"I Have to Speak Out" By Go Sherab Gyatso

High Peaks Pure Earth has translated a blogpost focusing on a recent new regulation enforced in Kirti Monastery in Ngaba, Amdo, Tibet, that requires any writings and publications to be pre-approved by the “Education Department” of the monastery before distribution.

The original blogpost at the Sangdhor website is currently offline, as is the whole site: http://sangdhor.com/blog_c.asp?id=11738&a=jiayang The long blogpost is made up of several parts and contains an introduction with background information before publishing the piece by Kirti monk Go Sherab Gyatso.

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Photo of Go Sherab Gyatso taken from http://blog.amdotibet.cn/kedup/archives/72429.aspx

Go Sherab Gyatso eloquently and logically outlines his objections to the new regulation in the piece titled “I Have to Speak Out” which was written on June 4, 2013. High Peaks Pure Earth readers may remember Go Sherab Gyatso from a blogpost written by Jamyang Kyi in 2008 after she had heard that he had been detained. Go Sherab Gyatso authored the book “We Need To Wake Up”, published in 2007 by Gansu Nationalities Press but, as he mentions in his piece, he has been very careful about his writings ever since 2008.

High Peaks Pure Earth is very grateful to Bhuchung D. Sonam of TibetWrites.Org for translating this post into English.

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Photo of the “Resolution” (Tib: Drochoe Yigey)

From now on, if any monk covertly puts up letters criticising each other, there will be a thorough search for the author. If found out, he will be permanently expelled from this monastery irrespective of what position he may hold, and if the writer is not found then keeping law of karma as the witness, the issue will be brought to the attention of the protector deity of this monastery in accordance with traditional custom. No newspaper or magazine can be published or distributed in the monastery without prior permission from the Board of Directors of the Education Department. If anyone does so without permission, then the printed materials will be confiscated and severe punishment will be given to offenders.

A Short Clarification
On May 21, 2013, the authorities of Ngaba Kirti Monastery, including the Board of Directors of the Education Department, issued a ‘Resolution’ which stated that no literature can be distributed in the monastery without prior permission from the Board of directors of the monastery’s education department, and that anyone found doing so would be severely punished.

On June 4, Go Sherab Gyatso, a monk in the monastery, wrote an essay titled “I Have to Speak Out”, in which he stated that the resolution not only hammers down on monks’ freedom of expression but also brings more harm than benefits. The essay criticised the board members saying that such excessive regulations would be counterproductive to the monastery’s spiritual development.

On June 5, the members of the Education Department of the Kirti Monastery came to the meeting of the monks and threatened them by saying that: ‘Since Go Sherab criticised us yesterday, we will stop all our works from today onwards.’ According to the local custom and tradition of this region, if leaders of a monastery resign from their work, then it takes a huge amount of money to request them to re-take or resume their responsibilities.

On June 9, Go Sherab wrote an article titled “Desperate Parting Prostration” in which he wrote his detailed thoughts on his inability to bear the pressure from the possible resignation of the board members, lack of any channels to air his grievances and lack of any financial resources to pay to bring back the members should they resign. He also wrote that until and unless the board members declare him innocent, he would remain outside the monastery.

“I Have to Speak Out”
By Go Sherab Gyatso

A few months have passed since changes in the rules and regulations in our monastery have come to effect. According to the ‘New Charter’ some of the futile communal ritual performance were done away with and schedule and place of other such performances were also changed. As debating is an importance part of our monastery’s dialectical study, some positive changes were made in this regard. A change is also about to be made in terms of memorisation of texts and its superficial showpiece test.

Furthermore, the monastery’s authorities have finally accepted the repeated requests from students to increase both the quantity and quality of the teachers. Instead of pretending that this is a big monastery with great image, the authorities are working to bring qualified teachers from other places. In this sense, there have been positive and practical changes that would benefit the monastic education. These are worth praising.

It is difficult to say how these changes will impact other aspects of the monastery’s activities. Looking from the students’ point of view, these changes need to be continued since they consider them as having positive impacts. For the leaders and for those who execute these reforms it goes without saying that they have taken great troubles and faced numerous obstacles. They are to be thanked for their efforts.

However, among the wave of these changes, there are a few decisions that leave one sad and disappointed. As Chandrakirti said: ‘auspicious and inauspicious always come together’ on May 21 this year, the monastery’s authorities, led by the board of directors of the Education Department, issued a Resolution. It said that ‘no newspaper or magazine can be distributed in the monastery without prior permission from the Board of Directors of the Education Department. If anyone does so without permission, then the printed materials will be confiscated and severe punishment will be given to the offenders.’

