• Full Member
  • ***
  • Posts: 214


In an atmosphere where nationalistic and religious fervor for the Dalai Lama are all too often substituted for reasoned debate and political analysis, the dynamics of social groups plays an important role in enforcing policies of the exile government, which itself is denied this role by its host country. The unusual circumstances of exile require atypical solutions to social and political problems. The exile government works through a social organizations which were also common in old Tibet where they did not have the same political functions they acquired in exile. In 1991, the base of representation in the Assembly was divided into regional groups (based on the traditional division of Tibetan geography into three main provinces, Tib.: chol.ka gsum,or Cholsum) and religious sects functioning like interest groups. A network of NGO's, Many of them were started by someone prominent in the exile government, as the Women's Association was started in the 1980 by request of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, and the Tibetan Youth Congress originally upon request of Gyalo Thondup, the Dalai Lama's brother, with founding members listed in the TYC brochure as Tenzin Geyche Tethong, Lodi Gyari, Sonam Topgyal and Tenzin N. Tethong, almost all of whom are still powerful players in the Tibetan exile government. made up of different regional sub-groups, social welfare groups, religious organizations, and local chapters of women's and youth groups effectively carry out the exile government's wishes usually in the name of the Dalai Lama. For some of the underlying political dynamics in exile, see, for example, Illusion and Reality, Jamyang Norbu, TYC Books, Dharamsala, 1989. "Thomas Merton, the Catholic divine, once observed that nowhere in the world was a leader so loved by his people as the Dalai Lama. It should be the task of government officials to strengthen this bond of affection and loyalty and direct it towards the achievement of our common goal; not pervert it to blackmailing the people into silence. The Chinese are doing their best to turn us into a nation of sheep; it is heartbreaking that the Tibetan government should be attempting to hasten the process." p. 37 Social pressure to conform to anything interpreted as the wish of the Dalai Lama has become intense, especially in the last decade. This type of social control was not exercised in Tibet before 1959 but developed out of the very difficult conditions in exile, where the large number of social groups originated first to help destitute refugees and later to raise funds from international sponsors and donor organizations. Another reason is that the legal status of Tibetans in India is precarious. They are prohibited from engaging in overt "political" activity. Since Tibetans are refugees in India, they do not have their own police or legal system. The Indian police and legal systems have often proven to be corrupt and Tibetans do not trust them. Thus, social pressure is an effective method of control and enforcing directives of the Tibetan exile government. Tibetans are clannish in ways difficult for us to grasp which makes social pressure an effective device. They are primarily still an oral culture and get their information from radio, tapes, and an amazingly accurate grapevine. This makes them extremely vulnerable to rumor mongering. Publications in Tibetan or English are to varying degrees controlled by the exile government which exercises censorship. Jamyang Norbu: "Opening of the Political Eye, Tibet's long search for democracy," Tibetan Review, November 1990 A free press does not exist among Tibetans themselves, although they have access to the international press. The fear and mistrust that naturally develop among exiles are ever on the rise. This is especially true since more and more Tibetans escaped to India from their Chinese controlled homeland in the 1990's, For example, the monk population in the big Gelugpa monastic universities, Ganden, Drepung, and Sera doubled in the 90's with an influx of people coming out of Tibet, where religious freedom had increased but the opportunity for thorough Buddhist studies was not available. Tibetan Buddhism has many different sub-sects, but generally four major ones are given: Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, and Gelugpa, in order of historical emergence. The Gelugpa order has been the largest group since the 16th- 17th centuries. They focus more on monastic institutions than the other groups and on philosophical studies that culminate in the Geshe degree. bringing with them their different use of language and unfamiliar views. The upbringing of Tibetans in Tibet and those in India differs radically, causing even deeper factionalism and paranoia already rampant in the exile community. These factors explain in part why the Dalai Lama's words carry the weight of law and why an indirect remark from him can destroy someone or actually become incendiary.

Until the 1990's the one issue uniting the exile community had been Tibetan independence. The State Oracle advising the Dalai Lama and his government had repeatedly predicted in the 80's early 90's that freedom was waiting just around the corner. For example, at the Kalachakra initiation His Holiness gave at Varanasi in 1983, he mentioned that Tibetans would regain freedom soon, as soon as five and no longer than ten years. This clearly did not materialize.

