Thank you all very much, again my apologies too for being late here, and I guess maybe it just only fits everything I’ve had to fight to get here that it would be late and difficult and I’d also have a throat difficulty as well. It’s been hard but it’s gotten done. I’m here, and I’m delighted to be with you. And I’m here to talk about freedom. That’s the basic message that I want to deliver to you and, we’re gonna visit about it for a little bit. Dr. Sangay, wonderful statement, great leadership that you and your cabinet are providing here to the Tibetan people. Beautiful Institute that’s opening up here. I would love to see all the performers taking place, I’m not gonna be able to stick around for that, but I would love to see it. I’ve seen some of the Tibetan culture performances before and they’re inspiring. It’s a great honor to join you. It was a great honor to be with His Holiness the Dalai Lama, earlier today. We share a belief in the importance of living together with love, with compassion, justice, forgiveness, respect, and peace.
As His Holiness has said in years past, intolerance leads only to hatred and division. He has spoken of the need for worldwide education and unity to overcome such intolerance. This is true for people and governments alike. Vice President Pence at our second Ministerial said this, “In the United States, our Declaration of Independence proclaims that our precious liberties are not the gift of government, but rather they are the unalienable rights endowed by our Creator. Americans believe that people should live by the dictates of their conscience, not by the dictates of government.”
One part of that effort is and must be the protection of religious freedom for all people, everywhere, all the time. It’s a right governments must protect if their people are to prosper. Governments are not religious institutions, but they are expected to protect the rights of individuals to practice their beliefs, a right without which people cannot thrive.
And I am here today to celebrate with you the distinct identity of Tibetans, including the spiritual foundation that derives from Tibetan Buddhism, and the rich artistic life that continues to grow and thrive in Dharamsala and elsewhere.
The United States across successive administrations has had a profound and abiding interest in the welfare of the Tibetan people and the struggles they continue to face. This is, in part, because of our deep respect for the Tibetan language, religion and culture within the cultural heritage of all of humanity. Tibetan culture is a treasure of humanity and the threats it faces are an affront to the civilized world.
We’re also motivated by the strong bonds between the peoples of the United States and Tibet – bonds of affinity and mutual admiration, grounded in our shared respect of values, of compassion, inclusiveness and the rule of law. Even this morning the Dalai Lama was saying again about the story of the gift of his pocket watch that he was given by President Roosevelt sent when he was a boy, to the tens of thousands of Americans who visit
Dharamsala on a regular basis and Bodh Gaya to study Buddhism under Tibetan lamas, the ties between Americans and Tibetans grow ever closer each year.
Now I can think of no better example of this affinity than in the person of the American Nicholas Vreeland, Rato Khen Rinpoche, who serves as the abbot of Tibet’s Rato Dratsang Monastery in India. Tibet has embraced an American as one of your own, just as we embrace you.
We also stand in solidarity with Tibet because we have learned from painful experience that where injustice is allowed to exist unchecked, oppression inevitably spreads and new abuses are perpetrated. We stand with the Tibetan people because their aspirations are just and the price of doing nothing – the price to the future of Tibetans, the price to our own national conscience, and the price to the world’s communities of faith – is too great to contemplate.
I would urge the faith communities of Asia to heed this message. Where the practice of one religion can be restricted and abused so too can and will others. When the most deeply held tenets of faith are subjected to political scrutiny and control in one place, they are not safe anywhere.
I call on the Buddhist communities of Vietnam and Sri Lanka, of Mongolia and Thailand to understand what is happening to their Tibetan brothers and sisters. I call too on the Christians and Muslim communities of Asia to bear witness to the struggle of their Tibetan brothers and sisters and to fulfill the calls inherent in their creeds to confront injustices.
Yet history has always shown that repression by governments cannot stifle the spiritual aspirations of people. The Jewish diaspora shaped the course of human experience despite enduring millennia of exiles and horrific persecutions during the Holocaust. The Catholic Church led the way in resisting communist oppression in Poland.
And there is no greater symbol of that greatness of spirit than His Holiness the Dalai Lama, whose determination to lead his people on their chosen spiritual path in the face of great adversity has been an inspiration to the world.
As I consider the future of the Tibetan people, I could imagine no better leader to plot the course for future generations of Tibetans than the Dalai Lama. He has shouldered enormous responsibilities over the past sixty years, and I know he will continue to do so with wisdom and grace.
His Holiness often comments that he is a child of India. I think it is fitting to acknowledge here India’s tremendous support for the Tibetan people over the past sixty years – this support has been the single most important contribution to the survival of Tibet’s culture and religious heritage.
As you, the Tibetan community, stated during the commemorations of the 60th year of exile last year, India quote, “saved the soul of the roof of the world.” The United States commends India’s contributions to safeguarding the freedom of the Tibetan people. From providing His Holiness with safe refuge at a time of great political, geopolitical uncertainty, to the gifts of land and generous public benefits that the Tibetan people have enjoyed here in Dharamsala and beyond, India’s generosity will also be remembered as a gift to the world.
