September 12, 2010

Waiting out the Dalai Lama may be China's big mistake

nicholas kristof, dalai lama, lodi gyari, tibet, stephen batchelor

Waiting out the Dalai Lama may be a big mistake for China. Dealing with him now may be easier than what may follow in his wake. Lodi Gyari, the Dalai Lama's representative in Washington, writes this in the South China Morning Post, quoted yesterday in a blog post by New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof:

The third mindset is that China should wait until the passing away of the present Dalai Lama, when the Tibetan issue will naturally disappear. This thinking is based on the belief that a leaderless and disoriented movement would fragment into pieces and eventually become irrelevant. This is a misplaced mindset for many reasons, and very counterproductive to China’s own future. Those who subscribe to this view do not understand that fragmentation today no longer means irrelevance; it means radical unpredictability and vastly greater risk. Far from fading away, the Tibetan political movement will reinvent itself in the absence of the current, Fourteenth Dalai Lama, and become something far more complex and unmanageable in the process.

As Kristof points out, it's the Dalai Lama who has been the voice of restraint in the face of growing Tibetan unrest. Yet it was His Holiness himself who missed an opportunity to negotiate for peace in the 1980s, something Kristof considers a "historic miscalculation":

In the early 1980’s, Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang were prepared to do a deal with the Dalai Lama — but it was His Holiness who balked. After the Cultural Revolution, the Tibetans just didn’t trust Beijing and thought time was on their side. They made a historic miscalculation in the 1980’s, and then the window for negotiation closed with the departure of Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang. Maybe it’ll reopen with some future leadership team, but today’s Politburo is just not prepared to make the concessions necessary. Instead, it operates under the delusion that things will get better after the Dalai Lama dies.

Of course, we can't know what might have been negotiated but there is every indication that Kristof and Gyari are right when they contend that China's best chance at a peaceful resolution is now, while the Dalai Lama is alive. No one else is likely to command the universal respect among Tibetans that he does, at least not any time soon.

You can read the rest of Nicholas Kristof's blog post here. To read an article by Tricycle contributing editor Stephen Batchelor on the Dalai Lama's fifty years of exile, click here.

Photograph: Archival Tibet photographs © Associated Press

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Me's picture

It is also useful to consider the assertion that the 'scholars and panditas on OUR side' that LH speaks of will not need to engage in debate because the NKT stifle opposing views with threats of costly legal action, as in the case of the Beesley book 'Cuckoos in the Peacock Palace' If the NKt are so powerful and strong and ready to debate the issue publicly, how come they banned this book and prevented the public from examining the history of the problem from another perspective? Go home mahapanditas, your services are not required-our legal team have dealt with it.

Me's picture

Lineage holder writes 'There are great scholars and mahapanditas on our side, we will divide and conquer with our superior logic.'
Please forgive me for perhaps misinterpreting the statement if I have but it appears to be a power crazed revelling in division and domination fantasies. Since when was being 'right', ' the victor', the superior' anything WHATSOEVER to do with Buddhism? If Lineageholder is representative of the NKT (and he/she posts widely across the web on the issue and regularly edits out any criticism of NKT on wikipedia) then the NKT needs to engage in some serious introspection, looking at how far its campaign and mentality have deviated from the Buddha's intent.
In essence, the post is an indication of aggressive hatred and the wis to dominate others rather than logical plea for the undestanding of others. Lineageholder is doing the Buddhist world and prospective converts a valuable service by expressing such opinions openly-would you want anything to do with such people?

Namkhah's picture

I prefer the openly racist abuse from Thomas David Canada, (who said 'Let's check your skin color and deport you back to China') to the passive/aggressive feigned politeness from a weasel like Bill Esterhaus– since when are devil cultists reasonable?

Lineageholder's picture

There are great scholars and mahapanditas on our side, we will divide and conquer with our superior logic.

Ron's picture

Bill E.: Third party books? I suppose by that you are referring to the anti-Tibetan hate propaganda book published by WSS. What about Gary Beesley's book 'A Cuckoo in the Peacock Palace' that was suppressed by NKT's lawyers? So much for politics and hypocrisy, just look in the mirror, Bill.

