Jayadeva Ranade’s insightful observation on Dalai Lama’s declining situation

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By Shashi Kei

In October 2017 the Tibetan government-in-exile, known as the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA), launched its latest initiative, the ‘Five Fifty Forum’ (5/50). From their headquarters in Dharamsala, North India, the CTA declared this was its strategy towards “resolving the issue of Tibet and Tibet’s political future” in five years or, in an unspoken ultimatum to Beijing, spending the next 50 years fighting what it regards as China’s occupation of Tibet.

The forum was intended as a show of stamina and resolution by the Tibetan leadership. However, whispers have abounded for some time now that things are not going well at all for the Dalai Lama’s administration. Indeed, to paraphrase a news article by Jayadeva Ranade published in the Sunday Guardian Live on 28th July 2018, this 5/50 is nothing but a futile pantomime, an empty charade.

During the launch of 5/50, Sikyong Lobsang Sangay declared that the program aims to reinvigorate the Tibet movement for the next 50 years. But the Ranade article maps a worrying trend for the Tibet narrative, which brings into question its ability to survive with any significance even in the short term, let alone over another half a century.


The CTA’s Politics of Division

It did not escape Ranade’s notice that the feud between Penpa Tsering and Lobsang Sangay finally snapped what was an already chronically splintered community. Historically, the Tibetan people are already divided by region (Ü-Tsang, Amdo and Kham) and by religious tradition. This partitioning was a significant factor in the Tibetans losing their country to begin with. Indeed, few people are even aware that Tibet was never one united country, but rather an agglomeration of often-warring factions that in the end was carved up by a handful of aristocratic families and brutal feudal lords.

Into this volatile mix, the Tibetan leadership continually introduced highly discordant policies. Some of their attempts to dissolve all Tibetan Buddhist lineages into a single one under the Dalai Lama include:

  1. The Gungthang Tsultrim murder;
  2. Inducing a three-way split in the Karma Kagyu lineage over their highest spiritual leader, the Karmapa;
  3. Illegally imposing the Dorje Shugden ban thereby splitting the Gelug tradition;
  4. Politicizing Tibetan Buddhism, demonizing the religious rituals of those they perceive as challengers, and banning reincarnations;
  5. Refusing to incorporate representatives of the Jonang tradition into the Tibetan parliament;
  6. Confusing the objective of the ‘Tibetan cause’ by pitting independence (rangzen) activists against those standing for meaningful autonomy (umaylam), thereby creating a conflict which culminated in street brawls;
  7. And not least, the continual infighting at the highest levels of the Tibetan leadership.

All these policies have damaged Tibetan unity tremendously and under such conditions, the Tibetan struggle has never really been a unified one.

The rivalry between Ex Speaker of Parliament Penpa Tsering and Sikyong Lobsang Sangay is expected to intensify over time.


Fending for Themselves

This jockeying for power and the Dalai Lama’s favor has dominated the minds of the Tibetan leadership. The ensuing neglect of the people’s welfare has thrust the task of preserving Tibetan Buddhism’s integrity into the hands of senior monks of individual Buddhists sects who, unable to gain an appropriate measure of support from their own leaders, have been engaging the Chinese government directly, as Ranade notes. In doing so, these monks risk being labelled traitorous Chinese sympathizers and anti-Dalai Lama operatives who allow their religion to be politicized.

Still, saving their lineage has been worth the risk. Because not only has the politicization of Tibetan Buddhism also been a policy tool of Dharamsala, but aligning oneself with Dharamsala also lacks the sorely-needed status and funding that China can provide to rebuild and protect the lineages. And while China has always been willing to separate religion from politics, it is in fact Dharamsala who has refused to give up their dangerous fusion of church and state. Thus, China today is merely engaging the Tibetan leadership in the game they set out to play, only now the CTA is losing in their own game and crying foul.

The Tibetan leadership’s inability to retain the loyalty of religious leaders in their community has extended to even the 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje whom the Dalai Lama has endorsed as the official head of the Karma Kagyu tradition, the largest sub-sect of the Kagyu school. To some, Ogyen Trinley also represents a potentially suitable candidate to take over the spiritual leadership of Tibetan Buddhism outside China, in the absence of the Dalai Lama. For all intents and purposes, Ogyen Trinley had much to gain by remaining in India as part of the Tibetan establishment. Hence, his fleeing Dharamsala’s sphere of influence has not gone unnoticed.

