The soft Tibetan and
his undemocratic Regime
An Icon of Light with a Shady Side
by Tilman Müller and Janis Vougioukas
When visiting Germany this week, the Dalai Lama will again be lauded as a messiah. The head of Tibetans is regarded as a symbol of tolerance. But critics in his exile community fail in demanding religious freedom and democracy.
He always comes in a large convoy like a president, bodyguards surrounding him, movie stars and managers forming honour guards. Politicians in charge hurry to welcome him. The scene may be the same this week in Frankfurt [Germany], just as it was in Nuremberg last year. The Dalai Lama greeted the crowds with his lovely child-like waving of hands. But his speech in the town hall made people halt their breath, as reported by a local newspaper next day.
He catered the elect audience saying he saw Nuremberg already on photographs when he was still a child: “very attractive with generals and weapons “ and with “Adolf Hitler and Hermann Goering “.
Some of the auditors seemed to be “embarrassed”, some were “alienated for a second“. Nuremberg's chief mayor Ulrich Maly calls it a “moment of shock“. The special guests tried to get him self afterwards out of the affair by stating that as a child he wasn't able to foresee the Nazi catastrophe.
If the Pope had given himself room for such statements in the city of the Reichsparteitage [NSDAP party summits] and the race laws, there would have been a loud outcry in the republic [of Germany]. But the head of Tibetan Buddhists is willingly excused for such words although His Holiness has enough reason to critically think about Nazi history. He who bears the title of the "Ocean of Wisdom" always had a very close relationship to his teacher Heinrich Harrer, a famous alpinist and author ("Seven years in Tibet"). Harrer had been a snappy Nazi who for a long time tried to hide the fact that he used to hold the rank of SS-Oberscharführer [Senior Squad Leader of the Schutz-Staffel (SS) or Protective Echelon of Adolf Hitler]. The Tibetan court used to have close ties with the NS-regime.
SS-expeditions were welcomed to Lhasa with full mark of respect. Until today, His Holiness never distanced himself from these inglorious relationships. But this is not the only dark chapter in his story of success.
The Dalai Lama smiles away all doubts. Almost everywhere he receives the same god-like veneration. In the West he appears as the super idol of the new age but in the Himalayans he governs like a medieval potentate. A gentle do-gooder who can show a surprisingly intolerant yes dictator-like behaviour. His people's sad fate, suppressed by Beijing and expulsed, hides the inner problems of the Dalai Lama-regime.
Here [in Germany] people attracted by him fill stadiums like coming to see a pop star. In Nuremberg 7,000 people listened to him, in Hamburg two years ago 30.000 and Frankfurt Commerzbank-Arena expects 40.000 visitors these days. The tickets range from € 10 to € 230 and usually are booked one year in advance. In conjunction with his huge events, there came up a unique spiritual supermarket. 728 German and 908 English books from and about the Dalai Lama are listed with amazon, 13,200 videos at youtube, almost 8 million entries in google. The son of Tibetan peasants is the most popular of all living noble laureates.
Members of all religions and also atheists come like pilgrims to his one-man-shows. "We had direct eye-contact", a young woman in the German city of Moenchengladbach shouted out over-happily and immediately promised to stop smoking henceforth. "He makes me feel good", a woman in Boston says in excitement and puts it into a nutshell, "it's his aura, this simpleness".
Just in Europe and the US, the birthplaces of the Age of Enlightenment, this Buddhist messiah formed new strongholds of his religion and he also finds favour with the usually critical-thinking generation of 68 [the left wing student protest movement in Europe] In 1971, Stern Magazine [The magazine where this article was published] celebrated him as the "saint on the mountain", Spiegel Magazine romanticised him to be a "god to touch" two years ago.
The head of the powerful German publishing house Springer, Mathias Döpfner, ex-porn queen Dolly Buster, German football star Mehmet Scholl, former economy minister Otto Graf Lambsdorff, and the inventor of the famous Love Parade Dr. Motte venerate Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama.
Where does that huge excitement come from? Christianity is loosing prestige and believers. That left a vacuum giving Buddhism a space to develop in the west as some kind of wellness-religion. And the peaceful calmness of the Dalai Lama makes you feel comfortable in the rough daily rat-race. His positive charisma seems to ban all fear of crisis. On top of this, there arose a Tibet romanticism in the West transfigurating the snow land on the roof of the world where the Dalai Lama had been born in 1935 in a hut with juniper rain-pipes.
