What’s the Deal with the Dalai Lama?

Felonious Monk (What’s the Deal with the Dalai Lama?)

by Mickey Z. – Saturday, December 09 2006 @ 06:34 PM PST
Infoshop (www.infoshop.org)

Here’s the scene: I’m in my local health food store when my eyes are drawn to the cover of the latest issue of New York Yoga magazine. Smiling at me is none other than the Dalai Lama. Inside, “His Holiness” spouts boilerplate platitudes like, “If we do love our enemies, we shall cease to have enemies, and wouldn’t the world be a much happier place (if) we could all be friends?” Let’s be honest here, the same exact line, if spoken by a ten-year-old child, might elicit a patronizing smile.

Also in this article, the Tibetan leader was asked how he was able to “deal with the Chinese who had taken so much from his people.” His response was pure Dalai: “We may be different on the outside; but on the inside, we are all the same. We all seek happiness and an end to suffering.”

Here’s what I’m wondering: Who, exactly, designated the Dalai Lama as a conduit of wisdom…and why? And while we’re at it, let’s put to rest the myth that the Dalai Lama is an innocent bystander and his fellow Tibetans are all pacifists.

We can start by going way back to a January 25, 1997 piece in the Chicago Tribune entitled “The CIA’s secret war in Tibet.” This uncommon bit of corporate media candor declared that, “Little about the CIA’s skullduggery in the Himalayas is a real secret anymore except maybe to the U.S. taxpayers who bankrolled it.” Make that: U.S. taxpayers and the entertainment world’s financial elite who are suckered in by the Dalai Lama’s little boy grin, esoteric lectures, and pacific persona.

(Side note: We can also put to…rest the myth that the public would wake up if the corporate media published the truth. It’s been nearly a decade since the Tribune article and Mr. Lama is more popular than ever.)

Obscured by the predominantly superficial media coverage is the reality that, before the Chinese invasion, “His Holiness” ruled over a harsh feudal serfdom with the proverbial iron fist. As reported by Gary Wilson in Workers World, “While most of the population lived in extreme poverty, the Dalai Lama lived richly in the 1000-room, 14-story Potala Palace.” Even the omnipresent holy man himself admits to owning slaves during his reign.

In 1959, when the Dalai Lama packed up his riches and escaped into neighboring India, the CIA set up and trained an army of Tibetan contras. Potential recruits were asked only one, rather un-Zen-like question by Air Force pilots working with the Agency: “Do you want to kill Chinese?” The guerrillas were actually trained on US soil and then airdropped into Tibet by what the Tribune calls, “American pilots who would later carry out operations in Laos and Cambodia during the Vietnam War.”

Yeah, those guys.

So, how did His Holiness and His Posse manage such paradoxical behavior? Lend an ear to what Jamyang Norbu, a prominent Tibetan intellectual, informed the Tribune: “For years, the only way Tibetans could get a hearing in the world’s capitals was to emphasize our spirituality and helplessness. Tibetans who pick up rifles don’t fit into the romantic image we’ve built up in the Westerner’s heads.”

And it works. If you don’t believe me, ask R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe. He believes the Tibetans have “done it peacefully, without raising swords. No matter what hardship these people were under, they would not raise a hand against the enemy.”

Wilson’s characterization in Workers World presents a slightly different perspective: “The prevalence of anti-communism as a near religion in the United States has made it easy to sell slave masters as humanitarians. The Dalai Lama is not much different from the former slave owners of the Confederate South.”

While the Chicago Tribune claimed that the U.S. government’s support for Tibet’s spiritual contras ended in the 1970s, former CIA agent Ralph McGehee told Workers World that the Agency was “a prime mover behind the … 1990s campaign promoting the cause of the Dalai Lama and Tibetan independence.” McGehee cites the Dalai Lama’s eldest brother, a businessman named Gyalo Thondup, as the key player in this operation.