The 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje has thus far refused to return to India, citing reasons that allude to his being controlled by Dharamsala.

Ogyen Trinley’s escape from India might appear to be the result of his reluctance to be used as a political tool in Sino-Indian engagements, but as Ranade’s article points out, it was in fact to escape being used as a pawn by the CTA to the detriment of his own lineage. Karmapa Ogyen Trinley has even expressed interest in returning to China, having fled the country in December 1999. His is a statement which echoes the sentiments of other senior monks of various Tibetan Buddhist lineages, who are reported to be building bridges with Beijingit is better to be a Tibetan under the Chinese than the CTA.

Against the backdrop of a China whose rising might corresponds with her determination to deny the fulfilment of the so-called ‘Tibetan cause’ and her interest (even if simply strategic) in Buddhism, it is only logical for these monks to conclude that their respective traditions have no future under the stewardship of the Tibetan exile leadership. To ensure the survival of their traditions, they have to make their peace with China, something the CTA has failed to grasp and therefore has continued to vilify anyone who even dares to suggest it.

For those who rely on sense rather than sentiment, it is clear that they will need to build bridges with Beijing as a means of securing the continuation of their religious traditions. Authentic lamas and tulkus (lama incarnates) are drawn to conditions that empower them to spread the Dharma and if those conditions are manifest in China, then it is there they will go in this life and in future rebirths. And many indeed have, either moving back to China or taking rebirth there. After all, labels such as country codes and border lines are worldly constructs, and the talk of politicians is beyond the interest of true practitioners of Buddhism who seek to escape the pull of ‘samsara’ (cyclical existence), rather than trading one aspect of it for another.

Hence, collectively, these senior lamas’ actions make a strong statement about the prevailing lack of faith in the Tibetan leadership’s abilities and intentions and, whether wittingly or not, bear significant social and political consequences. Not only has the CTA failed to keep alive the hopes and confidence of the Tibetan refugees, but it also speaks of the Dalai Lama’s waning power not only on the world stage but also within his exiled community. The urgency to protect the Dharma now supersedes the Tibetan leadership’s mandate to appear loyal to the Dalai Lama and the consequence is this – because the Tibetan people identify strongly with their spiritual tradition, they tend to follow the lead of their spiritual teachers. Thus, as more of them forge relationships with China, ultimately this means accepting China. In their focus on personal agendas and neglect of the people, the Tibetan leadership have all but delivered victory to the enemy.


China’s Checkmate: The Dalai Lama’s Final Move

It should surprise no one that the Dalai Lama might be harboring similar thoughts. His government-in-exile has largely failed. China continues to grow stronger even as the Tibetan struggle, singularly embodied in the Dalai Lama’s being, weakens as his health and influence subside. It would be unrealistic for the Dalai Lama to expect that China will suddenly cave in to his administration’s demands just because he is running out of time and options. Either the Dalai Lama allows the Tibetan cause to disintegrate when he passes on or he decides to use whatever time is left to secure a future for his people. The idea of entrusting the struggle to future leaders of the Tibetans in exile, the basis of Dr Lobsang Sangay’s 5/50, may be long in form but falls sadly short in substance and realism based on the CTA’s performance thus far.

The Buddhist Academy of the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) is located in Nyetang Township, Quxu County, Lhasa, TAR. As the first high-level comprehensive academy of Tibetan Buddhism, it has attracted eminent monks and students from all five sects of Tibetan Buddhism.

If the Dalai Lama cannot reacquire Tibet and continue to claim sole proprietorship over ‘Tibetan Buddhism’ then maybe he can mortgage his original schema of autonomy to secure the future of the Tibetan people, and lodge control and legitimate authority over Tibetan Buddhism with a new guardian. At the very least, China’s transnational trajectory will by default spread the sacred Buddhist practices from the Dalai Lama’s motherland and in that way, preserve the memory of the old Tibet. And the one move which will achieve both objectives and, more importantly, the only move China seems interested in, is for the Dalai Lama to return to China. This decision may explain why the personal emissary of the Dalai Lama, Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, made a secret trip to China in November 2017.

