THE LAST BLOG?

Well, maybe not.

But I do want to introduce myself, the author of all the www.rukor.org blogs, if only to say hello and goodbye.

When I started this blog a few years ago, it seemed to me that debate on Tibet was restricted to a narrow range of essential  issues: civil and political rights, religious freedom, hopes for negotiations with China, autonomy. To me, that left much, on which there was at best intermittent focus. Among the issues that seemed to need more sustained attention, analysis and then action were:

  • China’s development plans for Tibet, and their impacts on remote Tibetan communities;
  • environmental and social impacts of mineral extraction, industrial and urban growth in Tibet;
  • hydro dams and Tibetan rivers;
  • the new economy of protected areas designed to make money through carbon capture and ecotourism;
  • displacement of nomads from their pastures, settling them as fringe dwellers on the outskirts of towns in Tibet, dependent on state handout rations.

As an Australian, the nomad question had lots of resonances. White Australia made Aborigines live on missions and government settlements. The story was that this was for their own good. Aborigines, used to caring for country actively and energetically, called this “sit down money.” They were paid in flour, sugar, tea and tobacco to do nothing, or become servants of the white settlers. Sedentarised Aborigines developed the diseases of the sit down life: overweight, diabetes, dust diseases including ear infections and blindness. Even now, although Australia has at last largely learned to value and respect  Aboriginal understanding of how to care for country, the legacy of “sit down money” is hard to shake.

 

So the exclusion of Tibetan drogpa nomads from their pastoral production landscapes, in the name of modernity, progress, development, poverty alleviation, access to modern services, and carbon capture seemed familiar. It seemed like official China was  committed to making every mistake Australia had made, without noticing that, after 200 years of European settlement frequently ruining Australian lands, we have finally learned how to learn from the Aboriginal stewards and guardians of the bush, the wildlife and the arid landscapes, how we all can and must care for country.

That’s why, six years ago, I chose an obscure Tibetan word, rukor, to frame this blogspot. It literally means a circle of tents, an encampment in which several families get together, pooling herds and labour, making collective decisions by combining intimate landscape knowledge of several experienced pastoralists.

I chose rukor because it names something China has never understood: that on the grasslands, the risk management decisions essential to the sustainability of wildlife and rangelands, and to the livelihoods of the mobile nomads, are best made by a modest sized group who know the land intimately.

China, by comparison, has swung between extremes. In the revolutionary Maoist years, extreme communes were forcibly created, on far too big a scale, with the drogpa disempowered, herded like animals into barrack-style compounds where even cooking pots belonged to the commune. People got rations according to how much work they did. People starved.

By the late 1970s it was painfully obvious the communes had failed , except in one key metric: building up yak, sheep and goat herd size to unsustainable numbers. As the communes collapsed, China went to the opposite extreme, of making each individual family contractually responsible to the state to limit herding to allocated land, to fence it and build housing on it. This household responsibility system fragmented lands and families, fragmented the major risk management decisions that the rukor had done so skilfully, and reduced nomadic mobility, resulting inevitably in overgrazing, for which the nomads were then blamed. Between the extreme of large-scale communes and small-scale household contracts is the middle way of the rukor.

Six years and 160 long, hard-to-read blogs on, perhaps 350,000 words in all, what is the upshot?

That’s not really for me, the author, to judge. All I can say is that, while academics seldom read this blog, and give academic cred only to journal articles, Tibetans do read www.rukor.org, in a steadily increasing number, which says a lot about the confidence and curiosity of the new generation of young Tibetan professionals who  want to understand Tibet in greater depth, and are willing to persevere with my dense, difficult English. That, in turn, gives me great satisfaction.

 

But this is both hello and goodbye. I kept this blog anonymous so readers could focus on the issues raised, without distraction, and test for themselves whether the arguments put forward are founded in careful research, with links wherever possible to further, deeper data. The disadvantage of an anonymous blog, however, is that is discourages dialogue, as there seems to be no-one for readers to talk to. So it’s time to come out. Gabriel Lafitte is rukor.