The Asia expert Orville Schell, president of the New York Center of Sino-American Relations, explained the development of the Tibet-Myth from its remote position for centuries in innumerable works. The lack of knowledge gave birth to fantasies. It all started back in 1933 with James Hilton's novel "Lost Horizon", first published in German titled "Irgendwo in Tibet - Somewhere in Tibet". The action was set in the sunshine paradise Shangri-La where no one had to work and everyone is living in eternal peace. The dream factory of Hollywood later on could use all these fantasies, creating a symbiosis of Tibet and pop culture, and created a monument for Tenzin Gyatso with the movie "Kundun". "Because Tibet has always been so inaccessible, it existed in western imagination rather as a dream than as reality. It was supposed to be a country we could project our post-modern longings to", Schell says.
"I am for you whatever you want me to be for you", the Dalai Lama says and in that way, alpinist Reinhold Messner regards him as "a fighter for environment protection". German movie director and Oscar prize winner Florian Henckel von Donnermarck appreciates that "he makes happiness one of his religion's core principals." Actress Uma Thurman expects absolution for making the bloodthirsty violent movie "Kill Bill": "The Dalai Lama would die laughing" if watching the movie. And the Dalai Lama takes part in that game, he is open to all directions at one's will.
He is a perfect tool for presidents and heads of government as even George W. Bush looks peaceful when being with him. The hyper active Nicolas Sarkozy looks gentle, and boring Roland Koch [prime minister of the German state of Hessen] at least seems to have some esprit. Especially with conservative and right-wing politicians this game of mutual instrumentalisation works especially well. The Dalai Lama had strong sympathy for the Austrian right-wing Jörg Haider and visited him several times in his Austrian state of Kaernten.
Although the head of Tibetans is already 74, he is touring the West so intensively only for a relatively short time now. In June 1979, he visited Mont Pèlerin at Lake Geneva giving his first public teaching to a greater audience in the west. "There was not much interest regarding the Dalai Lama and we couldn't even get police protection for him," one of the then organizers, today living in Switzerland, tells us.
In the meanwhile, the Dalai Lama became popular to the world but isn't it anymore to all the monasteries. "There had been a break in our community about ten years ago," a former companion says. In the first line it was about a protective saint the brotherhood is not allowed to worship anymore. But basically this religious quarrel is a struggle for power with intrigues, slandering, and intimidation continued until today. Out of fear of repression the confidant of the Dalai Lama asks to stay anonymous. The "Tibetan Community of Switzerland", an organisation strongly devoted to the Dalai Lama called on all Tibetans in Switzerland having passed their 18th birthday to "immediately" stop the worship of the Tibetan protective deity Dorje Shugden and to sign an 8-point-agreement: "Those few Tibetans publicly and for no reason criticising the Dalai Lama are regarded to be Chinese collaborators by us."
This strategy of "either being with me or against me" and the rigid tone absolutely don't fit to the gentle manner in which the "Übervater" [super-father] is usually presenting himself to the West. His royal court in Dharamsala still follows the feudalist structure of the old Tibet and is ruled by oracles and rituals that do not have much in common with western tolerance and transparency. The Dalai Lama's sudden prohibition of the protective deity Shugden who had been worshipped since the 17th century and is one out of hundreds of saints in the Tibetan Buddhist canon in 1996 deeply alienated many religious Tibetans. For them it is incomprehensible and outsiders hardly can grasp how rigorous it is enforced. About one third of the 130,000 exile Tibetans are supposed to have worshipped Shugden before the ban. Today there are only a few thousand to openly show their connection to the cult. There are no independent estimations regarding the 5 million Tibetans inside China.
The journalist Beat Regli in 1998 for the first time showed emotional pictures of that imminent conflict in the Indian exile communities in Swiss television [Schweizer Fernsehen, SF - Dalai Lama and Dorje Shugden]. Highly aged monks regretted crying that they didn't already die before the prohibition of Shugden. A desperate family whose house had been set alight is presented as well as wanted posters denouncing Shugden followers and a Dalai Lama uncompromisingly defending his ban. "Wrong, wrong" he sounds off in a cold and sharp way nobody in the west has ever expected from the ever smiling noble laureate.
