A Modern Tibetan Refuge Formula

internet refuge

I was sent this parody of the Tibetan Buddhist ‘refuge formula’, as seen on Tibetan social media, by a young Tibetan monk friend in McLeod Ganj. There’s potential commentary here on how much Tibetans depend today on social media and virtual connectivity to keep their sense of community together in diaspora.

To ‘go for refuge’ means that one places confidence, entrusts one’s ultimate liberation, to some object. If you are a Buddhist you entrust your liberation to the ‘Triple Jewel’, what Tibetans refer to as the དཀོན་མཆོག་གསུམ་ Könchog Sum or ‘Three Most Rare and Sublime Objects: the Buddha, his teachings, and the support of the religious community that observes these. Tibetans thus usually chant some version of the basic refuge formula at the start of religious activities and writings, “I go for Refuge to the Buddha, I go for Refuge to the Dharma, I go for Refuge to the Sangha”. In the meme we find:

“A Modern Refuge

I go for Refuge to Wechat
I go for Refuge to Facebook
I go for Refuge to Twitter

I go for Refuge to the Holy Source of Refuge the Internet.”

These days, use of apps like Wechat – notwithstanding their very real security risks – have been a game-changer for keeping Tibetans inside and outside of Tibet connected. The ability to use Tibetan fonts on smart-phones and to send voice-notes in Tibetan has linked Tibetans across the Plateau and diaspora, and across geographical and dialectal distances in unprecedented ways. Indeed, use of Wechat has been so thoroughly domesticated by Tibetans that there now even exists a recognizable  ‘Wechat message inflection’ in colloquial Tibetan, which would seem to be uniquely associated with speaking through the app. The meme might seem flippant, or even sacrilegious, but it’s worth pointing out that if it wasn’t for these kinds of technology and the civilian journalism they enable,  we’d probably know even less than we already do about protest inside occupied Tibet, especially about the hundreds of self-immolation protests against Chinese rule by Tibetans over the last few years that Time magazine labeled its most ‘under-reported story of 2011’.



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