Bill E's picture


Thanks for your reply. The Dalai Lama does tend to arouse strong emotions, both on the side of those who agree with him and those who disagree. Sadly, there is the basis for schism.

I stand by what I said about the Western media being uncritical. There are many third party books and magazine articles that show that there is a difference between what the Dalai Lama says and what his publicity machine portrays him as, and his actions which are unbecoming of a Buddhist monk and Teacher, who is basically using Buddha's teachings for political purposes.

I agree with you that the nastiness that is displayed in the debate about the Dalai Lama and his actions is unpleasant. It's also unpleasant to have to point out the Dalai Lama's hypocrisy, but otherwise Buddhadharma, in particular the tradition of Je Tsongkhapa will be damaged. My wish to protect this precious tradition from political corruption is my motivation for doing this.

Thanks for a reasoned discussion.

Harish Budraja's picture

James: Rancor is a natural reaction to racist diatribes and defamation online and in print by those idle on the dole or idle due to too much money. The demon cultists wingnuts are again coming out of the woodwork, it seems to be their mission in life to give Buddhism a bad reputation.


I think people might read the Facts concerning the Dalia Lama involvement with the CIA as we know Tibet Fifty Years of Exile involve a Buddhist monk cannot engage in war, not even in self-defense.
Which is why I thought it peculiar that a monk would receive funds from the CIA to conduct warfare, as we observe the facts did in fact engage.
Aplogizing for the Dalia Lama is almost a full time care givers responsibilty these days. I found it odd that he pronounces himself as a Buddhist Practitioner when he actively engages in a one man show to pose a SS Agent persecuting the Tibetan Jews knows as Shugdenites.
Where did he deliberate that a monk could defame and persecute against another Buddhist is without any historical precedence in the Kajur and Tanjur.
Who is the duplicitious man who claims to be a King and Buddha?
Not someone from our American World Of Principles and Laws. Methinks he is more of a theocratic Iran Ayatollah than a true Buddhist Master.
The Shugden Issue is not a sectarian issue,.It is a Violation of the Principles for Our Bill Of Rights.
The Dalia Lama Persecutes and Mocks Openly that Oppose him and reveal that he came to power 350 years ago as Murderer of a Wisdom Buddha, The Tulku Dragpa Gyaltshen, He came to power just like any other dictator and shut the door to keep his serfs and slaves inside, Just like the Cold War Wall that shut off Communism.
Not he is out, how does a God King Really Look to Westeners Who Value Laws and Principles Above any sort of God King. We already went through that. This Is the United States Of America , We the People Stand Against theocracies and potentates. No matter how cute they are!

Brian's picture

Bill E. the NKT cultist mouthpiece never misses an opportunity for promoting peverse 'dharma' I rather suspect he is in the London WSS office trolling websites all day under false names.

is it just a shadow play?'s picture

There will always be a problem with any sort of figurehead that is supposed to represent the pinnacle of some movement or ideology. A public consensus view of this sort is all that is required for such problems to manifest, regardless of the validity of such appellations on the actual person involved. Some sort of perfect person, beyond all conflict and so forth just doesn't exist in the divisive world of human politics and ethics. To suggest that any leader of any movement is beyond all conflict is to promote a somewhat dangerous naivete. It is also a promotion of danger to simply stick ones head in the sand and pretend that such conflicts do not exist or have no effect on them or the world around them.

There are all kinds of discussions composed of many millions of words, however the motivations and intentions behind them are of more concern to me personally. To have a clear view of such winds naturally releases any fascination in the distractions of the various dancing leaves borne upon them. So many so-called ethical issues and philosophies really boil down to very personal issues. That they remain unexamined issues is the satisfaction of such extrapolation into the abstract.

