How would you react if a man in his eighties kissed a small boy on the lips, and then asked if he could suck the boy’s tongue? Reactions of disgust and outrage would follow. That is exactly what happened last month – and the man in question happens to be the widely celebrated Dalai Lama.
The office of the Dalai Lama issued a formal apology last month, after video of the incident went viral. I will not link to any video of the incident, but you may find details in the news media if you wish.
The Dalai Lama made these inappropriate advances to the boy at a public event at the headquarters of the Tibetan anti-Beijing opposition in India,. The Tibetan government in exile has tried to rationalise the behaviour as an ancient cultural tradition. However, independent journalist Caitlin Johnstone has reflected the underlying sentiment of the public regarding the Dalai Lama in her article here. What is particularly noteworthy about this incident is that the adult audience did nothing to remonstrate or stop the inappropriate contact.
Free Tibet rallying cry
The demand for a free Tibet acquired enormous traction among Hollywood celebrities (think Richard Gere, Steven Seagal, Sharon Stone, among others) and has reached the corridors of power in the United States, as well as in the UK, and to a smaller extent in Australia. The Dalai Lama personifies the avuncular, spiritually motivated peaceful nature of a Free Tibet government in exile up against the Communist Chinese. However, if we dig a bit deeper, the Tibetan cause has a darker, politically motivated history and agenda.
The purpose of this article is not to advocate for the Beijing government. Let’s acquire a more realistic and skeptical perspective for why this movement to free Tibet has become a cause célèbre, but the equally valid national struggles of other oppressed minorities, such as that of the Palestinians, is ignored. The claim of a free Tibet is predicated on a fictional and romanticised version of pre-Communist Tibet. Rule by the Buddhist lamas was anything but a peaceful Shangri-La for the majority of Tibetans.
Prior to the 1950s, Tibet was very much a feudal, backward society, reminiscent of medieval Europe. Most of the arable land was in the hands of a feudal aristocracy, and the majority of the population were serfs tied to working that land. The lamas of the Buddhist order formed a tiny and wealthy aristocracy, keeping the population down through violence and superstition. Mutilations and torture of rebellious serfs was common, and the sexual abuse of children was frequent among the lama-landholding class.
Buddhism in the west has acquired a kind of cache in contrast to the monotheistic religions. Judaism, Christianity and Islam have long histories beset by sectarian violence, internecine wars and economic exploitation. Buddhism appears to be quite separate from all that – at least on the surface. However, that rosy picture of nonviolent Buddhism does not correspond to the reality of Tibet under the lamas as a repressive and patriarchal feudal society. Theocratic despotism is not unique to Europe or the Middle East.
Buddhism did walk hand in hand with economic exploitation and subjugation of women. Education of serfs, particularly of girls, was forbidden; only the wealthy lamas and their children could acquire literacy. The monasteries, located on large landholdings, had their own private prisons for torturing runaway serfs and rebellious peasants.
Prior to the 1949 Communist revolution, the imperialist powers recognised Tibet as part of China; the latter having a long history intertwined with the former. Indeed, the selection and installation of the 14th Dalai Lama in Lhasa had to be approved by the then nationalist government in Beijing.
In 1951, Chinese troops did occupy Tibet; and the Maoist government in Beijing pursued a very moderate, gradualist policy at first. No attempt was made to expropriate the ultrawealthy landlords; in fact, Beijing asked for the Dalai Lama’s cooperation. The lama theocracy did not face an immediate threat of extermination. Social and economic changes proceeded cautiously at this time.
From the mid-1950s onwards, with the assistance of the CIA, the Tibetan lamas formed an anticommunist contra guerrilla army, and underground network to resist the Chinese military. Numerous scholars have described the formation and activities of this Tibetan contra network.
This covert operation intended to push Chinese control out of Tibet, and restore that nation’s status as a target of imperialist intrigues. From 1956 onwards, the Lamaist commando activities increased, until there was a large uprising in 1959. Beijing responded with a full scale invasion, and the Tibetan theocracy relocated to India, from where they continued their attacks on China.
That covert operation finally ended in the 1970s, but it served to poison relations between Washington and Beijing. The Dalai Lama and his collection of Tibetan exiles continued their relationship with the US intelligence community. His Holiness receives favourable media coverage, gives talks to international audiences on spirituality and philosophical wisdom. Whether his philosophical output is valid remains to be seen. He still serves as a weapon in the hands of Washington to prod Beijing.
When governmental secrecy is used as a cover for criminal or predatory activities and foreign policies, it is time to remove that secrecy and shine a spotlight on government conduct. We all know the reality of Chinese rule in Tibet. Before we start hoisting the Free Tibet flag, or changing our social media avatars to Tibet-friendly images, let’s be sure about what exactly we are supporting.
One thought on “The Dalai Lama, Tibet as Shangri-La, and keeping secrets from the public”
[…] When governmental secrecy is used as a cover for criminal or predatory activities and foreign policies, it is time to remove that secrecy and shine a spotlight on government conduct. We all know the reality of Chinese rule in Tibet. Before we start hoisting the Free Tibet flag or changing our social media avatars to Tibet-friendly images, let’s be sure about what exactly we are supporting.The above article was originally published on April 17, 2023 in the Antipodean Atheisthttps://rupensavoulian.com/2023/04/17/the-dalai-lama-tibet-as-shangri-la-and-keeping-secrets-from-th… […]