What should we call the Dalai Lama? It might seem like a silly enough question… but if you look deeper, there lies a more substantial issue of basic respect and mutual understanding. On Davidpeng’s blog (in an article linking to one of our entries)… an interesting discussion has developed (原贴) on that exact topic.
One commenter (Flatfish, a frequent Tibetan visitor) reacted to part of the original discussion when the term “the Dalai” was used:
In reference to the proper name for the Dalai Lama, let me talk about a few related things that have touched me deeply.
After the end of the Second World War, a court sentenced Mr. Hideki Tojo to death by hanging. Mr. Tojo immediately stood, and with perfect manners bowed deeply to the judges; he didn’t say another word. When the Tibetan uprising (in 1959) expanded, quite a few Tibetans were executed. Before they were shot, they politely said “T’oo-Je-Che” (Tibetan term of thanks). Later, when the families of the executed were charged expenses of 200-500 RMB, they again said “T’oo-Je-Che”, and nothing else.
For the Dalai Lama, the respectful way of referring to him in English is: His Holiness the Dalai Lama. In Tibetan, the respectful way of referring to him is Jiawa Renbuqie (嘉瓦仁布切，Gyalwa Rinpoche), Kundun (昆顿), or Yixi Loubu (益西罗布, Yeshe Norbu). Tibetans would never use the name Dalai Lama, because that’s actually equivalent to a title, and not a name.
My point is, if any group or government investigates and finds the Dalai Lama guilty of a crime, then all of these details could be revealed to the public, and they could proceed to trial and conviction. And if anyone, including Han, have doubts or criticisms of him, that’s also not a problem. And for those who are not Buddhists and not Tibetan Buddhists don’t necessarily have to refer to him by his courtesy title. But all should respect basic human rights, and do not casually shorten the title Dalai Lama to just “the Dalai”.
Please remember: calling the Dalai Lama the Dalai Lama is his most basic name, and not a respected title.
Sigh. The Han used to be the nation of etiquette, and perhaps that is how it used to be in ancient times. But in modern China, look what’s happened. Now, I have to patiently teach basic courtesy as if I’m speaking to an ignorant child. Sigh. Using this blog, I’m very angrily explaining this to the Han here. I hope these Han will respect themselves, and do not act in a demeaning way!
Although I am not a Tibetan Buddhist, but any group of people that refer to the Dalai Lama as “the Dalai”, I will never join their ranks. Any country that refers to the Dalai Lama as “the Dalai”, I will never enter it.
In addition, Communist China has declared the Dalai Lama to be the people’s enemy, and “Dalai” has become Communist terminology, a derogatory label for the Dalai Lama. This insult causes extreme hostility from Tibetans. The label of “the Dalai” didn’t exist before this, and now only mainland Han use this it, all because of the Communist Party. This immediately stokes flames of fury in Tibetans. I’ve also exchanged fire with numerous Han on this issue. When I think about the simple title of Dalai, it immediately leads to thoughts of the Communist Party colonizing Tibet, making Tibet the way it is today, it’s hard to hold back my temper.
Obviously, Flatfish became very emotional on this issue. If you read through his other comments in previous entries, you would see that he’s a China-raised Tibetan now overseas, who has written insightfully about Tibetan and Han relations. Although his political leanings are obvious from some of his criticisms, he has also tried to put this aside in the spirit of communication and explanation. He’s also not religious, he’s shown himself to be open-minded, and does not see the Dalai Lama in a religious way. He rarely loses his temper.
Why is this such an issue? How should we respond to an order barked like this? For that matter, how would a Tibetan respond to a barked order about how they should see China, or refer to the Chinese, or refer to the Han? In most Internet discussions, this is the point where communication breaks down. This is the point where we call each other names, and repeat stereotypes we’ve seen or heard, and bring up old debts that have never been repaid.
On Davidpeng’s blog, the conversation fortunately didn’t go in that direction. Instead, the other Chinese posters patiently asked for an explanation, while pointing out no insult was intended. Davidpeng also pointed out that at least one recent Xinhua statement does use the title “Dalai Lama” in full.
Flatfish fortunately was able to put down his temper, and respond with more details:
The meaning of Jiawa is “respected one”, similar to the Hanyu word Xiansheng (Mister). In the Tibetan language environment, this is reserved to very influential, very cultivated monks. Renbuqie is Sanskrit, and means “pearl”. Because of both the value system and emotional leanings, many Tibetans feel extreme affection for their spiritual leader, and that’s why the term “pearl” is used.
The meaning of Kunlun is equivalent to “Your Majesty”. Yixi Loubu also has the meaning of “pearl”. All three of these terms in Tibetan are reserved exclusively for referring to the Dalai Lama.
If non-believers and non-Tibetans were to call him Jiawa Renbuqie, that’s similar to calling him Mister, and I believe it’s very appropriate. If a Tibetan heard the title, it would lead the impression that the speaker is very civilized, well educated.
Tibetans don’t call him directly by the title of Dalai Lama, because this is his title, a formal way of referring to him. For Tibetans to refer to him this way, it feels too distant. Secondly, it’s equivalent to calling him by his direct name, which to Tibetans, is impolite.
So when Tibetans here him referred to as the Dalai Lama, Tibetans are already unhappy. If this is shortened to “Dalai”, then no Tibetan will appreciate it.
From this explanation, the conversation again returned to a very interesting, and productive path, about the future of Beijing/TGIE negotiations.
Is there a lesson here ? I have a few thoughts. First, it’s remarkable how important respect is. At the end of the day, we’re all emotional creatures. When we perceive insult and offense, our animal instincts often take over. These instincts make even the *discussion* of a compromise basically impossible. Regardless of how we feel about the Dalai Lama and the political situation in Tibet, if as Chinese we truly respect the goal of a multi-ethnic China, then we must offer basic respect to all of the people who make up this multi-ethnic China. If our purpose goes beyond throwing out insults, if our purpose is to forward discussion between communities with a deep divide, then we have to start simply.
We have to start with respect. At the very least, the Chinese government should stop referring to him as “the Dalai”. It serves no real purpose, but will immediately lead to anger amongst many of the Tibetans in China. Although I am not sure I can trust the Dalai Lama politically, I have no animosity towards him. And on this blog at least, while I’m not going to set any rules for anyone else, I will always be careful to refer to him in full as “the Dalai Lama”. (And if it wasn’t too awkward or obscure… I’d even refer to him as Jiawa Renbuqie.)
I hope Flatfish (and he probably has/will post on this blog) and everyone else will also return the favor. We are all human, with animal instincts. We all respond emotionally to simple statements, simple labels, because they often suggest so much more. My temperature goes up a few degrees when I see the word “genocide” used in relation to Tibet, for example.
For anyone that is interested in constructive discussion, then let’s behave in a civilized way, let’s respect ourselves and each other. If an earlier article was about not indulging our race complex, then let this article be a reminder to stop provoking the race complex of others.