“Violence is unpredictable,” the Dalai Lama announced last year, before adding: “In the case of Afghanistan, perhaps there’s something positive. In Iraq, it’s too early to tell.” He confessed to having conflicted feelings over the U.S. invasion of Iraq, before declaring, “history would decide.”

Uh…hello Dalai, but most of us have already decided.

Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.

Yes, yes, yes… but

Yes, the Dalai Lama has not always been, and is not always, compassion and clearheadedness.

And certainly in my travels through Daramsala, India, the home of “the Tibetan governement in exile” I came to realize this.

But I think that it is always worth noting, that no matter how fucked up the country of Tibet was before the Chinese took it, it still had a unique culture that did not need to be homogonized into China.

This is what is and has been happening for quite a while.

So. Surely dont fill your head with mistaken and saintly images of the Dalai Lama and the “pacifist” people of Tibet.

But dont turn attention away from the central issue either; this being the very destruction, repression and disappearance of Tibetan people and their culture.


– O -

but yes but…

“no matter how fucked up the country of Tibet was before the Chinese took it, it still had a unique culture that did not need to be homogonized into China.”

When are you referring to as “the Chinese took it”, because unless you are complaining about the last 700 years, Tibet has been a part of the Chinese empire since then, and before that it was the Mongols who ruled both Tibet and “China proper” and prior to that Tibet humbled the mainland… it has been 1300 years since Tibet was formally independent. The current Dalai Lama was selected (against the time honored traditions) directly by Chiang Kai Shek as part of his anti-communist drive.

Tibet’s issue is much like the issue for indigenous nations here: Neither confuse the “leaders” with the population for one, and don’t confuse self-determination with the need for a nation-state. Any such nation-state in Tibet today would be a throwback to the worst aspects of impvereishment by imperialism, while turning refurbished temples in the mountains into tourist destinations for coca cola-swigging American families who do yoga to Richard Gere posters, sweating to the oldies.

right, and.


You said:
“Neither confuse the “leaders” with the population for one, and don’t confuse self-determination with the need for a nation-state”
I think this is a good summary of the original post.

It is true that the power has changed hands many times, but the most recent action was this direct assault on Tibet, the murder and incarceration of many people, and an even further repression of the local people, whatever you want to call them (Tibetan, Chinese…)

Has Tibet really been part of the Chinese empire for the last 700 years? If so, in whos opinion? The Chinese or The Tibetans?

Either way,

Being in China let me see that most Chinese people believe that Tibet belongs to China, and never knew it as being anything but.

My experience in Tibetan India, led me to see that every Tibetan felt that China had conquered them, destroyed their traditions and given their land to the Chinese settlers that were sent specifically for the purpose of seeding Tibet with Chinese patriotism.

Unfortunately both sides are fraught with propaganda.

The larger picture is that the people in general think that possessing what is rightfully theirs (the Tibetan state of China), is more important than the lives of their neighbours.

Indeed no idealized, bush-administration, world bank, united nations-led campaign to “return Tibet to its nation-state” will offer a whole lot of good.

Not that it can be helped, because the Chinese have already begun (and perhaps finished) a railroad to Tibet, to offer it as the next tourist playground.


I dont see much in the way of freedom for these people (and the repressed public in general) anytime soon, especially in this generation.

I can only hope that the proper seeds are being planted. For revolution.

The Dalai Lama Connection

Since the Dalai Lama has arrived in Oregon there has been a lot of articles focusing on his message of non-violence. This is a disingenuous claim by DL. Anyone that knows the history of Tibet (not from movies) knows that during DL’s reign in Tibet he ruled under a system with extreme human rights concerns. Tibet was under a Theocracy with the Lama as the highest figure. The economic system was feudal. Peasants would be bought and sold with the land. Slaves would be mutilated for attempted escape. Women were treated worse than chattel.