Why? Why? Why would they want to punish someone simply because he would not seek their permission to distribute his writing irrespective of whether it contained something that is beneficial to society or fabricated lies. On what religious logic and indisputable evidence was this rule based on? From what school of thought did this come from? On which of Buddha’s principle does this lean upon?

However one thinks over this or examines it, this harsh rule is seen as a heinous fabrication of a few individuals and has neither religious principles nor civic values. This has neither benefits on the monastery’s spiritual development nor improvement in monks’ conducts. In fact, it is clear that this will destroy the monastery’s education atmosphere and its space for creative output. For anyone who is not blind to the law of karma, one has no choice but to consider this unbearable rule as something that has little value and will cause great harm.

Hence, for someone like me, who may not be a good monk but someone who considers writing as an important part of my life, this forced rule gives me more pain and suffering than others. Sacrificing my future and ready to face any consequences, I am forced to say a few things to the monastery’s authorities who made this rule. You can consider this as asserting my right to write or to maintain the learning atmosphere of this monastery or for the sake of future of young monks in this institute.

Last year, in another resolution – weren’t the monks of this monastery warned that they would be expelled if they spoke or wrote anything beyond the stated rules? In this sense they were already barred from speaking out or writing. Thus, this time, when you announced another rule, couldn’t you leave some space [within the rule] for the monks of this monastery to enjoy freedom and space to write?

Considering every creative output as suspicious enemies, those who want to publish newspapers and books first must submit their materials to the authorities. Anyone who fails to do so, they said, would face severe consequences. Isn’t this a loud deceit that crosses every social norm? If a monk from our monastery authors an excellent book that would do Tibetans proud and benefit the entire human beings, would the author still face severe punishment because he did not seek your permission for publishing his book? Think deeply. Aren’t your authoritative hands stretching too long? Aren’t you becoming too dictatorial?

Isn’t this rule – that requires every book and magazine to have your prior permission before their publication – a tool to have power over what is to be published and what not to be published? If all publication materials go through your hands, what guarantees are there that you would not say that this is OK to be distributed, this is not OK to be distributed and that this should be revised and these parts to be deleted?

In this way, one day when you will have the absolute power over every written material in our monastery, what guarantee do we have that you would not say that there are ‘mistakes’ in the Prajnaparamita scriptures, or that the commentary on Madhyamaka is not in accordance with ‘your accepted premise’, or that a new social commentary is ‘erroneous’, or that a new style of poetry is wrong or an outlook on culture is ‘not in tune’ with old way of thinking?

Finally, wouldn’t you order editing things out that do not go well with official line or even not in sync with your own views? No one can guarantee that you would not engage in these acts. This unlimited power will have no borders where one can say for sure what can be done and what cannot be done.

Generally speaking, each word in an essay represents images coming from authors’ innermost thoughts and hence compositions are a family made up of each writer’s wisdom. Essays are music played with authors’ thoughts set on melodies. Therefore, characteristics of writing bear writers’ conduct, values, aesthetics and other distinctive qualities. If our monks are to engage in writing today, they have to bury their inherent thoughts and write something that will please the members of the Education Department. They may call it new writing, but they are nothing more than a pile of rotten words without the authors’ deep wisdom and rich experience.

Then again, they may say that there is a long tradition of showing essays to teachers and to seek feedback and critique from friends. Since the difference between voluntarily showing your writing to someone and authorities forcing you to show your writing is clear, it would be pointless for me to run through them.

Over two thousand years ago, the famous Buddhist master Nagarjuna authored numerous commentaries, including Prajnamula or the Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way called Prajna, which was the first of Nagarjuna’s six main works. By stating the principle of interdependence of all things and that nothing exists on its own, Nagarjuna put out a bright new philosophy for humanity. Since there were only two schools of thoughts namely the Vaibhashikas and Sautrantikas at that time, Nagarjuna’s thoughts went beyond the accepted views of his monastic orders. The fact that the institute did not have a committee to limit what could be published and what could not was Nagarjuna’s greatest happiness. But if such a committee existed and if they said, ‘Your writing do not confirm with many of Buddha’s teachings and they are also not in tune with our views, so you cannot publish them’ and if they confiscated his writing, what would have happened?

Likewise, the great work on logic by Dharmakirti Pramanavartika or Commentary on the Compendium of Valid Cognition was a critique of his teacher’s views. What would have happened if someone else had the power to decide whether this could be published or not?

