world. As a result, from 1915 to 1920, he made such sound beginnings as sending some Tibetan students to countries like England with plans to have them study English and to acquire related modern mechanical skills and knowledge. However, he did not succeed in continuing these. These are matters of extreme regret. Anyway, although the 13th Dalai Lama had a broad vision for reforms, there were many internal and external elements and obstacles that rendered his efforts fruitless.
In 1960, the year after we arrived in exile in India in April 1959, we were able to speedily set up our first school in Mussoorie. Considerable effort was made to set up schools to give opportunities for modern education to the Tibetans in exile. In particular, in the early 1960s, many initiatives were taken to give more importance to setting up schools than monasteries in the Tibetan community in exile. The main reason why we especially devoted more attention to setting up schools was because it was extremely obvious that one cause of the miserable situation in which the Tibetan race found itself in was attributable to our major failure of being up to the standard in the field of modern knowledge. This resulted in our inability to set out strategies as a people at par with the rest of the world; it exposed us as too backward to be able to meet the challenges of modern times. It was in view of this that we considered setting up schools to be more important than building religious centres.
The public back in Tibet too should draw lessons from this and consider paying attention to the pursuit of modern knowledge as extremely important. In Tibet today there is a big problem in this area, including the fact that one has to pay high fees for educating one’s children. Nevertheless, undaunted by both the internal and external hardships, they continue to send their children to schools, whether they are being run by the Chinese government or by private Tibetans. Everywhere in Dotoe, Domey and U-Tsang, Tibetans in large numbers are emerging, putting in their best efforts and bringing out whatever capabilities they have in the field of learning. To them all I express rejoice and offer praise for efforts well made. Whatever be the case, making efforts in the field of education is highly important.
In the case of schools in Tibet set up by the Chinese, it would be extremely narrow-minded to show disdain for them by such actions as not sending one’s children to study there. Schools, even if set up by the Chinese government, are good. In order to ensure good standard of the teaching of Tibetan and other subjects in them, it should be possible to discuss the matter with concerned persons and entities. Whatever be the case, all Tibetans should make efforts in every possible way.
There are many aspects of modern education. They include science, law, economics, environment, etc. Nevertheless, the Tibetan language has not progressed in these numerous subjects. In India, efforts are being made to teach the Tibetan children all the subjects in Tibetan language from Grade I onwards. But, leave alone Tibetans, even the Indians find it most difficult to gain expertise in specialised modern subjects without pursuing it in English. In Tibet too, one has no choice but to rely on Chinese language to gain expertise in a specialised field of modern knowledge. Whether for becoming a professional or an expert researcher, in the different fields of modern knowledge in Tibet today, it is extremely important to use the Chinese language to achieve the required specialisations.
We are today struggling for a meaningful autonomy for Tibet. But in order to achieve an appropriate standard of it, our own people should be able to fully take responsibility in every possible area of undertaking related to it and to be able to produce results. There is no way merely engaging in debates will be sufficient. We ourselves must be able to argue for and administer the autonomy. The essence of this is that we must be able to do our own work by ourselves. In order to achieve both internal and external progresses appropriate for modern times, having modern education is extremely important. The reality of the situation in Tibet today is such that one has no choice but to rely on Chinese language if one is to become modern educated.
One thing that comes to my mind is this: Suppose there are a hundred Tibetan students. Seventy or eighty such students could study Tibetan language as their main subject and achieve excellence in projecting one’s national identity and in preserving our cultural heritage. Twenty or thirty such students could study Chinese language as their main subject and make efforts to achieve professional qualifications in modern specialised subjects. I feel this to be important, do you understand?