In 1900, the British officer, Youngshusband crossed the Himalayas and occupied Tibet. It was the same time that Hong Kong was secured as a base for Opium distribution. This is the time when Tibet’s independence movement started. China was too weak at the time to challenge the British.

After Mao Tse Tung liberated China from the Kou Ming Tung, they moved into Tibet. Unlike the movie depiction, there was no fighting when they marched into Lhasa. They built roads, hospitals and schools but otherwise made little change in Tibet’s feudal system.

This was the time when the CIA made contact with the Dalai Lama and put him on a yearly stipend. The purpose of this was to foment unrest. [“CIA bankrolled Tibetan independence movement” AP]

The Dalai Lama claims in his autobiography that it was his brother that was responsible for the mayhem. It is true that his brother had a stronger connection to the CIA but the check was cut out to DL. DL’s complicity is also detailed in the book “Struggle for Modern Tibet” by one of DL’s boy dancers who struggled for Tibetan independence.

In 1959 the Chinese moved to make changes in the feudal kingdom of Tibet. As they did in all of their outlying provinces, they freed the slaves and offered free school and health care for the entire population. They forced DL to give up his slaves. DL as leader of the Lamaist class led a revolt that led to his departure from Tibet. And while the Dalai Lama says he will no longer own slaves and he will no longer claim his royal rights over the serfs of Tibet, it’s only because the Tibetan workers and peasants have won their freedom and won’t let the oppressive conditions return. DL also claims in his biography that he no longer believes that violence should be used to advance his goals. This claim is made because he allowed his monks to be trained as mercenaries to cause havoc in Tibet. [“The CIA’s secret war in Tibet” Chicago Tribune]

His brother is in the US now and runs a covert organization, the Free Tibet Committee, that ensnares those that are concerned for human rights.

Chinese Propaganda Much!

I am a tibetan and i am agast with the total crap being circulated here regarding Tibet and the Dalai Lama. If you don’t understand the tibetan society, at least try to do a little research first before spewing off crap as factoids. I am also quite shocked that the same propaganda the chinese have been using since 1950s is still being circulated as facts! I guess a lie told too many times does indeed turns to truth.
Nobody is claiming the tibetan society is one great utopia before the chinese invasion – most tibetans dont actually. Even the Dalai lama is always talking about the great advantages of exile life in terms of gaining a democratic society and spreading the buddhist ideals about peace and compassion to the rest of the world. But we don’t need the “great liberator” in the chinese under the “benevolent” Mao to change our society nor were they asked to. You should read the “the unknown story of Mao” by Jung Chang and Jon Halliday about how Mao liberated his own people first and then tell me if it is remotely possible that he came to liberate or enslave tibetans, much less whether the tibetan people wanted their help in the first place. It is also very important to understand the cultural context between the Tibetans, the chinese, and the Mongols before jumping to conclusions. There was a time when there was great relationship between the Chinese and the tibetans and shared a lot of commonality in terms of religion and culture.
Without sounding too biased let me try to tell you about the Dalai Lama and why he is so revered by the Tibetan people. Obviously, he is believed to be the reincarnation of successive holy consciosness and thereby revered as such – that is a given. Some people risk their lives and cross the Himalayas in the middle of winter avoiding the chinese military and frost bites to catch a glimpse of him just once in their lifetime. One simple reprimand from him regarding the recent exotic animal skin trade in Tibet and the whole skin trade vanished overnight despite the chinese warning against large gatherings (tiget skins and other exotic skins were burned in huge bonfire). He is the one who was forcing democracy onto the tibetan people and it is the tibetan people (I agree it is stupid) who keeps pushing it back up to him – two times (meaning he wants tibetans to elect their own leaders and while he get out of politics). I am just pointing all these out just to show you how much distress he could cause the Chinese if he really wanted to for his own sake – probably 95% of tibetans will follow his edicts to the letter if need be. I have spend all my life in close proximity to him and there has never been a whisper or allegations of any sort against his person or his character. You can believe that or not but that is the honest truth. I am not much of a buddhist myself but if he tells me to jump head first into the chinese military, I will not hesitate for one second. That is just how much trust I have in his leadership and that has nothing to do with buddhism. Sorry about the rant! I am just an ordinary tibetan without a proper country to call my own and an identity paper that not many countries accept and I am just a little bit frustrated – that is all. Good night and sorry if I offended anyone.

