From the vaults: Demystifying the Dalai Lama

Posted: August 16, 2015 by Admin in China, Creepy stuff, Imperialism and anti-imperialism, Organised superstition, Poverty & Inequality, United States - politics

“A national liberation movement? Ah, you kidder!”

Below is another in our series of reprints from one of the print predecessors of this blog.  The article below appeared under the title ‘Ride my Lama?’ in issue #10 of revolution magazine, August/September 1999.

by Linda Kearns

Late last year the Christchurch chapter of the ‘Friends of Tibet’ held a screening of Martin Scorcese’s film Kundun.  The film, written by Melissa Mathison Ford, wife of actor Harrison Ford, concerns the early life of the Dalai Lama before his exile into India and follows a spate of movies on the same subject, including Seven Years in Tibet and Red Corner.

It seems that the Dalai Lama and the plight of Tibet has become very fashionable amongst the Hollywood elite and when the film had a rather muted release film critics were quick to cry ‘conspiracy’ as Disney, the company backing the movie, has economic and commercial interests in China.  The real explanation for the limited release of the movie, however, has more to do with the economics o the film industry than the politics of the Tibet issue.  As the Palace Film Distributor Tait Brady commented, “Remember, it’s a pretty heady film – Brad Pitt isn’t in it.”

Accusations of Chinese oppression of the American film industry serve to highlight how far removed these Hollywood celebrities and their portrayal of the Dalai Lama are from the real world.  Tibet, for most of these people, serves as the archetypal spiritual place where people live simply and in accordance with the religious teaching of Buddhist monks headed by the peace-loving Dalai Lama.  This imagined paradise has supposedly been trampled under the boots of Chinese communist oppression.

While I have no sympathy for the Chinese government, I find the actions of these Hollywood types and the ‘Friends of Tibet’ even worse.  In struggling to restore the Dalai Lama these Hollywood humanitarians and their liberal counterparts elsewhere are hoping to reinstall a feudal mode of production and a religious oligarchy that served only to exploit and oppress the people of Tibet.  It’s no wonder the Nazi Heinrich Harrer, whose book was the basis for the Seven Years in Tibet movie, was so attracted to the country and its slave-owning obscurantist leaders.

Prior to 1949 Tibet was governed by a religious aristocracy with the Dalai Lama, the god king, presiding over the government.  Next in line was the Panchen Lama.  The Tibetan government in Lhasa was composed of lamas selected for their religious piety.  The charter of law provided no rights for women.  The clergy were among the biggest landlords; one monastery near Lhasa even owned estates with some 25,000 serfs.  The monasteries were supported by contributions from the nobility which means, ultimately, by the labour of the peasants.  The concepts of democracy, human rights and universal education were unknown.

The Dalai Lama and the majority of the elite agreed to give away Tibet’s de facto independence in 1950, once they were assured by Beijing that their oppressive theocratic political system and the exploitative semi-feudal economic system would be maintained.  Nine years later, only when they felt their privileges were threatened by a tax from Beijing, did the elite manage to win some poor Tibetans to their cause and stage a revolt.

This revolt was led by monks from the Lithang monastery in eastern Tibet.  Chris Mullin, writing in the Far Eastern Economic Review, described Lithang’s monks as “not monks in the Western sense. . . many are involved in private trade; some carried guns and spent much of their time violently feuding with rival monasteries.  One former citizen describes Lithang as ‘like the Wild West’.”

Prior to the outbreak of the revolt the Dalai Lama issued to an appeal for gold and jewels in order to build himself another throne which he claimed would rid Tibet of ‘bad omens’.  120 tons of gold and jewelry were collected and over 60 tons preceeded the Dalai Lama on his flight to India in 1959.

Between 1956 and 1972 the CIA armed and trained Tibetan guerrillas and provided an annual subsidy of $US1.7 million throughout the sixties.  Before the 1959 uprising, the CIA parachuted arms and traied guerrillas into eastern Tibet.  The Dalai Lama mantained radio contact with the CIA during his 1959 escape to India.

This Lama has no problem aligning himself and his ’cause’ with the largest imperialist power in the world, while cynically dragging along a whole bunch of well-meaning pacifists and hippies in his wake.  This he does in the name of human rights.  This same Lama has no compunction in declaring divergent Buddhists ‘heretics’ for following the wrong saint who, he claims, is actually a ‘demon’.

Give me a break.  The only L(l)amas I’ll be supporting are the kind with hooves and bad breath.


  1. Di Hickman says:

    You have not got reliable information.
    “The Tibetan Parliament in Exile (TPiE) is the unicameral and highest legislative organ of the Central Tibetan Administration. Established and based in Dharamsala, India. The creation of this democratically elected body has been one of the major changes that His Holiness the Dalai Lama has brought about in his efforts to introduce a democratic system of administration. Today, the Parliament consists of 44 members. Ten members each from U-Tsang, Do-tod and Do-med, the three traditional provinces of Tibet, while the four schools of Tibetan Buddhism and the traditional Bon faith elect two members each. Four members are elected by Tibetans in the west: two from Europe, one from North America and one from Canada. The Tibetan Parliament-in-Exile is headed by a Speaker and a Deputy Speaker, who are elected by the members amongst themselves. Any Tibetan who has reached the age of 25 has the right to contest elections to the Parliament.

    The elections are held every five years and any Tibetan who has reached the age of 18 is entitled to vote.Sessions of the Parliament are held twice every year, with an interval of six months between the sessions.

    • Andy says:

      Our information is reliable Di. The info you have given appears to be on a wholly different topic. The romanticisation of the D.L and Tibet is symptomatic of the thinking amongst the Hollywood intelligentsia. We stand by our analysis. If, as you suggest, a system of democratic representation has been established, then perhaps this is worth a closer look. Thanks. Andy.

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