Kenneth Elder's picture

China supports the evil government in Burma that oppresses its people and tortured and killed monks when they dared ask the government to moderate. Meditation is suppressed in China, though tourist Temples are allowed. The Grand Master Abbot of all Taoism has government guards around him to keep him from meditating. There are a few Buddhist hermits here and there living off food from farmers meditating in caves and remote cabins but in monasteries the Chinese monks and nuns are under the repressive thumb of the government. The repression of spirituality is not just in Tibet. China wants to expand their model around the world. Though the USA has had destructive foreign policies and a growing Rich Oligarchy ruling the country at least spirituality and meditation is totally allowed to flourish in the USA. The evil Chinese government is a spiritual threat to the world. The puppets of this government condemning Buddhism are bound to have painful future lifetime.

James Shaheen's picture

Hi Bill,

When I criticize positions the Dalai Lama takes I receive complaints that I am attacking him unfairly. Like you, I agree that when the Dalai Lama says something that is harmful and people are reluctant to object, it's a problem. On the other hand, here I've said something positive about him, and now I am aligned with his "power base" and what you refer to as the "uncritical Western media." This is equally off the mark.

My point is that it's fine with me if you disagree with opinions expressed in my post, and it's even finer if you cite sources that support your arguments. This is all fair. But impugning the integrity of those who disagree with you sounds off base to me.

I have no agenda here. While I admire the Dalai Lama, I am not his student and I sometimes strenuously object to his public statements. I don't imagine him to be evil, though, nor would I ever liken him to a wife beater.

I know this is an emotional issue for people on either side of the Shugden divide but I personally have no stake in it, nor does the magazine. It's a sectarian issue that we're not a part of. Over the years, for instance, people have objected to our allowing the NKT to advertise and have canceled their subscriptions or withheld support because of it. Likewise, for some time, my predecessor was criticized for not interviewing Geshe Kelsang Gyatso, whom she had no interest in excluding and whom she in fact did interview.

Like I said, I understand emotions run high here, but I don't think it's reasonable to claim we have taken a side. We haven't. Essentially, the dispute is not a problem of our making nor is it something we wish to be pulled into. It would be a terrible waste of our time. I mentioned the Karmapa dispute only because we take a similar position there; it is not our problem to solve.

What I find disturbing is the tone many from both sides take with each other online. It's what I'm trying to avoid here. The nastiness can be pretty appalling. There's a lot of rancor and it's alienating to those of us who are on the sidelines. I can only imagine what those new to Buddhism conclude.

Thanks for writing,


Bill E's picture

Hi James,

I mentioned the Shugden controversy in passing, just citing it as one (of many) areas where the Dalai Lama's actions are different to his words. It is important as it is a rift in the Buddhist community brought about by his actions. You mentioned another one yourself - the Karmapa issue. My intention is not to discuss the Shugden issue but to highlight the Dalai Lama's duplicity in a number of areas.

I don't mean to criticise Tricycle, but it is a little disingenuous to claim not to take sides in any of these issues, yet continue to promote the Dalai Lama to your readers - that's hardly neutrality, is it? You seem reluctant to examine his actions. It's typical of an uncritical Western media that allows the Dalai Lama to engage in harmful actions for which he will receive no rebuke, only acclaim. It is rather like the man who beats his wife yet who constantly receives the accolade of 'Husband of the Year'! You may think this is a little dramatic but ask yourself how Shugden practitioners, Kagyupas and Rangzen advocates feel, just to mention a few of the groups that the Dalai Lama's actions have harmed in the interests of maintaining his power base. Have you really nothing to say about this?

James Shaheen's picture


Thank you for your comment. Even if you question the integrity of the Dalai Lama's stated position, I think Nicholas Kristof makes it clear both sides will have to accept things they don't like if they're going to get anywhere. I think Kristof makes a convincing argument that China would do better to deal with the Dalai Lama than the disarray a Tibetan power vacuum will bring about.

As for those who live outside of Tibet and who are calling for a violent response, they are not the ones who will have to live with the direct consequences of that violence. Both sides will suffer, but the Tibetans far more. It seems to me that the Dalai Lama knows this, whether you take him at his word or not. Of course, it's out of our hands and we have our own history to deal with.