With the official political strategy having changed from independence to returning to Tibet under Chinese control, The Dalai Lama has repeated this in the world press especially since the fall of 1997. Most recently several high ranking members of his exile government confirmed to the international press that the Dalai Lama was even willing to make a public statement in Washington (Nov. 7-10, 1998) admitting Tibet and Taiwan are part of China because the Chinese stated this as a condition for his visit to China. See, for example, the German newspaper "Die Woche," November 6, 1998. the institution of Dalai Lama has emerged today as the only unifying factor. Where in the 1980's the Dalai Lama still laughingly responded in the affirmative to the inevitable journalistic question whether he was the last Dalai Lama, in the 90's he answered the same question by emphasizing different type of continuity for the institution. Among the possibilities he mentioned were a Dalai Lama elected like the Pope or incarnated as a woman. The return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet became the most important issue for exile Tibetans in the late 1990's. According to the head of the Tibetan assembly, Samdhong Rinpoche, in an interview January 12, 1998 in Sarnath. The reason: the Chinese would never accept a Dalai Lama born outside Tibet. However, there are contradictory statements on the issue of the Dalai Lama's rebirth. "The Dalai Lama used the occasion of his 64th birthday on Tuesday to announce he will not be reincarnated in Tibet, but in a free country outside Chinese control..." "Dalai Lama Discusses His Rebirth," Associated Press, New Delhi, AOL July 6, 1999. See also, Dexter Filkins, "Tibetans Tire of Peaceful 'Middle Way," Los Angeles Times, March 19, 1999, "If I die, and the Tibetan people want another Dalai Lama, that person will appear in the refugee community, outside of Tibet." The same article also quotes the Dalai Lama as saying, "After I die this is not my responsibility, ... let someone else worry about it." While the Chinese view is, "When the Dalai Lama dies, he dies," said Mr. Ma Chongying, the deputy director of the Minority and Religious Affairs Bureau in Tibet. "There will be no replacement." Reporting from Lhasa, Seth Faison: "As Dalai Lama Woos Beijing, Tibetans Pray for His Return," The New York Times, November 9, 1998; Seth Faison: "Beyond the Dalai Lama, His Successor Could Be the Solution," The New York Times, November 15, 1998. The explanation floated, also in the Western press, was that unless he died and was reborn in Tibet, the Chinese would not accept a future Dalai Lama. Although full of contradictions that leave everyone guessing, this explanation nevertheless points to the need of ensuring the continuity of the institution of Dalai Lama, He said recently, too, "I also believe that the Tibetan people should be able to decide their future, their form of government and their social system,' he wrote, adding that no Tibetan is interested in restoring outdated political and social

The Asian Wall Street Journal, Hongkong, December 9, 1998, from Dow Jones, a newswire service (+) something that has come to represent the nation in lieu of a country. The clearer it becomes that Tibet is lost, the stronger is the clinging to the institution of Dalai Lama. Hence, Tibetans resist vehemently anything that can be construed as a criticism of his person or administration and react with irrational fury to anything that can be seen as a threat even to his reputation or legacy, let alone his life. For example, the Tibetan Youth Congress, although patriotic in defending the reputation of the Dalai Lama, also advocates political violence and "to struggle for the total independence of Tibet even at the cost of one's life," as stated in TYC's aims and objectives. It is thus in opposition to the Dalai Lama on independence versus autonomy under Chinese rule. Even many monks do not listen to the Dalai Lama's positive advice. In the last two years, the Tibetan population in New York more than quadrupled. Many of them are monks who have left their monasteries without permission from their abbots and religious community to seek material fortune in the West ostensibly for virtuous reasons. The Dalai Lama, in addressing a group of Tibetans in Washington D.C. in November 1998, told them that they should return to their monasteries and that they were merely riding on his robes. Yet, they keep coming.

It is not difficult to see that Tibetans are going through the most severe identity crisis in their history. Those living in exile have been displaced from their homeland and those left in Tibet from their culture. The complex set of problems created by all these forced changes in an already complicated society with arcane social practices remain largely inaccessible to the Western mind. Most do not affect us. Yet Tibetans have been a genuine source for spiritual discovery in the last decades for many people around the world, and the Dalai Lama a powerful source of inspiration. There are a number of religious issues embedded in Tibetan political and social problems that take some effort to extricate. The one I found especially striking in its impenetrable abstruseness is the Dorje Shugden Rdo.rje is Tibetan for the Sanskrit word vajra. Anything so designated refers to the state of complete enlightenment, used in the vajrayana vehicle of Buddhism as symbol of the indivisibility of [illusory] body and mind [of clear light] and their ultimate union. Shugden means being endowed with power, force, strength. The name thus means "the one with vajra force," or the force of the Buddha's enlightenment in specific actions. For different historical interpretations of Dorje Shugden at the intersection of Tibetan mix of religion and politics, see Part II, 17th Century. protector conflict rooted in the Dalai Lama's restrictions of his practice, which surfaced in 1996 to receive international attention. It exposes the fault lines and depth of the Tibetan identity crisis like few others. To measure how deep the crisis goes, consider the following statement by Ngawang Tenpa, Officer of the Cholsum organization, the largest regional group in Tibetan politics, "It is possible to think of a time when we will make friends with the Chinese, but with these (Dorje Shugden) people -- never," During a conference in Dharamsala, at T.I.P.A., called by United Cholsum Organization, August 27-31. On video (in Tibetan) of that conference produced by "Sargyur," a private Tibetan company in India. Inquiring into the circumstances for its eruption, I found out more about Tibetans than I had in many years of participating in human rights work and following the teachings of their masters. The Dorje Shugden conflict serves as an example of the ever widening gap between appearance and reality in the increasingly fractious refugee community.