But not for much longer. The doctors tell me I am almost certain to die soon, cancers are everywhere, despite my good fortune, as an Australian, to avail of operations, radiation, chemotherapy, the best of treatments, and in a country where treatment is free. Partly due to Rukor and your responses, I can die without regret.

That is actually why I decided to say hello, in the hope of finding, among the wonderful new generation of Tibetans, a few who might care to pick up what I shortly must leave. Whether www.rukor.org continues is not the point. What does matter is that we develop a capacity to do what rukor has tried to do: to be an early warning system for Tibetans in Tibet, alerting them as to China’s plans, tracking China’s policy announcements, not just their propaganda. We want to do what we can to help remote communities know in advance what China’s plans are, what the strengths and weaknesses of those policies and plans are, how they will impact.

That means focussing more closely on China than Tibetans usually do. When you do shift focus, you will be surprised to find how much information is out there, on official websites, in statistical yearbooks, in academic databases, in English and Chinese. Over the years I have collected at least 30,000 electronic publications relevant to Tibet, covering a wide range of topics, and donated the collection to young Tibetans in various countries, as a Tibet-focused database including entire books, chapters, dissertations, statistics, journal articles and official reports. If more copies of this database are needed, let me know and I will copy it to 32Gb memory stick and send it to you.

The hard part is shaping all that data, often not written with Tibetans in mind, into a shape that makes sense, and is useful from a Tibetan perspective.

Engaging with China, watching closely the many contradictions in China’s policy debates and political decisions, also means learning to write with Chinese readers in mind. The more I delve deeper and deeper into China’s elite debates, the more I find senior Beijing academics who quietly but firmly disagree with official policy, and say so at every opportunity. We need to not only use their research but to engage with them, build bridges, write in ways that pull no punches but could communicate, based on shared common ground.

I don’t read or speak Tibetan or Chinese, beyond a very small vocabulary of nouns. Yet I have somehow found ways of accessing information indepth, sometimes starting off with machine translation. I could explain more, if you want.

This year is for me the 40th since first meeting with Tibetans, starting (as journalists can) at the top, with an interview with Gyalwa Rinpoche in Bodhgaya in 1977. I asked him a whole bunch of dumb questions which he took seriously, thought about them for a while, and gave me such fresh answers I knew I needed to know more. I was hooked.

Over those 40 years I slowly learned how to become useful. I witnessed the Tibet movement grow and grow for 20 years, and then, over the past 20 years slowly dwindle, as many supporters grew disillusioned with an issue that never seemed to progress. Twenty years ago information gathering was much easier. British intelligence routinely intercepted and translated key Chinese broadcasts, including internal provincial broadcasts and BBC Monitoring published them. Likewise in the US the CIA did the same, published as World News Connection. Keeping close watch on China was easy.

Now there are no such central feeds, but hundreds of online sources to monitor. If you remain focused, a picture does emerge. The posts to rukor do show it is possible to grow a comprehensive picture of China’s policies, from multiple perspectives, enabling a detailed representation to emerge.

 

I may yet have time for a few more posts to rukor.org, but before long I must depart for the next life.  I feel strongly that Tibetans have given me as much as I have tried to give in return. I have learned how to live and how to die, now I must turn to practicing those good habits, so I am fully ready for dying, bardo and the next life. I have learned from great lama, also from not particularly religious Tibetans, close colleagues and friends over the years, who simply have a quiet, undramatic focus on what needs to be done, with little of the emotional roller coaster that afflicts us injis. I thank many Tibetans, who may never have thought of themselves as my teacher, yet I learned a lot just by hanging with them.

So now it is over to you, my readers, in the hope that this kind of assessment and analysis can continue. One Tibetan friend made the very practical suggestion that if we can find a dozen or 15 Tibetans, each of whom pledges to write a minimum of one blogpost a year, then we have enough to maintain the output of rukor (or whatever it may morph into). That way the burden on any individual researcher/writer is not too great. Good idea.

Over to you,

 

Gabriel Lafitte

editor@rukor.org                            glafitte1@gmail.com       +613407840333

btw: the artwork illuminating this blog is by the famous Taiwanese artist Chuang Che, who was inspired by the classic Chinese Buddhist concept of the 16 arhat/lohan/ bodhisattavas; this is his modern take on an old trope that has inspired so many artists over many centuries.

