The 14th Dalai Lama and Politics


Slides for a presentation and panel discussion


“Ethics Beyond Borders”


April 3rd, 2012


Tom Weston



The Dalai Lama’s Multiple Roles

        Spiritual Leader of Tibetan Buddhism

        Head of the Tibetan government before 1959, morphing into spokesman for the Tibetan exile movement

        This talk will be about his politics, in particular:

        About DL’s view of Tibet before 1959

        About various war U. S. wars, Israel & Palestine

        About economic inequality


China and Tibet

        From about 1912 to 1950 (and in some earlier periods), Tibet was effectively self-governing

        China’s Qing dynasty, its Nationalist government after that, and People’s Republic of China from 1949 all maintained that Tibet is part of China

        PRC army occupied Tibet in 1950, agreed not to force reform up to revolt in 1959.



Dalai Lama After 1959

        Fled Tibet after 1959 revolt

        Lives now in Dharamsala, India,

        Headed “Central Tibetan Administration” until retirement in March 2011

        Dalai Lama asks for Tibetan autonomy, not independence, but for ethnic Tibetans, not just those in the Tibetan Autonomous Region. This would include many Tibetans in other provinces of China 


Dalai Lama’s Role in a New Tibetan Gov’t

        “… in 1992, I made clear that when the day of our return—with a certain degree of freedom—comes, I’ll hand over all my political authority to the local Tibetan government. Hopefully, that government should be a democratic, elected government.”

        The Progressive, January 2006



Tibetan Serfdom / Feudalism
 Before 1950

        Aristocratic families and monasteries owned estates worked by serfs

        About 1/3rd of land owned by private aristocrats, 1/3rd by monasteries, 1/3rd by gov’t

        Serfs bound to an estate, could not leave

        Serfs worked own plots of land but also owed corvée labor, taxes, and hereditary debts

        E. g., Drepung monastery owned estates with 20,000 serfs, who supported 10,000 monks




        Monks generally enrolled by their families as young (8-10 yrs) children

        Prayer, study, some trained to fight

        No reliable stats on number of monks and nuns in 1950

        One Chinese source says 18% of male population

        Monasteries also acted like banks, loaned money, collected debts



Dalai Lama on Old Tibet

        Are Tibetans are being punished for their "bad karma”?  "Yes. Of course. We are punished for feudalism. Every event is due to one's karma."

        "We cannot revert to the old Tibet, and even if we could, we do not want to, because there were many things wrong with our society”

         The Independent, 6/7/2004


Dalai Lama on Social/Moral Issues

        Accused of being a “social conservative,” but this is doubtful

        Opposes homosexuality for Buddhists

        Rejects discrimination against gays/lesbians

        Opposes abortion, but allows some exceptions

        A pacifist?

        “In the contemporary, deeply interdependent world, war is outdated and illogical” (Beyond Religion, 2011)


On the Iraq War

        “In the field of international relations [of the U. S.], the democratic principle is not there,” and the U.S. is “still relying on showing force.”

        “At the same time, you cannot blame America.”  (Why not?)

        Use of force by democratically elected government is “much better” than its use by dictatorships.

        ---NYC Town Hall Speech, 9/23/03 (youtube)



Iraq and Afghan Wars

        “When the [Iraq] war started, some people immediately asked me if it was justified or not, whether it was right or wrong. In principle, any resort to violence is wrong.”

        “With regard to the Afghanistan and Iraq cases, only history will tell. At this moment, Afghanistan may be showing some positive results, but it is still not very stable. With Iraq, it is too early to say.”

        The Progressive, January, 2006




Iraq and Other Wars

        On whether the Iraq war is justified: "I feel only history will tell”  --NY Times, 9/19/03

        Some wars, including the Korean War and World War II, helped "protect the rest of civilization, democracy.”

        The Vietnam War increased suffering and was a "failure.” (From whose perspective?)

        Associated Press 9/10/03



On Afghanistan War

        ”… I think the American side is very, very carefully selecting targets, taking maximum precautions about the civilian casualties.”

        "I think this is a sign of more civilization”

        (U. S. was civilized in its actions?)

        “… bombing can eliminate only physical things, not thoughts or emotions. Talk and reasoning is the only long-term solution.”

