Dr. Lobsang Sangay was sworn into office Monday, 8th August as the new Kalon Tripa, or political leader, of the Central Tibetan Administration. The ceremony took place amid thousands of spectators at the main temple in the Himalayan town of McLeod Ganj.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Dr. Lobsang Sangay, and outgoing Kalon Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche all addressed the audience at the ceremony, which started at 8:30 on Monday.
Sangay, a 43-year old Harvard scholar, took the oath of office at exactly 9:09:09, as the number nine is associated with longevity in Tibetan tradition.
Born in exile in Darjeeling, India, Sangay attended Delhi University and went on to study law in the United States at Harvard University. After earning his doctorate, Sangay took a teaching fellowship in the East Asian Legal Studies Program at Harvard.
Sangay has spent his whole life outside of Tibet. Despite this, he said, “Tibet is in my heart each and every day.”
Sangay’s assumption of this responsibility is especially significant because he is the first leader to take charge of the government since His Holiness the Dalai Lama announced the renunciation of his political power earlier this year.
His Holiness stepped down of his own choice, motivated by the belief that the Tibetan Administration should be ruled democratically. He believed that an elected leader, rather than a spiritual figure, should serve as the head of the government.
In his address to the audience, His Holiness the Dalai Lama said, “Today is the most important day in the last 2,000 years.”
His Holiness spoke about the need for Tibet to keep up with the times, saying that many things have changed in the world during the last century.
“During my time as leader, we have changed and become completely and fully democratic. We’ve done this even in our situation as refugees.”
The Kalon Tripa has historically been the second-highest post in the Tibetan government with the Dalai Lama being the highest. His Holiness said, “Today we have successfully elected a political leader who we call ‘Sikyongwa’ (the top leader in the government). We should be proud and happy.”
His Holiness expressed confidence that Sangay, who is highly-educated, will conduct his responsibilities well within the Tibetan Parliament, the Tibetan Administration and in working with Tibetan non-governmental organizations.
He also urged the Tibetan people to “believe that the community is more important than the individual.”
His Holiness, now 76 years old, became the head of the Tibetan government at age 16. After 60 years, he hands over all of his political responsibilities, which he said has been his dream for a long time.
Outgoing Kalon Tripa Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche said that the step towards democracy would be “an example not only to people under occupation but also to others around the world.”
Prof. Samdhong Rinpoche spoke highly of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s efforts to introduce democratic institutions to the Tibetan people, efforts that he undertook from a young age. Among these were the introduction of the Charter for the Tibetans-in-Exile and processes by which the people could elect political leaders directly.
Sangay said that he was in this position not because of his own achievements, but because of sacrifices and hard work made by the elder generations of Tibetans both inside and outside of Tibet.
He emphasized that “the devolution of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s political power is not at all solely to me as the Kalon Tripa, but to all Tibetans.”
He also spoke about the importance of showing the world that the Tibetan people are committed to democratic principles and a secular government.
Sending a message to China
Sangay said that this election should show the hardliners in the Chinese government that “Tibetan leadership is far from fizzling out-we are a democracy that will only grow stronger in years ahead. And we are here to stay.”
“Tibetans have become second class citizens in their own homeland,” Sangay said, speaking about the exploitation of both resources and culture that has occurred in Tibet as a result of Chinese rule.
“After sixty years of misrule, Tibet is no Socialist Paradise that Chinese officials promised…today, it is a tragedy because of the Chinese occupation,” he said.
Despite the tragedy, though, Sangay said that Tibetans want to send to China and to the world the message of the Tibetan people’s firm commitment to non-violence and their willingness for dialogue with China. He emphasized his support for the Middle-Way approach, a policy that seeks true autonomy for the Tibetan people under Chinese rule.
Sangay also said that if the Chinese government resolves the Tibet issue in a lasting way, then China will secure a much more positive image in the eyes of the world.
“A lasting solution to the situation in Tibet will be one of the most defining stories of the 21st century, for it will reaffirm faith in humanity’s capacity to build peace, non-violence and universal freedom,” he said.
Speaking about his own experience with Chinese-Tibetan dialogue, Sangay said said that Chinese people in China and beyond have a responsibility to help the Chinese government deal with Tibet in a positive and peaceful way. At Harvard, Sangay has organized conferences between Chinese and Tibetan scholars and has personally reached out to hundreds of Chinese students in efforts to promote trust and understanding.
“With unity, innovation, and self-reliance as the guiding principles of six million Tibetans, victory will be ours,” Sangay said.
Sangay plans to make education his first priority. He also plans to, through technology, professionalize the Tibetan Administration. Among other initiatives, the administration will establish sister settlements between Tibetans in India and the West, introduce a Tibet Policy Institute to envision and execute policy on Tibet, and introduce the Tibet Corps, an organization that will strive to use the skills of Tibetans in Tibet and worldwide for the Tibetan cause.
It will not be an easy road ahead, according to Sangay. He urged the younger generation of Tibetans to put their support and energy behind the Tibetan cause. Depending on their commitment to their cause, Tibetans “will be alive or become a museum piece,” he said. “It is a time for confidence in the belief that we are Tibetans and we can do it.”
He spoke with conviction that one day the Tibetan people and His Holiness the Dalai Lama will be able to return to Tibet. “We are always ready to embark on this epic journey from Dharamsala, the abode of Dharma, to Lhasa, the abode of Gods.”