This entry was posted in Tibet. Bookmark the permalink.

28 Responses to THE LAST BLOG?

  1. Tom says:

    Thank you for everything you’ve written here over these 6 years.

  2. Rinzin Dorjee says:

    Dear Gabriel la,
    I personally thank you for all these decades of painstaking interest and professionalism of researching on Tibetan problem particularly on Tibetan environment and Drogpa which is the only thing left with Tibetans in Tibet. If you remember, we met in 2005 when TCHRD organised conference in Bangalore. You were wearing a cowboy hat. Again, when i come for my field research in 2012 in Dharmshala we met in office of environment desk. Later, since 2015 till now you are my mentor and a true friend at all weather. We whole heartedly appreciate your works and there is no way we can repay you for how much you have done to Tibetan people and especially to its environment which is the home of millions of beautiful animals Billions of people in South Asia are depending upon rivers on the Tibetan Plateau.
    We have all research data and literatures that you have shared to us. All your works on Tibetan environment and Drogpa will be used maximum by us and i am sure future Tibetan researchers will continue your research journey till justice is granted to environment and people of Tibet. May you live longer and i am sure you and works will be remembered by millions of people in this world with gratefulness and gratitude.
    Lastly, with folded hands, May you be reborn as kind and strong in everything as this life……

  3. Mollie says:

    Thank you for rukor and your quiet focus on ‘what needs to be done’ Gabriel.

  4. Inez Alfors says:

    Thank you for your pristine dedication and usefulness in making this research beneficial to Tibetans

  5. Tsering says:

    Thanks 🙏

  6. Rinchen phintsok says:

    Thank u so much

  7. Nima says:

    Dear Gabriel,
    Thank you so much for being a witness and for informing the world on what is happening in Tibet. You have collected and created a body of knowledge that will serve as important document of this very critical phase of tibetan history. Thank you for caring about Tibet and the Tibetans. Thank you for everything.
    May you navigate this part of your journey peacefully and successfully with many more years of writing.

  8. Loten says:

    Dear Gabriel la, yours passionate to write about Tibetan issue, particularly the Drokpas will be valuable. Please do keep writing and do spend a happy and stress-free life. It will be a source and will to live a longer life as well as it could be the disease-kicker.

  9. Leigh Miller says:

    Thank you, Gabriel, for your dedication and perseverance. It’s been many years since we met at IATS Bonn. We would be happy to add your digital collection to our library; if you wish to see it placed in our collection, please email me. May you be free from all worry, pain, fear, and doubt, and only rejoice in the many good deeds of yourself and others.
    Leigh Miller (Maitripa College)

  10. Ngawang Choedon says:

    Thank you for the insights about Tibet issues – covering various issues that we as a tibetan should focus and struggle on ! Prayers for ur recovery and we want u to stay ! Good human beings are needed for this messy world !

  11. Charlotte mathiassen says:

    I am so sorry to hear that you are ill and this may be the last thing you are writing. I read many of your writings when I was active in the Tibet movement and am still very concerned about Tibet it’s people And environment and all that has been close to your heart for so long

  12. Peter Brown says:

    Thanks for all that you’ve shared, these words hardly seem enough. I will truly miss the posts. Sorry I haven’t been able to help in some way. You have left a legacy, more than most of us have done. You and your work will be missed. God bless.

  13. John Isom says:

    PRELUDE

    INVOCATION TO DSILYI N’EYANI

    Reared Within the Mountains!
    Lord of the Mountains!
    Young Man!
    Chieftain!
    I have made your sacrifice.
    I have prepared a smoke for you.
    My feet restore thou for me.
    My legs restore thou for me.
    My body restore thou for me.
    My mind restore thou for me.
    My voice restore thou for me.
    Restore all for me in beauty.
    Make beautiful all that is before me.
    Make beautiful all that is behind me.
    It is done in beauty.
    It is done in beauty.
    It is done in beauty.
    It is done in beauty.
    p. 69