Mumon's picture


Bill E. does have a point re: the history of the Dalai Lama and the People's Republic of China. To them, he was, and hasn't renounced his role as the titular head of a violent insurgency, and despite his peaceful pronouncements, the official positions of his "government in exile" are still problematic.

One reason is that the very position of the Dalai Lama always was, and still is fraught with conflicts of interest.

It is really nothing to do per se with the Shugden controversy.

James Shaheen's picture

We're not taking a side here. The sectarian dispute you reference has been covered on this blog before, with plenty of references to articles discussing the same in Tricycle magazine.

In these matters Tricycle takes no side. The best we can do is refer you to our position on the Karmapa dispute, which likewise leaves the matter to others to resolve. Aside from covering the issues when they arise with as much clarity and fairness as we can muster, we have no role in the disputes themselves.

I've asked before that we refrain from taking mention of the Dalai Lama as an opportunity to bring up discussion of the Shugden debate. While it's perfectly legitimate to disagree with my position that the Dalai Lama has been a proponent of nonviolence, inserting this particular issue—which usually ends in a lot of public recrimination—into every discussion of the Dalai Lama is counterproductive.

I don't say this to be a scold. I say this for the sake of measured and open discussion. As those of you who write here know, there are other places to discuss the Dalai Lama, the NKT, and China's role in this. You can discuss it there. If you want to discuss it elsewhere, please do so with respect and without ad hominem attacks.

Many thanks and we continue to welcome your comments,

James Shaheen

Bill E's picture

The Dalai Lama was discouraged violence 'with his mouth' only. He was paid by the CIA in the past, and he may well still be on the payroll, we don't know. He encouraged the CIA to give weapons to the Tibetan resistance movement, contrary to what he now says about peace and non-violence.

This is the problem with the Dalai Lama - his public persona, the one that everyone admires, is quite different from his actions which are divisive and the cause of many problems for Tibetans and the Buddhist community at large. This deceptive nature of the Dalai Lama is recognised only by a few people. If you want to know more, read 'A Great Deception' by the Western Shugden Society which gives clear third party information about the Dalai Lama's deceptiveness from books and studies. His adopting a position of Tibetan autonomy instead of independence, (instead of allowing his people to choose, but continuing to collect money for a free Tibet), the Dorje Shugden issue and his recent criticism of the Rangzen movement through his servant, Samdhong Rinpoche all prove that he cannot be trusted. You cannot trust someone who says one thing and does another. Although I don't know for sure, I would guess this is why the Chinese government don't want to deal with him.

James Shaheen's picture


Whatever your feelings about him, the Dalai Lama has discouraged violence and in some Tibetan quarters has even been criticized for doing so. I don't know of any evidence that he has stoked violence.

I haven't seen him express anger, although I am not privy to his personal feelings. If he is angry, though, who could blame him? I don't know that anger itself is a failure as much as acting poorly because of it is. He, in fact, has been a model of restraint.

As for your implicit suggestion that he get over it, consider that his culture's very existence is at stake. Why shouldn't he feel sorrow? This is no small thing. The point Kristof is making is that without him there'd be far more violence, and this is undoubtedly true.


John Waters's picture

50 years after China's invasion of Tibet and the Dalai Lama is still angry about it. Somebody needs to give him a teaching on patient acceptance. Even Americans who don't have any Dharma teaching have gotten over the fact that the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. Tibetans only make matters worse for themselves by getting angry, burning down buildings and turning over cars and such. Buddha never taught that we should behave in this way. It's unfortunate that so many people now rely upon politicians like the Dalai Lama instead of the advice of holy beings like Buddha. If the Dalai Lama doesn't promote violence, then why are so many of his followers angry and violent?

protectors's picture

Some may consider the current issue regarding Dorje Shugden to also be a "historic miscalculation"

Khrystene's picture

I think the PRC is hoping they will have full control over the next Dalai Lama, hence the wait. Though I do agree, the next Dalai Lama, may well be a very different force to be reckoned with. So be it.

Free Tibet!