Re: Chinese Propaganda Much!

Of course, China has about as much right to be in Tibet as the U.S. has to be in Iraq, Israel in Gaza & the West Bank, or Canada in any of the Indigenous Nations whose lands we colonised. However, depending on one’s perspective, ‘colonisation’ can easily be seen as ‘liberation’, even if we’re speaking of the exact same events. For example, the Soviet Union did not ‘invade’ Afghanistan, they were ‘invited’ by the Afghan government to aid them in suppressing ‘counter-revolutionary terrorists’ supported by western imperialism.

There is some element of truth to the above: the Soviet Union were invited to intervene by Afghanistan’s pro-Soviet government and the Afghan resistance were being aided by the U.S. on a massive scale (in fact, this support began before the Soviet invasion). What’s more, the Afghan guerillas did use terrorism, including against Afghan civilians.

Does any of this make the Soviet invasion/’intervention’ justified. In my opinion, no. The same holds true regarding Tibet. Regardless of how western ‘progressives’ may view the Dalai Lama, China had no moral or legal purpose in sending the Red Army into Tibet, nor do they today, regardless of how many ethnic Chinese have been settled there in order to tip the balance of power in favour of the PRC (another similarity with occupied Palestine). The Tibetan people are a distinct ethnic-national group, with their own language, culture, religion and customs. As such, they are entitled to autonomy and self-determination.

Autonomy includes the right to solve their own internal issues and contradictions. The fact that many of us (as well as China, for that matter) do not like unelected feudal monarchs, nor the blind obedience they often instill in their supporters (similar to Mao, actually) does not mean that China, nor any country, has the right to intervene in the internal affairs of Tibet. It is the responsibility (and right) of the Tibetan people, whether in Tibet or the Diaspora, to decide for themselves whether they want to live under a monarchy and how they want to ‘develop’.

I’m sure there are decent Chinese folk who sincerely believe they are ‘liberating’ Tibet from ‘reactionary feudal domination’, helping them ‘overcome poverty’ through ‘development’. There may even be an element of truth to this, for example, by building schools and health clinics (just as the Soviets did in Afghanistan and what Canada/NATO, in fact, are doing there today). Occupiers often use the ‘carrot’, in addition to the ‘stick’. It does not make them any less occupiers or any more welcome.

Much harm has been done throughout history when people anywhere believe it their right, even their duty, to tell others supposedly less enlightened (or developed, wealthy, etc.) than themselves how to live their lives. If I come into your home, take it over forcing you to live under my rules while inviting a few friends to join me, yet spend thousands of dollars on renovations while doing so, does not mean I have a right to stay, nor do you not have a right to throw me out using whatever means necessary.

Hopefully, some day we will move beyond the kind of thinking which tells us we have a right, even an obligation, to impose our will on others. Such thinking, however, is at the core, not just of colonialism and imperialism, but all systems of domination, whether that of men over women, bosses over workers, or whites over people of colour.

I agree

I have been thinking a lot of what Mickey Z has said here, for a long time. It was brave of him to finally say all this out loud, it is a relief to me to see us discussing it. I still remember the Dali Lama’s strange anti-gay comments…but Mickey Z brings up very valid questions here. Thank you Mickey Z!

Dilly Dali

Non Illegitimi Carborundum Est

Eugene Plawiuk

Non Magister! Non Serviam!

You say in your post “Here’s what I’m wondering: Who, exactly, designated the Dalai Lama as a conduit of wisdom.” Ahhh the Tibetan Monks who adore him as God Incarnate perhaps…..

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