    FIRST SONG OF THE THUNDER

    Thonah! Thonah!
    There is a voice above,
    The voice of the thunder.
    Within the dark cloud,
    Again and again it sounds,
    Thonah! Thonah!
    Thonah! Thonah!
    There is a voice below,
    The voice of the grasshopper.
    Among the plants,
    Again and again it sounds,
    Thonah! Thonah!
    II

    TWELFTH SONG OF THE THUNDER

    The voice that beautifies the land!
    The voice above,
    The voice of the thunder
    Within the dark cloud
    Again and again it sounds,
    The voice that beautifies the land!
    The voice that beautifies the land!
    The voice below;
    The voice of the grasshopper
    Among the plants
    Again and again it sounds,
    The voice that beautifies the land!
    III

    FIRST SONG OF THE EXPLODING STICK

    Young Woman Who Becomes a Bear set fire in the mountains
    p. 70

    In many places; as she journeyed on
    There was a line of burning mountains.
    The Otter set fire in the waters.
    In many places; as he journeyed on
    There was a line of burning waters.
    IV

    LAST SONG OF THE EXPLODING STICK

    Maid Who Becomes a Bear sought the gods and found them;
    On the high mountain peaks she sought the gods and found them;
    Truly with my sacrifice she sought the gods and found them.
    Somebody doubts it, so I have heard.
    V

    FIRST DAYLIGHT SONG

    The curtain of daybreak is hanging,
    The Daylight Boy (it is hanging),
    From the land of day it is hanging;
    Before him, as it dawns, it is hanging;
    Behind him, as it dawns, it is hanging.
    Before him, in beauty, it is hanging;
    Behind him, in beauty, it is hanging;
    From his voice, in beauty, it is hanging.
    VI

    LAST DAYLIGHT SONG

    Lullaby, lullaby.
    It is daybreak. Lullaby.
    Now comes the Daylight Boy. Lullaby.
    p. 71

    Now it is day. Lullaby.
    Now comes the Daylight Girl. Lullaby./
    VII

    SONG OF THE PROPHET

    That flowing water! That flowing water!
    My mind wanders across it.
    That broad water! That flowing water!
    My mind wanders across it.
    That old age water! That flowing water!
    My mind wanders across it.
    VIII

    SONG OF THE RISING SUN DANCE

    Where the sun rises
    The Holy Young Man
    The great plumed arrow
    Has swallowed
    And withdrawn it.
    The sun
    Is satisfied.
    Where the sun sets,
    The Holy Young Woman
    The cliff rose arrow
    Has swallowed
    And withdrawn it.
    The moon
    Is satisfied.
    p. 72

    IX

    LAST WORDS OF THE PROPHET

    Farewell, my younger brother!
    From the holy places the gods come for me.
    You will never see me again; but when the showers pass and
    the thunders peal,
    “There,” you will say, “is the voice of my elder brother.”
    And when the harvest comes, of the beautiful birds and
    grasshoppers you will say,
    “There is the ordering of my elder brother!”

  14. Sonam Paljor says:

    G’day! Gabriel la,
    I am very sad to hear of your health news. But I am equally happy that, like a true yogi, you are ready to embark on your next journey and leave your current “inji” body. May you come back a Tibetan or Aussie! Typical of you that you are ready for your next life. You have inspired an entire generation of us to look to the future with a silent confidence. You taught us how to arm ourselves with evidence and seperate facts from hearsay. You showed how with dedication and skill truth can be retrieved and preserved even from seeming hopeless situations for the world to cherish and prosper. Above all, you have inspired us by your humility and courage to spent most of your life where your mouth is: by working and living selflessly amongst people whom you say you cared for and standing up for truth. I am and will stay indebted to you for many things you taught me in person and for your selfless work for my country. Thukje-che!! May you get well soon! , Sydney Australia

  15. Nancy Patton says:

    Thank you, with my whole heart, for introducing me to Buddhism via a five minute reading on ABC radio about the Four Noble Truths some 25 years ago. It changed my life.

  16. Nigel Hungerford says:

    You have been an inspiration to many , Tibetans and non -tibetans. There will be a huge gap to fill in the publication and dissemination of essential information about Tibet that no academics seem able to fill , either because they are just interested in their academic studies or don’t want to offend Chinese sensibilities.

  17. Jigme says:

    Thanking you and we greatful for your contributions to Tibetan environments and its habitants.