In Dharamsala this quarrel is continuing to the present day. Monks not following the Dalai Lama's order report of massive discrimination. Relatives and friends are put under pressure and vendors put posters on their shop's doors saying "No Entrance" for Shugden-believers.
In southern Indian city of Mundgod, Ganden Shartse monastery last year celebrated the inauguration of a new prayer hall. "It was supposed to become a great feast" one monk present at the time remembers. He is afraid to say his name. The Dalai Lama himself came and with him a number of other high ranking dignitaries. But almost everything talked about in the speeches and lectures was the old controversial topic of Dorje Shugden. Shortly afterwards the monks are said to have been told to sign a declaration stating they were no longer praticing Shugden. The monastery's administration even erected a man-high wall through the monastic yard.
In the meanwhile the dispute was handed over to the court. Dorje Shugden Society filed a complaint at New Delhi's High Court in order to check whether this "religious discrimination" is acceptable under Indian law. A decision is expected for the end of this year. Dalai Lama says Shugden worship is harmful to his life and to the "cause of Tibet" with no further statements available. His opposition suspects that Shugden, who is also exhorted as an oracle, was prohibited for being a concurrence to the Dalai Lama's state oracle.
The Tibetan Governement-in Exile (TGE) nevertheless rejects all accusations. "There are only very few of those people left and they are completely financed by PRC. They are the only ones still talking about this topic," TGE's prime minister Samdhong Rinpoche says. Being paid by the Chinese is the worst accusation for any Tibetan.
The Tibetan refugee's capital is situated in the small town of Mc Leod Ganj, next to the district capital Dharamsala and twelve hours by bus from New Delhi. The Dalai Lama and members of his closest staff moved into the former residence of the British administration in 1960 with thousands of devotees following him. Among many Indians of that region, Mc Leod Ganj is known as "Little Lhasa". It is a tiny place with two dusty one way roads winding up the mountain.
About 600,000 enlightenment-tourists come here every year. Loud music flows from cafés and bars into the valley and little stands with religious kitsch stand side by side along the roads, one of them even offering "monk's fashion". Young Tibetans here wear Jeans and T-Shirts whereas the western tourists usually dress like actors in biblical movies. Little Lhasa has become the "Ballermann" [an area with lots of clubs, bars, and discotheques in Palma de Mallorca famous among German tourists to the Spanish island] for spiritual seekers.
The small government district is a short way down the hill with tiny ministries, a parliament, and a library. The Dalai Lama again and again underlines that Tibetans in exile have built up a democratic system. There is a parliament with 43 to 46 seats. All sessions are recorded on DVD and then sent into the refugee settlements. On a theoretical basis the parliament may decide against the Dalai Lama. "But this never happened," says the parliament's president Penpa Tsering. "Everyone has great confidence into His Holiness. He sees the Tibetan question from many different angles, receives lots of information and is very, very logical."
For a long time, His Holiness' family members held high positions. Since 2001 the prime minister is elected directly. In 2006's elections, he received more than 90% of the votes and thus was confirmed in office. The main goal of Little Lhasa's political structure is to confirm the Dalai Lama's decisions and to solidify his power. Parties are absolutely irrelevant and the separation of state and church is not mentioned in the exile Tibetan Charta although it avows itself to the "ideals of democracy" in nice sounding words.
In 1990, the independent Tibetan newspaper "mang-tso" (democracy) was published for the first time and quickly became the most important piece of media for Little Lhasa's refugee community. "We wrote on election fraud, corruption, and everything else existent in every other country as well," says Jamyang Norbu, then editor-in-chief. "Mang-tso" was uncomfortable and its editors didn't allow themselves to be intimidated when some of them received death threats and the paper boys were threatened in the streets. In 1996, the situation got even worse, shortly after the newspaper published an article on the Aum sect which was responsible for poisonous gas attacks on Tokyo's metro in 1995 killing 12 and leaving hundreds injured. The terrorist sect's leader, Shoko Asahara on several occasions met the Dalai Lama. Even weeks after the first assault, Dalai Lama called him a "friend, yet not a perfect one." Only later he went on distance to the sect. "Reporters Without Boarders" then said that due to that article "the religious authorities immediately put 'mang-tso' under pressure." It had to close down; that was the end of "democracy".
Criticism or public debates are not welcomed in Little Lhasa. Dalai Lama prefers to ask gods and demons for advice. His Holiness' official state oracle is called Thubten Ngodup, born in 1958. He is living in Nechung monastery right behind the parliament.