Since the time of the Buddha, there has always been a space to analyse the nature of things based on one’s mental capacity and to test and critique truth about objects and phenomena. In the future too this space for debate must continue. Like the great scholars of the past who have handed down this tradition from one generation to the next, we must strive to continue and further improve upon this great tradition. It is simply wrong for a few people to have the power to decide whether someone’s writing can and cannot be published.

Let’s say that someone seeks your permission to publish something on centuries of Tibet’s history under Sakya, Phadru, Rinpung and Ganden Phodrang saying that this rule was harmful for both spiritual and secular traditions. Then wouldn’t you say that this is against Tibet’s unique tradition and hence cannot be published?

Thus, if writings undergo your ‘can’ and ‘cannot’ process then there is a real possibility that published materials will likely to be a heap of murky eulogies devoid of aesthetic value, essence and truth.
In this way if your authoritative hands stretch too long, then at your whim and fancy, you will most likely search our quarters and run through our bookshelves to sort out what books can be read and what must be confiscated or banned. If all our daily works end up inseparable from your commands, then what will happen to ‘us’? Where will be our private lives go?

Yes. We are monks. We clearly know the limits of our belief and in this regard we are no less than you. As a part of this institution, we know what rules to abide and what are our responsibilities. More importantly, we clearly know that amidst all these rules there is a space for individual freedom. The truth is that while doing public service, it is customary for you to have same powers. But if you take this power to mean that you can control our every action, then it is like a kid dreaming to trap a rainbow in his hands.

If you continue like this into the future, then there will come a time when you will invariably become ‘murderers of words’ and ‘thought police’ hammering down on our wisdom and creativity. If you reach such a state, you will most likely say in anger: ‘How is this? It’s impossible that we did this. We only wanted to ban bad writing.’ I want to state that any power that people cannot criticise is dictatorial. Such powers are like alcohol making everyone drunk for they cannot differentiate between good and bad.
Worse still is the fact that your power to limit distribution of newspapers in the monastery restricts others from checking on your powers. There has to be some powers to get public work done. But unlimited power and the inability to receive any criticism can lead to blurring of what can be done and what cannot be done.

I want to ask you this: if from now onwards you want to check whether any writing in our monastery can or cannot be published, then it goes without saying that you also have to look into the past published materials to see separate ‘good’ from ‘bad’. What are the criteria of a good writing and on what basis would you consider writing as bad? What else do you have other than ban or permit something to be published based on your personal likes and dislikes?

Frankly speaking, in your quest to check on others and to cleanse things, it seems that you have forgotten yourself. In fear of your threatening and thundering declaration, I have made a few mistakes in my writing here. What freedom do I have not to get scared when you are preparing to take the throne atop which you will decide what to publish and what not to publish?

It is a common knowledge that our monastery’s official correspondences are full of errors. This has become a norm form some time now. Since you [the board of directors of the education department] are supposed to be the best of the best, shouldn’t you worry a little over this matter?

Scholars and members of Kirti Monastery’s Education Department, if one says that your official correspondences are terribly bad, you would laugh and say, ‘Consider him our enemy!’ with great vanity. Didn’t the five mistakes in two lines give a new name to your grand-sounding department? Others remarked that when they see the standard of the official correspondence then others also must like that. This clearly indicates that your power to oversee what can or cannot be published in the monastery is nothing but a forced decree.

If you pass a resolution stating that anyone going to town must seek your permission and that failure to do so would face severe consequences, then senior monks are likely to raise a strong voice against it. Likewise if you put up a notice stating that anyone who wants to engage in business must seek prior permission from you and that failure to do so would be punished severely, then those with money and power will scold you again and again.

Unlike the above two cases, no senior monks or powerful people would raise their voice against the resolution that says no one should distribute any writing without your permission. Particularly, the majority of the monks – who would never have to pick up a pen to write – which is about 95% of monks have no feeling or thoughts against this rule. Stone-faced and unthinking, they would say ‘It is right. This is necessary.’

Right. Writing is the interest of a few monks in this monastery. It has become a life-partner of a few humble monks. There are those who engage in deeds that cross spiritual ethics and traditional values, but apart from occasional verbal warnings these people are left alone. However, a few who seriously engage in studies and persevere in writing are cut and operated by knife without mercy.

There has been a long tradition of dialectical study in our monastery. But the study on basic language and its structure has been poor. However, due to hard work and vision of teachers such as Drungchen Lodoe Choe, there has been a great improvement in this field and many monks became literate. Due to some unavoidable obstacles, this good development had stopped. Since then the young monks who could not read and write have increased year after year.

For the last few years, irrespective of the environment in the monastery, they have taken individual initiatives to learn the language, including going abroad to do so. Today there are numerous budding youth who are continuously learning and perfecting the Tibetan language.