        Agence France Press, 10/24/01


Afghan War

        Afghanistan may have been justified to win a larger peace: "perhaps some kind of liberation.”

        "The people themselves, I think, suffer a lot under their previous regimes”

        Associated Press, 9/10/03


On George W. Bush

        “I love him. Because since my first visit, I noted he as a human being very nice, very open, very straightforward. My first call at that time [in May, 2001], within a few seconds, we became very close friends. So I love him.”

        Bush "lacked understanding of reality” in launching a war in Iraq where it turned out there were no weapons of mass destruction.

        L. A. Times, 7/23/08


Causes of Current Wars

        "Terrorism is the worst kind of violence, so we have to check it, we have to take counter-measures.” -- NY Times, 9/19/03

        “The threats we live with also stem from the arms industry itself, from the arms trade, and indeed from the culture of violence—often perpetuated by the media….” (Beyond Religion, 2011)

        “Western nations get rich by using resources such as Arab oil. Meanwhile, the countries supplying them raw materials remain poor. Due to such injustices, jealousies are created.” Progressive Jan/06


On Marxism

        DL says he is “Marxist as far as economic theory is concerned”

        Opposes “totalitarian, rigid system”

        Equal distribution is a moral principle

        Wants “liberal democratic socialist”

        He is “More red than Chinese leaders”

         Aspen Institute video, 2008



On Decreasing Inequality

        “People have to decide on their own that it is good to share what they have, at least to some degree.“ (“on their own”?)

        “When there is too much of a gap, some agitators can easily organize the poor people, as they can claim to be fighting for equality or for justice. … in the long run it is in the interest of the richer people themselves to make sure that there is a less-extreme gap between themselves and the poor around them. “

        Rolling Stone, 5/24/2001


On Israel and the Arabs

        "To the Arabs I say, it is sad, sad what happened to you. But look at what the Jewish people have done here. Take the good."

         Should Israel meet with the Hamas? "It is too early to tell," he replied, then called on the Hamas "to give up its violent ways." Non-violence, he insisted, is "more realistic."

        Speech in Israel, Jerusalem Post, 2/23/06



On the March 2008 Events in Lhasa

        Demonstrations on the anniversary of the 1959 revolt

        Han and Hui (Muslim) businesses attacked and burned (see youtube videos)

        At least a dozen Han and Hui died

         4 Tibetans later executed for arson deaths



DL on March 2008

        Have Tibetan youth in Lhasa been guilty of looting and arson?

        “I assume that this was the case. I condemn it, and it makes me sad to see my fellow Tibetans acting in this way -- even though it was most certainly the result of deep-seated disillusionment and despair over being second-class citizens in their own country.”

        Der Spiegel, 12/5/08



March 2008, Version II

“But the Chinese army … staged these riots and sent the pictures of them around the world. … on the 12th and 13th of March Chinese trucks were seen on which sat people who were evidently Tibetans, but no one knew them. They were brought to Lhasa. A few hours later they were seen as they set buildings on fire. The Chinese want crises, for which they can make Tibetans responsible.”

Frankfurter Rundschau, 3/6/09



My Conclusions

        DL’s moral guidance? Great peacemaker?

        DL didn’t condemn Iraq or Afghanistan wars, started by his friend GWB. Compare with Pope John Paul

        Used some U.S. justifications: terrorism, dictators

        DL thinks Chinese are committing “cultural genocide” in Tibet, but doesn’t ask Tibetans to “Take the good” as he said about Arabs.

        Do we have to wait for the rich to develop a conscience or decide it is their interest to reduce inequality? Is it wrong to fight for equality?




Tibetan Constitution

        Promulgated by Dalai Lama in 1963:

        Executive Power - Article 29.

        (1) The executive power of the State shall be vested in His Holiness the Dalai Lama …

        (2) … His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the Head of the State shall:

        … (d) promulgate laws and ordinances having the force and validity of laws;



On the March 2008 Events in Lhasa

        “Yes, it is true now a growing sort of feeling of frustration now growing among Tibetans is understandable. So, the criticism towards my stand also increasing. Sometimes they won't listen to my suggestions or my advice. But, of course, I respect - you see, they are utilizing freedom of speech, freedom of heart. I'm always telling them I have no authority to say, "Shut up". It is up to you.“

        Australian Broadcasting System, 6/12/08