Over the last 5 decades that Tibetans have been exiled from their homeland, the Dalai Lama has wavered between fighting for both autonomy within the China he loves and complete independence from the China he despises. His constant flippant and contradictory statements – though viewed as ‘skillful means’ by some – are now being questioned by many. People as now asking, “What does the Dalai Lama actually want?”
On one hand, the Dalai Lama demands Tibet to be an autonomous region; on the other he considers China a neighboring country. Why should the Dalai Lama want Tibet to become an autonomous region within a ‘foreign’ country?
Historically, Tibet has been entwined with China for centuries, from the 1st Dalai Lama in 1474 until the current 14th Dalai Lama. But the Dalai Lama has insisted that Tibet had 38 years of freedom until the Chinese reclaimed Tibet. Why was this issue brought up? China has over 55 unique ethnic groups that live as a homogenous whole within China. However, the Dalai Lama has insisted that Tibetans are different and that independence from China is essential for preserving uniqueness of the Tibetan ethnicity. While in reality the Tibetan Autonomous Region is only home to 1 million of the 6 million Tibetans living in China. Is that to say that all 55 ethnic groups within China should also demand for their ‘freedom’? Then China should be broken into 55 different countries for each ethnic group. Isn’t this logical?
Nonetheless, to the Dalai Lama, 38 years of independence seems to count for more than five centuries of a shared life with China. He spoke about this openly to the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus in 1987 and later, again expressed the suffering of Tibetans in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech in 1989. The Dalai Lama speaks widely and frequently on human rights and independence; he has also made ‘appeals to the Chinese people’ and assured the Chinese people that he has no desire to seek Tibet’s separation or to drive any wedge between the Tibetan and Chinese people.
However, while the Dalai Lama enthusiastically and tirelessly conduct dialogues about human rights, peace and independence of Tibet, there seems to be a different story within his own exiled Tibetan community. The implementation of the ban on the Buddhist deity Dorje Shugden has created great divisions among the Tibetans themselves. How does one fight for the independence of one’s own country when the people within are in agony and divided among themselves? And once independence is achieved, what then? Does Tibet also have to be split into two just as Gaden Monastery was split into two, with the establishment and separation of Shar Gaden Monastery? (600 monks who had chosen to continue their practice of Dorje Shugden were expelled from Gaden Monastery and had to set up their own institution, Shar Gaden, which is now considered separate from Gaden itself. Monks from both monasteries are not permitted to associate with or communicate to each other in any way).
Inconsistencies are also seen within the ban of Dorje Shugden. While in the 1990s, the Dalai Lama launched a full-fledged ban towards this practice and its practitioners, causing immeasurable pain and agony to millions of people, he has lately adviced followers during a talk in Lhasa that, ‘Whatever fierce spirit you choose is up to you’. This statement practically annuls the ban on Dorje Shugden practice, though there is still very strong discrimination against Dorje Shugden practitioners. In the light of both situations, is it not fair that we question the Dalai Lama’s ability to lead his people? Instead of giving clarity and hope, all that has been created throughout these decades of being in exile is more confusion and the further internal division of his own exiled community.
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