Realising the importance of having literary platforms, many of them are trying to bring out magazines and newspapers to be distributed amongst their peers. For them such platforms are environments in which they can build up their dreams. Writing has become a stage to showcase their creative talents.

Thus, I am scared that this newly-issued regulation may become an agent that can crush the small field on which young monks’ dreams grow. The desire of the monks to express things and their wish to accomplish things must be considered as progress and hope for a good result. It is your responsibility to nurture these new shoots and not consider them as something dangerous. What can be more fearful, shameful and irresponsible than to look at them as something that is to be destroyed and maimed?
It is entirely possible that their writing contain various disorderly things such as unsuitable terms and out of place meanings. But the development of human mind and creativity must take place with such tortuous path. It is impossible to have someone who has perfect wisdom and knowledge right from the beginning.

Generally speaking, there is a view among the younger generation in monasteries today that are source of a little worry. For me personally, I am someone who is genuinely concerned about this. The issue concerning the younger generation to have an outlook towards life that is based on wisdom and value must be debated and then imparted and practiced. This can never be achieved by controlling their writing and cleansing the contents of newspapers. Imposition of forced rules and regulations always produce negative results. If you do not agree with me on this, we will watch it gradually unfold in the future.

This chaotic decade has become a turning point in the history of Tibetan Buddhism. Sadly, the monastic authorities all over Tibet have no inkling in how to face such change. There is a strong desire to hold onto their own images and lack courage to supplement knowledge from other sources. They have neither the desire learn new things nor any wisdom to identify good from bad. Their self-importance and selfishness are increasing and getting worse each year.

If you earnestly believe and hope that this monastery produces good writing, you must set aside your desire to check on everything and ban anything that fails to go through you. More importantly, you must learn and work hard to identity each monk’s talents and abilities to nurture them with Buddhist philosophy and other fields of learning. This has to be done not with fear and intimidation but with joy, freedom and individual initiative. Don’t you think that in this way they can produce good writing?

One way of looking at this new rule is that, perhaps, it has come about because you are scared of being criticised on your works. But why is there a need to be fearful about it? Even if someone writes baseless accusations, it only shows his shallowness. You can just laugh and forget about it. And if someone writes positive criticism then to accept them and to look at it with open mind which is how it is done by those in power in big nations or small institutions around the world.

Look far and wide. Any nation and organisation that fears criticism and opposes, arrest, use violence to silence opposition and even kill those who express dissents have become thorns in people’s eyes. This is despite their economic, military and other powers.

Hence, if you really have sincere motivation and good intention towards our monastery, it is useless to just utter ‘Ah! This is being spoken about. This is written about!’ instead you need to find ways to develop and improve monks way of thinking. This is most fundamental. If you investigate on how to inculcate development of truth within each mind based on Buddha’s Three Baskets – comprising the Sutras, the Vinaya, and the Abhidharma – and create environment in the monastery to maintain clean vows and learn things with freedom and democracy, then these are bound to become pillars of future victories.

On the contrary, if you let go of these important methods and instead try to find other ways to control with ulterior motives, then you will end up nowhere. You will be the laughing stock of the world but your actions will be tantamount to inviting defeat and loss.

Since the beginning of this year i.e. in about four months time, over sixty monks from our monastery have disrobed. Don’t you think that we should earnestly think and internally analyse these issues?

This is the first piece of writing that I am doing since I came back from Lhasa in 2008. This is not because I have nothing to write over things taking place in our monastery but because I have been overtly careful not to write due to your overwhelming might and power.

However, the long hands of this so-called Education Department have stretched everywhere making it difficult for us to live. Tears have fallen from my eyes and the unbearable pain in my heart has burst out without control.

There is heaviness in my heart because one of the members of this Education Department is my most respected spiritual teacher. Personally, my respect for him is unshakable. But I have to write this article for the greater common good.

The red wind from outside is so strong and its orders so strict that we have barely space to breathe in and breathe out. On top of this if one witnesses act such as this, the sadness is overwhelming.

Finally, the readers must check for themselves if there is any truth in my writing. If this stern order stating that ‘no newspaper and magazine can be published without our permission’ is a measure to prevent anyone from committing any mistakes then it is a matter of happiness. But if it ends up being a tool to crackdown on and punish any dissenting voice by branding them vulgar, ignorant and blasphemy then it is an order by force.

Unlike anonymous letters that create rumours, I have written this piece with integrity and openness. I have and will always take responsibility for my writing.

Written on June 4, 2013 in my quarters at Ngaba Kirti Monastery

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