  18. Ross Moore says:

    Dear Gabriel,

    I had no idea you were so ill. If there is anything I can do to assist you please let know.

    Am one year out from a stem cell transplant for bone marrow cancer so have some experience of the cancer journey.

    Shall dedicate for you to achieve a wonderful rebirth. And to meet your Holy Gurus again so that all your Dharma wishes may be fulfilled.

    Your Dharma friend,

    Ross Moore (Melbourne).

  19. Alison Ribush says:

    Dear Gabriel – where to start? Your immense knowledge, experience and dedication has inspired countless Tibetans and westerners over 40 years. It has been a privilege to know you and work with you, and your work will live on for generations. I am sure you will go on fearlessly and selflessly and continue to inspire. Thank you for everything. With love and prayers.

  20. Marie Pienne says:

    Thank You today and always for your kindness..
    May you travel well when the time comes through the bardo realms, many will guide you on that journey.
    With metta,
    Marie

  21. Yangkey says:

    Dear Gabriel, I have no words to thank you for all these years of your support towards our cause particularly Tibet’s environment. Your profound interest, in depth research and analysis on the importance and impact of Tibet’s fragile environment. You are the undisputed “King” of Tibet’s environment. And, I trust “rukor” will be continued and treasured as your precious gift to us.

    I am deeply saddened by the fact of your health issues. But I must salute you and your enlightened spirit, your positive attitude and your profound understanding of the law of Karma. You are a true Buddhist. So, just prepare to take rebirth and this time into a Tibetan, to continue your legacy. A young beautiful Gabriel la is what I long to see. We all love you and respect you very much. Love & hugs.

  22. Tenzin Lobsang Khangsar says:

    Dear Garbriel,

    Thank you for your kind contribution towards Tibet and Tibetan people for long period of time. We will never forgot your kindness and gratitude. I hope to see you in Melbourne soon.

  23. Pingback: Political Will & The "Regulatory Windstorm"; Poverty, Politics, Rockets in Shanxi; Ping Pong-Sinocism 06.25.17 | Sinocism China Newsletter

  24. Sonam Dugdak says:

    Thank you so much and very moving piece. So sorry to hear you have to leave this life, but we will pray your work and dedication for Tibet is never forgotten and live on.

  25. Wen Gu says:

    Thank you for your impressive work. I’ve just got to know your blog and will continue to read previous posts.

  26. Robyn Graham says:

    Thank you for being a true warrior for Tibet. You have made a tremendous impact in informing both Tibetans and the rest of the world about the real state of the Tibetan environment. You have inspired many to take action and that will live on as your legacy. It was an honour to meet you in Dharamsala. I pray for you to attain a very favourable rebirth.

  27. Wendy C says:

    Gabriel, it is bittersweet to read this post. I remember our first meeting that night in someone’s living room around 1989. Thank you for your incredible devotion to Tibet and the Tibetan people and all you have done in service to them. And also I want to say, your attitude towards your impending death is amazing and beautiful. Very inspiring to me, my life and practice. May you transition into the bardo with great peace and clarity in your heart and mind so that you find a perfect next rebirth to continue your work and practice. All my love and gratitude to you. xoxoxo

  28. Tendor says:

    Gabriel la has spent the last 40 years working for the Tibetan people, most importantly as a scholar and researcher who produces invaluable information about Tibet’s fragile ecology, its importance to the planet, and the threats it is facing. With his meticulous research and writing, unwavering dedication to the cause, boundless compassion for Tibet’s nomads, and relentless courage in facing the certainty of his own death from cancer, Gabriel has given numerous talks and written scores of articles to bring the world’s attention to this urgent issue through his phenomenal blog Rukor. Thanks to his priceless work, we have a firmer grasp of what is happening on the third pole. Thanks to his ringing the alarm bells, we learn of how China is on the verge of turning a vast swathe of the plateau into a No Man’s Land by expelling the nomads. Thanks to him we know that the nomad is not only the steward but the linchpin of Tibet’s ecosystem. In my heart I hope and pray this is not his last blog post, but the first of many that he will write as Gabriel Lafitte instead of as Rukor.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *