The Dalai Lama and His Government: Catch-22 Tibet

Sikyong Lobsang Sangay launched a CTA-sponsored book that glorifies Tibetan suicide by self-immolation.

The opinion piece below was sent to for publication. We accept submissions from the public, please send in your articles to [email protected].



By: Shashi Kei

It has been 60 years since the Dalai Lama fled Tibet to set up an exile government in Dharamsala, North India. As a third generation of Tibetan refugees drift with uncertain futures in exile, most of them today have not seen, let alone lived in, their homeland. And yet a deep ultranationalism accompanied by animosity towards China persists due to very effective indoctrination that has been championed by the Dalai Lama’s exile Tibetan leadership, the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA).

Faced with a powerful nemesis and finding itself with no military or economic might, the CTA has instead co-opted two very powerful weapons in its assault against China – the Dalai Lama and the Buddhist religion. In the name of the Dalai Lama, the CTA commandeered Buddhism as a political tool and with that, created pockets of anti-China agitators in every place in the world where the Tibetan Buddhist faith is being practiced.

According to the CTA’s narrative, the proper practice of the Buddha’s teachings compels unquestioning compliance with all of the Dalai Lama’s thoughts, which by extension, translates into the CTA’s policies and its political aspirations. The Dalai Lama is presented as a Buddha and hence all Buddhist adherents owe him a duty of obedience. In doing this, the CTA places the Dalai Lama at risk of being compared to the infamous Pope Boniface VIII, the megalomaniacal pontiff who decreed that salvation was not possible unless the people subjected themselves to him completely. Similarly, one is not a proper Buddhist unless one supports the Dalai Lama ergo, the CTA. This is notwithstanding the fact that the Dalai Lama is not even the absolute spiritual head of his own lineage, the Gelug school, let alone of Buddhism overall.

The CTA has subtly encouraged Tibetan self-immolation as a means to create sympathy for its political agenda. Over 150 Tibetans have perished unnecessarily over the years. When will the CTA finally speak up strongly to discourage the Tibetans from self-harm?

Being in exile accorded the Dalai Lama more power than any of his predecessors or any other Tibetan Buddhist figure, as the world became intoxicated with the Shangrila myth. It is upon this privilege and power that the CTA draws its legitimacy. In the decades since the Dalai Lama escaped Tibet, the Tibetan leader has commanded immense vogue and created a significant global space within which the CTA has increasingly worked its mischief, often undermining the Dalai Lama’s efforts.


The Sabotage

A number of incidences bear testimony to this. For instance, in July 2017 amid a tense standoff between India and China, the President of the CTA Lobsang Sangay decided it was an opportune time to assert Tibetan independence, and to raise the Tibetan flag at Pangong Tso (Pangong Lake), which lies between India and China. Sangay’s taunt of China was all the more provocative given it was done within eyeshot of Tibet. That injudicious act infuriated China, a result at odds with India’s seeking of a peaceful solution to its border woes. To redress the injury, the Indian Foreign Secretary subsequently instructed all Indian government officials to refrain from participating in Tibetan events organized to mark the 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s exile in India. In essence, the CTA significantly diminished almost 60 years of goodwill the Dalai Lama had built with the CTA’s generous host.

More recently, the Dalai Lama’s efforts to close the gap between Dharamsala and Beijing with accord on spiritual matters has been brazenly thwarted by his own Tibetan government-in-exile. In April 2018, the Dalai Lama acknowledged that the China-enthroned Panchen Lama Gyaincain Norbu is in fact the “official Panchen Lama”, a statement that effectively endorses China’s legitimacy in recognizing and enthroning high lamas. This represents a complete reversal of the Tibetan leadership’s past stance, which asserted that Gyancain Norbu is merely a political stooge and a false incarnation of the popular 10th Panchen Lama. Given the importance of the Panchen Lama, deemed to be the highest-ranking Tibetan lama in China, the Dalai Lama’s acceptance of the Chinese Panchen Lama was clearly designed to thaw relations with Beijing and draw parties back to the negotiation table. The head of the CTA, Lobsang Sangay was with the Dalai Lama when his proclamation on Gyancain Norbu was made and so there cannot have been a miscommunication.

His Holiness the 11th Panchen Lama, Gyaincain Norbu.

Nevertheless, just two days later, the CTA saw it fit to publish on its official website an article critical of the Chinese Panchen Lama and demanded the release of their authorized Panchen Lama candidate, Gedhun Choekyi Nyima whom they claim had been kidnapped by China in 1995. To ensure that their point was not lost, another two stories were published on the CTA website in May 2018, both critical of the Chinese Panchen Lama. In essence, these stories demolished whatever foundations of friendship the Dalai Lama was constructing with Beijing.


Co-opting Buddhism

Not content with undermining the Dalai Lama’s diplomacy on the domestic front, the CTA has gone international with its attempts. In his recent speeches made during world tours, Lobsang Sangay has framed the Sino-Tibetan conflict as the struggle between Communism and Buddhism, masquerading the fact that it is more accurately a quarrel over who has dominion over the Tibetan nation – a communist regime or a feudal theocracy to whom the Tibetan people were regarded as mere chattel prior to 1959.

The CTA’s misuse of Buddhism is subtle but delivers devastating effect. An example is the Tibetan leadership’s 1996 ban on the worship of a popular Tibetan Buddhist deity, Dorje Shugden. The 2004 Human Rights Watch Report on Tibet dedicates an entire section to Dorje Shugden, articulating how the CTA’s diktat on the Shugden practice created deep divisions amongst Tibetans in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and worldwide. Banning the worship of Dorje Shugden was a calculated and deft strategy. Dorje Shugden, an ancient deity worshipped by many Tibetan Buddhist schools, was carefully chosen from amongst the thousands of deities in the Tibetan Buddhist pantheon due to the popularity of his practice.

The International Shugden Community, whose members comprise of Shugden practitioners from all over the world, have suffered discrimination

The CTA conceived the idea of Dorje Shugden being an instrument of the Chinese, constructed with the aim of destabilizing the reign of the Dalai Lama. In this way, Tibetans were pitted against one another. Dorje Shugden practitioners on the one hand were summarily painted as anti-Tibet, anti-Dalai Lama and pro-Chinese traitors while non-Dorje Shugden practitioners were pro-Tibet and pro-Dalai Lama. The result of all this was unrest within the TAR, precisely what the Chinese government fears most due to the tendency for unrest to escalate into uprisings in China’s frontier regions. It was a clever ruse on the part of the CTA, turning Tibetan Buddhists worldwide into de facto Tibet activists, intent on suppressing Dorje Shugden practitioners with the TAR and across the globe, all for the sake of the so-called ‘Tibet cause’.


A Noxious Assault on Freedom

Whilst effective, this strategy exacts a very high attrition on communities dragged into supporting the CTA’s agenda, namely discord and disharmony in erstwhile peaceful societies not involved in Sino-Tibetan aggressions. Still, it is a cost the CTA seems prepared to inflict as we see in its recent interference in Taiwanese spiritual affairs. Since 1949 Taiwan and China have had fraught relations. As tensions renewed between the two nations under Taiwan’s new President, Tsai Ing-wen, the CTA waded in to introduce further enmity and mistrust between the small island nation and the juggernaut China.

In August 2018, CTA representative Dawa Tsering proudly launched a new anti-Shugden book in Taiwan, titled “Tibetan Dharma Protectors, Deities and Demons”

In August 2018, the CTA via its agency Snowland Publications in Taiwan published Tibetan Dharma Protectors, Deities and Demons. The book was written in Chinese with a foreword by Dawa Tsering, the CTA’s representative in Taiwan. At first glance, the publication of an educational book on Tibetan Buddhism seems benign enough. However, on closer inspection, it bears all the hallmarks of good propaganda material created with one intention – to use the Dorje Shugden issue to divide the community and blame China.

With chapter titles like “How did Tulku Drakpa Gyaltsen [who arose as the said divinity Dorje Shugden] become an evil spirit”; and “The Poison of Dolgyal [a derogatory name for the deity]” and “The Consequences of Propitiating Shugden” there is no doubt what the objective of the book is. Not a single page acknowledges the fact that the highest lamas of the Gelug and the Sakya, including the 14th Dalai Lama, had worshipped the deity.

Dawa Tsering said in an interview with Radio Free Asia that Dorje Shugden “violates Buddhism” while sidestepping the fact that the very idea of a book that disparages a religion and seeks to create disharmony in a foreign state violates the simplest concept of freedom and decency. This is the CTA once again undermining the Dalai Lama’s work to portray the Tibetans as harmless and soulful citizens of a heavenly Himalayan nation.

Not only is it suspicious that an official of the supposedly democratic CTA is again conflating religion and politics, but now the CTA is stirring trouble in another country whose religious affairs are of no concern to any foreign government, let alone an exiled and stateless administration whose primary preoccupation should be the welfare of its refugee populace and the fulfilment of the Dalai Lama’s wish to return to Tibet.

Prior to the new Taiwanese publication, Lobsang Sangay had launched yet another anti-Shugden book in 2016, written with the purpose of segregating and creating further divisions within the Tibetan community.

The CTA’s latest anti-Shugden book purports to expose Taiwanese Buddhist groups that it claims have been infiltrated by the Chinese government. The basis of this allegation is purely on account of the groups’ worship of Dorje Shugden, the deity that the CTA had pre-emptively outlawed despite claiming to be a democracy. According to the book’s line of thought, the evil government of China has corrupted Buddhism in Taiwan and therefore, even if a Buddhist practitioner has no interest in Sino-Tibetan politics, he should still oppose China as a means of defending the integrity of his faith. That makes him a supporter of the Dalai Lama and CTA by default.

The CTA’s act has far-reaching consequences:

  • To begin with, it trespasses on Taiwan’s spiritual affairs, rightly an internal issue that the CTA should have no say over.
  • It specifically targets certain Taiwanese Buddhist groups. Thus, the CTA is implying that all good Taiwanese Buddhists should disregard Taiwan’s laws that provide for freedom of religion, and instead obey the CTA’s decrees.
  • It attempts to criminalize Taiwanese citizens who choose not to abide by the CTA’s diktats regarding Dorje Shugden.
  • It conflates spirituality with politics, implying that a Taiwanese citizen’s personal choice of worship is somehow a reflection of their private political beliefs.
  • It brings to Taiwan the same unrest it created within the TAR and in other Tibetan Buddhist communities worldwide.
  • It is an external administration passing judgement on Taiwanese citizens, thereby disregarding the sovereignty that Taiwan claims for itself and its people. How is that any different from, say, Germany passing a decree about Greek citizens? Or from China making decisions on Taiwan’s behalf, to put it into a context a Taiwanese citizen can relate to?

The CTA’s own treatment of Shugden Buddhists is nothing short of draconian. For instance, it publishes on its official website a series of notices and parliamentary resolutions that criminalizes Shugden worship and compels the Tibetan populace to apply pressure on Shugden Buddhists to give up their faith. Now the CTA wants the people of Taiwan to similarly turn on their own countrymen and splinter the Taiwanese Buddhist community. The deeply divided Tibetan community worldwide and the unrest in the TAR such as that reported by the Human Rights Watch in 2004 bear witness to the damage suffered by those who have listened to the CTA.

The official website of the Central Tibetan Administration carries material that undemocratically accuses Dorje Shugden practitioners worldwide to be “Chinese spies” and “criminals in history”. Click to enlarge.

What the CTA aims to do – constrain the people’s choice of belief while planting dissension and bringing strife upon Taiwan’s Buddhist community – contravenes the most fundamental international laws that prohibit a State from interfering with the internal affairs of another State thereby compromising its sovereignty. This is notwithstanding the fact that the CTA is not legally a State by the definition of established International Law, although it behaves and demands to be accorded the privileges and status of one. In fact, for 60 years, the CTA has acted outside the ambit of every global regulatory body and the reach of international law, a convenience they have exploited fully. Next, and given prevailing tensions between Taiwan and China, the CTA’s book that accuses Shugden Buddhists of being Chinese agents serves to induce further sentiments detrimental to the development of peaceful reunification between Taiwan and China. Stirring anti-China sentiments can only damage cross-strait ties at a time when they are already frail.


A Simple Business Decision

It may perplex some to see how a government that claims to base its policies on Buddhist values such as ahimsa (non-violence or non-injury) engage in such treachery to serve its political agenda. This is especially so when the Dalai Lama became famous off the back of touting messages of peace all over the world, even being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. But there is a simple explanation – the CTA is after all an exile government and as such, its reason for existing holds only as long as the 150,000 or so Tibetans who followed the Dalai Lama into exile continue to be refugees.

The CTA’s locus standi ends the moment the Dalai Lama’s spiritual and political plans are accomplished, symbolized by his return to China-controlled Tibet. The success of the Dalai Lama’s work comes at the demise of the CTA, which will simply have no role in the TAR. It is highly unlikely China will consider, let alone allow, for a separate administration to operate autonomously with its own set of rules, especially one that has spent six decades actively seizing every opportunity to destabilize the region.

The CTA will have to dissolve its core and supporting structures including the countless Office of Tibet premises around the world that have drawn, according to conservative estimates, an annual average of USD50 million into the CTA’s coffers for the past 60 years. This money is supposed to be applied towards improving the standard of living of the Tibetan refugees but, given the string of global propaganda campaigns that keep resentment towards China at a peak, critics cannot help but wonder if the donations and grants have been used to bankroll the CTA’s schemes instead.

Should the Dalai Lama manage to draw the Chinese government into a settlement, this gravy train would come to an abrupt halt and career politicians like Lobsang Sangay would lose all prestige accorded him. He will instead have to return to his position as an assistant lecturer, given the lack of demand in the otherwise lucrative lecture circuit for a failed President who has no achievements to call his own. Which politician-businessman would seek such an end? There are such incongruities between what the CTA portrays and its actions that lend credence to China’s labelling of the CTA as a “separatist government”. The Dalai Lama has called for a cessation of CTA hostilities towards China saying that it is foolish to regard China as the enemy and that the past is past. Clearly, the CTA disagrees. It cannot afford not to.



Source: Click to enlarge.


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  1. Separating Buddhist community into camps is a crime! This is in fact one of the 5 heinous crimes as Buddhist i.e. creating schism among Sangha.

    This is obviously politically motivated by CTA to cover up it’s own incompetence. Using Dorje Shugden practitioners as scapegoats to justify its inability to champion the cause of #Tibetans while continue to ask donations from international sympathisers.

    What is worse, CTA has now extended its propaganda to other countries as evident in this publication of anti-Shugden book in Taiwan.

    This shouldn’t be taken lightly. CTA already caused disharmony among Tibetans in-exile and now even to Buddhists all around the world and even invading the harmony of non-Tibetan Buddhists in their own country!

    We must stop the evil plan of CTA. We must not stay quiet.

    Let’s voice out loud our side of the truth. Fight them with logic and historical facts. Fight them with reality against their fabricated lies.

    This is our mission as Dorje Shugden practitioners. It’s our responsibility.

  2. 每一个人都有权利选择自己的信仰和修行自由,为何要制造那么多谎言,自导自演无谓的烦恼给众生,那个种行为就是你们的神圣的信仰了吗?



  3. 达瓦才仁 说: 雄登是世间鬼神,据我所知他是文殊菩薩的化身,只知道凡是修持 多杰雄登者,无論是出家或在家人都遭受迫害,不平等待遇·这些国際新聞都曾經報導过,人民眼睛都是雪亮的·不好被一些有心人誤導了!

  4. 达瓦才仁你这样说就是修多杰雄登是鬼神又惨害西藏宗教,是爪牙打手。


  5. Spending public donation for publishing books as propaganda tool and spread lies is one of the most shameful things a “government” like CTA can do.

    See how difficult the life of some Tibetans in Indian refugee camps…those money should be used to make their life better. Too bad Tibetan leaders did not, and not planning to do so in future as well. 😥😆

  6. A powerful article, a must-read! Makes people wonder, why are they so biased against China when all the other countries are doing exactly what China is doing but behind the facade of ‘democracy’? 👎

    Opinion: In Search Of Historical Parallels For China’s Rise
    October 15, 20182:55 PM ET
    Alexis Dudden teaches history at the University of Connecticut and is the author of Japan’s Colonization of Korea and Troubled Apologies Among Japan, Korea, and the United States. Jeffrey Wasserstrom (@jwassers) teaches history at University of California, Irvine, and is the author of Eight Juxtapositions: China through Imperfect Analogies from Mark Twain to Manchukuo and coauthor of China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know.
    History can be helpful in making sense of what the Chinese Communist Party is doing within and beyond the borders of the People’s Republic of China. But when it comes to understanding today’s China, history is an imperfect guide. Neat parallels with the past aren’t possible. Certain aspects of China today are completely without historical precedent. And even when certain parallels do become possible, history isn’t helpful in quite the way that either Chinese President Xi Jinping or others promoting comparisons to the past may assume.
    Some have warned that as China threatens to displace the U.S. as a world power, war is inevitable — the so-called Thucydides Trap. While it may be tempting now to view the U.S. as Sparta to China’s Athens, this analogy does not stand up to scrutiny. There are more than just two major states locked in competition. Moves by Russia, the European Union, Japan and other powers will affect what does or does not happen next. The existence of international organizations and nuclear weapons alone makes it problematic to summon ancient Greek wars as templates for contemporary geopolitical tensions.
    Xi’s own ideas about the past are particularly significant, and similarly flawed. In promoting his outward-facing Belt and Road Initiative — an ambitious global infrastructure project — and his more domestically focused “Chinese dream” vision of national rejuvenation, he advances the idea that China should be seen as both rebooting and rejecting the past.
    In terms of rebooting, he presents the Belt and Road Initiative as putting a glorious new high-tech spin on the ancient Silk Road. In terms of rejecting, he presents China as breaking completely from the way two previous rising powers — the U.S. and Japan — behaved during the so-called “century of humiliation,” the period between 1839 and 1949 when they were part of an imperialist ganging-up on China.
    But there are no perfect historical analogies for the Belt and Road Initiative. It is not the modern version of the ancient Silk Road. That “road” was actually a set of roads, and they evolved organically, not via a top-down edict. In addition, Silk Roads also were defined by flows in different directions, with China being transformed by things moving into the country as much as by things heading out from it.
    Similarly, there are no perfect analogies to Beijing’s aggressive actions in the South China Sea or its creation of a vast network of indoctrination camps for Uighurs in Muslim-majority Xinjiang.
    As historians of China and Japan, what intrigues us, though, is that some of the most revealing imperfect analogies that come to mind lie precisely where Xi claims no precedents should be sought: in the actions and rhetoric of America and Japan between the first Opium War and the second world war — the period encompassing China’s century of humiliation.
    As America and Japan leapfrogged up the world’s geopolitical hierarchy, they each, as China does now, generated awe, anxiety and an admixture of the two. Much like China today, these two countries were associated with rapid economic development (facilitated by limits on the rights of laborers), technological advances (such as impressive new train lines) and territorial expansion (including, in each case, asserting control over islands in the Pacific Ocean).