The Dalai Lama’s return to Tibet on China’s terms would put an official end to the Sino-Tibetan conflict and progressively ease tensions in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR). This translates to a less turbulent life for Tibetans in TAR who live as suspects with each and every day that the Dalai Lama’s Tibetan struggle drags on. It would also fulfil what is, for millions of Tibetans, a lifelong wish to meet the Dalai Lama again. All these however are mere concessions as the clear winner is China.


The Final Analysis

The Dalai Lama’s return to China on China’s terms would mean that in the final analysis:

  1. The Dalai Lama agrees Tibet has always been a region under China’s sovereignty and not an independent country;
  2. It would affirm that it was rightful for Chinese troops to have marched into Tibet in 1959 to reclaim what they view as their territory; and
  3. It would invalidate all criticisms of China as an oppressor that is trespassing in Tibet, thereby invalidating all work and campaigns by pro-Tibet organizations for the last 60 years.

But the biggest prize of all would be China’s formal installation as the sole authority to recognize the next and all future Dalai Lamas as well as high incarnate lamas. This itself is the key to controlling the Tibetan people as well as indirectly commanding the allegiance of countless millions of Tibetan Buddhist adherents around the world. This is a weapon that should not be discounted as China has seen how a monk with no country, no army, and no commercial and economic power has managed to sway sentiments against China, both inside and outside her own borders, for decades.

Is the Dalai Lama negotiating for his return to China via his emissary, Samdhong Rinpoche?

Jayadeva Ranade’s article does not spell it out but it seems to be a natural conclusion that the state of affairs in Dharamsala equates to a foreboding sense that the Tibetan cause is in its final stages. A writer with inside knowledge like Ranade should know that all the CTA and Dalai Lama can manage now is little more than posturing in the hope of gaining whatever concessions they can lay their hands on from China.

But all may not be lost for the Dalai Lama, for if it is to be believed that he is none other than Avalokiteshvara, the Buddha of Compassion, then the biggest winner will be Buddhism itself. In the absence of a commandeering and disruptive conflict, life would swiftly normalize, allowing those who embody Tibetan religious life to ride the Asian Dragon to a new renaissance of Dharma. It may have taken the Tibetan leadership 60 years to fail or we can choose to view it from another perspective; that over 60 years, the Dalai Lama and his Buddhist government managed to incentivize a rising giant, China, to embrace Buddhism so wholeheartedly, even desperately, as to turn her into the world’s biggest addict of this opiate that Mao regarded as so toxic. However you regard it, what is certain is that the ‘Tibetan cause’ is done for.


Sunday Guardian Live: Exiled Tibetans are confused about future

Source: https://www.sundayguardianlive.com/news/exiled-tibetans-confused-future. Click to enlarge.


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  1. ‘Karmapa’ Ogyen Trinley no longer recognised by Indian govt as 17th Karmapa. Indian government is not happy he did not show respect to India for all the years he took refuge in India. He simply renounced his Indian protectorate papers and took a Dominican republic passport. He could have had the courtesy to let Indian government know beforehand and thank them.

    Read more at:

    ‘Dorje no longer recognised by Indian govt as 17th Karmapa’
    Indrani Bagchi | TNN | Dec 28, 2018, 04:00 IST
    Given its apparent disenchantment with the Karmapa, the government is no longer seeing his decision to acquire a Dominican passport as a problem and is willing to give him a visa.
    This could mean that India will no accord much importance to the status of his identity certificate, the document commonly issued to Tibetan refugees, which also facilitates travel abroad.
    NEW DELHI: The already strained ties between Karmapa Ugyen Trinley Dorje and the Indian government seems to have further deteriorated with the government making it clear that it does not recognise him as the legitimate Buddhist religious leader of the influential karma kagyu sect.
    The sharp put down, articulated by well-placed sources, makes the status and future of the Karmapa uncertain in India and seems to indicate that India’s impatience with his long absence from India has turned into a colder indifference to the leader’s claim to his “traditional” seat of the Rumtek monastery.
    Given its apparent disenchantment with the Karmapa, the government is no longer seeing his decision to acquire a Dominican passport as a problem and is willing to give him a visa. This could mean that India will not accord much importance to the status of his identity certificate, the document commonly issued to Tibetan refugees, which also facilitates travel abroad.
    There are legal and political aspects to the development. Since there are competing claims to the Rumtek monastery that are sub judice, India cannot pronounce on the Karmapa’s claim. However, politically, keeping the Karmapa in its zone of influence and supporting his presence here makes India a “guardian” of a religious leader seen to rank next to the Dalai Lama in importance.
    The government’s stand is at odds with the Dalai Lama, who has recognised Dorje as the legitimate Karmapa. In recent years, the Indian government had also shed its suspicions about Karmapa’s escape from China along with his older sister and a few followers. But for more than a year after Karmapa went to the US, he has avoided returning and has in fact complained that he finds restrictions on his travel irksome.
    The rival claimant to the post, Thaye Dorje, who had been placed as a Karmapa claimant by Shamar Rimpoche, recently renounced monkhood and got married, diluting his claim since the title calls for celibacy.
    The two claimants had riven the Karma Kagyu sect, though according to reports, an attempt was made to bridge the divide with Ugyed Trinley Dorje and Trinley Thaye Dorje meeting at a place on the France-Switzerland border in October.
    Ugyen Trinley Dorje’s situation became tenuous after he took a passport from the commonwealth of Dominica in the Caribbean. Sources said Dorje’s acquiring of a foreign passport automatically makes the Tibetan identity certificate (IC) invalid. This means, he would need a visa to enter India.
    The Indian government, according to sources, have conveyed to the Karmapa willingness to issue him a visa. “But he has not approached any Indian mission for a visa,” they said.
    Indian security agencies have been suspicious of him for years, branding him a Chinese spy, particularly as China so readily recognised him. In 2016, the Modi government however, eased travel restrictions for him and he was allowed to travel overseas.
    This throws into confusion not only the future of the Karma Kagyu sect of which Dorje is believed to be the head, but would have implications for India-China and India-Tibet relations in the longer term.

    Dorje no longer recognised by Indian govt as 17th Karmapa

  2. As the so-called spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhists, the Dalai Lama strictly abstains from drinking alcohol in accordance to traditional monastic codes. However, it has recently been reported that the religious leader owns his own vineyard in Switzerland! Apparently, various celebrities, including the likes of Roger Moore, Sepp Blatter and Zinedine Zidane have all made trips to the vineyard. What will people say when they find out that a Buddhist monk, who promotes abstinence from alcohol, owns a vineyard that produces wine for sale? This is certainly not going to sit well with his image of a religious leader and member of the Buddhist monastic order.


  3. Dear Tibetan government-in-exile (Dharamsala),

    Sharmapa Rinpoche is the highest authority in the Karma Kagyu after Karmapa. By age-old tradition, Sharmapa is the one that confirms the real incarnation of Karmapa. He recognized Thaye Dorje as the genuine Karmapa. But Dalai Lama endorsed Orgyen Trinley as the real Karmapa. Dalai Lama is a great lama but there has never been a tradition of him recognizing a Karmapa.

    Both ‘Karmapas’ have big followings in and out of Tibet. So which one should we follow? We have to follow the genuine Karmapa. If we follow the fake one, we will get fake teachings, fake lineage and no results. We can even take rebirth in the lower realms.

    Only the Tibetan leaders can tell us which is the real Karmapa. You have told us which one is the real Panchen Lama. We follow the Panchen of your choosing. Since then we have condemned China and condemned the fake Panchen Lama. Now it is the same situation with Karmapa. We have denounced the fake Karmapa and ask him to step down. He is destroying the Karma Kagyu Lineage.

    This issue has torn the Karma Kagyu sect in half. There are many who are so confused and some gave up Tibetan Buddhism altogether because of this. We must solve the confusion. This does not look good for the Tibetan government in exile because the confusion was started by Tibetan government. I support Dalai Lama and Tibetan government. But so many of us need to know the real Karmapa already. Don’t remain silent. Which one is the real Karmapa.

    Tibetan government in exile, you have created two Gelugs (Pro-Dorje Shugden and against), you have created two Panchen Rinpoches, two Karmapas, two Dromo Geshe Rinpoches, two Kundeling Rinpoches and so on. When are you going to solve all the confusion. You are destroying Tibetan Buddhism.

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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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