Tibet’s Socrates?

I would like to compare Chairman Karma Chophel’s “drunken behavior” with that of Socrates, the legendary Greek Philosopher, born circa 2,300 years ago. The reason behind this comparison is that when Samdhong Rinpoche resigned from the post of Chairman of Tibetan Assembly, he said that he could not fulfill the many responsibilities which were justifiably thrust upon his shoulders. He issued a long statement of what he called “apology” to the Tibetan people. Samdhong Rinpoche even tried to compare his statement of apology with that of Socrates, which the latter issued in a trial court. Moreover, Rinpoche said, “there are a lot of similarities between Socrates and me … Socrates’ statement of apology has now become a famous philosophy. If my statement of apology gets registered into history books, then the future generation will surely learn from it and appreciate it.”

Be that as it may, there are a lot of differences between the two statements of apologies. Furthermore, it is crystal clear that the distance between the deeds of these two figures (Socrates and Samdhong) is as far as that between the earth and sky. For me, more than Samdhong Rinpoche’s, it would be fair to compare Chairman Karma Chophel’s deeds with those of Socrates. For instance, Socrates was accused of opposing the views of God, whereas Karma Chophel was denounced for his proposal to review His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s Middle-Way Approach. Socrates was accused of propagating a new religion and Karma Chophel for his persistent attempts to popularize the idea of Tibetan independence. Socrates was verbally abused and manhandled for what they called “polluting the mind of the youth” and giving a new direction to the masses, while Karma Chophel was subjected to a mob attack for “working against the wishes of His Holiness the Dalai Lama”. Like Socrates, Karma Choephel’s love for liquor became a major issue on which his opponents targeted him. Fortunately for Karma Chophel, he is free from one accusation. Unlike Socrates, who was ridiculed for his attempts to take another wife, the Chairman of Tibetan Assembly is not denounced for philandering and womanizing. Therefore, I would like to stress here once again that I find a lot of similarities between Karma Chophel and Socrates; and not between Socrates and Samdhong Rinpoche, as the Tibetan Prime Minister seems to be claiming.

Let me cite another example here. There is only one person in history that was denounced in the name of democracy. That person was none other than Socrates. Socrates was removed from the corridors of power, because he fought against the corruption of Church and politicians. Conversely, Samdhong Rinpoche, despite being in monk’s robes, forces his way into corridors of power. Socrates had the habit of bringing up an issue on which he sought the opinion of others. Samdhong Rinpoche, on the other hand, had this to say in his statement of apology, “In me, I don’t have the capacity and culture to work through cooperation and consensus”.

Again in his statement of apology, Socrates said, “We are walking on two different paths. While you walk the path of life, I walk that of death. Of these two, no one knows which one is the better.” Thus, the legendary Greek Philosopher never returned once he walked the path of his own choosing. Drawing on this, Samdhong Rinpoche, brimming with so much pride and confidence, once said, “You will go up and walk the path of [political] power. I will go down and walk the path of a common man. Of these two, it is difficult for anyone to say which one is the better path”. Despite such rhetoric, Samdhong Rinpoche never went down the path of common man, as he soon descended upon the roof of Gangchen Kyishong, the power centre of exile Tibetan world. Thus it would not be too preposterous to say that Socrates and Samdhong Rinpoche are as different as chalk and cheese. Samdhong Rinpoche was even compelled to acknowledge this discrepancy on moral grounds, when he confessed, “Comparing Socrates with me is akin to comparing sun with fireflies.”

The essence of my article is that we should not be mired in issues that compare a person with Socrates. What matters is that in future we have to make sure that no one suffers in the name of democracy like Socrates once did. Recently, as soon as the issue came up that Chairman Karma Chophel was deported due to his drunken behavior, there were all kinds of people shouting at the top of their voices in the streets of exile dwellings, “That fake Chairman should be forced to resign; he deserves a good whipping on his buttocks; he should be dragged to the court.” But now when the unbelievable description came out, those who accused Karma Chophel of wrongdoing without any careful examination, I am sure, are running with tails between their legs. When the truth of Karma Chophel’s deportation reached Dharamshala, this thought came across my mind, “the public became intoxicated long before the Chairman gulped a few glasses of whisky down his throat.”

It would be a matter of great joy if the public would now stop character-assassination campaigns, and instead turn its attention towards the real issue. As far as I am concerned, I can never tolerate the actions of [German] airport authorities who, despite knowing the fact that Chairman Karma Chophel represents a great country like Tibet, deported him to India on such absurd grounds as not producing some irrelevant documents. And to add insult to injury, the Chairman was even fined with a few hundred Euros. The German government had simply sent a letter of apology to the person of Karma Chophel, and not to the Tibetan people and our country Tibet. We have every right to create an issue out of it, because in a democracy, the Chairman of the parliament represents his country and people. The tiny, one-page letter of apology, which the German interior ministry had sent through a minor official of its New Delhi embassy, was addressed to the person of Karma Chophel and not the Tibetan people and its country Tibet.

If the Chairman of German Parliament or the German Chancellor does not issue a satisfying letter of apology to my country, my people and my Chairman, then I will set aside my efforts to compare Socrates with Samdhong Rinpoche and Karma Chophel, and instead, will write a long article that exposes the symmetries between the present German and PRC governments and the earlier Nazi regime under Hitler. In our society, there are so many people who go out of their way to write articles, initiate signature campaigns, and even pass resolutions denouncing people, all under the sway of some hearsay and rumors. Now if they have the same courage and time that helped them initiate the above activities, they should then join together to start a campaign against the injustice of German government. We might achieve a huge victory. If not, then we should at least be able to regain the money that was forced out of the hands of Chairman Karma Chophel. Initiating such campaigns will not strike fear and embarrassment in us, as it is akin to standing firmly behind the truth and not wandering in ghost-inspiring darkness.

Translated from Tibetan by Tenzin Nyinjey

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