    Leaders in Washington and Tokyo then, like those in Beijing now, often claimed to be breaking with the playbooks of previous empires. They asserted that their actions were motivated not by a naked desire for greater power but by a wish to improve the lot of people already under their control in borderlands or those being brought under their control farther away. When they used force, they claimed, they did so only to ensure stability and order.
    Beijing’s recent actions in Xinjiang and Tibet have echoes in Tokyo’s actions in Manchuria in the 1930s and Washington’s in the Philippines at the turn of the 19th century. Tokyo sent soldiers and settlers to Manchuria and exerted direct and indirect influence over the territory. Japanese official publications treated Manchuria’s people much in the same way as China’s Xinhua News Agency now treats those of Xinjiang and Tibet — as inhabitants of a backward and dangerous frontier that needed guidance from a government in a more advanced capital. In the Philippines, American proponents of expansion similarly celebrated the influx of new people and the importing of “modern” ideas, institutions and influences.
    History does suggest that Beijing’s leaders might consider doing things to make their actions less similar to the negative models of Japanese and U.S. expansion that loom large in China’s textbooks. They could grant greater agency to Uighurs and Tibetans in the path of their assimilationist development moves — allowing various languages to be taught in schools, for example — and reverse the trend in Xinjiang of disappearing people into camps, which conjures up other troubling historical analogies as well.
    In the South China Sea, Beijing is doing things that anyone steeped in the American and Japanese pasts will find familiar. But there are new twists.
    In the 1850s, the Japanese government built six Odaiba island fortresses in Tokyo Bay as a defensive strategy, primarily against the Americans. During an 1879 tour of China and Japan, former U.S. president Ulysses S. Grant boasted about his nation’s completion of the transcontinental railroad, which is notable in this context because it was a grand, “belt”-like project that, among other things, facilitated his successors’ annexations of Hawaii and the Philippines, as well as other islands.
    Beijing’s recent pressure on international airlines to shade Taiwan the same color as the mainland on their maps is a new turn. It does, though, recall schoolchildren’s maps in Japan being modified to include Taiwan in 1895, when Tokyo annexed the island into its growing empire. The same thing occurred again in 1910, when Japan subsumed Korea.
    One important difference between China’s expansionist moves and those of the United States and Japan is how they resonated at home. Until Japan took its dark turn in the late 1930s that resulted in the cataclysmic events of 1945, Japanese critics of Tokyo’s territorial ambitions could express their views in public.
    Mark Twain, a writer Xi admires, found it distasteful when the U.S. took control of the Philippines — when, as he put it, the “eagle put its talons” into new places with rapacious greed.
    Some Chinese citizens doubtlessly feel similarly about their government’s actions in the South China Sea, as well as its repressive moves in Xinjiang and Tibet. Unlike Twain or domestic critics of Japanese expansionism, though, it would be dangerous for China’s people to voice their concerns openly. That may be one of the most troubling comparisons from the past and present.


  7. If CTA really serious about serving the interests of fellow Tibetans and delivering what CTA promised them, why do they see fit to waste resource on publishing propaganda material to use the Dorje Shugden issue to divide the community and blame China?

    Time for those who support CTA because they are drawn to HHDL to cease blindly perpetuating harm indirectly or directly.

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.…Instead of turning away people who practise Dorje Shugden, we should be kind to them. Give them logic and wisdom without fear, then in time they give up the ‘wrong’ practice. Actually Shugden practitioners are not doing anything wrong. But hypothetically, if they are, wouldn’t it be more Buddhistic to be accepting? So those who have views against Dorje Shugden should contemplate this. Those practicing Dorje Shugden should forbear with extreme patience, fortitude and keep your commitments. The time will come as predicted that Dorje Shugden’s practice and it’s terrific quick benefits will be embraced by the world and it will be a practice of many beings.

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