For centuries now, the Dalai Lamas seek oracle advice in all important religious and political decisions. After his predecessor had died, Thubten Ngodup became the Dalai Lama's official fortune-teller in 1987. It is said that he became aware his qualification in various dreams and visions for the first time. Another hint for his supernatural skills was his oftentimes bleeding nose.
Whenever the Dalai Lama has a question, Thubten Nodup would put on his 40-kg ritual garment. Incense would be burnt and his assistants would put a huge crown on his head. Then the oracle would start dancing to the music of horns and cymbals until he would enter a trance murmuring words only well-trained ears can understand. Dalai Lama strongly believes in his predictions. Looking back he found out that "the oracle was always right," he once said.
This is not what democracy looks like and yet there is not much criticism regarding his way of governing for reasons of solidarity with a suppressed people facing the super power China. Drawn out of his country, the Tibetan head has to see the cruel injustice happening there and the old culture slowly being destroyed.
The communist leaders in Beijing try to defame the Dalai Lama by calling him "wolf in monk's robes" or "devil with a human face and a beast's heart". At the same time, Chinese security forces suppress even the slightest move towards freedom on the Tibetan plateau. So one doesn't have to wonder for most Westeners stepping on the side of the weak.
But Tibet never was the paradise it is in western imagination. When the Chinese marched into it in 1950, it was stuck up in the medieval era with monks and aristocrats sharing the power. Most people were slaves, serfs, or under debt bondage. The system was protected by a brutal religious police with whips and bars and many monasteries had their own prisons. Even the Dalai Lama's friend Heinrich Harrer was shocked: "The monks' rule in Tibet is unique and may only be compared to a strong dictatorship. They are suspicious of any influence from the outside that may endanger their power. They are intelligent enough not to believe in their unlimited power but they will immediately punish anyone who dares to doubt it." Harrer reports of a man who stole a golden butter lamp from a temple. At first his hand were publicly amputated and then "his mutilated body was sewn into a wet yak skin. They let it dry and then threw it down a ravine."
After the occupation, the Chinese presented themselves as the Tibetan people's liberators and destroyed the monasteries. And they built up a new system of suppression. They oftentimes point out that despite of his peace messages the Dalai Lama supports the armed resistance in his homeland, himself being supported by "foreign imperialists". In deed the Dalai Lama's two elder brothers built up connections with the US intelligence agency. During several years, CIA trained about 300 Tibetans in guerrilla war techniques at Camp Hale in the Rocky Mountains. In a full moon night in October 1957, the first Tibetan elite soldiers jumped out of a B-17 without nationality marking over Tibet. For the case of being caught by the Chinese, each of them carried a small container of cyanite.
These Tibetan agents also protected the Dalai Lama's flight to India permanently being in contact with the CIA via Morse messaging. Later on, the US financed the formation of a Tibetan rebel army in the Nepalese kingdom of Mustang. The programmes were stopped when the US intensified their trading with China in the early 1970s.
Regarding Buddhism rather as an esoteric cult than as a religion, many of the Dalai Lama's followers are astonished when hearing of their idol working hand in hand with the US intelligence agencies. Or when they hear that Buddhism spread in Asia as with much bloodshed as Islam did in Arabia or as the Christian crusades. Again and again Tibetan monasteries had brutal fights against each other. Buddhism is not necessarily more tolerant than other religions. In an interview with "Playboy" magazine, Dalai Lama called homosexual practices "misconduct". The teachings also condemn "having oral or anal sex with your wife or another female partner". Similar passages had been deleted from his "Ethics for a New Millennium" on his publisher's advice.
Dalai Lama is in favour of harmony. But he will have to face the confrontation as there is growing criticism in his own exile community. "His Holiness is living in a bubble without contact to the outside world," says Lhasang Tsering, a long term activist. He is now running a bookstore in Little Lhasa. "Religion and politics should finally be separated."
This is also what Jamyang Norbu is stipulating. "Dalai Lama is not a bad person", says "mang-tso's" former editor-in-chief. "But he begins to be a hindrance to our development. We don't have democracy. Many things today are even worse than in 1959. Then we had three political powers: Dalai Lama, the monasteries, and the nobility." Today the only leading figure left is the Dalai Lama.
German Source: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/714713/STERN-30-07-2009.pdf