The language, literature, and visual and performing arts of Tibet are unique. Now kingdoms come and go, but cultures should be protected — unfettered and unsuppressed by governments or parties – so that individuals are free to express themselves, to challenge the status quo, to dissent, to cry out in anger, or in love, to an expressions of faith. Tragically, those freedoms do not exist in Lhasa or other parts of the Tibetan plateau, which makes this Institute all the more necessary and important.
The artistic and cultural legacy of Tibetans has its roots in ancient times and a recorded history dating back more than two thousand years. Tibetans’ links to their own history were violated in 1959, and also during the Cultural Revolution. Battered by the mass violence that Chinese revolutionary nationalists inflicted on the people, culture, and religion of Tibet, just like they did in other parts of China, unfortunately. Attempts to revise, restrict and erase the unique artistic and cultural heritage of the Tibetans unfortunately continues today. But this heritage will not be destroyed. It lives on today, in defiance, a beacon to the world as it has been for centuries.
Tragically, abuses against the people of Tibet, as well as against other religious and ethnic minorities, continue in your homeland. The U.S. State Department country reports on human rights and religious freedom have consistently highlighted “severe repression of Tibetan’s religious, cultural, and linguistic heritage by, among other means, strictly curtailing the civil rights of Chinese ethnic Tibetan population, including the freedoms of speech, religion, association, assembly, and movement.”
As a representative of the international community, the United States is deeply concerned about the CCP’s escalating, widespread, and undue restrictions on religious freedom. We call on the Chinese government to respect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all individuals, everywhere, all the time. Many members of religious groups in China – including ethnic Uighurs, Kazakhs and other Muslims, Tibetan Buddhists, Catholics, Protestants, and Falun Gong – face severe repression and discrimination because of their religious beliefs. And we’re deeply concerned over attempts to exert Chinese Communist Party influence in monasteries where banning Tibetan children from participating in religious activities exist.
Beijing has long interfered in the succession process for spiritual leaders in Tibet, most egregiously when in 1995 the Chinese government abducted the 11th Panchen Lama, when he was six years old, along with his parents.
We call on the PRC government to release immediately the Tibetan-recognized Panchen Lama, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima, or share the truth about his fate with the world.
We stand with the people of Tibet as they seek to preserve their time-honored traditions, including their right to venerate religious leaders of their choosing.
Earlier this month, at the Third Special General Meeting in Dharamsala, Tibetans from far and wide underscored the right of the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan leaders to identify and recognize a successor to His Holiness, and rejected efforts by Chinese authorities to interfere in that process. Let me be clear: the United States shares that view. We believe that Tibetans, like all faith communities, must be able to practice their faith freely and select their leaders without interference.
The international community must work together now to make clear we stand unequivocally with the people of Tibet.
Tibetan Buddhists and all other faith communities should be able to select, educate, and venerate their religious leaders without government interference. Efforts to subvert this selection affect not just Tibetans, but the global Buddhist community. Decisions regarding the selection of Tibetan Buddhist leaders rest with the Dalai Lama, Tibetan Buddhist leaders, and the people of Tibet. Period. That’s where it rests.
Like any other people, Tibetans have an unalienable right to be stewards of their unique culture, religious, and linguistic heritage. You have a right to do, to do so without interference, and you have a right to do so in peace and dignity. I urge others to join the United States in speaking out when abuses occur and encouraging the PRC government to live up to its international obligations to respect Tibetans’ distinct culture, identity, and fundamental human rights.
The United States is committed to raising Tibetan issues with Chinese government counterparts at multiple levels. U.S. government officials, including the Vice President as well as officials from the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu and U.S. Embassy in Beijing continue efforts to establish conditions that lead to a direct and meaningful dialogue between PRC authorities and His Holiness or his representative, without preconditions, that leads to a sustainable settlement.
The United States continues to urge the PRC government to change its policies in Tibetan areas that have created this tension. To respect and preserve the distinct religious, linguistic, and cultural identity of the Tibetan people; and permit Tibetans to express their grievances freely, publicly, peacefully, and without fear of retribution. We strongly urge the PRC government to protect the internationally recognized right to religious freedom to all individuals and to respect the human rights of members of all religious groups in accordance with China’s human rights commitments. Doing so will further peace, stability, security in China and among its neighbors.
Through all of our efforts, we are chasing a very simple, but important dream: that one day all peoples around the world will be able to worship freely and believe what they want. We want the rest of the world to join us to achieve this goal. And that’s why I’ve come here today, is to further that goal.
In closing, I commend to you the powerful image of the Snow Lion, the symbol of Tibet found throughout Tibetan visual and performing arts, in paintings and dance, joyful, fearless, strong, and free.
Thank you for your time today. Thank you to the Tibetan Institute for the Performing Arts for hosting me, and God bless our joint efforts to pursue religious freedom for everybody, everywhere, all the time. God bless you all.